Tag Archives: Founder

Figma, a new cap. table and there is much more to Dylan Field’s story

Figma is the latest startup success story. Not an IPO, there are so few in 2022, but a $20B acquisition by Adobe. I did not have much data to build its cap. table so this is mostly tentative. Still it is interesting. So here it is. However there is much more to the story of its founders Dylan Field and Evan Wallace. Read below.

Not much to add to the numbers except the founders (including possibly some earnout shares) & investors stake, 20% & 50% respectively as well as the time it took for all this. A few months for seed, 10 years for an exit.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

So let us have a look more specifically at Dylan Field. Again the typical even if rare school drop-out in his early twenties who is still the CEO 10 years later. His cofounder is a friend. The rest is history. Well not really. Read his Wikipedia page for more or this article from Business Insider.

First, Field received the $100k that Peter Thiel was offering to young students ready to drop out of school. Field’s parents were against the idea but Field dropped out of Brown University. I have always been intrigued with the idea of pushing people out of school. Will Field ever go back there?

Second, he found some VC money despite the fact that Field recalled that he experienced a “wake up call” when [a potential] investor turned down the chance to invest in Figma’s seed round and said, “I don’t think you know what you’re doing yet.”

Third, he remained as CEO despite his lack of business experience. At one point early into Figma’s existence, Field said he once faced the very real risk of an exodus of disaffected employees. He had to learn, quickly, how to be more open to feedback and to empower his teams, while also hiring experienced managers. “I didn’t know how to manage effectively,” he said. “I didn’t know the basics around how to have good judgment around who to hire. When we were 10 people, I was a year into management. Usually if you are a new manager, you manage a few people. I was trying to do this at the same time and get the product to market.” Apparently he survived a few crises and the VCs let him lead.

There is certainly much more to learn from this unique story, but it is enough here. One final point. I would love to know more about VC performance. I worked at Index in the early days so I learnt that a great success does not guarantee a fund performance. But here Index made apparently more than $2B and made at least a 400x multiple in the seed part of its investment in Figma. But information about VC performance is close to impossible to find…

More (interesting?) data about French unicorns

A month ago, I published data about French startups. I had been surprised to discover that access to data about private companies was finally possible for free in my dear country. So I looked at some (famous) French unicorns with an interest in the shareholder structure and how much money they had raised overall, as well as in their seed and A rounds. You will find the detailed information in a pdf in the bottom of the post.

But before moving on to this analysis, I want to mention an excellent article on seed fundraising, which gives advice and quite rich information. It is in French though and is entitled La levée de fonds seed ou amorçage. So here are the results:

In this first table, I just had a look at their age and fund raising. To give simple rule of thumbs, about the ones which are still private, they are about 5 to 15 years old, they have raised about €200M, with seed rounds of €0.5M and A round of €2-3M. The market capitalization should be (by definition) above one billion euros, but apparently this is not always the case (let us say that the value of a private company is a very volatile metric!) and the ratio of this value to amount raised seems also to be 5 to 15…

I then looked at how much dilution the seed and A rounds correspond to as well as the age of the companies for these rounds. Again, not taking outliers into account, both the seed and A rounds seem to induce a 25% dilution, therefore, with rounds of €0.5M and €2-3M respectively, the value at seed is about €2M and at A round is €8-12M. Finally the startups are less than 1-2 years old at seed and less than 4 years old at A round.

The last table is about the shareholding or equity structure as well as some data about the founders. The founders keep 25-30% of their startups, investors have 60-65% whereas employees have 5-10%.

There are about two founders per startup, they are surprisingly often below 30 with a median and average age of 29 and sadly with not a single woman.

Equity List – French Unicorns

Access to French startups data

I should have known sooner about new rules on data about French startups. In the past, you had to pay on sites like societe.com or Euridile to get filing documents of private companies from the register of companies. This is the past! Now it is possible to access this data for free. And this is great news. So my favorite exercise which consists in building cap. tables of startups, which had become a habit for companies going public, for Swiss companies in certain cantons like Zurich or Basel, or for British companies thanks to Companies House is now possible in France with Pappers.

I obviously tried with some of the current famous private startups. I failed with Dataiku, probably because it moved to the USA, but could build some partial tables for Doctolib, Mirakl, Alan, Ledger and BlaBlaCar. It is far from perfect because you need to read many documents. I had to go through 68 ones for BlaBlaCar. I did not go into the details of stock options, granted or exercised. But I could get the info about the founders and the funding rounds. Here is a summary:

and here are the individual tables. QUite fascinating to see the recent trends in France through 5 examples:

Why you should never look for a cofounder

This recurring question of looking for a cofounder has been bothering me for years. Similarly I do not like the idea of giving titles in the early days of a startup (project) as you may read here : Titles in Start-ups.

