Olson’s Observations

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What do VCs think about the market meltdown?

with 3 comments

This is a question I have been hearing a lot lately and one that I have thought a lot about.  My initial reaction is simply that VCs are long term investors so we don’t freak out about these market fluctuations.  A couple other thoughts I had were simply that the limited partners in VC funds are so large that they will continue to be good for their commitments and that the IPO market is already non-existent so, from that perspective, things can’t get much worse with regards to the the IPO-as-exit exit strategy (however, they can get worse from the get-acquired-by-big-co exit strategy).

Matt McCall referenced a post today on his blog that came from PE Week.  The PE Week post did mention the “long term” comment and some others but also suggested that VCs and their portfolio companies have actually become smarter about business since the dotcom bust and that has helped them weather the current storm without too much worry.

Below you will find the four ways that VCs and portfolio companies have changed since the dotcom bust as published in the PE Week article.  The mindset is certainly different than it was in the bubble but in some ways it is still the same (just this week I saw a couple situations of startups acquiring startups which made me wonder a bit about exit strategies).

1. Better Money Management: Milestones matter to VCs. Ask any entrepreneur, and you’ll find it’s likely he or she are getting money in tranches based on deliverables. Most tranches go through, even when milestones aren’t met, but the process allows VCs a better way of keeping track of the progress of their portfolio companies. VCs are less likely to write mega checks in the early stages, many have raised the bar of proof points needed to get a big round. Money is also more likely to go to things that directly drive valuation increases as a smaller percentage of any round is going to PCs, servers and bandwidth.

2. New Sales Models: It used to be about “Big Game Hunting” and multimillion dollar site licenses. It’s a model that was great for vendors: get all the money up front, then worry about delivering the product. But Software as a Service permanently transformed the way IT was sold. Now new installations are cheaper and can be scaled slowly. It’s a model that’s been adopted by IT appliance and PC companies as well. So when Datamonitor finds that IT budgets aren’t going to rise in 2009 Datamonitor Survey , there’s less reason to freak out. Most IT buyers have already planned their spend out: it’ll be re-upping on the services they’re already subscribed to.

3. Decreased Addiction to Advertising: The banner ad was a big part of any dotcom business model. When advertising budgets fell, hundreds of online businesses shriveled on the vine. Now, online businesses look less to online advertising for real revenue. Google Adwords had a big hand in that. Suddenly it was a lot easier to install advertising on your site, but it was also less lucrative. Nobody ever got rich putting up Google Ads, but at least using the service saves companies from having to hire expensive advertising sales people. The addiction to advertising has been broken and many companies are looking for other ways to make real value online.

4. Moderate Exit Expectations: If you’re not looking to flip a startup to the public market, what do you care that Wall Street’s investment banks are falling like dominos? Had this same crisis had happened 10 years ago, you can bet VCs would be pulling their hair out. But when there are already no IPOs, it’s hard for the public market to get worse. When exit expectations are more reasonable, it’s easier to keep cash burn in check. Startups are less likely to build out sales teams, for example, planning perhaps to later plug in to an exisiting sales organization via aquisition.

Written by Eric Olson

September 25th, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Posted in VC

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