Looking for a better exit? Get out of the game early

VC investing is a game of putting money into a company and hopefully getting more out. In an ideal world, the value placed on a company at acquisition or initial public offering would be some large multiple of the amount of money its investors committed.

As it happens, that multiple on invested capital (MOIC) makes for a fairly decent heuristic for measuring company and investor performance. Most critically, it provides a handy metric to use for answering these questions: For US-based companies, have exit multiples changed in a meaningful way over time? And, if so, does this suggest something about the investment landscape overall?

Coming up with an answer to this question required a specific subset of funding and exit data from Crunchbase. If you’re interested in the how and why behind the data, check out the Data and Methodology section at the very end of the article. If not, we’ll cut right to the chase.

Exit multiples may be on the rise

A rather conservative analysis of Crunchbase data suggests that, over the past decade or so, exit multiples were on the rise before leveling off somewhat.

Below, you can see a chart depicting median MOIC for a set of U.S.-based companies with complete (as best we can tell) equity funding histories stretching back to Series A or earlier, which also have a known valuation at time of exit. That valuation is either the price paid by an acquirer or the value of the company at the time it went public. In an effort to reduce the impact of outliers, we only used companies with two or more recorded funding rounds. With that throat-clearing out of the way, here’s median MOIC over time:

It should be noted for the record that the shape of the above chart somewhat changes depending on the data is filtered. Including exit multiples for companies with only one reported funding round resulted in slightly higher median figures for each year and a more steady linear climb upward. But that’s probably due to the number of comically-high multiples some companies with single small rounds and large exit values produced. There are surely examples of companies that raised $1 million once and later sold for $100 million, but those are fewer and further between than companies with missing data from later rounds.

What might be driving the rise in exit multiples?

The rise in exit multiples may have to do with the fact that more companies are getting acquired at earlier stages.

Crunchbase data suggests that startups earlier in the funding cycle tend to deliver better exit multiples. In an effort to denoise the data a bit, we took the Crunchbase exit dataset and filtered out the companies that raised only one round. (Companies that raised only one round produced a lot of crazy outlier data points that skewed final results.)

This suggests that, in general, the earlier a startup is acquired in the funding cycle the more likely it is to deliver larger multiples on invested capital.

Now, granted, we’re working off of small sample sets with a fair amount of variability here, particularly for startups on opposite ends of the funding lifecycle. There is going to be some sampling bias here. Founders and investors are less likely to self-report disappointing numbers; therefore, these findings aren’t ironclad from the perspective of statistical significance.

But it’s a finding that nonetheless echoes a prior Crunchbase News analysis, which found a slight but statistically significant inverse relationship between the amount of capital a startup raises and the multiple its exit delivers to investors and other stakeholders. In other words, startups that raise less money (such as those at seed and early-stage) tend to deliver better multiples on invested capital.

The changing population of companies finding exits

So does the tendency for earlier-stage companies to deliver better investment multiples have anything to do with upward movement in MOIC ratios? It could, particularly if more seed and early-stage startups are headed to the exit these days. And as it turns out, our data suggest that’s happening.

The chart below shows the breakdown of exits for venture-backed companies based on the last stage of funding the company raised prior to being acquired or going public. We show a decade’s worth of funding data, this time including all exits from U.S. companies with known venture funding histories since seed or early stage—some 5,275 liquidity events in all. For 2018, we also include stats for exits through the beginning of May. Given reporting delays and the fact that there are still eight months left in the year, this is certainly subject to change.

Now, to be clear, over the past decade, there has been some notable growth in the overall number of exits for U.S.-based venture-backed companies across all stages.

But, in some ways, the raw number of deals doesn’t much matter. After all, figures from several years ago aren’t really actionable to founders and investors looking for an exit sometime this year. What matters, then, is what the mix of exits looks like, and at least for the set of companies we analyzed here, the past ten years brought an ultimately small but nonetheless notable shift in the mix of companies that get acquired or go public.

Seed and early-stage companies now make up a larger proportion of the population of exited companies now than in the past. And since companies at that stage tend to deliver higher multiples, it is likely responsible for part of the increase over time.

There are certainly other factors besides the influx of seed and early-stage ventures into the mix of exits, but sussing those out will require further investigation.

