More on Entrepreneurship
1 month ago
The Unsettling Fact VC-Backed Entrepreneurs Don't Want You to Know
What they'll do is scarier.
My acquaintance recently joined a VC-funded startup. Money, equity, and upside possibilities were nice, but he had a nagging dread.
They just secured a $40M round and are hiring like crazy to prepare for their IPO in two years. All signals pointed to this startup's (a B2B IT business in a stable industry) success, and its equity-holding workers wouldn't pass that up.
Five months after starting the work, my friend struggled with leaving. We might overlook the awful culture and long hours at the proper price. This price plus the company's fate and survival abilities sent my friend departing in an unpleasant unplanned resignation before jumping on yet another sinking ship.
This affects founders. This affects VC-backed companies (and all businesses). This affects anyone starting, buying, or running a business.
Here's the under-the-table approach that's draining VC capital, leaving staff terrified (or jobless), founders rattled, and investors upset. How to recognize, solve, and avoid it
The unsettling reality behind door #1
You can't raise money off just your looks, right? If "looks" means your founding team's expertise, then maybe. In my friend's case, the founding team's strong qualifications and track records won over investors before talking figures.
They're hardly the only startup to raise money without a profitable customer acquisition strategy. Another firm raised money for an expensive sleep product because it's eco-friendly. They were off to the races with a few keywords and key players.
Both companies, along with numerous others, elected to invest on product development first. Company A employed all the tech, then courted half their market (they’re a tech marketplace that connects two parties). Company B spent millions on R&D to create a palatable product, then flooded the world with marketing.
My friend is on Company B's financial team, and he's seen where they've gone wrong. It's terrible.
Company A (tech market): Growing? Not quite. To achieve the ambitious expansion they (and their investors) demand, they've poured much of their little capital into salespeople: Cold-calling commission and salary salesmen. Is it working? Considering attrition and companies' dwindling capital, I don't think so.
Company B (green sleep) has been hiring, digital marketing, and opening new stores like crazy. Growing expenses should result in growing revenues and a favorable return on investment; if you grow too rapidly, you may neglect to check that ROI.
Once Company A cut headcount and Company B declared “going concerned”, my friend realized both startups had the same ailment and didn't recognize it.
I shouldn't have to ask a friend to verify a company's cash reserves and profitability to spot a financial problem. It happened anyhow.
The frightening part isn't that investors were willing to invest millions without product-market fit, CAC, or LTV estimates. That's alarming, but not as scary as the fact that startups aren't understanding the problem until VC rounds have dried up.
When they question consultants if their company will be around in 6 months. It’s a red flag. How will they stretch $20M through a 2-year recession with a $3M/month burn rate and no profitability? Alarms go off.
Who's in danger?
In a word, everyone who raised money without a profitable client acquisition strategy or enough resources to ride out dry spells.
Money mismanagement and poor priorities affect every industry (like sinking all your capital into your product, team, or tech, at the expense of probing what customer acquisition really takes and looks like).
This isn't about tech, real estate, or recession-proof luxury products. Fast, cheap, easy money flows into flashy-looking teams with buzzwords, trending industries, and attractive credentials.
If these companies can't show progress or get a profitable CAC, they can't raise more money. They die if they can't raise more money (or slash headcount and find shoestring budget solutions until they solve the real problem).
The kiss of death (and how to avoid it)
If you're running a startup and think raising VC is the answer, pause and evaluate. Do you need the money now?
I'm not saying VC is terrible or has no role. Founders have used it as a Band-Aid for larger, pervasive problems. Venture cash isn't a crutch for recruiting consumers profitably; it's rocket fuel to get you what and who you need.
Pay-to-play isn't a way to throw money at the wall and hope for a return. Pay-to-play works until you run out of money, and if you haven't mastered client acquisition, your cash will diminish quickly.
How can you avoid this bottomless pit? Tips:
Understand your burn rate
Keep an eye on your growth or profitability.
Analyze each and every marketing channel and initiative.
Make lucrative customer acquisition strategies and satisfied customers your top two priorities. not brand-new products. not stellar hires. avoid the fundraising rollercoaster to save time. If you succeed in these two tasks, investors will approach you with their thirsty offers rather than the other way around, and your cash reserves won't diminish as a result.
