Vinod Khosla’s advice for top VCs? Don’t sit on your founders’ boards

Serial entrepreneur and seasoned investor Vinod Khosla has some strong, contrarian advice for the venture capital industry: don’t sit on your founders boards. Khosla, who spoke on stage at the Upfront Summit in Los Angeles this week, spoke about the culture of capital.

“I’m not a big fan of governance; I think if you engage as a team member with a founder – you have much more influence than if you’re sitting on a board and voting,” he said. “Other VCs accuse us of being very active and very engaged – but the flip side of it is they vote on boards. We don’t – no matter how important an issue.”

It’s a non-consensus take in a world where VCs are being ask hard questions about their due diligence, but Khosla added that “it isn’t the VCs job to sit on a board and vote…there’s a hard line you don’t cross, which is don’t make founders or management do things they don’t want to do by voting.” Khosla says that by avoiding six-hour board meetings, he spends “more time doing decks for presentations for our founders than almost anybody I know.”

The reality, added Khosla, is that “most board members today in startups have not earned the right to advise“ because many have not themselves built startups. Khosla has a history of criticizing some of the mainstream wisdom by VCs. On stage, he pointed to a TechCrunch piece he wrote in 2013, titled: “70-80% Of VCs Add Negative Value To Startups.”

The advice comes at a reflective time for the industry. Exacerbated by meltdowns like FTX, or anecdotes about companies reportedly lying about key information, the venture industry has seen some loud examples of things that can go wrong.

In January, for example, Sequoia’s Alfred Lin spoke to TC’s Connie Loizos about his FTX investment. “I think the thing that gets me to reassess is . . . it’s not that we made the investment. It’s the year-and-a-half working relationship afterward, and I still didn’t see it. And that is difficult,” he said.

Other investors similarly spoke about the need for investors to rethink how to interact with founders. 01 advisors, built by Dick Costolo, Twitter’s former CEO and Adam Bain, Twitter’s former COO, said on stage that their biggest misses as a firm have been around backing the wrong people. The firm spoke about a questionnaire that helps them better vet a founder’s potential strengths and weaknesses (they say they use this to make investment decisions). Echoing Khosla comments, the duo also spoke to the importance of not taking a board seat so they can instead be a founder’s first call.

Of course, giving up a board seat as a VC can mean giving up some oversight, along with the checks and balances that can help a founding team stay on track. As critics of the industry’s loosening approach to board seats have told TechCrunch previously, board meetings are relatedly important for senior managers who may want more time with their investors, not less. (If only the founder is talking to the startup’s venture backers, that means everyone else is out of the loop, essentially.)

While Khosla’s anti-board perspective may ruffle feathers with some of the VCs in the room, LPs don’t appear to be pushing back against it. Khosla and his firm, founded in 2004, is raising about $3 billion across three new funds, according to regulatory filings. The outfit plans to raise $1.5 billion for a Fund VIII, $1 billion for a second opportunity fund and $400 million for a new seed fund. Last year, the firm raised over $550 million for its first Opportunity Fund after taking in $1.4 billion for its Fund VII.

If you have a juicy tip or lead about the venture world, you can reach Natasha Mascarenhas on Twitter @nmasc_ or on Signal at +1 925 271 0912. Anonymity requests will be respected. 

Vinod Khosla’s advice for top VCs? Don’t sit on your founders’ boards by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

Complete helps startups think through the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of employee pay

For early-stage startups looking to hire new talent, it’s not enough to make one-off decisions about pay as each new employee comes on board. Constructing a coherent philosophy around compensation is crucial for a company to stay consistent in the long term and provide transparency to employees — essentially, coming up with the “why” and “how” behind salary decisions.

In today’s job market, where layoffs and hiring freezes abound, getting compensation strategy right is even more important, CEO Rani Mavram of HR tech startup Complete told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Even if companies are hiring fewer roles, the importance of getting that higher right becomes increasingly more important,” Mavram said.

Complete aims to help companies, particularly early-stage startups, conceptualize and implement a firm-wide compensation strategy, reflective of cash, equity, bonuses and benefits.

