The Vector team is buzzing after an incredible week at the Let’s Talk Ops annual Summit. A huge shoutout to Kristen Ostro and the incredible board at LTO for putting together what our whole team (and every attendee and sponsor we spoke to) agrees was the best event ever. We are certainly proud to have been a sponsor, but even more grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such an incredible community of operators, leaders, and trailblazers.
We kicked off Tuesday afternoon with cocktails at the welcome reception. As a remote team, we were excited for the face time with each other as well as the opportunity to (finally) meet so many of the folks we have been speaking to on Zoom all year (like Nicole Fuller and the whole team at Strut Consulting, Tara Perillo, Sean Park, and Danielle Darley to name a few).
Wednesday was jampacked with enlightening panels and discussions focused on fund and platform topics. I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways from those we were able to attend:
Founder Panel on Platform Services
The first panel of the day was led by Ashley Cravens of Uncork Capital with Rosa Shores of Blockspaces, Matt Redler of Panther, and Samyr Qureshi of Knack. Ashley asked this impressive group of Tampa-based founders questions around why they chose the VCs on their cap table, valuable contributions from VCs, founders’ preferences around VC interactions, and perceptions and takeaways from platform teams. In speaking of the benefits of platform teams, the panel noted introductions to same-stage founders and access to shared resources as the most valuable benefits. Rosa shared how mentorship led her experience in selecting a VC and expressed the importance of a “quick no” in the fundraising process. Matt expressed how he admired VC partners who were demanding when the company can push itself to be even better but also supportive when things aren’t going so great. Samyr shared how important it was to seek out VCs who value the founders – people willing to bet on you as a person. He also noted the importance of building a VC platform team with people who have been on the journey, a key for establishing trust with founders, as a major takeaway.
Community Building and Events
Lauren Young of Union Square Ventures led this discussion sharing insights about bringing people together, fostering connections, and the meaning behind organizing events. Lauren spoke about her experience of hosting 200+ events a year, and what she learned were successes and failures from each one. She spoke about the importance of leveraging network effect by focusing on what happens after an event – amplifying the event and the connections made. She encouraged the audience to “spark the flame, stoke the fire, then pass the torch,’ – know who your community is and who you are serving, design the event for the community you are serving, and build it into something that is driving impact you are passionate about. She also noted the importance of knowing when something isn’t working, the value of down-time, the necessity of establishing next steps, and the value of measuring ROI.
Institutional LP DDQ – Prepping for the Sophisticated LP Set
Sean Park of FRB and Irina Ludkovski of Albourne led a productive (and not-surprisingly-interactive) discussion about operational due diligence. Irina explained that operational due diligence is everything non-investment related; it starts with the manager itself and trickles down into compliance, investment operations, partnership accounting, and IT infrastructure. A fund review also includes a commercial review of fund governing documents, a look at side letter provisions (and tracking), services providers, and broad controls. Sean encouraged attendees to go through the exercise of filling out large institutional DDQs – that way you have already done the work when the time comes, and you have a sense of the controls you should be working on and prioritizing. Both expressed the importance of cash controls, basic security controls (like MFA), privacy (including access right controls), and confidentiality. Another major takeaway was the need for VCs (even exempt reporting advisers) to have baseline compliance policies including pay-to-play, insider trading, confidentiality, valuation, business continuity, and cash controls.
Investor Relations & Portfolio Data Management
Mike Preuss of Visible, Danielle Darley of Weaver, and Lacey Behrens of 01 Advisors led this discussion. Mike shared essential metrics every startup founders and investor should be tracking: cash on hand, cash burn, runway, revenue, headcount, and a north star (proxy metric). Lacey noted the value of spending time with LPs in a networking capacity for bolstering investor relationships. Danielle noted the five keys to audit success: establishing a timeline, establishing a valuation policy, performing an effective review of the fund administrator’s package (side note: see our essential guide for this here), ensuring alignment with your third party fund administrator, and checking in on adherence to the timeline). Danielle also educated us quite a bit about the important of establishing (and adhering to) a valuation policy – as a guide, she noted that investments greater than 6 months old will likely require some sort of metrics from your auditor. Also of note, 40-50% of audit clients had material adjustments in 2022 versus the typical 5-10%, validating the need to have a quality fund admin on your side!
Fund Model Finance & Legal
Sofia Garcia moderated this panel which included Vector’s very own Matt Wheeler alongside Thomas Heiser & Daniel Paramés of Cooley. Matt provided an overview of a typical scope of services for a fund administrator and noted the importance of selecting a fund administrator that has experience in venture (hint, hint – like us). He talked about what the fund operations team can do to leverage the partnership with the fund admin and how to build a strong relationship. Matt also briefly touched on different fund admin models, and what types of vehicles and size might require an admin to support the back office. The panel also discussed the challenges with some “back-office in a box” solutions versus the traditional white-glove service provider partnerships a firm may hire. Daniel and Thomas talked about key LPA terms, noting investment restrictions and the importance of having a mechanism to track and adhere to key terms. The panel spoke about the importance of knowing what is in your side letters – both on the LP side and the deal side. On the LP side, Daniel also noted that once something is in a side letter, future or current LPs can request that information so be intentional about what you are willing to accept. The Cooley team also discussed preserving QSBS investment status, management rights and pro-rata rights.
There was also a discussion focused on Data-Driven Tips to Brand VCs on Social Media led by Heather Harder of SoftBank and a Wednesday morning UC Berkeley Changemaker Professional Development Workshop focused on Living with Agency led by Laura Paxton Hassner (both of which we heard from other attendees were massively valuable, so we are sad we missed them!)
Aside from attending the panels, the time in between to socialize and network was planned and organized perfectly by the LTO Summit Event Coordinator, Netanya Dennis. From Axe Throwing (which we heard was a huge hit) to Cigar Rolling (a true Tampa specialty) to a team puzzle competition which got our competitive blood flowing, there were activities planned for everyone throughout the week. We were treated to two breathtaking sunset dinners – one on the rooftop of M Bird with a view of downtown, and the second on the Yacht StarShip, cruising around Tampa Bay. To top off the week, we spent the last day down at Madeira Beach for the afterparty, with the most incredible beach picnic set up.
I am probably (definitely) biased but this event also had an incredible roster of sponsors.
Including them all here for good measure: