Venture Capital - a hallmark of the B2B SaaS start-up industry has evolved over the past twenty years - but how have the primary value and responsibilities evolved?
Marcelino Pantoja has had a front-row seat in many positions, starting as an analyst at the investment office at Stanford University. Then Marcelino worked with Greg Sands to help stand-up Costanoa Ventures. These views provided insights over six years from over 500 start-ups founded by Stanford alumni.
The most surprising component of our conversation was that Marcelino believes that attaining Product Market Fit is a VC firm's first and primary role. What is Product Market Fit - Marcelino defines it using Andy Rachleff's (Co-Founder Benchmark Ventures) definition, as when you build a product that people desperately want and organic word of mouth is the primary source of new customers.
VCs need the skill and experience to help a company during the Customer Development Phase of the journey to find Product Market Fit. Finding Product Market Fit is the most challenging and risky phase of the entrepreneurial journey. I pushed Marcelino on why "VCs" primary role is to help founders find Product Market Fit. He responded that capital has become a commodity and that the best VCs deliver company-building experience and expertise to complement the founder's efforts. Other than that, VCs are like any other capital source and should be viewed as such - HOT TAKE!
One fundamental change today versus 10-15 years ago is the amount of accessible information on company building from successful founders. Another fundamental change in the technology start-up ecosystem is the number of start-ups that have scaled to become large enterprises. A by-product of this success is the number of people with the experience to help today's founders build and scale their idea and business...experiential advice is much easier to leverage than conference room theory.
Another fundamental difference to starting a B2B SaaS start-up today is the low cost of building and delivering the product. Thus "experience" from proven founders and operators who have been there, done that, and possess their own capital from previous successes are a great source of CAPITAL and KNOWLEDGE at the early stages of a founder's journey.
Marcelino's experience and perspectives motivated him to create a Venture Capital Index Fund, which simply stated is applying the concepts of traditional asset management to allow institutional investors access to a portfolio of VC funds. A VC Index fund is especially applicable to "early stage funds" which are harder to access for a traditional Limited Partner (LP), such as a University endowment or family office.
The value of a VC Index Fund to the entrepreneur? The primary benefit is to reduce the amount of time a founder needs to invest in fundraising by working with a fund comprised primarily of previous founders, who have the capital and operational experience that many traditional VCs cannot provide.
If you are a student of, or founder in the B2B SaaS industry, Marcelino provides a unique perspective on gaining access to two of the primary assets every first-time founder requires - capital and experience...in a single source.