What Can It Be Worth?

The thing I always think about when making an investment is not what it is worth, but what can it be worth. To determine what something is worth, you can look at comps (which I posted about here), or you can let the market tell you what it is worth by running a process.  But the really interesting number is not what it is worth today, but what it can be worth.

For this, you need to use your imagination. When we invested in Twitter, we had to imagine that hundreds of millions of people around the globe would use Twitter to find out what was going on, and that Twitter would be able to build an advertising business around that behavior that would result billions of dollars of annual revenue, and that Twitter would be able to generate positive cash flow on that revenue, and that the public markets would welcome Twitter and value it as a multiple of those revenues and that operating cash flow. We did imagine that, although to be honest, we did not imagine as big of a success as evidenced by the fact that we stopped investing in Twitter after three rounds, which was a mistake that, in part, led to the creation of our Opportunity Fund.

So when valuing a venture stage opportunity, you have to imagine the product can scale to be used by many more people, or companies, or both, than are using it now. For that exercise, you need to study the product, the roadmap, and the use cases and be sure that your imagination is possible and not delusional. You also need to figure out what an annual revenue per user (ARPU) might be and apply that to the potential size of the market. Then you need to study the economics of the business and figure out how much of that potential revenue might flow to the bottom line.

Finally, you need to figure out how the market might value that cash flow. That’s where a comps analysis might be valuable. But you have to factor in that the market might not be valuing companies when you exit in the same way they are now.

After you figure out what it might be worth, you need to discount that back by 3x, or 5x, or even 10x, to discount for the risk that none of this might happen.

When you do all of this work, in today’s environment, it’s hard to make an investment. Because often the math doesn’t work. Which tells me that many people aren’t doing this work.