Vanity Fair recently published a expose on Theranos. It is worth reading. Like a mini “page turner” novel.
It reminded me of one of my personal themes in investing: “if you don’t understand the technology then don’t invest.” The understanding can definitely be acquired. In fact, I rarely understand the technology when we first meet with a company. But over our months of due diligence the understanding grows. And sometimes my partners’ understanding is a good proxy. BTW, understanding does not mean being an expert.
So, how about these words that Vanity Fair wrote about Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of Theranos: “She took the money on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked, and that she had final say and control over every aspect of her company.” All I can say is OMG. Are you kidding me? Who would invest into a black hole and control freak? Not sure what else to say. Granted that this is all hearsay. I have no proof that this is what actually happened. All I will say is that if you get whiffs of this type of attitude you should run the other way. And now that I think about it more, we actually did get caught in a similar situation once, but by no means as blatant. It is not working out well!!
The Vanity Fair article also offered up an interesting synopsis of venture capital:
“It generally works like this: the venture capitalists (who are mostly white men) don’t really know what they’re doing with any certainty—it’s impossible, after all, to truly predict the next big thing—so they bet a little bit on every company that they can with the hope that one of them hits it big. The entrepreneurs (also mostly white men) often work on a lot of meaningless stuff, like using code to deliver frozen yogurt more expeditiously or apps that let you say “Yo!” (and only “Yo!”) to your friends. The entrepreneurs generally glorify their efforts by saying that their innovation could change the world, which tends to appease the venture capitalists, because they can also pretend they’re not there only to make money. And this also helps seduce the tech press (also largely comprised of white men), which is often ready to play a game of access in exchange for a few more page views of their story about the company that is trying to change the world by getting frozen yogurt to customers more expeditiously. The financial rewards speak for themselves. Silicon Valley, which is 50 square miles, has created more wealth than any place in human history. In the end, it isn’t in anyone’s interest to call bullshit.”
My reaction that synopsis, which definitely made me chuckle:
- The white men comments are true. Change is happening at a slow pace.
- Good VCs typically do know what they are doing, but some are so full of themselves that they come across as very pompous. But most VCs I deal with are good people with lots of brain power.
- Most companies I see are not working on meaningless stuff. But we focus on upstate NY!!
- There is nothing wrong with a “Change the World” CEO as long as they are realistic and focus on building a big company that will make money.
- VC is definitely about making money.
- It is in EVERYONE’S interest to call bullshit. Please do just that all the time!