Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Private Sector Valuations, Funding Still In The Tank - Latest VC Survey

Famed Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West recently release their latest Venture Capital Survey for the 2nd Quarter of 2009. The survey is a great resource, and I'd imagine an even better marketing/PR piece for Fenwick.

Their survey results pretty much confirmed what I'm observing in the startup trenches here in Northern California - that private valuations are still in the tank, and funding is as tough to come by as it's been for a long while.

While the valuations of private companies fell just as hard, or perhaps even harder, than publicly trades ones, during the recent leg down, the Green Shoots Rally has not trickled down to private companies. At least not yet. Funding is slow, valuations are low, and liquidity events are few, far between, and modest.

With the IPO market drying up for venture capital and angel investors, that leaves an acquisition as the only remaining "exit strategy". And big companies, every entrepreneur's dream acquirer, are no different than your Average Joe investor - they like to acquire companies when times are good and valuations are high.

Paradoxically, during times like these, they are slower to buy, even though valuations are much lower. Though I should add that you'll typically see a lot more "dumb" money being floated for acquisitions when times are good, for "strategic" purposes. Perhaps this is a more grounded reality that we're living in.

Personally I think that the startup world must also adapt to this new reality of the financial universe - and this is something I've been trying my best to get my team to buy into. Though there could be a reason why most successful startups are led by eternal optimists who are not likely involved in Elliott Wave Theory and Inflation/Deflation debates!

When times are good, I'd say sure, go raise some capital at a nice valuation, build your company, and sell it off before you burn through it all! But I think this is now a playbook from a past era. Bootstrapping will become a sexier option...mostly because it's becoming the only option! It's either that, or seriously dilute your stake in the company in exchange for raising capital - there's no free lunch any longer.

And getting to cash flow positive is more important than ever...because you don't know where that next wave of financing will come from. And what terms/rates it will carry - if it's even available.

So, at least from my perspective, the financial fun we banter and debate about here does really carry over into "real life" - pretty cool, huh? :)

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