A Note on Notes – A follow-up to raising late/post seed rounds

I wrote a post recently on late seed / post seed rounds for saas companies in Europe and received a lot of comments asking to expand more on the benefits of a convertible vs. a priced equity round. At the bottom of this post I’ve also included how to structure a convertible with the relevant terms from what I’ve been seeing over the past few months.

The benefits of a convertible note for a startup that has made tremendous progress since their seed round but is not quite ready for a Series A are (i) it is faster than an equity round to raise (ii) your legal costs are cheaper (iii) you can keep the note open and have a rolling close to build on fundraising momentum (and hopefully continued good traction in the business).

Faster to raise

I have noticed over the years that there is something about the psychology of investors and convertibles that for one reason or another they can make a decision much faster about leading or participating in a note vs. a priced round. It could be that the legals are more straight forward (and shorter). The diligence and number of meetings is probably equal, but when you move past the term sheet phase and are trying to close the equity docs, things can stall. In Europe (where I invest and where I have much more data), convertibles also tend to have more investors involved than in an equivalent size equity round.

The other thing I have noticed is that when founders raise a convertible and are going to the market looking for new money instead of relying on their existing investors, founders set the price. So this takes even more time out of fundraising because in one meeting, you can do the pitch and disclose the terms of the convertible. This makes it very straight forward for an investor.


You can use industry approved documents like Seedcamp’s Convertible Note created by JAGShaw Baker and cut down on how much time your lawyers spend negotiating and updating your docs. You also won’t need to cover any of the investors’ costs so you will save at least £10-30k in precious equity.

Rolling closes

To me, this is the single greatest advantage of a convertible. Let’s assume you are growing 15–20% MoM, have a healthy pipeline, and have some great reference customers and are raising $1.5m in late seed. You have a new investor plus a well known angel who either set the terms with $200k or were the first to sign a term sheet with the terms you set. Also, your existing angels are investing $100k.

You can communicate to other potential investors that you already have $300k committed, including relevant angel x and hot software exec y, and can go to the market from a position of strength (insiders are re-upping and they have a strong new lead) which gives other investors social proof. It also makes it really easy for other investors to come in because (i) the terms have been set and (ii) they can see a book being built with exactly who else is coming into the round. It is typically in this scenario that 2–3 VC funds will jump on board and commit $300–400k each and get you to the point where you are oversubscribed.

Furthermore, the rolling close gives you the flexibility to focus on short-term growth within the business (on-boarding your first sales people, closing your first six figure deal, developing your customer success program etc). Founders that I know that have successfully raised late seed convertibles were almost always oversubscribed by the end of the process due to the social proof of having investor x or y committing to the round and/or having reached another key milestone during the fundraise. I don’t have a large enough data-set to know exactly what amount founders were looking to raise vs. what they ultimately raised, but the main benefit of the convertible is it allows you to reach your funding goal in a faster time frame with the potential to raise even more once you built momentum. Not to say that you can’t do this in a straight equity round, but the inflection point of company traction, fundraising traction and creating real FOMO amongst VCs is a delicate act.

Relevant terms

There are several key items to be aware of and Carlos at Seedcamp wrote an excellent post on this a few years ago, so I thought it would be more beneficial to share terms that I am seeing in the market now. These only pertain to that late seed convertibles and are for the software companies with good to great traction:

  • Valuation Caps – $5–6m for companies early in generating revenue but with good growth. $5–8m+ for companies on c$50k MRR+ and typically $10–12m+ for those nearing $100k MRR with very fast MoM growth (as well as those founders that tell the best stories and create FOMO).
  • Discounts – Almost always 20% but I have seen as high as 25%.
  • Interest – 5-6%.
  • Conversion rights – Typically anywhere from $500k to $2m.
  • Maturity – Typically 3 years
  • Other rights – Typically no board or board observer rights are given; information rights are given but you’re probably not sending out monthly board packs yet


Post Seed Rounds in Europe for SaaS Startups (or Why You’re Not Ready for a Series A)

