What seed-stage dilution tells us about changing investor expectations

Round sizes are up. Valuations are up. There are more investors than ever hunting unicorns around the globe. But for all the talk about the abundance of venture funding, there is a lot less being said about what it all means for entrepreneurs raising their early funding rounds.

Take for instance Seed-stage dilution. Since 2014, enterprise-focused tech companies have given up significantly more ownership during Seed rounds. What gives?

Scale is an investor in early-in-revenue enterprise technology companies, so we wanted to better understand how this trend in Seed-stage dilution impacts companies raising Series A and Series B rounds.

Using our Scale Studio dataset of performance metrics on nearly 800 cloud and SaaS companies as well as Pitchbook fundraising records covering B2B software startups, we started connecting the dots between trends in valuations, round sizes, and winner-take-all markets.

Bottom line for founders: Don’t let all the capital in venture mislead you. There’s an important connection between higher Seed-stage dilution and increased investor expectations during Series A and Series B rounds.

These days, successful startups are growing up faster than ever.

Founders face an important trade-off decision

Is seed investing still a local business?

According to CB Insights, the number of seed-stage funding deals in the U.S. declined for the fourth straight year in 2018, continuing a trend that has seen the number of deals steadily drop, while the average size of deals increased. It’s safe to say this is the new normal. Yet, there continues to be a huge surplus of available capital and there are more funds out there than ever before.

For new entrepreneurs, as well as repeat founders of early-stage startups, these changing conditions are having a dramatic impact on how, where and from whom they raise early capital. In years past, raising a seed round often boiled down to finding a local VC or angels that would invest a few hundred thousand dollars on just an idea for a company. It was more about who you knew and where you were located, rather than actual traction or feedback from the target market.

But as competition for the best deals has ramped up, legacy investors in Silicon Valley are now beginning to seek investments in startups all over the world, due in large part to the proliferation of elite tech talent. While that may seem like a potential goldmine to entrepreneurs operating outside Silicon Valley, founders need to understand how investors think about investing in startups, particularly outside their home markets.

Here are three things entrepreneurs must remember when investors come calling from abroad.

Distributed teams are no longer a liability, but proximity to market is still a must

The prevailing school of thought historically was that in order for startups to have a legitimate shot at making it, they all have to be located in Silicon Valley or in another top U.S. tech hub. After all, the U.S. is where all the investors and best talent are located. However, that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. Yes, it is still crucial to have a foothold in the U.S., mostly on the business side of the company, as this is where so many potential customers are — but having a distributed team is no longer viewed as a red flag to many investors.

Other markets, like Israel, have proven track records of churning out elite tech talent. We have seen a number of successful startups that set up the company headquarters and at least one founder (usually the CEO) in the U.S. to be near customers and investors, while the rest of the engineering team remains in Israel.

Prudent investors will still require the CEOs of their companies to be in the U.S. market, but that doesn’t mean the R&D team can’t stay in the home market. This means that the other founder/CTO staying back with the R&D team must have the leadership skills necessary to keep everything on track, while the CEO establishes the business headquarters in the U.S.

Investors are hunting for value, often relying on local co-investors

Much has been made over the past few years about the soaring valuations of Silicon Valley startups. Every day it seems like a new company announces a $50 million-plus round of fresh funding, along with a new sky-high valuation. The frenzy created around all that activity has a profound impact not just on those companies themselves, but on all the smaller startups in the broader ecosystem, as well. The overwhelming competition for capital in Silicon Valley is forcing many seed investors to mitigate the inflated valuations in their portfolios by looking for more undervalued and underappreciated opportunities in other markets.

The best investors are not necessarily the biggest.

Valuations for startups outside of the U.S. are typically lower, and represent prime opportunities for investors that are being squeezed from the biggest VC funds that are writing checks earlier in the pipeline and driving up those massive valuations. Typically, late-stage investors would be the ones taking a “gamble” on outside opportunities like those in Israel or Europe, but competition is forcing seed investors to look for early-stage opportunities outside of their immediate geography.

As a result, seed funds are now becoming more open to co-investing with foreign funds. As mentioned above, investors are sourcing deals outside their home markets, but funds are still not comprising much of their portfolio beyond the U.S. These select deals are happening on the edges. In order to find the best deals in a foreign market, U.S. funds often seek local VCs to collaborate with, someone they have maybe done a deal with before that knows the local startup scene inside and out. They are still looking for a process of familiarity, even if it is overseas.

