Archive for the ‘Venture Economics’ Category

IPO or M&A? Here’s exactly how large companies exit

I wrote a post a few months ago based on some data from Correlation Ventures about the distribution of returns on venture deals (which revealed that outsized winners are, in fact, much more rare than most people think).

Today I’m focusing on companies in those top return categories with some new data from Correlation that show the percentage of large exits (>$500M) that are generated through M&A vs. IPO (quick side note: I seriously love how much information Correlation collects and how free they are in letting me post about it – as a reminder, Correlation is a firm that co-invests based on an algorithm that predicts the success of the a company; we’re in a few deals together and I can tell you the process is quick and painless; end of advertisement, but seriously – these data are from their work and the fact that they’re so interesting shows why the model works for them).

The graph below shows the trend of exits – IPO vs. M&A over the past handful of years (side note here that Foundry, like many firms, considers an IPO a financing event, not an exit in and of itself; although obviously it can be a path to an exit shortly thereafter).


A few key take-aways here:

– Acquisitions represent about half of all large exits in recent years, showing that both are – at the moment – reasonable paths to exit.
– There’s quite a bit of variability year to year (and cyclicality – not surprisingly), but the overall trend has been to more larger acquisitions (at least relative to IPOs). This reached it peak in 2008, although that may in large part be due to the lack of a public market option at that time.
– Generally speaking this trend holds true regardless of the absolute number of large exits in a given year (this is from the underlying data – not the graph, obviously).

I find data like these fascinating. Humans are horrible at proper attribution (a subject for another post) and I think this is particularly true in a hype driven industry such as venture/entrepreneurship. We all latch on to the big stories and the outlier returns – likely why so many people wrote me after my post on the distribution of venture exits and why there was so much interest on Twitter about it – the data didn’t match the heuristic people had in their heads. For me at least the same is true here – I would have expected the percentage of large exits from M&A to be significantly higher than exits through IPOs.

And that, of course, is why it’s important to actually look at the numbers rather than guess.

November 20th, 2014     Categories: Venture Economics     Tags: , , , ,

Some more data on Venture outcomes

Quick update here. The data I site below is from Foundry LP StepStone. Since my original post I’ve confirmed with them that they’re ok with my identifying them as the source of the data. And they’ve offered to help me play with the raw data of a future report – I’ll work on some interesting updates here soon!

Yesterday’s post on venture outcomes – Venture Outcomes are Even More Skewed Than You Think – generated lot of traffic. Clearly, it’s interesting to put real data against a heuristic and see how reality maps to our expectations. As I pointed out in my post, the data set from Correlation Ventures I was working with had some limitations. For starters, I didn’t have the raw data to run my own cuts of the analysis. And more importantly the data were financing level, not company level. A bunch of people asked me about this and I’m working with Correlation to see if the next time they do this analysis we can get a few different views of the data.

In the meantime I went poking around for some additional information and remembered an analysis that one of our investors sent me on roughly the same subject. I thought given the interest in my last post I’d put it up for further discussion. Still not exactly how I’d parse this if I had access to the full data set, but interesting nonetheless. This analysis is on a company basis, not a financing basis (the chart is labeled “Deal” but in this case that means company, not round). I should also note that its skewed a bit towards better performing funds. This was an internal analysis by an LP so I’m not able to release the full report but the data set represented over 3,000 companies and more than $20Bn in invested capital and spanning years 1971 through 2012. The data only represent companies that have exited (and not, for the more recent fund vintages, companies current carrying value). It’s also worth noting that this data set likely shows a slight upward bias, reflecting this LPs selection over the years of better performing funds vs the VC average (from the internal report: “In our view, the data set is skewed toward higher quality funds; the average returns of these deals across vintage years outperform the VC average.”).

The first chart below shows the distribution of venture outcomes by fund size. Interestingly, the loss ratio of smaller funds (where outcomes are <1x) is smaller as a percentage of the portfolio than for larger funds. 49% of deals for funds smaller than $100M fail to return capital, while 73% of deals from larger funds failed to do so. The top end showed the same trend between small and large funds – smaller funds were significantly more likely to produce exits of 5x or greater vs large funds. These data largely track to investment size with larger checks producing not only fewer outsized winners (as you might expect given the nature of larger rounds) but also producing far more companies that failed to return capital (which you might not expect given the nature of the types of deals that raise larger amounts – stage, risk profile and investment structure).

