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You’re Either Venture-Backed or a Lifestyle Business: The Big Lie

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PITCH judge Hunter Walk reflects back on a year in VC and concludes that businesses that don’t attract venture backing deserve more respect.  

By Hunter Walk (Partner, Homebrew)

Approaching Homebrew’s one year anniversary at the end of April so expect some ‘reflective’ posts on my first twelve months in venture capital. 

Venture capital isn’t the only way to fund your business and for many at the earliest stages of their startup, it’s one of the worst choices. Whoa, but as a VC, shouldn’t I be telling you that we’re the only game in town for real entrepreneurs? Nope. In fact one of the best surprises my last ten months investing has been the number of real companies I see entrepreneurs building. Ones which bring the efficiency of software into traditionally unsexy verticals via a new mobile app. Ones where a small team can get to profitability within a few months of launch by addressing a very real need their customers are willing to pay to solve. Ones that are likely to get wide adoption within a smaller professional niche. These are all wonderful businesses that may create great value for their founders, perhaps even turn them into millionaires. But the majority of these are not venture-backed enterprises because their scale levels off prior to the return multiple a traditional multistage VC seeks.

There are other good blog posts about the economics of a venture fund, why we fetishize billion dollar “unicorns” (even if I think that’s a silly question to ask at seed stage). What I want to focus on instead is our proclivity as an industry to demean these smaller companies as “lifestyle businesses,” which suggests an easy path, a coasting team, the four-hour work week. Bullshit. These companies represent the majority of entrepreneurs across the US and should be celebrated. The profitable 17-person company with an enterprise value of $20 million, 90% owned by its founder? That’s awesome even if you’ll never read about them in TechCrunch.

The lower cost of getting a startup off the ground isn’t just resulting in more small teams going after big ideas, but more teams addressing tangible, practical needs. To date there’s been a funding gap for these entities since they fall between your typical small business bank loan and larger venture financing, but the increased participation of angels, search funds, crowdfunding and new institutional lending models is quickly filling the void.

So RIP calling anything not venture-backed a “lifestyle business.” Go build your business the way you want.

This post originally appeared on Hunter Walk’s blog

About the blogger: Hunter Walk is a partner @Homebrew, a seed stage venture fund serving founders who enable individuals and small biz to think big. Previously he led consumer product management at YouTube and is a founding member of the product and marketing team at Linden Lab.