A few days ago, I had the opportunity to present a video conference on equity sharing in a startup, between founders, investors and employees. I’ve done it many times in the last few years like the one Slideshare here, but I had never recorded it. It’s now done:
“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” attributed to Niels Bohr.
I was asked yesterday which startups I knew were the most promising, not to say the greatest. So I prefer to refer you to the quote above as I did not understand the potential of Google and Skype when I first heard of them. I am less shy of my lack of talent as this difficulty in predicting has been acknowledged by others.
First from the book The Business of Venture Capital on page 207:
Legendary investor Warren Buffet admired Bob Noyce, cofounder of Fairchlid Semiconductor and Intel. Buffet and Noyce were fellow trustees at Grinnell College, but when presented, Buffet passed on Intel, one of the greatest investing opportunities of his life. Buffet seemed “comfortably antiquated” when it came to new technology companies and had a long-standing bias against technology investments.
Peter O. Crisp of Venrock adds his misses to the list: One “small company in Rochester, New York [came to us, and one of our junior guys] saw no future [for] this product… that company, Haloid, became Xerox.” They also passed on Tandem, Compaq and Amgen.
ARCH Venture Partners missed Netscape – that little project Marc Andreessen started at the University of Chicago. An opportunity that, according to Steven Lazarus, would have been worth billions! “We just never knocked at the right door,” he would say. Eventually, ARCH decided to hire full-time person to just keep tabs on technology coming out of the universities to “make certain we don’t miss that door next time.”
Deepak Kamra from Canaan Partners comments on his regrets: “Oh, God, I have too many … this gets me depressed. A friend of mine at Sun Microsystems called and asked me to meet with an engineer at Xerox PARC who had some ideas to design a chip and add some protocols to build what is now known as a router. The drivers of bandwidth and Web traffic were strong market indicators, and he was just looking for $100,000. I really don’t do deals that small and told him lo raise some money from friends and family and come back when he had something to show” That engineer was the founder of Juniper Networks. He got his $100,000 from Vinod Khosla. Khosla, then with KPCB, added an IPO to his long list of winners. Juniper slipped out of Kamra’s hands because it was too early.
And of course, those were frothy times when everyone was deluged with hundreds of opportunities each day.
KPCB missed an opportunity to invest in VMWare because the valuation was too high: a mistake, according to John Doerr.
Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) was initially willing but eventually passed on Facebook (ouch!), as the firm believed the valuation was too high at $100 million pre-money.
KPCB, not wanting to be left out of an opportunity like Facebook, invested $38 million alt a $52 billion valuation.
Tim Draper of DFJ, turned down Google “because we already had six search engines in our portfolio.”
K. Ram Shriram almost missed his opportunity to invest in Google when he turned the founders away. “I told Sergey and Larry that the time for search engines had come and gone but I am happy to introduce you to all the others, who may want to buy your technology. But six months later, Ram Shriram, who had once turned Google down, now invested $500,000 as one of the first angel investors.
Now some examples of the updated BVP antiportfolio:
AirBnB: Jeremy Levine met Brian Chesky in January 2010, the first $100K revenue month. Brian’s $40M valuation ask was “crazy,” but Jeremy was impressed and made a plan to reconnect in May. Unbeknownst to Jeremy, $100K in January became 200 in February and 300 in March. In April, Airbnb raised money at 1.5X the “crazy” price.
Facebook: Jeremy Levine spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin’s rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice, “Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!”
Atlassian: Byron Deeter flew straight to Atlassian in 2006 when he caught wind of a developer tool from Australia (of all places!). Notes from the meeting included “totally self-financed, started with a credit card” and “great business, but Scott & Mike don’t ever want to be a public company.” Years and countless meetings later, the first opportunity to invest emerged in 2010, but the $400m company valuation was thought to be a tad “rich.” In 2015, Atlassian became the largest tech IPO in Australian history, and the shares we passed on are worth more than a billion dollars today.
Tesla: In 2006 Byron Deeter met the team and test-drove a roadster. He put a deposit on the car, but passed on the negative margin company telling his partners, “It’s a win-win. I get a great car and some other VC pays for it!” The company passed $30B in market cap in 2014. Byron paid full price for his Model X.
eBay: David Cowan passed on the Series A round. Rookie team, regulatory nightmare, and, 4 years later, a $1.5 billion acquisition by eBay.
My naive and obsessive quest for startup cap. tables has led me today to a thriller-like research! First I will let you have a look at Darktrace cap. table which I decided to study as it belongs to the short list of UK unicorns together with Revolut and Graphcore.
Well the first surprising information is the founding structure, ICP London. Why a British Virgin Islands structure? To hide who the founders are? Then I discovered surprising board members, Michael Lynch, the founder of Autonomy and Sushovan Hussain, the former Autonomy CFO… Autonomy was always a puzzle to me before becoming a scandalous HP acquisition and then the cause of a huge trial, not decided yet… And in law, you are innocent unless proven guilty.
Another strange side of the company is its links to secret services, MI5, CIA, NSA. Probably not so surprising when your industry is cybersecurity… Being based in Cambridge, it is not surprising that many Darktrace employees were at Autonomy before. The board members I did not know, but the investors are famous: Summit, KKR, Insight. Less maybe is Invoke Capital board members Vanessa Colomar and Andrew Camper. Lynch and Hussain are not on the board anymore and this is probably linked to the HP Autonomy litigation.
Then I got it: Invoke Capital Partners… ICP! So Darktrace was indeed founded by the former Autonomy people and its new investment structure, Invoke. I had to do a little more search and found two quite fascinating articles:
I recently published an updated version of a database of capitalization tables of 600 (former) startups. I obtain the data most of the time from the IPO prospectus of the company (that is the document the company publishes when it is listed on a public stock exchange, and in general Nasdaq.