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One obvious conclusion from these data (and something I’ve seen supported by other data sets as well, although I haven’t written about directly before) is that smaller funds outperform larger funds. There’s more to that argument than is contained in the charts above (with well in excess of 50% of all deals failing to return capital, there’s plenty of devil in the details to make that conclusion) however the report I pulled these from – the writers of that report had the full data, of course – clearly articulated that as one of their conclusions. More on that in a separate post at some point. These numbers generally support the conclusions I drew yesterday about the challenge of finding unicorn investments. But the data also suggest that while they don’t truly follow the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 heuristic, smaller funds come closer to that hypothetical portfolio distribution than do larger funds (at least above average funds do). In this data set, funds smaller than $250M invest in companies generating greater than 3x return 23% of the time and fail to return capital on a little over 50% of their investments. This compares to less than 10% of investments by funds greater than $500M generating a 3x return and almost 72% failing to return capital.

All of the data aside, it’s clear that venture returns are generated by a minority of funds that find themselves in the outlier deals (and that being a successful venture capitalist is quite difficult).

August 13th, 2014     Categories: Venture Economics     Tags: , , ,

Venture Outcomes are Even More Skewed Than You Think

The typical “successful” venture portfolio is often described as having the following outcome:

  • 1/3 of companies fail
  • 1/3 of companies return capital (or make a small amount of money)
  • 1/3 of companies do well

Fred Wilson, for example, described this a few years ago:

I’ve said many times on this blog that our target batting average is “1/3, 1/3, 1/3″ which means that we expect to lose our entire investment on 1/3 of our investments, we expect to get our money back (or maybe make a small return) on 1/3 of our investments, and we expect to generate the bulk of our returns on 1/3 of our investments.

It’s a generalization but one that’s pretty well accepted in venture circles and it’s how many VCs describe target fund distribution, myself included. But does this heuristic match reality?

Actually no.

Correlation Ventures just released a study that shows the distribution of outcomes across over 21,000 financings and spanning the years 20014-2013. For those of you that don’t know Correlation, they take a data driven approach to co-investing – essentially creating an algorithm that predicts the success of a company based on a number of factors that include both business trajectory as well as financing trajectory (we’re co-investors with Correlation in Distil, for example). The result is that they process a lot of data. Which leads to some pretty interested insights.

venture returns

Based on their data, a full 65% of financings fail to return 1x capital. And perhaps more interestingly, only 4% produce a return of 10x or more and only 10% produce a return of 5x or more. These data suggest that the heuristic I site above potentially presents a rosier picture of the venture industry than reality suggests is the case (there are some missing data here in that the vast majority of companies are in the 0-1x category but the data within that category weren’t released – but my suspicion is that within that category the distribution of outcomes follows a similar power curve).

This really underscores the challenge of creating a venture portfolio that produces reasonable returns.  If you were to actually construct a portfolio based on these averages, a $100M venture fund investing in 20 companies would produce a gross return of approximately $206M (that’s before fees and expenses). The resulting fund would have an IRR in the range of 10% (the exact IRR would depend on the timing of the cash flows, but I constructed a few models to approximate this and 10% was the average return).  That’s hardly something to write home about and underscores the challenge of being “average” in this industry.

Hidden in this exercise – and perhaps more important – is the challenge of finding companies at the right side of the distribution chart. In my hypothetical $100M fund with 20 investments, the total number of financings producing a return above 5x was 0.8 – producing almost $100M of proceeds. My theoretical fund actually didn’t find their purple unicorn, they found 4/5ths of that company. If they had missed it, they would have failed to return capital after fees.  Even if we doubled the number of portfolio companies in the hypothetical portfolio, a full quarter of the fund’s return comes from the roughly ½ of a company they invested in that generated 10x or above. Had they missed it, they would have produced a return that roughly approximated investing in bonds – not the kind of risk adjusted return they or their investors were looking for.

It’s important to note here that I’m extrapolating a bit – the Correlation data are based on financings, not companies (I asked – they didn’t have a sort at an entity level in this exercise). I thought about ways to normalize this but came to the conclusion that the best normalization was to use the raw data and caveat that it was financing level, not company level. I’m going to work with Correlation to get entity level detail the next time the do this exercise.

All of this math simply underscores how important winners are to venture returns and how difficult it is to find them.

