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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Raising capital in difficult times

In the past six months, it’s become even more difficult for otherwise promising tech startups to new or follow-on funding. On October 7, the now-infamous Sequoia PowerPoint deck advised their (mainly high- tech) portfolio companies:
New Realities
$15M Raise @ $100M post[-money valuation] is gone
Series B/C will be smaller raises
Customer uptake will be slower
Cuts are a must
Need to become cash flow positive
While some suggested this was a bargaining tactic by Sequoia to lower valuations, startup companies now face a double-whammy of declining demand by business and consumers and less availability of investment funds.

Of even more concern to the VCs, exit strategies will be more rare, less lucrative and more time consuming:
Increased Challenges
M&A will decrease
Prices will decrease
Acquiring entities will favor profitable companies
IPOs will continue to decrease and will take longer
Since VCs won’t be able to cash in their investments for a long time, they must set aside more money to keep alive a smaller number of companies.

In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, veteran tech industry reporter Pui-Wing Tam wrote about [also here] the dilemma faced by a small Oakland-based VC fund:
Claremont Creek Ventures recently had to decide which of its young to forsake.

Amid the financial crisis and the plunging stock market, Claremont Creek decided to focus on the fund's best investments and stop backing the less-promising start-ups. It wanted to be sure it had enough cash for the next few years for the winners. The venture firm ranked the start-ups in the fund's 16-company portfolio with an A, B or C grade.

"We're doubling down on the As and likely won't invest any more capital in the C companies," says John Steuart, a Claremont Creek managing director. "The portfolio is competing against itself and it's survival of the fittest. It's brutal."
Angel investor and fellow SJSU entrepreneurship teacher Steve Bennet is one of the few who has beat the odds. In his ProfessorVC blog, he explains how one of his portfolio companies raised $6 million in Series C funds.

For those that have already tapped 3F money and can’t raise professional money, the choices are pretty clear: sell the company, stop operations or find a way to bootstrap.

Steve will be moderating a March 9th panel on bootstrapping at the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship. More details on the program when they are available.

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