Tag Archives: Founder

The analysis of 500+ startups

Following my traditional analysis of startups through their IPO filings documents (you can check my 2017 analysis on 400+ documents here or the tag #equity on this blog), here is an updated analysis with 500+ start-ups.

You can have a look at the full 500 cap. tables on scribd or look at a shorter synthesis which follows.I hope this is self-explanatory enough.

Uber finally files to go public – Here’s my cap. table

Uber’s S-1 has just been released. I jumped on the opportunity to analyze the shareholding of the startup, a thing I had tried to do in 2017 (with much less information – check here). Here are the figures that I found (subject to errors related to my possible too much eagerness…)


Uber cap. table – from the SEC S-1 published on April 12, 2019

And, if you do not have the courage to read my post What is the equity structure of Uber and Airbnb?, here is what I understood in March 2017:


Uber cap. table – A speculative exercise with very little information available

The Age of Founders of Start-ups – Again!

The age of founders of start-ups is a recurrent topic on this blog. You can just check it through hashtag #age. I have just updated my cap. table database with now 500 “famous-enough” companies for which I have compiled a lot of data. You can check here the most recent update with 450+ companies in mid 2018 – Some thoughts about European Tech. IPOs or a synthesis dated 2017 with 400 companies Equity in Startups.

I just looked at the age of 850 founders from these 500 companies. I think it is interesting. I hope you will agree… I am not even sure I need to comment much. Average age is 37 overall, 45 in biotech, 37 in hardware (electronics, telecom and computers, energy) and 32 in software/internet.

2019, the year of Unicorns IPO Filings: is Lyft the beginning of the end?

Lyft is the first Unicorn which published its S-1 document, i.e. its IPO filing. Is this good news or bad news? Lyft is impressive, two founders who were 22 and 23 when they co-founded their start-up 12 years ago have reached more than $2B in sales with a little less than 5’000 employees in 2018. This is the good part. The less good piece is it took the company more than $5B in equity investment and the reason is simple: Lyft has lost $900M in 2018, and more than $600M in both 2017 and 2016. This is more than $2B cumulative loss. I assume losses were pretty high in the previous years too. YOu can have a look at the cap. table I built from the S-1:

I read recently an article by Tim O’Reilly: The fundamental problem with Silicon Valley’s favorite growth strategy. O’Reilly has doubts about Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh’s claiming that Blitzscaling would be the secret of success for today’s technology businesses. “Imagine, for a moment, a world in which Uber and Lyft hadn’t been able to raise billions of dollars in a winner-takes-all race to dominate the online ride-hailing market. How might that market have developed differently?” I have the same doubts about this crazy strategy but who am I to say?…

Sensirion prepares its IPO

Sensirion finally announces its IPO. The spin-off from ETH Zurich was founded in 1998 and many were expecting such an event from a very succesful but quite discrete company. Sensirion has disclosed some numbers and I had followed the development of the company thanks to some data from the Zurich register of commerce. So as usual here is my guess of the capitalization table. And I look forward to compare it with the data from the IPO prospectus when it will be published…


Felix Mayer and Moritz Lechner, co-founders of Sensirion

Again this is guessing only. As you might see, the early funding rounds are unknown to me. I am not sure about how many shares the founders, main investor and employees have adn I am not sure either at which price the company will be priced. I based my numbers on about twice the company sales in 2017… The company claims Knoch has 55% of the company, the founders 14% and employees 8.5%. It does not look to far…

The Sensirion IPO prospectus is not public and is confidential so I cannot publish more than I have here. I can only write I was not too far from the truth despite some discrepancy…

And Now Spotify

A few days after Dropbox filing for an IPO, here is Spotify. Their F-1 can be found here. The data from the filing document is not exhaustive enough for me, many pas financing rounds are not described but the Luxembourg register of commerce helps too.


