Category Archives: Funding

2014 is the year when India became #3 worldwide in tech #startup funding

I am finally going through all the reports from PwC MoneyTree, E&Y reports and Venturesource data to determine how the tech startup ecosystem did in terms of funding and growth of VC investments. Here is a snapshot from 2013, the report is available for download.

Worldwide Venture Capital Investments 2013

Worldwide Venture Capital Investments 2013

If you look at 2013, US dominated with ~3500 funded startups by VC’s and that represented ~70% of all tech startups funded. There were a total of 5700 companies that got funded by VC’s alone, worldwide.

In 2014, the number (have to get permission to post since it is behind a paid wall) of VC funded startups rose to ~6500. Depending on which number you seek some say it is 7200.

The US was number 1 with 65% of startups, Europe (primarily UK, Germany and France) #2 with 1500, China #3 with 451 and India #4 with 312.

If you treat UK, Germany and France as separate countries (which they really are and I am not sure why E&Y and PwC group them together as Europe for the purposes of the report), then none of them made it to the top 5.

Looking at countries alone: 1) US, 2) China, 3) India, 4) Canada, 5) Israel, then UK, Germany and finally France.

In terms of invested dollars as well, the numbers are the same:

1. US $38 B – $45 B

2. China $4.5 B – $5.2 B

3. India $2.4B – $2.9B

4. Canada $1.7 B – $1.8 B

5. Israel $1.65B – $1.75B

Why is it so difficult to raise money for tech startups outside the valley? And how to fix it

I was in Chicago on Friday for a startup event at 1871. The accelerator and co-working space is the most happening place in that city. Over 100,000 sq. ft. of awesome startup space. Imagine 350+ early stage tech companies, a few investors, small teams from larger F1000 companies, a developer coding academy and great event space all rolled into one.

That’s the future for all cities, which I see increasingly – Denver has Galvanize, Provo, UT has Boom startups and Austin has Capital Factory.

These hubs concentrate the tech startup activity and provide a critical mass of community, local engagement and evangelism for startups. I was super impressed with 1871 and left very excited after the session at Boom startup and Capital Factory as well.

The one consistent theme I have heard from most of the founders is how hard it is for them to raise money in all those locations. Outside of the valley, funding in New York, Utah, Austin, Chicago and Seattle takes twice as long and you dilute twice as much.

On average Silicon valley companies raise about $491K (Angel list data with cross-reference from Crunch base) for their seed round, which takes about 3 months to close. Since most of them raise a convertible note, it is fairly hard to understand seed stage dilution in the Silicon Valley.

Outside of the valley, which was reinforced with entrepreneurs from Chicago and Austin, there’s a real push from angel investors to have “sustainable revenue” and “proven product”. The average company outside the valley (in the US alone, in the top 7 cities – Chicago, Austin, New York, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and DC – raised about $230K for the seed round and took about 5 months to close.

From the 11 entrepreneurs who I spoke with in Chicago alone, the average dilution at the seed stage alone was about 15%. In the valley it would be closer to 8-10% would be my guess.

That roughly equates to twice as long and 1/2 as much money and I would bet that it would be that they diluted twice as much as well.

Comparatively, Bangalore companies would take even longer from my experience – 7-8 months, and raise the same amount of money as the average in the US, and dilute in the range of 20% at the seed stage.

Outside the valley, everyone is in the same slow boat, to raise funds, as an entrepreneur.

The angel investors are slow moving, have little motivation to invest at the early stage and have a very high bar for “funding”. It is not unusual to expect to have serious, sustainable revenue from startups before angel investors fund the company.

It is no wonder that most entrepreneurs outside the valley think they are the ones with bad luck.

This is the same in other cities such as Philadelphia as well.

Funding, one of the critical parts of the ecosystem is underdeveloped and very difficult for early stage startups, outside the valley.

Just to be clear, it is hard to get funded, in the valley as well.

If you are from one of the “it” companies, like Google or Facebook and have built a network of colleagues who you have worked with, who again, because they are in those companies, have done well, financially, and are willing to fund your seed round, then things are relatively smooth.

Else it is a pain.

On the flip-side, I hear from my angel investors that the ideas are “poorly formed” and have a lot more risk than other “safer” investments they have in place. Also, in many cases the local seed investors prefer to fund “known” businesses and not take a risk with unproven models.

