Rules of Thumb

What the greatest technology investors say about Rules of Thumb


The following is a list of the post titles by author under this topic.  Scroll further down this page to find the actual blog post by your selected author.   Author’s posts appear in reverse alphabetical order.  For example, following this list, Fred Wilson’s posts appear towards the beginning of the blog page, and Babak Nivi’s post appears towards the end of the blog page.   

BABAK NIVI  (1 post)

Babak Nivi:  Tips When Raising a Seed Round

MARK SUSTER  (3 posts)

Mark Suster:  Dilution Benchmarks & Fundraising

Mark Suster: The VC “Squeeze” and Dilution

Mark Suster: The VC Assumes there’s an Option Pool

FRED WILSON  (3 posts)

Fred Wilson:  Hire Slowly & Wisely, not Quickly

Fred Wilson: Two Rules of Thumb for Early Stage Fundraising

Fred Wilson:  What's the "Right" Monthly Burn Rate

What's the "Right" Monthly Burn Rate

Fred Wilson venture capitalist and Co-Founder Union Square Ventures

“The number of people [is important in] getting the company building process right. Too many [slows] things down, burn[s] through too much cash, and increase[s] [overhead needlessly]. Too few and [you’ll] be resource constrained and unable to grow as [quickly].”

Wilson’s suggested fully-burdened monthly burn by stage for mainly consumer internet, software-based businesses (Fully-burdened includes salaries, rent, overhead, etc.):

“Building Product Stage – [] below $50k per month []

Building Usage Stage – [] below $100k per month []

Building The Business Stage – [] below $250k per month []

A good rule of thumb is to multiply the number of people [] by $10k to get the monthly [fully-burdened] burn. [] [Thus,] suggested team sizes are 5, 10, and 25 respectively for the [above three stages].” Fred Wilson  Optimal Headcount At Various Stages Jun 4, 2012;

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;

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;

The VC Assumes there’s an Option Pool

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

“The VC assumes [there will be] an option pool [] to hire and retain talent to grow [the] company. [] The more senior members [the company has], then the [fewer] options [needed] and vice versa.  Industry standard post [the] first round of funding will be 15-20% [for the option pool].  [Suster] say[s] “post” funding because [one will] need more than this amount pre-funding to get to this number after funding. [] 

[It’s standard] that the VC wants the options includ[ed] before [he] funds [].”  The option pool dilutes the founder’s percent ownership, not the investor’s.  The option pool suffers the same percent dilution the founder suffers when a VC invests his money. 

“Note that the term sheet [says “Pre-Money” valuation and nowhere does] the term sheet [say] “true Pre-Money” or “effective Pre-Money”– that’s for [the founder] to calculate.”   True or effective pre-money is based on a lower price/share due to options increasing the number of shares incorporated in the calculation. The result is a lower true pre-money than pre-money, the latter which is also called “nominal” pre-money valuation.  Mark Suster Want to Know How VC’s Calculate Valuation Differently from Founders, July 22, 2010;

The VC “Squeeze” and Dilution

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

“[] most VCs have a 20% minimum [equity threshold] so bringing in multiple VCs can be very expensive in terms of dilution. [] The biggest problem [with 2 VC’s in a deal] is the “squeeze.” All VCs want to own between 25-33% [equity]”, above their internal 20% minimum.  A founder with co-founders can quickly get very diluted once an option pool is included.  “[]There are [] VCs [] who don’t cling to the old “20% or the highway” mentality [] and [Suster] suggest[s] [founders] seek them out.” Mark Suster, How Many Investors are Too Many? February 22, 2011

Dilution Benchmarks & Fundraising

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

Negotiations between entrepreneurs and investors include dilution and other fundraising terms.  “[] the “fairway” of [investor’s equity] is 25-33% per round [i.e., entrepreneurs’ dilution]. [] If [the entrepreneur is] “super hot” or “super experienced”, [he] can end up with much less dilution –in some cases 12-15%.  But this is the exception, not the rule.”

“[] [These] dilution numbers don't take an option pool into account [].  Options are additional dilution.”

“[] [Valuation can be driven up] ONLY if there’s [] competition [for] a deal.  [Investors stay honest when entrepreneurs] talk with multiple parties.”

Fundraising also requires considering how many future rounds are needed and expected total future dilution.  It’s not an arbitrary spreadsheet-driven exercise reflecting attaining profitability.  It requires “understanding [industry norms necessary] to build a successful Internet business and where [the company falls] on that spectrum given [its business type].”  Mark Suster,  8 Questions to Help Decide if You Should be Raising Money Now, February 17, 2011 and comments;

Tips When Raising a Seed Round

Babak Nivi Co-Founder AngelList and Venture Hacks and angel investor

When raising money in a seed round: “[] Take as much money as you can while keeping dilution between 15-30% (10%-20% of the dilution goes to investors and 5%-10% goes to the option pool).

Compare this to a Series A which might have 30%-55% dilution. (20%-40% of the dilution goes to investors and 10%-15% goes to the option pool.)

A seed round can pay for itself  if the quality of your investors and progress brings your eventual Series A dilution down from 55% to 30% (for the same amount of Series A cash).

Don’t over-optimize your dilution.  Raising money is often harder than you expect, especially for first-time entrepreneurs.”  Babak Nivi, Venture Hacks  How do we set the valuation for a seed round?  April 17, 2008;