This is a research work I did recently and after trying very shortly to publish it in academic papers, I stopped trying. Maybe it is not good enough. Maybe the research world and I do not fit! It is the result of two series of research I have done for years, one about Stanford-related spin-offs and another about equity in start-ups.
I encourage you to read it if the field is of interest for you or just have a look at the tables below which I extracted from this 5-page short document.
In the recent years, there had been regular filings in the biotech field, but IT had suffered. then Dropbox and Spotify filed and successfully went public. This probably gave confidence to “unicorns” and many have filed recently such as Smartsheet, DocuSign, Zuora. Carbon Black is the latest one with an interesting history. here is its S-1 filing and below my computed cap. table.
Carbon Black was founded in 2002, has raised close to $200M since inception (not counting the money raised by 4 startups is has acquired, Confer Technologies, Objective Logistics & VisiTrend). It has a royal list of VCs, including Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia, Highland, Atlas or lesser know funds such as .406 or Accomplice. I do not know who the founders were, but I could get the name of Todd Brennan who has left in 2008. Who else, help me! Finally the company is based close to Boston, not in Silicon Valley… This is just the latest of my compilations, that you may find in a previous post Equity in Startups.
Yesterday, in Do Ex-Startup Founders Make The Best Venture Capitalists? I mentioned CB Insights analysis about the background of the top VCs, and expressed my doubts about comparing founders vs. non founders. So I used the Top100 list and had a different look: what about the background in high-tech or not? Here are some charts. Quick and dirty so do not take it as a scientific analysis. Still…
First a point of caution. This list is a little strange and the authors know better than me, but I am sure this list is not highly subjective… Now it seems founders were never a majority and VCs with no high-tech experience always a majority. Now what is puzzling is that these VCs are rather young and that a high majority of them having been in the business for less the 20 years… interesting. What would have been the results of the VCs active in the 70s and 80s? Not sure…
Also the change in the last 15 years is not the ratio with a tech background, but the ones who are founders has increased and the ones with no tech background has decreased…
Interesting question as I have often claimed that there was a difference between US and European venture capitalist (VC), which had been also illustrated in the past by Tim Cruttenden (see below).
CB Insights, a leading firm analyzing data about start-ups, looked at the experience of VCs: Do Ex-Startup Founders Make The Best Venture Capitalists? The next figure illustrates their results and they additionally claim: “Of the 100 VCs, 38 founded or co-founded a company before becoming venture investors, while 62 did not. Six of CB Insights’ top 10 investors haven’t founded a company. That includes the top two: Benchmark’s Bill Gurley and the recently retired Chris Sacca.”
However interesting, I would have preferred a different analysis: how many had a direct experience in technology firms, whether in product / technology development or on the business sides such as sales or marketing compared to teh ones who were “only” consultants or bankers. This would be highly important as the value you bring t the board level may be entirely different. Look at what Tim Cruttenden explained in 2006.
Indeed Cruttenden says “entrepreneurs” too, but if we remember that Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia had a lot of managers more than entrepreneurs then, we might have obtained another measure of what makes a good VC…
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 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.”
After my initial notes (part I), the importance of culture (part II), the recipe (part III) in the Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt, here are my final notes about venture capital. It may indeed be their best chapter, even if the topic has produced probably hundreds of books and thousands of articles… Their (apparent) bias as venture capitalists is only apparent. Their description is close to what I experienced but I may be biased too!
The subtitle of the chapter is “Big V, Little C” and their quote to begin the chapter is “if you want to make money, do private equity. If you want to have fun, do venture capital”. They then borrow to AnnaLee Saxenian: “In Boston it was the entrepreneurs who dressed nicely and showed up on time to impress the investors. In Silicon Valley it was the opposite.” […] “In other words, the venture – that is the startup – is always more important than the capital, with a Big V and a Little C.” [Pages 218-21]
They explain why investing in the seed and early stage is costly for venture capitalists. “It’s better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price. […] Investing earlier in a deal must be counter-balanced by a strong potential of a massively disproportionate payout at the end. Otherwise, it is simply not worth the risk. […] Lowered transaction costs due to trust and social norms make high-risk seed-stage and early-stage venture capital more profitable [in Silicon Valley].” [Pages 228-29]
In other areas, subsidized capital plays a role. But it does not mean VC should not be understood: “There are two ways to build a venture fund. One takes as little as thirty minutes to learn. The other can take twenty years or more. The short course is to learn the formal legal structuring and financial processes of a typical venture fund. […] the more difficult and time-consuming course is to learn the human behavioral dynamics that happen in and around venture funds. […] Questions such as:
– how do you treat others in situations where mistakes and failures happen almost daily?
