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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The TechCrunch List is dead. Long live commodity capital – TechCrunch

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It’s been almost exactly a year since we launched The TechCrunch List, a curated directory of venture capitalists designed to guide founders to the VCs most relevant to their startups. We had nearly 4,000 recommendations from founders — often with extensive documentation that in some cases exceeded 1000 words. From our initial edition to several extensive updates, we ultimately selected 531 investors.

It was a great experiment used by hundreds of thousands of people with surprisingly deep engagement (people really love reading lists, apparently). Nonetheless, we are officially retiring the product today.

The reason is simple: the venture capital industry has radically changed over the past year, and the central thesis we used in constructing the list no longer applies.

When we designed the list — which, to be clear, was never a ranking — we organized experienced investors across three main axes:

  • Specialization: We believed that investor specialization mattered. We wanted to match biotech founders with biotech investors and ecommerce companies with ecommerce VCs. The bulk of our work reading through all those founder recommendations was identifying the brilliant investors in 31 different market categories who could offer differentiated strategic advice.
  • Stage: We wanted to match founders with investors who would invest at the stage their companies were at, ranging from pre-seed to growth.
  • Geography: We believed that local investors would have an edge over distant investors for founders, particularly at the earliest stages where regular counseling would be useful to reaching product-market fit.

In other words, we took a very strong view that capital wasn’t a commodity, and that the right investor could radically change the trajectory of a founder’s ambitions.

When we started putting together the plans for The TechCrunch List in January 2020, the pandemic was just starting to spread around the world, and many of these assumptions still held true. However, as I think we have all seen, those assumptions have been completely upended over the past year.

The reality today is that capital has never been cheaper or more commodity. VCs invest rapidly, in all geographies, at all stages, in all industries, constantly, rapidly, and all the time.

I constantly heard this feedback over the past few months from both founders and investors. For founders, the focus on terms and price seem to consistently outrank nearly any other factor in building a relationship with an investor. Few founders would ever countenance lowering the valuations of their companies for a more experienced or specialized investor or an investor who was located locally. At the same price, these factors could differentiate one investor from another, but otherwise, price prevails, pretty much every single time.

Commensurately, VCs (and this applies most heavily at big funds of course) no longer care about any guidelines or theses around investing. Any stage, any geography, any market — if there is a deal to be done, they get it done and quickly. Tiger Global and SoftBank’s Vision Fund dominate this narrative, but there are at least a good dozen other firms that have similar styles these days. And given these are some of the largest firms by assets under management, they also just dominate the term sheets flying around the startup world.

If The TechCrunch List was about bringing signal to the noise of fundraising in order to save founders serious time and work, the reality is that the market today is just complete noise and frenetic chaos, and there truly isn’t much to be done to clarify that. The upshot is that VCs make decisions with more alacrity than ever before, so the good news is that the chaos should be short-lived for founders today.

So what’s next? We’ll continue experimenting with ways to help founders fundraise and find the best investors for them. That’s the premise of Extra Crunch, our Early Stage events and the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt (which is coming up in just a few weeks — so buy your tickets now!) as well as our Extra Crunch Live series of discussions. Who knows, maybe we’ll introduce The TechCrunch List in another form in the future. But for today, it’s burned out and taking a nice, long, post-pandemic vacation.

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