How to find a co-founder for your startup

If you’re a first-time founder, you probably want to have a co-founder or two to lean on.

The second most frequent question I get from new founders, after “will you give me $250,000?” is, “do you know a technical co-founder?”

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If you can’t find a co-founder for your startup, you’ve disqualified yourself as a fundable entrepreneur, because who in their right mind would back someone who can’t convince just one talented person to join them on a crazy journey?

Finding a co-founder isn’t easy, but it’s not the hardest thing you’ll do as a founder, and recruiting for your startup is going to be a lifelong practice.

It. Never. Ends.

I’m 30 years into my career in technology and I’m still spending a significant portion of my time building my teams.

That being said, there is a simple three-step process to recruiting a co-founder:

  1. Identify what skills you don’t have & that your startup needs.
  2. Find people you know with those skills.
  3. Have coffee with those people & let them know how enormous you think this opportunity is and that you can’t do it without them. Ask them for their feedback on the idea, and tell them they would be crazy not to join you on this adventure because this problem needs to be solved (alternatively, “this product needs to exist in the world”).  

When I give this advice to folks they give me the following excuses:

  1. “But I don’t know anyone”
  2. “But I don’t have any money to pay them and they have kids and a mortgage and won’t leave Google to do this!”
  3. “I’m not good at networking.”

If you throw up these kinds of roadblocks for yourself you’re simply too weak — at this time — to found a company. You should go work for someone who isn’t as meek and milktoast as you are. Someone who is so passionate about their idea that they will find 100 people who are qualified, and relentlessly explain to them to come on the journey until they’re told, “stop asking me to do this with you — I’m out and you’re annoying as heck!”

This is what it takes to find a co-founder and if you have any complaints about this being unfair or unjust or too hard, well, guess what: startups are really f@#$#@ing hard and life is not fair.

Either do the work or don’t, but don’t complain about how hard it is to change the world. If you’re not up for this simple task, then go work for someone who is and take notes.

Comments are open, but if you complain in the comments I reserve the right to savage you.

Spreading the Gospel of Angel Investing

Update March 2019: We’re going on a U.S. Angel University spring tour in April 2019 to teach people how to invest in startups. We’ll be visiting Boston, NYC, Columbus, and Miami. We’ll also be hosting it in Sydney, Australia in June, and San Francisco in July. If you’d like to attend, register here: http://angel.university/

January 2019:

As many of you know from reading (or listening) to my book, I’ve taken on the challenge of educating and inspiring rich people to angel invest in startups.

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Rich people are sitting on large hoards of zombie capital, be it bonds, index funds or cash, that sit passively in the cloud, allowing the rich to stay rich, beating inflation and sometimes a bit better.

Sure, some of these bonds and index funds are backing interesting projects, but the truth is, this capital doesn’t change the world in the way startups do. I’m trying to inspire 10,000 rich people to become half- to full-time angel investors, moving a small percentage of their zombie capital, on an individual basis, into startups.

If 10,000 individuals worth $10m each put 5% of their net worth — $500,000 — into angel investing over the next five years, that’s a billion dollars into seed stage startups.

In order to do this, my friend Mike Savino and I, along with the LAUNCH team, created Angel.University, a half- to full-day course on the basics of angel investing. We’ve done them a half dozen times already, including in Sydney and now Hong Kong.

[ Angel Summit will take place on Friday the 25th in Hong Kong at the Startup Impact Summit: https://whub.io/startup-impact-summit and is put on by WHUB ]

The likely scenario I’ve seen in angel investing is that people who do it as a career and who do it with discipline, which most do not, will likely lose half of their money, or double it, with an outside chance of doing much better.

However, most folks don’t angel invest with discipline. They meet their first startup, dump $250,000 of their $500,000 angel investing capital into it, and watch it burn.

The truth is, you want to start very slow, investing tiny amounts of capital, say $5,000, into each of your first 30 investments in year one and two, tracking which ones hit revenue, significant user growth and/or follow on investment from known investors. Then you need to double or triple — or 10x — your investment in those breakouts.

Of course, the advent of syndicates allows for the participation in angel investing without the massive, time-consuming search for deals and the extensive due diligence required to avoid costly mistakes.

That’s where the book, the course, and the podcast come in, which all urge new angel investors to take their time, study the craft and take the work seriously.