Not as much as your grandfather
My family friend always justified expensive, impractical expenditures by saying it was only monopoly money. In business, startups, and especially with money from investors expecting a return, that's not true.
More founders could understand that there isn't always another round if they viewed VC money as their own limited pool. When the well runs dry, you must refill it or save the day.
Venture financing isn't your grandpa's money. A discerning investor has entrusted you with dry powder in the hope that you'll use it wisely, strategically, and thoughtfully. Use it well.
3 months ago
2000s Toys, Secrets, and Cycles
During the dot-com bust, I started my internet career. People used the internet intermittently to check email, plan travel, and do research. The average internet user spent 30 minutes online a day, compared to 7 today. To use the internet, you had to "log on" (most people still used dial-up), unlike today's always-on, high-speed mobile internet. In 2001, Amazon's market cap was $2.2B, 1/500th of what it is today. A study asked Americans if they'd adopt broadband, and most said no. They didn't see a need to speed up email, the most popular internet use. The National Academy of Sciences ranked the internet 13th among the 100 greatest inventions, below radio and phones. The internet was a cool invention, but it had limited uses and wasn't a good place to build a business.
A small but growing movement of developers and founders believed the internet could be more than a read-only medium, allowing anyone to create and publish. This is web 2. The runner up name was read-write web. (These terms were used in prominent publications and conferences.)
Web 2 concepts included letting users publish whatever they want ("user generated content" was a buzzword), social graphs, APIs and mashups (what we call composability today), and tagging over hierarchical navigation. Technical innovations occurred. A seemingly simple but important one was dynamically updating web pages without reloading. This is now how people expect web apps to work. Mobile devices that could access the web were niche (I was an avid Sidekick user).
The contrast between what smart founders and engineers discussed over dinner and on weekends and what the mainstream tech world took seriously during the week was striking. Enterprise security appliances, essentially preloaded servers with security software, were a popular trend. Many of the same people would talk about "serious" products at work, then talk about consumer internet products and web 2. It was tech's biggest news. Web 2 products were seen as toys, not real businesses. They were hobbies, not work-related.
There's a strong correlation between rich product design spaces and what smart people find interesting, which took me some time to learn and led to blog posts like "The next big thing will start out looking like a toy" Web 2's novel product design possibilities sparked dinner and weekend conversations. Imagine combining these features. What if you used this pattern elsewhere? What new product ideas are next? This excited people. "Serious stuff" like security appliances seemed more limited.
The small and passionate web 2 community also stood out. I attended the first New York Tech meetup in 2004. Everyone fit in Meetup's small conference room. Late at night, people demoed their software and chatted. I have old friends. Sometimes I get asked how I first met old friends like Fred Wilson and Alexis Ohanian. These topics didn't interest many people, especially on the east coast. We were friends. Real community. Alex Rampell, who now works with me at a16z, is someone I met in 2003 when a friend said, "Hey, I met someone else interested in consumer internet." Rare. People were focused and enthusiastic. Revolution seemed imminent. We knew a secret nobody else did.
My web 2 startup was called SiteAdvisor. When my co-founders and I started developing the idea in 2003, web security was out of control. Phishing and spyware were common on Internet Explorer PCs. SiteAdvisor was designed to warn users about security threats like phishing and spyware, and then, using web 2 concepts like user-generated reviews, add more subjective judgments (similar to what TrustPilot seems to do today). This staged approach was common at the time; I called it "Come for the tool, stay for the network." We built APIs, encouraged mashups, and did SEO marketing.
Yahoo's 2005 acquisitions of Flickr and Delicious boosted web 2 in 2005. By today's standards, the amounts were small, around $30M each, but it was a signal. Web 2 was assumed to be a fun hobby, a way to build cool stuff, but not a business. Yahoo was a savvy company that said it would make web 2 a priority.
As I recall, that's when web 2 started becoming mainstream tech. Early web 2 founders transitioned successfully. Other entrepreneurs built on the early enthusiasts' work. Competition shifted from ideation to execution. You had to decide if you wanted to be an idealistic indie bar band or a pragmatic stadium band.
