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Becoming a Wartime CEO

Posted by William Rosellini on Mar 23, 2020 11:06:00 AM

For the foreseeable future the  capital markets are almost entirely closed while investors triage their existing investments and wait to see what happens with the proposed fiscal policy.    You will see alot about how the best companies were built in downturns, how private investors have alot of dry powder and are still actively investing.   This is complicated, albeit true.  

The knife is falling right now. No matter how you project it a lot of people are about to get sick and the global economy is (or likely already in) a recession. If you are an optimist, it will be a sharp V shaped recession. If you are a pessimist, millions or tens of millions will die, many many businesses will go bankrupt, and it will be potentially the worst recession of our lives. It is scary. But the important point here is that while we don’t currently know where the knife will land, we do know it is falling fast. 

Now imagine you are a private investor.   You have raised committed capital in the last year but you are watching the knife fall and taking calls from your limited partners (the people who invested the money in the VC fund).   The limited partners are watching their public market investments go up in smoke.  So while VC's have access to capital, most are likely unwilling to make a capital call right now to have limited partners liquidate at the bottom of the market (only to have the market bounce back in 90 days).  

So investors will be delaying. they all know in one week we will have a lot more information about how this is going to play out. And in that one week it will become apparent that in another week after even more data will come in.  Investors that run VC funds have 7 to 10 year horizons for their investments.  They don't have to take bets on what the market will be like in a month.  There may be companies here or there that can be funded regardless, but they will be very very rare while this repricing event occurs.

So why are all the VC funds so active on social media saying they are still investing actively.  First, deal flow is critical to this business. If you tell people you are not investing they might not send you deals any more and investors have a ton of time on their hands.  Each pitch they hear is an investment in their accumulated knowledge of the space.  

If you are a CEO right now, you are in a war.  You must adopt the attitude of a War-Time CEO ( https://a16z.com/2011/04/14/peacetime-ceowartime-ceo-2/) a term made famous by Ben Horowitz.

As the CEO of Microtransponder in 2008-2009, we raised nearly $5M in very tough market conditions.  The offering was well-received because we had a great team, great concept AND lots of non-dilutive funding to support the development.   If you need money right now to continue, you must assume that you will not be able to raise capital in the next 6 months and not just cut fat, cut muscle and into the bone.  You should be turning resources towards exploring non-dilutive funding options to make your offering differentiated from the other companies in the field.  

If you don't have a perfect set of fundraising materials, you should be working day/night during this time to finalize them.  You should be dealing with all of your regulatory filing/updates/process improvements and people issues now, as you wait for things to clear up to begin growing again.   

 

Topics: Raising Capital, Capital Strategy, WarTime CEO Techniques

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