Brian Rich & fellow Columbia Business School alumni VCs share advice

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10 Alumni VCs Share their Best Advice for Entrepreneurs

From ideation to exiting and everything in between, here’s a roundup of top insights from alumni venture capitalists.

Kesha Cash ’10
Impact America Fund

Formal education is important, but don’t discount your lived experience. Ingenuity, resourcefulness, resilience, and passion are gained in the classroom of life — and are the traits that best determine successful entrepreneurs.

Roger Ehrenberg ’93
IA Ventures

Building a successful startup is borne from a series of well-designed experiments. Be thoughtful about the hypotheses you’ve set out to prove, and be ruthless in collecting and analyzing the data resulting from your experiments. Be honest. Be dispassionate. Be data-driven.

Bob Goodman ’86
Bessmer Venture Partners

When presenting to VC’s for the first time, don’t have crazy, unrealistic projections or you’ll lose credibility. Don’t be paranoid and cagey about what you’re doing. VCs aren’t there to take your idea. Most of the success of an idea is in the execution, not the idea. Be transparent with your board — they are there to help you. They are committed to your success. Hire people better than you and make them feel successful.

Stephanie Palmeri ’11
SoftTech VC

When it comes to meeting investors, I can’t emphasize the importance of a warm introduction. Early stage investors have access to thousands of deals per year and will invest in less than 1 percent, so connecting to an investor through a close tie in her or his network helps you stand out from the crowd. For me, the strongest introductions are those that come from founders I work with and advisors who have spent time working with you.

Kristina Perkin Davison ’94
iEurope Capital

The best entrepreneurs I’ve met have figured out a solution to a problem that they understand deeply. If you don’t understand the problem in 360 degrees, then make sure you team up with partners who do.

Brian Rich ’87
Catalyst Investors

Before it comes time to raise capital, decide exactly what kind of relationship you want with investing partners. Figure out if you will lead, follow or get out of the way. If you want to maintain leadership of your company, structure investments in a way that positions you unequivocally as the majority owner and with investors as minorities. If you have taken your company as far as you can but want to remain invested and involved, let an investor lead and recognize that you may not be a part of the management team down the road. The final option is to get out of the way, exit entirely and cash in your chips.

Laura Sachar ’91
StarVest Partners

Remember the importance of creating a winning culture within your startup. Your team, board, and investors are all participants in helping to maintain this culture, and their contributions are key in accelerating your momentum and success.

Hans Swildens ’95
Industry Ventures

You must be truly and deeply passionate about what you are going to create and stick with it. You will be told 1,000 times you’ll fail, you’re wrong, you won’t make it, your idea is not defendable, and you will be completely broke. So you have to love it and be willing to work on it tirelessly for a decade until all the “negative people” will see you were right and they were wrong.

Alicia Syrett ’07
Pantegrion Capital LLC

Be very thoughtful about building a robust Advisory Board with amazing people who can help fill voids in your company and add value through various introductions (e.g. potential customers, investors, candidates, press). Great advisors also lend credibility to your mission and provide support through all the ups and downs of your journey.

Rick Zullo ’14

Never pick an investor that invests out of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Investments are partnerships so pick investors who have conviction in you and the opportunity, not one who cuts the check because they think the space is “hot” or hear that other investors are approaching you.

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