A Chat with Harry Stebbings on Twenty Minute VC

I recently had a wonderful chat with Harry Stebbings on his awesome podcast The Twenty Minute VC. There’s a very good reason it’s become the gold standard of podcasts about the VC and startup world: it’s Harry of course! He brings a healthy obsession for anything related to venture and entrepreneurs; an energy and helpfulness in every interaction; and deep domain experience gained from thousands of conversations with some of the world’s top investors and founders. I’m personally grateful to him because I’ve learned so much over the years from listening to his show.

The episode we did was very natural and conversational – it felt like two people grabbing a coffee or beer (or mojito in Harry’s case) and just chatting about what he calls “the wonderful world of venture.” We covered a wide range of topics but probably my favorite was building relationships with founders.

At Firebrand we like to say we invest in trusted relationships with exceptional founders. This is much more than a tagline for us – it’s describes how we approach every touchpoint with the entrepreneurs we invest in. We recently looked at all 25 companies we’ve invested in so far and determined how many we’d known and communicated with for at least 4 months before investing: it was 18 out of the 25. (We’d known many of those 18 for much longer than 4 months.) We don’t always have the luxury of knowing founders for months before investing – in those cases we squeeze in as much interaction as possible into the ~4 weeks it usually takes us to go through our evaluation process.

Of course trust is a two-way street so it’s super important for the founders to get to know us too. That’s where our transparency comes in handy. We’re very much “what you see is what you get” kind of people and we value authenticity and being direct. Once a solid foundation of trust is built, founders know we’re going to be the same people whether we’re hearing news that’s good, bad or ugly. We actually welcome the bad and ugly because 1) We know there will always be tough times and 2) That’s when we get to roll up our sleeves and solve problems alongside the founders, which is by far the most important part of our job. And after we’ve done that a few times they know they can keep coming back to us for help which is what we live for!

If you listen to the podcast I’d love to know your thoughts on our approach to building trust or anything else we discussed.

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