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An Investor Response to a Founder Rant

I just read this medium post from the founder of Seed & Spark. Emily Best, in the brutally straightforward way that only she can, broke down what it was really like to raise her $2M seed round, which she will not commemorate with a pithy TechCrunch article because, as she put it “Fundraising is a hurdle I have to clear on the way to building the business I want to build. It isn’t the business.” So she won’t celebrate. Instead she’ll do what she always does, push forward like a tank. Like she did when she wobbled into a meeting with me, pregnant AF. Or when she marched in to lunch with the fabulous Cody in tow, probably having just breast fed him.

BRAVA focuses on later stage companies, we don’t do seed (startup founders, this isn’t a creative way to say no, we make commitments to our investors and there’s not a lot of flexibility there, if you want to live to see another day as an investor). But I’ve had the privilege of advising Emily since before BRAVA was even formed. I call it a privilege both because she’s extraordinary but also because I believe in and want to see Seed & Spark grow into the kind of later stage company BRAVA can and will invest in. A privilege also, because I am one of those few people who has seen Emily’s struggles up close, I’ve taken the late (or ridiculously early) calls and texts and I’ve personally introduced enthusiastic investors to her with my full endorsement, only to see them ghost her or worse, guide her in asinine directions.

Not everyone can be like the badasses at Kapor Capital, who as a rule respond to every pitch with a response and reasoning. I’m sure I have some loose ends in my black hole of an inbox. But let’s be super clear, a good chunk of what Emily has experienced, in my personal and professional opinion, is definitely gendered, and not just your typical founder experience.

Before she published her last piece, she sent me a draft and insisted I rip it apart. As with a lot of things with Emily, there was no need, she’d nailed it. This recent post was different though. As I got through it, although I knew nearly every story, I was surprised by how hard they were to digest whole. I’ve already seen this movie, and despite all the twists and turns, I know how it ends. I was one of the lucky first texts, and I did celebrate. I think there was a little happy dance involved. Yet reading it in one consolidated whole, with NPR’s reporting of Weinstein’s arrest ringing in the background this morning, knowing she didn’t share some of the worst stories (I’m guessing, conscious of the fact that her fundraising days are far from over and bridges must not be burned) it still felt like a ton of bricks. Terrible because it’s a story, in some ways, of survival. But also wonderful, because it’s a map for the way forward.

I was planning to send Emily this feedback directly but it occurred to me that what I wanted was for the world to know what the view looked like from here, whether or not the founder thinks things are a shit show, the view from the outside can sometimes be a useful alternative lens.

  1. Emily mentioned the few of us who get to see the real struggle and how most people don’t want to see “how the sausage gets made.” While I think she’s right, it’s important that investors get off the Disney fun ride and let founders show up as they are. This farce is a vicious cycle with both sides contributing, but we’re the instigators as the ones in positions of power who celebrate stupid myths of meritocracies and fake origin stories while punishing founders who are honest.
  2. Emily writes, “We were not willing to ‘grow at all costs.’ That means we actually weren’t a fit for Venture Capital’s timeline.” Sorry Emily, I disagree. You are willing to grow at all costs. If your article illustrated anything it’s that you have already had to sacrifice more than most well-known startup founders ever had to. Just because you’re not willing to cross ethical or legal lines, the way companies like Uber did on their way up, doesn’t make you slower and should not make you less attractive to investors (I know, reality differs from this, but again, a note to investors). And your determination, especially had you not needed to expend so much energy raising, would have translated into faster growth and exactly the kind of timelines VCs so covet.
  3. Finally, Emily, in including the times she got taken for a ride, might come across as immovable. But she forgot to include the multitude of times that she took [good] feedback and implemented it. As she shared, she’s got great investors and advisors and I’ve personally watched her pivot, shift and navigate the treacherous waters of knowing the difference between useful and useless counsel. Don’t let her persistence fool you, especially founders who might walk away with the impression that if you just stick to your guns and push forward, things eventually happen. They don’t. Emily morphed, moved, adjusted and changed her company as she found new information and advice. And that’s what good founders do. The difference, in my opinion, is women founders who languish longer in never-ending “raise” cycles, end up having to kiss a lot more frogs. And it sucks.

Thank you Emily for writing what some might call a rant, but what another of my favorite founders, Rakia Reynolds, calls “the story behind the glory.”

Today will not be the day that some predator who systematically targeted women in entertainment was arrested. Today I will instead remember as the day I saw Emily Best give us all a glimpse of what the future of the entertainment business can and will look like. Onward!