Jay Bhatti recently posted an article for Business Insider titled “Should Entrepreneurs Waste Their Time Talking with an Associate at a VC Firm?” In it he argues that, according to many experienced entrepreneurs, you should avoid talking to Associates and go directly to partners because talking with Associates will result in wasted time due to their lack of influence and lack of experience. He even tells one story of an entrepreneur walking out of a meeting because he did not want to speak to the Associate and would only interact with a Partner.
Perhaps Business Insider’s readers are all experienced, well-known, and well-respected entrepreneurs because the piece was presented as if an entrepreneur has a choice between speaking with a VC Partner or an Associate. Given that choice, I would have to agree with Bhatti: talking directly with a Partner from the beginning will more than likely expedite your process and result in you being afforded a bit more respect since you are now permanently associated with that partner.
However, most entrepreneurs do not have the option of simply calling up a VC Partner on their cell phone. Frankly, the ones that do are probably already wealthy and well-versed in fundraising. But for MOST entrepreneurs, especially first-time entrepreneurs, golf and cocktails with the Managing Partners is not part of your typical schedule, so to ignore an Associate in favor of an endless pursuit of the attentions of a Partner is not a good strategy.
If you’re already part of the “inner circle” in the VC world, good for you! If you’re not, however, do not be rude, dismissive, or disrespectful to anyone that you interact with. If an Associate is the only one at the firm who will return your calls, meet with him/her. You need to seize opportunities where you can get them. The road to funding my be longer going through an Associate vs. going directly to a Partner, but it’s certainly better than never having a meeting at all because your philosophy is Partners only.
Additionally, the article argues that while you should avoid Associates at the outset, once a firm has decided to invest in you, Associates are invaluable resources for due diligence, up to date information on competitors and industry trends, and (perhaps most importantly) hiring leads. But why on earth would an Associate to whom you’ve been rude and dismissive want to be helpful, give you his/her best effort, and go the extra mile for you when you’ve shown that you don’t have respect for him/her?
I believe that everyone should be treated with respect, period. However, if you need a reason to treat Associates with respect, remember that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is small and that you can get a bad reputation quickly. If you want to hire the top talent, you don’t want to be known as the entrepreneur that is disrespectful of the low man on the totem pole. If you want your due diligence to run smoothly so you can get the highest possible valuation, you want everyone on the analysis team to be on your side. If you want to be kept in the loop about trends and events, you want everyone you come in contact with to think of you and share information, not delete your email address and phone number.
Becoming an entrepreneur requires you to utilize every resource you have and to be strategic, so burning any bridges is never a good idea.
What are your thoughts on how VC Associates should be treated? Share your ideas in the comments below!