Social Proof and why I am no longer confirming “Angel List” advisory or investments

For the last 3 years, I ran the Microsoft Ventures organization in India and then in the Seattle area. There were about 50 companies that we supported through the program. The program itself did not invest any actual dollars into any company, but provided office space, mentorship and connections.

One of the things I learned quickly and early on was since we did not offer funding, the key “ask” from many of the entrepreneurs was a confirmation of social proof of our commitment. While we did some PR, many were looking for more.

At that point, Angel List was a much smaller, but becoming an important phenomena, and getting listed on angel list with “social proof” about the same was an important signal to many.

Early on we did not “follow” Angel List norms of listing Microsoft Ventures as an entity – either because we were lazy or we did not know the “best practice” or we did not care or something similar.

Following that, many of our companies at the accelerator wanted social proof about our relationship to be reflected on Angel List or LinkedIn, etc, and sent me personal requests to be confirmed either as an investor or an advisor.

Since I had a profile on Angel list, I confirmed many requests to be mentioned as an advisor or investor to many of the Microsoft Ventures companies. Some of the CEO’s don’t even remember, is my guess, judging from 1-2 emails I got from surprised founders, that they were the ones that asked for this in the first place.

I did confirm many of them, which I am now cleaning up from my profile. Now that the social proof is no longer necessary, I think for their sake and for mine, they are no longer needed.

So, I was pretty surprised when folks reached out to me (14 in total, so far) about an online publication calling, emailing and reaching out to all the companies on my Angel List profile to “confirm” my association or the lack thereof.

Added to this, is the one instance when there was a supplier related issue (the name of the company was where, they were a supplier to an eCommerce company where I was the CEO in 2011 – 2012 when, we as a company did not pay their outstanding balance, since the company was closing down due to our inability to raise a funding round from our existing investors.

The other part is about my investments as an angel investor. Between 2001 and 2008, as a part of Zodiac Investments LLC, based in San Jose, me and a cofounder (he asked to keep his name private, although I listed it before) invested ours and few other’s money in 21 startups in the valley. Many of those companies are no longer in operation. Many cant be named, for a host of reasons including the founders no longer want to be associated etc.

Between 2008 and 2012 I invested in 11 companies and I can name only 8 of them, with the rest of the founders not wishing to be public yet. That’s hard for people to understand, but some failed and some are still going. Plivo (A16Z funded it after our investment), Pricearoo (merged with another company, which I cannot disclose), Kinetic Brains (still going), Jivity (funded then by Argonaut Ventures and Venture East, after my investment, then merged into eYantra), Fresh Month (acquired), Blueberry retail (New Delhi, now shut down) and Azoi (Ahmedabad, still going) are the only ones I can name.

I have 7 advisory positions, some of which are ongoing and others have fiduciary responsibilities as well – so they shall go unnamed except Sign Easy and 9 Mile labs, which are public. Besides these there are 4 others.

So, now they have apparently a “hit” piece on me, in the intent to “expose” the “real” investments or lack thereof in many of these companies.

To be fair and balanced, I made some mistakes – first I should not have confirmed that I was an “investor” or “advisor” when really I was a part of Microsoft Ventures, which was the entity that was related to the startups.

Second, I could have handled the “Engrave” issue with more empathy, given I knew the founder, but at that period I was under a tremendous amount of stress, with 42 employees not being paid for over 2 months, 30+ outstanding balances unpaid to other suppliers and 3-4 of them threatening harm to my family and I over a 3 month period.

In fact, I was asked to come to the police station by one of the suppliers because of an outstanding balance the company owned himnot me personally. Which, surprised me since the company owned him the money, not me as an individual.

There is a lack of separation of personal liability and corporate liability, which I learned in India, is hard for most people to understand.

Anyway, long story short, if you do read a piece about me being a bad person, not a good investor or a “con” man, it is probably true, but now, you know the rest of the story. I am truly a horrible person.

To folks who are regular readers and CEO’s who did reach out to me to give me a heads up, thanks for having my back. I’d love to name you, but obviously I wont since it does not help you. The  Indian startp ecosystem is fairly small, as well, so it makes sense to not burn too many bridges.

9 thoughts on “Social Proof and why I am no longer confirming “Angel List” advisory or investments”

  1. From my experience having done a startup in India, there is no perceived separation of the company from its founders/CEOs. They are viewed as the same, and this viewpoint isn’t just restricted to suppliers or creditors, but also extends to investors. It’s unfortunate, but people’s ignorance often colors their judgment when things don’t go as planned. I don’t usually comment on your blog posts, but read almost every one of them. I was compelled to comment on this one because I wanted you to know that you are one of the very few people that I engaged with when I was running my startup in India that I continue to admire, respect and draw inspiration from.

  2. Vey sorry you have to deal with this crap. You have contributed a lot, far more than those that seek to attack you. Don’t let them discourage you.

  3. There are many reasons I want to comment here. First of all, I commend what you have done here. It takes great courage to open up like this. I do not know what is true and honestly I do not care because I know it is impossible to please everyone in the world.
    I am not sure if you remember but I have interacted with you many times, some before our 4 months at MV Bangalore and some after. And I would say most have been good. You are one of the few ones out there whom people can reach out and expect an honest response.
    I think everybody makes mistakes, owning it takes courage. You’ve shown courage and I am sure you’ll have a lot of support.

  4. Such a honest explanation, It takes a lot to be humble and open about mistakes too. Startups continue to respect you for the same reason and more so for your conversations. Thanks again for inspiring.

  5. This is something that many founders aren’t aware of at all, but really should be. Closing a company is bloody painful, even when everything’s clean. And, while I may disagree with you on a few things, I’ve always thought you were a damn decent person and genuinely wished well for everyone you interacted with.

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