Screenshots of Complete's compensation strategy platform

Screenshots of Complete’s compensation strategy platform Image Credits: Complete

“We work with them on [questions like], are you going to do negotiable offers or non-negotiable offers? Are you going to give your candidates multiple options as you think about raises and bonuses? Is that something tied to performance, or are you going to do that by default for everybody? So within these broader segments of compensation, we distill them down and then help them connect to what is right for their company,” Mavram explained.

Complete provides an interactive offer letter product for candidates applying to roles at its client companies and recently began offering a similar product to help employees understand what comprises their total compensation, Mavram said.

Mavram cofounded Complete with CTO Zack Field last year and took the company through Y Combinator’s Winter 2022 cohort. Mavram used to work on the product team at Google, while Field’s background is in engineering at various late-stage startups, including Uber and Opendoor, the pair told TechCrunch.

Mavram witnessed her team at Google grow rapidly and navigate the challenges of getting the “compensation narrative” right, she said.

“Even after I left Google, I was trying to think more about if the Googles of the world are experiencing this pain, what does this feel like to a early stage startup was just starting to have this conversation for the first time?” Mavram mused. 

Field, meanwhile, saw his employers go from private to public and ended up becoming the go-to source among his colleagues for information about how to understand their equity compensation because he had done so much research on the topic, he said.

“For some of our early stage clients, they don’t even have levels set up — like they don’t even have a software engineer one versus a software engineer two. And so that’s one level of education that when they have developed that philosophy they can share it back with employees. I would say that the fidelity of information that we’re most focused on is actually how your compensation is constructed, or what we call total rewards,” Mavram said.

The company just announced it has raised $4 million in seed funding led by Accel. Other participants in the raise include Y Combinator as well as angel investors from Calm, Opendoor and Stripe, according to Complete.

It is far from the only startup working on demystifying compensation decisions. Series A startup OpenComp has a similar product geared toward high-growth companies looking to improve their recruitment and retention, while similarly YC-backed Compound seeks to help tech employees understand their own compensation.

“Compensation is one of the ways that individuals develop trust with their employer,” Mavram said. Companies that are proactive about compensation decisions and that prioritize transparency can harness their compensation strategy into a competitive advantage, she added.

Complete hopes to further expand its support for the administrative tasks involved with making a new hire, Mavram said.

Oftentimes with young startups, founders themselves are the ones thinking through decisions about how much equity to offer a new hire, so Complete’s product aims to help them understand how different paths would impact their business and capitalization. Complete currently focuses on helping companies create a rationale behind their compensation decisions, though companies ultimately can still choose what parts of that information they want to share with their employees.

Mavram hopes to expand Complete’s five-person team by bringing on more engineering and design hires to help the company keep up with new customer demand, she said. Complete works with large customers including Vercel and DataStax as well as earlier-stage companies such as Convex and TrueNorth. Although Mavram declined to share how many customers Complete works with in total, a spokesperson for the company said it has provided analysis for several thousand salaries.

“Long term, I hope that every company has a compensation philosophy, or [knows] what it means to comp,” Mavram said. “I would hope that success for us looks like, every company we work with, or even more broadly, in the startup space, has one of those on their website, whether it be on their careers page or next to their privacy policy, and that becomes the status quo of what it means to have thought this through.”

Pitch Deck Teardown: Glambook’s $2.5 million seed deck

There’s around 250,000 hair and beauty professionals working across the U.K., and Glambook wants to be the sharing economy platform that takes care of them.

The company recently raised $2.5 million at a $12 million valuation, and I managed to talk it into letting me share its pitch deck with you to see how the company wove its story to its investors.

