Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

You don’t need no stinkin’ venture capital.

Startup success is about focusing on the right things.

I’ve taught entrepreneurship at Stanford for ten years, and the number one question my students ask is “How do I find a venture capitalist?”

And my answer is just go build a great business. That’s what you should be focused on.

I was thinking about this as I read this week about how Sequoia, the venerable venture capital firm, wants so badly to invest in Zapier that they had to buy some shares on the secondary market because Zapier isn’t interested in taking their money. The Zapier team has grown the company to nearly $100M in revenue through hard work, careful management, and no venture capital. They like it that way, apparently.

That got me thinking about how much I admire founders who have built great businesses without venture capital. Many people in Silicon Valley today think that the secret to success is to get VC. But the actual secret to success is to work hard, take care of customers, and build a great business.

It ain’t about selling VC’s — it’s about selling customers. If you do that, the money will follow.

Here are some of my favorite examples:

There are many other examples, of course. These are just a few.

I’m not saying that venture capital is evil, mind you — it’s a great tool for high-growth startups to leverage, and many have done so successfully.

But my point, as I’ve written before, is that I think too many wannabe entrepreneurs craft their entire startup plan around what they think venture capitalists will like — which is completely backwards. Think about what customers will like. Build products that solve customer problems. Delight customers. Manage your venture well and focus on customers. If you do these things successfully, the capital will be the easy part.

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.

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