Not all investors add value

As a founder, who you take money from matters a lot. Is it a benefit or to your detriment to take money from investors who are not local to you? How involved will they be?

Startup founders need to think long and hard about the non-monetary value that investors provide. If they are removed from the day to day operations of the company and unaware of challenges the company faces, then what is the point in having them there?

Lately, there has been a rush of large funds to invest at the seed level, offering piles of cash but without any guarantee of long-term value and support. With this new “spray and pray” approach, billion-dollar funds just don’t have the bandwidth and attention to support their small investments the same way they do the larger, more capital-heavy investments.

The best investors are not necessarily the biggest. Instead, the best are the ones constantly adding value to actually help the business grow, whose core focus is to invest at the pre-seed and seed stages of a company. Are they making introductions to potential customers and partners, opening doors to new markets, etc.? Who are the investors that are going to actually help you work through problems? Who will be a partner to you?

Seed investing, like all venture capital, is changing in a meaningful way. What used to be a local, almost neighborhood-oriented process, is now a global business — at least in terms of deal sourcing. Yet, most investors still require physical proximity to the founder/CEO and the company HQ to ensure they can truly help the company execute on its vision.

Dilution: The good, the bad and the ugly

Since 2013, SparkLabs Group has invested in more than 230 companies, and my general advice to our founders and portfolio companies hasn’t changed: I always tell them not to overthink valuation, know what they need in terms of capital for their seed round and how there is “good dilution” and “bad dilution.” Whether your dilution ends up being good or bad (or ugly) generally depends on how well you execute.

To solidify my advice, I sometimes go through the math of possible seed rounds and how future rounds can play out. To keep the discussion simple and focus on my core points, I keep the amount of investment the same and assume the company is starting with a 20% stock option pool, which venture capital firms typically require by a startup’s Series A round.

Three scenarios

I map out three valuations, representing a standard Silicon Valley startup with a pre-money valuation of $5 million (Scenario “A”), a “hot” startup with an $8 million pre-money valuation (Scenario “B”) and an outlier with a pre-money valuation of $12 million (Scenario “C”).

Let’s look at the typical pathway where the founders raise a $2 million seed round on a pre-money valuation of $5 million. They build their product, launch, gain great momentum and successfully raise an $8 million Series A, where even though they don’t get that many lead interests, they get a decent $20 million pre-money valuation.

Let’s assume this startup is in a mature startup space where investors are looking for good revenue traction.  With the $8 million raised, a startup team can face “The Good,” which I define as executing on all cylinders, or “The Bad,” which I would define as a struggle.

Sometimes it’s not about executing poorly or mismanagement. A product can be too early, deal with longer than expected sales cycles or face other factors outside a startup team’s control. Regardless, “The Bad” situation can be where a company isn’t able to raise their Series B at all — or struggles to find investors that still believe in the product and team, and gets funding but not at the best valuation for the founders and team ($15 million raised on a post-money valuation of $50 million).

“The Good” would be a startup hitting traffic, revenues, clients sales or whatever metrics help drive success.  Here the same startup raises a $15 million Series B on a post-money valuation of $95 million.

Scenario “C” was the startup with the outlier valuation at their seed stage that raised a $2 million seed round with a post-money valuation of $14 million. Probably a company founded by a co-founder of Twitter or a hot YC company. Their Series A continues on a similar trajectory, raising $8 million with a post-money valuation of $38 million. Their fork in the road is similar to the prior situation. “The Good” is a Series B that raises $15 million with a post-money valuation of $115 million, while the “The Bad” raises the same amount but has a post-money valuation of $85 million, and the founders owning 39.9% of the company versus 45.1%.

Don’t overthink or overplan your fundraising rounds

The easy conclusion is that it is really hard for founders and a team to predict and plan their fundraising rounds over the next several years, much less how well their product will turn out.

But you can make sure you’re better prepared as entrepreneurs by asking yourself some basic questions:

  • How much capital do you really need to last you 12-18 months?
  • Will this amount allow you to hit milestones to raise your Series A or Series B?