– how to build a reputation for trust, candor and integrity when millions of dollars are at stake?
– what type of value can you provide an entrepreneur who probably knows far more about the business than you do?
– how do you actively listen to an entrepreneur, and then see beyond their words to the true prospects of a company?
– how do you know when a CEO is not fit to run a company anymore?
– how do you help a tiny company build life-or-death relationships with huge, powerful customers or strategic partners?”
It reminds me what I learnt 20 years ago: it takes 5 years and $10M to make an investor.
The authors conclude their chapter with marvelous documentary SomethingVentured: “[VCs]’re working really hard, they’re very bright, they’re working together, and they’re collaborating. And there’s a lot of fun involved in achieving things together as a group. So I don’t think you can underestimate how much fun the people… had doing what they did. I think they’re extremely proud, but when they talk about these stories, they’re laughing, they’re smiling. There’s just this excitement and energy about building something.” [Page 242]
I regularly compile data about start-ups and in particular about how equity is allocated to founders, employees (through stock options), independant board members and investors (through preferred shares). I have now more than 400 such cases (see below the full list). What is interesting is to look at some statistics by geography, by field and by period of foundation. here they are:
There would be a lot to say, but I prefer you build your own opinion…
Equity Structure in 401+ Start-ups by Herve Lebret on Scribd
What is the equity structure of Uber and Airbnb? Unfortunately, this is a question only the shareholders in the two start-ups can know. I have nearly no clue. But over the week-end I had a quick look at how much these unicorns have raised and how this impacted the founders. If you read this blog from time to time, you probably know I do this exercise regularly. I have a databasis of more than 350 examples, and I will update it soon with 401 companies, including these two ones. Here is the result of my “quick and dirty” analysis.
Airbnb cap. table – A speculative exercise with very little information available
Uber cap. table – A speculative exercise with very little information available
A few additional remarks:
– the three founders of Airbnb were 27, 27 and 25-year old at the date of foundation. Whereas for Uber, they were 32 and 34;
– as you may see, I do not have any information about other common shareholders, neither about stock option plans. More information will be released when/if the companies file to go public…
– the amounts raised are just amazing but the founders relatively undiluted;
– finally, Uber did a stock split so the huge price per share would be divided by around 40 whereas the real number of shares is multiplied by the same amount.
PS: for some unknown reason, I had some trouble with Slideshare. So here is my updated document on Scribd…
Equity Structure in 401+ Start-ups by Herve Lebret on Scribd
Again and again, I am asked how VCs make money, or more precisely what is their success and failure rate. A typical answer is they fail with 90% of their investments which is balanced by the remaining 10%…
I had also looked at Kleiner Perkins 1st fund in 1972: About Kleiner Perkins first fund. In that fund of $7M, Tandem and Genentech generated >100x returns and 90% of the fund returns. Six of the 17 investments did not make a positive return.
Now Horsley Bridge, a famous fund of funds, shared data on 7’000 investments made by VC funds between 1985 and 2014. This was shown in two blogs articles (In praise of failure & the ‘Babe Ruth’ Effect in Venture Capital) and the overall result is
• Around half of all investments returned less than the original investment,
• 6% of deals produced at least a 10x return, and those made up 60% of total returns,
to the point that the second article claims “Venture capital is not even a home run business. It’s a grand slam business.” Basically venture capital is not about portfolio diversification, it is about Black Swans. I add here two charts coming from the 1st article and which are particularly striking: