How Many Investors are Still Writing Checks During Coronavirus? One VC is Trying to Find Out

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

How Many Investors are Still Writing Checks During Coronavirus? One VC is Trying to Find Out

When Laurent Grill, lead investor of the Santa Monica early stage venture fund Luma Launch, started emailing hundreds of fellow investors to see if they were still writing checks amidst the coronavirus pandemic, he was originally trying to find the next round of capital for one his own portfolio companies. But on Tuesday he decided to broaden his search and posted a query on LinkedIn.

"I reached out to hundreds of funds & am compiling a list across sectors and stages to help identify active investors in a time that is a bit unknown for all of us," Grill wrote.

Within hours, the post had gone viral.


"It's pretty overwhelming because I'm not an influencer," Grill told dot.LA Wednesday. "When I posted this, I didn't expect to have 500 notifications. My email box is unmanageable right now."

Grill quickly created Google forms to manage the rush of responses, one for investors and another for companies seeking capital. He plans to release the list next week.

"You had founders who are freaking out because their assumption is no one is investing." Grill said. "But investors are investing."

Luma Launch's Laurent Grill is cautiously optimistic about the state of VC investing.

Of the 150 responses he's received, only two investors have said they are not writing checks. They both wanted to see public markets stabilize before they jumped back in.

However, Grill sees the results as suspiciously positive, especially when investors insist that everything is "business as usual" amidst one of the most serious public health and economic crises of the last century.

"Something is off about that," said Grill. "I don't trust it."

He suspects deals have significantly declined, though no one wants to completely shut their doors. There are optics to consider and also the fear of overlooking the next great unicorn. "We live in an industry of FOMO, because if people aren't investing they are worried they are going to miss a deal," Grill said.

Ironically, Grill's Luma Launch, which he leads along with Matt Lydecker, is one of the firms that has paused investing. He says he wants to focus on getting their portfolio companies' house in order before deploying new capital.

"Our companies are dealing with how they're going to hit payroll," said Grill. "We have one company that has a case of coronavirus in it."

Grill says Luma is unique because it is corporate-backed and does not have a fund it has to deploy in a given timeframe. Founders needing money should find it somewhat reassuring that most firms still need to deploy their capital, though Grill worries about what conditions will look like in six months to a year from now when firms have to fundraise from limited partners who could have taken a severe hit in a broader economic downturn.

"If LP's are hurt, we're probably going to be looking at a long time before there's liquidity for fundraising," he said.

For now, Grill is focused on connecting founders and investors in the immediate crisis who might have a harder time meeting each other with offices closed, conferences cancelled, and face-to-face meetings postponed indefinitely.

"There's no benefit for me to do this, other than to help the community," Grill said. "We need people to step up who have the ability to step up."

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Henrik Fisker Says Tesla Price Cuts Haven’t Fazed Ocean Rollout

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

A Fisker electric vehicle.​
Courtesy of Fisker

Last week in the dot.LA newsletter I wrote about Tesla’s decision to slash prices by as much as 20% on their vehicles and how the decision might impact Southern California’s EV startups. I called the price cuts a “tough pill to swallow” for Fisker in particular since they would make many of Tesla’s price points more competitive with Fisker’s first production model, The Ocean.

The Ocean is currently undergoing homologation, but Henrik Fisker, the company’s CEO, confirmed to dot.LA that the company hopes the process to be completed at the end of February. From there, it could take several weeks to ship the SUVs from Austria to the United States.

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Office Hours: Former Lawyer Turned CEO Diankha Linear on Cultivating Community

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

​Diankha Linear
Diankha Linear

On this episode of Office Hours, Community CEO Diankha Linear joins host Spencer Rascoff to discuss her foray into the startup world and the strategic approaching to scaling up.

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