It's no secret that startup land is awash in cash these days, not just from traditional VCs, but also from crowdfunding, accelerators, hedge funds, and others looking to get in on the action. The predictable result has been some jaw-dropping valuations and funding rounds--and the attendant worry about how fast companies are burning through that cash.
"When the market turns, and it will turn, we will find out who has been swimming without trunks on: many high burn rate co's will VAPORIZE," Marc Andreessen warned ominously on Twitter. He's one of many investors sounding the alarm.
But according to a recent article in Knowledge@Wharton an overflowing bank account isn't simply a temptation for an entrepreneur to lose that lean, mean fighting spirit. As hard as it can be to sympathize with founders sitting on a mountain of cash, this situation can actually cause a variety of real dangers, the article argues.
It's not just about burn rate
Like what? Besides the principle threat of burning through the cash too quickly and being left high and dry when the next crisis hits (as it always does), big checks often come with unreasonable or unhealthy expectations from newly empowered investors.
"Money comes with a lot of baggage. Investors will not own a majority of the firm, but they will have a degree of control, including the ability to get the entrepreneur fired," John Mullins, an entrepreneurship professor at London Business School, warns founders. If you hit a rocky period "investors are compelled to tell a company to do certain things to protect the company," adds Wharton management professor David Hsu.
They're not the only ones warning founders against asking for too much money. Cindy Padnos, founder and managing partner of Illuminate Ventures, has also warned that "history shows that capital efficiency--raising no more than you need--has been a better indicator of success than capital access." She explains that overly large checks generally come attached to overly large expectations, which can box founders into making short-term decisions that harm their companies long-term.
"Raising smaller amounts tends to keep your options open and your investors' expectations reasonable. With less money in the bank, you won't be under pressure to ramp up hiring or shoot for a pedal-to-the-medal growth rate. Your investors won't be pushing for a possibly premature exit," she writes.
Anyway, she points out, "new technologies, such as pay-as-you-go cloud computing and open source software, make it much cheaper to start a high-growth business with small amounts of capital."
The bottom line: you may think you'd like to have truly massive amounts of investor cash to play with, but beware what you wish for. The situation that the Wharton article dubs "too rich to succeed" really isn't an oxymoron.