Some startups don’t need much capital to take off, while others need more. An entrepreneur’s problem can be raising too little or too much capital.

During my second startup in 2000 — during the first internet boom when money was flowing easier than today — we raised $7 million as our first round. I would describe that experience as “big rounds are like meth for entrepreneurs,” which typically ends in “The Ugly.” Money burns quicker than most entrepreneurs think. It’s not paper, it’s paper soaked in kerosene. Luckily, while facing bankruptcy, we closed an additional $7.5 million and the company became profitable — but not without a lot of pain and torment.

We have seen a fair number of our founders underestimate their cash needs at the seed round. Then they have to raise additional seed capital, which isn’t easy. Some might have been too confident in their sales ability or how efficient they would be with their capital. Investors might assume those were issues, plus question whether the market is really there, or whether the management team made too many missteps. Be prepared to answer these types of questions if you need to raise additional seed capital.

Pitching the valuation game

We typically remind our founders that the best way to increase their valuation is to execute well and gain enough interest to be offered at least two term sheets.

If you are raising a Series A and your seed round was a convertible note or a SAFE, that cap really isn’t your valuation, so don’t get fixated on that as a minimum. We’ve had portfolio companies with valuation caps of over $30 million pre-money, but their Series A was priced above $20 million. We’ve also had a founder overzealously focused on their valuation cap from their seed round on, who ruined negotiations with a top 10 VC firm because they wouldn’t go lower than their cap.

If you have one potential lead, I generally recommend knowing your value and negotiating reasonably. If your lead lowballs you, of course you should walk away. But if it’s within range, don’t nickel and dime on the valuation.

Your goal is to create investor interest from multiple firms while generating the least amount of friction to quickly close your round. It might be a difficult balance between knowing your value but respecting what investors are looking for, but don’t kill your fundraising efforts by not being flexible on valuation. Remember, it’s not all about the money and your ownership percentage. If one of our portfolio companies had a term sheet for a $10 million pre-money valuation from an unknown family office or an $8 million pre-money valuation from a top-tier venture capital firm, we would tell them to take the lesser valuation, even if it’s a smaller gain on our books.

Although raising money while navigating dilution can be tricky, with the right preparation and mindset, it’s possible to close your round with the best value for your company.

The case for corporates to fill the seed vacuum

Over the past five years, there has been a clear drop in seed investing. Between 2010 and 2014 there was an influx of “micro” VCs, perfectly equipped to deploy seed capital. Since then, we have seen a gradual decline.

One key reason is that the Micro VCs were successful. Turns out that investing at the seed stage is a really strong strategy for generating returns. Their portfolios performed very well and, as a result, were able to raise a much larger second and third fund.

Unfortunately, once your fund size exceeds $75 million, I’d argue, it is very difficult to focus on the seed stage. It is simply too difficult to identify enough quality opportunities to deploy all that capital. Instead, you need to write bigger checks. In order to do that, you start to focus on later rounds. This leaves a gap at the seed stage, which I’d argue, is the most exciting.

Because of that, I believe there is an incredible opportunity for this gap to be filled by corporate venture funds. We, at dunnhumby, have invested here, successfully, for years. And by successfully, I don’t mean just financially, though we have returned far more than we have invested; I also mean strategically. There are incredible strategic benefits to investing at the seed stage.

Innovation

The seed stage is where the greatest innovation is happening. We invest to inform our own strategic direction and identify new technologies and business models prior to their impact on our own business. We also use it to identify and embed with emerging companies who could, one day, be great partners.

In the recent surge of corporate innovation efforts, venturing is not leveraged nearly enough. There are few ways of exposing innovation better than aligning with a company that is innovating daily as a means of survival. There is no better inspiration than watching a team of two grow into a team of 100-plus, often pulling the slower-moving corporate along for the ride.

Collaboration

There is a flexibility and eagerness with early-stage companies that allows for greater collaboration. They are not so large as to have their own, built-out bureaucracy, and are actively willing to work together. For many, it is why they take money from a strategic, in the hope that there is more than just capital that comes from the relationship.

In many cases, these synergies do not emerge right away. However, there is a closeness that forms between the two companies that begins to bear fruit, from my experience, about one year post-investment.

