Is there an optimal time of year to raise a seed round? The chart above shows the number of seed rounds by quarter of the year from 2009-2013. At first blush, it would seem that the first quarter of the year is the most attractive period to raise a seed round. But that's a faulty conclusion.
Some of the best content to be found about startups is locked in books. Thomas Kjemperud asked me yesterday for a 140 character recommendation of one book for founders. Reducing my list to just one and condensing an argument for why founders ought to read it in just 117 characters was just too great a challenge for me. Instead I've written a blog post about the nine favorite books I've read over the last five years have helped me understand startups and the processes that make them successful. They range from written 70 years ago to written in the past 3 years. They have been written by salespeople, CTOs, speechwriters, consultants and magnates. These are the books I go back to, time and again, when I have a question or I'm looking for an insight. If they weren't all e-books, they would be dog-eared and foxed.
Last week, we reviewed the state of the public SaaS market and observed the average company had lost 33% of its value from their highs. How have newly public consumer companies fared in the same environment and what does that mean for the tech industry broadly?
At a board meeting last week, one of the VPs of Marketing I'm lucky to work with presented a brilliantly simple way of explaining the evolution of a startup's marketing tactics. I've drawn a diagram of the idea above, which borrows heavily from McKinsey's 3 horizons. Startups have many different marketing options at their disposal: SEO/SEM, print, radio, TV, mail, affiliate, content marketing...The list goes on and on. Faced with this litany of options, how does a startup maximize their marketing effectiveness?
Earlier this week, I wrote about the increase in cash compensation and decline in equity grants to VPs of Engineering and Product in startups]. I received a lot of comments about the analysis, and in particular hypotheses to explain the data. I dug a bit deeper into the data set to find an explanation. Founding employees keep more equity today than ever through the Series A and Series B.
What a difference three weeks make! Since I wrote "The Correction in SaaS Company Valuations", SaaS company valuations have continued to fall. As a basket, SaaS companies have fallen 33% from their highs (median), wiping all the gains for the last year. To make that point more explicit, below I've charted the total value of public SaaS companies over the last ten months. In that time period, the aggreggate enterprise value has fallen from greater than $150B to $117B today.
Since 2008, there has been a secular trend to increase cash compensation and decrease equity to startup management teams. Tho two tables above tell the story for VPs of Engineering (VPE) and VPs of Product (VPP) across the US broadly and in the SF Bay Area. In the past 5 years, VPEs have benefitted from a 10 to 16% increase in their cash compensation, but have seen their equity grants fall by 17-19%. The same pattern holds true for VPPs: an 8-26% increas in cash and a 25-30% drop in equity grants.
The chart above compares the contribution of two hypothetical inside sales people with $400,000 quotas to an early-stage startup's finances. In this case, contribution is the 18 month revenue of sold customers tallied cumulatively minus the salary costs of $100k annualized of the sales person. I've modeled a six month linear ramp for the sales person to reach 100% of quota. w
One of the key metrics that I don't think gets enough notice when reviewing the health of a SaaS business is revenue-at-risk or RaR. For SaaS businesses with quarterly or annual contracts, each month some subset of the customer base's contracts must be renewed. The RaR is the sum of the revenue from these customers in a given month or quarter. RaR is a useful measure because it captures the company's opportunity to minimize lost customer revenue. Identifying customers at risk and proactively engaging them, cultivating a relationship and providing them account support can meaningfully improve a SaaS company's churn rates.
Pricing is one of the hardest things for startups to get right because there is no universal and constant price optimum. As a SaaS startup's product evolves and offers more features, the product's price points should increase. As a sales team or marketing team engages different customer segments, price points may vary wildly. The contract for a F500 should have very different pricing than a startup, because of the stark contrast in the different companies' willingness to pay and value associated with buying the product. When competitors influence the market place, price points may change. Conferences, seasonality, news events, business development relationships, sales promotions all may impact pricing.