Valuation

What the greatest technology investors say about Valuation

Fundraising Terms Pile Up with Later Stage Investors

Mark Suster Partner Upfront Ventures and former entrepreneur

“[] any [early stage terms] will certainly be asked for by future investors in [] later funding rounds so all of these terms pile up [after] 3-4 rounds of funding over a 5 year time frame. And by the time most companies get to an exit [which realistically is still 8-10 years,] often the founders own very little of the economic upside."  Mark Suster, Want to Know How VC’s Calculate Valuation Differently from Founders?  July 22, 2010

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2010/07/22/want-to-know-how-vcs-calculate-valuation-differently-from-founders/

 

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;  http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2011/02/17/8-questions-to-help-decide-if-you-should-be-raising-money-now/

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 Biggest Mistake Entrepreneurs make when Raising Money

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

Nivi says “the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when [] raising money” is that “[they] focus on valuation when they should be focusing on controlling the company through board control and limited protective provisions.   (Protective provisions let preferred shareholders veto certain actions, such as selling the company or raising capital.)

Valuation is temporary, control is forever.  For example, the valuation of [a] company is irrelevant if the board terminates [the founder] and [he] [loses his] unvested stock.

The easiest way to maintain control of a startup is to create good alternatives while [] raising money. If [the founder is] not willing to walk away from a deal, [he] won’t get a good deal.  Great alternatives make it easy to walk away.

Create alternatives by focusing on fund-raising: pitch and negotiate with all [] prospective investors at once. This may seem obvious but entrepreneurs often meet investors one-after-another, instead of all-at-once.

Focusing on fund-raising creates the scarcity and social proof that close deals.  Focus also yields a quick yes or no from investors so entrepreneurs can avoid perpetually raising capital.”  Babak Nivi, What’s the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make? , October 14th, 2007  http://venturehacks.com/articles/biggest-mistake; Why do investors want protective provisions? August 2nd, 2007;  http://venturehacks.com/articles/understand-protective-provisions

Investors Only Care About Returns & Control

Jason Mendelson venture capitalist and Managing Director Foundry Group

Generally investors only care about returns and control when making investments.

“[Entrepreneurs] should focus on terms like pre-money valuation, liquidation preferences, board of director elections, drag-along rights and protective provisions.   Most [other standard term sheet terms] aren’t really all that important.  [] Many of these terms have interdependencies and it’s important [to] understand how terms such as option pools, warrant grants and  the election of independent board members will affect returns and control.” Jason Mendelson, Do More Faster  by David Cohen & Brad Feld  copyrt 2011, Get Help with your Term Sheet  pg 238

High Valuations Can Limit Exit Opportunities

Josh Kopelman Partner First Round Capital and former entrepreneur

Kopelman advises that entrepreneurs who “[] try to maximize valuation [] in many cases [] might be shortsighted” because high valuations can limit exit opportunities.  “[] too many founders are not aware that they are shutting off the majority of exits -- and therefore increasing risks -- when they accept a high valuation.”  “[] the “unwritten term in the term sheet” [means] few VC’s will willingly part with a “winning company” (i.e., a company that is executing/performing well) for less than a 10x return.”  Thus, a VC could block an exit that could have been a fabulous payout for entrepreneurs and angels.   Josh Kopelman The Unintentional Moonshot, July 10, 2007, http://redeye.firstround.com/2007/07/the-unintention.html;  When the music stops... March 10, 2006;  http://redeye.firstround.com/2006/03/as_a_little_kid.html

The Company’s Stage: Weighing Investor Quality vs. Valuation

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

“The earlier stage your company is the more you should weight quality of investors vs valuation.  For a Series A, you are truly partnering with the VCs.  You should consider taking a lower valuation from a top tier firm over a non top tier firm (but probably any discount over 20% is too much).  If you are doing a post-profitable “momentum round” I’d just optimize for valuation and deal terms.”  [70 words]  Chris Dixon, Best practices for raising a VC round, May 4, 2011;  http://cdixon.org/2011/05/04/best-practices-for-raising-a-vc-round/

Problems Taking Seed Money from Big VCs

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

When entrepreneurs raise seed money (under $1 million) from big VC firms’ seed programs, potential investors typically ask ““is the big venture firm following on [with financing]?”” If not, entrepreneurs will likely have difficulty raising more money because potential investors will question why they should invest if the big VC firm doesn’t.  “[When entrepreneurs take big VC’s seed money], [] effectively [they’re] giving [the VC a non-contractual] option on the next round, [acting as a VC lead generator.]  And, somewhat counterintuitively, the more well respected the VC is, the stronger the negative signal will be when they don’t follow on.

[When] the VC does [] follow on, [the company will likely] get a lower valuation than [had it] taken money from other sources” because new investors often offer to co-invest at a lower valuation, keeping an artificially low valuation or “hesitate to [bid] for fear of being used as [leverage to get a higher priced deal]. [] [Having] a big VC [] as a seed investor [] prevent[s] [the entrepreneur] from getting a competitive dynamic going that [generates] a true market valuation.  

[][Dixon] sometimes compete[s] with big VC’s for investments so [he’s] not disinterested here.” Chris Dixon, The problem with taking seed money from big VCs, August 14, 2009; http://cdixon.org/2009/08/14/the-problem-with-taking-seed-money-from-big-vcs/

Relationship between Option Pool Size & Price

Jeffrey Bussgang  venture capitalist and General Partner Flybridge Capital Partners and former entrepreneur 

 “This relationship between option pool size and price isn’t always understood by entrepreneurs, but is well understood by VCs.”  Bussgang lost a deal because the founder believed he got a better price (higher pre-money valuation) from a competing venture capitalist.  However because Bussgang’s competitor required a larger option pool, the founder received less stock than under Bussgang’s offer.  The founder took the competitor’s deal because he didn’t understand how the option pool calculation affected his ownership.

“[In response, Bussgang’s firm instituted a policy] to talk about the “promote” for the founding team rather than just the “pre”[-money valuation].  The “promote” [] is the founding team’s ownership percentage multiplied by the post-money valuation.”  The “promote” offers an “apples-to-apples” comparison of competing offers even if one offer has a lower pre-money valuation and  smaller option pool.  Jeffrey Bussgang, Mastering the VC Game –A VC Insider Reveals How to get from Start-up to IPO on your terms book, pg 131-133, copyright 2010