Guest Post: Beware The Post Money Trap

My partner Albert wrote this a few weeks ago. Since then I have met with a number of founders who are most certainly headed for this problem. As valuations are extended and it feels very late in this cycle, I feel that the risk of this happening to entrepreneurs is quite high now.

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In the current valuation environment many entrepreneurs seem to believe that only two numbers matter in a financing: the amount of the raise and the dilution. This leads them to buy into the idea that more money for the same dilution is always strictly better. Combined with a lot of money being available from investors this is resulting in Series A rounds of $10 million and more.

What could possibly go wrong? The number everyone seems to be forgetting about is the post-money valuation. It is a crucial number though as long as a company is not yet financed to profitability. It determines how far the company needs to come to be able to raise money again. It needs to build enough value so that the next round of fundraising can be at or ideally above the current post money valuation.

If you do a Series A with a $50 million post-money, it means you have to build something that people will consider to be worth $50 million when you next raise money. Now if your company hits a great growth trajectory and the financing environment stays as it is then great. But if either of those two conditions are not met you will find yourself in the post money trap.

Again, you can get caught in this trap in two different scenarios. The first one is that you hit a bump in the road. Users or revenues or whatever the most relevant metric for your business wind up not growing as fast as you think or worse yet hitting a temporary plateau, possibly even a small setback just as you need to raise more money. The second one is that the external financing environment adjusts for instance because the stock market drops 20%. Then even if you hit all your milestones, suddenly that may no longer let you clear the hurdle you set for yourself.

Some founders seem to ignore this logic entirely. Others come back and say “but we will have that much more money to and hence time to clear the hurdle.” That too, however, is faulty logic. It reminds me a lot of the problem of getting rockets into space. The simplistic answer would seem to be: just add more fuel. The problem though is that fuel too weighs something which now needs to be lifted into space. Your burn rate is pretty much the same thing. Unless you are super disciplined on how you spend the money you will have a higher burn rate the more you raise which makes subsequent funding harder (instead of easier).

Another, less common, founder objection is: well, if necessary we will just do a down round. This ignores that down rounds are incredibly hard to do. For reasons of founder, employee and investor psychology they rarely happen. And if they do they are often damaging to the company. So when you are in the post-money trap you have largely made your company non-financeable entirely.

Finally, this situation is highly asymmetric from the point of view of funds versus companies. First, funds have portfolios, so some deals with dangerously high post money valuations can be offset — if one is disciplined — with others that are more attractive. Second, when investing in preferred there is a lot of downside protection built in that’s not available to the common shares. Hence a simple test to see just how far you are stretching into is to ask investors (and better yet yourself) how much common they (you) would buy right now and at what price.

Back To Android

When we got back from our sabbatical in Europe last fall, I got an iPhone. I’ve been using it for roughly six months. I have enjoyed wrapping my head around the iPhone and the iPhone ecosystem. I’ve learned a bunch. And now I’m heading back to Android.

I bought a Nexus6 from the Google Play Store yesterday and plan to start using it when I get back to NYC at the end of the month. I plan to go back to iOS when the next iPhone ships, and then back to Android six months after that. In this way, I can stay current on both operating systems and ecosystems which I think is useful in my business.

There are some apps that are available on the iPhone and not on Android. I enjoyed being able to use them. I like TouchID for unlocking my phone and certain high security apps on my phone. And that’s about it in terms of things I am going to miss when I go back to Android.

I am jazzed about getting notifications back in my life the way I want them, I am jazzed about getting google apps like gmail and calendar and drive that work the way they are supposed to work, I am jazzed about having only one map application and the best one on my phone, and I am jazzed about getting back to an operating system that works the way I want to work.

The iPhone is a great phone. But its not any better than a top of the line Android phone. They are more or less the same. And I prefer Android. Which makes me a minority in the US, particularly in the mid and high end of the market.

Speaking of Android, here’s a great post from Benedict Evans on why Xiaomi matters when you are thinking about Android.

Video Of The Week: Kara Swisher Interviews Hillary Clinton

I posted an interview that Kara Swisher did with President Obama a few weeks ago. Shortly after that interview, Kara interviewed Hillary Clinton. Kara is on a roll. I hope she interviews Jeb Bush next.

In any case, it is great to see a tech journalist interviewing the major national political figures. There are a host of important national tech issues and it is great to be able to hear these politicians address them.

Sadly the email scandal broke about a week after this interview so Kara was not able to ask about that. But otherwise, this is a great discussion and, as I said, I hope she does more of this.

Feature Friday: Twitter Video

I tried posting video to Twitter today. It works simply and easily.

I haven’t seen a ton of video in my feed so far, so it’s not clear that posting video has become popular with Twitter users.

But it’s just as easy as posting a photo so I expect it will become more and more common over time.

A Focus On The Company Not The Investment

I said something on stage at Launch yesterday that I’d like to elaborate on:

I do not mean that your investment isn’t important and I do not mean that making money isn’t the focus of a venture capital firm and a venture capital investor. Both are absolutely true.

However, I believe if you are invested in a startup at an early stage that goes on to become a “great company”, that your investment is going to work out fabulously well.

So I think that putting all of your energy into helping the entrepreneur and the team around them build a great company is the best way to accomplish generating great returns on investment.

Venture capital is one of those asset classes where you can impact your investment. And the best VCs do that very well. I’ve studied the great VCs and how they conduct themselves. And what I have seen is that this focus on the company first and everything else second is what separates the best ones from the rest.