Most early stage company financings go something like this these days:
(Self-funded / Friends and family / Accelerator / Pre-Seed Round) –> (Seed Round) –> (Late Seed Round) –> (Series A)
(Seed) -> (Late Seed) -> (Series A)
Very few go from Seed directly to Series A which was the norm for a very long time in the venture capital industry. Why is this happening?
Following a seed round of $500k to $1m+ most saas companies increase headcount in engineering and product and eventually make their first commercial hires. Depending on the complexity of the sale and the size of license, most startup founders will close the first 10-20+ deals before hiring anyone in sales. If you are in a category where you can survive and grow through self-service, then most of your ‘commercial’ money will go towards growing your marketing and support/ops teams.
The best saas companies I’ve seen across Europe over the last two years raised less than $1m in seed and were able to get to $300k+ in MRR and continue to grow organically without needing venture $ (but still took venture $ to grow even faster). In very good cases, companies raised up to $1m in seed and by the time they closed their A round were on more than $100k MRR and operating at close to cash flow b/e. In most other cases, I see companies get to anywhere from $10k to $75k MRR on their seed capital. For some companies selling into large enterprises with large 5 or 6 figure ACV deals (for example many security co’s or next-gen infrastructure co’s) I’ve seen several of them go through $1m of funding and have several live POC’s but no real revenue, just the hope of converting an attractive pipeline (which is a huge positive btw). 
Controlling for team, product, market and time – until about late 2015, these numbers used to attract Series A investors who would lead rounds of $3-5m. But the majority of these investors have moved up market and now want companies on a minimum of $1-3m ARR with positive sales economics and at least one or two quarters of renewals. This is all-good, and makes a lot of sense for some funds, but what do you do as CEO when you eventually find product/market fit AND an early replicable sales model and need to raise further funding to support your growth.
Welcome to the land of late seed, post seed, pre-A, – wade through the nomenclature and pick your own term for what this is….(I prefer late seed for no reason in particular). What late seed is not, is a bridge round where you need more cash to hit product market fit. Some companies spend all of their pre-seed or seed capital before hitting pmf, and it is typically existing investors who throw good money after bad to continue to fund them, not new investors.

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The European Breakout List, Early 2016

I have always thought there should be a European equivalent to the Breakout List that Sam Altman started a few years ago. It began when a friend of his was seeking advice on which startup to join. It’s morphed into a list created with the help of angels and VC’s. Their stated goal is to “help folks choose a company where they will be exposed to the best people and the best opportunities.” They have also quoted Marc Andreessen:

“Apply this rule when selecting which company to go to. Go to the company where all the action is happening.”

Frankly, in the U.S. it is very difficult to wade through the best companies given all of the noise if you don’t have access to the data.

Given the growth in the number of interesting startups founded in Europe that have rocket ship like traction, it can be difficult for people to know which startups they should be targeting. To make this list, there had to be something exceptional about the team (repeat founders, domain expertise, etc.), the product, their traction and the market – and in many cases they would need to have several of these factors to make the list. Hopefully, the majority of these companies will be around in 10+ years as standalone businesses because of the problems they are solving and the teams working on them.

So for anybody here in Europe (I say Europe given the immigration laws within the EU) seeking to learn in three years what the average employee learns in 10, then this list will help you start your journey of landing in a great position.

How to use this list: If you’re not starting your own company but want to work alongside some of the smartest and most technical people in Europe, then first read the Breakout List – Career Advice at the bottom of that page. There are great insights into how to interview the founders or your direct report, how to make a decision on which companies to focus on, and how to get in front of the right people. Then look through the European Breakout List below. If you have competing offers from several of the companies below, feel free to reach out to anyone who helped create this list for advice.

A further note on the methodology; we haven’t included companies founded in Europe that moved very early in their life to the US (SketchDeck, ClassDojo and FrontApp come to mind). We have included companies that have kept a core part of their business here like TalkDesk in Portugal and Elastic in the Netherlands. We have also not included Israeli companies, I’m sure such list already exists.  I’m sorry if we have missed any obvious high trajectory companies. We will publish and updated version later this year.

This is an experiment to help thicken the fragmented European startup ecosystem. Please let me know if you end up getting a job at one of the companies on the list.