We’re looking for more unique pitch decks to tear down, so if you want to submit your own, here’s how you can do that

Slides in this deck

Glambook raised its investment with a 19-slide deck, and they agreed to share it with us in full:

  1. Cover slide
  2. Problem slide
  3. “Unsolved for a reason” — opportunity slide
  4. Solution slide
  5. Value Proposition slide
  6. “People love our product” — product validation slide
  7. Market slide
  8. Addressable market slide
  9. Traction slide
  10.   “Why Now” — timing slide
  11.   Positioning slide
  12.   Business Model slide
  13.   Go-to-market slide
  14.   Road map slide
  15.   Social Impact slide
  16.   Team slide
  17.   “Here is our story” — the “why us” slide
  18.   Summary slide
  19.   Contact slide

Three things to love

For an early-stage company, Glambook has a lot going for it — it is seeing meaningful traction and operates in an interesting market. The biggest challenge the company has to overcome is convincing investors that this is a market that is, indeed, clamoring for a technology makeover. And it does a pretty damn good job.

Here are three things that work particularly well:


Traction slide

[Slide 9] Traction: if you have it, you’re giggling all the way to the bank. Image Credits: Glambook

Is your team awful? Is your product garbage? Is your market niche? I’m not saying that any of those things apply to Glambook, but in general, none of it matters if you have traction.

You can counter almost every question with: “Perhaps it’s stupid, but look at the numbers. It’s working!” Really, the question becomes why it works, and if you can keep it working, even at scale.

For a relatively small, $2.5 million round, having 20,000 customers across 38 countries is impressive. (Although I also note that the most important traction metrics — How sticky is it? How many orders are facilitated? How much revenue is being generated? — are missing.)

The story Glambook is selling here is that “Things are changing, and we are right there as it does,” which is the perfect place to be as an early-stage startup.

More importantly, saying there are subscription sales happening without including monthly or annual recurring revenue figures isn’t great storytelling. I’m impressed by the number of countries and the number of professionals on this slide, but I also want to know the number of clients and the value of the subscriptions. Not including those figures makes me immediately suspicious.

Those are asides, though. The company is showing real, measurable, important figures. The takeaway here is that if your company has those, show them off with pride. Why? VCs invest in inherently high-risk businesses. Any traction — and any progress — goes a long way toward showing that the business is at least partially de-risked.

As I mentioned, if you’ve got traction, you’re doing something right, and that something can probably be developed into a good company one way or another.

A rising tide

[Slide 10] A rising tide raises all boat. Image Credits: Glambook

Glambook uses this slide to tell the story of a market in evolution. In 2019, 54% of hairdressing and barbering professionals were self-employed, and by 2020, that had grown to 60%.

I’d have loved to have a graph pulling this data back further into the past for a longer timespan so I could see more of a trend, but there’s something powerful happening in this market, without a doubt. The story Glambook is selling here is that “Things are changing, and we are right there as they do,” which is the perfect place to be for an early-stage startup.

If you can weave macroeconomics and big societal changes into your pitch and show off how you are benefiting from them, you potentially have a winner.

This slide is titled “Why now,” but I think it walks hand in hand with another slide, titled “Unsolved for a reason.” I’ll talk more about that later, but suffice it to say that with this deck, the company signals some of its biggest challenges without offering a 100% satisfactory answer.

“This market is bigger than you’d think”

A huge market opportunity

[Slide 7] A huge opportunity. Image Credits: Glambook

A lot of the time as a VC, you’ll be pitched companies in industries and markets you aren’t that familiar with. I had to sit with that for a moment in this case.

Beauticians, hairdressers and barbers — is that really a big enough market to build a business empire around? The U.K. has a population of 67 million or so, so if those numbers are okay, there’s around 1,400 people per hair and beauty business. That would have to mean that around 4% of the U.K. population works as beauticians, hairdressers and barbers.

Just as a gut check, that sounds a little bit high to me, but a quick Google search results in the article the company cites on this slide, which seems to confirm those numbers. That is exciting, not least because a few searches also don’t identify a clear market leader in this space. Could Glambook become that market leader?

The pitch here is slightly unfocused: Glambook is a Berlin-based company that uses a lot of U.K.-based stats while also saying it has customers in 38 countries (I’ll get to that in just a moment as well.). The important part of this particular slide is illustrating that there’s a huge market that’s ripe for disruption.

As an investor, that’s the kind of thing that makes me lean forward and pay extra attention.

In the rest of this teardown, we’ll take a look at three things Glambook could have improved or done differently, along with its full pitch deck!

