AngelGate: Chris Sacca Responds To Ron Conway

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Quick summary of “AngelGate” to date:

As I said the other day, there would be more private emails getting published. This one is from Chris Sacca, a prominent “super angel” who was not at the meeting I stumbled into but was at a previous meeting. He wrote a response to the Ron Conway email. It’s worth pointing out that this email is time stamped a good half hour before our story broke, meaning he wrote it thinking it would all still stay private.

This is also the first leaked email we’ve received that actually includes names in the header of some of the people who are involved in this mess. Presumably these were the people Ron Conway emailed, but the header was stripped out of that email when we received it. Like the Ron Conway email, we have separately confirmed this email is authentic, although Sacca will not comment on it.

I’ve removed one sentence from the email that was highly sensitive. Nothing that material to the overall message, but it was very personal and not appropriate to print publicly.

The email:

From: Christopher Sacca
Date: Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 7:05 PM
Subject: Re: Super Angels Gathering
To: Ron Conway
Cc: Josh Kopelman, Steve Anderson, Jeff Clavier, Mike Maples, Dave McClure, David Lee

Ron,

I agree with you that we all owe it to each other to be candid.

In that spirit, I will say that I will always be grateful for the opportunities you have given me in this business. You have shared deals with me, introduced me to colleagues, and invited me to events for years. Your philanthropy knows no bounds and has definitely inspired my work with charity:water and Livestrong. In fact, I have great respect for how you took my introducing you to will.i.am as an opportunity to become the single most important benefactor to his foundation. As I wrote last year before the Crunchies when I endorsed you for Angel of the Year:

I mention Ron last only because this one gets a little emotional for me. It goes without saying, his prolific reach is legendary. He is the Zelig of the startup world in that there isn’t a liquidity event in our industry in which he isn’t involved and a closing dinner to which he isn’t invited. Of course, he isn’t just invited as an investor, but usually as the guy who made the introduction, helped negotiate the terms, and saved it from the brink of disaster along the way. It gets emotional for me because no one in this business has been more generous, more selfless, or more caring with me. We all learn from Ron, and none of us could be here without him. I will never understand how he covers so much ground and how he manages to be so responsive and perform so much service for others. When you are with Ron, you know he will go to any length to help you. When guys with his success might otherwise take time to rest, Ron then redoubles his efforts for his charitable causes, not just giving money, but raising funds and awareness and doing hard work on non-profit boards. I feel lucky to know Ron and to have the chance to work with him virtually every day as I am sure many of you do too.

That said, I am having a hard time resolving the person I quite literally grew up with in this business, with the person who sent the email to which I am replying. Your anger and personal accusations hurt, and it is clear they are intended to.

I wasn’t in town for the second meeting, but I went to the first dinner. I wish you would’ve been there. Not only would your input have been valuable, but if you had attended, you would have seen firsthand these topics of discussion:

1) Standard docs to make financings cheaper for startups. The group talked about who would be willing to pitch in our own money and time to help draft a set of financing documents that would allow for priced rounds to cost the same as convertible notes. As you know, it usually costs 10-15 thousand dollars more to sell stock than issue a note. Entrepreneurs would directly benefit from that work by lower costs and less bullshit legal process to get a financing done. In fact, it is exactly what YCombinator did in building a model convertible note. I am sure you agree that would be a good thing for founders everywhere if we were able to publish docs like this to the public to be used as open source.

2) Pro-rata rights. At the first dinner, we heard, from guys who have been doing this for a long time, about the importance of securing pro-rata rights for future rounds. This would allow them to continue to invest alongside other investors at the new, higher, market price in future rounds. I have no doubt you would agree that entrepreneurs also benefit from having their early investors continue to stay involved and demonstrate their renewed commitment to the company. I know you would also love to be able to continue to invest in companies beyond their seed round, and you also know this is only ever helpful to your founders.

3) The futility of VCs blocking company sales. We also discussed how pointless it was for VCs to put clauses in deals that would prevent companies from selling and how the guys in the room had never invoked such a clause because doing so would create misalignment with their founders. We identified that as one way in which many traditional VCs were just missing the boat as to how to work with founders as peers and collaborators and not put them on the opposite side of the table. Each of us felt better knowing we weren’t alone in pushing back on this term that very directly harms founders.