Right now our syndicate at Jasonssyndicate.com has ~2,900 members, making it the largest syndicate in the world (by far). We think we can get to 10,000 over the next five years by adding three or four people a day.

If we can hit 10,000 members we will be able to syndicate a qualified startup deal every week, perhaps even two deals a week eventually.  

And who knows, in another year or two, we will likely see the definition of accredited investors in the United States expanded to include people taking a course or having related work experience, qualifying them to do startup investing.

PS – If you’re interested in learning more about Angel Investing, we’re hosting various workshops throughout 2019.

Learn more here -> http://angel.university/tour

Will an Amazon.com come out of the crypto collapse?

Yesterday I had Anthony Pompliano on my podcast to discuss crypto. He runs a crypto fund, and we’ve had a great time debating ICO scams, Bitcoin Zero and token-based equity on Twitter for the past couple of months.

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He was a fantastic guest, and despite our Twitter debates, it turns out that we agree on about 90% of what’s happening in crypto right now.

The big question I tried to figure out on the podcast, and that I’ve been trying to figure out personally as an investor is, will a killer use case and $100b startup come out of the crypto and ICO crater of 2018 — which saw most ICOs and imaginary digital currencies lose 90-99% of their value.

In other words, will an Amazon.com, led by a visionary founder, come out of this global, anonymous gaggle of grifters and cryptodipshits.com.

We also talked about why so many people think Ripple/XRP is a scam (and why Anthony won’t hold the #3 crypto project), wash trading and how much crypto folks should own.  

https://youtu.be/v7fSARKYCKA

We also had my old friend Mick Liubinskas on the podcast, he’s a consultant to startups I met over a decade ago in Sydney. He just launched a cool book called, She’s Building a Robot. Please go buy 10 copies of his book, it’s something we need to see more of in the world: content that inspires girls to get into tech — as opposed to much of media which shames them about being geeks and praises them for being part of the Industrial Princess Complex.

Show notes:

0:48 – Jason introduces Mick Liubinskas. The two talk about the Australian startup environment and Mick’s book “She’s Building a Robot.”

5:40 – Jason introduces Anthony Pompliano. The two talk about what Anthony is working on and the current situation of bitcoin.

10:34 – Mick shares his thoughts on the rise and fall of bitcoin.

14:07 – Jason thanks sponsor LinkedIn. Claim a $50 credit toward your first job posting: linkedin.com/twist.

16:18 – Why hasn’t there been a killer use case for crypto after so many crypto ICOs?

24:22 – Jason thanks sponsor Kruze Consulting. Visit kruzeconsulting.com/twist to receive a free tax consultation and tax credit white paper.

26:08 – Backstory of bitcoin and cryptocurrency, ideal crypto use cases to come, and crypto bans around the world.

35:58 – Thoughts and speculation on what the outcome of bitcoin will be in the United States.

40:59 – Jason thanks sponsor Capterra. Visit capterra.com/twist to find the right business software for you.

42:59 – Ripple: how it works, the issues around it, and why some people consider it a scam.

55:23 – Crypto as an alternative for venture capital, and crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter vs. Indiegogo.

58:04 – Problems with accreditation laws in the United States and Australia, and smart investment strategies.

1:05:33 – Global Black Swan rankings: higher education, aliens, China, and impeachment.

1:18:44 – Anthony talks about how his index fund works, gives bitcoin advice and shares thoughts on Masayoshi Son.

Founders: Watch the FYRE doc and learn what not to do

At Fyre Festival, guests get cheese and bread instead of ...
Founders: Watch the FYRE doc and learn what not to do

Last night I watched the schadenfreudeful documentary FYRE on Netflix, which chronicles a sociopathic grifter named Billy McFarland and his greedy celebrity partner Ja Rule, as they bilk investors and music-festival-going Instagrammers out of their money.

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The movie is a commentary on the power of social media models like Kylie Jenner, combined with a criminal disguising himself as a visionary founder.

FYRE has flashes of the familiar startup and entrepreneurial struggle, with insane deadlines and a cash crunch being resolved with a combination of brilliant, world-class marketing and bold fundraising driven by RFID bracelets being loaded with cash and angel investors pouring money into an event that the founder knows is a multilayered fraud.

