The Problem with Partner Deal Attribution.
One of the key lessons you learn in startup life quickly is: you measure what matters and then make decisions from that. OKRs, and KPIs are born from this philosophy.
However, we are all equally well versed in the dark side of this, where one wrong KPI can lead to a worse outcome for all. The classic example of this is incentivising a sales team to sell as much as possible, but not qualifying customers and therefore you end up having runaway costs to acquire customers and churn can sky rocket after. Few companies do that these days, but it’s just to make the point: Wrong metrics can kill.
In an investment fund, there are several metrics you track, the obvious ones are based on ‘return on capital invested’ and similar cash-based metrics. These make sense, but have some ‘lag’ to them as usually companies, for early stage funds in particular, take time to mature. As such, some LPs choose to focus on deal-attribution to gauge how good the fund will be. In effect: Which partner led what deal.
So, basically, the implication is, if you had a team where everyone was a Lionel Messi…. voila, you’d have an amazing team! What likely isn’t appreciated in that logic, is that a team of investment partners where everyone is an Lionel Messi doesn’t quite equate to more successes because partners play many roles in supporting each other, not just shooting for points, so to speak.
I believe the above logic of partner attribution creates several problems that plague our industry and funds. These include:
- Inhibits team collaboration — As with most team sports, investment partnerships require good team work to enable wins. People need to ‘pass the ball’ to the best player to help score, whether that’s with helping a founder with an issue or a connection, or dealing with a legal technicality that one partner knows best, collaboration wins in the long run.
- Creates deployment budget pressure and quarrels between partners — If you know that a winning bet is what gets you credit, how do you make sure people aren’t over indexing on as many bets as possible? How do you get your partners to think of the fund’s budget as a whole not as a portion that they will make successful?
- Inhibits pairing the ideal partner with the founder depending on the founder’s needs — Similar to the first point, people start playing in silos.
- Inhibits the ‘evolution’ of the relationship with the founder — Different partners in a fund can be better for the founder at different stages in the founder’s journey. Say one partner was super experienced with growth stage issues because of their previous job.. if you had a partner attribution model, you’d be prevented from this kind of transition.
- Creates cults of personality in partners- Success can bring with it a dark side for some, and by not having a way to spread success across your team, you run the risk of creating bottlenecks in your fund’s brand attributable to one person.
So how do you make sure that if you adopt the above you don’t have a team of lacklustre partners then? Well that’s when the partnership needs to be solid enough to be open and frank with each other when a partner isn’t living up to expectations and helping them improve.
Seedcamp has evolved over the years, but one thing we did early on was embark on the path of not attributing deals to individual partners because we work as a team with our founders. It gets tricky to navigate at times, largely in conversations with investors, media and award structures where they are looking for that one person to attribute to or comment on a deal, but that’s not how we operate at seedcamp. It takes a village to support a founder and we are steadfast in our belief that bringing the right people in from across our partnership, team and network not only removes ego of the individual but ensures we work collaboratively to help our founders achieve excellence.