Over the last seven years, a bunch of variables – some influenced by our effort and attention, while others definitely out of our control – fell into place much more positively than usual. The result being that CloudFlare and 10X Genomics – companies in which Venrock led Series A financings – both went public this week. These are terrific, emergent businesses creating material, differentiated value in their ecosystems… with many more miles to go. Their founder leaders – Ben Hindson and Serge Saxonov at 10X, Michelle Zatlyn and Matthew Prince at CloudFlare – are inspiring learners with extreme focus on driving themselves and their organizations to durably critical positions in their industries. They, and their teams, deserve kudos for their accomplishments thus far, especially given they are sure to remain more focused on the “miles to go” than the kudos.
The VC humble brag is a particularly unattractive motif, so let’s be clear, these returns for Venrock will be great. Our initial investments, while probably at appropriate risk adjusted prices then, now look exceedingly cheap. In addition, each company had operational success in a forgiving capital environment, so our ownership positions were not overly diluted. Whenever we do crystallize these positions, each will return substantially more than the fund’s committed capital. In addition, we hope that CloudFlare and 10X’s success will help us connect, and partner, with one or two additional tenaciously driven company builders.
But none of this is the reason for actually putting pen to paper today. The important nugget, too often buried amidst companies’ successes, is reflected in the opening sentence of this piece. Each of these businesses are mid-journey on the path of 10,000 steps on a knife edge.
To the pundits and prognosticators, startups begin with a person and an idea (maybe a garage) that leads to a breakthrough, after which money falls out of the air. This narrative ignores the ongoing barrage of strategic and executional hurdles, and also the asymmetry of consequences. One wrong move or bad break can erase the gains resulting from many right calls – this is life on the knife edge. This phenomenon of disproportionately large negative repercussions has corollaries in the realm of integrity and respect – it is difficult to gain, but easy to lose. One step off the knife edge is a problem.
Successful start-ups are the result of teams making thousands of – much more often than not – good choices, but as importantly, rapidly fixing the bad choices. This is hard, lonely, and unforgiving work that isn’t for most people, especially at the formative stage. These pioneers invest themselves completely to forever change their industries.
So while – for the first time – two Venrock portfolio companies are ringing the bell at different stock exchanges on the same day, knowing these teams I am certain that they will quickly return to their journey of asymmetric risk/reward because it is their nature. These IPO’s are one step along that knife edge, in this case to gather capital, provide liquidity and allow for maturation of the shareholder base. Congratulations to the employees of CloudFlare and 10x during this moment of success – thank you.