Seed is not the new Series A

The incredible success of the cloud business applications space in recent years has driven up valuations and fundraising across all stages of venture investment. That has in turn increased VC fund sizes, led to massive cloud IPOs and brought a new cadre of investors to further fuel the fire.

The median Series A raised by cloud companies these days is about $8 million and can often go well above $10 million, according to PitchBook data from the first quarter of 2021. Series Cs now routinely include secondary capital for founders, and many Series Ds are above $100 million with valuations in the billions.

There is a widening gap in the funding continuum between angel/seed funding at inception and the new-age $10 million Series A at $2 million in ARR.

Such an influx of capital and interest has upended many structures and long-held norms about how startups are funded. Venture funds continue to grow and must write larger checks, but ever-higher valuations force many firms to hunt for opportunities earlier. The VC alphabet soup has been spilled, making A rounds look like Bs used to, and the Bs seem like the Cs of old.

Which begs an interesting question: Is the seed round the new Series A?

We don’t think so.

Seed rounds have certainly grown — averaging about $3 million nowadays from around $1 million to $2 million previously — but otherwise, seed investments are the same as before and remain very different from Series As.

How to launch a successful RPA initiative

Robotic process automation (RPA) is rapidly moving beyond the early adoption phase across verticals. Automating just basic workflow processes has resulted in such tremendous efficiency improvements and cost savings that businesses are adapting automation at scale and across the enterprise.

While there is a technical component to robotic automation, RPA is not a traditional IT-driven solution. It is, however, still important to align the business and IT processes around RPA. Adapting business automation for the enterprise should be approached as a business solution that happens to require some technical support.

A strong working relationship between the CFO and CIO will go a long way in getting IT behind, and in support of, the initiative rather than in front of it.

A strong working relationship between the CFO and CIO will go a long way in getting IT behind, and in support of, the initiative rather than in front of it.

More important to the success of a large-scale RPA initiative is support from senior business executives across all lines of business and at every step of the project, with clear communications and an advocacy plan all the way down to LOB managers and employees.

As we’ve seen in real-world examples, successful campaigns for deploying automation at scale require a systematic approach to developing a vision, gathering stakeholder and employee buy-in, identifying use cases, building a center of excellence (CoE) and establishing a governance model.

Create an overarching vision

Your strategy should include defining measurable, strategic objectives. Identify strategic areas that benefit most from automation, such as the supply chain, call centers, AP or revenue cycle, and start with obvious areas where business sees delays due to manual workflow processes. Remember, the goal is not to replace employees; you’re aiming to speed up processes, reduce errors, increase efficiencies and let your employees focus on higher value tasks.

How to identify unicorn founders when they’re still early-stage

As an early-stage VC, you spend time with hundreds of fantastic startups, trying to identify potential winners by thinking about market size, business model and competition. Nevertheless, deep down you know that in the long run, it all comes down to the team and the founder(s).

When we look at the most successful companies in our portfolio, their amazing performance is in large part thanks to the founders. However, even after 20 years in the industry, I have to admit that analyzing the team is still the most challenging part of the job. How do you evaluate a young first-time entrepreneur of an early-stage company with little traction?

The best founders are humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

At Creandum, in the past 18 years, we have been fortunate to work with some of Europe’s most successful startup founders such as Daniel Ek from Spotify, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, Johannes Schildt from Kry, Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson from iZettle, Emil Eifrem from Neo4J, Christian Hecker from Trade Republic and many more.

After a while, we realized that these incredible entrepreneurs all share some fundamental characteristics. They all have lots of energy, work hard, show patience, perseverance and resilience. But on top of that, all these unicorn founders share five key traits that, as an investor, you should look for when you back them at an early stage.

They know what they don’t know

Many people expect a typical startup founder to be very confident and have a strong sales mentality. While they should definitely live up to those expectations, the best founders are also humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

They keep wanting to learn, improve and grow the business beyond what average people have the energy and drive to manage.

