Big Picture-Macro View

What the greatest technology investors say about the Big Picture-Macro View

 

An Option Pool is about Price

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

“One [] contentious [] negotiation [point] between an entrepreneur and a VC [], particularly [in] an early stage financing, is the inclusion of an option pool in the pre-money valuation. [] [The] fact [is an option pool] is simply about price.  [Example]:  [] $3.25mm pre-money with no option pool [can be equivalent to] $4mm pre-money with one. [] What an entrepreneur needs to do is find out what the market price for [his] company is with and without an option pool in the number. [Then], the negotiation over this point is [] less contentious.”

“[] [Wilson acknowledges that if] options are counted in the pre-money, entrepreneurs will want commensurately higher valuations to compensate for the additional dilution.”

“[][The] option pool request needs to be reasonable and based on [a] budget.  [Wilson looks for] enough options [in] the "pre-money pool" to fund the hiring and retention needs [] until the next financing.”  Wilson wants an option pool in the pre-money when he invests.  Fred Wilson, Valuation and Option Pool and comments, Nov. 6, 2009;  http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/11/valuation-and-option-pool.html#comment-22043449

Sustainability: Short Term Profits vs. Long Term Health

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

Wilson discusses sustainability within the context of “[] short term profit maximization vs. long term business health []. If you want to stay in business forever, you have to focus on the long term [] [with] a business model that [ensures customer trust to keep them returning].

[][Wilson believe[s] business is about making a profit that sustains the business and enriches the owners but is not maximized in any period (month, quarter, year). [] [The] goal of a business is sustainability so that all the stakeholders (customers, employees, owners, suppliers, etc.) can rely on [it][] long term.”

When considering investments, entrepreneurs should employ survival instincts to ensure future survival.  “[][When considering whether] to disrupt their own business [] the [] choice is [not short term profit maximization but] [] survivability” even if it likely results in lower future profits. 

“[] When you construct your business model and create the [business culture], emphasize sustainability over profit maximization in everything  you create and do. [] Profits are the essence of survivability. [] But just because you need to make a profit doesn't mean you need to maximize it.  Balancing the need for a profit with [] sustain[ing] the business is the art of what [the business leader must do to win.]”  Fred Wilson, How To Be In Business Forever: A Lesson In Sustainability, Oct. 1, 2012; http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2012/10/how-to-be-in-business-forever-a-lesson-in-sustainability.html

Building the Business First

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

“[Some] founders [] suggest building the business first (even if it takes longer) and then seeking investment later after it's proven successful and has a strong growth trajectory. [] Examples [][are] StackExchange and DuckDuckGo.” Wilson responds that “[] that's a great model if you can do it.”  Fred Wilson Burn Rates: How Much? Comments section, Dec 12, 2011 ; http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/12/burn-rates-how-much.html

Two Rules of Thumb for Early Stage Fundraising

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

“[With a fast growing company], doubling employees year over year, adding users and customers [] very rapid[ly] [], [] don’t [] raise too much money.  [] [Otherwise] [the company] will be sitting on cash [] raised [at a lower valuation] [] [which is] too dilutive to [founders] and angels.

[Wilson has] two basic rules of thumb [for the amount to raise in early stages, i.e., seed, Series A and B rounds]. First try to dilute in the 10-20% band whenever you raise money.” 10% is preferable.  More may be necessary, “[] but try [] to keep [] dilution below 20% each round.  If you do two or three rounds [exceeding] 20% each round, you’ll end up with too little [equity].

Second, raise 12-18 months of cash each time you raise money.  Less than a year is too little. [] Longer than 18 months means you may [have cash when the company had at a lower valuation].

[] When [a] company gets above 100 employees and valued at north of $50mm, things change. You may need [] more cash [] for working capital [] and [the company] may not be increasing value [as rapidly as] when [it was] smaller.”  A raise of 24+ months cash may then be appropriate.  Fred Wilson, How Much Money To Raise, Jul 3 2011;  http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/07/how-much-money-to-raise.html

Hire Slowly & Wisely, not Quickly

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

“[Wilson’s] strong bias on [optimal headcount] [] is that  less is more.  [Repeatedly] [he’s] seen the entrepreneur who wants to hire quickly fail and [] the entrepreneur [who’s] [] slow to hire succeed.”

