I frequently hear investors say they are looking for passionate founders. I think in this instance “passionate” is just a proxy for “driven.” Driven founders work hard, and push through adversity to get to success.
Really, investors are not interested in just any flavor of passion. It’s important to consider whether yours is the type that investors want.
Here are some founder passions that I’ve seen:
- To make a difference in the world
- To make money
- To be TechCrunch famous
- To build a remarkable internal culture
Investors can also have passions. They might take the form of a thesis on a certain type of business, or a focus around businesses with a particular aim such as environmental responsibility, ending poverty or curing disease.
But VC passions live within strict guide rails of fiduciary duty. As “dual fiduciaries,” VCs represent the interests of their portfolio companies as well as the limited partners in their fund. Limited partners generally have one overriding interest: return on capital. In turn, making money rules the day.
Any of your passions could potentially conflict with your investors’ fiduciary duty. For example:
- Your passion is to make a difference in the world, and you find an avenue to deliver a greater return at the expense of impact
- Your passion is to make money, but your odds of a personal return conflict with the VC portfolio model
- Your passion is to be TechCrunch famous, but there’s another leader out there who is better equipped to take your venture to the next level
- Your passion is to build a remarkable internal culture, but getting to attractive economics requires trimming perks or headcount
Your term sheet may (or may not) give you the final say in sticking to your passion, but either way, running a business that’s at odds with your investor interests is no fun. Best case, you get your way, your investors turn their attention elsewhere, and you end up with all the overhang of a VC-backed business but none of the value-add. Worst case, you don’t get your way, and you’re dragged along with a business about which you have no passion.
And when you’re tired and the chips are down, which happens often in the early stages, you’re going to need to call on that passion to keep pushing.
So be realistic about the intersection of your passion with investor fiduciary before you take that check.