POLL: What’s the Best Way to Support Startups, Services or Cash?

After wrapping up a panel with a gamut of pro- and anti-VC types at SXSW, I’m left wondering why there aren’t more services-oriented startup firms.

Let me explain: Most of the time, when a startup goes after venture capital, they’re still in the process of building a product and bringing it to market. They need things like servers, developers, marketing tools and sometimes office space. Do they need money per se? Or is capital an increasingly arbitrary and unnecessary step in building a tech startup?

The fact is, almost every startup needs a little help. Maybe you get that help from the bank of Mom and Dad; maybe you get that help from your good friends at Mastercard. Often, you get that help from folks who want equity; you end up trading part of your assumed long-term success for resources you need in the short term.

We are all familiar with the idea of trading equity for funds through angel financing and venture capital; we’re also familiar with the TechStars and Y Combinator programs that help to incubate and accelerate startups through minuscule amounts of capital and significant amounts of mentorship.

But most of us are less familiar with models such as Mike Trotzke’s SproutBox or Marcus Whitney’s Remarkable Wit. These firms provide services (and sometimes keeping-Ramen-on-the-table amounts of cash) to early-stage startups in exchange for equity. They provide development, marketing and other services that most tech startups need without delving into the complicated issues of valuation and funding rounds. These guys are focused on the absolute bottom line of technology, which has nothing to do with money: Making a great product and finding people to use it.

So, we’re interested to know from our friends in startups who aren’t taking the bootstrapping route, given the choice between pure capital or business-building services, which would you choose? Take the poll, and let us know the reason behind your decision in the comments. We’ll be following up soon based on the results.

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