The last week, Boston has been abuzz with the news that Mark Zuckerberg was coming back to "visit". In one of his various interviews, the founder of Facebook remarked that "if he could do it all over again, he'd have stayed in Boston".
Almost immediately, select members of the Boston technology community seized on that statement as proof of Boston's equivalent status to Silicon Valley. There was just one little problem that those people conveniently overlooked...
Rather, there were 2.3B problems those boosters overlooked. $2.3B worth of funding that Facebook has raised since leaving Boston; none of that from Boston angels, investors, hedge fund side pockets, asset managers, private equity or venture firms.
Instead of crowing about Zuckerberg's comments as some sort of self-serving justification of their own existence, I think that Zuck's visit should be viewed more in collective shame.
Shame on Boston for letting him get away. Shame on the local angel investor community for not getting into the deal. Shame on the VC community for not only missing the early stage rounds, but with the exception of Greylock's west coast office, not being a part of ANY successive round. Shame on the Hedge Fund and PE communities for not getting into the deal via side pocket funds in later rounds.
For a city that is one of the major money centers in the US, this is a major failure. This was never a matter of lack of capital. This was all about lack of will, lack of vision.
As it turns out, Zuck's trip to Boston wasn't just a simple visit, but a recruiting trip. Hundreds of the best and brightest students of MIT and Harvard were pre-selected for interviews with Facebook. I look at this as the biggest talent suck in Boston seen in recent years. Some of the best talent coming out of Boston universities was just drained away to the west coast.
I would hope that this visit, and the fact that Facebook is now valued at ~$50B would serve as a teaching moment, and an opportunity for reflection. I fear that lesson will be lost in the rush to claim some hollow victory in Zuck's initial comments.
How to avoid the next one? How to keep the next Zuck from leaving? Here are my thoughts:
- Enable VC associates to originate deals up to $100K on their own, investments in technical members of their peer group.
- Support a standard Boston Seed Deal termsheet, pre-vetted with local law firms and VC's. This termsheet should be similar to the Series Seed terms, but adjusted for East Coast investors. One page, easily executed.
- Boston LP's should scorecard Boston VC's on their ability not just to generate returns, but invest in companies that create jobs in the Boston metro. Given that most VC's haven't generated returns aboove the S&P the last decade, this extra requirement shouldn't cause undue alarm.
Last, no one gets fired in VC for missing a deal. In the operational world of high tech, a sales rep missing the big deal in their territory would be fired. Not in VC. Somehow that lack of accountability needs to change.