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Bastian Hasslinger

Bastian Hasslinger

Bastian Hasslinger

Bastian Hasslinger

1 month ago

Before 2021, most startups had excessive valuations. It is currently causing issues.

Higher startup valuations are often favorable for all parties. High valuations show a business's potential. New customers and talent are attracted. They earn respect.

Everyone benefits if a company's valuation rises.

Founders and investors have always been incentivized to overestimate a company's value.

Post-money valuations were inflated by 2021 market expectations and the valuation model's mechanisms.

Founders must understand both levers to handle a normalizing market.

2021, the year of miracles

2021 must've seemed miraculous to entrepreneurs, employees, and VCs. Valuations rose, and funding resumed after the first Covid-19 epidemic caution.

In 2021, VC investments increased from $335B to $643B. 518 new worldwide unicorns vs. 134 in 2020; 951 US IPOs vs. 431.

Things can change quickly, as 2020-21 showed.

Rising interest rates, geopolitical developments, and normalizing technology conditions drive down share prices and tech company market caps in 2022. Zoom, the poster-child of early lockdown success, is down 37% since 1st Jan.

Once-inflated valuations can become a problem in a normalizing market, especially for founders, employees, and early investors.

the reason why startups are always overvalued

To see why inflated valuations are a problem, consider one of its causes.

Private company values only fluctuate following a new investment round, unlike publicly-traded corporations. The startup's new value is calculated simply:

(Latest round share price) x (total number of company shares)

This is the industry standard Post-Money Valuation model.

Let’s illustrate how it works with an example. If a VC invests $10M for 1M shares (at $10/share), and the company has 10M shares after the round, its Post-Money Valuation is $100M (10/share x 10M shares).

This approach might seem like the most natural way to assess a business, but the model often unintentionally overstates the underlying value of the company even if the share price paid by the investor is fair. All shares aren't equal.

New investors in a corporation will always try to minimize their downside risk, or the amount they lose if things go wrong. New investors will try to negotiate better terms and pay a premium.

How the value of a struggling SpaceX increased

SpaceX's 2008 Series D is an example. Despite the financial crisis and unsuccessful rocket launches, the company's Post-Money Valuation was 36% higher after the investment round. Why?

Series D SpaceX shares were protected. In case of liquidation, Series D investors were guaranteed a 2x return before other shareholders.

Due to downside protection, investors were willing to pay a higher price for this new share class.

The Post-Money Valuation model overpriced SpaceX because it viewed all the shares as equal (they weren't).

Why entrepreneurs, workers, and early investors stand to lose the most

Post-Money Valuation is an effective and sufficient method for assessing a startup's valuation, despite not taking share class disparities into consideration.

In a robust market, where the firm valuation will certainly expand with the next fundraising round or exit, the inflated value is of little significance.

Fairness endures. If a corporation leaves at a greater valuation, each stakeholder will receive a proportional distribution. (i.e., 5% of a $100M corporation yields $5M).

SpaceX's inherent overvaluation was never a problem. Had it been sold for less than its Post-Money Valuation, some shareholders, including founders, staff, and early investors, would have seen their ownership drop.

The unforgiving world of 2022

In 2022, founders, employees, and investors who benefited from inflated values will face below-valuation exits and down-rounds.

For them, 2021 will be a curse, not a blessing.

Some tech giants are worried. Klarna's valuation fell from $45B (Oct 21) to $30B (Jun 22), Canvas from $40B to $27B, and GoPuffs from $17B to $8.3B.

Shazam and Blue Apron have to exit or IPO at a cheaper price. Premium share classes are protected, while others receive less. The same goes for bankrupts.

Those who continue at lower valuations will lose reputation and talent. When their value declines by half, generous employee stock options become less enticing, and their ability to return anything is questioned.

What can we infer about the present situation?

Such techniques to enhance your company's value or stop a normalizing market are fiction.

The current situation is a painful reminder for entrepreneurs and a crucial lesson for future firms.

The devastating market fall of the previous six months has taught us one thing:

  1. Keep in mind that any valuation is speculative. Money Post A startup's valuation is a highly simplified approximation of its true value, particularly in the early phases when it lacks significant income or a cutting-edge product. It is merely a projection of the future and a hypothetical meter. Until it is achieved by an exit, a valuation is nothing more than a number on paper.

  2. Assume the value of your company is lower than it was in the past. Your previous valuation might not be accurate now due to substantial changes in the startup financing markets. There is little reason to think that your company's value will remain the same given the 50%+ decline in many newly listed IT companies. Recognize how the market situation is changing and use caution.

  3. Recognize the importance of the stake you hold. Each share class has a unique value that varies. Know the sort of share class you own and how additional contractual provisions affect the market value of your security. Frameworks have been provided by Metrick and Yasuda (Yale & UC) and Gornall and Strebulaev (Stanford) for comprehending the terms that affect investors' cash-flow rights upon withdrawal. As a result, you will be able to more accurately evaluate your firm and determine the worth of each share class.

  4. Be wary of approving excessively protective share terms.
    The trade-offs should be considered while negotiating subsequent rounds. Accepting punitive contractual terms could first seem like a smart option in order to uphold your inflated worth, but you should proceed with caution. Such provisions ALWAYS result in misaligned shareholders, with common shareholders (such as you and your staff) at the bottom of the list.