Archive: valuation

Forget Bubble Talk: A New Dawn for VC-funded Startups?

Msuster Chart

Marc Suster has  published a slideshare presentation that is required reading for any entrepreneur, at least any entrepreneur seeking or considering venture capital.

 

As have Marc Andreessen and Christian Hernandez, Marc Suster argues that after a 10 year “hangover” from the crash of the.com bubble in 2000 and a shift of LP investment focus away from traditional VCs after that crash, the market has bifurcated into a growing seed / early stage sector with many new funds and an increase in volumes in late-stage financing, especially after the financial crisis of 2008. This has led to the A/B-Round Crunch many have been decrying in the past 3-4 years.  However, new types of VC funds are aggressively pushing into this Gap. In other words, new VCs spot and fund new opportunities.

 

In a second slideshare, Marc also argues that far from being in a bubble, rising valuations reflect two factors.

  • social and mobile usage having hit the mainstream creates a wealth of opportunities
  • more importantly, Exits happen later, with more equity getting “in on the game” pre-IPO or pre-Exit. This is what happened with Facebook and is happening with Uber and others.

 

To summarize, comparing the 2000 bubble with today is apples to pears both with respect to the venture market, and in light of the tremendous and accelerating shifts in user behaviour, societal dynamics, technological impact, and the vastly reduced costs of creating a new enterprise today.

 

Let’s grasp these opportunities and build the future. We have no excuse.

 

 

Andreessen warns: don’t burn cash, or you’ll turn to ash

Cash Burn

Don’t burn cash, says Marc Andreessen. In a retweet of Fred Wilson’s Post on burning cash, losing money. Marc Andreessen warns that hyper valuations should be used by entrepreneurs to stash up on cash, not to have delusions of grandeur and spend it all until you have nothing left to spend.

 

This is an interesting and important point. Says Marc, we are not in a bubble unless the spending behaviour of entrepreneurs make it a bubble. Their companies can well create the value implied in high valuations, as has been proven by the many spectacular success cases of disruptive players from Facebook to Uber. But startups need to stay focused and not spend because they have.

 

As my early mentor Ken Morse was wont to say: the laws of gravity have not been repealed.

 

 

There’s something rotten in the Kingdom of Venture Capital

It’s generally a bad idea to generalize….(pun intended).

 

And criticizing VCs when you are in the process of fund raising is probably a bad idea and puts whatever you say at risk of being perceived as whining.

 

But having raised an excellent early stage round from some of the best Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs that I know, I cannot help but reflect on the contrast between the approach of the Angel Investors we have on board compared to the process and decision making that we – and others – experience with insitutional VCs.

 

The cliché of Venture Capital investments is that Angel Investors invest on a hunch, whereas insitutional VCs follow a more rational, risk-balanced and professional process.

 

Our experience has been that the really good, tough questions have been asked in detail by our Angels – to skim just the top of these questions:

- explain your metrics?

- what is the margin of error of your financial model?

- how do expect to scale?

- how much do you get out of a dollar spent?

- how big is your adressable market?

- what is your competitive moat (Buffet terminology)

- what are the strengths of your team, what do you need movong forward?

 

Too often, these were not the questions asked by VCs. It may be that in today’s market, they simply don’t have the time to parse their deal flow in depth and instead rely on market consensus that this or that startup is “hot”. This leads to herd investing, and that may explain the disappointment of portfolios largely kept alive by follow-on rounds and convenient “exits” to friend VCs portfolio companies. It even makes sense, in a way, by “pooling resources” – if, that is, the VC initially triggering the herd did actually ask and answer the hard questions.

 

What it does not do is create an environment for the type of long shot value creation that Silicon Valley excels at. Ueber, AirBnB, Twitter, Quora would not have stood a chance with how many European VCs – obviously not all – approach their deal flow.

 

Add to that the rituals of pitching, event networking, and buzzword-slinging that are endemic, and it makes you wonder whether these VCs really are following the right path to identify truly ambitious startups correctly. Today’s hot startup often gets caught up tomorrow in business model issues that were recognizable from the outset. I sometime miss an analytical response and understanding of the market, at least from VCs that do not have an industry focus.

 

It’s hard to picture a barefoot Steve Jobs convincing any of today’s European VCs to invest in Apple.

 

 

the Hamlet VC

Monetization or Reach?

In a recent discussion I had at a meeting of which I am a non-executive member, the eternal discussion of

whether priority should be given to monetization or to reach and internationalization

was brought up. The debate centered around the question of whether or not the exit perspectives of the venture (of which I am also a shareholder) would increase or decrease, depending on whether the business model was first proven, at the detriment of international reach, or whether monetization should be allowed to lag because entry into several international markets at once would be a priority.

To me, this debate simply has the wrong starting point. While it is true that exit markets, such as the stock market or the M&A market, are – just like any other market – subject to buyer preference analysis, and while there is some credit to the claim that understanding the decision making “fashions” of typical M&A acquirers does help you in setting the price of your venture at exit,

timing towards such an exit market is more of a gamble than a company strategy.

In my experience, having now gone through two boom and one bust phases, the best strategy for a company to pursue is to

create a viable business model that creates value for customers that customers are prepared to pay for.

This may not always be the “sexiest” portrayal a startup can give itself (as opposed to: we are the next Facebook), but to paraphrase the old saying about design following function or form following function-

PR and the Elevator Pitch should follow the strategy and not the other way around.

This is why I literally get angry at classic venture capital thinking that sees company strategy solely in the dimension of “How will this fit my exit market? How can I sell this story to an acquirer?”. I would always strongly advise any founder

to have a clear and separate vision of their business model that cannot be influenced or swayed, save by the customer

and to work relentlessly on proving and creating that.

Incidentally, succesful American start-ups have often proven that this is the best strategy since they have always focused on gaining size and growth in their home markets before over-focussing on internationalization. In general, this has given them the size and clout necessary to, if need be, acquire whoever it was in a landscape within a specific market. It is true, that this does not always work and that some local markets have been lost even for giants such as Yahoo! and E-bay because they haven’t gone local on time, but conversely there is no known example of a company that went for reach without a viable business model and survived.

Eventually, you do have to pay the bills.

So if you do have to reach several international markets at once (because you are in a European market with too small a home market or because your board is adamant or because you have that peculiar megalomania that most entrepreneurs – including me – indulge in, I would advise the following order or priorities in formulating your company strategy:

1) Define your Business Model

2) Prove it by acquiring your reference customer base

3) Identify the growth factors in your business model with respect to paying customers

4) Identify the multipliers or incumbents in other international markets

5) Internationalize on a sales / business model driven basis by acquiring reference paying customers in those markets

The perceptions of your target exit markets can change faster than you can change the positioning of your company.

But a functioning business model and a continuous revenue stream are two realities that a) always let your survive independently of your VC backing and b) always find an acquirer.

Where there is a business model, there always eventually is an exit market.

Rational Exuberence?

Robert Shiller identified a number of reasons why this time around, exuberence is more rational than when he wrote his landmark “irrational exuberence”. In short:

- founders are smarter
- costs for it and marketing are lower
- market demand is 10x greater

I buy that. Totally. We’ve been saying it too B). The only thing that worries me is that the GooTube deal creates valuation hyperventilation – and building an organisation that actually sustains a business that is worth more than 9 digits is a cartload of LONG HARD WORK. Let nobody forget that.

The other interesting phenomenon is that bankers and consultants are flocking back to the troughs of get-reach-fast-with-dotcom-web2.0 – and they still often need to learn to go operative – Find the shortest distance between a powerpoint slide and the real world.

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