VCs Square Off on Best Ideas to Raise Money in Crowded Fintech Ecosystem

The best way to get the attention of a venture capitalist is to get an introduction. Unless it isn’t.

Three leading fintech investors debated the fine points of raising money at the Benzinga Global Fintech Awards conference last week. The field has gotten crowded with many me-toos in all the major categories — from payments to virtual reality to artificial intelligence, the newest one-size-fits-all solution to what ails finance.

The three VCs, queried by McCarter & English partner David Sorin, debated the fine points of the best funding sources for entrepreneurs and how to get their attention.

“I am trying to think of a deal that didn’t come through a referral,”said Steven Lau, managing director, WorldQuant Ventures. Referrals ensure that the firm is sure “to see deals we want to see.”  Gene Munster, founding partner, Loup Ventures, said he relied on his network as well. “Stuff that comes in cold to us on the website is probably not the quality we like to see.”

Not true, asserted David Teten, managing partner, HOF Capital. Companies that came outside the typical VC network outperformed companies that networked into VC capital, Teten said, citing a First Round study of 300 companies that raised funds between 2005 and 2015.

Banks and other corporate partners got a mixed wrap among the experts onstage. Munster said a banking partner can be valuable to help a startup get through its proof-of-concept. Lau said a startup that aligns itself with a bank gains a big client right off the bat and great resources. But David Sorin warned: “Unlike a financial partner, a corporate partner’s goals and strategy can change. That’s a risk.”

Teten cautioned investors away from “non-standard” agreements with entrepreneurs. Hot companies have been using their muscle to keep more power in their corner. But Teten said startups that don’t want their investors to sit on their boards are missing out on valuable resources. And they may be sidestepping accountability, never a good sign. Conversely, partners that are too controlling can kill a company — which Teten saw happen with one startup that agreed to onerous terms from a banking partner.

The VCs didn’t seem worried about the multi-decade drop in publicly traded companies and the ever-shrinking market in IPOs. In an interview, Munster asserted:  “There’s no shortage of capital.” Private and publicly traded companies have stepped into the void. “Valuations on private companies are bigger than they were 20 years ago,” observed Munster, who recently left Piper Jaffray after 21 years — largely because the action is no longer in public companies.

Today, he said, startups are likely to find their exits with private giants like Airbnb or Uber or the publicly traded giants –Facebook, Microsoft, Google. The exit has changed but the economic rewards for entrepreneurs and their investors remain in tact. In fact, Munster believes AI and VR are part of a great new wave in tech comparable to the wave of innovation of the Internet, the PC, and mobile. This time, the surge in innovation will get funded through the new economic giants of the tech world.

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