Web 2 was booming in 2007 Facebook passed 10M users, Twitter grew and got VC funding, and Google bought YouTube. The 2008 financial crisis tested entrepreneurs' resolve. Smart people predicted another great depression as tech funding dried up.
Many people struggled during the recession. 2008-2011 was a golden age for startups. By 2009, talented founders were flooding Apple's iPhone app store. Mobile apps were booming. Uber, Venmo, Snap, and Instagram were all founded between 2009 and 2011. Social media (which had replaced web 2), cloud computing (which enabled apps to scale server side), and smartphones converged. Even if social, cloud, and mobile improve linearly, the combination could improve exponentially.
This chart shows how I view product and financial cycles. Product and financial cycles evolve separately. The Nasdaq index is a proxy for the financial sentiment. Financial sentiment wildly fluctuates.
Next row shows iconic startup or product years. Bottom-row product cycles dictate timing. Product cycles are more predictable than financial cycles because they follow internal logic. In the incubation phase, enthusiasts build products for other enthusiasts on nights and weekends. When the right mix of technology, talent, and community knowledge arrives, products go mainstream. (I show the biggest tech cycles in the chart, but smaller ones happen, like web 2 in the 2000s and fintech and SaaS in the 2010s.)
Tech has changed since the 2000s. Few tech giants dominate the internet, exerting economic and cultural influence. In the 2000s, web 2 was ignored or dismissed as trivial. Entrenched interests respond aggressively to new movements that could threaten them. Creative patterns from the 2000s continue today, driven by enthusiasts who see possibilities where others don't. Know where to look. Crypto and web 3 are where I'd start.
Today's negative financial sentiment reminds me of 2008. If we face a prolonged downturn, we can learn from 2008 by preserving capital and focusing on the long term. Keep an eye on the product cycle. Smart people are interested in things with product potential. This becomes true. Toys become necessities. Hobbies become mainstream. Optimists build the future, not cynics.
Full article is available here
15 days ago
SaaS payback period data
It's ok and even desired to be unprofitable if you're gaining revenue at a reasonable cost and have 100%+ net dollar retention, meaning you never lose customers and expand them. To estimate the acceptable cost of new SaaS revenue, we compare new revenue to operating loss and payback period. If you pay back the customer acquisition cost in 1.5 years and never lose them (100%+ NDR), you're doing well.
To evaluate payback period, we compared new revenue to net operating loss for the last 73 SaaS companies to IPO since October 2017. (55 out of 73). Here's the data. 1/(new revenue/operating loss) equals payback period. New revenue/operating loss equals cost of new revenue.
Payback averages a year. 55 SaaS companies that weren't profitable at IPO got a 1-year payback. Outstanding. If you pay for a customer in a year and never lose them (100%+ NDR), you're establishing a valuable business. The average was 1.3 years, which is within the 1.5-year range.
New revenue costs $0.96 on average. These SaaS companies lost $0.96 every $1 of new revenue last year. Again, impressive. Average new revenue per operating loss was $1.59.
Loss-in-operations definition. Operating loss revenue COGS S&M R&D G&A (technical point: be sure to use the absolute value of operating loss). It's wrong to only consider S&M costs and ignore other business costs. Operating loss and new revenue are measured over one year to eliminate seasonality.
Operating losses are desirable if you never lose a customer and have a quick payback period, especially when SaaS enterprises are valued on ARR. The payback period should be under 1.5 years, the cost of new income < $1, and net dollar retention 100%.
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7 days ago
195 countries want Terra Luna founder Do Kwon
Interpol has issued a red alert on Terraform Labs' CEO, South Korean prosecutors said.
After the May crash of Terra Luna revealed tax evasion issues, South Korean officials filed an arrest warrant for Do Kwon, but he is missing.
Do Kwon is now a fugitive in 195 countries after Seoul prosecutors placed him to Interpol's red list. Do Kwon hasn't commented since then. The red list allows any country's local authorities to apprehend Do Kwon.