My argument is that you don’t look for cofounders. You have them already, you found them by talking about your project to friends or colleagues. It’s a bit like falling in love, you do not look to marry, you meet people. Point.

Of course, this does not help much, because there remains the loneliness of the entrepreneur. But do we get married just to fill the loneliness? As it turned out, thinking about it, I came across an excellent article in which I totally recognized myself: Everything You Need to Know About Startup Founders and Co-Founders.

Here are some key points:
– A founder is a person who comes up with an idea and then transforms it into a business or startup. If a founder sets up a company with other people, they are both a founder and a co-founder.
– “Founder” and “CEO” are two […] startup titles that people can carry simultaneously. One is a permanent title, while the other is not. “You will always be a Founder or Co-Founder.” Be sure to be careful however how you dole out the Founder/Co-Founder titles. That should be a lifetime title so be sure it goes to the right people who played a major role in the starting of the company and who will continue to play a role in the years to come.
– A founding member can often feel similar to a founder or co-founder because they come on so early in the process that they’re also putting in crazy hours and maybe even taking a pay cut in order to be a part of something important. But a founding team member is an early employee, not a founder. One important difference? The types of stock the two groups receive. Founder’s equity is different from Employee Stock Grants.
– “I’m totally unconvinced that two people can find a person they haven’t known previously, and become effective co-founder,” […] “I think you’re better off finding the money to hire someone than actually find a co-founder.
– If someone has come along a little later in the game, but still early — as in, pre-first employee — then you treat the same any other co-founder! If you’re choosing to add a “co-founder” after you already have employees, though, things can get a little tricky.

One thing is forgotten in the article, it is the investor (friends & family, BA, VC) or institution entering at the creation and from my point of view they are not founders because they do not (generally) contribute to the business…

Finally, the term founder does not seem to me to have a legal existence. It is only awarded by the group of people who recognize themselves as such. There is, however, an interesting example, namely how one of the founders of Tesla filed a complaint against Elon Musk, in particular because he considered that he was not a founder. The complaint is readable here (see page 28).

If you wish to dig a little more, here are two older posts:
The Founder’s Dilemmas – The Answer is “It depends!”
Founder without experience, lonely founder.

Female founders – an analysis from 800 (former) startups

I just decided to add a new analysis to my recent study of 800 (former) startups. Although the topic is an important one in high-tech entrepreneurship, I had never looked at it except anectoticaly in the posts with the tag #women-and-high-tech.


Eight female founders or entrepreneurs. I am not sure how many I would have automatically recognized. And you?

And here are the results I found. My apologies in advance as this work is far from perfect: I tried to identify female founders from their name and this is not always easy. I believe however I cannot be too far from the exact results.

So what does this say?

– There are 76 female founders in 825 companies, which says 9% of these former startups had a female founder. Now to make it worse, the total number of founders identified is 1644.
– It is in the biotech field, that they are most represented (hence Boston, Switzerland, California outside Silicon Valley)
– The good news is that the number is up to 15% for the last decade. Still…
– Now there are only 31 female CEOs, this is only 4% (remember that founding CEOs are a little more than 60% so this is even worse as some of these female CEOS are not even founders – see here if you don’t know what I am talking about). In fact, 20 of these women were founders and 11 were not…

The age of founders and non-founding CEOs

The age of founders has been a recurrent topic here as you might see from tag #age. In my analysis about hundreds of startups (822 at this time, and 600 lately), I just thought it would be interesting to check the correlation, if any, there might be between the age of founders and a CEO among these founders or not. Intuitively, one might think that the less experimented founders may induce a non-founding CEO. So here are the results:

The numbers speak and may seem counterintuitive. A majority (and often an overwhelming majority in the digital world) of startups have a founding CEO and the average age of founders is lower in this case. Question of dynamism, of envy of the team, I do not know …. Do not hesitate to react and comment.