Note: An obvious, but important, thank you to Correlation for allowing me to share these data as they were originally prepared as a private exercise for Correlation and their venture partners. As I mention above, we’re coinvestors with Correlation in Distil Networks. They have a bit of a unique model for co-investing which allows them to see a lot of data on a lot of companies to support their data driven investment thesis (which also allows them to reach fast investment decisions).

That convert you raised last year is a part of your cap table

When it comes to convertible debt, I’ve had a few instances recently where “out of sight, out of mind” has created some misunderstandings around deal structures. Seemed like a good topic to cover here.

Given the prevalence of convertible debt as a seed financing instrument, an increasing number of companies we look at have some kind of convert in place. This is typically reflected on cap tables in a completely separate tab to the spreadsheet that shows the debt total by investor and then some kind of interest calculation. Of course many entrepreneurs naturally focus on the main tab of their cap table spreadsheet that shows ownership by founder, investor, etc and for them this is the starting point of negotiating a round. The problem, of course, is that their convert is already a part of their capitalization – even though it’s not reflected on the cap table.  There’s nothing nefarious here on the part of entrepreneurs, but I’ve recently been involved in a few situations where this key fact was skipped over and as a result their expectations for their ownership/total dilution of a subsequent equity round was completely wrong and because of that a deal (at least with us) didn’t come together (in one case the entrepreneurs viewed the convert as a post equity deal event, meaning that they thought they were negotiating a round with us that would then layer on the debt conversion – exactly the oppositie of how it actually works!).

When you raise $2M on a convert with a $6M cap you’ve sold 25% of your company (at least; 25% if this converts at the cap). And while your cap table may not yet reflect this in the numbers, your 40% founders equity stake is actually already 30% when you start the process of raising your equity round. It’s worth going through the math explicitly, as convert terms like this can have a significant effect on the total cap table. This is especially true when the round price is significantly higher than the convert cap. Raise $6M on an $18M pre and you think you’re selling 25% of the company. But factor in that convertible debt above and you’re actually taking more like 50% dilution from the ownership reflected on your pre-convert cap table. Not necessarily a bad deal, but if you didn’t have that in your head you’re setting yourself up for a big surprise. And keep in mind that the equity round will price in the convert (so in my example above the $18M pre includes the conversion of debt – but because the conversion price is capped, from a dilution perspective $4.5M of the pre-money is actually the debt conversion).

The math all adds up in the  end – but make sure you’re thinking it through all the way.

October 8th, 2012     Categories: Venture Economics    

California, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado

California, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado. That’s the order of states with the greatest dollar value of seed and early stage investment according to a PWC MoneyTree study that my partner Jason blogged about today. $290M invested in 41 companies based in Colorado in 2011. Compare that with 2006 when Colorado ranked 12th on the list with just under $90M invested in 32 companies.

That’s an incredible achievement and says a lot about the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colorado and our rising profile on the national stage. I’ve written extensively on why Boulder specifically, and Colorado in general, are great start-up markets (see here, for example). And these data show that the work and effort of many people in our state is paying off. I often tell people when they ask me how to replicate the success we’ve had here in Colorado that the journey is a long one. When building an entrepreneurial community one needs to take a 10+year view of the effort. When I think back to what the Colorado market looked like when I joined the venture industry about 12 years ago (based here, but working for a CA firm), it’s almost hard to fathom the changes. And while the number of venture firms located in Colorado has diminished significantly in that time, the overall entrepreneurial environemnt has really flourished. All giving support to what I believe to be a key truth about our industry – entrepreneurs come first!

So congratulations to all the great Colorado entrepreneurs who have made this state a great place to start and build a business.

The Seed Signaling Problem That’s NOT Being Talked About

There’s been plenty of chatter over the past few years about the potential pitfalls for entrepreneurs taking seed money from VCs. This includes a recent and very thorough overview of the issues by Elad Gil which I’d highly recommend reading, even if you’re already familiar with the issues around seed financing (and in particular the so called “party round” where everyone takes a piece but no one takes the lead).

I’ve noticed something recently that’s a bit of the flip side of the same problem that everyone is talking about but that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. I’m seeing an increasing number of Series A pitches where a company has at least one venture investor in its seed, the business is very clearly doing well and where the entrepreneur is simply not pursuing their existing institutional investors for money (note: please give me a little credit here for knowing the difference between an entrepreneur not pursuing money from their existing investors and their being told by their investors that they’re not interested; I’m talking about cases where it’s either pretty clear that the business is seeing excellent traction or where we’ve actually been able to confirm that they’re trying to go around their existing investors).

