I really enjoyed my conversation with Eliot Durbin of Boldstart.vc. He's had an amazing ride with his partner Ed Sim and by the time this blog is posted, they'll be a decade deep into their firm and going strong with their 4th fund. I absolutely loved Eliot's story into venture capital and building businesses. Starting at the ripe age of 15 and armed with a computer, he learned quickly what happens when you have an idea, you have the means of production, but you don't have the cash or liquidity to actually scale. He built a site called templates.com and began selling software templates for $1 as a reseller to big companies. The big problem came when he had to deal with support, reseller agreements, and chargebacks. His parents clearly weren't happy when they received pallets of products and notices of being sued... and sent his ass off to college.
"I learned at a very young age what venture capital was all about. It's about helping a founder scale the company and I believe it's an art that you practice like golf, you can play it your whole life and you always get a little bit better."Eliot Durbin | VCHunting S3E11
After college, Eliot had opportunities to learn about investing and angel investing and eventually learned the ropes and was introduced to his current partner Ed Sim and built Boldstart.vc. He feels very fortunate to work with Ed as his partner because Eliot believes it's smart to have someone who has a lot more years of experience help you grow into the business of venture. During our conversation, Eliot even referenced the idea that venture capital is an apprentice-system and Ed Sim has been absolutely integral at Eliot's learning and success as a VC:
"At Boldstart we create two things: options and leverage. Most of our investments are pre-product. We only back founders that are technical and building in the enterprise, and we do it with 20-25 companies per fund. We create the options that the founders need to look at and make a decision and the leverage to take down those options."Eliot Durbin | VCHunting S3E11
One thing I really appreciate about Eliot is his evident passion and love for the venture capital world. Even if he's kind of a masochist in that he loves the early stages of development, product, strategy, and going to market for early-stage startups - these are the hardest times of any company! Considering his early experiences as a founder/entrepreneur, he knows that it is the early-stages where he can do the most for the founders and really help them scale options and leverage!
The VC world and founder world is hard. It's not easy says Eliot, and it's not meant for everyone. In many ways, as a VC, you sometimes don't have the answer for a founder, but you know of a person who can give the right answers. A VC's job is to connect the founders with the right people:
"Being a VC isn't always a glorious job. It's a job where there are really hard times and good times, and your job is to be a rock in between those two things. The advice I would give to a first-time founder and pass along is, go find someone who isn't going through a startup for the first time and let them give you a gut check. At the very least, get out there and make sure that you're not a snowflake."Eliot Durbin | VCHunting S3E11
With 10 years of experience with Boldstart, I wanted to know what Eliot's opinion was on what has changed around venture capital, and what needs to change. I loved his response in that back 10 years ago, there was a big push for founder empowerment, today there are so many more tools and mechanisms to help founders succeed. As a founder, I know that today it's much easier to build a startup and get going than it was 10 years ago! The tooling and systems are so powerful today!
What has also changed is the inflation of early-stage investing. We both wondered whether there will be a leveling off after all of the COVID19 aftermaths and whether the economics of venture capital will reach an equilibrium that makes sense. Pre-coronavirus, things were getting pretty crazy when it comes to valuations (WeWork, Softbank-style inflation)! For Boldstart.vc, that won't be a problem:
"We at Boldstart don't ever want to grow that big, we want to be nimble and focused on getting our ownership targets. What's most important is that our founders have options before the larger rounds to prove themselves, get the right evaluation and attention from the right partners and find their best fit for the next round."Eliot Durbin | VCHunting S3E11
At the end of the day, Eliot and I both agree that what hasn't changed is that the best founders still have all of the best options. So for any of you founders out there with great ideas, make sure to hit up Eliot Durbin and Boldstart.vc! They would love to talk with you and help you get to the next level!
I really enjoyed this conversation with Eliot, I look forward to how he will continue to make his mark with Ed Sim in the venture world!
Enjoy my retrospective!
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