8 minutes | Sep 19, 2013

Convertible royalties: An alternative to the VC model

My wife and I co-founded the Voice123 brand ten years ago. Today, it’s a successful business with 30 employees. Its success didn’t depend on angels, accelerators, or venture capitalists. In fact, had we listened to any of them, Voice123 would not exist today. There are thousands, maybe millions, of entrepreneurs like us out there. The current model made popular by Silicon Valley is suffocating many of them and killing startups that could also become successful. This article explains how and offers an alternative. The current Silicon Valley model has one major flaw – it creates an ecosystem that asks entrepreneurs to shoot for the moon rather than build a sustainable business. VCs won’t waste time working with companies that are likely to sell for less than $50 million (I don’t blame them as their business model needs such scale). Angels and accelerators exist because VCs exist. They work as a bridge between the startup and the VC. Although some angels prefer capital efficient businesses that don’t need much VC to avoid dilution, many angels won’t invest in startups that aren’t likely to scale to the $50 million valuation level because they’re afraid VCs won’t invest. Given that most accelerators follow the angel/VC/exit model too and measure their success based on the level of funding startups get, many entrepreneurs with great ideas and companies are being told to pivot to try “bigger ideas”. In fact, they don’t even consider bootstrapping, which actually works! Unfortunately, forcing first-time entrepreneurs to “dream big” and execute on $50 million ideas is no different than asking a first-time driver to compete in a Formula 1 race. It is very risky, to say the least. The concept of “Go Big or Go Home” may work for some, but it should not be a rigid mantra, especially in emerging economies. I (and many of my colleagues) am fatigued from “demo days,” that, judging by recent trends, should be renamed “PowerPoint Days,” where panelists, primarily made up of investors, tell entrepreneurs that their companies are “not good enough” simply because their firms wouldn’t invest in them. I’m tired of VCs dismissing entrepreneurs because their startup is a “lifestyle business” (as if being a VC isn’t a lifestyle business!). I don’t want to continue seeing emerging economies trying and failing to copy the Silicon Valley model, teaching entrepreneurs how to raise angel capital when there are still few succ
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