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Sunday
Dec272009

Drawing From Y-Combinator - A More Perfect Crowdsourced Venture Fund

I've written a few times now about the idea of a crowdsourced venture capital fund - where there would be a large number of small investors, each playing a role in the fund's investment decisions. It’s my belief that as the venture industry evolves, the disconnect that exists between investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and the tech community can be bridged well through such a fund. If you'd like some more background on what my ideas for a crowdsourced venture fund are you find it here, and here.

 I got thinking about a crowdsourced venture fund again after reading some more about the great stuff Y Combinator does. Y Combinator provides seed funding for startups, but money is just a small part of what they bring - typical investments are less than $20,000. Instead, where Y Combinator really provides value is in their work with the startups they fund. They provide hands-on guidance to help startups become successful, including forming the company, legal issues, developing the product(s), managing the company's growth, and even finding future funding. In an age where the cost of starting an internet company has gotten pretty low, Y Combinator, which has helped spawn great companies such as Disqus, Loopt, Scribd, Xobni, and Reddit, provides something more valuable through its expertise and connections. It got me thinking that a crowdsourced venture fund would need to be able to do something similar.

A crowdsourced venture fund would be best suited for making tech investments; particularly early-stage tech investments where the backing of a crowd (in this case the LP base as well) could help propel portfolio companies. You would also be able to draw from the wisdom of the crowd to help with any problems faced by the startups invested in. Here, you have an instant network, as long as the LP base remains on the tech-savvy side, which you would expect. But what about the nuts and bolts of a company and nurturing it properly early in its life? The truth is that most traditional venture capitalists don't do much there as you would think, which makes YCombinator special. In a crowdsourced fund you would ideally want Y Combinator-type VCs armed with their own connections which, along with input and backing from the crowd, would really create an ideal situation. You would be able to help entrepreneurs effectively through a variety of issues by drawing from the crowd, only having to make sure that the crowd is sufficiently engaged to want to lend support. Part of this is achieved through their investment into the fund itself. Part of it is also making them involved in the investment process.

What would a crowdsourced fund do with a very large pool of capital? It would be able to do what Y Combinator can't do: continue to fund the companies at later stages. Instead of having other venture firms come in for a series A or B round, ownership could be maintained in the companies as they grow. Of course you could always push for a larger ownership with the seed funding as well, but you have to be careful there as you want the entrepreneurs to be motivated with significant interest in their companies.

And what about the vetting investments? Y Combinator has an application process for companies, but for a crowdsourced fund, you would probably want a combination of companies applying for backing as well as the fund's VCs going out and sourcing investments in a traditional manner. Both sources of dealflow would be pooled and, as I've mentioned before, the crowd, or LP base, would be able to vote on the most promising companies, which the VCs would then use as input in making their final decisions. The reason you wouldn't leave it up purely to a vote is that you need to protect the confidentiality of potential investment and so voters would not have complete information when making decisions. You would also use the wisdom of the crowd by voting/collaborating on solutions to problems companies face that can't easily be solved by the VCs and would benefit from having input from the crowd. While the crowd, or LPs, wouldn't be compensated for their participation, they all have their investment in the funds at stake as a motivator.

The thought of a crowdsourced venture fund is definitely idyllic, and maybe even more so if you want to try to do some of the things Y Combinator does, but as capital starts to take a back seat to the other things venture funding should provide, it’s a model that seems to make more and more sense.

Previous posts on Crowdsourcing Venture:

Crowdsourcing Venture

Another Take on Crowdsourcing Venture

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