These documents are an amazing source of information of all the business components of the companies even if I focus only on the shareholding and funding history. They are sometimes a little frustrating though as they do not cover the full history of the company, but only 3 to 5 years in the past so it is not simple to get the founders’ data for example.
Some countries do however provide access to the full company data, often for a fee like in France. A few cantons in Switzerland (Basel, Zurich) and the United Kingdom provide it for free and this is just great.
I have done some research for Revolut and Graphcore recently. Today, I revisited the data I had built for two British companies: Autonomy founded in 1996 and had gone public on Easdaq in 1998 and Bicycle Therapeutics, a biotech company with links to EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland) founded in 2009 and public since July 2019.
The IPO documents did not provide enough for me about the founders and early rounds. So here are my new tables:
Bicycle from the IPO data
Bicycle from the UK register data, the updated cap. table, the funding rounds and its growth over time:
The funding rounds
The growth of revenues and jobs
Graphcore gave me concerns. How is it possible that the two founders, Simon Knowles (58) and Nigel Toon (56), two serial entrepreneurs, who founded Icera Semiconductor in the past (sold to Nvidia in 2011 for $435 million or $367 million depending the sources – after having raised $258 million) and Element14 (a 1999 spin-off of Acorn – or its new name – sold to Broadcom in 2000 for $640 million), each owns only 4 shares of the startup? Are they so rich that they don’t need more? !!
All this follows my recent discovery that the UK gave open access to all company and in particular startup data. I began with Revolut a few days ago and now Graphcore. There had to be something wrong. The startup could not have only investors as shareholders. And then of course, I had forgotten the ESOP, the employee stock-options. So my only explanation is that the founders are part of this too and have a minimal number of shares. Still intriguing!
A colleague of mine (thanks Agnès!) informed me that the United Kingdom made public its data about startups. This is just amazing!
So I checked about Revolut and found all the data I could dream of. Founders, rounds of funding, shareholders.
Two young founders from Eastern Europe origin, 29 and 30-year old at the time of founding.
Some big, somewhat strange, rounds and here is today’s cap table. However series E is a best guest whereas previous rounds were publicly availale.
This morning (April 13), I discovered an important inaccuracy, nothing wrong but still: what about the ESOP, the stock-options. They are mentioned in the company documents, so here is a modified cap. table, and see the difference! I must add this is the ESOP in Dec. 2018, so the number is probably bigger today.
Without doing too much self-promotion, let me add that I have in the past already dealt with the topic as I mentionin the document or through the following illustration:
My first comment is that the differences linked to fields or geographies are not that big, whereas data evolved more over time (fifty years). Amounts of venture capital, years to IPO, sales, profits, employees are not that different for example except in biotech maybe, for sales and employees at least.
One important note: in my list of 600 companies, only 15 did not have venture capital (or at least private investors). Is there a bias here? I am not sure, but I could be wrong.
These “comment” posts will be short and I finish this one with a look at Series A, the 1st investment round. The amounts are substantial, $8M on average. I did a new analysis, i.e. to find out how much VCs take at this stage and on average, it’s … 47%. A little less in IT, a little more in healthcare, a little less in Silicon Valley, a little more in Boston.
If I bring it back to the percentage per million, that gives 22%, I let you think about this astonishing result … but we must also look at the median values, because all this is not gaussian as I have often say, but follows a power law. Median values are $4.5M for Series A in exchange for 45.5% and 10% for $M.
The Covid19 virus has an indirect effect, we have more time at home and in front of computers. So I updated my data in startup equity from 600 companies for which information was available, mostly because they had filed to go public. Here is the full list of individual data.
At the end of this 600+-page document, you’ll find some statistics, here they are again. I will probably come back to some results I find interesting not to say intriguing. Enjoy an react!
Some addtional comments in later posts:
1- About venture capital: on April 7 comments 1.
2- About the age of founders: on April 8 comments 2.
3- About the equity of founders: on April 9 comments 3.
4- How is equity shares: on April 10, comments 4.
5- About the equity of non-founding CEOS: on April 11, comments 5.
6- About valuation of startups: on April 12, comments 6.
7- What have they become: on April 16, comments 7.
Basic data about startups (funding, sales, profits, employees at IPO and years to IPO) by fields, geographies and periods of time.
Data about founders (age, ownership and nb. by startups) and other stakeholders by fields, geographies and periods of time.
Data about ownership of non-founding CEOs, VPs, CXOs, board members by fields, geographies and periods of time.
New data about ownership of series A investors by fields, geographies and periods of time.
When I published the book which is the “raison d’être” of this blog, I had shortly analyzed the correlations between venture capital level in the USA, the Nasdaq index and their relationship to “crises”. Each peak and bottom level could be easily explained. I updated it to today levels with idea of revisiting when we zill be out of the Covid19 crisis. Comments welcome!
Speculation, bubbles, yes, they have always been around. I entered the VC world in the late 90s. Now we are in the unicorns era. Or were we?
I did my 537th startup cap. table a few days ago (see below). I had hesitated a little as I was not sure a company selling mattresses, even online, could be classified in my list of tech companies. But with VCs like NEA, IVP, Norwest on board and leading banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as underwriters, it had all the needed pedigree. Or at least it looked like it.
Then I read Casper’s IPO is officially a disaster on CNN and Here’s why Casper’s disappointing IPO could spell disaster for other unicorns on Business Insider Nordic
What happened? Well the initial IPO price on the table below should have been $18, then it was fixed at $12 for the first day of trading and this morning CSPR is at $10.26. The unicorn is now a $400M company. And you may want to have a look at the price of the B, C and D preferred rounds on the table below. Yes disasters happen from time to time.
As a quick remined my latest list to be updated when I will have reached 550 tables.