It should go without saying that any venture-backed company that gets acquired or goes public is a success, at least of some sort. After all, a tiny fraction of new businesses secure outside funding from angel investors or venture capitalists, and only a small proportion of those get acquired.

Any exit is better than none.

Data and methodology

Let’s start by saying that there is probably no canonically correct way to do this sort of analysis and that since Crunchbase News is working off of private company data, what hasn’t been aggregated programmatically is subject to self-reporting bias. Founders and investors are more likely to disclose exit valuations that make them look good, so this may skew our findings higher.

Definition of funding stages

Here, we use the same funding stage definitions as Crunchbase News does in its quarterly reporting.

  • Seed/Angel-stage deals include financings that are classified as a seed or angel, including accelerator fundings and equity crowdfunding below $5 million.
  • Early stage venture include financings that are classified as a Series A or B, venture rounds without a designated series that are below $15M, and equity crowdfunding above $5 million.
  • Late stage venture include financings that are classified as a Series C+ and venture rounds greater than $15M.
  • Technology Growth include private equity investments in companies that have previously raised venture capital rounds.

Building the base dataset

Here are the basic process we used:

  1. We started by aggregating pre-IPO venture funding raised by U.S.-based companies. We focused only on equity funding only (angel, seed, convertible notes, equity crowdfunding, Series A, Series B, etc.), and did not include debt financing, grants, product crowdfunding, or other non-equity funding events. We did include private equity rounds, if and only if PE was the terminal round and the company had raised a seed, angel, or VC round prior to raising PE.
  2. For each company, we recorded the stage of its first and last known funding rounds.
  3. We excluded any company whose first round was Series B or later.
  4. We excluded companies that were missing dollar amounts for any of their equity funding rounds.
  5. We then retrieved the valuations at acquisition or IPO for each of the companies, again excluding any companies for which terminal private market valuation was not known.
  6. Finally, for each company, we divided valuation at exit by the amount of known venture funding, resulting in the multiple on invested capital from equity financing events.

In conjunction with choosing to start with Series A and earlier funding events, we believe this produced a set of companies with reasonably complete funding histories. Granted, there are “unknown unknowns,” like later rounds that weren’t captured in Crunchbase, but there is no good way to control for those.

Q1 2018 global diversity investment report: Investing trends in female founders

In this report, we look at venture and seed investment trends in female-founded startups over the last five quarters. For this time period, we look at more than 9,119 venture deals and 6,802 seed deals for companies with founders associated.

To begin, $3.6 billion was invested in companies with at least one female founder in Q1 2018. That result was up 60 percent from Q1 2017’s $2.2 billion tally but down from Q4 2017 by 30 percent. We fully expect this amount to go up as more fundings are added for the quarter retroactively.

Overall, the money invested into companies with at least one female founder represents just nine percent of venture dollars invested in Q1 2018. That is one percentage point below Q1 2017’s 10 percent result. The second, third and fourth quarters of 2017 all presented higher percentages, as well: 14, 15 and 15 percent of venture dollars invested in those quarters, respectively.

When we narrow the criteria, however, the figures fall. In the Q1 2018, three percent of venture dollars were invested in solo female founders.

From a deal volume perspective, Q1 2018 saw 14 percent of venture deals include at least one female founder. That result mirrored the year-ago, Q1 2017 figure. However, in line with what we saw when looking at 2017’s dollar volume breakdown between teams with and without women, the interim quarters showed a higher deal count at 15 and 16 percent of all venture deals.

Deals of note

While the deal and dollar volume progress will disappoint many, inside the data are a host of interesting deals that we’d like to highlight. However, in the interest of space, we’ve selected three to share.

Here are the notable venture deals made in Q1 2018 with female founders that caught our eye:

  • Glossier: A New York-based direct to consumer beauty company founded by Emily Weiss. Glossier raised a $52 million Series C round. Index Venture and Institutional Venture Partners led the Series C round.
  • DataVisor: A Silicon Valley-based fraud prevention company led by two female founders, Yinglian Xie and Fang Yu. DataVisor raised a Series C round of $40 million. Sequoia Capital China led the round with previous investors NEA and GSR Ventures participating.
  • Zum: A provider of scheduled on-demand rides for parents of children for highly vetted drivers, founded by Ritu Narayan. Zum raised a $19 million Series B round from Spark Capital with previous investors Sequoia Capital and AngelPad participating.

