Raising money has always been hard, but today's fundraising environment has some new edges for entrepreneurs, according to the latest venture capital and private equity fundraising report from Pitchbook.
For the newest entrepreneurs and the youngest companies, the first financing check is becoming harder than ever.
It's not just a matter of venture capital investors like me being pickier, which perhaps they are, but it's also a matter of less capital being available at the early stage than ever before. First, there's geography. Over 50 percent of all the funds raised in the past year are from just one state. You guessed it: California. Are 50 percent of the entrepreneurs in California? Of course not, but some of you move there every day.
Then there's the number of boots on the street from the investor side. Companies that invest in venture funds, called LPs, are investing in fewer managers, creating a consolidation of capital.
There's also the check size conundrum. The larger the fund, the harder it is for entrepreneurs to find check sizes that are suitable for their growth plan. Pitchbook analyst Dylan Cox writes, "the median fund size has tripled from just $28 million in 2012 to $84 million as of the first half of 2017." Fund size is strongly correlated with the minimum check size a fund will write. In theory, you'd probably gladly take a larger check. In practice, the early stages of your company tend to attract smaller checks--and there are just fewer of them than there were a few years ago.
Crowdfunding, corporate venture, and other fresh fundraising strategies.
A lot of early stage companies are finding success with crowdfunding. Another approach is to focus on the venture firms that invest in your space and have just closed funds, because their fresh capital is often deployed relatively aggressively. A third strategy is to seek a corporate venture partner to join your round. CVCs, as they're known, are among the most active investors today and typically don't have a standard check size.
Private equity is also raising larger funds with fewer managers.
The good news is there is $732 billion in capital invested in private equity (PE) funds that hasn't been deployed yet. For entrepreneurs open to an exit to a PE firm, the next few years will be going your way.
Last year, private equity funds had their best year in a decade. This year, it's looking even stronger, on track for a 24 percent increase in value, according to that Pitchbook report. Even though, as the report states, "late-cycle vintages tend to underperform their early-cycle peers... that certainly hasn't deterred LPs from committing to PE recently."
The number of PE funds decreased in 2015 and 2016, and is likely to decrease again as the industry sees further consolidation among managers, even as the overall capital ready to use keeps growing. That means PE firms will be deploying increasingly larger checks in a market that is relatively flat on new company formation. While the Pitchbook report warns investors that, "we may experience a future market where expected PE returns are far lower than historical norms," it's still basically good news for entrepreneurs seeking exits. The competitive market to put capital to work will create a great market for private exits in the next few years.