You could call this the VC seed signaling problem.

A VC throws some money around into a bunch of different seed rounds assuming they’re buying optionality for their Series A. But by essentially ignoring these seed companies some investors are showing them that perhaps they’re not the value added VC that they claimed to be. I’ve heard a variation of this themea number of times in the past few months. Entrepreneurs completely disappointed with the lack of attention they’ve received from their seed investors and as a result choosing to either try to keep them out of their Series A rounds or minimize their participation (most have received pro-rata rights as part of their seed investment so sometimes this becomes a negotiation – again, clearly evidence that these entrepreneurs are indeed telling the truth on this subject as their seed investors try to negotiate for more participation in the Series A).

I find this pretty amusing. At Foundry we view seed investing the same way we view all of our investing – we believe that we’re in this business to add value to the entrepreneurs and companies we back regardless of the capital we have invested (great post from Brad here explaining this in more detail). Clearly that view is not held across our industry.

April 23rd, 2012     Categories: Fundraising, Startups, Venture Economics    

Has convertible debt won? And if it has, is that a good thing?

Paul Graham, founder of Y-Combinator, sent out a tweet on Friday saying: “Convertible notes have won. Every investment so far in this YC batch (and there have been a lot) has been done on a convertible note.”

It’s an interesting data point on Y-Combinator companies, but is this truly a macro trend? Have convertible notes really won?  And if so is that good for start-ups? Good for investors?

I think the answer to these questions are that 1) it’s not at all clear that this trend is as definitive as Graham suggests; 2) it’s a mixed bag for entrepreneurs (more positive in the short run, potentially negative in the long term); and 3) it’s clearly not a positive trend for early-stage investors.

First a quick terminology recap (skip this paragraph if you’re already familiar with convertible debt vs. preferred equity). The most common forms of investment in early stage business are convertible debt and preferred equity. Convertible debt is exactly that – debt which is convertible into equity at some later point in time (or is paid off). Typically this conversion is at a discount to the next equity round (to compensate the debt investors for their risk) and sometimes carries warrants (same rational) or a cap on the equity price that the debt converts into. Historically convertible debt has been easier (and therefore cheaper) to put in place. Preferred equity is stock which carries with it certain rights (preferences) in terms of how and when it gets paid back and a handful of other items that relate to the control of the underlying business.

Also, before I jump into this let me state that I have the view that, like many things involving start-ups, there’s a balance between what’s good for investors and good for entrepreneurs (there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two). I believe in cutting fair deals with entrepreneurs and don’t at all subscribe to the belief that an investor should try to obtain harsh control or preference terms (almost all of our investments at Foundry have a 1-times preference multiple and are non-participating; see this post by my partners Jason and Brad for more details on what these terms mean if you’re unfamiliar with them). Paul himself said in a March 2009 article: “When you hear people talking about a successful angel investor, they’re not saying "He got a 4x liquidation preference." They’re saying "He invested in Google." And I believe that’s true, although as you’ll see below, I also believe there also has to be reasonable compensation for the risk that early stage investors are taking. We should all be so lucky as to find the next Google, but one’s investment strategy needs to be geared to finding the next Mint or

Has Convertible Debt Won?

I asked this question to a number of angel investors (all with institutional angel funds or running Y-Combinator like programs) and the results were mixed. Interestingly there seems to be  a real split between the coasts. While all of this year’s Y-Combinator investments have apparently been structured as convertible debt, that’s not the case with other programs. While some are clearly seeing a heavier weighting to convertible debt than to equity, one east coast based program I talked to told me that fully 100% of their companies who had received funding had done so in the form of equity.  Of the super-angels I talked to, several reported that “all” or “almost all” of their initial investments were currently being structured as convertible debt with one (again, east coast-based) exception who reported only 5-10% of their deals were structured as debt. It’s hard to say where in the country the line shifts from equity to debt, but it’s clearly a much stronger trend out west than on the east coast (at least the northeast which was where the firms/programs that I spoke to on that side of the country are located). To be clear, any west coast trend by definition is trend, given the skew of investing to that geography (and by far the majority of the so-called super-angel investors are west coast based).

The trend that Paul is pointing out appears to be taking place, but is less than definitive (and much less so than I expected). 