In his experience with software-based consumer internet businesses, “[] [success] might be most highly correlated with a slow hiring ramp [] [during a company’s early years.]  Being resource constrained can be [good] when [] getting started.  It forces [] [a] focus on what's working and get[ting] to the rest of the vision later on. []” His advice: “[] hire slowly and wisely instead of quickly.”   Fred Wilson MBA Mondays: Optimal Headcount At Various Stages, Jun 4 2012;  http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2012/06/mba-mondays-optimal-headcount-at-various-stages.html

Sustainability by Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

Wilson believes the concept of sustainability needs greater consideration today in business as “[] the focus on performance and efficiency often comes at the cost of sustainability.   

[] sustainability is all about figuring out how to be in business forever.  It is about [:] [win/win] business models that [] lead to happy long term customer and supplier relationships [;] [] avoiding the temptation to overreach [] [and] maximize near term profits at the expense of long term health [;] [] adapting [] to changing market dynamics [;] [] building a team and a culture that can survive the loss of the leader and keep going[;] [and] [] many more things like this.”  Fred Wilson, Sustainability, Nov. 21, 2011  http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/11/sustainability.html

Angels vs. Series A vs. Series B Characteristics

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

“[] Angel investors [] [invest] at the highest risk because much less is proven in the business.  They expect and need to earn a much higher return for the risk they’re taking. 

[] When a [Series] A investor gets involved, usually product has shipped, usually [there are] the first clients and some proof points, management team is better and solutions are more thought-out.   

[] [In] Series B [investors] are looking at metrics [] like how many clients have [been] signed up, [] costs of acquisition, [] conversion rates, [] LTV (lifetime value of customer), [] churn, and they want to see data, facts and figures.

[] Check sizes grow as the risk is decreased and usually coincides with the founders themselves needing more capital.”   Mark Suster-This Week in Venture Capital #14 with Rick Smith, founder of CrossCut Ventures, Jul 15, 2010  @ 50-52 min into interview;  http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2010/07/15/this-week-in-vc-with-rick-smith-of-crosscut-ventures/

Successful Entrepreneurs have these Qualities

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

 Suster believes successful entrepreneurs have these qualities:  “1. tenacity, the most important [].  2. street smarts []” including “[] know[ing] [] how customers buy and how to excite them [], [an ability to] spot opportunities that aren’t being met and [] design products to meet these needs. []”. “3. ability to pivot []” which “[] might just be a totally different business model.[]”  “4. resiliency  []. 5. inspiration [].  6. perspiration [].  7. willingness to accept risk []. 8. attention to detail [].  9.  competitiveness []. 10. decisiveness []. 11. domain experience []. 12. integrity  []”.    Mark Suster, Entrepreneur DNA, December 15, 2009;http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/entrepreneur-dna/ What Makes an Entrepreneur (2/11) – Street Smarts December 16, 2009

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2009/12/16/what-makes-an-entrepreneur-210-street-smarts/

What Makes an Entrepreneur (3/11) – Ability to Pivot December 17, 2009

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2009/12/17/what-makes-an-entrepreneur-310-ability-to-pivot/

Select the Highest Quality Investor Available

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

 Suster advises entrepreneurs to select the highest quality and most experienced investors available.   It’s generally better for the company long term to have the right investors vs. optimizing every last piece of equity up front.  “Worrying about giving up an extra 10% [equity] at [an early] stage can be meaningless if the ultimate outcome is either success or failure.”  Mark Suster, Raising Angel Money, July 19, 2009; http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2009/07/19/raising-angel-money/

Be Leary of Too High a Price

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

 “[] [Suster has] seen a destructive cycle where otherwise interesting companies have been screwed by raising too much money at too high of prices and gotten [] [trapped] when [] markets correct and they got ahead of themselves [on inherent market valuation]. []

[It’s] OK to [] shoot for the “top end of normal” for the market conditions. [] [He] caution[s] entrepreneurs from [] raising money at significantly ABOVE market valuations. []

If [entrepreneurs] haven’t figured out product / market fit and therefore still have a highly risky business [they] run great risks for getting too far ahead [] on valuation. [] [Most] investors won’t want to [][do] a “down round,” which creates tension between them and early investors.

[] [Sophisticated] investors know [a major down round] is fool’s gold.  They get a cheaper price, [] wipe out much founder stock value and [] reissue [founders] new options. [Founders] take the money []” except their incentives get eliminated.

