Gunderson Dettmer is the law firm a good majority of tech startups turn to in the Valley for fundings, mergers, licensing and other deals, and it’s been in the business of offering every-day legal advice to everyone from Oracle to DoorDash since the dot-com boom. It was ranked the “most active law firm globally” in PitchBook’s recently released first quarter 2017 Global Venture Capital League Tables and closed more than 1,200 VC financing deals last year — so what advice does it have for Richard Hendricks’ character in HBO’s Silicon Valley?
I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t watched the latest episode, but I did sit down with Gunderson partner Ivan Gavira to get his take on the Pied Piper saga, his craziest deal and why Silicon Valley continues to turn to him for tech legalese.
IG: The way we look at the world is startups are about money, people and ideas and we do all of those things. The whole firm was built from the ground up with the sole goal of being the employer of choice for high-growth, venture-backed technology companies.
SB: At what stage do you get involved? You have some pretty high-profile companies you work with.
IG: That’s what you see in the news. You see the DoorDashes, the Palantirs, the Warby Parkers and what-not because they have name recognition. But we actually start with companies at the very beginning. We spend a lot of time and energy working with brand new startups, incorporating them, helping them with their seed financing, their first rounds and so forth. It’s quite common we often meet with entrepreneurs sometimes before they’ve even decided to form a company.
SB: What’s been your most thrilling deal?
IG: So I work with DoorDash and the way I met them was because I was volunteering for an investor friend who teaches a startup class at Stanford and at the end of his class there was a little panel discussion and several students in the class were the original founders of DoorDash. That’s how I met them!
SB: You see all these deals. Have you ever wanted to create your own startup?
IG: (laughs) That’s the fun thing about Gunderson. This place is a startup, too.
IG: But I have to tell you I have so much respect and admiration for startup founders. I guess I’m just not that bold. Everyone talks about the ones that succeed, but when you’re a startup lawyer you know that for every one of those there’s 10 or 15 that didn’t make it where people really gave their blood and their sweat and money.
SB: Do you ever see a startup idea and just cringe? Like a really terrible idea?
SB: Do you ever want to tell them to just not waste their time and money?
IG: Maybe it’s to my detriment but I’m okay with telling them that.
SB: Okay. I’ll be honest — I didn’t think Twitter would be a thing and now here we are.
IG: That’s why I’m not a VC.
SB: What happens when someone like me or someone on my team breaks a story and it’s a deal you are working on? What happens inside Gunderson Dettmer?
IG: There’s often a call that comes from someone in the company and they’re trying to figure out how did [the deal details] get out. And the market has become so sophisticated so often when we get the call we’ll say “hey, it’s because we filed something.” But a lot of firms have become a lot more thoughtful and careful about that sort of thing. But sometimes it’s hard to break the reality to people which is folks in this town love to chat.
SB: Yes, they do :)
IG: I’m blown away sometimes at the accuracy of the reports, whether it’s TechCrunch or some of the other sources. It’s like how did they know that? We just filed that last night!
SB: Do you watch HBO’s Silicon Valley?
IG: I do! I love that show. You know what’s crazy about that show, and I’m sure you know this as a TechCrunch reporter but there’s no doubt in my mind a significant number of the story lines are lifted from actual events that have happened in Silicon Valley.
SB: I wouldn’t be surprised. So, what advice do you have for Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks right now?
(Caution, if you’re not caught up on this season, there is a slight spoiler ahead so don’t read if you don’t want to know anything about this season yet).
IG: I haven’t caught up on the latest episode but the last time I was caught up he was leaving to start his new internet thing but he hadn’t actually done it.
SB: Ya, you’re pretty much there.
IG: Well, if I were advising him the cool thing is he’s been through the wringer and now he’s not a first-time entrepreneur anymore so it’s like “hey, if there’s any way you can finance this thing and hold off on raising money for a longer period of time.” And I’m sure VC’s don’t like to hear that but the longer you can stay independent the more leverage you have.
SB: Well thanks for talking with me and offering your advice. By the way, if you feel like sending me any deals that just happened or that you know are going to happen, feel free. I’m on Signal.
IG: Uhhh, not one of our clients… but I’ll keep that in mind.