As the economy reopens, startups are uniquely positioned to recruit talent

We are amidst a sprawling renegotiation between employers and employees as to the very nature of work, and no one has more leverage than skilled technologists — many of whom feel unmoored from their current jobs.

Our 2021 Technologist Sentiment Report — which in the second quarter polled technology professionals who mostly work at bigger organizations — shows 48% tech professionals expressed an interest in changing companies this year, up from 40% in the fourth quarter of 2020, and a big jump from 32% in the second quarter last year.

It’s a unique moment, one that creates an unusual opportunity for startup founders on the hunt for talent.

Fast growing upstarts have a lot of advantages. Bigger companies may be more likely to attempt to recreate the office environment of the past — especially if they have leased space and a built environment that will be difficult to unwind. Startups are often non-traditional and may be able to react to create the hybrid work environments many technologists crave as the economy reopens.

While all startups are certainly not focused on being disruptive, they often rely on cutting-edge technology and processes to give their customers something truly new. Many are trying to change the pattern in their particular industry. So, by definition, they generally have a really interesting mission or purpose that may be more appealing to tech professionals.

A migration of tech talent just as the economy is revving up would be disruptive and could also play to startup strengths. The market for tech talent is already strong: tech hiring has increased every month since November, according to our last tech jobs report released in May. Great data engineers, developers, business analysts and the like are in red-hot demand, and unemployment in tech is just above 2.4% percent, versus 5.5.% percent in the economy overall.

5 questions startups should consider before making their first marketing hire

“Who should my first marketing hire be?”

This is (by far) the most common question I’ve received since starting as Fuel’s CMO, and for good reason. Your first marketer will have an outsized impact on team dynamics as well as the overall strategic direction of the brand, product and company.

The reality is that anyone who excels across all marketing functions is a unicorn and nearly impossible to find.

The nature of the marketing function has expanded significantly over the past two decades. So much so that when founders ask this question, it immediately prompts multiple new ones: Should I hire a brand or growth marketer? An offline or an online marketer? A scientific or a creative marketer?

Once upon a time, the number of marketing channels was fairly limited, which meant the function itself fit into a neater, tighter box. The number of ways to reach customers has since grown exponentially, as has the scope of the marketing role. Today’s startups require at least four broad functions under the umbrella of “marketing,” each with its own array of subfunctions.

Here’s a sample of the marketing functions at a typical early-stage startup:

Brand marketing: Brand strategy, positioning, naming, messaging, visual identity, experiential, events, community.

Product marketing: UX copy, website, email marketing, customer research and segmentation, pricing.

Communications: PR and media relations, content marketing, social media, thought leadership, influencer.

Growth marketing: Direct response paid acquisition, funnel optimization, retention, lifecycle, engagement, reporting and attribution, word of mouth, referral, SEO, partnerships.


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As you can imagine, that’s a lot for one person to manage, let alone be an expert in. What’s more, the skill set and experience required to excel in growth marketing is quite different from the skill set required to succeed in brand marketing. The reality is that anyone who excels across all marketing functions is a unicorn and nearly impossible to find.

So who do you hire first?

Unless you’re lucky enough to nab that unicorn, your first hire should be a generalist who can tend to the full stack of the marketing function, learn what they don’t know, and roll up their sleeves to get things done. Someone smart, savvy and super scrappy who understands how to experiment across marketing channels until they find the right mix.

What SOSV’s Climate Tech 100 tells founders about investors in the space

On Earth Day, April 22, SOSV published the SOSV Climate Tech 100, a list of the best startups that we’ve supported from their earliest stages to address climate change. There are always valuable insights embedded in a list like the 100. A TechCrunch story captured the investment perspective, and an SOSV post went deeper into the companies’ category breakdown and founder profiles.

But what can founders learn from the list about climate tech investors? In other words, who invested in the Climate Tech 100? We dug into the “who’s who” of the list, which had more than 500 investors, and here’s what we found.

