“It takes a year to find great executives so you must always look down the field.” Proof’s Pat Kinsel on why he believes a VCs most critical task is to make sure the WRONG person doesn’t get hired into a startup.
Regret. That’s the emotion I most associate with Pat Kinsel and his startup, Proof (fka Notarize). Because I remember hearing about their seed round and thinking it sounded a lot like a Homebrew company, but yet Pat didn’t seek us out, and we didn’t have him on our radar. Fast forward a few years and we finally connect via mutual friends and Twitter threads, but Proof is Too Successful for our early stage capital, meaning I admire from afar versus from the cap table. Pat’s recent blog post “A VCs Most Critical Task” both caught my eye and went in an unexpected direction: helping founders bring on great executives, while simultaneously preventing bad hires. I wanted to talk a little more about his experiences and advice here, so thus a Five Question Interview.
Hunter Walk: You recently wrote “I have decided that an early stage (Series A-B) venture capitalist’s single most critical task is to make certain their portfolio companies do not hire the wrong executives.” Without accusing you of subtweeting a particular situation, what prompted the post?
Pat Kinsel: The pandemic, mostly. The pandemic pushed companies forward 3 or 5 stages prematurely, mostly in response to false or temporary demand. The hardest things to reset are the culture and processes set by bigger company executives who stepped into a business everyone thought was further along. Most of us cut costs and reduced our team sizes, but what we also needed to do was reset how we work. It took even longer to realize we were still running a bigger company playbook, just with fewer people on the field. It was exhausting for the team trying to maintain processes without scaffolding and impossible for executives who don’t know how to run the smaller org. Virtually every founder I talk to wishes they could go back in time, hire stage appropriate leaders, and tackle the scale-up challenges in sequence like you’re supposed to.
I said “mostly.” Beyond issues with stage-fit, we should all be honest that people don’t do real reference calls and bad behavior is often never…