For the startup, there is increased exposure to the investor’s client base and resources. For the corporation, there is firsthand insight into the success of the startup’s business model, technology and market. From this, partnership and acquisition opportunities emerge.

M&A and partner pipeline

Because of the strategic nature behind these investments, they also act as an incubator for future partnerships and acquisitions.

Participating at the seed stage does not require significant capital contributions.

By aligning at the seed stage, you have the unique opportunity to watch the company grow. What is the market demand and is there an opportunity to enter a new space before others have realized the opportunity? Often, we will take a board or board observer position with the company, which brings even greater insight into their performance, as well as the potential upside of an even closer relationship.

Also, nearly as important, is that you gain an even greater insight into the company culture and their alignment with your own. In most cases, these discussions will emerge from early collaborations, where your broader teams will have the opportunity to interact and form a culture of their own. This cultural alignment will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome, whether that is a partnership or full acquisition.

Value

Participating at the seed stage does not require significant capital contributions. For one later-stage investment, you could make three to four seed investments, which increases your exposure to the above items and drastically reduces the financial impact on your balance sheet. If done right, within four to five years, the fund should contribute much more than it costs.

Does this mean that the corporate should finance the entire seed round? Not typically. In fact, for almost all of our investments to date, we are participating as part of a syndicate of investors. Often this syndicate is made up of other corporate investors (often referred to as “Strategics”). This reduces risk as well as the financial burden for each investor at this stage. The goal is to get a seat at the table. For strategic purposes, there is little difference between owning 5% versus 20% at this stage. Once the company grows larger, this dynamic will change.

Conclusion

At dunnhumby we invest in less than 2% of the companies we meet with. We are diligent about where we invest. However, I’d argue that the 98% we pass on are nearly as important. Because we have an investment arm, we are exposed to incredible innovation across a range of industries that most companies, that lack a seed investing strategy, do not see. At least, not until it is too late. Capital gives us a seat at the table.

These conversations provide signals into emerging trends in our industry, as well as our clients’ industries. When we pass, often the relationship does not end. Many times, they will lead to partnership discussions, referrals and introductions that are equally beneficial to the startup.

The opportunity is there. Corporations just need to seize it.

Co-Star raises $5 million to bring its astrology app to Android

Nothing scales like a horoscope.

If you haven’t heard of Co-Star, you might just be in the wrong circles. In some social scenes it’s pretty much ubiquitous. Wherever conversations regularly kick off by comparing astrological charts, it’s useful to have that info at hand. The trend is so notable that the app even got a shout out in a New York Times piece on VCs flocking to astrology startups.

This week, the company behind probably the hottest iOS astrology app announced that it has raised a $5.2 million seed round. Maveron, Aspect, 14w and Female Founder Fund all participated in the round, which follows $750,000 in prior pre-seed funding. The company plans to use the funding to craft an Android companion to its iOS-only app, grow its team and “build features that encourage new ways get closer, new ways to take care of ourselves, and new ways to grow.”

TechCrunch spoke with Banu Guler, the CEO and co-founder of Co-Star about what it was like talking to potential investors to drum up money for an idea that Silicon Valley’s elite echo chambers might find unconventional.

“We certainly talked to some who were dismissive,” Guler told TechCrunch in an email. “But the reality is that interest in astrology is skyrocketing… It was all about finding the right investors who see the value in astrology and the potential for growth.”

“There are people out there who think astrology is silly or unserious. But in our experience, the number of people who find value and meaning in astrology is far greater than the number of people who are turned off by it.”

If you’ve ever used a traditional astrology app or website to look up your birth chart — that is, to determine the positions of the planets on the day and time you were born — then you’ve probably noticed how most of those services share more in common with ancient Geocities sites than they do with bright, modern apps. In contrast, Co-Star’s app is clean and artful, with encyclopedia-like illustrations and a simple layout. It’s not something with an infinite scroll you’ll get lost in, but it’s pleasant to dip into Co-Star, check your algorithmically-generated horoscope and see what your passive aggressive ex’s rising sign is.