Now on to by far the more important question – Is this trend a good one for entrepreneurs and investors?

Traditionally convertible debt is used for initial funding rounds that are smaller in size, where the financing isn’t substantial enough to cover the greater legal costs of a more traditional seed equity round, where the investor base lacks a “lead” to price and negotiate terms, or where the financing size is such that all parties agree that not enough money is being raised to put a stake in the ground around pricing. As I noted above the conversion terms typically contain a discount to the next financing round and – according to the super-angels I talked with – also almost always contain a cap on the price at which the equity can convert at later. Both these terms are designed to bound the risk that the convertible debt investors are taking in not pricing the round – they’re investing in an debt-like instrument with equity like risks.

Entrepreneurs like convertible debt for some obvious reasons. For starters, it can be much quicker to put together a convertible debt financing, so more of the capital being raised goes to the operations of the business, not to the lawyers (this clearly benefits both the entrepreneur and investors). Importantly it also puts off the valuation question to a later date and tends to shift at least some risk from entrepreneur to investor (I’ll talk about why this is in the next paragraph below). Interestingly however, with the increasing number of seed financings we’ve also seen a decrease in the complexity and cost of equity seed financings such that they more resemble in time and cost convertible debt structures (both Y-Combinator and TechStars have model seed docs up for those wishing to further streamline the process). As a result I believe some of the perceived difference in time and cost are disappearing and less relevant to the debt vs. equity debate.

It’s the question of terms that’s key to the investor side of the equation and where I believe the convertible debt trend starts to fall down. In the investor’s best case scenario, the convert terms reflect the current market value of the business (specifically, the cap appropriately prices the equity value of the business at the time of the debt investment). However the investor hasn’t actually purchased equity and has opened themselves up to an easier renegotiation of their terms by a later investor (who, almost by definition, wields more power at that time than the original angels, assuming the company actually needs to raise capital). More likely, however, the convert cap reflects a premium to the current fair market value of the business. One super-angel I talked to told me that while a year ago these caps “approximated what I’d pay in equity” that they’re now “33% higher than what I’d normally agree to pay now.”

I have no doubt that the convertible debt structure has the effect of raising prices for early stage investing. Within some reasonable range this isn’t a huge problem – early stage valuation ranges move up and down with the markets – but in larger increments (which we’re seeing now) and viewed in the light of angel investing economics, these changes in early stage valuation may be problematic.

Traditional venture investors average up their cost basis in a company and “protect” their ownership over time by investing in subsequent rounds. Often, angel investors don’t participate in future rounds (or if they do, they do so at a much less meaningful percentage of the round) meaning that their initial buy-in forms the basis for the majority of the shares they ultimately own in a company. Ironically, the trend of companies raising less capital actually enhances the importance of the initial round buy-in (both because that initial buy-in becomes less diluted meaning the first round price was that much more important and because even if an angel wants to buy up more in later rounds they’ll have less of a chance to do so; I also believe that along with the trend of companies raising less capital we’re also seeing earlier and somewhat smaller average exits – also enhancing the value of initial round buy-ins as fewer investors are truly swinging for the proverbial fence). I’m a big fan of the rise of the so-called super angels – I think they’ve been great for the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem and I’d like to see them continue to thrive.

So how is this trend bad for entrepreneurs?

Clearly in the short run this trend is positive for entrepreneurs because it has the effect of both deferring an often difficult conversation (around valuation) and ultimately increasing early stage company values and as a result decreasing entrepreneur dilution (by the way it’s also good for Y-Combinator, TechStars and other similar programs since the shares the program gets of each company act as founder shares in this financing equation). And I have no doubt that there will be many entrepreneurs who benefit from this trend. But it’s not clear to me that it’s sustainable (just as it wasn’t a decade ago). Ultimately investors need to be compensated for the risk they take in making their investments. With capital being relatively fluid (and the angel markets being finicky) as companies run into trouble, as valuation caps begin to be disrespected, as overall return profiles decrease because of higher early stage prices, money will flow out of the asset class. And ultimately this doesn’t benefit entrepreneurs either.


If you’re a long time reader of this blog you’ll know that I don’t like superlatives and I don’t like sweeping generalizations. I don’t think convertible debt is bad and I don’t believe as famous angel investor David Rose has said that “Smart Money’ doesn’t invest in convertible debts. Period.” Different situations call for different capital and financing structures. That said, a broad market trend towards convertible debt has implications that I think are bad for the overall early stage investment ecosystem.