Socket lands $4.6M to audit and catch malicious open-source code

Securing the software supply chain is admittedly somewhat of a dry topic, but knowing what components and code go into your everyday devices and appliances is a critical part of the software development process that billions of people rely on every day.

Software is just like any other product you build and ship; it relies on using components that others have built, often in the form of source code, and making sure that it doesn’t break or have weaknesses that compromise the final product. Most of the world’s software relies on open-source code that’s written by developers who publish their work for anyone to use. That also means a reliance on trusting that the developers will always act in good faith. But projects get abandoned and picked up by others who plant backdoors or malware, or as seen recently since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a rise in “protestware,” in which open source software developers alter their code to wipe the contents of Russian computers in protest at the Kremlin’s incursion.

Feross Aboukhadijeh, a prolific open source maintainer and the founder of Socket, told TechCrunch in a recent call that development teams often put too much trust in open source code, which can be catastrophic if a deliberate vulnerability is introduced into the supply chain and goes unnoticed.

Software is generally easier to fix than autonomous cars and other hardware that have to be recalled. But the consequences of a software compromise can be dire and widespread. Tainted software updates have led to the mass compromise of U.S. federal government networks, ransomware attacks, and the targeting of enterprise password managers aimed at stealing sensitive corporate secrets.

Aboukhadijeh founded Socket earlier this year alongside a team of fellow open-source maintainers who have seen firsthand some of the worst software supply chain attacks in the wild. And so the team began work on building an app that developers can use to detect and block introducing potentially malicious code into their projects from millions of open source code repositories

The app plugs in to a GitHub developer’s account and runs through dozens of known behaviors, looking for package issues like potentially suspicious changes to the code, such as if an open source package you depend on suddenly starts trying to communicate over the network or getting shell access, which might indicate that the package has been compromised.

Aboukhadijeh described Socket as offering a nutrition-fact label of an open source package’s capabilities by illuminating what access, permissions and behaviors a package has, like install scripts, which many kinds of malware use to hook into a victim’s system.

“We can’t tell you with certainty whether a package is talking to the network is a bad sign or not, because what if it’s a web server — then it’s obviously going to need to do that!” said Aboukhadijeh. But having that visibility integrated into the software building process is what developers need to prevent a supply chain attack. “This isn’t some complicated AI or machine learning thing,” he said, speaking of his own product. “There’s no way to hide that a package runs an install script, it’s declared as part of the package. So why not raise that to a developer’s attention?”

Socket is still in its early days and enters a crowded market, but is already attracting investment. The early stage startup has raised $4.6 million in seed round funding from over a dozen angel investors and security leaders, including ex-GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Keybase co-founder Max Krohn, as well as Unusual Ventures, Village Global, and South Park Commons.

Aboukhadijeh told TechCrunch that the funding will help grow the startup’s engineering, security analysis and research teams to build out its tools to developers.

Read more:

Tanso nabs $1.9M pre-seed to help industrial manufacturers do sustainability reporting

The climate crisis is creating massive demand for data capture as industries grapple with how to decarbonize. Put simply, you can’t cut your carbon emissions if don’t know what they are in the first place.

This need to gather data is a big opportunity for startups — and a wave of early companies have already been founded to try to plug the sustainability data gap, through things like APIs to assess emissions for carbon offsetting (which in turn has led to other startups trying to tackle the data gap around offsetting projects…).

One thing is clear: Requirements for sustainability reporting are only going to get broader and deeper from here on in.

Munich-based Tanso is an early stage startup (founded this year) that’s building software to support sustainability reporting for a particular sector (industrial manufacturers) — with the goal of creating a data management system that can automate data capture and sustainability reporting geared towards the specific needs of the sector.

The startup says it decided to focus on industrial manufacturing because it’s both an emissions-heavy sector and underserved with supportive digital tech vs many other industries.

The founders met during their studies at universities in Munich and Zurich — where they’d been researching the assessment of organizational climate impact. Their collective expertise crystalized into the realization of a business opportunity to build a data management system for a notoriously polluting sector that’s facing a mandate to change.

In the coming years, European regulations will expand sustainability reporting requirements — with the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ plan setting an overarching goal of Europe becoming the first “climate-neutral” continent by 2050.