McFarland’s enablers detail their journey from true believers in the original vision of Fyre, a completely reasonable concept to build a marketplace for booking talent, to the utter chaos of the weeks and days and hours leading up until all hell broke loose — and millennials were fed cold cheese sandwiches while fighting for shelter in leftover emergency tents.

When everything collapses, you’re left with everyone around the far-from-mastermind criminal, McFarland, leaving pain and suffering in the worker bees who tried their hardest to make his vision reality.

If you’re a founder, the important takeaway is that while grinding and hacking your way to success is what it’s all about, doing illegal things while selling your stock to investors is securities fraud.

Our justice system in America might be inconsistent and slow, but it takes particular pride in its ability to take down people who commit crimes in combination with a cap table (see Theranos, the Zenefits settlement, ICO actions, etc.).

When I started daily blogging for Calacanis.com, one of my first posts was one imploring founders to read biographies, which are an amazing way to unpack how success happens — and it’s often messy and far from a straight line.

Documentary and dramatic films about founders are also a great way to unlock entrepreneurial lessons — what are your favorite startup films?

Founder? Startup? Comments are open!

Note: I’ve only watched the Netflix FYRE doc, I understand there is ANOTHER doc on Hulu. Will watch that one next.

This is your Captain again, I’m canceling drink service

In July I wrote a message to my founders, warning that things could get choppy, titled “This is your Captain speaking, I’m turning on the fasten seat belt sign.”

Well, this is your captain again, and we’ve got turbulence ahead so I’m canceling drink service and asking everyone to check your seatbelts.

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On the day I wrote the last piece the NASDAQ was at 7,932 (July 25th), and over the next couple of months, it crashed over 20% to 6,192.

It’s since recovered to ~7,000.

While no one can time the market, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The Black Swans are hiding all around us in plain sight, while at the same time big tech companies have soaring sales, letting them build mountains and mountains of cash.

When I look out there I see three things that make me cautious:

  1. The Russian investigation combined with the growing impeachment movement
  2. The Chinese trade war combined with the arrest of the Huawei CFO in Canada and another employee in Poland. A Canadian citizen in China has been sentenced to death for drug smuggling, as well — coincidence?
  3. The Corporate Debt bubble

In the last piece, I explained to founders what happens when things collapse. In short, angels and VCs slow or stop investing, and the startups with under a year of revenue and no prospects of hitting breakeven go away.

Will the market crash? No one knows, but I do know that the Boy Scout motto is as true today as it has ever been: be prepared!  

Bottom line: For my founders, I want you all to check that you have 18 months of runway in your bank and a clear path to profitability — if you’re not profitable yet. Be. Pre. Pared.

More:

Corporate Debt

Canadian citizen sentenced to death

Huawei arrest in Poland

Always Have a Plan B and C Teed Up

I spent 10 years living in Los Angeles, traveling up to the Bay Area every other week, sometimes weekly, to do angel investing.

During that time I learned that SFO is a complete disaster, with Karl the Fog creating all kinds of trouble. Also, I was frequently missing flights with insanely unpredictable traffic patterns in L.A. and the Bay.

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When I made a little cheddar, I started treating myself to the fully refundable Southwest Premier tickets, you know the ones, that let you board first and take the aisle seat in row two. The coveted seat that lets you put your bag under the seat in front of you which in turn lets you bolt past the row one customers who are fumbling for their overhead luggage.

So, I started having my EA book me three flights back at 5PM, 6PM and 7PM to avoid the issue of delayed and canceled flights and traffic snafus.

I also started booking two flights out — one landing at San Jose, which is 3x farther from the city but has no delays — in addition to my SFO flight.

So, five flights booked for a two-flight need.

Paranoid? Overkill? Unethical?!

The results speak for themselves: zero missed meetings, no delays and no drama, with the only cost being an extra 30-45 minutes of an EA’s time (to book and refund 3 flights, 2x). If you look at the cost of an EA, say $40 all in, it’s $20-30 to have this kind of parallel planning.

What’s the cost of missing a meeting with a new hire, investor or customer!?

Answer: more than $20!

I bring this up because there is a bigger issue from this lesson, which is, not only should you always have a Plan B, you should have a Plan C as well and, if possible, have them teed up to switch to — in your startup and life.