In a world still obsessed with the long-debunked Meyers-Briggs test, you can think of astrology as a kind of cosmic organizational psychology, but one more interested in peoples’ emotional realities than their modus operandi in the workplace. For many young people — and queer people, from personal experience — astrology is a thoroughly playful way to take stock of life. Instead of directly predicting future events (good luck with that), it’s is more commonly used as a way to evaluate relationships, events and anything else. If astrology memes on Instagram are any indication, there’s a whole cohort of people using astrology as a framework for talking about their emotional lives. That search for authenticity — and no doubt the proliferation of truly inspired viral content — is likely fueling the astrology boom. 

“By positioning human experience against a backdrop of a vast universe, Co–Star creates a shortcut to real talk in a sea of small talk: a way to talk about who we are and how we relate to each other,” the company wrote in its funding announcement. “It doesn’t reduce complexity. It doesn’t judge. It understands.”

Why convertible notes are safer than SAFEs

As the saying goes, where you stand on an issue often rests on where you sit. Translated into startup law and finance, your views on how to approach fundraising are often heavily influenced by where your company and your investors are located. As a startup lawyer at Egan Nelson LLP (E/N), a leading boutique firm focused on tech markets outside of Silicon Valley — like Austin, Seattle, NYC, Denver, etc. — that’s the perspective I bring to this post. 

At a very high level, the three most common financing structures for startup seed rounds across the country are (i) equity, (ii) convertible notes and (iii) SAFEs. Others have come and gone, but never really achieved much traction. As to which one is appropriate for your company’s early funding, there’s no universal answer. It depends heavily on the context; not just of what the company’s own priorities and leverage are, but also the expectations and norms of the investors you plan to approach. Maintaining flexibility, and not getting bogged down by a rigid one-approach-fits-all mindset is important in that regard.

Here’s the TL;DR: When a client comes to me suggesting they might do a SAFE round, my first piece of advice is that a convertible note with a long maturity (three years) and low interest rate (like 2 percent or 3 percent) will give them functionally the same thing — while minimizing friction with more traditional investors.

Why? Read on for more details.

Convertible notes for smaller seed rounds

Convertible securities (convertible notes and SAFEs) are often favored, particularly for smaller rounds (less than $2 million), for their simplicity and speed to close. They defer a lot of the heavier terms and negotiation to a later date. The dominant convertible security (when equity is not being issued) across the country for seed funding is a convertible note, which is basically a debt instrument that is intended to convert into equity in the future when you close a larger round (usually a Series A). The note’s conversion economics are more favorable than what Series A investors pay, due to the greater risk the seed investors took on.

Where seed and early-stage funding is growing, contracting or holding steady

In startup circles, it’s trendy to talk about how entrepreneurs are leaving high-tax, high cost-of-living metros for cheaper locales. While Silicon Valley remains ground central for hobnobbing with investors, the common wisdom goes, early-stage funding stretches much further elsewhere.

As memes go, it makes sense. But does the data bear this out? Is Texas turning into the new California? Is Salt Lake City edging out Seattle? Are the largest U.S. startup hubs losing their edge in luring promising early-stage startups?

In a somewhat eccentric data crunch, Crunchbase News set out to see the extent to which certain regions are gaining in early-stage and seed activity. We also attempted to see whether any of the big, established startup ecosystems are showing obvious signs of decline.

To lay out our case, we looked at four metrics. First, we measured total reported annual seed funding and round counts by state for the 18 largest venture capital ecosystems. Next, we looked at seed through early-stage investment and deal counts across three size ranges. They include moderately sized rounds of $1 million to $5 million, larger ones of more than $5 million and less than $50 million and really big early-stage investments of $50 million and up.

The idea with the size-range data sets was to see how tech hubs stack up in terms of launching well-funded startups. It’s one thing to have a lot of seed-funded startups. It’s quite another to see them go on to close follow-on rounds in the millions or tens of millions. We also wanted to see whether the top startup hubs are retaining their dominance in launching companies that go on to secure the biggest early-stage rounds.

(If the round sizes seem overly large for seed or early-stage investments, keep in mind that in 2018 and the current boom, traditional buckets for rounds have been breached; so what was once a Series D in terms of dollars, can now in fact be an early-stage round in some contexts.)