Some Thoughts On Watches

One of my most controversial predictions at year end was:

The Apple Watch will not be the homerun product that iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been. Not everyone will want to wear a computer on their wrist.

With the Pebble Time making records on Kickstarter this month, with the iWatch coming soon, and with a host of Android powered watches coming to market, it sure feels like the “watch moment” in tech.

However, I continue to think that these computers on your wrist are not going to be a mainstream thing.

Monday night we went out to dinner with a bunch of tech investors in LA. Not one of the women at the table was interested in wearing an iWatch or any other “smartwatch”. Not one of them. They all said that watches are jewelry for them and they are interested in beauty and fashion on their wrists, not features and functions. Only one of the men was interested in an iWatch and he said he wouldn’t wear it but he wanted to “play with it.”

Yesterday at the Morgan Stanley Internet Conference, I was on stage with Bill Gurley and Alfred Lin and we were asked about the iWatch. There were several hundred public market tech investors in the room. I asked the room how many wore watches. About half raised their hands. I then asked how many were going to get the iWatch. About 20% raised their hands.

If 40% of watch wearers get an iWatch, then its going to be a massive hit. But that was a room full of tech investors.

I guess to some extent this is a question of expectations. And I have no idea what the expectations are for iWatch sales this year. I don’t really care about iWatch. But I am interested how many people who carry a smartphone in our pockets and purses will wear a companion device on our wrists. I just don’t think it will be that large of a percentage.

And every time I ask the question of real people who have the means to buy anything they want, I get answers that more or less reinforce my views.

So take that for what it’s worth. Soon enough we will know the real answer. And it is important because developers will build for this new platform. New applications will emerge for this platform. And it really matters if its the next big mobile device category or if its more of a niche business.

The Blockchain Market Map

Four hours ago I left my house for the airport and was planning to blog on the flight to SF this morning. But things got in the way of that. First the pilot didn’t show. Then when he did the computer systems went down at LAX grounding all Delta flights to SF. We called an audible, booked a ticket on an American Eagle flight, and hustled to another terminal, through security, onto a shuttle bus, and finally just in time onto our flight. There’s no wifi on this plane and all the delays mean my day in SF has been compressed and will be crazy as soon as I land. 

So no time for a blog post today. 

In lieu of that, here’s a graphic from William’s excellent work to create a “market map” of the blockchain ecosystem:

Click here to read his post which goes on to list all the companies active in all of these sectors.

LTE in the WiFi Spectrum

Apparently T-Mobile is getting ready to launch an LTE service in the unlicensed WiFi spectrum.

I’ve written a fair bit here at AVC over the years about the fact that unlicensed spectrum provides a path for way more innovation than licensed spectrum. I am a big fan of unlicensed spectrum and I believe that the secret to more mobile bandwidth in the coming years is more unlicensed spectrum and less licensed spectrum. I believe that auctioning off the most valuable and useful spectrum to the highest bidders, who often warehouse and under utilize it, is bad policy.

This move by T-Mobile is very interesting to me in a number of dimensions:

1) Can LTE and WiFi (and everything else in the 5Ghz band) play nice with each other?

2) If this works, is this a model for going forward? Why not have the mobile carriers provide services in unlicensed bands versus licensing them valuable spectrum?

3) Does this provide T-Mobile a cost advantaged model for competing in mobile broadband (not having to spend billions to buy licensed spectrum)?

I suppose there are many more interesting questions that will be surfaced and maybe answered as a result of this move by T-Mobile. I’d be very curious to hear them in the comments.

I love that T-Mobile is playing the scrappy underdog role so well in the mobile carrier market and continuing to innovate and disrupt the established norms and business models. I’m a happy and proud T-Mobile customer and plan to remain so.

A Note On Anonymous, Pseudonymous, Guest, and Regular Commenters

One of the best things about AVC is the engaged and active community that envelopes this blog. It has been for many years a conversation among friends and the occasional stranger. I’ve called it a bar where I get to be the bartender. The people in the community come and go. There are regulars who come every day. There are regulars who come every few days. Some come once every week or two. Some have left never to return. Some return on occasion. That’s all as it should be and quite like what goes on in the real world.

I’ve always chosen to allow people to comment using a guest login. I’ve always allowed people to comment anonymously. And I’ve always allowed people to comment using a pseudonym. I believe that allowing people to comment the way they want makes a community richer. I do not think comment identities should always be mapped to a real name and a real identity. It’s great when it is. But there are many reason why that’s not a good option for some.

We’ve managed the trolling and spam by actively moderating the comments. I did that for many years myself and in recent years I’ve been aided by AVC regulars William and Shana who swing by every day even when I’m not active to make sure a thread isn’t filling up with spam or there isn’t some sort of other bad behavior going on. Our moderation policy has been heavy to clear the spam and light on everything else. We lean in favor of giving everyone a voice even when its a tough call.

There is one thing that has evolved into a community norm that is important and I’d like to highlight today. Regular commenters use Disqus Profiles to comment here at AVC. These profiles can be pseudonyms like Fake Grimlock, abbreviations like JLM, or real names, like fredwilson. That really doesn’t matter and I think its best to have a lively mix of all of that. But the frequency of seeing the avatar next to the name in the comments breeds trust, respect, and in many cases real friendship.

If you are a drop in commenter, none of this matters. But if you want to hang out here on a regular basis, I encourage you to build a Disqus Profile, invest some time and energy into it, and participate as everyone else does. It’s how we do it around here and it is one of the many reasons this community works so well.