This is such a great read. I am tempted to take item 1-3 and send it to every startup prior to our first meet up.
It is always hard to explain this stuff as a VC without a founder assuming that it is just our ploy to buy more of the company for less money but it is not – it is us doing the best we can to ensure that we are helping to build the foundations of a great company.
Best to read the whole article but let me drop the three main points here.This one is so true and I have seen it first hand. A top tier VC will do the math, model the stages and model the exits. They will use these numbers to create their valuation but also take into account the stage and any other important signals. A founder, most likely not using any models, will decide they think the company is worth more and then go find another VC to give them that valuation. Usually the other VC is not top tier and is using valuation as tool to win the deal. Founder will think they have won but honestly they didn’t.
If you still aren’t convinced, here are three more reasons to take a discount on your valuation:
First, you get better investors. I’ve seen too many cases where second-tier investors outbid the top-tier. But a lower valuation ensures the very best investors want in.
Which VC do you think will do the hard yards down the road? The one that does the hard yards going into a deal or the one that just throws out the number you want to hear?
Second, a lower valuation helps protect you from a down round. Even great businesses face unexpected challenges like market downturns; I raised money during the 2001 and 2008 market corrections, and it was rough. Valuations got slammed, and the end result for many was a down round that seriously hurt their companies’ stature and ability to raise more money.
If you raising to perfection on the high-side any sort of issue might cause your next round to be a down or flat round. Less revenue, miss some metrics, tight funding environment or politcal/environmental issues can all create an event that might cause a flat or down round. If you raise with the discount or some “wiggle room” you can weather the storm much easier.
The third and probably least understood reason is that a lower valuation allows you more headroom for an exit. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs raise money at valuations that are higher than any buyer would be willing to pay. The result is that they get themselves boxed in, and when they see an opportunity to exit they can’t get a deal investors will agree to because their last round was done at too high of a price.
This is the one that trips of founders the most, it is also the one that SEA founders should think on the hardest. Most exits in our region will be from acquisitions and if you are not exiting close to going public then most likely you exiting somewhere between your seed and B round – if so then price is going to be a huge factor. On top of these regions being more expensive to get a deal done in, the acquirers may not have funny money and will be somewhat price sensitive. You may get an offer only to find out that your valuation means the exit isn’t going to be very meaningful.
Best to make sure you really grok how to fundraise.
Reminder to read Venture Deals and then superset it all with these three nuggets of gold.