Valuation Returns-Formulas-Rules of Thumb

What the greatest technology investors say about Valuation Returns-Formulas-Rules of Thumb

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;

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;


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;


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;


The Option Pool Lowers your Effective Valuation

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

“The option pool lowers your effective valuation.  Your investors offered you a[n] $8M pre-money valuation. What they really meant was, “We think your company is worth $6M. But let’s create $2M worth of new options, add that to the value of your company, and call their sum your $8M ‘pre-money valuation’”. [] Slipping the option pool in the pre-money lowers your effective valuation to $6M. The actual value of the company [] is $6M, not $8M. [] The [option ‘shuffle’] puts pre-money [valuation] into your investor’s pocket. [] the option pool only dilutes the common stockholders.  [] [The] investor’s norm is that the option pool goes in the pre-money.”   Nivi recommends using a specific hiring plan to more accurately determine option pool size vs. allocating some arbitrary percentage.  Babak Nivi  The Option Pool Shuffle  April 10, 2007;

Investors Require Employee Stock Options

Brad Feld venture capitalist and Managing Director Foundry Group

“Investors will almost always require that the company set aside additional shares for a stock option plan for employees. Investors will assume and require that these shares are set aside prior to the investment, thus diluting the founders.   If there are multiple investors, they must be treated as one in the calculations [].”  Brad Feld, Venture Capital Deal Algebra , July 7, 2004;


Nothing More Dilutive & Morale-Crushing than a Down Round

Chris Dixon General Partner Andreessen Horowitz, angel investor and former entrepreneur

“[] if [an entrepreneur] expect[s] to raise more money (and [he] should expect to), make sure [the] post-money valuation is one that [he’ll] be able to “beat” [exceed] in [the] next round.  There is nothing more dilutive and morale crushing than a down round.” Chris Dixon, Ideal first round funding terms August 16, 2009;

How Much Seed Money to Raise

Chris Dixon General Partner Andreessen Horowitz, angel investor and former entrepreneur

The short answer for how much seed money to raise is “[] enough to get [a] startup to an accretive milestone plus some fudge factor” of say, a 50% round size increase.

““Accretive milestone” [means] getting [a] company [where it] can raise money at a higher valuation” and is a function of market conditions and the startup’s nature.  “As a rule of thumb, [] a successful Series A is one where good VCs invest at a pre-money [valuation] that is at least twice the post-money of the seed round.  So if [a] seed round [] raised $1M at $2M pre ($3M post-money valuation), [] the Series A [] should be [] a minimum of $6M pre (but hopefully [] significantly higher).

The worst thing a seed-stage company can do is raise too little money and only reach part way to a milestone.  Pitching new investors in that case is very hard; often the only way to keep the company alive is to get the existing investors to reinvest at the last round valuation (“reopen the last round”).  The second worst thing [] is rais[ing] too much money in the seed round [], hence taking too much dilution too soon.”

A startup should determine its expected biggest risk and how to eliminate that risk.  “For consumer internet companies [and SMBs (small/medium businesses)], eliminating the biggest risk almost always means getting “traction” – user growth, engagement, etc.[] For online advertising companies you probably want revenues.  If [] selling to enterprises you probably want [] credible beta customers.  

The biggest mistake founders make is thinking that building a product by itself will be perceived as an accretive milestone.  Building a product is only accretive [] where there is significant technical risk []”.  Chris Dixon What’s the right amount of seed money to raise?  Dec. 28, 2009;