An active but fragmented landscape

If you think 500 investors in 100 companies is a lot of investors, you’re right. There are clearly a lot of investors interested in climate tech, and most are generalists just testing the waters. For the Climate Tech 100, about 10% of investors put their money in more than one startup and only seven (less than 2%) wrote a check to four or more. These included Blue Horizon, CPT Capital, EF, Fifty Years, Hemisphere Ventures and Horizons Ventures.

That pattern tracks well with data from PwC, which found that 2,700 unique investors had backed 1,200 startups in its State of Climate Tech 2020 report covering the 2013-2019 period. The report found that only 10 firms out of 2,700 made four or more climate tech deals per year, on average, over the 2013-2019 period. The most active firms are listed in the table below.

Most active investors in SOSV Climate Tech 100

Image Credits: PwC, 2020; additional research by SOSV

Capital deployed in climate tech grew at five times the venture capital overall growth rate over the 2013-2019 period.

There is reason to believe that the fragmentation will diminish with the launch of more funds focused on climate tech. Four funds worth more than a billion dollars each have launched since 2020 that fit the description (see chart below).

It’s also encouraging to see that capital deployed in climate tech grew at five times the venture capital overall growth rate over the 2013-2019 period.

Even so, climate tech still only represented 6% of total venture capital deployed in 2019, so there is plenty of room to grow.

Health clouds are set to play a key role in healthcare innovation

The U.S. healthcare industry is amidst one of the biggest transformations any industry has seen since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. This massive change is being stimulated by federal mandates, technological innovation, and the need to improve clinical outcomes and communication between providers, patients, and payers.

An aging population, increase in chronic diseases, lower reimbursement rates, and a shift to value-based payments—plus the COVID-19 pandemic—have added pressure and highlighted the need for new technology to enhance virtual and value-based care.

Improving medical outcomes now requires processing massive amounts of healthcare data, and the cloud plays a pivotal role in meeting the current needs of healthcare organizations.

Challenges in healthcare

Most of today’s healthcare challenges fall into two broad categories: rapidly rising costs, and an increased burden on resources. Rising costs — and the resulting inadequacy of healthcare resources — can stem from:

An aging population: As people age and live longer, healthcare gets more expensive. As medicine improves, people aged 65 and above are expected to account for 20% of the U.S. population by 2030, per the U.S. Census Bureau. And as older people spend more on healthcare, an aging population is expected to contribute to increasing healthcare costs over time.

Prevalence of chronic illnesses: According to a National Center for Biotechnology Information report, chronic disease treatment makes up 85% of healthcare costs, and more than half of all Americans have a chronic illness (diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, lower back and neck pain, etc.)

Higher ambulatory costs: The cost of ambulatory care, including outpatient hospital services and emergency room care, increased the most of all treatment categories covered in a 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Rising healthcare premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and Medicare and Medicaid: Healthcare premiums rose by an estimated 54% between 2009 and 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred enrollment into government programs like Medicaid and Medicare, which has increased the overall demand for medical services, contributing to rising costs. A 2021 IRS report highlighted that a shift to high-deductible health plans — with out-of-pocket costs of up to $14,000 per family — has also increased the cost of healthcare.

Delayed care and surgeries due to COVID-19: A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in May 2020 indicated that up to 48% people have avoided or postponed medical care due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. About 11% of those people reported that their medical condition worsened after skipping or postponing care. Non-emergency surgeries were frequently postponed, as resources were set aside for COVID-19 patients. These delays make treatable conditions more costly and increase overall costs.

A lack of pricing transparency: Without transparency, it’s difficult to know the actual cost of healthcare. The fragmented data landscape fails to capture complete details and complex medical bills, and does not give patients a complete view of payments.

The need to modernize

To mitigate the impact of increased costs and inadequate resources, healthcare organizations need to replace legacy IT programs and adopt modern systems designed to support rapid innovation for site-agnostic, collaborative, whole-person care — all while being affordable and accessible.

6 career options for ex-founders seeking their next adventure

Hey, founders between gigs: What now?

If you exited your last company for airplane money and are now independently wealthy, congratulations! If you want to build another company, just self-fund. If you want outside capital, VCs will chase after you to invest.