Inspired by Fred’s post while he was stuck at LAX: “If The Train Is Delayed, Find Another Way Home”

https://avc.com/2019/01/if-the-train-is-delayed-find-another-way-home/

What’s your favorite travel hack? Gray and black hat techniques are welcome but not condoned.

Zuckerberg tries to buy off journalists with .3% of Facebook’s yearly revenue

Yesterday I wrote the first piece in a three-part series about how Facebook could turn around their “WORST. YEAR. EVAR!!!”

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The basic premise: share revenue with publishers, Instagrammers/influencers, App developers and anyone else creating content on the platform, just like YouTube, Airbnb, Apple and Google’s App Stores and countless other partnership platforms do.

Right on cue, Facebook does the most misguided, heavy-handed and unsustainable version of sharing the wealth, by sharing $100m a year — .3% of their yearly revenue — in a series of grants.

The cynical take is that these kinds of one-time payoffs, to highly influential media organizations, are designed to silence and tamper criticism — they’re buying off influential people for a pittance.

The most gracious take is that Facebook feels bad for being such a horrible partner to the press and democracy.

Either way, it’s not sustainable and it’s braindead stupid. Who on earth is advising Zuckerberg about this?!

In June of 2017, Apple reported they shared $70 billion with App developers.

Google doesn’t break out YouTube’s revenue, but everyone knows it’s tens of billions, and that they pay out 55% to partners. The rumor in 2015 was $9B in total revenue, and we can assume that has grown to $20b+.

If YouTube paid out 55% of even $10B that’s $5.5b to content creators — we’re talking Netflix-level spend, and 55x the pittance Facebook is splashing around a bunch of journalist nonprofits.

The data in this chart is from Forbes, not YouTube, so it’s likely incomplete, but if this is anywhere in the ballpark, YouTube is paying it’s top five stars MORE than what Facebook is donating to non-profit organizations.

Right now Facebook makes $33B+ a year, or almost $100M a day, off the backs of Instagrammers, Facebook users and publishers — they share zero point zero.

If I were running Facebook I would commit 20% of top-line revenue to creators, from the New York Times to podcasters to App developers, and splash $7B to creators — a fraction of what Apple pays out a year, but what would build a base of stakeholders in the future of Facebook.

Right now Facebook has zero friends in the industry, and legions of enemies and detractors, including the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram. Think about what a poor job Zuckerberg has done building goodwill with his juggernaut. Even the founders he made billionaires are attacking him on the way out the door with their paychecks?

Facebook Misguided Announcement

https://www.facebook.com/facebookmedia/blog/doing-more-to-support-local-news

Apple Inspiring Announcement

https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2017/06/developer-earnings-from-the-app-store-top-70-billion/

Saving Facebook, a Three-Part Strategy for the New CEO

Orson Welles Vintage GIF

Facebook’s self-inflicted wounds come from their founder’s obsession with growth, which at its core was based on three extraordinary tactics: removing friction, staying focused on global growth and stealing other people’s ideas.

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There is no debate over this.

If Zuckerberg had not set the tone of “move fast and break things,” the company would have been more thoughtful about their growth, and if they didn’t steal other people innovations so systematically — from Friendster to FriendFeed to Twitter to Snapchat — they would never have dominated the planet.

Of course, that obsession with speed and copying has resulted in — as Zuck himself instructed — the breaking of things, including our privacy and our democracy.

Well done!

In this three-part series, I’m going to outline what the new CEO of Facebook should do to reverse the massive ill will that’s built up with consumers, partners and governments. (At least the democratic ones; Facebook is well-loved by despots the world over.)

Step One: Share Revenue with Partners

When YouTube has PR issues, they have a large base of YouTubers — partners to whom they pay out billions of dollars — who will go to bat for them. These individuals are not happy with every decision YouTube makes, far from it, but they are loyal to the platform, even in the face of sometimes getting worked over.

Airbnb makes their share of mistakes and has been faced with crisis after crisis, but their Hosts are there to back them up. Heck, a portion of Airbnb’s customers feels so strongly about the company that they will fight for its very existence.

eBay and Etsy have their sellers to spread the gospel, and even Lyft and Uber have driver partners and customers who will sign petitions to bring or keep their services available in contested markets.

