Why Raising Venture Capital is Wrong for Your Company
For some companies, raising venture capital is a bad move. The more money a startup initially raises, the more likely the startup is to fail.
This is no fringe theory. It comes, in fact, from a venture capitalist--Union Square Ventures co-founder Fred Wilson, whose investments have helped the likes of Twitter and Tumblr scale and become successful companies.
"The fact is that the amount of money startups raise in their seed and Series A rounds is inversely correlated with success. Yes, I mean that. Less money raised leads to more success. That is the data I stare at all the time. It makes little sense at face value but it is true based on more than two decades of experience in the startup world," Wilson writes on his blog, A VC.
John Mullins, an associate professor at London Business School and the author of The Customer-Funded Business: Start, Finance, or Grow Your Company with Your Customers' Cash, writes in the Harvard Business Review about the drawbacks of pursuing VC funding. Below, check out four reasons Mullins says it's bad for your company.
Selling yourself to VCs wastes time you could be selling yourself to customers.
Mullins says that "pandering" to venture capitalists is a distraction from the most important aspect of your business--getting customers. If you are wasting time trying to convince venture capitalists that your company will have tons of customers and be profitable instead of actually getting those customers who can make you profitable, you are doing it all wrong. Get the customers first. Trying to raise money "will distract the entrepreneur from doing the more important work of getting the venture onto a productive path," Mullins writes in HBR.
VCs may not have the best advice for you.
Many venture capitalists want to micromanage your startup's every decision. But Mullins says some venture capitalists don't give great advice, or do not have the same intentions you have. "According to an analysis of venture fund returns by Harvard Business School's Josh Lerner, more than half of all VC funds delivered no better than low single-digit returns on investment. Worse, only 20 percent of funds achieved 20 percent returns (or better), a figure that they might be expected to deliver. Incredibly, nearly one in five funds actually delivered below-zero returns," Mullins writes. "Given this performance, you would be forgiven if you wondered just how helpful most VCs' support or 'value-add' is likely to be. Unfortunately, you will very likely to be obliged to follow their sage 'advice.'"
Your ownership shrinks with early investments.
This is a simple one: the bigger the stake you give away in the early stages of your startup's life, the less of the company you will own. If you are motivated by making your own decisions, keeping your baby your own, and reaping all the benefits from a company you paid for in blood, sweat, and tears, hold off on raising money until you are profitable.
"When you raise angel or venture capital early...you start giving away a portion of the company--often a substantial portion--in exchange for the capital you are given. And that portion grows over time, as additional rounds of capital are raised," Mullins writes. "But the best news is this. If you raise money at a somewhat later stage of your entrepreneurial journey, you'll find that many of the drawbacks have largely disappeared. Why? Because with customer traction in hand, you'll be in the driver's seat, and the queue of investors outside your door will have to compete for your deal."
The game has poor odds.
Lastly, the odds are against you. "In the typical successful fund, on average only 1 or 2 in 10 of the portfolio companies--the Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of the world--will actually have delivered attractive, and occasionally stunning, returns. Facebook alone accounted for more than 35 percent of the total VC exit value in the United States in 2012," Mullins writes. "A few more portfolio companies may have paid back the capital that was invested in them, but most of the rest are wipeouts. In the VC game the very few winners pay for the losers, so most VCs are playing a high-stakes all-or-nothing game. Are these the kind of odds with which you'd like to put your new venture into play?"
WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com
Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.