Ever since I came to the “other side of the table” and started our Korea fund, I’ve been massively obsessed with how to best make my product. As a VC, we are no longer designing and developing a tangible product – instead we are trying to create a conducive environment to help our companies succeed so that they, along with other talented entrepreneurs, will want to work with us in the future. That is our product.
As investors, we are always on the sidelines. We are never meant to be out on the field. It is not – nor should it be – our job to get involved with the intimate product decisions, or the day to day activities of our startups. We invest in the startups because we believe the founders running the show are much better at what they do than we could ever be. Instead, as an investor, our job should be to create the best platform to help companies and their founders accelerate (whether to success or failure) their learning.
Everything that we are doing at 500S today, and everything that we are planning for the next few years, follow what I call the MINT Framework: Money. Information. Network. Talent. Those are all the scopes in which an investor, from their position on the sidelines, can help a startup accelerate.
Money is the most obvious and the prerequisite form of help for all investors (“anyone can do that”). The bigger the check, the higher an investor’s value for this part. The value should also be tied to the investor’s ability to help raise follow-on capital for their startups who are doing well. Simple.
Information is a couple of things. It may be the direct expertise of an investor in how to best navigate certain circumstances – from simple things like how to go about comp packages for that first key hire, to more complex and nuanced things like dealing with internal culture issues. It also may be the bird’s eye view information – things like informing of certain developing market trends that may be helpful, or helping to organize the founder’s mind to help her see more clearly what she already knows.
Network is simple too. How many doors can the investor or the partnership open up for their startups? Can they help you get introductions to the decision makers of a potential customer/partner in order to help accelerate time to close from months to just a few weeks? And if the investor herself doesn’t feel well suited to provide guidance for the startup in something, can she connect you to the people who can?
Talent is just that. Though a startup’s priority zero item may change from milestone to milestone, the importance of being able to recruit the best people to come work with you never changes. While the ultimate responsibility of closing a key hire is up to the Founder herself, having an investor who can not only help recruit and close via phone calls and interviews, but also has access to the talent itself, is extremely helpful for startups.
My product is MINT for the Korean startup ecosystem. It’s been a little over a year since we started our Korean fund and initiatives, and with over 20 companies in the portfolio now, we’re still definitely in our infancy stages. I’m excited for what we have coming in 2017 and especially what we have planned for the next 5 years. In every single thing we do in Korea, you can bet our building principle will be MINT.