Before we go into the ins and outs of why Landscape is important for the startup funding ecosystem, what is Landscape?
What is Landscape?
In literal terms, Landscape is a rating app. In essence, it’s a community. A community that increases transparency, offers support, promotes informed decisions, celebrates brilliance, highlights shortcomings and builds relationships in and across the startup funding ecosystem.
It does this for both sides of the investment market, founders AND investors, aiming to create value for the whole ecosystem.
Simply put, Landscape helps founders better navigate the fundraising ecosystem, assess investment opportunities, carry out due diligence on prospective investors and share their experiences for the benefit of future founders. For investors, Landscape is a place where they can highlight and celebrate the brilliance of their work, receive honest and accurate feedback about what they can do better and ultimately improve their investment processes.
So why is Landscape important for the startup funding ecosystem?
To answer this, let’s explore a story… well, actually, let's explore four stories. Four stories split across two worlds, one where Landscape exists (world number two), and one where it does not (world number one).
Francesca and WaterMe
Francesca lives in world number one. She is a single mother and founder of WaterMe, a company that has created a product which automatically waters plants via an app. She is trying to raise capital, has been contacted by a few VCs, and is looking at reaching out to several other VCs herself.
One VC Francesca is speaking to is Max Capital. With a good track record of investing in hardware and mobile software startups, Francesca believes Max Capital is best placed to invest in WaterMe. Communications have been promising, an in-person meeting has been arranged and Francesca has organised transport and care for her young daughter in order to attend.
An hour before the meeting, the meeting is cancelled and rescheduled. Despite being annoyed at wasting time and money, Francesca is still keen to meet and agrees to the new time.
Again she organises travel and care for her daughter and arrives at Max Capital’s offices. She waits for forty five minutes before being greeted by an associate, without apology for the delay.
Francesca leaves the meeting feeling deflated. In her opinion, the associate had been offhandish, dismissive of her concerns and was belittling and ignorant of the struggles she has and will continue to face growing WaterMe as a single parent.
Keen to determine whether her experience was anomalous, Francesca reaches out to other founders that had interacted with Max Capital. She quickly discovered that many had had similar encounters. In fact, there was a consensus that Max Capital lacked professionalism and performed weakly in traits such as transparency, punctuality and supportiveness. With such concord, Francesca questions why no feedback mechanism exists for founders to warn others about their negative experiences.
Despite her initial enthusiasm about Max Capital, Francesca quickly decides not to work with them and makes a promise to be more diligent in researching VCs so as to not repeat the mistake of one, wasting time and money, and two, putting herself into stressful, demotivating and anxiety inducing situations.
Max Capital is a relatively new VC firm in world number one, having operated for slightly over 1 year. Though it has made several successful investments, most notably amongst hardware and mobile software startups, they lack experience relative to other VCs.
Notwithstanding an initial influx of interactions and successful investments, Max Capital has seen a fall in both the number of founders who interact with them and the number of founders who agree to their term sheets. Confused as to why this is happening, they begin exploring what might be responsible for this decline.
They examine the interactions they have with founders, the quantity and quality of founders they reach out to and compare the terms and conditions of their term sheets relative to other VCs. They also contact several of the founders they have interacted with but fail to gather any insightful or enlightening information.
From what they can determine, nothing much has changed since the firm's inception, certainly nothing significant enough to explain such a drop as the one witnessed.
Of the founders they speak to, common themes emerge around a lack of professionalism and integrity. Nevertheless, Max Capital are left wanting specific details in regards to how and where they are performing poorly and what they can improve in order to attract and retain founders.
Yearning for greater transparency and a desire for additional information, they remain frustrated and continue efforts to discover what may have caused a decline in their dealflow.
Oliver and Sally
Oliver and Sally are two 50+ year old co-founders of OffSave, a carbon offsetting app in world number two which allows customers to detect and calculate their carbon emissions and offset them in a variety of ways.
They recently closed a seed round.
OffSave was short on runway when trying to raise and time was of the essence for Oliver and Sally. As a result, a fast close time was an important factor when assessing which VC firms they wanted to work with.
They went straight to Landscape to identify which investors rated strongly on fast close times. Using reviews and ratings on Landscape, they disregarded VCs they had been considering - thus saving time and money - and identified VCs previously not considered.
Having obtained value from Landscape - they ended up signing term sheets with two VCs they had previously disregarded - Oliver and Sally wanted to return the favour.
They left reviews and ratings of all the investors they had interacted with, whether they had raised with them or not. They confirmed the fast close times of several VCs and highlighted several other areas in which they believe performance was excellent, such as supportiveness, approachability and notably, their treatment considering they were both considerably older than the average founder. They also left detailed feedback about the guidance and help they received from those VCs they did not end up fundraising with.
