What to do when your VC writes your startup off

The novel coronavirus has been devastating for many people, families and communities — and the consequences are still being calculated. The tech world has seen wave after wave of layoffs, sometimes multiple waves at one company only weeks apart. Some startups have lost nearly all their revenue, and depending on their cash reserves, have little hope of recovering.

For VCs, the last two months have been an exercise in triage.

Partners have gone through their entire investment portfolios to identify the winners, what’s salvageable and what (at least in their minds) has no hope of resuscitation. If you are in the first two groups, it’s back to whatever normal looks like in the midst of a global pandemic and a deep economic recession.

But what if you suddenly get a call informing you that your investor — perhaps your biggest champion to date — is going to cut the rope and write you off entirely?

That’s what we are going to talk about today.

Before we go anywhere, be thankful if you even know how your investors are judging your startup. Most, unfortunately, will couch the terms they use (“we will be engaging less” or perhaps “we are unlikely to do our pro rata going forward”) rather than just saying directly, “we are writing you off; don’t call us — we’ll call you.” That’s polite and face-saving for all parties, but the lack of transparency can make decisions down the road much harder. It’s better to know where you stand, even if the news is hard.

Finding your bearings

The first step to approaching this situation is to get your bearings. Much like during a fundraise process, it’s not uncommon for different investors on your cap table to reach different conclusions about your startup’s potential. One investor may write you off, while another has you marked at a more neutral valuation or even positively. This can absolutely be frustrating, and given the emotion of this situation, it can be hard to rationally accept that an investor who once believed in you no longer does so.