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The VCs who founders love the most

Data from The TechCrunch List points to several investors who bubble to the top

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Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Update July 2021: The TechCrunch List has been officially retired.

Over the past month, we have been asking founders to submit recommendations of VCs for The TechCrunch List, our newly-launched curated directory of investors who are ready to write first checks and lead venture rounds into startups. You can head over to the list itself to see all 391 investors across 22 verticals.

Announcing The TechCrunch List, a founder-friendly directory of first check and lead VCs

Beyond the final compiled list though, there was an even more elite group of investors who a wide number of founders just raved about in their recommendations. So while The TechCrunch List is a free resource for all founders, over here on Extra Crunch, we wanted to place special attention on a short list of 11 investors that founders were particularly effusive in their praise.

Let’s take a look.

Note: Recommendations were submitted “on the record.” However, out of an abundance of caution for the founders and their startups, we have elided certain specific details from these recommendations. They have also been edited for clarity.

Ben Ling of Bling Capital

Image Credits: Bling Capital

Ben had by far the highest number of founder recommendations submitted to us

Many investors will say they have the spine and conviction to be the brave one to make the first bet, but few live up to it like Ben. I remember the first phone call I had with Ben — we were first-time founders and fundraisers, but when he made up his mind, he committed, both to us and to […].

Ben went above and beyond, helping us to not only close our round, but showing us how to do it more thoughtfully and strategically. He’s truly unique as an investor in how far he will go out of his way to help founders — again, something many investors will say, but few live it out the way Ben does.

He’ll tell you he will work hard for you, and he really does. He will tell you he’ll pull hard on his network for you, and he really does. He will tell you he’ll answer your texts at 2 am, and he really does. We’re incredibly fortunate to have been introduced to him and Bling Capital, and I can’t think of another person more deserving.

And one extra:

I’ve worked with every top fund […]. Bling is by far the most value add first check investor I’ve worked with. It’s like having a sixth player on a five-person team. The beautiful thing is that even after raising our Series A, he’s still always there for you.

Stonly Baptiste and his Urban.us partner Shaun Abrahamson

Stonly Baptiste (Urban Us) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

They get it. Can see a hungry startup, with the seeds of success, no matter how complicated or how different an idea may be — they really get to know the team and who is driving the business. They also have an amazing Slack support network, are super involved in curating an ecosystem for their portfolio companies to thrive in, and ask the tough questions to their portfolio companies when necessary.

They were also one of the first to organize meetings and advice when COVID-19 first hit both with finance, shared learning docs, advice on PPP, cutting burn, etc. — other funds shy’d away from the problem to see what other funds did, or joined panel webinars to say things like “well we are seeing valuations come down now and we need to hold on investing for the time being and blah blah blah” – Urban.us instead led the way!

For all the investors that stood on the sidelines saying “we need to pull back and see how this environment shakes out” – they should talk to Urban.us and learn how to lead in times of crises … instead of taking the easy route and pulling back to wait and see what others do. 90% of a startup’s success is the hustle and determination no matter the challenges and no matter what issues (eh hem, COVID-19) get thrown at them, they make shit happen. The same should be true for investors!

Make shit happen when times are tough – that’s what Urban.us does and we appreciate their support.

Mar Hershenson and her partner Pejman Nozad of Pear

Image Credits: Pear Ventures

Mar is a visionary. She understands big picture while also knowing how to execute. Mar can understand the whole landscape while helping you map out stepping stones. She is also so supportive and helps you translate passion and ideas into concrete decisions and metrics. Even with a lot on her plate as a founding partner at Pear, she makes every minute that she gives you count and makes you her entire focus; she is always up-to-date on where you are as a founder and I don’t have to waste time playing catch-up. I love working with her and I would not be where I am today without her support and belief in me and my passion.