So what’s the solution in other cities?

I suspect there’s no easy answer until you get some “winners” – both startups and investors who make it big and decide to “give back” by investing. Or forward thinkers who decide to “pay it forward”.

Until then, here are a few things that you can do:

1. Build relationships with investors way before you need their help. I would advice future entrepreneurs to build deep relationships with potential investors 2-3 years before you start if you can. Meet them at events, volunteer for their projects and show / prove to them that you can deliver.

2. Start with a kickstarter campaign. This may not be a perfect option for many types of projects, but you will be surprised with the diversity of crowd-funding models and types of companies that get funded.

3. Help organize local “angel list syndicates”. Get a bunch of folks who invest in the stock market to help them diversify into startups – this is a role that angel groups tend to do but they do a largely poor job of it.

4. Organize entrepreneur-driven funding showcases and invite (beg, cajole and excite) investors from Silicon Valley, who have possibly connections to your city to come.

5. Get local large companies (the F1000 in your city) to kickstart a pooled fund model, with some initial funds annually. The budget for this could come from their innovation funds. Find a way to help solve that companies problems with local startups.

How #investors judge #entrepreneurs. Yes it happens all the time.

Over the last 2 weeks I had the chance to do what I like best. Meet and learn from entrepreneurs at the earliest of early stages. Hear about their ideas, learn about their problems and find interesting new ways they are tackling problems of funding, building products, hiring and managing teams and getting users and customers.

Similar to the Mazlov’s hierarchy of needs I have formed a mental model of entrepreneurs and their categories or types based on what they think they “need” from me. Most of them have an ask – connections, funding, advice or referrals. Which is expected, after all I am asking the question with an intent to help.

The hierarchy of needs are fairly similar to most entrepreneurs but the most self assured ones behave differently and ask different questions. They seeks perspectives on the problems they are facing and guidance on their choices.

The rest seek funding.

If your answer to the question “How can I help?” is ” all I need is money”, then you have lost the plot. I think most investors wIll judge you right there and drop you down 2 or 3 notches on their scale. That’s tough to hear but that’s the truth.

If your answer to that question is “I need to get connected to x customer, or y potential employee or a person for a partnership”, you will be viewed as a tactician. Nothing wrong with that, but hey just like entrepreneurs judge  investors, they do the same.

If your answer is “We are facing these challenges  and would love your take on how you’d solve the problem, you will be viewed as a smart, talented and open-minded entrepreneur.

If you answer the question with “I want to start a company but I don’t have a good idea yet”, then you will be judged as a wannabe. Someone that always fantasizes about entrepreneurship but never does anything about it.

How to get on an venture investors “radar, then their “shortlist” and finally on the “spotlight”

If you are looking to raise your post seed round or series A, I would highly recommend you find a way for venture investors to seek you than you seek them. The process is much quicker and you get better terms. How do you do that?

First you have to understand how the venture process works – like most other processes, they go through stages. For the purposes of our discussion, I am going to define the process into 3 steps.

Venture investors have associates or principals, who are smart young folks whose job it is to do due diligence, source new deals and keep their eyes and ears on the ground to new opportunities. Many folks malign them, but they are good folks mostly and have their heart in the right place for most parts.

Many of them are from a Ivy league B school and most likely have been at a management consulting firm after that like Bain or McKinsey. They tend to think very much top down, but I have know a few folks to hustle and pound the pavement as well.

I spoke with 5 associates and principals over the last week to understand their role and the new changes so I thought I’d share some of their thinking to help you.

Venture principals have “categories” of companies on their radar or “spaces”. Given their background in management consulting, that’s to be expected. They think top down – what are the meg-trends, which are the big industries ripe for disruption and which sectors are ready for startups to innovate in. This is important to know. They may have a few companies, but many a sector is likely in their radar.

The associates then spend about 2-6 weeks doing a “deep-dive” on that sector – meeting entrepreneurs, talking to companies, reading research reports (not necessarily in that order) and forming an opinion. Most of them will pick a theme or category based on their experience and some level of “comfort”.

Then, they would present their findings to the “partnership” meetings on Monday. If all looks good, (and I am grossly simplifying), they get a “yellow” light to go ahead and source / look at companies. Not a “green light”, mind you, that’s only given if they have already a list of 3-5 companies identified on their “shortlist”.