Next, we’ll turn to who is cutting the checks. Or, more precisely, which firms are investing in companies with female founders.

Leading venture investors in female founders

Investors that represented the highest deal count in startups with at least one female founder include Sequoia Capital with seven investments and Omidyar Network with New Enterprise Associates at five each for Q1 2018.

But, of course, investors have different focuses, especially when it comes to startup maturity. So, to that end, we’ll break down investment into companies with female founders of one particular stage.

Seed investments in female founders

Seed-funded companies with at least one female founder raised $218 million in Q1 2018. This represented 18 percent of all seed dollar volume for the quarter, up from 15 percent in Q4 2017 and 17 percent in Q1 2017.

Overall, seed is a leading indicator for venture, and it has been growing year over year in absolute dollar terms and by percent since 2009 when we first started measuring these trends. That means that if the percentage of deals and dollars at the seed level that women are raising is going up, we may be able to expect more women-founded early, middle and late-stage companies to raise venture capital in time.

Here’s a look at the dollar volume of seed capital invested into companies with and without female founders:

Next here’s the same data in relative percentage terms.

Returning to the big picture, seed deal counts are down slightly quarter over quarter. As more than 59 percent of seed deal volume is reported after the end of a specific quarter, the count of seed deals will increase from what is listed below:

Again, we now want to know who was closing these deals with female founders.

Leading seed investors

Leading seed investors in companies with at least one female founder include Y Combinator with 28, SOSV with 10 and BBG Ventures and Innovation Works at five investments each.

Investing in diverse founders

Kapor CapitalBackstage CapitalBBG VenturesBroadway AngelsPipeline Angels and more have been leading the charge to invest in diverse founders. With the increase in the number of female founders in the last five years, pressure has been growing on the broader venture capital community. With 74 percent of the top 100 firms with no female investing partners, bringing women and minorities both into their ranks and into their investment portfolios is a goal.

All Raise sets new goals for investing in diverse founders

AllRaise.org, which launched this past week, led by prominent female venture investors, seeks to impact these numbers. The organization has set the goal within the U.S. for the percent of female investing partners to double from 9 percent to 18 percent within 10 years or by 2028.

Why 10 years? For the venture industry that’s the typical life term of a single fund. Venture is a cottage industry with partners typically committing to stay for the lifetime of one or more funds. Therefore, turnover at the partner level tends to be much slower than other industries. With funds raising ever-larger amounts, and more often, expanding teams provides an opportunity to bring on diverse candidates. According to All Raise, the fastest growth for female partners is not with existing firms, but with new funds.

In the next five years, All Raise would like to see venture investments in female-founded companies move up from 15 percent to 25 percent. The organization is leading efforts to impact these numbers directly with Female Founder Office Hours supporting women who are seeking funding, to having tech founders and CEOs commit to increasing diversity in their team, board and investors.

Crunchbase is partnering with All Raise to keep abreast of these numbers within the U.S. market. For venture investments in female founders, we have a ways to go to get to 25 percent within the next five years. Reviewing the data over the last 10 years, 2015 is the first year that companies with at least one female founder have broken through the threshold of 10 percent of venture dollars. 2017 represents the best full year to date, at 14 percent of venture dollars.

The U.S. market mirrors this percent. We would need to see an average of two percentage growth points each year to reach this goal. With the number of female-founded companies growing slowly each year, these numbers are a stretch; however, it may still be attainable.

What did VCs study in college?

Although some colleges may offer a major program in business or entrepreneurship, there isn’t exactly a major in venture capital or angel investment.

Crunchbase News has already examined where professional VCs and angel investors went to college (yes, there’s some truth to the Harvard and Stanford stereotypes) and when having an MBA matters in the world of entrepreneurial finance. But we haven’t yet looked at one facet of startup investors’ educational backgrounds: what they studied in college. So that’s what we’re going to dive into today.