Do Dwon and Terraform Labs were believed to have moved to Singapore days before the $40 billion wipeout, but Singapore authorities said he fled the country on September 17. Do Kwon tweeted that he wasn't on the run and cited privacy concerns.
Do Kwon was not on the red list at the time and said he wasn't "running," only to reply to his own tweet saying he hasn't jogged in a while and needed to trim calories.
Whether or not it makes sense to read too much into this, the reality is that Do Kwon is now on Interpol red list, despite the firmly asserts on twitter that he does absolutely nothing to hide.
South Korean authorities are investigating alleged withdrawals of over $60 million U.S. and seeking to freeze these assets. Korean authorities believe a new wallet exchanged over 3000 BTC through OKX and Kucoin.
Do Kwon and the Luna Foundation Guard (of whom Do Kwon is a key member of) have declined all charges and dubbed this disinformation.
Singapore's Luna Foundation Guard (LFG) manages the Terra Ecosystem.
The Legal Situation
Multiple governments are searching for Do Kwon and five other Terraform Labs employees for financial markets legislation crimes.
South Korean authorities arrested a man suspected of tax fraud and Ponzi scheme.
The U.S. SEC is also examining Terraform Labs on how UST was advertised as a stablecoin. No legal precedent exists, so it's unclear what's illegal.
The future of Terraform Labs, Terra, and Terra 2 is unknown, and despite what Twitter shills say about LUNC, the company remains in limbo awaiting a decision that will determine its fate. This project isn't a wise investment.
6 months ago
What An Inverted Yield Curve Means For Investors
The yield spread between 10-year and 2-year US Treasury bonds has fallen below 0.2 percent, its lowest level since March 2020. A flattening or negative yield curve can be a bad sign for the economy.
What Is An Inverted Yield Curve?
In the yield curve, bonds of equal credit quality but different maturities are plotted. The most commonly used yield curve for US investors is a plot of 2-year and 10-year Treasury yields, which have yet to invert.
A typical yield curve has higher interest rates for future maturities. In a flat yield curve, short-term and long-term yields are similar. Inverted yield curves occur when short-term yields exceed long-term yields. Inversions of yield curves have historically occurred during recessions.
Inverted yield curves have preceded each of the past eight US recessions. The good news is they're far leading indicators, meaning a recession is likely not imminent.
Every US recession since 1955 has occurred between six and 24 months after an inversion of the two-year and 10-year Treasury yield curves, according to the San Francisco Fed. So, six months before COVID-19, the yield curve inverted in August 2019.
The spread between two-year and 10-year Treasury yields was 0.18 percent on Tuesday, the smallest since before the last US recession. If the graph above continues, a two-year/10-year yield curve inversion could occur within the next few months.
According to Bank of America analyst Stephen Suttmeier, the S&P 500 typically peaks six to seven months after the 2s-10s yield curve inverts, and the US economy enters recession six to seven months later.
Investors appear unconcerned about the flattening yield curve. This is in contrast to the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF TLT +2.19% which was down 1% on Tuesday.
Inversion of the yield curve and rising interest rates have historically harmed stocks. Recessions in the US have historically coincided with or followed the end of a Federal Reserve rate hike cycle, not the start.
1 month ago
Dehumanization Against Anthropomorphization
We've fought for humanity's sake. We need equilibrium.
We live in a world of opposites (black/white, up/down, love/hate), thus life is a game of achieving equilibrium. We have a universe of paradoxes within ourselves, not just in physics.
Individually, you balance your intellect and heart, but as a species, we're full of polarities. They might be gentle and compassionate, then ruthless and unsympathetic.
We desire for connection so much that we personify non-human beings and objects while turning to violence and hatred toward others. These contrasts baffle me. Will we find balance?
Assigning human-like features or bonding with objects is common throughout childhood. Cartoons often give non-humans human traits. Adults still anthropomorphize this trait. Researchers agree we start doing it as infants and continue throughout life.
Humans of all ages are good at humanizing stuff. We build emotional attachments to weather events, inanimate objects, animals, plants, and locales. Gods, goddesses, and fictitious figures are anthropomorphized.
Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, features anthropization. Hanks is left on an island, where he builds an emotional bond with a volleyball he calls Wilson.
