Rules of Thumb

What the greatest technology investors say about Rules of Thumb

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;