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – final episode

Here is my last article on the excellent Entrepreneurship in action of which you will find the 5 previous articles with the tag #entrepreneurship-in-action. Here are some final notes:

The ingredients of success

But, those who fund this project are not doing it just for the skills and experience of the three entrepreneurs. They show other qualities that convince to follow them: their passion, their motivation, their ambition. Investors know that these qualities will allow the team to stay focused and better deal with the many uncertainties that lie ahead. To a student who asked a venture capitalist what are the three most important qualities that a project must have to be financed; he replied: the first is the team, the second is the team, the third is the team. Another joke, common in this industry, says that investors prefer to finance a good team with a bad project rather than the other way round (because a good idea carried by a team whose skills do not match those necessary to developing it is unlikely to go far; while a good team will always be able to modify, transform or change an initial idea of ​​low quality). The rest of the story shows that these statements, usually made in the tone of a joke, apply particularly well to Criteo and that those who make them, the venture capitalists, will have to believe in them and hold onto them firmly for several years. [Page 220]

Some criteria explaining success (according to one of the co-founders of Criteo):
– Have been able to focus on a single product
– Aim for excellence in all areas of the company
– Find the right cursor between managing daily problems and anticipating the future
– The ability to make difficult decisions
– Trust in technology

And finally Mustar returns to this process of innovation which looks like anything but a mechanical process:
– A long and winding process, made of many transformations
– An emerging process
– An experimental process
– A process filled with uncertainties, choices to be made, decisions to be made
– A collective process and a distributed action
– A social process

What is an entrepreneur? Are you born an entrepreneur or do you become one?

Mustar addresses in his conclusion a topic as old as startups with all the humility and caution, because it seems like we don’t really know (even if many claim they do know). Apart from the tautological definition, the entrepreneur is the one who creates (and builds) a business, it seems very difficult to find common traits and qualities specifically for entrepreneurs. Still, I am less confortable with his reminder of Peter Drucker’s claim. “Most of what you hear about entrepreneurship is all wrong. It’s not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned.” [Page 287]

I’m a little more comfortable with Komisar’s point of view in How Do You Teach High-Tech Entrepreneurship according to Randy Komisar.

There is no such thing as a monolithic entrepreneurial condition. Even among the very small number of first-time entrepreneurs I interviewed, there is a very diverse range of relationships with entrepreneurship. What characterizes them, beyond the great diversity of their profiles, their temperament, their way of behaving, is more a desire to do, to learn, to succeed, a great capacity for work, listening to others, ambition… but this is by no means specific to entrepreneurs. We find these same desires or aptitudes among employees, executives of large companies, philanthropic activities, athletes, artists, etc. [Page 289]

This journey with these young engineers allowed me to get rid of a conception of entrepreneurship that separates on the one hand an entrepreneur or a team, and on the other an activity of creating a new product and a company. The entrepreneur and the company are built together, in the same movement. [Page 290]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 5

This new episode of Philippe Mustar’s book relates to the history of Criteo, a startup already mentioned on this blog here and there.

For once, I disagree slightly with a quote from the book (which is not from the author): “The profile of the team formed by the three creators of Criteo is a perfect example of the one described theoretically by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Professor of Management at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program) as “the best it can be.” Kathleen Eisenhardt, based on a lot of research on the subject, defines (somewhat mechanically she herself admits) what a great team is:
– it initially consists of three, four or five people. If there are only two, it is not enough because there are so many things to do in a start-up and above all, being two does not offer a wide enough diversity of opinions, of points of view. If there are six, seven or eight, it is no longer a team, it is a group whose management and coordination take too much time.
– it is multidisciplinary and transversal, that is to say it combines skills in engineering, marketing, finance. But, these skills must be real, that is to say not based only on a diploma, but on actual experience.
– it includes people who have already worked together, this is an important asset because the creation of a start-up is made up of stressful situations, which are easier to share with people you know.
– finally, and this is more surprising, the “best teams” are those which have people of various ages, not only young people in their twenties but also others who have more experience. This often allows you to see different aspects of the same problem.
For Kathleen Eisenhardt, teams that meet these criteria are the ones that perform best. ”
[Page 199]

As much as I can agree if we talk about the management team, I believe that at the time of creation, the founders have different pedigrees. As I wrote in my own book in 2008, “A start-up is a baby created by its parents – the founders. They are responsible for its development and to help it adapt to an evolving world. It does not mean that a founder has to give up control of his start-up. Would a parent give up his child just because he has no experience in feeding and educating? Is the analogy of little value? There is also a responsibility in succeeding in the development. Experts will be used, medical doctors, teachers for the child, professionals, and consultants for the start-up. The Google founders kept such “ownership” during the company’s growth. Eric Schmidt has become CEO but he is more a partner of the two founders. Start-ups seldom develop that well and investors sometimes have to make tough decisions when they take away the “parent” power from the founders. Investors do not like to do this in general and only do it when they consider it absolutely necessary. This is an ideal world but everyone knows reality is more complex”. And I could add, two parents is probably the ideal model.