Here are some of the broad findings:

  • Top hubs hold pretty steady. The largest venture ecosystems aren’t showing signs of significant contraction this past year at seed and early-stage. Across the metrics we measured, the three largest (California, New York and Massachusetts) are hanging on to similar shares of funding as prior years.
  • Utah and Pennsylvania outperforms. Two states stood out in terms of posting gains across several seed and early-stage funding metrics: Pennsylvania and Utah. Pennsylvania benefited from heightened investment in biotech, transportation and robotics, areas in which it has large talent pools. Utah, meanwhile, prevailed in enterprise software.
  • Texas sees big gains in larger rounds. Texas didn’t see an annual rise in total reported seed funding, moderate-size deals or really big early rounds. However, the state was red-hot in producing startups that secured rounds of more than $5 million and less than $50 million.

Below, we’ll flesh out these findings, as well as take a look at the overall breakdown of seed and early-stage funding.

Here’s how the top states for venture funding stack up

To begin, let’s take a look at the breakdown for seed-stage funding and rounds among the 18 states that account for the overwhelming majority of investments:

As you can see, the top six states take in the lion’s share of seed funding, with California the leader of the pack by several multiples.

Moderately sized rounds by state

Next, let’s look at how the top states rank by another metric: Moderately sized seed and early-stage rounds of between $1 million and $5 million.

The reason we included this metric is because it includes very early-stage companies that have a lot of runway ahead, but have already attracted some serious investor interest. We also provided a year-over-year comparison, as it may be an early indicator of a state’s venture ecosystem gaining or losing traction.

Without further ado, here’s the chart:

As you can see above, the top five states for venture investment didn’t see big gains or losses in their share of investment at the $1 million to $5 million round size. Where we did see big increases was in two aforementioned states: Pennsylvania and Utah.

Early-stage rounds between $5M and $50M

Another metric to gauge a tech hub’s momentum is its ability to produce startups that raise pretty big seed and early-stage rounds.

With this in mind, we summed up deal counts and total investment by state for rounds of more than $5 million but less than $50 million for companies founded in the past four years. The results are charted below:

 

For mid-sized tech hubs, we see a good amount of year-over-year fluctuation in share of total investment for this category. A single big round or two can really move the needle, so it’s probably wise not to make to much of a single year’s fluctuation.

Texas, however, really is showing momentum: The Lone Star State is the largest tech ecosystem where we saw a really big year-over-year increase in rounds over $5 million and under $50 million. In 2018, Texas had 30 rounds in this category (see list), bringing in a total of $366 million. That’s up from just 13 funding rounds in the category bringing in $138 million in 2017. While we can’t point to clear-cut causes for the increase without deeper analysis, it’s apparent this is a bullish indicator for the Texan startup scene.

Early-stage rounds of $50M and up

Last, we looked at really big seed and early-stage rounds of $50 million and up for companies founded in the prior four years.

This is a funding category that barely existed several years ago. However, giant early-stage rounds have really mushroomed in recent quarters with the emergence of super-sized venture funds like the SoftBank Vision Fund and a greater willingness among investors to throw hundreds of millions at nascent sectors like scooter sharing.

The data indicates that really big early-stage rounds still primarily occur in the biggest startup hubs. The San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Boston were home to more than 85 percent of companies in the 2018 list for the category. No other state brought in more than one deal.

We have more details on how the numbers stack up in the chart below:

 

More power to Pennsylvania and Utah

In conclusion, we’d have to say that rumors of the slow death of California’s startup scene have been greatly exaggerated. Although all three of the top states for startup funding are high-tax, high cost-of-living locales, they’re also continuing to hit high marks in launching entrepreneurial companies and raising capital for them to grow.

Nonetheless, the data does reveal some apparent up-and-comers among startup hubs. Two that we notice are Pennsylvania and Utah.

Pennsylvania outperforms: I grew up in the Philadelphia area, so naturally I’m pleased to see the state ranking deservedly higher across our seed and early-stage metrics.

However, Philly can’t get all the credit for the rise. Pennsylvania has the good fortune of housing two startup hubs: Philly and Pittsburgh. Traditionally, Philadelphia has been a strong contender in biotech, with strength also in fintech, media and other sectors. Pittsburgh, as we’ve reported previously, is emerging as a hotbed for robotics, AI and transport.

Between those metro hubs, Pennsylvania saw a big rise year-over-year in round counts across all the categories we tracked (except for $50-plus million rounds, which were tied with 2017). Investment totals were also up markedly.

