Archive for the 'entrepreneur' Category

Are you giving equity to your VC to get their advice?

This post comes after a discussion through comments with Fred Destin on one of his recent posts. This is something I’ve been thinking for a long time, and I just thought it may be time for me to put this on paper: Nothing in the way term sheets are crafted creates an incentive for any of both parties to value advice from investors.

Let me just state first that I’m not saying that some VCs or BAs are not adding value to companies they’ve invested in. I know Fred and he’s definitely a nice fellow and very proactive investor, he’s for example participating in a lot of initiatives like Seedcamp. But, my point is that VCs or BAs are best viewed as pure financiers with the incentive structure put in place through current shareholder agreements: Their added value is in putting money in the projects that will be providing the best returns – with or without them on board.

Today, once the money has been committed, there is no incentive for the entrepreneurs to listen to investors’ advice – entrepreneurs are not paying for it. Furthermore, there is no incentive for investors to put extra skin in the game – if they do, other investors will benefit from these freebies on the same terms than they will.

OK, we regularly do see some investors providing extra help. But for me, their incentive belongs to either empathy or reputation management (providing value now to get a discount on future financing rounds with other startups). The carried interest, that is often cited, is not actually a hard incentive. Investors will receive it, whether or not they were really instrumental in the success of the company. Sure, investors have an incentive not to let the company fail, but the way to “fix” a company is certainly something that is not widely shared between entrepreneurs and investors, and I don’t think entrepreneurs see them as advice they have paid for when they issued equities.

So my whole point to entrepreneurs is that they should not expect particular help from VCs or BAs. Sure, they will get some “free” advice, but like everything that is free, you may like it or not, it may even have a lot of value for you, but you can not complain on the quality.

I’m actually thinking that we need alternate incentive structures so that entrepreneurs do pay for advice that have value for the project. There is a problem of assymetry in information products like advice, it is that you don’t know the value until you’ve consumed them, and when you’ve consumed them for free, you have litlle binding to pay their full value. My current thinking is that alternative currencies may be a good way to solve this problem: You can imagine that projects will be able to issue local currencies that will be backed someday by actual shares of the profit. But this is another story, a subject for another post…

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Creating “Commons Domains”

I’ve lately been involved in a discussion thread on “why we need software patents or if we should kill them“. My position is clearly that patents are a value destruction for the entire community. But the problem is that they create a rent for certain actors and it makes it then difficult for political action to act for the common good when financial powers is concentrated in the hands of a few beneficiaries.

While thinking of a way we could come to the desired end without waiting for politicians to realize where the common good is, I’ve just had the idea of “Commons Domains”. A Commons Domain would actually be an ambitious extension of the notion of a patent pool. The idea would be to create an institution to administer a Commons Domain, a Domain where any signing company would consider that all their IP would belong to the pool of companies.

While at first this may appeal to companies with no IP, I think there may be a twist so that it becomes a winning machine over the IP oriented rent seekers. In fact, once a company has signed into a Commons Domain, and when it is facing with the prospect of patenting a new idea, it could:
1 – patent the idea and try to make money on the companies that did not sign in the Domain
2 – put the idea in the Public Domain for the good of the entire community
3 – propose the idea to the Domain’s institution who could choose to patent the idea or not

The interesting aspect is that there is an accelerating effect. Once you start having a few valuable patents within the Domain, the interest for other companies to adhere and bring potentially more IP within the Domain grows.

I would be interested by your reactions and why not, see how we could rapidly create the first Commons Domain.

BarCampBank as an open incubator for breakthroughs

There is a recurring question about BarCampBanks and what you get there beyond meeting great people, exchanging business cards with them and feeling the dopamine running through your veins hearing what they have to say. If that’s not enough for you, I’d say that in my view there is even more: a powerful accelerator of ideas maturation and pre-innovation incubation.