Thanks to Chrys Chrysanthou, Matt Clifford, Rob Kniaz, Martin Mignot and Krishna Visvanathan who helped curate this list.

European BreakoutList Early 2016

Venture Capital Disrupts Itself – New Data on the Asset Class

Investment advisor Cambridge Associates just published a report entitled Venture Capital Disrupts Itself which has some fascinating VC performance data in it. Cambridge makes money by advising large funds such as pension funds and endowments on asset allocation strategies. This includes their alternatives strategy, of which venture capital is one small part. Given Cambridge have one of the largest datasets on underlying venture capital performance globally, this is an important piece of research for the asset class.

Let’s take a step back into history and learn how the majority of the best US funds marketed their firm to their investors for the past ~20 years (excluding the bubble period). In the venture industry, there is a belief that about 15-20 companies a year make up the majority of the returns for that cohort. Paul Kedrosky published a report with the Kauffman Foundation entitled, The Constant: Companies that Matter that analysed the number of companies in the US that get to $100m in revenue by location and sector – the underlying hypothesis being that if a company is able to get to this level of revenue then depending on their growth and product category, they should be able to command a premium valuation on the public markets or in an acquisition. Having seen several VC fundraising decks, this is one of the main arguments they make on why LP’s should continue to back them, “there are 20 deals a year worth getting into, and we are consistently getting into these deals. You’re either in them or you’re not.”

Because of this belief, it has been incredibly hard for first time VC funds to get raised as investors into these funds want to see how they have a competitive advantage to get into one of these 20 companies every year. It’s certainly true that success breeds success, so the best SV funds are almost always oversubscribed by their existing investors. So the argument that a small number of VC firms invest into a small number of companies a year that make up the bulk of the returns of that cohort makes logical sense.

The Cambridge report demystifies this claim of only 15-20 companies making a difference on VC fund performance and sheds new light on how the VC industry is continuing to evolve – and in new markets like Europe and China, finally mature. What their analysis of the top 100 venture investments as measured by value creation (note this means total gains) per year from 1995 through 2012, shows is:

  • an average of 83 companies each year account for value creation in the top 100 investments for each year;
  • in the post-1999 period, the majority of the value creation in the top 100 each year has been generated by deals outside the top 10 deals;
  • an average of 61 VC firms account for value creation in the top 100 investments in venture capital per year; and
  • the composition of the firms participating in this level of value creation has changed, with new and emerging firms consistently accounting for 40%–70% of the value creation in the top 100 over the past 10 years.

The report goes into a lot more detail on the above stats, but what is so interesting is that the distribution of VC returns have changed dramatically since the bubble period. The majority of returns today in VC now come outside of the top 10 largest companies. So this means a larger number of funds today are investing into a larger number of strong performing companies globally. To the players in our ecosystem this all makes sense. On the demand side (ie founders seeking VC) the costs of starting a company are cheaper, every industry in the world is being digitised, new markets continue to be created, and there is more talent in more cities across the globe from which to build your company. On the supply side (ie VC funds investing capital), VCs are creating more specialist funds to differentiate themselves from the platform and multi-stage funds to try and add more value, VCs are innovating by creating value-added services for startups (networks, HR support, sales advice, PR, etc) and the list goes on.

As a VC based outside of the US its great to see hard data on how much non-US company performance plays into the top 100 deals each year. From 2000-2012, they represented an average of 20% of the total gains in the top 100, compared to an average of just 5% from 1995 to 1999, and they reached as high as 50% of gains in 2010. Note, this also includes gains in other countries like India and China, not just Europe.

On top of this, for the last 10 years, 40-70% of the new gains were made be new or emerging managers. As Cambridge reported:

“This makes sense: emerging managers have shown an increased willingness to capture the greater diversity in investments occurring in the top 100. For example, in the post-1999 period, 25% of the total gains driven by emerging managers in the top 100 have come from ex US investments, versus just 11% for established managers. Emerging managers are also highly likely (though not necessarily more likely than established firms in the top 100) to make their initial investments at the seed- and early-stage.”