4) Earliest stage founder cash-outs. Among efforts from others, we talked about my recent projects to get very early stage founders some liquidity. Traditional VCs have rarely been inclined to give founders any ability to cash out claiming it makes them less “hungry”. As someone who, just five years ago, had net worth of exactly zero dollars, I remember the difference between being “panicked” and “hungry”. As I have invested in more and more companies, I have learned that many founders would benefit dramatically from even the smallest amounts of cash (compared to the overall deal size). I have worked hard to get my founders as little as $25,000 to pay off credit cards and student loans. Or, in a small deal that closed this week, I was able to get a founder the money so he can pay for his wedding and not have to worry about taking on debt. I, and the other investors in this group who do the same thing, feel good about helping our founders in this way.

I hope you can really pause to consider who is on this list you mailed, as well as the others in the room you didn’t, and the way they do business. All of us have considered you a mentor along the way, and you have recognized that by collaboration with each of us. Inspired by your service, we have seen each of our firms evolve to continually try to always put founders first. Guys like Kopelman are so painfully pro-entrepreneur, and so service-oriented to the community of founders, one topic of discussion at our dinner was understanding all of the different founder perks on which he has spent his fund’s money. From the venture concierge and his hiring services, to his CRM software and CEO summits, I haven’t seen anyone add as much value to founders as First Round. I wish you could have been there to experience firsthand the discussion about how the rest of us could emulate more and more of that model. And, like typical Josh, he was certainly willing to teach us his best practices. I was so blown away, that I actually asked FR to lead a deal I sourced recently because I knew they could serve the company better than I could.

I know that each of the guys on this list coaches entrepreneurs they aren’t even invested with and continue to take time to help the entire startup ecosystem. They work to get founders access to early betas that they know will help. They call in favors to get costs down. They spend political capital to bring in the best hires and they lose sleep brainstorming how to solve problems. Each of the guys here takes phone calls and sends emails at all hours of the day and night. Everyone here hustles. Frankly, I find it hard to keep up with them, just like I can’t keep up with you.

I told you last night that I think some of this issue is worth discussing, even on stage. But, this message, and the ferocity and ad hominem attacks that you include, hurt. Both what you wrote to me before (calling this group “dirtbags”) and in this message above. I am not sure why it needed to get personal. In sharp contrast to your stereotyping about what you say is obsession with talking about cars, I actually drive a piece of shit truck with 115k miles, despite having been frequently encouraged to visit Franz to buy a Mercedes. I fly coach and I stay on friends’ couches in NYC and LA, not out of Signature Aviation and at the Peninsula. That said, though I haven’t yet made a buck, I sincerely hope I will. As I post clearly on my website:

“We don’t think of ourselves as money managers. That isn’t to say we aren’t tireless and competitive. In fact, we are ruthless negotiators, aggressive businesspeople, and have no allergy to disproportionately large returns. However, frankly, capital just isn’t that important to the early triumph of a company anymore.”

My founders will tell you, as will the founders of everyone listed here, that I/we sweat with these guys just like you do, bleed with them just like you do, and try as hard as we can to put their interests first. My founders stay at my house for team retreats. In fact, I just bought an entirely new place for them to be able to come to the woods, exercise, relax, focus, unwind, and bond with each other. That came out of my pocket. They get overweight? I buy them a mountain bike. They look skinny? I pick up groceries. Just talk to them and I am sure you will see that, though each of us investors adds value to our founders’ lives in different ways, everyone on this thread adds value, Ron. Everyone. To claim that SV Angel has a monopoly on adding value is disingenuous.

When I started angel investing, my first deal was paid for with a credit card check. It was a dumb idea, but I was so drawn to the notion that I could be helpful to the team and I relished the chance to be building something again. You and I were in that deal together and we both made out pretty well. As you know, at Google, I didn’t get rich by Silicon Valley standards. I left there worth less than a million dollars. I started doing angel investing in part because you and others like Coach Campbell encouraged me to and you knew I would be good at it. I wrote checks to companies when it was financially irresponsible for me to do so, then I went in there and busted my ass to make those things succeed. My days have been driven by a passion that makes it impossible for me to avoid the opportunity to help. Right now, 94% of my net worth is tied up in startups and I [REMOVED BY TECHCRUNCH]. I have every shred of my money alongside my founders, often buying their same common stock. No one but an obsessive idiot would ever allocate their money that way. But, I love what I do. And I know that goes for everyone on this list.

Kopelman bids his kids farewell every few weeks to fly the redeye here and back to be with his companies. I have watched Maples, Clavier, and Steve all drop what they are doing to be supremely helpful to their founders and to their peers. Each of them shares opportunities and leverages their network to try to offer the best possible service to their companies’ teams. Sure, McClure is loud and swears like a drunken sailor, but he takes bullets for his guys, and his service to entrepreneurs through Geeks on a Plane and his Startup 2 Startup dinners series is unparalleled. His followings among founders make that clear. They love and respect him, no matter how you may judge his writing style. They know they have an ally in Dave.

