As a follow up to the previous post on the Series A crunch( Series A Crunch), it's important to also think of alternatives. Yes, my principal thesis is that seed-funded companies without institutional investment should focus first on their core business and customers in order to get over the financing hump. That being said, the smart company also looks at alternatives.
If you're a startup that has been bootstrapped, hasn't raised any institutional money, and will need money anytime in 2013, you should strongly consider selling. Why?
1. The angel market is about to dry up
Everyone feels it. There's lots of competition right now for angel money, and few angel groups really have an efficient process for looking at lots of deals. To be blunt, so few angel groups have high volume deal screening processes that there's a bottleneck in looking for angel money. So, if an angel group tells you that their process takes 30 days, well, it actually takes 60 to 90. If they say 60 days, it's really 6 months.
In addition, there are so few cash on cash returns at the seed stage that a lot of angels are illiquid as well. That means they're waiting for cash buyers for existing portfolio companies in order to get back in the market.
2. VC's are being "Crunched" as well, and will act accordingly
There's another crunch going on; it's the Underperforming VC Crunch. Most venture capital firms underperform the S&P, and have done so for the last decade. A number of LP's are reconsidering their allocation to VC; CalPers for example is reducing their allocation from 7% to 2% or less.
That means that in order to justify their existence, those firms which aren't in a select few will have to drop eye-popping returns on at least 1 deal that captures headlines. That deal may/may not drive the overall portfolio, but will give the VC firm a reason to lobby for another LP allocation. To do this, VC's will tend to do later stage deals, even though their charter might be to invest earlier stage (Series B at a Series A Price). This is all about survival and justification of that 2% management fee, so charter be damned.
So, if you're a seed funded company looking at a "true" Series A where you have some revenue, customers, product, etc, but haven't begun to auto-scale, you're SOL. 9 out of 10 VC firms are just not going to be up for company building right now. For them, they're in their own "crunch", and in the battle for survival between you and them, well, guess who they'll pick?
3. There is an innovation gap that advantages startups; this means YOU!
Since the financial crisis, the level of R&D by both public and private companies has been somewhat suppressed. What that means is that the VP of Engineering/VP of R&D for larger companies has a list of innovations he/she would love to have, but has never been able to fund. That's where startups come in. If you're seed funded and have an actual product, your offering helps those companies accelerate their own plan. For the seed-funded entrepreneur, you get access to larger distribution channels and resources you don't have. It's a Win-Win.
To survive the Series A Crunch is going to take a lot of nerve, hard work, and an iron stomach. As you gird yourself for more capital raising, don't turn away from the acquisition route as well. If you find the right investors who are up for company building, carry on. If you don't find enough of them, M&A provides an alternative path that benefits your startup, your investors, the acquirer, and you the entrepreneur. Particularly without the "overhang" of VC preferences, M&A could be a BETTER outcome for early investors and entrepreneurs than with continued capital raising.