[] He advises “[] us[ing] competition to [][ensure] a fair price [and] rais[ing] a slightly higher round than [] [otherwise for some strategic reserve]. [] [One wants] to show an uptick in valuation [] for new investor confidence and to maintain [early investor relations].”  Mark Suster  Why Startups Should Raise Money at the Top End of Normal,  June 5, 2011;  http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2011/06/05/why-startups-should-raise-money-at-the-top-end-of-normal/

Mark Suster's Financing Advice for Entrepreneurs

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

Financing advice for entrepreneurs:  

“[] 1. Always have a lead [investor], [] [someone] with enough skin in the game []” to mobilize other investors and help “[not] just [] [with] tough times, but for conflict resolution in general.

2. [] [Financing should be] stage appropriate [];

3. [] [Understand] where the VC is at in [his] fund [] [including] when [the] fund was raised, how much capital [] [was] raise[d], how much is allocated, when [it’s] raising [its] next fund and what [its] “reserve” strategy is. []

4. Make sure [] [investors get along] [];

5. Always pitch outsid[e] [investors] for follow-[on] [rounds] [] to [keep] [inside investors] [] honest [];

6.  Always [] [include] value-added angels. []”

Mark Suster, How Many Investors Are Too Many?  February 22, 2011; http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2011/02/22/how-many-investors-are-too-many/

Early Stage Technology Investments Come Down to 4 'M's'

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

“[] [Almost] all VC investments in early stage technology & Internet investments come down to just four key factors []: management, market, money [i.e., valuation] and above all else momentum [i.e., mostly product momentum]. 

[] The number one thing that investors get their checkbooks out [for is] momentum.  [Momentum has various definitions]:  user numbers, revenue, channel partners, biz dev deals, [etc.]. 

[] [Suster’s investment decision is based] 70% [on] management, 30% [on] product. 

[] [Almost] all VCs care about investing in big markets with ambitious teams.

[] Most VCs want to own between 20-25% minimum of [a] company. [] [Investors need to] own enough [equity] to make it worth their time – thus “money”. And all of this is wrapped up in forward progress that [entrepreneurs] demonstrate over time.”   Mark Suster, The Four Main Things that Investors Look for in a Startup,  October 6, 2010

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2010/10/06/the-four-main-things-that-investors-look-for-in-a-startup/

Social Proof is Powerful

Naval Ravikant angel investor, Co-Founder AngelList and Venture Hacks and former entrepreneur

“[Ravikant] measure[s] four dimensions [in startups for AngelList]:  Traction, Team, Social Proof and Product.” (AngelList is “a closed private social network [where] startups and angels [come] together.”)

“[] social proof refers to who else is involved [] as an investor and/or advisor. Which person has already given them the thumbs up is really important.  If any one of those people who is associated [with] the company is phenomenal it [the startup] passes the filter [selection criteria] [].

[] Social proof is [] powerful []. [] Get one great person to commit to your startup and you will have more control in raising your round. This is a tactic I have seen many startups use to start a bidding war or get the funding process rolling.”   Naval Ravikant, Naval Ravikant and AngelList: The Match.com of Funding [Interview] by Fatema Yasmine, February 17,   2011;   http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2011/02/17/naval-ravikant-angellist-the-match-com-of-funding-interview/

 

Valuation is Temporary, Control is Forever

Naval Ravikant angel investor, Co-Founder AngelList and Venture Hacks and former entrepreneur

“Venture Hacks’ [] tagline was ‘Valuation is temporary, control is forever.’   It was all about [] mak[ing] sure [the entrepreneur] keep[s] control.  And if [the entrepreneur] ha[s] control then it’s [his] company.  And the day [the entrepreneur] loses control [] [he’s] an employee.”  Naval Ravikant, This Week in Startups: Naval Ravikant of AngelList - TWiST #244 Published on Apr 6, 2012,  @ 1:08 hrs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWfGw7serN0

5 Main Qualities of an Exceptional Startup

Naval Ravikant angel investor, Co-Founder AngelList and Venture Hacks and former entrepreneur

“[Ravikant ] broke down the 5 main qualities of an ‘exceptional startup,’ in the following order:

1. Traction
2. Team
3. Product
4. Social Proof
5. Pitch/Presentation

[] [Ravikant] explained [] ‘Investors are trying to find the exceptional outcomes, so they are looking for something exceptional [],[so] do one thing exceptionally.  As a startup you have to be exceptional in at least one regard.’”

