Last night, we asked folks if they’d rather have cash or services (like marketing, development and HR services) to help their early stage startup grow.
While our readers’ responses were pretty evenly split, the split between startups that seek capital first far outweigh those that seek to make equity-for-services deals. Also, the number of VC firms (well in excess of 700 in the U.S. alone) is far greater than firms offering services or a mix of cash and services.
Are we just too used to capital? Are “venture services” firms still too new? Why don’t we have more services-for-equity programs?
The readers we polled last night were about evenly divided when asked if they’d take services (54%) over cash (46%). However, our commenters last night were overwhelmingly in support of taking services over cash alone.
“You need money to buy services, and most of the time, since you do not know where exactly to shop, you overpay or pay for something you do not need,” wrote commenter Marfi.
Commener Jorge made a good case for mentor-driven accelerators when he said, “Just getting the cash won’t get me some good mentors[…] The main reason why startups need cash is because the model is either not clear or not set to work in the short term[…] Just cash ins’t enough unless you’re an experienced entrepreneur.”
Power commenter Warren Bendetto spoke to the sometimes arbitrary nature of valuation, saying, “When you’re starting out, you really have no idea what you’ll need. You base your anticipated amount of capital you need to raise based on assumptions and guesstimates that are 99% bullshit.
If you’re lucky, you’ll raise too much money[…] So you buy servers you don’t need, you hire too many people, everyone gets 36″ double LCD monitors, and your kitchen has a vending machine that spits out free MacBooks.
That’s all fun, until you realize that you gave away 80% of your company in exchange for the funding. By the time you realize that you could have raised less and kept more equity, it’s too late.”
Salient points, all.
So, what is it about the magic and allure of VC that keeps startups pitching for more funding when they might be better served to take services instead?
Chris Wanstrath, founder of the bootstrapped and profitable GitHub, was in the to-VC-or-not-to-VC panel I moderated at SXSW yesterday. When I asked him if he’d ever considered taking capital to get his business up and running, he said that he absolutely hadn’t. He had instead chosed to make business deals, strategic partnerships that would allow him to get the goods and services he needed without being financially dependent on others or having to give up equity.
In that panel, I asked audience members in the packed room how many were currently considering seeking or were actively trying to secure capital for their startups. Between 80 and 90 percent of folks indicated that they’d be making the rounds on Sand Hill Road.
I wish I’d had the chance to ask them if VC was still their preferred option after the panel was over. It seems now that there are more options and alternatives for smart, lean startups to get further with less reliance on the complicated and sometimes predatory business of venture capital.
As for why there aren’t more venture services firms in existence, some have said it’s because getting the capital to run a VC firm is a heck of a lot easier than building the infrastructure to offer startups mentorship, office space, and other business-building services.
Do you think there’s enough justification – both in terms of demand from startups and in terms of return on investment for firms – to warrant more of this new breed of startup support? We’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments, particularly if you’re involved in the VC/startup ecosystem.