She was the first check in and she helped me fundraise my pre-seed round with institutional investors and she makes time for me regularly. Mar keeps me focused on what metrics I need to hit and she is always sending me resources or information that she knows is relevant to me. I am very lucky to have her in my corner, and I can’t imagine running my first startup as a solo female founder without her financial and mentoring investment in me. I personally have learned so much from watching her on how to be a strong, technical, competent executive. She gives great talks and she has a wonderful story of her own to tell! I endorse Mar & Pear 100%! They are an amazing first check in :)

And:

Even before we received their financial support, Pear Ventures provided us with office space, many hours of free advice, introductions to advisors and to a community of like-minded founders. They helped us recruit and hire some of our first engineers and refine our business strategy. They are incredibly supportive, aspirational (always telling us to think big) yet pragmatic. The dynamics between Mar’s extremely analytical background, and Pejman’s congenial and encouraging approach are the perfect combination — we couldn’t have asked for a better partner as our first check.

Jerry Chen of Greylock

I have had the pleasure of knowing Jerry for almost five years. He led Greylock Partners’ evaluation, seed and subsequent Series A funding of […] in August 2018, wrote our very first check and has served on our board ever since.

He is one of a handful of unique investors who not only has the deep product experience, understanding and foresight to identify industry trends in the enterprise tech market before they come to fruition, but also truly cares about entrepreneurs and the people who make up their teams. The people he works with matter as much as the ideas or markets he is betting on. In the world of disruptive startups, he’s also shown himself willing to throw out the rule book and trust his gut on the next big thing, taking risks on ambitious founders and new ventures where others might not.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jerry took the time to host an all-hands meeting via Zoom, where he discussed the current climate, shared the investor view, fielded questions and recommended precautionary steps companies should take. It is a testament to Jerry and who he is — not only an investor but a partner and coach — that he would make time in his busy schedule to speak so openly about market challenges, while also encouraging everyone on our team to keep pushing forward with his trademark focus and optimism. While Jerry is an expert in his field, he also is not afraid to take on a challenge head-on and embrace new ways of doing business in unprecedented times like these.

On a personal note, […] is the first company I’ve founded, after leaving my previous role as […]. I was exploring ideas for my next venture, and had many conversations with Jerry about […]. This vision inspired […]. Our team knew we had something special but that first check, along with Jerry’s ongoing confidence and counsel, has been a catalyst for our success. He has assisted with recruiting an amazing team and helped close many key candidates for us, and is always just a text or Slack message away. As a mentor, he helps you learn to problem solve rather than just tell you what the right approach is. By working closely with him, you become a better thinker and business operator.

He is the kind of leader, champion and coach first-time founders will want by their side as they navigate fundraising and the day-in and day-out challenges of building a business. He “gets it” and his personal support goes beyond monetary to social support and participation in media interviews and more.

Ed Sim and his Boldstart partner Eliot Durbin

Ed Sim (Boldstart Ventures) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Ed is one of the few seed VCs I’ve met where there’s a core group of entrepreneurs in the portfolio (extremely successful exits in the past) who keep coming back to work with him with an incredibly high return rate. His philosophy is to invest in people knowing that the journey isn’t a straight line, potentially coming back to invest in the next 2-3 companies. You can only take this approach when you’re CRAZY experienced and have developed a really strong intuition for investing, which Ed has.

He also happens to have a better network in Enterprise F500 tech than most $1B VC funds I’ve worked with in silicon valley, even though he exclusively invests in seed and keeps his fund small to stay focused. His team is also perfectly complementary to his skill sets – they each support entrepreneurs in a slightly different way.

He’s one of only a couple investors where I’d tell someone they had to find a way to take his money.

And from a well-known enterprise founder:

Ed and Eliot at Boldstart have been amongst the singularly most helpful investors we have at […].

They make fun of me for it now … they initially wanted to invest $750k, but I didn’t want that as I had nothing to spend it on. So they invested $250k at a time, in three chunks, or as they put it “we dribbled in money over time — and that’s when we learned the best founders are dilution sensitive 🙃”

Ed and Eliot also helped line up a pre-emptive series A for […], led by […]

And of course, they were incredibly helpful on backchannel when raising the series B from […] last year!

Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital

Image Credits: Noam Galai / Stringer / Getty Images

Josh is a champion for truly original investment theses and bold ideas. While other VCs were (and continue to be) heavily focused competitively on “what others are investing in,” First Round Capital brings smart people together to do the work and blaze their own path. Josh delights in being the first, genuinely backing people and ideas, and is part of driving early success: providing resources, respecting precious time, and empowering founders with thought partnership — not unilateral advice — a difficult balance.

This includes tailored support for first-time and female founders like myself, navigating some challenging aspects of tech, startup + VC culture. Josh is a true mentor who has fundamentally shaped my career. I’ve not met anyone who has worked with him who wouldn’t say the same thing. FRC has a wonderfully diverse group of smart CEOs of all genders, races, ethnicities and ages.

Elizabeth Yin of Hustle Fund

She’s very good and amazing investors and HUGE supporter of underestimated founders.

Before meeting her, a lot of other investors refused to give me money and told me that I couldn’t be a successful founder because I have an accent, I’m a short woman and an immigrant. She doesn’t care about all those things, and made me believe in myself and gave me my first check. :)

She is very hands-on investor as well. I feel like I have a therapist, advisor, mentor and investor ALL at once.

And:

They really ‘discovered’ us. We were simply researchers with an idea, and they brought us into the world of VC. Because of them we’ve since raised 2M and are off to the races.

Daniel Gulati of Forecast Fund

Image Credits: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Daniel was the first VC meeting we ever had. And we’ve reflected on that first meeting so many times, because as first time founders and WOC, so often that first meeting is filled with power-plays, over-the-top jargon, and micro-aggressions to make you feel like you don’t deserve to be in the room.

Daniel couldn’t have been more different, in the best way.

In that first meeting he made it clear that he wanted to have a real conversation vs. do the standard pitch, he gave us space to talk about how our background at a not-for-profit start up was applicable for what we were building at […], and throughout the diligence process was straight-up — he was communicative, clear, and direct about wanting to invest.

As one of the first checks in our seed round, and lead on our Series A — through every stage of the company Daniel encouraged us to trust our gut, approached being an investor and Board member with a partnership mentality vs. investor/founder dynamic, and motivated us to pave a different, authentic path as WOC.

Nick Chirls and his Notation partner Alex Lines

Notation is everything you want in a first investor. This is my first VC-backed company and they answered all the questions we could have asked. They were always honest with us, provided value and mentor-ship. Best first check I could have imagined!

And

One of the best first check institutions that actually mean first check. They invested in us as literally our first check and have been amazing partners through the journey until now. They tend to work on deeper tech in ai/ml/crypto/security/health but they invest in the occasional consumer company.

Gaurav Jain of Afore Capital

Gaurav Jain via Afore Capital

Our entire pitch process happened remotely and this was pre-COVID-19. We are based on the East Coast with Afore on the West but they were able to get comfortable via Google Hangouts and ultimately co-led our pre-seed with […]. I was able to meet Gaurav Jain in-person for the first time the week before SF went into lockdown.

With the uncertain times we are currently in and the inability to travel, Afore’s willingness to get behind a thesis pre-product and put bets on teams make them ideal first-check partners. The Afore team’s deep product knowledge is instrumental for early-stage teams looking to move quickly.

And:

Afore is a pre-seed focused fund. Gaurav took the time to deeply understand our business and then bet hard on us. After helping us fill out our initial $2M raise, they were in the trenches with us, solving for GTM problems, planning, and preparing for our next fundraise. We recently closed a pre-emptive[$5M+] seed from […] about 8 months after our initial pre-seed round, largely due to their hard work in making sure later stage investors knew about us and our progress.

I would recommend every early stage founder take the time to talk to Gaurav.

Shruti Gandhi of Array Ventures

Shruti Gandhi via Array Ventures

Shruti is amazing to work with, very responsive and an excellent coach – would classify her as a founder concierge, who works hard to make your path to success easier.

And:

Such a strong advocate for female founders and has been with us through thick and thin. Always willing to help and make intros and provide a platform for our founding team to make an impression on the business world.

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