Spotify founders Martin Lorentzon and Daniel Ek

Just like for Dropbox, this is a filing only, so the price per share is tentative and the valuation is not fixed yet. The price per share could probably go from €20 to €100…

“Don’t f**k it up” – Advice to founders

I should not like “Don’t f**k it up”. Just because I am not a big fan of “how to” books in high-tech entrepreneurship. There is another reason why I should not like, i.e. the subtitle: “How Founders and Their Successors Can Avoid the Clichés That Inhibit Growth”. Usually I think foudners should not have successors. But I did not hate les Trachtman’s book at all. The reason is Les gives good advice to founders, the main one being “Trust and Empower”.

Let me give you examples:

I know that every founder believes his company is special, exceedingly complex, and unique. I can assure you that the challenges confronting you are just not that different. Ninety-five percent of your problems are shared by other founders, which is good news because it means your problems are solvable. They’ve been seen and handled many times before—all that is required is the smarts and the courage to address them. [Page 2]

“Employees who are taught to mistrust their own instincts are not very likely to trust their colleagues’ instincts, either.” Fear of failure can easily poison a company culture. Team-building efforts are useless when everyone’s first imperative is CYA — cover your ass. [Page 12]

The process of building a team is not that different from raising a healthy, self-sufficient child. […] You want them to learn from their mistakes and the
resulting painful consequences.
[Pages 15-16]

Micromanaging can often be an excuse for not developing and committing to mid-range and long-range goals. It can also serve as an excuse, changing your mind about what’s most important from one day to the next. A lot of founders run small companies that way, and they never scale those companies because it’s impossible to run a larger company on the basis of what the founder is feeling that particular day. [Page 20]

and his advice to foudners is to give more and moe importance to strategy by [Pages 31-33]:
1. Track your time.
2. Decide what not to work on, and stick to it.
3. Plan for the unexpected.
4. Write down your goals and revisit them quarterly.

More in another post…

Equity in Startups

This is the third short report I publish this summer about startups. After Startups at EPFL and Stanford and Startups, here is (I hope) an interesting analysis about how equity was allocated in 400 startups, entitled Equity in Startups (in pdf). Here is the description of the report on its back page: Startups have become in less than 50 years a major component of innovation and economic growth. An important feature of the startup phenomenon has been the wealth created through equity in startups to all stakeholders. These include the startup founders, the investors, and also the employees through the stock-option mechanism and universities through licenses of intellectual property. In the employee group, the allocation to important managers like the chief executive, vice-presidents and other officers, and independent board members is also analyzed. This report analyzes how equity was allocated in more than 400 startups, most of which had filed for an initial public offering. The author has the ambition of informing a general audience about best practice in equity split, in particular in Silicon Valley, the central place for startup innovation.

I will let you (hopefully) discover this rather short report which could have been much longer if I had decided to analyze the data in detail. I will just right here my main results. A simple look at data shows that at IPO (or exit) founders keep around 10% of their company whereas investors own 50% and employees 20%. The remaining 20% goes to the general public at IPO . Of course, this is a little too simplistic. For examples founders keep more in Software and Internet startups and less in Biotech and Medtech. There could be a lot more to add but I let the reader focus on what possibly interests her.
Additional interesting points are:
– The average age of founders is 38 but higher in Biotech and Medtech and lower in Software and Internet.
– It takes on average 8 years to go public after raising a total of $138M, including a first round of $8M in VC money.
– On average, companies have about $110M in sales and are slightly profitable, with 500 employees at IPO time. But again there are differences between Software and Internet startups which have more sales and employees and positive income and Biotech and Medtech startups which have much lower revenue and headcount and negative profit.
– The CEO owns about 3% of the startup at exit. This is 4x less the founding group and depending when she (although it is too often a “he”) joined it would mean up to 20% close to foundation (assuming the founders would keep 80% and allocate the delta to the CEO)
CEOs are non-founders in about 36% of the cases, more in biotech (42%) and Medtech (35%) than Internet (31%) and Software (25%), more in Boston (48%) than Silicon Valley (43%) .
– The Vice-Presidents and Chief Officers own about 1% and the Chief Financial around 0.6%.
– Finally, an independent director gets about 0.3% of the equity at IPO. If we consider again that the founders are diluted by a factor 8x from their initial 100% to about 12%, it means a director should have about 2-3% if he joins at inception.
– In the past universities owned about 10% of a startup at creation in exchange for an exclusive license on IP. More recently, this has been more 5% non-diluted until significant funding (Series A round).

