Friday, December 28, 2012

Advice for Startups Seeking Venture Capital

The financial crisis makes it harder to get funding, but those that prove themselves during this period will be better positioned to thrive

Landing venture capital is tough for startups (BusinessWeek, 2/1/08), even in a good economy. But given the ongoing financial crisis, how hard is it for early-stage companies to get funded right now? Venture capitalists say entrepreneurs face a much higher bar than in recent years. They liken the downturn to a period of natural selection, when weak businesses will fail but strong ones will prosper. New companies that prove themselves now, they say, are better positioned to thrive when the economy recovers.

"Almost by definition the entrepreneurs who have the moxie to walk through your door in tough times tend to have better ideas," says Mike Goguen, a VC with Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park, Calif. Goguen says many of Sequoia's best-performing companies have been founded around down times. Today, VCs report seeing stronger proposals from more serious entrepreneurs than in years when the economy was stronger.

Venture firms are still investing, and they emphasize that they have plenty of money to back good business ideas. But funding has slowed. U.S. venture funds invested $7.1 billion in 907 deals during the third quarter of 2008, down 7% from the prior quarter and 9% from the third quarter of 2007, according to the MoneyTree Report from the National Venture Capital Assn. and PricewaterhouseCoopers. "The funnel for dollars is becoming smaller and smaller," says Mark Heesen, president of the NVCA. VC funds also have to commit more time and capital to help existing portfolio companies weather the downturn while the potential for exits through acquisitions and initial public offerings has greatly diminished (BusinessWeek, 10/14/08), he says.

Cash Flow Proof

For entrepreneurs running startups, the game has changed. Speculative business models won't get funded, says Bob Ackerman, co-founder of Allegis Capital in Palo Alto, Calif. Companies need to demonstrate that their value proposition is real, and that they can hit measurable benchmarks toward generating revenue and positive cash flow, he says. In an environment where consumers and businesses are cutting spending, entrepreneurs need to ask, Is this a company that absolutely must be started now?