Valuation

What the greatest technology investors say about Valuation

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

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/

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/

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

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