"If you look at the marquee tech companies of the last generation, founders play a key role for a very long time," says Highland Capital's Bell. Bell rattles off names such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell Computer), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google) and Scott McNealy (Sun Microsystems). Although long-term founder involvement is more the exception than the rule, VCs generally start with the premise that they are backing talent to lead the company through early milestones.
Serial entrepreneurs who previously made money for investors have a leg up on the competition. VCs also consider experience gained through traditional corporate channels. And failure is a form of experience, so don't try to hide your scar tissue. "If you've never failed, I tend to feel you weren't sufficiently pushing the innovation envelope," says Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Group in Seattle. "More important is how the founders responded to the failure - whether they learned lessons."
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