Stop focusing on your startup valuation!
It never ceases to amaze me how hung up entrepreneurs get on the valuation of their startup as they raise money. It came up in a coaching session again yesterday.
In the abstract yes, valuation matters. It tells you how much of your company you are going to sell in order to raise money. It sets a baseline for you which you will (hopefully) exceed on your next raise. It’s a validation that your work has value.
But it is NOT a measure of pride, or ego, or size.
Your valuation, like a stock price, is a reflection of the perceived value of your company at the moment in time when you are raising money. There will be times when the startup market is hot and you can command more, there will be times when it has cooled because of an economic downturn, or a global pandemic, and your valuation will be lower. Or the market your idea is in is hot, or not.
What matters more than valuation is: Are you getting the right amount of money to give your idea life? Think about the next one, or two, major milestones you need to achieve to prove your idea will work and is scalable. Then figure out how much money you need to raise to get 90-120 days past the critical proof point. Add to that number to allow for the unexpected and that is how much you must raise. Once you have that you are looking for an investing partner who shares you vision and will be with you on the journey.
The other consideration is what value opportunity are you creating for your employees? The higher the valuation on funding the higher their option strike price and so the less money they will make when you finally reach liquidity. Now, if your company is a rocket ship, the difference between an option price of 50 cents or a dollar doesn’t matter, but at a later stage the difference can matter and when there is a preference stack on your company getting greedy can wipe out your employees’ opportunity. We’ve seen this happen with unicorns who achieved huge valuations only to have them come down dramatically on sale or IPO. So don’t lose sight of the need to make your employees money as well as yourself.
I have written before that all venture capital firms are not equal. Some are good, some are awful. The same applies to angels btw. I have seen short-sighted angels do more damage to young companies and entrepreneurs than I would have thought possible by focusing on their cut and not the long term health of the company.
It is more important to a) raise the money you need and b) find a long term investing partner than finding the best possible valuation. If you own 40% of your company but it is worth $20M at the end you have short changed yourself and the impact your idea can have if, instead, you own 15% and it is worth $1B.
Photo: Stone canon balls Jordan © 2017 Penny Herscher