To accomplish this, we’re going to use the educational histories from nearly 5,000 VC American and Canadian investment partners (e.g. folks who are employed by and invest on behalf of a venture capital firm) and nearly 8,500 angel investors in Crunchbase. For those with undergraduate degrees (e.g. B.S., B.A., A.B., and all manner of other variations) and majors listed, we then categorized majors into broader fields of study.1

In the chart below, you’ll see a breakdown of professional VCs’ college degrees.

Because startup investors are ostensibly focused on technology companies, the fact that most professional venture capitalists have a background in engineering (electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering mostly, but there are some more niche areas like nuclear engineering represented here) or technical subjects (like information systems and materials science) is predictable.

What might be most interesting here is just how few investment partners majored in formal sciences like math or computer science, ranking lower than the humanities by just a hair.

However, this is not the case with angel investors. The chart below displays the breakdown of college degrees for U.S. and Canadian angel investors. It keeps the same color coding as the chart for VCs’ degrees.

Among individual angel investors who are unaffiliated with a venture capital firm, a background in math and computer sciences is more likely.

There are a number of other fun facts to be found in the data:

  • For both professional VCs and angel investors who studied in the social sciences, economics majors vastly outnumber other disciplines like political science, sociology and psychology.
  • Finance, somewhat unsurprisingly, was the most popular subject for investment partners who majored in a business-related field. Undergraduate degrees in marketing and business administration were also common.
  • A lot of angel investors studied entrepreneurship as undergrads, whereas comparatively few professional VCs formally studied the subject.
  • History was, by far, the most popular subject area in the humanities for both angels and venture capitalists.

So what does all of this tell us? At least by our reading, the academic backgrounds of startup investors is quite diverse. And this would make sense. There isn’t a clear career path to becoming a venture capitalist or to having enough money and enthusiasm to make angel investments.

Our first-blush analysis also suggests that folks who studied computer science, mathematics and statistics are potentially under-represented among professional venture capital investors. Considering that many of the startups in which VCs invest are built around a new computing technology on the software or hardware side, this is a rather weird and inexplicable irony.

If you find yourself in college and want to invest in startups someday, either as a professional VC or as an angel investor, study what you want. There’s going to be a lot of other factors besides your undergraduate major that will land you a position in the field.


  1. Biology, chemistry and geology degrees are more broadly categorized as “natural sciences.” Math and computer science are “formal sciences.” Political science, economics, psychology and sociology are part of the “social sciences” field.

Charting the adoption of direct startup investments by family offices

There’s money, and then there’s wealth. In all likelihood, money is what most of us have (or don’t have). It’s what we use to buy lunch, pay rent or put a down payment on a house. Wealth, on the other hand, is what buys yachts. But more than superficial material things, wealth also buys financial security (and all the good and ill that comes with it) for subsequent generations.

What is a family office?

Although close to half of Americans hold no stocks, bonds or real estate, most of the remaining half that are lucky and prosperous enough to do so choose to manage their assets on their own, or perhaps with the help of a financial advisor. But as you move further along the privileged end of the socio-economic curve, managing, preserving and growing one’s wealth becomes more complicated.

Many of the world’s highest-net-worth (HNW) families employ an entire office full of accountants, lawyers and investment professionals to manage their assets. These “family offices” sometimes manage the assets of more than one family, but they are still relatively close-knit.

Historically, family offices haven’t made many direct investments into individual tech startups, instead favoring a more diversified approach to tech investing by being limited partners in venture capital and other private-market funds. Or, outside of tech, they invest in public-market equities, real estate, fixed income or other “alternative” asset classes besides VC, PE and hedge funds, according to a 2017 article about ultra HNW investors’ portfolios from KKR.

Increasingly, however, family offices are investing more into individual tech startups, at least according to anecdotal reports and a recent funding round Crunchbase News covered. But one anecdote doesn’t document a trend, so let’s take a look at the numbers.

Family offices’ direct investment into startups picked up the pace

Data covering direct startup investments from family offices listed in Crunchbase bears out that trend. The chart below is based on more than 1,700 venture deals (seed, angel, equity crowdfunding, Series A, Series B, etc.) struck with individual technology companies by 193 family offices located around the world.

The 193 family offices with listed venture investments are, no doubt, only a fraction of the total count of such groups, which tend to be private. Combined with the fact that many startups are slow to announce funding, it’s not like the list of funding rounds or their participants is comprehensive. However, assuming it’s fairly representative, we can treat the figure above as a directional indicator of general trends.