Naval Ravikant, Anatomy of an (un)fundable startup by Babak Nivi on June 22nd, 2011,  Ravikant’s keynote speech at the 7th Founder Showcase Q2 2011;  http://venturehacks.com/articles/unfundable-startup

How to Ensure There's Alignment on Exit Strategy

Basil Peters angel investor and Principal Strategic Exits Corporation

 “It’s surprising how often there is a misalignment between key stakeholders on the exit strategy. The only way to check is to get a ‘signoff’ on a written exit strategy. [] [Check] alignment annually. [] [The] right way to build a company is [to] determine the type of business, build alignment on the exit strategy, THEN develop the financing plan and then start to contact investors.”   Basil Peters, Maximizing Exit Value Angel Capital Assn Annual Summit Workshop Apr. 15, 2009, pg 28 & 32; 

http://www.basilpeters.com/Presentations/Maximizing_Exit_Value_20090415_Part_2.pdf

When Can You Sell?

Basil Peters angel investor and Principal Strategic Exits Corporation

“When can [one] sell? [] [With] M&A [merger & acquisition] exits [] the real threshold is to ‘prove the business model’. [To prove the model] [] a recurring revenue business [] [should show] actual results for: revenue per customer, gross margin per customer, customer lifetime (or churn [i.e., how long one enjoys that customer]) [and] cost of customer acquisition.  In other words, how much is a customer worth and what do[es] [a customer] cost to acquire?

[With that proven model], [] credible projection[s] [can be built] that [show] if: new owners added $X millions of capital, the business would have Y customers and be worth $Z millions.

That’s when [one] can sell [although] there are often additional factors like competitors and market changes. [] As soon as [one] prove[s] the model is often the best time to sell.  [It’s] always best to sell on an upward trend. Sell[ing] on the promise, not the reality [is] often when [one] [gets] the best price.”   Basil Peters, Maximizing Exit Value Angel Capital Assn Annual Summit Workshop Apr. 15, 2009;  http://www.basilpeters.com/Presentations/Maximizing_Exit_Value_20090415_Part_2.pdf , pg 5-10

Angels Need a 20-25%/yr Return

Basil Peters angel investor and Principal Strategic Exits Corporation

“[] angels need to get 20% to 25% per year [] the same [return] as a venture fund.  So, if you do the math, [] angels need to make three to five times their money in three to five years.”    Basil Peters, Seed Capital From Angel Investors: Basil Peters, CEO and Fund Manager, Fundamental Technologies II (Part 5);  Jul 7, 2010;  http://www.sramanamitra.com/2010/07/07/seed-capital-from-angel-investors-basil-peters-ceo-and-fund-manager-fundamental-technologies-ii-part-5/

Why VC's Block an Exit

Basil Peters angel investor and Principal Strategic Exits Corporation

“Most entrepreneurs don’t even know that a VC is likely to block an exit when they accept the VC’s money. [] VCs design their investment agreements to give them the power to block exits.”

“[] VCs will almost always block a sale where they only make a 3-4X return on their investment.  This could have easily been a 10X return for the angels and a 100X return for the entrepreneurs.

[] The winners [must] produce at least 10-30X return for the [VC] fund to perform respectably.

[] This propensity to block exits is one of the reasons that every company needs a clear exit strategy before [it approaches its] first investor.”  Basil Peters, How VCs Block Exits, August 28, 2010, http://www.exits.com/blog/how-vcs-block-exits/; Why VCs Will Block Good Exits;  http://www.angelblog.net/Why_VCs_Block_Good_Exits.html

The Exit Strategy is the Most Important Business Plan Element

Basil Peters angel investor and Principal Strategic Exits Corporation

The exit strategy is “the most important element in the business plan. [] It affects many daily business decisions. [] The chances of success increase dramatically [with] a good plan.  [It] is the plan for [] the entire business. 

[The] plan should start at the end (the goal).  An exit strategy could be as simple as: “Our exit strategy is to [sell the company] in about _ years for around $ _million.[]”

[] [With a well-designed and executed exit], [it’s] often possible to increase the exit valuation by 50 to 100%”, especially with early exits in inefficient markets. Basil Peters, Maximizing Exit Value Angel Capital Assn Annual Summit Workshop Apr. 15, 2009;  http://www.basilpeters.com/Presentations/Maximizing_Exit_Value_20090415_Part_2.pdf