Recent media articles have scrutinized the use of doctors, scientists and experts by pharmaceutical companies and hedge funds, often casting them in an unflattering light. Experts can play a valuable role, but it is a case of caveat emptor – and sometimes for the expert, as well as the organization hiring him. Biotech or medical device companies that are trying to promote new products, for example, could undermine a medical expert’s perceived objectivity if financial ties are not clearly disclosed upfront. Experts providing information to hedge funds must be particularly careful not to disclose non-public information about publicly traded companies and run afoul of insider trading restrictions.
Venture capitalists also commonly rely on personal and business expert networks to help gather investment information to make smart investments in private companies. Because early-stage venture firms do not invest in public stocks or promote independent projects, experts can work with VCs and VCs can work with experts without risk of reputation or objectivity.
Here is how I and other venture capitalists use outside experts:
Personal networks, by far, tend to be most valuable. For example, sometimes I contact a childhood friend who is now an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. If CCV is thinking about investing in a product related to surgery, I ask his opinion. His input is good — and it’s free counsel from a valuable source.
Like other VCs, I also look for expert guidance inside existing portfolio companies. I’m currently working on a project related to a software system for gene sequencing, for example, and I have consulted a chief technical officer at a CCV portfolio company who is highly knowledgeable in this space.