Specific (existing) reporting requirements within the bloc include the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will apply to more than 50,000 companies — requiring they report on their sustainability metrics, starting in 2023.

The UK (now outside the EU) already introduced some reporting requirements for domestic companies, under the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) regulation, which has applied since 2019 and applies to over 12,000 businesses in the UK in varying degrees of detail depending on the size of the company.

So there is a clear direction of travel in the region requiring businesses to gather and report sustainability data.

Tanso has just closed a $1.9 million pre-seed raise with the aim of getting its data management support software to market in time for an expected surge in demand as sustainability regulations like CSRD start to bite.

The raise is led by German early stage b2b fund UVC Partners, with participation from Picus Capital, Possible Ventures, and a number of business angels.

Tanso is still in the R&D/product development phase, with co-founder Gyri Reiersen telling TechCrunch it’s currently working with a number of manufacturers to “figure out the sweet spot” for automating data gathering so it can come to market with a scalable product offering. She says the team raised a relatively large pre-seed exactly to see it through until it’s got something fit to launch (it’s hoping to have something “solid, verified and scalable” by the end of 2022, per Reiersen).

The goal for the product is a single platform that gathers and holds all the customer’s sustainability data and can automate the generation of reports to meet regulatory requirements — including auditing.

From 2025, Reiersen points out that CSRD reporting needs to be “auditable”, meaning that you have to have “some form of transparency and traceability”; and also that the “correctness” of sustainability reporting will be a C-Suite responsibility. So that must concentrate boardroom minds.

“Going beyond that it’s all about how can you use this data and the insights that the data gives you to make predictions and models going forward for how should we develop our products? What makes sense to do going forward to make?” she adds.

“What we’re prototyping currently is to streamline the workflow of information gathering,” Reiersen also tells us, discussing the product dev process. “Also to have really good, fundamental user-flow for the users to use our product. And then doing the deep dives on integrations over time.”

She says the challenge is finding the trade-off between usability and “digging into the data”. “For us it’s very important to have a scalable product, especially having it fully scalable from 2023 when the CSRD are started because then there will be desperation on the market. Companies will need to have something,” she adds.

“We need to have these solutions… that take one step in the right direction for all companies and not just have a couple of carbon neutral companies… So for us it’s more about finding the productizable use-cases in the beginning to make this a scalable product.”

But she also warns over a proliferation of overly “shallow” offerings in the space — driven by marketing-led ‘greenwashing’ (and bogus carbon offsetting) rather than a genuine desire to correctly identify the problem and course-correct which is what’s actually needed for humanity to avert climate disaster.

Reiersen adds that she got really interested in this space through her university work researching the overestimation of carbon offsets through deep learning.

“There is such a need for accountability and making sure that the product that is being developed actually do their job correctly. Because it’s so easy to just have a black box and trust it. We can’t afford having systems that overestimate or underestimate. It needs to be accurate and it needs to be validated,” she says.

“Going forward accuracy will mean more and more and then you need to access the ‘real data’ and not just ‘guestimations’,” she predicts. “And that’s where we see that of course we need to be very front-end/UX-friendly, and making it easy for people to enter the right data and have a very user-friendly, usable product and that people are guided through the process of gathering the right data… but also over time really focusing on how do you integrate and get access to the data at the data-base level?”


Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 2

From beaming actors into the class room to plucking things out of space, the second day of Y Combinator’s S21 Demo Day was a fresh snapshot of what nearly 200 startup teams believe is the future of innovation.

Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go “oh wait, what’s this?”

Spark Studio

My experience with Indian culture is that it has a long history of valuing math and science over any other subject, which is why Spark Studio’s twist on online enrichment was refreshing. The YC company offers live, extracurricular learning classes for kids in Indian households — with a twist: The classes are about music, art and communication. As seen by the success of Outschool, small-group classes for school-going children can be a scalable way to supplement traditional education. Spark Studio is selling to kids between the ages of 5 to 15, which are highly impressionable, exploratory years.

