After many, many IPO filings from biotech startups in 2020 (I counted 20 out of the 43 I followed and made cap. tables of), the end of August had 8 filings from Software companies (and only 15 in total). I do not think there is any rational here (except maybe Palantir as a trigger), but I decided to have a look at these 8 companies.
Palantir Technologies (see my previous post here)
Asana, Sumo Logic, SnowFlake (Silicon Valley)
Unity Software (Denmark), Jfrog Ltd (Israel)
You can have a look at some cap. tables in the pdf (pages 633, 636-42) but more than the individual data (also below at the end), it is the (limited) stats which I find interesting:
The data deserve some explanation and also deserve to be compared with the averages of the more than 600 startups studied in the pdf (pages 644-659).
These “young” startups took 12 years to go public, this is much more than in the (recent) past and they used amazing amounts of venture capital, in the hundreds of millions. Even the series A, the 1st round, is huge, about $10M. Their sales are big too (more than $100M for all of them) with a mediam value of $150M. Their losses are not small with a median value of $100M…
Now If we look at shareholding, investors own about 45% of the company, not more than in the past (despite the huge fund raising), IPO shares are pretty small (about 4%). Common shares (mostly employees) is about 35% and you should also notice that these startups have hundreds not to say thousands of employees. As a side comment non-founding CEOs are not the norm and have about 3.5% of the company (CFOs have about 0.7%)
The founders keep about 14%. They are about 2 per company, with a median age of 35 (mean is 33 so slightly lower than the overall 38.
I am not sure this was worth a post as there is nothing really surprising with Palantir IPO filing that can be found here on the NASDAQ website. Still, this is Palantir, the secretive software company cofounded by Peter Thiel, Alexander Karp & Stephen Cohen (as well as Joe Lonsdale and Nathan Gettings)
Thiel, Karp, Lonsdale & Cohen (Gettings cannot be found online)
So I did my favorite exercise, building a tentative cap. table. Here it is:
What are the striking facts: the high level of sales, losses and fund raising. The startup, neither its founders are not young anymore… That’s it. Or feel free to comment!
In venture capital, returns on investments is the ultimate metric and although it is not very difficult to understand, there are many little tricks worth knowing about!
The reason of this short post is a recent article my friend Fuad advised me to read from the Financial Times : The parallel universe of private equity returns by Jonathan Ford. If you are not a subsciber to the FT (and I am not), you may not be able to read the article so here are short extracts: “Ever wondered about the extraordinary performance figures that listed private equity firms trumpet in their official stock market filings? […] Not only do the firms generate stratospheric numbers — far higher than anything produced by the boring old stock market — but they can apparently do it year in, year out, with no decay in returns. […] The reality is that these consistent IRRs show nothing of the kind. What they actually demonstrate is a big flaw in the way the IRR itself is calculated.”
When I looked at venture capital (VC) returns in the past, I learned you must carefully look at what IRR means. It looks simple at first sight as the next table shows, just simple math:
So the first question you care about is what matters: IRRs or multiples? And my simple answer is “it depends”. Up to you!
Secondly, measuring returns makes a lot of sense when you have your money back. Of course! But IRR and multiples can also be measured while you are still invested and when your investment is not liquid, which is the case for private companies in which invests private equity (PE) – venture capital belongs to PE. You can have a look at a former post of mine, Is the Venture Capital model broken? and among other figures look at this:
The VC performance according to the Kauffman foundation
The peak IRR is measured when your assets are not liquid whereas the final IRR is when you have your money back… A fund as usually a 10-year life (or 120 months) and you can check the peak IRR month.
Even more tricky, the money is called by periods to make the holding as short as possible: basically, when the money is needed to invest, though you commit to it for the full life of the fund. Measuring the real IRR begins to be complicated but what matters to me is the multiple from the day of commitment to the finaldah when the money is back… And to you?
A final point I love to mention all the time is that VC is not so much about a portfolio of balanced investments. In the same post mentioned above, I added two links, and one of the best quote is “Venture capital is not even a home run business. It’s a grand slam business.”
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.