Normal market behavior is that seed companies are pre-PMF and Series A companies have PMF. You can see PMF metrics in this doc.

Overall about 20% of seed companies get to Series A but in my experience PMF is much more selective than that. About 5% of seed companies achieve PMF in my experience and about 25% of the series a companies I have reviewed have PMF, so about 4x more companies get funded even in normal times.

So why the 4x? In my experience there are two main reasons in normal markets for venture capitalists to fund pre-PMF companies…


The five most common mistakes founders make in trying to find Product Market Fit (PMF)

I spend time with the twenty or so seed founders in my portfolio every week searching for product market fit. My guiding document is this one. I believe that there is a lot of art in finding PMF, but also a lot of math. Almost all founders have a background that causes them to lean heavily on one of the metrics in my report card. This strength often becomes a weakness because their internal narrative is that if they just keep leaning into their strength…


One of the defining moments for many education startups is deciding what they want to feel like. Often, founders start by wanting to be a library, where students will go and learn things. That feels like the purest mission. After all, that’s the reason we started the company, right?

The problem with libraries is that people don’t like them very much. I don’t know about you, but there were very few times when I was in school that I thought ‘Awesome, I’m going to the library tonight!’ For those of you that did think that, well done! You probably also…


About 75% of my portfolio is consumer edtech, and half of that is k12. I’m proud to be an investor in Outschool, Epic!, Lingokids, Juni and many more. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that there are basically two kinds of consumer edtech companies, ones where the student adopts the product and ones where the parent adopts the product. Traditionally, everyone markets to the parents. Every company on the list above is parent first. Obviously that can work since many of these companies are very successful.

However, recently I have begun to see companies which are student-first. Companies like…


I have many companies in my portfolio focused on talent acquisition and development for the tech ecosystem — Lambda School, Major League Hacking, Fourthrev, Contra, Marketerhire, Reforge, and Maven. Here is my message to tech — stop whining that you can’t hire enough senior and diverse people and figure out how to do more of the talent development yourself.

When I was developing Rocketship Education, a network of high performing charter schools, I encountered a similar problem in education to what tech has now. Everyone knew that Teach for America (TFA) produced some of the best teachers in the country…


Burn It Down

After I sold my first company, NetGravity, I taught elementary and middle school for three years. Before starting my second company, Rocketship Education, I spent about a year as an entrepreneur in residence with the NewSchools Venture Fund. NewSchools was started by John Doerr, Brook Byers and other high profile Silicon Valley’s folks to catalyze non-profit investment in the k12 public school system.

A lot of Newschools investment was in charter schools because although they were subject to a lot of political interference by the incumbent school districts and teachers unions, they still had some autonomy and…


This week, my college age daughter and two friends are staying with me. My daughter is working for Breakthrough Collaborative. One of her friends has two internships. The other is taking two classes. What’s amazing in watching digital natives is how well they have tuned their lives to the post-covid world. They more or less take every day as a vacation day from my point of view, but at the same time are insanely productive. They will go off to San Francisco for eight hours, but do intense work for two hours before and three hours after. …


One of the persistent myths which provide comfort to both founders and investors is that you have a company once someone invests. And then if higher profile people and funds invest, you have a better company. In an ecosystem full of ‘fake it until you make it’, this may seem like the best proxy you have. But it’s not.

Here is the mental stance I recommend founders take. You do not have a company until you have product market fit (PMF). …


As a three time founder, and now investor in thirty founders, some patterns are pretty clear to me about the things that make most founders tick and the way that can cause problems as the company grows. Here are ten of them:

1 — You are extremely hard on yourself and that often translates into being hard on those around you.

This has the advantage of making your expectations very high, often obsessively high around product and execution. That usually has a very positive effect in reaching Product Market Fit (PMF). …


The entire back catalog of Dunce Deals is now on SubStack. Enjoy! https://dunce.substack.com/publish?utm_source=menu

John Danner

Co-founder and CEO NetGravity, Rocketship Education, Zeal Learning, Dunce Capital. john@danners.org https://dunce.substack.com/

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