Five Years Too Late

December 12, 2008

Go to War with the Army You Have

Filed under: venture capital — Tags: , , , , — fiveyearstoolate @ 12:18 pm
Stuart Ellman

Stuart Ellman

Eric Wiesen

Eric Wiesen

We recently had the opportunity to talk about the current funding environment with a bunch of smart people at a brown bag lunch hosted by our friends at Betaworks. A lot if important angles were discussed, including best practices for entrepreneurs, the mindset at different VC funds and tactical suggestions for getting a funding done in the current climate.

One point that’s worth stressing was raised by several people (including us): When you raise money, make sure you have investors who are prepared to continue to support you the next time around.

Backing up somewhat, let’s acknowledge that when times are good, fundraising usually follows a fairly standard pattern. An investor or group of investors funds a company at the Series A level for a given amount. When the company has reached sufficient proof points in the business and when new capital is needed, the company will raise an additional round of financing. A new investor usually leads this round, with participation (on a pro-rata basis) from the existing investors. The new investor is brought in for a number of reasons:

• This investor may be more oriented toward a later stage of the business and can add additional value;
• New investor may bring needed capital for future rounds of funding; but most importantly
• A new investor can set the price for the company. Prior investors may have conflicts relating to the prices of prior rounds.

When a new investor can’t be found, then the current investors face the choice of whether or not to do an “inside round”, meaning fund the company themselves. The point today is that many if not most follow-on financings are being done as inside rounds right now. The new investor who comes in and prices the company and puts in fresh capital is, in many instances, very hard to find. They are either trying to figure out how they are going to fund their own portfolio companies (and doing inside rounds for them) or they are struggling to raise their new fund and aren’t making investments in new companies.

All of this rolls up to the original point: when you build your syndicate for your Series A round, make sure you have a group of investors who will continue to support you when you need to raise more money. It’s fine to have an investor involved whose charter is solely to make Series A investments and then participate pro-rata down the road, but you should ALSO have an investor who is comfortable making Series B investments. Because as a lot of startups raising Series B and Series C rounds are learning, new investors are very hard to come by right now.

At RRE we are currently looking at funding two very promising early-stage deals. In both cases we could easily (given the amount of capital being raised) take the entire round ourselves, but we aren’t just thinking about today. Both of these companies are likely to raise more money later on, so in both cases we are bringing in partners who can both add value to the company, and who we believe will help us ensure that the company continues to be funded should the current climate last longer.

They say you go to war with the army you have, and the same is true for your venture syndicate. If at all possible, bring in investors you think can go the distance with you. It can make a big difference.

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December 2, 2008

How Deep is too Deep?

Filed under: downturn, venture capital — Tags: , , — fiveyearstoolate @ 6:24 pm
Stuart Ellman

Stuart Ellman

Now that the markets have tanked and pensions and endowments are selling off their private equity holdings to rebalance their portfolios, many people have gotten religion. VCs realize that the environment for raising new private equity funds is not great. If they are near the beginning of their new funds, as RRE happens to be, it is a very fortunate position because they have plenty of fresh cash to put into companies at attractive prices. If they are near the end of their most recent fund, it is not a pretty time. With little fresh capital to put in their existing companies, the first word out of their mouths is to cut costs at their existing portfolio companies. This makes sense, but only up to a point.

For some of our portfolio companies, especially web 2.0 companies that exist “in the cloud”, it’s realistic to burn very little money and grow virally. But, this model simply doesn’t work for companies in other sectors and with other cost structures. I sit on the board of a terrific company in an extremely attractive space. Given the current environment, some of their large contracts have been pushed out. With valuations down and the company on a path to burn through its cash, it seems obvious to cut the expenses and make the cash last as long as it can. This company will only remain the leader in its space if it continues to have engineers crank out the hardware and software that constitute its solution. It will only be a winner if it participates in most of the beta tests, trials and RFP‘s that most of its large customers are demanding. It needs to partner with many of the Fortune 500 companies and support these relationships. These things are not cheap. But we can only create value for the company if these things are done. The key is spending enough to remain on the “leading edge” without going overboard and hurting ourselves on the “bleeding edge”.

The takeaway here is that the board of directors (and each individual director) has to set aside the desires of their specific class of shares and do what is best for all shareholders. If, for example, my fund is out of fresh capital to put in a company but the company needs to spend money to retain or create value, I must vote to dilute myself in order to be doing my duty as a director. This is not obvious to all board members, but reflects that Director’s duty to the company. Directors must work to maximize value to all shareholders, unless the company is in distress and worth less than the amount of debt. Then, the duty of a board changes and the directors must work for the benefit of the debt holders. This is tough medicine, but we have all lived through this before in 2001-2003. Things will turn around but we must all do the right things now to let these companies survive and flourish in the future.

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