Stanford and Startups

Stanford is in the top2 universities with MIT for high-tech entrepreneurship. There is not much doubt about such statement. For the last ten years, I have been studying the impact of this university which has grown in the middle of Silicon Valley. After one book and a few research papers, here is a kind of concluding work.

A little less than 10 years ago, I discovered the Wellspring of Innovation, a website from Stanford University listing about 6’000 companies and founders. I used that list in addition from data I had obtained from OTL, the Stanford office of technology licensing as well as some personal data I had compiled over years. The report Startups and Stanford University with subtitle “an analysis of the entrepreneurial activity of the Stanford community over 50 years”, is the result of about 10 years of research. Of course, I did not work on it every day, but it has been a patient work which helped me analyze more than 5’000 start-ups and entrepreneurs. There is nearly not storytelling but a lot of tables and figures. I deliberately decided not to draw many conclusions as each reader might prefer one piece to another. The few people I contacted before publishing it here twitted about it with different reactions. For example:

Katharine Ku, head of OTL has mentioned another report when I mentioned mine to her: Stanford’s Univenture Secret Sauce – Embracing Risk, Ambiguity and Collaboration. Another evidence of the entrepreneurial culture of that unique place! I must thank Ms Ku here again for the data I could access thanks to her!

This report is not a real conclusion. There is still a lot to study about high-tech entrepreneurship around Stanford. With this data only. And with more recent one probably too. And I will conclude here with the last sentence of the report: “How will it develop in the future is obviously impossible to predict Therefore a revisited analysis of the situation in a decade or so should be very intersting.”

The Paris Innovation Review about Start-ups

Once again the Paris Innovation Review (formerly ParisTech Review) publishes a series of excellent articles, this time dedicated to start-ups. These are:
– Companies like others? A sociological survey of French startup. http://parisinnovationreview.com/2017/03/21/sociological-survey-french-startups/
– Startups Employees Perks & Incentives – 1 – Wages. http://parisinnovationreview.com/2017/03/23/startups-employees-perks-incentives-1-wages/
– Startups Employees Perks & Incentives – 2 – Equity. http://parisinnovationreview.com/2017/03/23/startups-employees-perks-incentives-2-equity/

The article about the sociology of start-ups shows (in fact confirms) interesting things. I will let you read and jump directly to some of their concluding points: “Some of these results can provide pause for thought for public policies aimed at fostering startup creations. The survival of these businesses seems relatively unpredictable, both for the people involved (entrepreneurs, employees, support bodies) and for analysts who observe them from the outside. We have interpreted this unpredictability as the result of two causes. The first is the selection operated by the support agencies, a selection that has largely guided ours, since a claim of technical innovation, which was our main criterion for inclusion in our survey, is generally associated with subsequent monitoring and aid by these agencies. One might think that a number of projects considered very unrealistic could have been excluded by these services, which in fact limits the variety of the companies we studied. The second, more fundamental cause is the very variety of factors that make or break businesses: outlets that emerge and disappear along with the flow of global economic changes, strategies of major industrial groups and initiatives by competitors, internal conflicts, resources which become abundant or scarce depending on the context, financial problems which are difficult to anticipate, etc. This may encourage governments and public agencies to foster a much greater number of projects and not merely be satisfied with those that they consider to be the most promising. Watering a whole field is often more efficient than dumping all the available water on but a few square meters… Securing solid support by authorities, companies that are deemed innovative are doing better than the others if one considers their survival rate. Perhaps it would not be absurd to offer an equivalent support to businesses in other economic circles.”

The incentive topic is one I have covered at length as you may see with my Slideshare link below. On the salary side, I fully agree with their claim: Be as objective as possible: this ensures fairness and acknowledges a basic truth: people talk. On the equity side, know the rules of vesting and cliffs, and build a granting mechanism based on experience of employees and layers of early and late comers, i.e. the same number of stock options could be granted per year (so more shares to early employees as there are more employees per year when the company grows. If it does not, stock options are probably worthless…)