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VC Orphans - The Forgotten Startups Left Behind by Venture Capital

Updated: Apr 8

For startups seeking venture capital, securing funding from a reputable VC firm can seem like a golden ticket. The money, connections, and stamp of approval that comes from having a top-tier VC on board can make all the difference in getting a fledgling company off the ground. But the flipside is that startups that fail to land the next VC round can struggle to stay afloat and often end up falling by the wayside. These neglected ventures, referred to as "VC orphans," lack the nurturing and resources to allow them to thrive. Though they may have shown modest traction, VC orphans battle against the headwinds when the growth is not fast enough for VCs and costs are still relatively high.

Challenges Faced by VC Orphans

Once VC orphans hit an inflection point where they need an infusion of substantial capital to continue growing, their lack of backing begins to hurt. Problems they encounter include:

  • Hiring woes - With limited resources, VC orphans struggle to attract and retain top talent who flock to VC-backed startups offering high salaries and equity.

  • Product delays - Orphans often lack the funds to accelerate product development and engineering to match the pace of VC-backed competitors.

  • Distribution disadvantages - Well-funded competitors can spend aggressively on sales, marketing and distribution to grab market share while VC orphans lack the same capabilities.

  • Follow-on funding - After initial funding, orphans face structural challenges raising next round without a lead VC advocate on board. They get stuck in no man's land.

  • Little room for error - Whereas continuously VC-backed startups can bounce back from mistakes, missteps are potentially company-ending for capital constrained orphans.

Strategies for Venture Capital Orphans

  • Bootstrap relentlessly - Keep costs low and focus on quickly getting to profitability through a capital efficient business model.

  • Think creatively about monetization - Develop complementary services or value-added features that customers will pay for in order to finance core product development.

  • Leverage partnerships - Strategic alliances with larger players can provide distribution, credibility, and revenue share opportunities.

  • Focus on product-market fit - Prioritize delighting customers and filling a need over flashy marketing and PR.

  • Organically driven word-of-mouth - Tell your story and educate investors patiently over time through consistent outreach and interactions to overcome lack of awareness.

  • Allow strategic dilution - Pursue funding from investors who truly understand your space and add strategic value beyond capital.

  • Build sustainably - Avoid the temptation to hyper-scale or overspend.

While the VC orphan path is challenging, with scrappiness and resilience, startups can still build big companies even without a blue-chip lead investor. By bootstrapping creatively and leveraging alternatives to traditional venture capital, VC orphans can ultimately thrive through patience and determination.

Seizing the Orphan Opportunity

While most investors focus their energy on following VC activity for deal flow, smart investors can find diamonds in the rough by identifying promising VC orphans. Conducting deep domain diligence to get to know these underrated startups early and building relationships with their founders can lead to outsized returns. With some nurturing guidance and patient capital from the right investors, VC orphans can blossom into thriving, high-growth businesses. By seizing the orphan opportunity, investors get the advantage of backing promising ventures before they command steep valuations. With creative deal structures and hands-on support, investors can secure ownership and influence in startups that VCs missed out on.

The VC orphan path may be a lonely, challenging road for startups. But for opportunistic investors willing to stray off the beaten path, forgotten orphans represent untapped potential. Keeping an eye out for the orphans that Sand Hill Road left behind can allow investors to generate alpha and earn pride of place in helping build the next generation of breakthrough companies.

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