Monday, March 9, 2015

Are We in a Tech Bubble? A Recap of a Jefferies Discussion with Lou Kerner

Key Takeaway

The current state of tech valuations (private & public) is always hotly debated, with a particularly sharper focus recently. To this end, we hosted Lou Kerner for a discussion on the state of the industry and asked him to weigh in on the bubble debate. Lou's opinion is that while valuations in the sector may be high, they appear reasonable in the context of the broader mkt, and we are not in a bubble comparable to what was seen in '99-'00.

Some key takeaways:

Lou's full presentation is available at

The amount of people online is staggeringly higher than during the 2000 bubble. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of people online jumped from ~40MM to just above 400MM. However, between 2000 and 2014, that number skyrocketed to ~3B (with ~2B smartphones accessing the Internet). This growth is driving up valuations.

Multiple disruptive technologies are growing rapidly, and the convergence of this tech is enabling new business models. These technologies include mobile tech, social media, cloud, big data and crowd sourcing. Some examples of disruptive business models are Uber (mobile tech + crowd sourcing), WhatsApp (mobile tech + social media) and LendingClub (big data + crowd sourcing). The next wave of emerging tech (Internet of things, wearables, virtual reality, etc...) is poised to continue the wealth creation.

A look at some data:
·         When comparing NASDAQ growth CAGRs, we do not see the sustained outsized market gains present in the '00 bubble. Between Jan '90 and Jan '00, the NASDAQ experienced a CAGR of 26.5%, compared to only 9.1% between Mar. '05 and Mar. '15 (in line with the 44 year historical CAGR of 9.3%)
·         Tech co. market value as a percentage of the S&P 500 is actually currently below the LT trend. Currently, tech cos. comprise ~20% of the S&P, while they peaked at 35% in '00.
·         Day 1 IPO pops were massive between '98-'00, with the top nine IPO pops averaging a day 1 return of 505.2%. At the close on 4/5/01, those prices had dropped on average 96.1%. The top nine Day 1 IPO pops in '13-'14 averaged a return of 101.3%. The average first day pop of all IPOs in 2014 was 13%.
·         Additionally, the number of Tech IPOs by year has decreased significantly from the peak of 350+ in 1999. During 2013, there were less than 50.

Companies are taking a significantly longer time to IPO, with the average age at IPO of 8 years in 2013 more than double the average age of 3 years during 1998-1999. Companies are realizing that being public is painful, and that needed capital is available in the private markets. While Traditional VCs and Hedge Funds are ramping their private shares investing, traditional public share investors, like T. Rowe Price, Fidelity and Wellington, have also joined them in investing in the private markets. In conclusion, considering the puts and takes, Lou does not necessarily see the current landscape in a comparable light of the '99-'00 tech bubble. Tech valuations seem to be reasonable within the scope of the broader market, and the current opportunities for value creation from disruptive tech companies remain at all time highs.

Lou Kerner is the founder of the Social Internet Fund, investing in primary and secondary shares of private social media, mobile, big data, online video and ad tech companies. Lou was the first social media analyst on Wall Street at Wedbush Securities, where he started the first trading desk for private shares on Wall Street. Lou was also previously an equity analyst following media companies at Goldman Sachs.

Courtesy of Jefferies US Internet Team *,  Jefferies Equity Research

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Startup Marketing

Starting a business is exhilarating. Unfortunately, the “build it and they will come” theory doesn’t hold much weight and those overnight success stories you hear about are often the result of behind the scenes years of hard work. Simply put, startup marketing is a unique challenge often times because of the limited resources, whether it’s time, money or talent.

You have to be sure every effort, no matter how small, is well-planned and flawlessly executed. And to make it even more difficult, the traditional marketing strategies don’t always work.

Startup marketing is a whole different science. How so? The secret is properly combining the right channels: Content Marketing and PR.

So, starting from the beginning, here’s the complete Startup Marketing Manual.


Before you start laying bricks, you need a solid foundation. A successful startup marketing strategy follows that same principle. Before you jump into marketing your startup, make sure you have the following bases covered.

1. Choosing a Market

It’s easy for startup founders to believe the whole world will love their products. After all, founders eat, sleep and breathe their products. The reality is that only a small portion of the population is interested in your product.

