R.I.P Good times! Venture is dead! The beginning of the end!
Doom and gloom headlines themes seem to go hand in hand with the Venture Capital industry. The new hot pessimistic theme? The “Series A crunch“. Hundreds have opined on this subject over the past few weeks.
If you’re reading this, you probably know exactly what the purported Series A crunch is all about. If you don’t, several data sources (including CB insiders) have outlined that seed investing now outpaces Series A investing by a factor of 2.5 to 1. Some alarmists will have you believe that this is a “cataclysmic” (yes I actually heard the term used) phenomenon that will leave in its wake a barren waste land of survivors, casualties strewn everywhere, and penniless seed investors who will have lost everything after their investments repeatedly die on the vine.
Entrepreneurs, no need to walk the plank. Given the bare bones costs of starting a company these days, there’s no better time to start a company. This was not have been the case 5-10 years ago when $1MM-$4MM was absolutely needed. Technical innovation is at it’s best and finest now.
In reality, the Series A crunch is less a crunch at the Series A level as it is an explosion of growth at the Seed level. The advent of the lean start-up and proliferation of Micro-VC seed investors have enabled this explosion. On the other side of the coin, Series A funding continues to be steady and strong (but hasn’t risen dramatically as most seed investors aren’t set up to be Series A leads). To draw a crude analogy, the bar is as big as it’s always been, there are just more people looking to get in now. In this case though, the bar isn’t going to get bigger unless it has a real reason to do so (read: huge exits). It’s simple Darwinism, and a theme that will continue from the Series B to C, C to D, etc.
Again, on a Macro-level, this “crunch” is not a negative by any means, but rather an indicator of a robust innovation cycle.
From a Series A investor standpoint, the increased supply of seed funding has led to better quality startups – Companies with stronger management teams, further technical development, real customer traction….All the positive byproduct of increased competition. From my perspective, the Series A of today is similar to the Series B of years past, with today’s seed fundings acting as the old Series A. Additionally, given the size of an average seed investment ($250K-$2MM), walking away from an investment after the seed isn’t catastrophic by any means.
From an entrepreneur’s standpoint, the increased supply of seed funded startups does require more strategic planning. A few tips for survival:
- Don’t be agnostic from who you raise seed money from. Choose wisely and focus primarily on strategic impact vs. optimizing valuation.
- Remember, valuation cuts both ways. Too low and you unnecessarily give up valuable valuation; Too high and you set yourself up for potentially unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
- Raise enough capital to provide you with at least 3 more months of cash than you think you need. 12-18 months is optimal. You’re ultimately going to be competing with tons of other startups for Series A funding, so achieving as many milestones as possible is necessary to place high in this beauty pageant. Don’t let a small trip up derail everything.
- Venture funding isn’t the only option. Bootstrapping and a focus on operating profitably early on are certainly viable options.
In summary, the coined Series A crunch certainly highlights a supply and demand disparity, but shouldn’t be something that we view as a negative from a macro level.