Finally, they took the opportunity to leave qualitative reviews to provide constructive criticism, citing a desire to work with more senior teams earlier on in the investment process with one VC, and being offered greater direction e.g. KPIs from another.
Amplify Ventures (AV) are a verified partner on Landscape.
Historically AV has sought feedback through reaching out to founders themselves. Whilst happy to speak, founders have mostly been vague about their experience, giving weak, unactionable, somewhat bland, responses. Consequently, AV suspected founders were uncomfortable giving honest, direct feedback without anonymity.
As a result, AV became a Landscape verified partner. As a verified partner, they were provided a unique referral link to give to founders. This allowed founders to leave verified anonymous reviews about AV.
This was important for two reasons.
Firstly, prior to being a verified partner, AV’s rating on Landscape had been lower than expected. This was in large part due to the fact their reviews were unverified.
However, reviews left via AV’s referral link were verified. This was valuable as verified reviews carried more weight than unverified reviews in calculating an AV’s Landscape rating. Moreover, these reviews were highlighted on AV’s Landscape profile, giving AV an excellent opportunity to publicise and champion positive feedback and provide an accurate representation of their support for founders and portfolio companies.
Secondly, in keeping with Landscape’s format, getting founders to provide feedback via Landscape meant feedback was given anonymously. AV hoped this would lead to an increase in insightful, valuable reviews. Indeed, shortly after becoming a verified partner, AV witnessed a surge in actionable, honest and constructive feedback, far more than what they had received when reaching out to founders themselves.
An unexpected benefit that came with verified partner status was discovering that one reason founders reached out to AV was because AV had a verified partner badge on their Landscape profile. This signposted to founder’s AV’s commitment to improve and bring greater transparency to their investment processes by working with Landscape .
Not only has AV seen a growth in positive and insightful reviews since becoming a verified partner, the quality and quantity of interactions they now have has increased and the number of term sheets signed risen.
Furthermore, AV has capitalised on the unique data gathered from Landscape, utilising both the reviews and ratings received and Landscape’s partner insights newsletter, which shares trends and insights generated from data across the Landscape platform.
From this, AV has identified, and took action on, emerging themes pertinent to strengthening their processes, such as diversity and providing greater support beyond money. Subsequently, AV introduced measures to improve employee diversity and has begun a concerted effort to provide support, advice and connections wherever possible to founders, regardless of whether they decide to invest or not.
So what gap is Landscape filling?
Currently, the startup funding ecosystem lacks transparency. It falls short of providing a level playing field and fails to provide a clear, accessible medium to assess opportunities, celebrate brilliance and highlight, and by extension remove, bad behaviour.
A world without Landscape is a world in which the startup community exists on a landscape (no pun intended) frequently characterised by stress, anxiety, confusion, despair and loneliness. Currently, this is a world in which many struggling founders are unable to anonymously ask for help or talk to people about the issues they face. A world in which Landscape exists is a world in which a supportive community is available for both founders and investors to be a part of, where individuals can save time, focus their energy where it is important and anonymously seek help, safe in the knowledge that their identity is protected.
Without Landscape, founders are hard pushed to share and warn others of bad experiences. Just as importantly, they cannot highlight and celebrate the incredible support and work happening daily within the startup funding ecosystem. With Landscape, founders can leave anonymous, honest insights of their experiences, peruse with confidence the veracity of those from others and hold investors accountable for their processes.
Without Landscape, there is a lack of transparency about which investors are most suited to working with different startups and founders. Without Landscape, fundraising remains a full time job when it shouldn’t be. With Landscape, founders can quickly make informed decisions about which investors they want to interact with, saving their time, money and energy.
Without Landscape, feedback investors receive is limited, both in quantity and quality. Without detailed and honest feedback, investors struggle to identify where they underperform and what they can do to improve. With Landscape, investors have access to a wealth of accurate and representative data, can analyse unique trends and insights, compare their performance relative to others and identify with confidence those areas that need to be actioned in order to improve their investment processes.
Without Landscape, the startup funding ecosystem resembles an us vs them dynamic. With Landscape, the ecosystem resembles a community where founders and investors work together to create value, provide support, improve processes and cultivate strong relationships. For investors, strong relationships increase strong reputations, and with strong reputations, comes the ability to gain favour with promising investment seeking startups and, ultimately, have offers of investment accepted.
A world in which Landscape exists brings much needed value to both sides of the startup funding ecosystem, founders and investors alike.