If you try to market your startup to everyone, you waste both time and money. The key is to identify a niche target market and go after market share aggressively.

How do you choose a market? There are four main factors to consider:
  1. Market Size – Are you targeting a regional demographic? Male? Children? Know exactly how many potential customers are in your target market.
  2. Market Wealth – Does this market have the money to spend on your product?
  3. Market Competition – Is the market saturated? As in, are their many competitors?
  4. Value Proposition – Is your value proposition unique enough to cut thru the noise?

Read More

Entrepreneurs Talk about Raising Money

Here are more of their experiences and insights on getting startups funded.

Lower Infrastructure Costs 
With the growing availability of cloud-based computing and services, fewer startups need to spend their money on hardware. “In the early days of Spotify (2006-07),” recalls Enh, “we spent weeks looking at data centers and negotiating with hardware vendors, then finally co-locating. When we started Wrapp five years later, we didn’t need to buy any infrastructure. Higher and higher layers of business service are available in the cloud, so you get more and more stuff without having to buy or do it yourself.”

This has changed seed funding in particular, since startups can lower their initial costs and get products out faster. And for later rounds, notes Reddy, cloud resources make it easier to put up a prototype to show investors.

Changing the VC-entrepreneur balance
Those lower costs can affect the VC-entrepreneur balance, Enh believes. “Large, traditional VCs with hundreds of millions of dollars need a portfolio of about 200 companies to do angel investment properly. Anything that lowers the cost of starting a business may present VCs with the problem of keeping their money active.”

Besides VCs, it’s helpful for the ecosystem to have angels and accelerators willing to invest, says Fears, especially in Latin America where there are fewer institutional investors. “There’s also a growing community of 25- to 30-year-olds,” he adds, “who have had a couple of successful exits and want to invest $50-75,000 in first-time entrepreneurs. Those investors add a lot of value because they are willing to coach and mentor.”

Terms vs. valuation
In the offer, what’s more important for the entrepreneur to examine: terms or valuation?

Of course, the press will focus more on the valuation, but the terms are your agreement with the investors and you’ll have to live with it (and them) a long time.

Venture Capital: 5 Tips for Nailing the Full Partnership Pitch

You have already had one (or likely multiple) meetings with a subset of a firm’s investment team, including a principal and perhaps a general partner. You’ve impressed your point person (or people) sufficiently so that you have been invited to present to the broader partnership. What do you do now? Here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Focus on Style, Not Just Substance

This may sound counterintuitive. However, if you have been asked to come in and present to the full partnership, you have already done a good job defining, defending and articulating your business plan, and addressing many questions and concerns. Your initial contacts from the firm have likely already written up one or more memos introducing your company, and have had multiple internal discussions about your company’s compelling prospective investment.

Now it's showtime! Most likely, the partnership will already be familiar with the facts around your team, market, business model, product, customers, competition and financial projections. They are now looking for the “X factor” — your ability to present with pizzazz, to capture and sustain the attention of the room, to project a degree of informed enthusiasm and to showcase your natural leadership and sales abilities with a healthy spark of charisma.

2. Balance Confidence With Thoughtful Introspection

You know your business better than anyone else. It is important for you to project confidence and conviction around the viability, magnitude and trajectory of your business. It is the job of those in the room to challenge your assumptions or to present perspectives that counter your thesis. It is your job to respectfully but credibly convey what you are doing and how you will actualize your plan.

At the same time, be introspective. The best CEOs and entrepreneurs know their strengths but also recognize where they need help. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

16 rules of engagement to rocket fuel your start-up’s growth

Here are 16 things that essential if you are going to see your young start-up flourish into a high growth mid-market tiger:

1. Don’t be alone
The experienced, objective and dispassionate adviser / chairman / non-executive director (mentor) can make for a powerful combination with the passionate yet inexperienced entrepreneur who is not always as objective as is required. It’s someone to talk to and vent your frustrations at – safely.

2. Hire a high calibre senior leadership team
You need one of these if you are serious about growth. Too many founders think they can do it virtually by themselves or employ junior managers and expect director level results. Recruit for greatness.

3. Challenge
It is no longer all down to you and if your leadership team is motivated by long term growth in the value of the company then it’s likely they now own part of it too. You have to respect their views and listen to their advice. Expect to be challenged. If you aren’t something is wrong – you have a weak team or you are overbearing. Both are equally dangerous.