After the partnership meeting, they will be assigned a “executive sponsor” partner – someone who can make decisions to write a check on behalf of the firm. The associate has to provide a weekly status update to the partner, who in turn will brief the rest of the folks if they find something “hot” to invest in.

With the yellow light, the associates then tap into their “network” to get proprietary deal flow – usually folks they went to college with, or folks they met at some conference or others they read about on blogs like Geekwire, TechCrunch, etc. In the last 2 years, many folks are also sourcing from angelList or other platforms.

That’s the opportunity for you. Meet with the associates and principals, because not many folks take them seriously. They cant write checks, so most folks ignore them. They are the most crucial part of the equation to get on the “shortlist of companies” within the radar. Typically 7-10 of the 30-50 companies the associates meet will make the “shortlist”.

The best way to make the shortlist is to get you other startup friends and CEO’s to recommend what you are doing to the investors.

The next step is the “spotlight” – the executive champion and your associate will usually meet the 7-10 companies for 2-3 meetings and finally pick 1-2 to bring to the entire partnership.

The process I explained above works “most of the time”. It may happen that the entire process is completed in days as well. I had a chance to speak to 3 partners at venture firms as well, and they attributed about 40% of the deals to this part of the process. The rest were the partner’s networks and recommendations from invested company CEO’s legal partners, etc.

Size and speed – the two most important aspects of your market, to get #venturefunding for #startups

I spoke to an entrepreneur yesterday who is focused on the health and HR markets – two of the toughest markets to target. Health has so many regulations to work with and HR has so little budget. So, take both of them together and unless you have a “head on fire” situation – aka compliance problem, they are very difficult to sell to.

Most, but not all venture investors care deeply about the market you startup is targeting. Here’s a rule of thumb – larger the market, more likely a VC is going to care about your company and to be willing to invest. Billion dollar markets are important to VC’s, and preferably large billion dollar markets. You need to do both a top-down and a bottom-up market analysis to show them that it is a large market. If it is less than a significant size, then I’d advice you not to go pitch VC’s.

In many cases, you wont know the size of the market. It could be small ($100 Million or less) or you just dont know how to position it as a big thing. Most venture investors will take a meeting, but end up not telling you that the market is too small, but tell them to “keep updated”, or “you are too early for us” or “we need to see more traction”.

When you dont know the size of the market or you know that the market is small, then I’d advice you not to go to venture investors. It does not serve your cause and wastes their time.

The second most important reason to get a venture investor on board is if the market is expected to become large “quickly”. While size of market is rather objective, the speed of the market is largely subjective. Which is why venture investors will rely on other “experts”, who understand and know the market well to help them “do due diligence”. If the market is expected to rapidly grow, it makes sense to invest as a VC. Else, your company wont grow quickly and things get difficult.

Many venture investors will also tell you that they invest in entrepreneurs. They tend to focus less on themes and more on the expertise, background, success, knowledge and execution potential of the entrepreneur teams.

Taking a risk on the team is normal for a venture investor, but taking a market risk is rather dumb. If they dont (that’s the problem to a large extent, which is “their” view of the market, not yours) view the market as large or moving quickly then be prepared to have a lot of “meetings with VC’s” resulting in zero follow on meetings or investment.

Kickstarter is the new “beta” customer, “social proof” and “friends and family” round all rolled into 1 for #entrepreneurs

I had a chance to meet an amazing entrepreneur on Tuesday at Utah, Tammy Bowers, who the founder of LionHeart Innovations. They provide a mobile platform to help caregivers of kids with chronic conditions. Think of it like a coordinated platform that everyone who cares for the kids needs to ensure they are all in sync – the mom, the dad, nurse, doctor, nanny, etc.

Their son has a health condition so their startup was born from that experience. Now, after many months of working with health organizations and other care givers, they are ready to launch their mobile app.

A decade ago, options for Tammy would have been to talk to a lot of potential customers, then raise a small “friends and family” round and then look to get some marquee investors / advisors agree to be associated with the company – to provide social proof.

Now there’s indegogo and kickstarter. Tammy put together an early funding campaign on the tool to see there were many other parents who were also interested in the tool to keep their folks in the know. Word of mouth, thanks to the indegogo campaign also got her a lot of press among bloggers, media and news outlets.

For entrepreneurs in smaller cities, getting the attention of Silicon Valley angels or investors is very difficult if not impossible. Many local investors are willing to help, but they lack the ability to validate the problem, the need and hence tend to invest in “things they know very well” or “those things that generate revenues quickly.