Unfortunately, most founders are not in that position: nine out of 10 startups fail. Even if you achieve a high valuation, you might end up like FanDuel’s founders: Their investors got the benefit of a $465 million exit; the founders got zero.

As someone with “founder” on your resume, you face a greater challenge when trying to get a traditional salaried job. You’ve already shown that you really want to lead a company and not just rise up the ladder, which means some employers are less likely to hire you. One research paper found:

[F]ormer founders receive fewer callbacks than non-founders; however, all founders are not disadvantaged similarly. Former founders of successful ventures receive even fewer [emphasis added] callbacks than former founders of failed ventures. Through 20 interviews with technical recruiters, we highlight the mechanisms driving this founder-experience discount: concerns related to the applicant’s capability and ability to fit into and remain committed to the wage employment and the hiring firm.

At my prior firm, ff Venture Capital, we invested in a company co-founded by Nate Jenkins, who had a successful exit, but not quite enough to buy a private plane. He’s now researching his next opportunity and interviewing for some jobs. At the end of a recent interview, the interviewer summarized, “I’ll hire you, but is this what you really want to do?”

That said, Samuel Sabin, CEO of HireBlue, observed, “Some founders who work better with more resources at their disposal may be tapped for intrapreneurship roles. Also, some companies value a self-starter mentality.”

So what should you do? Especially if your life partner and/or bank account are burnt out on the income volatility of startups?

I’ve been in this situation myself when I shut down one startup and exited two others. I think you have six main options:

Full-time initiatives

  1. Launch a new company.
  2. Get a job.

Part-time activities

  1. Angel investing, venture capital and mentoring.
  2. Consulting.
  3. Sell information products.
  4. Education and self-improvement.

At Versatile VC, our new VC fund, we’re creating an online community just for founders who are in transition, Founders’ Next Move. We hope you will join us!

Full-time initiatives

Launch a new company

If you want to work on your startup idea, the bar for starting a company should always be very high. VCs have a diversified portfolio and most of their investments die. You don’t have a diverse portfolio and so you’re taking far more risk than the VCs. For free resources to help research your ideas, see What startup will you build? Identifying market white space.

The hidden benefits of adding a CTO to your board

The pandemic forced companies around the world to adjust to a “new normal,” which caused many leaders to pivot their business strategies and adopt new technologies to continue operations. In a time of chaos and change, there is no senior leader that can navigate this sort of change better than a CTO.

Not only do CTOs understand the ever-changing tech landscape, they also provide invaluable insights to help organizations go beyond traditional IT conversations and leverage technology to successfully scale businesses.

Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

There are now more reasons than ever to consider adding a CTO to your board. As a CTO myself, I know how important and impactful it can be to have technical-minded leaders on a company’s board of directors. At a time when companies are accelerating their digital transformation, it’s critical to have diverse technical perspectives and people from varying backgrounds, as transformations are a mix of people, process and technology.

Drawing on my experience on Lightbend’s board of directors, here are five hidden benefits of making space at the table for a CTO.

A unique mind (and skill) set

Currently, most boards of directors are composed of former CEOs, CFOs and investors. While such executives bring vast experience, they have very specific expertise, and that frequently does not include technical proficiency. In order for a company to be successful, your board needs to have people with different backgrounds and expertise.

Inviting different perspectives forces companies out of the groupthink mentality and find new, creative solutions to their problems. Diverse perspectives aren’t just about the title –– racial ethnicity and gender diversity are clearly a play here as well.

Deep understanding of tech

For a product-led company, having a CTO who has been close to product development and innovation can bring deep insights and understanding to the boardroom. Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

The rise of cybersecurity debt

Ransomware attacks on the JBS beef plant, and the Colonial Pipeline before it, have sparked a now familiar set of reactions. There are promises of retaliation against the groups responsible, the prospect of company executives being brought in front of Congress in the coming months, and even a proposed executive order on cybersecurity that could take months to fully implement.