4. Learn to lead not manage
This means you have to build a great leadership team and then let them get on with it. Your role as CEO & founder is to provide the direction and uphold the vision and focus – through the ups and downs. Pick the right people and they’ll build a great company for you. Too often, a promising young business is stifled because the founder cannot make the leap from being the nexus of all decisions to leading a team. More of what got you here is not what will get you to where you want to get to. You have to let go and delegate, not over manage.

5. Trust
I trusted my fellow directors 100% that they always had the best interests of Coffee Nation at heart. We had a simple vision and were always aligned. Of course, we didn’t always agree but that is healthy.

6. Style

Simple Tips to Attract Venture Capital

When it comes to technology ventures, software has been taking the lead in terms of the number of rounds cleared, however shifts in technology have made it practical for hardware companies to raise capital for their projects. The biggest reasons why software has taken the lead is because the iteration cycle is smaller and also the fact hardware tends to be more cumbersome.

Today however, investors are now branching into hardware startups because device development has become much easier than in the past. Rather than requiring specialized equipment which often filled entire labs, Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards now allow virtually anyone (including children) to hone their Electrical Engineering skills with only a standard computer and a curious mind.

Ultimately however this shift in hardware will be covered in a later article, but it is important to note that venture capitalists are now warming up a bit to hardware despite it being more complex than software.

The Benefit of Crowdfunding

While many venture capitalists and traditional financiers look down on crowdfunding as being a modern day gold rush where everyone is looking for a quick buck, crowdfunding can be a vital entrepreneurial tool if used properly. In particular a crowdfunding campaign can be used to test the waters and make sure your idea actually has a market. Additionally if you have a successful crwowdfunding campaign, you can take that to an investor to justify your request for funding.

Keep in mind that this method only works with hardware/product startups since crowdfunding isn’t really intended for service oriented companies.

What VC’s Look for in Entrepreneurs

One of the most important points taken from the venture capital panel at CES is that the average venture capital investment lasts longer than the typical marriage. This means that one of the biggest factors an investor considers when making a decision is how well the team members know each other. Ultimately investors will only consider working with teams who have already weathered major challenges since entrepreneurship is rarely a smooth path.

Read more

Entrepreneurship - What do you need to know?

In today’s day and age, consumers possess a very calculated mind as it helps them see every company they come across in a clear, context manner with reference to cost factor, time taken for travel, quality, quantity, and many more .This is where a wise businessman must equip himself with fair knowledge and understanding of these needs and desires of the customers, and know how to canvass them using his innovative skills, in order to attract a large set of people towards his business. After all, why would they seek his company’s service when they can get a better service at a cheap rate in a neighbor company?

He must also be aware that people keep changing. If you are desperate about succeeding, you ought to think differently, that is the rule. Hence on knowing this well, he must operate in a more established manner as his only goal is to satiate his customers in general, making him standout from rest of his rivals.

Moreover, he must thrive hard to change their mentality in order to become his regular, loyal customers. But he never should take them for granted. Each customer is unique, such that their tastes and expectations tend to be different. He should consider this fact after doing a thorough research and form a more realistic approach rather than an artificial one. The following are the essential questions to ask yourself, if you are sincere about starting a business.

1) Are you going to take risk as a sole proprietor? What sort of customers are you planning to deal with? How will your business be different from that of your competitors? Do you have effective marketing techniques to run the same?

2) When the idea of a business startup popped into your head, was it because were you inspired by the victory of another startup? If it is so, you should be unduly cautious and brilliant enough to avoid imitations or falsifications of any kind that might lead to unnecessary conflicts.

3) You may start your business any time at any place; but a crucial point or situation may arise where you have to abandon it due to family issues, time constraints, and lack of money, investors, etc. Are you 100% sure, you are ready for this?

4) Let us suppose you have started running your business and is quite content with its progress coupled with auspicious and impressive profit  of which you are confident in getting .Suddenly, an unexpected, heavy loss occurs and ruins your business abruptly leaving you all scattered to tiny pieces. In this case, will you promptly quit or have the courage to start over again?

After asking these questions, you still are very much interested, the following are some of the important aspects that you should never fail to concentrate during the course time of running your business.

a) Enthusiasm for Entrepreneurship