Ask the VC folks

Q&A for founders, VCs, LPs and everyone interested in startups

This is the second issue of our new Q&A format where we answer pressing questions from founders, LPs, emerging vc managers and startup employees. If you have a question you’d like to submit to our panel, please use this Q&A Form

Before diving into this week’s mailbag, I want to tell you about a program I’m really excited about… We are offering a full day Transcend Prejudice Workshop on September 18th (9a-2p PST). This event is targeted at founders, business leaders and their core teams. We’re paying for all of the Alpha Bridge founders to attend and I’ll also pay for the first 10 founders and their teams who reply to this email. More info on the event here

We’ve worked with Kemy in the past on some shorter events and have found his work to be inspirational and transformative, I’m sure you will too.

Founder Mailbag

My co-founder and I are attracted to one another. We’ve talked about our feelings but we haven’t acted on anything yet because we’re worried about how others might view it. What do you think?

- Sleepless in Silicon Valley

Oh boy! Given that startups can be all consuming endeavors it is quite common for co-founders to spend a great deal of time working together while simultaneously distancing themselves from their other relationships. As such it shouldn’t come as a surprise that romantic entanglements between co-founders are pretty common.

That said, just because you wouldn’t be the first co-founders to “hook-up” doesn’t make it a good decision. The average person will have ~5 serious relationships before finding the “one” and even then over half of marriages still end in divorce. If we are being incredibly generous here lets say that your relationship has a 10% chance of working out and a 90% chance of failing.

Do you really want to add a 90% chance of failure of the relationship as an additional risk factor to your business? Is it worth it? My first piece of advice is to “keep in in your pants.”

Another important consideration here, even if you are both owners of the business, you need to consider how employees and other co-founders might feel. Once the relationship becomes public knowledge you will lose credibility with your team as independent thinkers from one another. If one of your employees need advise with how to approach the other about an issue, how do they do that now? If you have another co-founder, how does this alter your relationship with them (hint, dramatically and generally not positively). My second piece of advice is to “keep it in your pants.”

Now, since we’re all human, and I know how well humans follow this particular advice (YOU REALLY SHOULD KEEP IT IN YOUR PANTS), what should you do if instead of taking my advice you decide to act on your fiery passion?

Stop Drop and Roll? Nope, that’s for a different fiery problem. Instead, the first thing you need to do is have an open and 100% honest conversation about what happens when this thing doesn’t work out. Write the business prenup and do it now before everything is fully charged with raw emotion and unmet expectations. You can be both humans and business leaders but if you’re going to do that, you need to honor both sides of the equation. I know a business prenup isn’t exactly romantic but you’re an adult, you have responsibilities so act like it.

(If you are in this situation and need help figuring out the path forward, reach out to Atlas or reply to this email.)

I’m a rising senior that has recently been offered an opportunity with an early stage start up. The position is well suited to my interests and expertise and seems really exciting. I’m trying to decide if I should accept the position and take a semester off of school to do so. The startup is early stage and as such would be able to pay me a very modest salary but also provide some equity. I’m very tempted to take it but taking the leap to defer college for a semester is a little daunting. What would be your criteria for evaluating a startup and whether or not it would be worth taking the leap? Alternatively, would you say that taking it would be a great learning experience? Finally, thoughts on taking longer than usual to finish school? Hope that’s not too many questions and thanks so much for your time.


Great question Aaron. First, I think that whether or not the startup works out, there is invaluable experience to be gained working for an early stage and quickly growing company. Six months or a year spent at the right startup is likely to teach you an order of magnitude more about the world, yourself and your place in it than six months spent at school. If you earn some money and equity in the process, it’s a total bonus. Of course, this advice only makes sense if the startup you’re joining is a good one. If it were a totally disorganized shit show on the fast track to oblivion you won’t have the chance to learn much useful.

This begs the question, how should you determine if this startup is the right sort of startup for you to join at this point in your career development? Here are some of the factors I believe you should consider:

1) How experienced is the management team? I would think twice about joining a startup of all novices. You would still have the opportunity to learn through experience but you won’t learn nearly as much as you will if you are working with a team of seasoned startup execs who have been there and done that. Better yet, find a team to work for that has already built something together. Watching a well functioning team in action from the inside is a golden opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

2) What is the runway for the company? Don’t join a company with less than six months of runway, preferably 12-18 months. It will take you some time to integrate yourself into the team and begin clicking on all cylinders. Your biggest opportunities for growth and your capacity to step outside each individual moment so that you can internalize things will likely come at least six months after you join. Make sure you’ll have that opportunity.

3) What role are you being hired for and what role comes after that? If you’re being recruited to work the front desk you’re probably better off finishing school now and then jumping on the next opportunity that comes your way. On the other hand, if you’re being hired into a role that is going to stretch your capabilities today and do it in a way that prepares you for a future role you’d be interested in, then it sounds like a pretty solid opportunity.

In terms of how long it takes you to finish school, I don’t think anyone will care about it in the the slightest. The only thing that matters is how you’ve chosen to spend your time and the thought process that went into it. Good luck with your decision but I’m sure whichever path you choose you will have plenty of future opportunities.

This question may seem a little simple, but what is the best way for non-technical people to get in the door in the world of startups? 

-Just a Guy

If a soon to be law school grad has no interest in practicing law, but instead wants to work for a startup, how can they best provide value and contribute as an early startup employee? Is there a place for them?

-A Law Student

I started my career as a lawyer doing fund formation work which meant that 90% of my clients were venture firms. I quickly realized two things (1) I was an atrocious attorney and (2) I really loved what my clients were doing. My problem was that most startups don’t need a lawyer until later in their lifecycle and I didn’t have any skills that were a clear fit for most startups.

So how did I break in? I had an insight that I will share with you now… the wonderful thing about very early stage startups is that they need everyone on the team to fulfill a multitude of roles. What this means is that you can almost always find a startup that needs a skillset you have AND a skillset you want to develop. You pitch yourself as a utility player and over time you gradually transition yourself into the role you most want. For me I found startups that needed a lawyer but were way to early for a full time General Counsel. My pitch was hire me me as the in-house counsel (I’ll cost waaaaay less than the fees you pay to a big Silicon Valley firm) AND I’ll take on a second job to boot. Once you’ve done that once or twice, you’ll find yourself with the resume that every startup is looking for.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also plug Lambda School and similar opportunities. If you don’t currently have technical skills but a technical role is what you’re looking for, there are few better options than signing up with Lambda School and building out your technical tool chest. Its a hard path but if you’re dedicated, its one you can walk to your ideal career.

I have a soft spot in my heart for lawyers looking to transition careers, if that includes you and you have questions, feel free to shoot me a note.