And don’t forget Utah: Utah has also been moving up in the ranks, delivering a particularly impressive performance given its population of just 3 million. By our estimates, Utah is the least-populated state to rank as a major startup hub.

Enterprise software is the dominant sector among sizably funded Utah companies. However, we also see a lot of non-SaaS business models pop up, in areas including fintech, audio devices and even peer-to-peer storage.

The takeaway: It looks like emerging early-stage startup hubs don’t need to siphon talent from the largest tech ecosystems to thrive. California, New York and Boston don’t appear to be losing their dominance. But that isn’t stopping smaller startup hubs from thriving too.

Methodology

The data set looks at funding levels by state. In most states, the vast majority of venture activity is in a single metro area. Exceptions are California, with the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as Pennsylvania, with both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. For rounds above $5 million, we limited the data set to startups founded after January 1, 2015.

We did not compare 2018 seed funding totals to prior years due to the fact that a sizable portion of seed rounds are reported and recorded in the Crunchbase data set months after they close. As a result, reported figures for recent months undercount total funding activity.

The state of seed

“There’s an implosion of early-stage VC funding, and no one’s talking about it,” was the headline of a viral article posted on this site in late 2017. Venture capitalists are deploying more capital than ever, the author explained, yet the number of deals for early-stage startups has taken a nosedive.

Roughly one year later, little has changed. Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, according to venture data provider CB Insights, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital. In 2018, seed activity as a percentage of all deals shrank from 31 percent to 25 percent — a decade low — while the share and size of late-stage deals swelled to record highs. Total annual global VC funding, for its part, shot up 21 percent to $207 billion as deal activity only increased by 10 percent to 14,247 transactions.

The median U.S. seed deal was the highest on record in the fourth quarter of 2018, growing to $2.1 million after kicking off the year at an average of $1.7 million. Early-stage financings — i.e. Series A and Series B fundings — experienced the same trend, expanding to a median of $8 million in Q4, a significant increase from the $5.5 million median recorded in the first quarter of 2017.

The decline in seed deals and the simultaneous increase in deal size began in 2012, and is far from an anomaly at this point. What’s caused the end of seed investing as we know it? A record amount of dry powder in the venture ecosystem has pushed VCs downstream, where they can deploy large sums of capital in more mature companies. Even firms specializing in seed investments are muscling their way into Series A deals. Many seed firms have grown up and become more strategic in their bets, often opting to invest in startups that have found product/market fit rather than those still at the idea stage, despite the fact that historically, idea-stage companies were the target of seed financings. Fortunately, pre-seed, a newer stage of investing consisting of investments of around $500,000, has emerged to support those projects.

Not only are deals fewer and fatter, but companies earning seed investments are older, too. In 2016, for example, companies raising seed deals were older than the median age of a company raising a Series A deal 10 years ago, and Series A companies were older than the median age of Series B companies a decade prior, too.

Fundraising activity suggests deal sizes will only continue to inflate, rather than adjust. Firms in the $100 million to $500 million range are currently the most active fundraisers, and if you pay any attention to the tech press, you know there’s no shortage of fresh billion-dollar funds. Investors at those funds aren’t able to deploy small bits of capital into early-stage startups — not only because the return on the investment isn’t meaningful, but they don’t have the time to devote to those projects, which typically require more support and oversight than their late-stage counterparts.

One thing could send deal sizes back to their normal ranges, however, and that’s the market downturn many VCs are expecting in 2019. Median deal sizes shrank during the Great Recession in 2008, and investors tend to turn away from riskier bets when market conditions grow cold. That means, in a bear market, more attention will be paid to stable, later-stage businesses while early-stage companies are left to their own devices.

Seed deals sprout as angels return to field: The Economic Times

An Economic Times article on Seed funding in India quotes Venture Intelligence data: Data from Venture Intelligence shows that seed-stage investments by top VC firms since the start of 2017 have touched $144 million across 178 deals. Of this, $31 million was invested in just the first three months of 2018. Venture Intelligence is India's longest serving provider of data and analysis on

A wealth of sources for startup fundraising – A primer for founders

The financial side of technology entrepreneurship means that almost from inception, an entrepreneur has to think about and plan his or her sources of financing. Wether you like it or not, startups...

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