The Investing Game

Venture investing is all too similar to the Dating Game (and if you got that reference, you might be old enough to be an investor).

The Dating Game was a loathsome television product of the 1960s whereby a single woman would choose from three likely suitors through a blinded question and answer process (though occasionally a man would select from a trio of ladies). Being Hollywood, the show’s contestants were frequently publicity seeking entertainers, some of whom later actually made it in the business (Sally Field appeared one year before becoming a religious aviator). Mostly the program was a demonstration of showmanship over substance as several men attempted to sound suave enough to be datable.

Much like an investor pitch session.

the-investing-gameThe start-up/investor match making process remains a relatively unorganized mishmash, where waves of undesirable and ill prepared entrepreneurs seek the favors (and fortunes) of investors. For a match to be made, investors have to behave in much the same way as the good looking gal at the end of the bar: they sit, wait, quickly reject the utterly ill-suited, engage in conversation with potential prospects, but most often go home alone. They also field candidates proffered by close acquaintances whose recommendations had better be great or the relationship will sour.

The process is completely inefficient and produces many poor marriages (as evidenced by a recent report showing VC firms earning a 7% average return over the last decade).

This is changing, but gross inefficiencies will remain. One way it is changing is through the efforts of investor collectives, such as the VC Taskforce (with which I’m now affiliated), an organization dedicated to improving the investment opportunities presented to investors. They do this in many ways, but a key point is by helping entrepreneurs prepare themselves – chipping rough edges off start-ups. Akin to my own Start-up CEOs Marketing Manual, they provide guidance to people needing other people’s money.

Another factor is the online sharing of intelligence concerning good investment matches. It is increasingly simple for entrepreneurs to discover investors that have industry investment preferences. Yet this is still inefficient because investors currently prefer to be geographically close to their portfolio companies. A Silicon Valley investor might have a perfect match in Austin but will likely never learn of it. Like the Dating Game,  limited selection means limited chances of success.

But the online world is collapsing the matchmaking process in some industries. In the mobile space, there are on/offline events where start-ups are exposed to a greater pool of investors. This online bridging at very least allows entrepreneurs to find a better single match. But investors increasingly want to pool with other investors to minimize risk, so even using online media to expand opportunities does not create complete funding situations. Organization like VC Taskforce help gather investors of similar interest. Combined this may prove to be best way to eliminate hit-or-miss dating processes from strategic investments.

And none too soon. Chuck Barris was planning another comeback, this time in Silicon Valley.


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