Apple and Google are “splashy cashy” with their App partners to the point of creating a category that, candidly, Facebook should own — or at least be a player in.    

Facebook?

Well, Facebook is so sharp-elbowed, that in addition to screwing users and our democracy, they have screwed over their developer and content partners multiple times over the past decade. Not only that, they’ve never built up a reservoir of goodwill.

Imagine if Instagram and Facebook shared revenue with their top users? How about if when you click on a new story on these services, it gave the publisher 70% of the revenue?

These partners would be out there saying “listen, I know Facebook has made mistakes, but Zuck is a good guy. I’m partners with Zuck, Instagram and Facebook, and so are over a million content creators. Trust us, we’re working with them to make this right.”  

Sharing revenue would be trivially easy for Facebook to do, certainly easier than reaching billions of users with their products.

Yet Facebook still has their wallet locked … Why?

It’s all top-down, Zuckerberg simply doesn’t want to share the wealth. We saw this when he deliberately screwed over the Winklevoss twins and his early partner Eduardo Saverin at Facebook (he settled those claims), and we see it now with his sinister pursuit of Snapchat at all costs.

The Snapchat pursuit reinforced Zuck’s “might is right” approach and has painted him as so cutthroat and arrogant — and perhaps clueless to this perception — that it is now easy to root for Facebook’s demise.

Instagram and WhatsApp founders criticizing Zuck on the way out only reinforces what we all know: business is personal and Zuck does not treat people well on a personal basis.

This needs to change when the new Facebook CEO starts, or when someone convinces Zuck to reboot his approach. The latter is a better solution, as you always want the founder to stay at the controls, but this requires the founder to evolve — something Zuckerberg hasn’t done (which reinforces the growing legion of “I’m quitting facebook!” and “I hope Facebook fails!”).

Easy solution: give Instagrammers and Facebook’s developers and publishers 100% of their year-one revenue to kick off the program, and then land on 55-70% going forward (like YouTube and the App stores do, respectively).

Can you imagine the goodwill that will grow out of Facebook sharing the wealth?

Zuckerberg can’t, but the rest of us can. Someone forward this email to Mark and say “something to consider, even if the messenger isn’t your favorite person.”

Bottom line: Sharing revenue with partners will give facebook amazing PR and those partners re-engaging the platform could reverse the “peak Facebook” and “Facebook is in decline” narrative.

A carry comp kerfuffle in Micro VC land

The SJW crowd piled on to a job posting for a part-time VC job at a micro VC yesterday. The job posting was for 20 hours a week and the compensation was based on a share of the carry.

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Here is how carry works, briefly: if the Fund invests $2m on behalf of investors and turns it into $22M (11x, cash on cash) the gain would be $20M. The carry would be 20-30% of that gain, depending on the deal with LPs (limited partners), which means $4-6M in gain.

[ Note: A 10x fund is the outlier goal. ]

If the Fund manager gives this “Chief of Staff” position 20% of the carry it would be $800-1.2m for a part-time job. Note: 20% would be very generous if the person had cash comp, but if the person takes no cash I would say 20% would be in the ball part. Twenty percent of a 20-30% carry is 4-6% carry to the Chief of Staff.

If the micro VC did 3x “cash on cash” it would have $4m in gains and $800-$1.2m in carry. The individual in this back-end comp position would get $160-240k.

If this position vested over say four years, that would be something in the range of 4,000 hours of work for $160,000 to $2.4m — or $40 an hour to $600 an hour.

Of course, you wouldn’t have any comp today — that’s the trade-off you have the choice to make.

The argument here, of course, is that the micro VC, who is offering this partnership opportunity, and who gets zero cash comp himself, is taking advantage of the person who takes this part-time gig.

Oh lordy, lordy … I wish I had seen this job description when I was in my 20s! Please take advantage of me and take 10 or 20 years out of my career path.

The micro VC has since, under the weight of the social media mob, put the job up as cash and carry or just carry — at the candidate’s choice. CANDIDATES: take as little cash as possible and fight for every point of carry! The math above is going to change your life and the cash comp never will.

Seriously, if I were 25 years old and applied to this position I would rather sleep on my mom’s couch, drive for Lyft 40 hours a week and get all the carry I could. 60 hours a week isn’t a death sentence, and if you want to propel yourself to the next level the quickest way to do that is to get equity compensation.

