- VCs have become more image-conscious with slick websites, constant social media, and endless events.
- But Benchmark barely has a website, which reflects its contrarian image and focus on founders.
- A public presence won’t bring in LPs, but it can reduce repetitive questions and attract founders.
Everyone has at least a reasonably comprehensive website these days — it is 2021 after all. But that’s not the case for Benchmark, the legendary venture-capital firm that made early bets on Instagram, Facebook, and eBay.
Want to know about Benchmark’s partners or their investing strategies? You won’t find that on the firm’s website, which contains fewer characters — 156 — than most tweets and is limited to the most cursory information: the address of the firm’s offices and a link spitting you out to a Twitter list of portfolio companies.
Unsurprisingly, Benchmark declined to discuss its approach, but its partner Matt Cohler said in 2012 that the firm scrapped most of its website because it wanted the focus to be on its founders.
Lesser-known firms, such as Anthos, have adapted a similarly spartan approach. But they are very much the exception, with most venture-capital firms these days marketing themselves as if they are consumer brands — with slick websites, constant social-media posts, and a slew of in-house events.
“VC firms are far more image-conscious than they used to be,” Tom Nicholas, a Harvard Business School professor who published a 400-page history of venture capital, said.
But it’s unclear how much that pays off for venture capitalists, said Nicholas, who added that Benchmark was doing just fine staying out of the spotlight.
“You don’t need to market if you have a great reputation,” he said. “Benchmark focuses on what it does well — investing in breakthrough startups — and that doesn’t involve much by way of blog posts, podcasts, or tweetstorms.
“Being contrarian is differentiation: That is Benchmark’s reputation. Its strategy is reflected in its approach to marketing.”
Nicholas also said he doubted fancy websites and social-media rants made a difference to limited partners (LPs), which are the wealthy endowments and family offices that invest in venture funds.
“If it did, then hedge funds would do it as well, and they are notoriously private,” he said.
Nicholas said he suspected the real reason many venture-capital firms like to be in the spotlight was a reflection of vanity.
“It can often be driven by the personal preferences of the general partners,” he said. “Some just enjoy the spotlight.”
But there are other considerations, venture capitalists interviewed by Insider said.
When Uber cofounder Garrett Camp started Expa in 2013, the early-stage firm barely had a website.
“We were super quiet,” Roberto Sanabria, Expa’s managing partner, said. “We figured we had our network and we didn’t necessarily need to get a ton of deal flow.”
But as Expa grew, partners increasingly found themselves inundated with repetitive emails and calls from founders.
“We answered the same questions over and over again, so we started being a little bit more open around the website and things like that,” Sanabria said.
Having a strong online presence can also win over new founders a firm is trying to woo, Christine Choi, a partner at M13, said. She finds highlighting success stories of existing founders particularly effective.
“As they’re doing their due diligence, and they’re looking for what this venture firm is about, they can see that we care about founders and we are really listening to their authentic stories,” Choi said.
M13 hosted more than 40 virtual events last year reaching far beyond the scope of venture. Richard Branson, the firm’s biggest LP, talked about how he stayed mentally agile, and Suze Orman discussed personal finance. M13 also produced a web series hosted by Katie Couric.
“Entrepreneurs who may not be raising right now, but will be in the future, are going to pay attention,” Choi said. “We hope that makes a difference.”