Take The Interview was a portfolio company of ours that ultimately failed. Below I share our learnings.
Cash inefficiency. When we invested, the company had about $60k of MRR but was burning $170k a month. It was an oversight on our part to get involved with a business that burned nearly $3 for every $1 of revenue and frankly back in 2014 when we invested, we didn’t have the respect for cash efficiency that we have now. We’re actually embarrassed about it. Today we wouldn’t look at any company burning more than $0.50 for every $1 of MRR.
Churn became an issue, and we blamed the customer. At the time of investment, the company was retaining and renewing customers at a nice rate. Over time however, churn picked up and net dollar retention fell from 100%+ to 85%+. Instead of looking inwardly and fixing the product and processes, the company blamed the customers. They sited customers not buying in, the loss of a champion, customers merging, customers being acquired, etc as opposed to questioning our product-market fit and sales and CS processes. They should have asked whether they were selling to the ideal customer, whether they were evangelizing the product with senior management properly, whether we could find a way to onboard more users at the customer so we could be much stickier, etc. As a result, the churn was never addressed.
The company avoided layoffs. It was obvious we should have cut expenses and done one real round of deep layoffs. Instead the plan became to ‘grow out of the burn’. We never did. There was too much concern for maintaining the culture, and now of course there is no culture because the company is gone.
A cofounder leaving should have resulted in a total restructure. Out of frustration, a cofounder eventually left the business. At that point, the board should have questioned everything about what the CEO was doing, but the moment was allowed to pass. The cofounder didn’t ring the alarm on his way out, and the board didn’t dig beyond what they were being told.
A merger didn’t work. With so many mistakes made along the way, the company was forced to merge with a larger but similarly weak peer. Given our inaction to fix things sooner, the merger was the least worst choice of many bad options. Of course, smooshing two underperforming companies together does not make a strong company and we’ve never seen it work. Ultimately all the equity holders lost everything.
Looking back, we made some obvious mistakes at the time of investment. During the investment, management and the board were too complacent and not honest with themselves about the state of the business. Hopefully, this post helps others learn from our mistakes.
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