I look forward to a healthy discussion in the comments below!

Quick disclosure note, I’m a personal investor in TechStars and from that end actually benefit (at least short term) from this trend. As an angel investor I’ve participated (this was prior to raising the Foundry Group fun) in convertible debt structures, including several very positive outcomes.  I’m also an investor in several angel funds that are in the middle of this market. Foundry itself rarely (which is to say never to date) structures a first round as convertible debt.  

August 30th, 2010     Categories: Fundraising, Venture Economics    

Am I just a greedy VC?

My partner Jason has an impassioned post up about the carried interest debate currently taking place in Congress. No matter how you feel about Congress’ efforts to change the tax classification of VC profits from capital gains to ordinary income it’s worth a read (and keeping an open mind).

Obviously this issue is important to me and to all VCs. And while I know there are differences of opinions on the subject (clearly given the intense debate going on right now) I think Jason does a nice job of talking through the personal (this feels overstepping), professional (there are other markets where innovation is taking place where investor are actually being completely exempt from taxes that will draw talent away from the US) and legal (how do you differentiate between a VCs partnership interest from other partnership interests not subject to the proposed tax change?) arguments against the tripling of tax on the long term profits of investors.

While I wouldn’t say that I’m a “fan” of government, I’ve always been of the mind that some level of government safety-net is appropriate. I’m even, generally speaking, ok with a progressive income tax and as a relatively high wage earner understand that I have a certain burden living in our society to pay a much greater share of the overall tax burden. I point this out not to get into a political debate about the benefits of taxes, the proper level of tax  or even the correct taxing system but to be clear that my views on carried interest are not part of some larger agenda around reforming the tax system or eliminating it all together.

I have many of the same concerns that Jason outlines in his blog post about the move to change the tax treatment on carried interest. I’ve even considered whether the change will either shorten or radically change my own career path.

But as a capitalist and a realist I’d simply point out that taxes shape behavior. Our tax code has examples of this everywhere. Want people to buy houses? Allow them to write off their home mortgage (but don’t let them write off credit card debt – we don’t want consumers to have too much of that…). Want people to give to charity? All them to write that off too. Want to encourage longer-term investing? Tax that at a lower rate than short term investing. Need to encourage people to save for retirement? That’s a good one for tax exemption. Invest in education? Check on that one two.

My point is that tax code changes have real world economic and behavioral consequences. And the consequence of tripling the tax on the carried interest of investors will be decreased investment, less innovation and fewer jobs (and I would guess an overall reduction in tax receipts given the 2nd and 3rd order effects of the measure – which completely defeats the purpose of the proposal which is 100% to raise revenue and “fund” the extension of other tax initiatives).

The US currently leads the world in the innovation economy. From our universities, to our entrepreneurial ecosystem, from the belief that it’s ok to step out and try, even if you fail, to our system for nurturing and funding companies, we have a huge global competitive advantage in innovation that has lead to some of the greatest advances in modern society coming from within the US. Venture Capitalists have been an important part of this trend (companies that are or were once VC backed account for 11% of the US workforce and over 20 of US GDP).

The sky is not falling and the day after the tax code is changed (if we’re not successful in convincing lawmakers what a bad idea this is), little will be different in my job or in the jobs of most investors (although no doubt the lawyers will be hard at work figuring out new investment structures). But there is no doubt in my mind that this massive alteration in how we tax the work of a group of people who nurture and fund innovation in the US will radically change the long term trajectory of the our country’s innovation economy. With the focus on job growth and job creation and with countries like China and India knocking at our door trying to be the growth engines for the next millennium’s global economy, is now the time to put shackles around the building blocks of what’s allowed the US to lead the world in technological innovation? I, for one, surely don’t think so.

May 19th, 2010     Categories: Current Affairs, Venture Economics    

The new era of venture capital

You already know the about the state of the venture capital industry in 2009: venture investing down (32%), exits down (14%; slowest exit year for VC backed companies since 1995), fundraising down (56%), IPO’s almost non-existent (8 venture backed IPOs in 2009). It’s a bleak picture for the industry overall, even if there’s a group of us that continue to believe this is a great market in which to be investing (and it clearly is). These stats got me thinking about the future of the venture industry and I thought I’d offer up some thoughts on where we might be headed.