We became emotionally invested in Wilson, including myself.
Why do we do it, though?
Our instincts and traits helped us survive and thrive. Our brain is alert to other people's thoughts, feelings, and intentions to assist us to determine who is safe or hazardous. We can think about others and our own mental states, or about thinking. This is the Theory of Mind.
Neurologically, specialists believe the Theory of Mind has to do with our mirror neurons, which exhibit the same activity while executing or witnessing an action.
Mirror neurons may contribute to anthropization, but they're not the only ones. In 2021, Harvard Medical School researchers at MGH and MIT colleagues published a study on the brain's notion of mind.
“Our study provides evidence to support theory of mind by individual neurons. Until now, it wasn’t clear whether or how neurons were able to perform these social cognitive computations.”
Neurons have particular functions, researchers found. Others encode information that differentiates one person's beliefs from another's. Some neurons reflect tale pieces, whereas others aren't directly involved in social reasoning but may multitask contributing factors.
Combining neuronal data gives a precise portrait of another's beliefs and comprehension. The theory of mind describes how we judge and understand each other in our species, and it likely led to anthropomorphism. Neuroscience indicates identical brain regions react to human or non-human behavior, like mirror neurons.
Some academics believe we're wired for connection, which explains why we anthropomorphize. When we're alone, we may anthropomorphize non-humans.
Humanizing non-human entities may make them deserving of moral care, according to another theory. Animamorphizing something makes it responsible for its actions and deserves punishments or rewards. This mental shift is typically apparent in our connections with pets and leads to deanthropomorphization.
Dehumanizing involves denying someone or anything ethical regard, the opposite of anthropomorphizing.
Dehumanization occurs throughout history. We do it to everything in nature, including ourselves. We experiment on and torture animals. We enslave, hate, and harm other groups of people.
Race, immigrant status, dress choices, sexual orientation, social class, religion, gender, politics, need I go on? Our degrading behavior is promoting fascism and division everywhere.
Dehumanizing someone or anything reduces their agency and value. Many assume they're immune to this feature, but tests disagree.
It's inevitable. Humans are wired to have knee-jerk reactions to differences. We are programmed to dehumanize others, and it's easier than we'd like to admit.
Why do we do it, though?
Dehumanizing others is simpler than humanizing things for several reasons. First, we consider everything unusual as harmful, which has helped our species survive for hundreds of millions of years. Our propensity to be distrustful of others, like our fear of the unknown, promotes an us-vs.-them mentality.
Since WWII, various studies have been done to explain how or why the holocaust happened. How did so many individuals become radicalized to commit such awful actions and feel morally justified? Researchers quickly showed how easily the mind can turn gloomy.
The us-versus-them attitude is natural and even young toddlers act on it. Without a relationship, empathy is more difficult.
It's terrifying how quickly dehumanizing behavior becomes commonplace. The current pandemic is an example. Most countries no longer count deaths. Long Covid is a major issue, with predictions of a handicapped tsunami in the future years. Mostly, we shrug.
In 2020, we panicked. Remember everyone's caution? Now Long Covid is ruining more lives, threatening to disable an insane amount of our population for months or their entire lives.
There's little research. Experts can't even classify or cure it. The people should be outraged, but most have ceased caring. They're over covid.
We're encouraged to find a method to live with a terrible pandemic that will cause years of damage. People aren't worried about infection anymore. They shrug and say, "We'll all get it eventually," then hope they're not one of the 30% who develops Long Covid.
We can correct course before further damage. Because we can recognize our urges and biases, we're not captives to them. We can think critically about our thoughts and behaviors, then attempt to improve. We can recognize our deficiencies and work to attain balance.
We're currently attempting to find equilibrium between opposites. It's superficial to defend extremes by stating we're only human or wired this way because both imply we have no control.
Being human involves having self-awareness, and by being careful of our thoughts and acts, we can find balance and recognize opposites' purpose.
Extreme anthropomorphizing and dehumanizing isolate and imperil us. We anthropomorphize because we desire connection and dehumanize because we're terrified, frequently of the connection we crave. Will we find balance?