Enter crowd funding. If you thought it was for hardware programs alone or for creative ideas, then you need to look at indegogo and other platforms again. 7 of the 10 companies in the accelerator program at Seattle raised money on these platforms. Some of them raised $50K and others more than $350K.

There are 3 things a successful crowdfunding campaign gives you:

1. Customer validation: People (real customers, though largely early adopters) put their money where the mouth is. Not just “likes on facebook”, they commit dollars to your program.

2. Funding: If you can put a little money into your campaign, typically the crowdfunding dollars can help you generate more money to ship your product.

3. Social proof: I would highly recommend you talk to a few “influencers” who can back your campaign on these platforms, but if they dont and still notice it, then the campaign can help you generate some press, which is good social proof if you can get folks to share the press.

I am a huge fan of these programs not just for creative movies, music and hardware “maker” type products, but also for software products that are niche initially.

There are 3 important elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign, which other folks can tell you more about:

1. Create great content assets – video is usually essential.

2. Engage with potential influencers before your campaign so they can back you when the campaign launches.

3. Provide quick and constant updates to your backer so they can help champion and be evangelists for your startup.

To raise funds for your startup use a fishing pole not a fishing net: A #contrarian view

Most early stage find raising advice around fund raising is about casting a net as wide as possible to speak to 100’s of potential funding sources to land one investor.

Actually that’s pretty bad advice according to the data I gathered from Pitch Book.

New Investor Additions Each Year- CRM, SaaS and   Home Automation

New Investor Additions Each Year- CRM, SaaS and Home Automation

Within your category or market there are far fewer relevant and willing investors than you can imagine. So casting a wide net is a big waste of time for most entrepreneurs.

Of course the larger the market (e.g. SaaS or Consumer internet) the more are the number of investors in each stage but it is still a small, finite number.

Most venture investors will share broad themes of their investment thesis so they don’t “miss” out on deals, but that does more disservice than good. So, when an investor says we invest in “consumer internet” – that purposely broad so they don’t “miss out” on any hot deals. As an entrepreneur, you need to ask more pointed questions about the sub categories within that theme.

Investors should follow the same advice they give entrepreneurs. Be niche, narrow and focused. Here’s the thing though. They are following that advice but only they don’t message or position it that way.

So the best indicator of if an investor will fund your startup is to look at what they do not what they say. Talk is really cheap I guess.

To prove this I looked at 3 segments. One older theme, one middle aged and one relatively new theme. They were CRM, SaaS and home automation. These are themes I know better than others. For CRM I looked at data from 1996 to 2002, SaaS from 2006 in home automation from 2008. Data does not exist for home automation for 8 years obviously.

I looked at total dollars invested over time  and the number of investors over time as well. Then I plotted the graph over time to look at year over year growth as opposed to cumulative growth.

Here is what the data says. There are a about of 130+ unique investors in CRM over the 8 years, 47 in SaaS and about 15 in home automation. That’s is on the venture side.

So if you have talked to one or more of these and they said no, you will be better of rethinking your business or do without going to other investors. Going to other investors who have not invested in a theme will very likely result in you wasting time. Note that the rate of addition of new investors to a theme is slow. Even in a large market such as CRM.

This also explains two other memes. One that there’s a herd mentality among us and second that venture investing also follows the Geoffrey Moore tech adoption curve.

Once one or two “innovative” VC’s finds a new space then the herd follows but slowly. This explains the fact that new VC additions to a theme rarely exceed 10% YoY even on “hot” themes.

After the innovators, the early adopters and then finally the majority follow.

I suspect, but don’t have the data yet, but a VC innovator in one theme rarely is an innovator in many other. They like to stick to their knitting. Unless they hire a new partner with expertise in a new theme. Which is rare.

So, bottom line for you as an entrepreneur is this.

There is a very short list of VC’s who will invest in your area.

Going after hundreds of potential investors is a big waste of time.

Setup a google alert for funding keyword within your category for 4-6 months before you are looking to raise money and also for “new fund” in your category. Those are your best bets.

If you have exhausted the list of potentials then you are highly unlikely to raise investment. Go back to your positioning and business model and see if you can change something to try again in 6 months with the same set of investors.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule of thumb but they are rare.