And what are those trends?

First off, at least when it comes to deal volume, family offices’ startup investment activity tracks with the broader venture investment market (which includes individual angels, venture capital groups, seed funds, accelerators and others).

During the several years leading up to 2015, there was a run-up in the number of deals being struck. After that high point, though, deal volume began to decline in the U.S., which Crunchbase News has documented, as investors eschewed writing many smaller checks to early-stage startups, instead favoring fewer, larger checks with later-stage tech companies. On a global scale, projected deal volume is roughly flat on an annualized basis from 2015 through 2017, whereas reported deal data is down primarily due to reporting delays. Because there are more U.S. family offices that invest in startups than international ones, it’s not surprising to see that family office deal volume hews closer to the U.S. market in general.

Family office venture deal volume growth outpaced VC

But what’s different about family offices — and what lends credence to the anecdotal evidence suggesting there are more family offices investing in more startups — is the growth rate in deal volume over time as compared to institutional venture capital investors. To be sure, worldwide, there were more deals struck by both types of investor in 2017 than in 2010 (even when accounting for reporting delays). But the difference between these two types of investor is in the magnitude of the change.

In the chart below, we compare reported deal volume between VC funds (which have a lot of known deals per year) and family offices (which, as we showed above, have much fewer recorded startup investment deals per year). We adjust for this discrepancy in deal volume by indexing reported deal volume against 2010 levels. In doing so, we’re able to deliver a relativistic, apples-to-apples comparison between the two.

Worldwide, in 2015, reported deal volume from VC firms was almost precisely 2.5x that of 2010’s totals. But that multiple for family offices is roughly 6x. And, although it isn’t pictured above, family office deal volume growth outperformed traditional VC between 2011-2017, 2012-2017 and 2013-2017.

In relative terms, across a range of measures, deal volume growth was higher and faster among family offices than VC funds for a significant period of time. The data suggest that family offices making direct investments into startups recently became a trend. Especially for that period through 2014, family offices were on the early side of the adoption curve for making direct startup investments. Whatever growth we see on the VC side is the product of growth in the market in general, but it’s not like VC funds are still adopting direct startup investments into their repertoire. It’s been their model for decades. For comparatively stodgy family offices, it was still the new, new thing.

Here are the top Midwestern states and cities for startups

The American Midwest has a long history of making stuff. During the 20th century, it was the manufacturing center for the nation, and indeed much of the world. It’s still where a surpassing majority of agricultural commodities are grown and processed. But is it also a major producer of technology startups? Maybe not as much as the coasts, but the Midwest’s bustling metropoli and vast expanses of rural land prove to be fertile ground for quite a bit of startup activity.

And that’s what we’re going to take a look at here. In a similar vein to our recent analysis of startup fundraising in the South, we’ll break down the region into its constituent parts, assessing deal and dollar volume trends in the Midwest’s two primary sub-regions, some of its individual states and the most active metropolitan areas in the U.S.’s midsection.

And, to be clear, this is not Crunchbase News’s first foray into the region. We’ve covered the region’s seed-stage interest in AI and hard tech, a few notable rounds and have always included the Midwest in all manner of data-spelunking expeditions. And to this, we’ll add a deep dive into the numbers.

Defining the midwest

Borders and boundaries are a deep well of disputes. To preempt debate, we use the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of the Midwest region which, unlike its definition of the South, shouldn’t be too controversial. If you have something against Kansas or Ohio being included in this group, take it up with the Feds.

The good folks at the Census Bureau split the Midwest into two distinct — and rather unimaginatively named — sub-regions: the West North Central and East North Central states, which are separated by the Mississippi River. We’ve included the map below.

By splitting the Midwest into two distinct parts, we’ll be able to see where most of the startup and funding activity is concentrated. Spoiler alert: The farther west you go, the startup population (and the population itself) grows more scattered.

