Forget entrepreneurs and PR folks. Increasingly other VCs are getting pretty sophisticated at working the blogosphere to try to make deals happen.
Nearly every week, I see an article about someone raising money that we got as a tip too. Except after calling a dozen or so sources, we couldn’t ever get the round confirmed. Sometimes sources disagree on the details, but if we don’t get confirmation that a deal is actively happening, we don’t run a story about it.
That is really not a hard policy to enforce.
The hard part about my job is getting an initial tip no one knows about. But the easiest part is to get a funding bake-off confirmed. Entrepreneurs like to pitch to a lot of firms. And while most of the good firms won’t call up someone like me and tell me about it, if asked, most won’t lie either.
One firm was stunned when we called them last week about Erin’s scoop that Etsy is raising money, because the company had been so good about only briefing firms that it knew were really interested, going so far as to make them fly to Brooklyn ostensibly so Etsy execs weren’t spotted in the Valley. But even in cases like this, the details almost always get out. There are just too many reporters chasing too few good scoops and too many people bidding on these deals.
So when we can’t find anyone to verify details of a tip, it’s usually a sign that someone is trying to work us. Typically this comes from entrepreneurs telegraphing that there’s more excitement about a deal than there really is.
This is the downside to so many people (PandoDaily included) writing about a fundraising in process as news. In a pre-blogosophere world, the press typically waited for the finalized announcement. Writing about a black and white fact like money in the bank or a deal being signed makes it a lot less likely you are getting played.
But increasingly, I’m seeing cases of this blog-baiting coming from investors not entrepreneurs. Why? Some companies just don’t raise money fast enough for the Valley.
The prototypical example of this is Quora, which has taken a long break from fundraising since its $11 million series A round back in 2010, an eternity by venture standards. For a while TechCrunch heard constant rumors that they were raising a new round. When we traced them back, and it always turned out that it was coming from some venture capitalist who was hoping a story in TechCrunch saying Quora was raising money at a huge valuation would cause so much excitement and so many unsolicited term sheets to pour into the company, that the board would cajole the founders to start their fundraising process earlier than they had planned. It never worked.
Frequently, when I hear a Quora-like case of someone supposedly raising money at a high valuation, but can’t get it confirmed, I find out an unsolicited term sheet is at the root of it.
Whether the culprit is always an actual paper document or a verbal offer out of the blue when a company isn’t raising money is unclear. There’s a range between totally desperate and respectably ballsy, when it comes to these kinds of things. But I’m curious if actual paper documents sent to a company ever actually result in a deal. I’ve been asking around all day and haven’t heard of a good example of it yet. If you know of one, I’d love to hear about it.
Here’s the problem: No firm with options is going to make an offer like this unless there’s a strong verbal agreement in place, just like no one wants to propose to a girl just to have her say no. And if she says yes, just because the diamond (i.e. valuation) is huge, what kind of girl is she? If the girl is pretty enough, someone can always swoop in with a bigger rock.
So the more dramatic gestures are typically made by a firm that’s already in a precarious position, hoping to make a statement with some arm candy. These gestures are Hail Mary attempts to offer an entrepreneur money, at a price the big five firms may not pay, saving the entrepreneur the hassle of fundraising. And that just increases the stigma of accepting these kinds of deals, because typically a secure firm won’t make them.
The benefit to the investor mostly has to do with marketing. As the Valley has become more and more polarized with a handful of huge winners and the rest struggling to raise their next funds, having a marquee name to put on your Web site can make or break a firm’s reputation.
But that logic aside, I’m unclear on whether these unsolicited term sheets ever work as intended. Even if they convince a founder and his or her board that they should raise money, it’s not like that founder is just going to grab the first offer. Typically they’ll shop it around. And if there’s no preexisting relationship or that firm doesn’t have particular industry expertise, then the firm comes off as the guy who started the bake-off but, once again, didn’t win it.
Perhaps the reasons we’re seeing so many of these tips is because they’re a less committal way to have the same impact: An investor pushes the company into the fundraising spotlight without even having to name himself in the process.
Lame investors: Just stop it. You’ll only piss off the press when those rumors don’t come true, and odds are it won’t have the impact you want anyway. The best thing blogs can do is what most of the best tech blogs already do: Refuse to run them unless there’s solid confirmation, page views be damned.
[Image Credit: Shutterstock]