Tag Archives: Venture Capital

Do Ex-Startup Founders Make The Best Venture Capitalists? (Part 2)

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…

Do Ex-Startup Founders Make The Best Venture Capitalists?

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…

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 Rainforest by Hwang and Horowitt (Part IV) – Venture Capital

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]

Data about equity, founders, venture capital from 401+ start-ups

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?

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.

Comments welcome!

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

Venture capital is not even a home run business. It’s a grand slam business.

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:

hb_vc_returns

hb_vc_returns1

Is the Venture Capital model broken?

There is (sometimes) a love-hate relationship between entrepreneurs and investors. In fact there is a recurring message that Venture Capital (VC) does not provide an answer to the needs of many young start-ups. I will not enter that debate here as I do not have the answer. But as I recently read four different articles / reports where the current situation of venture capital is analyzed, I hope this post will be helpful to understand why VC is debated so much. These reports are:
Lessons from Twenty Years of the Kauffman Foundation’s Investments in Venture Capital Funds (published in May 2012)
Emergent models of financial intermediation for innovative companies : from venture capital to crowdinvesting platforms (publised in 2014)
Venture Capital Disrupts Itself: Breaking the Concentration Curse (published in November 2015)
Why the Unicorn Financing Market Just Became Dangerous…For All Involved, published in April 2016.

The Kauffman report

The Kauffman foundation explained in 2012 that the returns of venture capital have not been as good in the last 10 years as they were in the 80s and 90s. The reports also shows something which is quite well-known I think: the VC “industry” is much bigger than in the 90s, but with fewer funds. The explanation is simple: individual funds have grown from $100M to $1B+… The conclusion of the Kauffman foundation is that funds of funds, pension funds, limited partners (LPs) should be careful about where and how they invest in venture capital. Here are some graphs provided in the study.

VC2016-2-VCsize
The VC industry according to the Kauffman foundation

VC2016-1-IRRs
The VC performance according to the Kauffman foundation

In particular, you may see that IRR is a tricky measure as it changes over time (from peak value to final value) during the fund life. The Kauffamn suggests the following:
– Invest in VC funds of less than $400 million with a history of consistently high public market equivalent (PME) performance, and in which GPs commit at least 5 percent of capital;
– Invest directly in a small portfolio of new companies, without being saddled by high fees and carry;
– Co-invest in later-round deals side-by-side with seasoned investors;
– Move a portion of capital invested in VC into the public markets. There are not enough strong VC investors with above-market returns to absorb even our limited investment capital.

The Cambridge Associates report

Cambridge Associates (CA) does not show a very different situation, i.e. there are indeed more bigger funds and a slightly global degraded performance. But CA also claims that the VC performance is not concentrated in a small number of high profile winners. Some elements of information first:

VC2016-3-VCgainsThe VC gains according to Cambridge Associates

VC2016-4-VCfund sizeThe VC gains vs. fund size according to Cambridge Associates

Cambridge Associates is not saying the VC world is doing OK, but that the increase in fund size has an impact on the investment dynamics. On the performance, the next figure (from another report) illustrates again the fact that performance may indeed be an issue…

VC2016-5-IRRsThe VC performance according to Cambridge Associates

Bill Curley about unicorns

Bill Gurley is one of the top Silicon Valley VCs. So if he has something to say about the VC crisis, we should listen! No graph in his analysis, but a scary conclusion:

The reason we are all in this mess is because of the excessive amounts of capital that have poured into the VC-backed startup market. This glut of capital has led to (1) record high burn rates, likely 5-10x those of the 1999 timeframe, (2) most companies operating far, far away from profitability, (3) excessively intense competition driven by access to said capital, (4) delayed or non-existent liquidity for employees and investors, and (5) the aforementioned solicitous fundraising practices. More money will not solve any of these problems — it will only contribute to them. The healthiest thing that could possibly happen is a dramatic increase in the real cost of capital and a return to an appreciation for sound business execution.

The crowdinvesting report

So when I read Victoriya Salomon’s report about new financing platforms, I was intrigued. What does she say? “The global venture capital market suffers from unfavourable exit conditions reflected in a drop in the number of VC-backed IPOs and M&As. This trend affects all markets across all regions. In Europe, VC funds have shown less risk appetite by realigning their investment choices on later-stage companies and those already generating revenue. Furthermore, because of the poor performance of many VC funds during the six last years, they struggle to raise new funds, as institutional investors, disappointed by low returns, show a preference for the most successful large funds with a perfect track record. This slowdown particularly affects traditional venture capital investments, while, at the same time, the share of corporate venture capital has significantly increased, exceeding 15% of all venture capital investments by the end of 2012. In Switzerland, the venture capital market has also entered into a phase of decline and is losing ground in the financing of innovation. In fact, Swiss VC companies are suffering from a lack of investment capital and struggle to raise new funds. According to the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation, the amount of venture capital invested in Switzerland has shown a disturbing decline of about 40% during the last five years. [Also] venture capital investments in early stage start-ups fell by more than 50% from €161 billion in 2011 to €73 billion in 2012. In contrast, “later stage” participations grew by more than 50% in 2012 reaching €77 billion compared with €34 billion in 2011. While the number of early stage transactions is falling, investment periods are tending to become longer (7 years instead of 4-5) and the capital gain smaller.”

So the analysis is very similar. The VC world has experienced major transformations. The author believes that one solution might be the emergence of new platforms, such as crowdinvesting, which can be described as equity crowdfunding for start-ups. This is indeed an interesting argument. It is a way to scale and extend geographically the business angel activity. Now it could be also that we just need to go back to basics, i.e. less money with smaller funds, investing again like in the 80s and early 90s in less cash spending companies… Whatever the answer, the analysis seems consistent: the VC world has moved in a direction (fewer but bigger funds, in the USA mostly) which may not be good for a world where many more start-ups appear all over the world, not only in Silicon Valley, with relatively modest needs…

So what?

First if all this looked elliptic, not to say cryptic, you should read the reports and articles. They are excellent. Then, in a recent interview; I explained that money is needed, but (too much) money can be dangerous. That is I think the main message… you may read below if you want to have my views…

ER-Fin-Int

“A Good but Potentially Dangerous Idea”
Former venture capitalist, Hervé Lebret is now responsible for Innogrants (seed money) at EPFL.
What do you think of the proposal to create a future Swiss Fund?
This may be a good idea, but only under certain conditions. It must be able to hire talented managers because it is an extremely complex business. This is what Israel did when it established its venture capital funds, it brought in experienced American managers. Without the right people, it’s a recipe for disaster. And the fund must have the freedom to invest anywhere, not only in Switzerland. If you want a fund that only invests in Swiss start-ups, we may only create mediocrity.
Why?
Because no European fund can prosper by investing only in its own country. It’s a matter of scale. Only Silicon Valley has sufficient critical mass. The Californian model of venture capital is to lose money in most investments and make a few homeruns such as Google or Airbnb. So you need to have ten thousand ideas to create a thousand companies, then one hundred will grow, ten will be successful and one become Google or Airbnb. You must be able to create such a success every five years, and Switzerland just does not have the critical mass. And it is dangerous to focus too much on money.
Really?
Yes. Money is a necessary, but not sufficient for success. It requires funds, but also talent, a market, a product and ambition. It is not because we make money available to start-ups that success will come – the other ingredients should also be present. It is true that Switzerland lacks venture capital, but this is not what explains that Google, Apple and Amazon were not born here. This is in my opinion rather a cultural question. We lack ambition and rebellion. And this is the only factor that cannot be decreed by the authorities. Entrepreneurs are satisfied to aim at the creation of a viable firm of modest size, in which they retain control. In Switzerland, the start-ups create fewer jobs than McDonalds. Neil Rimer (note: co-founder of venture capital firm Index Ventures) wrote two years ago: “We and other European investors constantly are looking for world-class projects from Switzerland. I think there are too many projects lacking in ambition and supported artificially by organs – which also lack ambition – that give the feeling that there is sufficient entrepreneurial activity in Switzerland.” I have to agree with him.

