Recently, GV General Partner (and TechCrunch alum) M.G. Siegler sat down with Darrell Etherington on TechCrunch's Extra Crunch Live. They discussed what startup fundraising looks like eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of remote work.
The following transcript originally appeared in TechCrunch.
We last caught up on the heels of your investment in Universe. The coronavirus pandemic was relatively new, and no one was sure how long it would last or what measures to contain it would look like. What are the business impacts of coping with the pandemic six months in?
Just talking about the business side of the equation, I do think that things have stabilized day-to-day. We're all learning how to operate in this weird and surreal environment and know how to do remote meetings better. We also know to hop on quick Zoom calls, Hangouts, and phone calls with portfolio companies, and do all board meetings remotely.
That seems like it's pretty straightforward on paper, but in day-to-day operations, these are all different learnings. I do feel like things are operating in a pretty streamlined manner, or as much as they can be at this point. But, you know, there are always going to be some more wildcards.
Does virtual interaction mean more time spent working with portfolio companies?
It depends on the company, but I would say as a whole, I do think it's increased in interesting ways because that's now the norm of communicating — virtually, or over the phone. We could do that before, but I think we used to have the forcing function of 'Let's talk about this when we meet in person next,' and since we don't have that anymore, there is more of a 'Let's just hop on the phone, or hop on a Zoom or Hangout, just to talk through this quickly.'
In some ways, that's a silver lining — I think it's opened a communication channel that hasn't existed before. I would also say I'm more involved in portfolio companies that we're invested in because I'm more ingrained in their Slack usage. Part of that is because they have shared channels now. Previously, you had to be a guest in someone's Slack to be able to do that, and I've done that in the past. But now, with the shared channels, it feels like I'm piped into a bunch of different portfolio companies in ways on the day-to-day level, which is interesting.
Is Silicon Valley's outward migration real, and will it persist?
I do think that there's a pretty good case to be made that this is a longer-term migration happening before COVID. You've heard the stories in the Bay Area because of housing prices, and because of some of the other hardships, there has been a change in the mentality of people wanting to live here, and feeling like they need to live here.
A big part of it is the tools that have arisen — like Slack and Zoom — are making it easier for companies to continue to go remote. I think that was a natural trend; it was never going to be the case that every single company was in the Bay Area. But I do feel like the pandemic accelerated the migration out. Now it's a question of, what does it look like if — and when — we ever get back to the 'normal world?'
Do people come back as offices reopen? Or do some people stay remote? I don't think there's a straight answer to that. I think it's going to be a hybrid. I believe that offices will reopen, and many people will want to go back to the office because they're burnt out from working from home, doing Zoom calls, and long for in-person connection again.
But I think others will have made determinations for themselves and their family that being in a different part of the country, or a different part of the world is even better for their living situation. Now that we know, as a society, that we can function this way, I think that there will be people who are always remote or, for the most part, and then in-office is not the norm.
What should entrepreneurs focus on when choosing investors?
It's going to vary, you know, depending on the company, depending on all sorts of different things. But if I could generalize it in the best way that I can, I would advise thinking about the relationship element because it is so critical. You're going to be working with each other in close day-to-day interactions, or sometimes weeks, or occasionally quarter-to-quarter, but whatever it is, you're going to need to have a functional relationship between the two sides. So that's why I like to establish a relationship in person first, before making the investment.
It's all about trying to feel each other out — not just me feeling out entrepreneur necessarily, but vice versa, with the entrepreneur seeing if I would be a good fit if we're joining that company's board and even if not. Am I a good fit to shoot ideas off of? To have a conversation with? To have a hard conversation with? I think all of those things are critical.
What is the key to success for startups surviving and thriving during the pandemic?
The obvious one is not running out of capital. That sounds a bit glib, but it is the conversation that happened, time and time and time again, in the early days of the pandemic and what we all had to figure out. From working with portfolio companies to talking to companies that are raising, the equation changed overnight regarding how much money you needed to spend and what.
In both ways, too — obviously, you worried with certain types of businesses, that revenue would dry up that had been coming in, so you have to think about it from that regard. But also, on the flip side, all of a sudden, you might have an influx of capital in some instances because there are no longer travel expenses. In some cases, you get rid of your office expenses, and those are real expenses. There have been multiple conversations with many different companies about how to balance that best. It took time for everyone to figure out what companies will look like and how to operate best going forward.
So should you be raising for a COVID-like world? Or should you be raising for a world going back to normal? The boring answer is a hybrid. You think that we will get out of this eventually, but you really have to prepare, just if things come back around again. What if this is a yearly occurrence, and not enough people get vaccinated, for instance?
So the money is obviously what it boils down to in terms of just making sure that the company can continue to operate, but other things are equally as important. Certainly on the people side, learning how to make sure that your employees don't burn themselves out, because we're all on Zoom constantly, and it's so much easier to connect because we're all just sitting at home and we can hop on a call or hop on a Zoom at any point.
But I think many people are feeling the burnout from that and seeing the downsides of when you're always connected. You still need to think about your mental and your physical wellbeing. I've taken it upon myself to try to do more calls [vs. video conferencing] just because I can walk and talk, rather than sitting in a chair all day. Try to think about a company perspective, how you best make sure that the employees and executives and everyone else are taking care of themselves in this very surreal environment.