Founder Feud: A New Investor’s Take

I’ve only been on the venture side of the business for 8 months, but I’ve already seen and learned a tremendous amount, some of which I’ve documented. One criterion that ties all of the investments I’ve sourced together is a relentless focus on founder-product fit. Consequently, I’d say that I put an even greater emphasis on people than your average venture investor.

When making an investment, our fund is backing a team of founders, and does its best to meet everyone during that decision-making process. Sometimes, a funding process may be so quick that there simply isn’t enough time to get to know all of the founders. Other times, one person from a larger founding team will run point on the funding process, which naturally leads me, as an investor, to develop a stronger relationship with that particular founder. So, what happens when the founders you back break up? What happens when your point of contact stays? What happens when your point of contact leaves? What follows are some brief thoughts on how I’ve approached both of these scenarios.

When your point of contact stays, it’d be easy to go about your business and act as if nothing had changed. However, for the remaining founder, the dynamic has changed dramatically. I’ve done my best to be fully “on-call,” whether that’s jumping on calls, going back-and-forth via text, or meeting in person. While the ground is shifting under the entrepreneur’s feet, it’s critical to provide as much stability and support as possible, both in terms of discussing features, product, etc. as well as serving as pseudo-psychologist. Meanwhile, I simultaneously want to do my best to maintain a connection with the founder who is no longer with the company. Any degree of success, progress, and growth I’ve had in tech has come from establishing and nurturing relationships and trying to be helpful, and I intend to sustain this approach throughout my career. So, in this instance, I want to be a sounding board for this person as he thinks through what he wants to pursue next and use it as opportunity to get to know him better.

The second scenario is certainly a little dicier, as for one reason or another, your main point of contact at the company is no longer there. In this instance, I have worked to deepen the relationship with the remaining portion of the founding team, working closely with them going forward. I’ve also done my best to support the founder who is no longer with the company — grabbing coffee, texting, and doing my best to provide advice and support, as he figures out his next move. Ultimately, a significant reason for the initial investment was a belief this person, so whenever he starts something new, our fund wants to be first in line to hear what he’s working on. Our confidence in him as a founder isn’t shaken.

In both cases, I operate from a perspective of trust. Just as our fund trusted these founders to build something great, I must trust that the decision they’re making is in the best interest of the company (and all people involved). And regardless of which scenario I’m in the midst of, my behavior is consistent with the one I’ve been showing throughout my time transitioning from finance to tech — be helpful, provide value, and strengthen relationships, all with a long-term outlook in mind.