Startup Land : the Zendesk adventure from Denmark to Silicon Valley to IPO

Many of my friends and colleagues tell me that video and movies are nowadays better than books for documenting real life. I still feel there is in books a depth I do not find anywhere else. A question of generations, probably. HBO’s Silicon Valley may be a funny and close-to-reality account of what high-tech entrepreneurship is but Startup Land is a great example of why I still prefer books. I did not find everything I was looking for – and I will give one example below – but I could feel the authenticity and even the emotion from Mikkel Svane’s account of what building a start-up and a product means. So let me share with you a few lessons from Startup Land.

Startup-Land-the-book

The motivation to start

“We felt that we needed to make a change before it was too late. We all know that people grow more risk-averse over time. As we start to have houses and mortgages, and kids and cars, and schools and institutions, we start to settle. We invest a lot of time in relationships with friends and neighbors, and making big moves becomes harder. We become less and less willing to just flush everything down the drain and start all over.” [Page 1]

No recipe

“Along the way, I’ll share the unconventional advice you learn only in the trenches. I am allergic to pat business advice that aims to give some formula for success. I’ve learned there is no formula for success; the world moves too fast for any formula to last, and people are far too creative—always iterating and finding a better way.” [Page 6]

About failure

In Silicon Valley there’s a lot of talk about failure—there’s almost a celebration of failure. People recite mantras about “failing fast,” and successful people are always ready to tell you what they learned from their failures, claiming they wouldn’t be where they are today without their previous spectacular mess-ups. To me, having experienced the disappointment that comes with failure, all this cheer is a little odd. The truth is, in my experience, failure is a terrible thing. Not being able to pay your bills is a terrible thing. Letting people go and disappointing them and their families is a terrible thing. Not delivering on your promises to customers who believed in you is a terrible thing. Sure, you learn from these ordeals, but there is nothing positive about the failure that led you there. I learned there is an important distinction between promoting a culture that doesn’t make people afraid of making and admitting mistakes, and having a culture that says failure is great. Failure is not something to be proud of. But failure is something you can recover from. [Pages 15-16]

There are other nice thoughts about “boring is beautiful” [page 23], “working from home” [page 34], “money isn’t only in your bank account, it’s also in your head” [page 35], and an “unconventional (possibly illegal) hiring checklist” [page 127]

I will quote Svane about investors [page 61]: “I learned an important lesson in this experience – one that influenced all of the investor decision we’ve made since then. There is a vast spectrum of investors. Professional investors are extremely aware of the fact that they will be successful only if everyone else is successful. Great investors have unique relationships with founders, and they are dedicated to growing the company the right way. Mediocre and bad investors work around founders, and the company end in disaster. The problem is, early on many startups have few options, and they have to deal with amateur investors who are shortsighted and concerned with optimizing their own position.” [and page 93]: “Good investors understand that the founding team often is what carries the spirit of a company and makes it what it is.”

And about growth [page 74]: “Even after the seed round with Christoph Janz, we were still looking for investors. If you’ve never been in a startup this may seem odd, but when you’re a startup founder you’re basically always fund-raising. Building a company costs money, and the faster you grow, the more cash it requires. Of course, that’s not the case for all startups – there are definitely examples of companies that have come a long way on their own positive cash flow – but the general rule is that if you optimize for profitability, you sacrifice growth. And for a startup, it’s all about growth.”

In May 2014, Zendesk went public and the team was so extatic, many pictures were tweeted! The company raised $100M at $8 per share. They had a secondary offering at $22.75 raising more than $160M for the company. In 2014, Zendesk revenue was $127M!… and its loss $67M.

Zendesk-IPO

There was one piece of information I never found neither in Startup Land nor in the IPO filings: Zendesk has three founders, Mikkel Svane, CEO and author of the book. Alexander Aghassipour, Chief Product Officer and Morten Primdahl, CTO. I am a fan of cap. tables (as you may know or can see here in Equity split in 305 high-tech start-ups with founders, employees and investors shares) and in particular studying how founders share equity at company foundation. But there is no information about Primdahl ‘s stock. I only have one explanation: On page 37, Svane writes: “the thing about money is, it’s happening in your head. Everyone processes it differently. Aghassipour adnSvane could live with no salary in the early days of Zendesk, but Primdahl could not. It’s possibly he had a salary against less stock. I would love to learn from Savne if I am right or wrong!

Zendesk-captable
Click on picture to enlarge