I have seen guys on this list, and in the larger group of all dinner attendees, repeatedly back off terms or convince other investors to take haircuts alongside them so deals can get done. Ask any single one of the companies who has met with me and they’ll tell you that I always negotiate against myself. To a fault. I have given back shares to make room for hiring and I have talked other angels into waiving any fiduciary arguments so our teams could stretch a small deal farther. Everyone here has done that knowing we will get to work with those entrepreneurs again in better times.

This group of guys could all take a much easier path if they were just out to make a buck. Everyone here could raise megafunds, bilk them for fees, jam too much money into deals and repeat that process all over again just mooching off the system. Instead, the folks you listed are all your fellow pioneers in a new way of doing business, a way that admits the structural change the industry has undergone. This is a different era, and each of these guys knows that means greater accountability than ever before.

I described on my Lowercase site characteristics that I think apply to everyone on this thread, and especially you, Ron:

We dive in to work with teams that obsess over user experiences, customer happiness, and that, to quote Paul Graham, “make something people want.” Along with relatively small amounts of money, we give them the time, attention, and the empathy that catalyze winning outcomes for all involved. Rolling up our sleeves, we help design front pages, invent new services, prioritize product features, negotiate partnerships, and deal with the everyday professional and personal challenges of startup life. We are grateful for the companies who have chosen us, and feel lucky for the chance to collaborate with such brilliant minds. The dealflow that comes to us is flattering, and we are beyond thankful for the other individuals and firms with whom we partner and learn from along the way.

It makes me sad to hear you don’t think that is actually the case, because I actually don’t doubt for a second that the guys on this list all exceed the standard above. You know they do. You have worked alongside them for years. You have broken bread with them. You know who these people are and you know what their values are. You have referred deals to all of them because you know the positive impact they have on this industry. Now you are willing to throw that away over second-hand accounts of what transpired at a dinner you didn’t attend. I think you owe this group more than that. I also think you owe the press and the founders who are reading the accounts you have prompted more than that.

Ron, we live in the age of Twitter. If we ever fucked an entrepreneur, or if an entrepreneur even hinted we had fucked them, it would be broadcast immediately and the resulting blog posts would be permanently attached to a search on our names. Founders have never been better educated or more empowered than they are today. We aren’t giving them money; they are giving us the right to invest in their companies. Our founders hire us and they do so after consulting a rich network of datapoints confirming whether we are or are not helpful. Slackers don’t get deal flow. Jerks don’t get deal flow. Poseurs get left aside. Abuse the system once and you are tattooed with shame.

Entrepreneurs outnumber us and they talk more than we do. The good opportunities are more than any of us can handle. There are legions of investors at the gates hucking checks at today’s founders. The only possible way any of us can stay in business is by serving. If we are not demonstrably and materially helpful to entrepreneurs, we are dead.

Pausing now to look back and re-read what you wrote, it just makes me sad and your rush to judgment of people you called your friends is disappointing. All of this goodwill burned with guys you have loved. All of this time spent on an issue when we should be helping our companies. (I am writing to you when I should be calling a founder to help him weigh the demands of his VCs and a potential acquirer.) All of this anger directed at people with whom you didn’t even have a discussion to understand what was or wasn’t going on. I wish you had been at those dinners. First, I am sure you would have had helpful input. But, more importantly,you would have instead seen your peers working, as they have always done, to cut through the bullshit in this industry and continue to restore the purity and honor a decade of misaligned interests has left here.

I hope you will find some time over the next couple of days to chew on all this, some time to reflect on who we all are and what we all do. I hope you will spend a little time with our founders and ask them how they feel about working with all of us. I hope you will work to clear the air about what did or didn’t happen. You have such an important voice. But, with that voice comes the responsibility to investigate, know, and share the whole truth.

All told, I know that the gratitude that this group has for your work in this business can’t be undone with one vitriolic email. So, I am optimistic that after you have a chance to chat with each of us, you will remember the passion and selflessness that underpin the work all of us do. While I deeply believe none of us could have gotten here without you, I also ask that you respect that we have all worked our asses off to be here. We all care, we all help, and we all serve. We all learned much of that from you.

I hope in time that will be clear once again and we can all get back to helping our founders and each other.

Thank you,

Chris

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