On the other hand, I fully agree with the sources of innovation: The sociology of innovation has shown that the sources of innovation, like those of the Nile, are multiple and sometimes difficult to identify. It also pointed out that ideas for new products or services are the most common things in the world, and even that they are always bad, always poorly framed and approximate at the origin. As Bruno Latour says: “All important discoveries are born ineffective: they are hopeful monsters,“ promising monsters ”. [Page 251] and the French text by Latour http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-92-PROTEE.pdf . [A short parenthesis about Hopeful Monsters, a term I knew only from one of my favorite novels, and I blogged about it here.]

Charles Geschke, co-founder of Adobe, dies at 81

Charles Geschke may not be as famous as many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but he is really a legend of technology and software. With John Warnock, he cofounded Adobe in 1982 and he is an exception in the group of founders as he was in his early 40s when he left Xerox to create the company which developed Postcript, PDF, Adobe, Photoshop and so many more products. He died on April 16, 2021.

I had read about Geschke (and Warlock) in a good number of books and blogged about him here:
In the company of Giants in November 2008
A success story: Adobe Systems – John Warnock and Charles Geschke in March 2009

I found yesterday this very interesting short video that you should watch (or read the transcipt below).

Here is the transcript: “when John and I started Adobe we had a sort of simple thought in mind in terms of how we wanted to organize the business

we wanted to build a company that we would like to work at and we sort of used that principle in terms of how we defined the management structure, the operational organizational thoughts that we had about how to put the company together and part of that recognition was that we had constituencies that every business has that need to be balanced

we had our shareholders we had our employees we had our customers and of course the communities in which we operated and if you think about running a business all four of those constituencies are mildly in conflict what’s good for one may not be good for the other and to be successful as a business and to retain the kind of quality employees that you want to have it’s extremely important that you continually monitor how those four constituencies are being served and keep them in balance

a couple other principles people would often ask as they worked at Adobe

well what will it take for me to enhance my career and both John and I would tell them well the first thing you have to figure out is how to fire yourself by hiring someone to work for you who can do your job better than you do and there’s no alternative but to get promoted once you do that

and the second piece of philosophy which is frankly the most critical one building particularly a high technology business is to tell every engineer and every manager that your job is to hire people who are smarter than you are as it’s a much larger population from which to choose and those turned out to in fact have been extremely important in building a business

and again I want to comment that without my relationship with John and our partnership it’s hard to imagine that we could have achieved what we did over the past twenty seven years and we’re extremely pleased with this award and the opportunity to have served our industry

thank you very much

the really cool thing about this award is it’s from engineers we’ve gotten entrepreneur awards before but they’re from business guys and getting award for entrepreneurship from engineers is very very cool

Chuck and I when we started the company weren’t on a get-rich-quick scheme we were frustrated at Xerox and our major frustration is we knew we could invent great technology but no one would ever use it and it would never see the marketplace and I think our major motivation in starting Adobe and continuing with Adobe was to make stuff that people would use a lot of people would use and I think inside of every engineer is that basic need to have your stuff used so that was the primary motivation behind what we did

the other thing in the hardest thing about building a business and keeping a business sustained and going on is continuing to innovate and we’ve never figured out how you institutionalize innovation innovation is a very sort of remarkable thing that sometimes happens sometimes doesn’t but the best you can do is build an environment where people are happy they’re doing an adventure they’re trying to create and hopefully in that process great things will happen”

Coursera files to go public (#750)

After Deliveroo yesterday, here is Coursera’s cap. table. It’s #750 in my long list of startups (see here my most recent analysis – data about 700+ startups).

Coursera and Udacity are probably the most famous MOOCS companies and I could not be surprised if they contributed to create the edtech category. Coursera just filed to go public on Nasdaq so its numbers are available.

Revenues of $293M, with a loss of $66 million in 2020. A lot of venture capital since its foundation in 2011, $464M in total from Kleiner Perkins (and legendary partner John Doerr, and NEA.

Founded by two Stanford professors, specialists of artificial intelligence, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, age 43 and 34 at the time of foundation. They are not managing the company anymore. No information about Koller’s shareholding probably because she owns less than 5% of the company and has no executive role.


Coursera founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller are computer science professors at Stanford University

Source : NPR