But once again, amid this flurry of activity, we must ask or answer a fundamental question about the state of our cybersecurity defense: Why does this keep happening?

I have a theory on why. In software development, there is a concept called “technical debt.” It describes the costs companies pay when they choose to build software the easy (or fast) way instead of the right way, cobbling together temporary solutions to satisfy a short-term need. Over time, as teams struggle to maintain a patchwork of poorly architectured applications, tech debt accrues in the form of lost productivity or poor customer experience.

Complexity is the enemy of security. Some companies are forced to put together as many as 50 different security solutions from up to 10 different vendors to protect their sprawling technology estates.

Our nation’s cybersecurity defenses are laboring under the burden of a similar debt. Only the scale is far greater, the stakes are higher and the interest is compounding. The true cost of this “cybersecurity debt” is difficult to quantify. Though we still do not know the exact cause of either attack, we do know beef prices will be significantly impacted and gas prices jumped 8 cents on news of the Colonial Pipeline attack, costing consumers and businesses billions. The damage done to public trust is incalculable.

How did we get here? The public and private sectors are spending more than $4 trillion a year in the digital arms race that is our modern economy. The goal of these investments is speed and innovation. But in pursuit of these ambitions, organizations of all sizes have assembled complex, uncoordinated systems — running thousands of applications across multiple private and public clouds, drawing on data from hundreds of locations and devices.

Complexity is the enemy of security. Some companies are forced to put together as many as 50 different security solutions from up to 10 different vendors to protect their sprawling technology estates — acting as a systems integrator of sorts. Every node in these fantastically complicated networks is like a door or window that might be inadvertently left open. Each represents a potential point of failure and an exponential increase in cybersecurity debt.

We have an unprecedented opportunity and responsibility to update the architectural foundations of our digital infrastructure and pay off our cybersecurity debt. To accomplish this, two critical steps must be taken.

First, we must embrace open standards across all critical digital infrastructure, especially the infrastructure used by private contractors to service the government. Until recently, it was thought that the only way to standardize security protocols across a complex digital estate was to rebuild it from the ground up in the cloud. But this is akin to replacing the foundations of a home while still living in it. You simply cannot lift-and-shift massive, mission-critical workloads from private data centers to the cloud.

There is another way: Open, hybrid cloud architectures can connect and standardize security across any kind of infrastructure, from private data centers to public clouds, to the edges of the network. This unifies the security workflow and increases the visibility of threats across the entire network (including the third- and fourth-party networks where data flows) and orchestrates the response. It essentially eliminates weak links without having to move data or applications — a design point that should be embraced across the public and private sectors.

The second step is to close the remaining loopholes in the data security supply chain. President Biden’s executive order requires federal agencies to encrypt data that is being stored or transmitted. We have an opportunity to take that a step further and also address data that is in use. As more organizations outsource the storage and processing of their data to cloud providers, expecting real-time data analytics in return, this represents an area of vulnerability.

Many believe this vulnerability is simply the price we pay for outsourcing digital infrastructure to another company. But this is not true. Cloud providers can, and do, protect their customers’ data with the same ferocity as they protect their own. They do not need access to the data they store on their servers. Ever.

To ensure this requires confidential computing, which encrypts data at rest, in transit and in process. Confidential computing makes it technically impossible for anyone without the encryption key to access the data, not even your cloud provider. At IBM, for example, our customers run workloads in the IBM Cloud with full privacy and control. They are the only ones that hold the key. We could not access their data even if compelled by a court order or ransom request. It is simply not an option.

Paying down the principal on any kind of debt can be daunting, as anyone with a mortgage or student loan can attest. But this is not a low-interest loan. As the JBS and Colonial Pipeline attacks clearly demonstrate, the cost of not addressing our cybersecurity debt spans far beyond monetary damages. Our food and fuel supplies are at risk, and entire economies can be disrupted.

I believe that with the right measures — strong public and private collaboration — we have an opportunity to construct a future that brings forward the combined power of security and technological advancement built on trust.