From the Crowd

Commentary and analysis from outside voices in venture capital, hedge funds and economics

Venture deals are not transactions

November 28, 2012: 4:08 PM ET

For startups, your investor is about much more than money.

By Ricky Pelletier, contributor

FORTUNE -- Taking a VC investment should not be viewed as a transaction – it should be approached as a partnership.

After all, transactions are one-time in nature whereas partnerships are an ongoing concern. Changing one's thinking around this will not only shape the type of partner you select, and but also how you go about selecting them.

When a deal is viewed as a "transaction," there is really only one key component – value maximization. This type of mentality should occur in situations like:

  • Real estate sales: You don't really care who buys your home, you just want to see it go for the highest price.
  • Other tangible asset sales (cars, art, etc.): The same rule of thumb applies here (though you may want to see that precious hot rod of yours go to a good home!).
  • Company acquisitions: This actually depends. Sometimes it really does matters who the buyer is, and value maximization may not be the sole motivator because — depending on the acquisition — you may 1) End up a shareholder in the acquirer; 2) End up an employee of the acquirer; and/or 3) You've built your business and its reputation to a certain point and you want to make sure it is maintained.

As you can see, the above "transactions" get more complex (in terms of decision factors) as we move down the list. In my opinion, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the real estate transaction is a VC investment.

Value maximization should absolutely be a part of your decision matrix when evaluating potential partners, but it should not be the sole factor (and perhaps it shouldn't even be included toward the top of the list). You need to sit down with the rest of your team and figure out what is important to you all in both the near- and long-term, and you need to use that as criteria for selecting a partner.

It's easy to be tricked into thinking you are selecting the right partner by picking the group that offers you the highest valuation (and, just to be clear, on many occasions, the high bidder may very well be the best fit), but you need to be sure that they are a group you want to work with over the long haul.

I recommend asking questions like:

  • Do I like working with this partner, and will he/she be a good contributor to my board and company?
  • What types of value add does this investor bring outside of capital?
  • What are some specific examples of how they've helped a company in a similar spot to us before?
  • What do CEOs of portfolio companies have to say about them and their approach?

I cannot emphasize that last point enough. Just as prospective investors are doing reference checks with your customers, you should be checking with their customers (which happen to be their portfolio companies).

Once you've figured out who you want to work with, getting to a valuation that is mutually acceptable to both parties is far easier as both sides are emotionally committed to making something work. You've essentially done the important work of assessing fit, now you just need to figure out how to make the economics work (and that's just math).

Once an entrepreneur adjusts his/her thinking on viewing a VC investment as a partnership rather than a transaction or a deal, the decision factors that really matter rise to the top and the probability of selecting the ideal partner is significantly increased.

Ricky Pelletier (@rickypelletier) is an associate with OpenView Venture Partners.

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