Capital flows into Midwestern startups

Based only on reported data in Crunchbase, the Midwest appears to be affected by the same phenomenon as the rest of the country. Crunchbase News has previously found that the number of seed and early-stage deals has gone off a cliff in the U.S., resulting in a top-heavy market featuring many large, late-stage deals. And this wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for a shortfall in new startups to fill the next cycle of early-stage funding. The “hollowing out” of the Midwestern venture deal pipeline becomes readily apparent when you look at funding data for the past several years, which you can find in the chart below.

To wit, deal volume is down markedly since 2014, as Crunchbase News reported in its Q4 2017 report of startup funding activity in the U.S. and Canada. But somewhat counterintuitively, the amount of money being invested into startups is on the rise in the Midwest and throughout many other parts of the country, reaching fresh multi-year highs in 2017. Almost one full quarter into 2018, the trend appears to continue unabated.

But this chart abstracts away a lot of nuance, so let’s take a closer look at the region and its states.

Focusing in on Midwestern deal and dollar volume

We’ll start first with deal volume, because that’s a fairly decent indicator of a geographic region’s level of startup activity. Below, we’ve plotted venture deal volume, divided by sub-region.

Again, based on the reported data from Crunchbase, we found that deal counts have been on a downward trend for several years. And though some of this may be attributable to reporting delays, projected deal volume data for the whole of the U.S. and Canada (fourth chart down in the Q4 quarterly report) shows a years’-long downtrend. There’s no reason to believe that startup activity in the Midwest is materially different from the rest of the U.S. and Canada.

But what about the relative “balance of power” between the two sub-regions? At least when it comes to deal volume, has one sub-region waxed while the other waned? To a limited extent, the answer is yes. Between 2012 and 2017, the percentage share of all Midwestern dealflow going to West North Central states like the Dakotas, Minnesota and Missouri has grown from 25.4 percent to 31.2 percent, up by nearly one-fifth in relative terms.

Now let’s check out dollar volume. The chart below displays aggregate reported venture capital dollar volume raised by startups in the Midwest.

As far as the amount of money Midwestern startups have raised over time, the trendline is generally up and to the right. But that’s not the only way this differs from the deal volume data we looked at earlier. For dollar volume, there appears to be no appreciable change in the “balance of power” between the two sub-regions since 2012. Depending on the year, East North Central states like Illinois, Michigan and Ohio raked in between 70 and 78 percent of total dollar volume, but that variance doesn’t appear in an orderly trend.

Where are most Midwestern deals done?

We started first at the regional level, then compared smaller groupings of states. Now, let’s see how deal and dollar volume is distributed on a state-by-state level. Doing so will point to the states that lead the region in venture-backed startup activity. Below, you’ll find a chart of how deal volume is split between the top five Midwestern states.

And here is how dollar volume is distributed.

As we saw with our analysis of the South, the top five Midwestern states for deal volume are the same five top-ranked states for dollar volume. But there is some notable variation in how these states rank among each other and the amount of deal and dollar volume they account for.

Considering that Illinois is home to Chicago and a number of downstate universities with deep tech startup roots, the fact that it places first for both metrics shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

What might be more of a head-scratcher is Minnesota, which ranks third in deal volume but second in dollar volume. Why does it switch places with Ohio? The answer could lie in the industrial mix which, in the case of Minnesota, includes a disproportionately high number of medical device and other life sciences companies, which typically take a lot of capital to get off the ground.

The top Midwestern startup cities

Longtime readers of Crunchbase News may remember a ranking of Midwestern startup cities we wrote back in August 2017. However, here we’re just focusing on deal and dollar volume over the past 15 months, since the start of 2017.

Let’s start first with the top 10 Midwestern cities as measured by number of startup funding rounds.

And in the chart below, you can see the top cities, as ranked by venture dollar volume, from the same period of time.

In both rankings, four of the top five cities are the same, but the odd one out appears to be Columbus, Ohio. Although there were a fairly large number of rounds raised by startups in that metro area, most of the rounds were fairly small by national standards. And one of the main reasons why Kansas City, Missouri jumped so much in the dollar volume rankings was a $100 million Series F round raised by C2FO.

But, again, as far as the Midwest goes, everything pales in comparison to Chicago alone.

For many, the Midwest is in a kind of Goldilocks zone. The East and West coasts seem to hold more or less equal sway over the culture and economy and most of its cities are neither too big nor too small. The only extreme it seems to occupy is its winter weather.

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