Some Venture Capitalists “Act as Mentors,” Some Install Seasoned Veterans as C.E.O.s, and Some Are “Founder-Friendly,” Allowing Genius “to Do Its Work”

(p. C4) . . . Mallaby never quite settles on the story he wants to tell. He introduces the book by laying out what he intends to do: “to explain the venture-capital mind-set” and “to evaluate venture capital’s social impact.” This mind-set, he says, revolves around the “power law” of his title — the idea that the distribution of phenomena is not “normal” but skewed. Instead of a bell curve, picture a long tail, where “winners advance at an accelerating, exponential rate.” Adapt or die, sink or swim — there’s no middle ground. This is why V.C.s like to talk about “grand slams” and “moon shots”; Peter Thiel says that a fund’s top investment should generate returns so spectacular that it will outperform everything else in the fund put together.

This, clearly, isn’t the kind of logic that has much use for steady, incremental growth, to say nothing of a flourishing middle class. You might therefore wonder about the “social impact” of venture capital, which Mallaby deems to be, on the whole, good. He concedes that “V.C.s as individuals can stumble sideways into lucky fortunes,” or can sometimes do unhelpful things. But he is ultimately bullish on what they have to offer: “Venture capital as a system is a formidable engine of progress — more so than is frequently acknowledged.” That engine, Mallaby reminds us, has funded such ventures as the development of synthetic insulin and, more recently, plant-based alternatives to ecologically damaging meat.

. . .

He gives examples of the different kinds of funds, with their various personalities and philosophies. There are V.C.s who see it as their role to act as mentors and coaches to inexperienced founders. There are V.C.s who insist on installing seasoned outsiders at start-ups to serve as C.E.O.s. There are also “founder-friendly” V.C.s, who promise to be hands-off, allowing genius, no matter how unorthodox or weird, to do its work.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Funder-Friendly Look at Venture Capital.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 1, 2022): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 31, 2022, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; ‘The Power Law’ Is a Funder-Friendly Look at the World of Venture Capital.”)

The book under review is:

Mallaby, Sebastian. The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future. New York: Penguin Press, 2022.

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