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A question that came up during my session with Andree last weekend at BarCamp Munich, was how effective accelerators like SeedCamp or Y Combinator are in helping startups receive funding.

Before digging into the numbers, I would first like to point out that receiving funding is not necessarily a good indicator for a startup’s success. And while the above mentioned programs are very different (in both nature and geographical focus) a blunt comparison might not give each the credit they deserve.

I am still convinced that both are doing a terrific job creating great startups and I highly recommend applying there to get real mentorship, exposure to great, passionate people, and accelerate your startup.

For the following analysisI used publicly available data from TechCrunch’s CrunchBase.

It should be noted that there is a minor presence of error as some companies of Y Combinator weren’t showing up on CrunchBase and others did go through funding rounds but did not disclose the amounts raised.

Having been established in London about 3 years ago, SeedCamp is primarily focused on the UK and Europe. Its primary event, SeedWeek, is happening once a year in London. Due to its roots and its geographical focus, it is also not surprising that the companies coming out of this program are primarily from the UK. But the program’s outreach into other areas has created a pretty diverse roster with startups from 11 different countries.

Y Combinator
Y Combinator has been around for 5 years. Unlike SeedCamp, Y-Combinator doesn’t have fixed deadlines for application. However, Y Combinator hosts its 3-month-mentoring event twice a year. The first data points available for my analysis are from the June 2005 intake. Y Combinator is known for being an American program and hence the startups applying here are primarily from the US (with some minor exceptions like the UK).

Due to the afore mentioned differences, it should be of no surprise that the programs created a very different output in terms of startups going through their programs.

Hence, the fact that the total amount raised by Seedcamp companies was at around € 9.6M whereas this number is at about $ 135.4M for Y Combinator. To determine the spread of these rounds, I looked into the averages and the standard deviations:

What might matter more is the question about how these two programs differ in their performance. While Y Combinator is around for a longer time, the hypothesis can be made that these large amounts are due to sheer numbers. So let’s have a look at averages by plotting how many of each class were funded grouped by the classes they were in.

As is pretty evident by this chart, Seedcamp started out way more successful along this metric. But even Y Combinator shows some swings. The most recent classes should not be considered in both cases as they are both pretty young (Seedcamp’s class usually starts in September and Y Combinator’s in June).

As we will soon see, these numbers are also quite inconclusive as the spread is too big to jump to any conclusions. Going through the individual rounds and plotting these in a bubble chart provides a more visual approach, providing more helpful insights in answering the question above.

The X-axis is the program these startups went through whereas the Y-axis denotes the days between the start of the program and the first funding. I did not consider the amount these startups were receiving from the respective programs to go through the mentoring months. However, should there have been a rather large amount provided by e.g. Y Combinator, I considered this a first funding round.

Again, as these graphs show, both programs are doing a great job bringing out some fine companies. And Y Combinator’s quick flips (e.g. Reddit, Zenter, GraffitiGeo, Omnisio all got acquired within 6 months after going through Y Combinator) show that Y Combinator is doing a great job, accelerating companies for an acquisition.

As you might have heard before, fund investors are putting money in a VC fund because they are expecting above-average returns. The very best VCs have returns of their funds well above 20x. However, the larger the fund, the more do fund managers need to be focusing on really high growth startups. Hence, it becomes more difficult for fund managers to make the right decisions while only a very small number of startups actually qualifies.

Josh Kopelman has a nice post on his blog that pretty much summarizes my hypothesis. But what does that mean for you as a startup? Basically, it means that you should be more selective in who you are going to pitch to.

The VC Selection Criteria
Let’s run the numbers on this for the purpose of illustration. Let’s assume a fund has a size of $100 million and runs for 10 years. Should the fund managers expect to return 10% annually, they need to return 100 x (1,10)^10 = 259 = 2.59x. Hence, after 10 years the manager would need to return a total of at least $259 million at the end of the fund’s lifetime.
During its lifetime, the managers think of making 25 investments which means that the average size of investment is $4 million. Since the failure rate for early stage startups is pretty high, let’s assume that only 3 startups will actually become stars, meaning they will greatly outperform. So, actually these three must generate all of the funds returns or on average $ 86.3 million.
In an early-stage fund VCs tend to take something between 20% and 40%–let’s assume that the managers take 30% for the three investments above. In order to return the $86.3 million, each one of the startups need to generate a value of $288 million.

However, should only 2 investments materialize, each one needs to return $129.5 million–for a 30% stake, this means that each needs to create a value of $431 million.

History Shows
So, we have two categories: exit values of $288 million  and $431 million. Let’s have a look at the real world again: during the past 6 years, the number of exits in both categories has shrunk as the following table shows:

What this means for VCs
All of this is what tips the resentment that the VC landscape will change since larger funds will have more trouble making their investments as they need to be hunting for bigger and bigger deals, competing over the big buyers (who are the only one able to spend that much for a startup) for the largest returns and ultimately realizing their promises to their investors. Smaller funds, however, are much more likely to generate their returns as it will be far easier for them to make a sound investment and sell it off to someone for a reasonable price.

The Startup Perspective
So, instead of just sending your business plan to email-overloaded VCs and running the risk of becoming the latest rumor, it is probably wise getting some basic info on the firm you are sending your information to. And make sure you are raising the right amount of money. I am pretty convinced that the times for higher burn-rates and greater sizes in rounds are long gone. So, run your numbers and analyze how much you really need.
But, in general, it is going to be far more important to determine the true value of a VC: integrity, network, knowledge. Ultimately, the question will always be: do I want to have this guy on my board? And if he is, what value is he going to bring to the table? Nevertheless, some metrics will prevail (e.g. when will the fund need to exit).

After all, there are many more reasons, why smaller funds are more likely to be the future of venture capital. Larry Cheng has a (slightly provocative) post, summarizing those aspects. From my perspective this is neither good nor bad for the industry but might indicate where we are heading to: some really huge funds while the vast majority will remain small and focused.