I’ve been doing the pitch on a couple of occasions and I thought it may be good to write this on paper because it may sound counter-intuitive to some: it’s by sharing your ideas that you get a better chance of implementing them.

First point of the pitch is that “an idea has not value in itself”. I don’t want to run into the debate that it often starts, but just bear with me and take for granted that if you do not implement the idea, you’ll never see any value come out of it; and that for the community, it’s better that an idea is implemented by a good executioner than put in practice by a less able orginator who would have supposedly conceived the breakthrough out of the blue.

Second point is that if you try explaining your idea, you just realize that usually everything does not come out so oderly that you thought it was structured in your head. That people have sometimes intelligent counter-points that you did not think off; and that finally it helped you refine your understanding, opened new horizons and all-in-all accelarated your thinking process.

Third point is that thanks to the BarCamp format and its emergent approach to subject selection, you end up speaking with people who have at the same time very similar interests than those you’re just pursuing, and slightly different as well. Confronting your ideas with them help you understanding in what sense what you think is definitely unique, but also at time how complementary it is to the others’ points.

Finally, I point to the image of conceiving discussions at a BarCampBank like a way for everyone to bring their own pieces of the puzzle, of putting them on a table, of trying for a couple of hours to compare and trying to adjust them together. Then letting everyone go back with a still incomplete picture, but certainly slightly larger and more focused than everyone had when entering the room.

So what’s the deal? For me it is because execution is the real test that you should not spend unnecessary energy in producing ideas on your own. It is much better to speed up the process of idea creation by contributing to a common pool, then let the best implementers bring the result to reality.

There is also the question of knowing if this does not entice a free-ridder attitude: just listen to others’ ideas without giving yours. While everyone is perfectly free to adopt this behavior, I’d say that there are probably those that will get the least out of the deal. I have rarely seen people understanding perfectly what the others say without asking questions, plus I also think that you get the best explanations when you really give the context of your question and you let the train of thoughts run full speed.

Then there is the finaly question if this mechanism is equally interesting for big organizations and entrepreneurs, and if one side should not be wary of having the other one stealing their ideas. And here, people often think of entrepreneurs seeing their great ideas stolen by big organizations. My answer to this is first from the macro level on one-side: if an idea has every chance of better be implemented by a big organization, the community should spare the cost of seeing an entrepreneur duplicate capacities to just do what the big organization could provide at once; plus, if this is really the case, it is more than probable that the above entrepreneur will get squashed by the big organization when it realize that he/she has discovered a lucrative market. Then my answer is on the micro-level on the other side: there are ideas that can better be implemented by big organizations, then there are those that cannot – these are innovations called disruptive because they cannot be carried by current organization the way are operating.

So anyone, from a startup or a big organization, should find interest in participating in a BarCampBank if they are attracted by innovation and the creation of new business models in the world of banking and finance. I hope that I made my point in explaining why in my view the more they bring to it, the more they’ll get out of it.

We launched FundCamp

FundCamp logo

We just launched FundCamp. FundCamp has been inspired by Seedcamp, an initiative created by Saul Klein and Reshma Sohoni seeking to fund companies on a pan-European scale through a selection process culminating with a week of gathering/selection that took place in London on Sept. 3 for their first edition. But, in the tradition of BarCamp, FundCamp wants to go one step beyond and setup a community driven, open and freely replicable model. Anyone, anywhere in the world will be able to use, adapt and contribute to the process model and tools we wish to put in place.

Our first application of the model will be for a FundCamp France, organizing a selection, development and funding process for French startups. We plan to use a platform for supporting this initiative and a prototype is currently being built here. Everyone is invited to help organizing the event, participate as a mentor, contribute to the development of the platform,…, come up with any idea to foster entrepreneurship through this novel approach.

If anyone is considering organizing a FundCamp anywhere, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts on our wiki. We’ll see if we can build critical mass to bootstrap the process where you are. As we move forward, we will keep posting our progress and findings.