First, let me frame the conversation by stating that I agree with Fred Wilson’s assumption that somewhere around $15Bn is the right “steady state” investment pace for the venture industry as an asset class. At this investment level the return profile of the industry maps to a reasonable expectation of inputs and outputs (the money invested in start-ups as compared to the exit activity). By that measure, we actually still have a ways to go to reach that equilibrium in the venture markets.

graphAccording to VentureSource, $21Bn was invested by the venture capital asset class in 2009, and this amount was the lowest investment total in the 10 years of data that I had access to. The system is still a little bit out of equilibrium, however, as this is a far greater total than the amount of capital raised by venture firms in 2009 ($12Bn). In fact looking back at the past five years $14Bn more has been invested by firms than has been raised. While presumably this will lead (eventually) to fewer dollars invested, the VC fundraising average for the past 5 years has been almost $25Bn, suggesting that we still have a ways to go to get to Fred’s $15Bn bogy. 

What’s even more interesting to me is to consider the nature of this fundraising and the ramifications it has on the industry as a whole. I believe what we’re going to see in the venture industry is a bifurcation of fundraising– basically a barbell on the graph of fund sizes. Large, well known, multi-sector and multi-stage “mega-funds” will be able to raise $750MM or greater at one end of the scale, and smaller, more focused funds will raise $250MM or less on the other end – with a relatively small number of funds in the middle.

Looking at the 2009 fundraising data shows that this trend is already taking shape, three well known funds in the former category closed on over $3Bn in commitments

– NEA ($1.24Bn), Norwest ($1.2Bn) and Khosla Ventures ($800MM). At the bottom end of the scale there were numerous funds that raised money in the $25MM$250MM range).  And while there were certainly a few funds raised in the middle (notably Greylock, Matrix, DCM, CRV and Andressen Horowitz) my hypothesis is that fundraising in this size range will diminish over time as LPs move their money either to a smaller number of diversified, extremely large funds or the larger number of smaller, more focused funds (Foundry is clearly in the latter category).


First round valuations

I get quite a few questions sent in by readers and am going to make more of an effort to post some of the ones that I think would be of general interest (please – keep them coming). Recently Jonathan asked: Do you have any reference regarding recent pre seed, seed, and first round valuations for B2C companies? We had several back and forth e-mails about this over the past week and I thought they were worth summarizing here. First, some additional background from a subsequent e-mail from Jonathan: I am actually doing two simultaneous rounds: one for 125K and another for 1.4 million. The first one aims at testing the viral potential of the application. We will focus on improving our site, doing PR and furthering our relationship with bloggers in the field. The distinctive aim of the second – 1.4M – round is to do conventional online advertising. The idea is that if our 122K round is successful (meaning we acquire users at a very cheap rate and manage generate some income early on) we can improve our barging power for the 1.4 M round or skip it altogether and take it to the next level. The main problem with this process is in the valuation. Here was my response: Classically in this type of situation you’d probably try to structure the first $125k as a bridge that converts into the next preferred round at a slight discount (from 10-20% depending on risk and timing of the second round).  That way you essentially punt the value conversation until later and if you execute well on the first set of money you get the benefit of your stellar execution in the form of less dilution when you put together the big round (and at the end of the day from your perspective this is all about getting money into the business so you end up with as much of your company as possible). HOWEVER, if the money for both rounds is coming from the same set of investors, you need to be careful here because they’ll have the ability to foreclose on the business because of the debt structure of the financing instrument in this case.  If that’s the case, I’d look at trying to roll this together into a single round that is traunched based on your hitting milestones (so the first $125k funds at closing but the $1.4m doesn’t fund until you hit some level of traffic or something like that).  You’ll have to have the valuation conversation up front in that case, but the benefit is that you’ll have a deal for $1.525m instead of just $125k.  As for valuation, it varies a lot depending on the type of investor you are bringing in, the amount of money you are raising and the region of the country in which you are located. If you were just raising a $125k angel round, you pre-money value would be ~ $1.5m – $2m.  If you raise $1.5m you could probably push that a bit – maybe to $3m.  First round venture deals (true institutional Series A – product with some interest, but not yet generating any real revenue) are generally in the $5m range.  BtoC is in favor again, so there’s some room to push your valuation based on market interest, but that’s likely for your next round and based on strong execution (and lots of subscribers).

August 22nd, 2006     Categories: Venture Economics