Growing up, I was the only kid in my predominantly Indian family friend group who didn’t gravitate toward STEM. There were no services, other than the local library, to quench my interest in writing and reading. A service like Spark, if it gains the trust of parents, has the potential to make currently unconventional interests more conventional. And with over 400 students, and less than 2% churn, Spark Studio has early inklings it may be onto something. — Natasha


Image Credits: Litnerd

The best books don’t feel like homework, they feel like trips into another universe and hangouts with characters that could be friends. Litnerd is trying to scale the feeling of immersive, engaging text to millions of students, while also encouraging better literacy and habit-forming skills. The startup has works read and enacted by actors, making classroom reading into a more entertaining experience for school-age children.

The price differential for engineers is declining

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

The whole crew was here this week, with Danny and Natasha and Alex  together with Grace and Chris to sort through a very, very busy week. Yep, somehow it is Friday again which means it’s time for our weekly news roundup.

Here’s what we got to in our short window of time:

Like we said, a busy week! Chat you all on Monday morning, early.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

InBalance Research forecasts demand for energy suppliers to ensure they optimize distribution

From distributed homes in Cambridge, Mass. and Cambridge, England, inBalance Research is joining Y Combinator as it looks to accelerate its business as the oracle for independent energy providers, utilities, and market makers.

Selling a service it calls Delphi, the very early stage startup is hoping to provide analysis for power producers and utilities on the demand forecasts of energy markets.

The orchestration of energy load across the grid has become a more pressing issue for utilities around the country after witnessing the disastrous collapse of Texas’ power grid in response to its second “once-in-a-century” storm in the last decade.


“If we want to address the solution longterm, it’s a two part solution,” said inBalance co-founder and chief executive, Thomas Marge. “It’s a combination of hardware and software. You need the right assets online and you need the right software that can ensure that markets operate when there are extreme market shocks.”

Prices for electricity change every 15 minutes, and sometimes those pries can fluctuate wildly. In some places, even without the weather conditions that demolished the Texas grid and drove some companies out of business, prices can double in a matter of hours, according to inBalance.

That’s what makes forecasting tools important, the company said. As prices spike, asset managers of finite responsive resources such as hydro and storage need to decide if they will offer more value to the market now or later. Coming online too early or too late will decrease the revenue for their clean generation and increase peak prices for consumers.

The situation is even worse, according to the company, if storage and intermittent renewables come online at the same time. That can create downward price pressure for both the storage and renewable assets, which, in turn, can lead to increased fossil fuel generation later the same day, once cleaner sources are depleted.

The software to predict those pressures is what inBalance claims to provide. Marge and his fellow co-founders, Rajan Troll and Edwin Fennell have always been interested in the problems associated with big data and energy.

For Marge, that began when he worked on a project to optimize operations for wind farms during a stint in Lexington, Mass.

“Fundamentally we’re a data science solution,” said Marge. “It’s a combination of knowing what factors influence every single asset on every single market in North America. We have a glimpse into how those assets are going to be working one day before to one hour before in order to do price forecasting.” 

So far, one utility using the company’s software in the Northeast has managed to curb its emissions by 0.2%. With a focus on renewables, inBalance is hoping to roll out larger reductions to the 3,000 market participants that are also using its forecasting tools for other services. Another application is in the work inBalance is conducting with a gas peaker plant to help offset the intermittency of renewable generation sources.

The reduction in emissions in New England is particularly impressive given that the company only began working with the utility there in December. Given its forecasting tools, the company is able to provide a window into which assets might be most valuable at what time — including, potentially, natural gas peaking plants, hydropower, pumped hydropower (basically an energy storage technology), battery or flywheel energy storage projects and demand response technologies that encourage businesses and consumers to reduce consumption in response to price signals, Marge said.

Already, six companies have taken a trip to see the Delphi software and come away as early users. They include a global renewable asset manager and one of the top ten largest utilities in the U.S., according to Marge.

“We use machine learning to accurately forecast electricity prices from terabytes of public and proprietary data. The solution required for daily power system stability is both hardware—like storage and electric vehicle charging—and the software required to optimally use it. inBalance exists to be that software solution,” the company said in a statement.