Sure, a single parent with three kids is not going to be able to take this gig. Neither is a married couple with a $10,000 a month mortgage and three kids in private school — that couple needs to work at Yahoo! or IBM and take down big salaries — which is their choice for starting a family and buying a big house with a huge mortgage.

Certainly, my mom, who worked 4-5 jobs a week and clocked 70-80 hours a week to provide for our family, wouldn’t have been able to — but one of her three sons would have! That’s the American dream as far as it was taught to me: the parents bust their asses and give their kids the killer opportunity.

I look at an opportunity like this and compare it to spending $30,000 a year on college, or people staying at home playing video games/watching TV for 4-5 hours a day — which is the national average!  

Think about that for a moment, if your child presented you with the scenario of working 1,000 hours for no cash comp with lottery-ticket-level back end vs. four years of college and $120k in debt, which would you advise them?

If your kid is playing video games and/or watching YouTube/Netflix for five hours a day, getting them to pull the plug on that nonsense and invest in their career is a serious discussion some parents need to have.

Now, before you attack me as a cold-hearted capitalist (the latter true, the former only half true), you should know that we don’t do unpaid internships or free positions of any type. We don’t need to do that, as we have a modestly profitable business and, candidly, the risks around internships are too great these days (bad PR, a distraction for management and legal exposure).

Bottom line: the social media mob is giving really bad advice in this case. Trust me, someone who fought their way into the industry and became the GOAT angel: take the carry not the cash!

Why aren’t VC firms focused on slow/modest growth startups?

Yesterday’s post mocking the New York Times’ link-baiting story created a lot of debate on Twitter.

One thing that came up was, why don’t venture capitalists fund slower growth startups? Or, said another way, why don’t VCs invest in startups that grow at a normal pace?

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The number one job of a venture capitalist is to stay a venture capitalist.

This might sound cynical but, as a VC, if you don’t return enough money to your LPs (limited partners, a VC’s investors) you will not be able to raise your next fund. If you don’t raise your next fund, you’re not collecting management fees to pay yourself and your team, and you don’t have a chip stack to play in “the big game.”

If you want to STAY a venture capitalist you need to land these “dragon egg” investments — the ones that create enough value to give your LPs their money back. Dragon eggs are typically 20-40x your money back. So, you invest $7 million and get back $140-280 million.

That means, if you bought 20% of a startup for $7m, that startup was worth ~$35m, and then has to become a ~$700m to ~$1.4b exit for you to BREAK EVEN. Everyone makes money AFTER that investment, not before.

That is not easy.

VCs need to have double-digit returns every year (look up IRR for more on this) and essentially match stock market returns, with the chance of crushing them. If you match the stock market consistently, the thinking is you will eventually hit a Google or Facebook or Amazon.

“Stay in the game, stay in the game,” is the mantra.

The binary outcomes are just so yum yum, that you want to keep seeing flops (to use a poker analogy) and STAY. IN. THE. GAME.

So, the logical follow-up question is, why don’t LPs want to invest in VC funds that target slow growth startups?

That answer is even simpler, they have better options. If you want to return low single-digit returns, you can simply put your money in bonds, REITs or dividend-paying stocks — and not pay the significant fees associated with venture capital.  

What about you, Jason?

For background, I’m an angel and seed investor, so my job is much different than a VC’s. I invest in 50+ startups a year and 24 of 25 investments do not result in a meaningful return (i.e., zero to 5x).

I’m banking on hitting a serious return every 25 investments, with serious being defined as greater than 50x, cash on cash (REALLY HARD TO DO).

So far, after 200+ investments, I’ve got Uber, Thumbtack, Wealthfront, Robinhood, Desktop Metal, Datastax, and Calm.com as outliers, with a couple of dozen startups doing well to very well. I would expect one or two more of those to break out, putting me at eight or 10 outlier investments (one every 20 to 25 investments).

Bottom line: there are zero LPs interested in funding startups with modest to normal growth prospects, and candidly, I don’t meet many founders who don’t want to build large businesses (obviously some selection bias there, as a Mount Rushmore-level angel investor, people don’t come to me with dry cleaners and pizzerias that often).