For Europe, there were a few new exciting VC firms that closed their first fund in 2015 (Felix and Mosaic) and there are more newer funds coming to market in 2016. For European founders this is powerful – more choice from who to raise capital from and more support at every stage from seed to growth. And for LP’s, its never been a better time to get access to new emerging VC managers. There’s never been a more exciting time to be building a technology company anywhere in the world, and I’m proud to be supporting entrepreneurs from all over Europe to achieve their goals.


Non Silicon Valley IPO’s

As of December, we have had three new software based IPO’s on NASDAQ in the final quarter of 2015. Both Instructure and Mimecast listed in mid-November, and Atlassian went public a few weeks ago. All three have built phenomenal businesses, but what is most interesting to me about these last three listings of 2015 is the fact that none of them are based in Silicon Valley, and both Mimecast and Atlasssian were founded outside of the US where they still keep their HQ’s.

They don’t have much else in common. They are going after completely different markets, with differing strategies, different contract values; I’m sure they each have different cultures and differing styles of leadership. But they have proven you don’t have to be based in Silicon Valley, or even in the US to build a large software company.

I’ve noticed a shift over the last two to three years where companies have ultimately decided to keep their companies HQ’d in their local market rather than take it to Silicon Valley. I’m not talking about companies that left their home market when they were only two or three founders and joined an accelerator in the US or ultimately raised angel money in the US and stayed. These are companies who had reached initial product market fit and a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million in ARR and typically had less than 20-30 employees (think DarkTrace, Scytl, Unity etc). Why is this becoming more common?

I would suggest the following five reasons:

  1. Local talent  is more prevalent today in many cities with people who have tech startup and scale experience (in Europe this includes the established cities London, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki and Paris and more emerging cities like Copenhagen, Lisbon, Barcelona and Dublin). Even 5 years ago it was hard to find a world-class product manager in London or Stockholm or a VP Eng who had scaled a 100+ person tech org. Never mind the other critical skills – sales ops, SDR’s, inbound marketers etc. But not today.
  2. Developers are the new kingmakers and are making more decisions on which software to use rather than the old top down model. This has been driven by open source software and more developer tools.
  3. Demand for cloud technologies are no longer constrained to the most innovative companies operating in the US. In fact, we are still at the beginning of this shift. Only the CRM market has moved to being more than 50% based in the cloud vs on premise.
  4. The shift from field sales to inside sales. Companies like Salesforce fine-tuned this model and now many companies operate this playbook with SDR’s, AE’s, Customer Success etc. This enables companies to scale much more rapidly than ever before.
  5. Better tools available for growing your business. The internet and other sales/marketing applications allow for more effective and profitable commercial orgs within startups (inbound marketing, sales ops tools, crm, prospecting tools, etc).

This is just the beginning. In the the market that I know the best – Europe – there are dozens of great software businesses being built quietly by amazing teams. Some of them are about to cross over the $100m revenue threshold in 2016, others are getting close to having $10m bookings years and others have only just hit product market fit but are growing faster than any of the cohorts before them. I can’t wait to see more global software companies being built outside of SV.

Rolling Closes in Venture Rounds

I’ve had a couple conversations recently with founders about rolling closes and thought I would share my thoughts on what I’ve been observing in both the US and Europe. Many of the later stage companies I am aware of have instituted a rolling close when closing a large growth round. This is probably more a sign of the current fundraising environment at the later stage (ie $100m+ raises) than a new norm. Snapchat apparently had a rolling close with their last raise as one example.

At the earlier stages, this has also been a phenomena in the Valley for seed stage co’s. I’ve personally invested into several startups in their first angel round where they’ve kept the round open and used a convertible note to raise over a period of 2-5 months. It’s faster, has lower legal costs and allows you to bring value-add folks in that you meet as your building your company. As long as you can keep building the company without getting hugely distracted by having the occasional investor meeting, I don’t see anything wrong with this approach. Continue reading →

The Internationalization of Startups

For years, I’ve been deeply fascinated in how startups go from their home market to new international markets. From what I observe, it seems like the pace of international expansion is only getting faster. This might be a result of companies raising larger rounds earlier in their lives, drawing on the experience of executives who have launched products and companies in new markets, and the proliferation of the internet and new communication platforms that make it easier for companies to reach new customers and allow employees to communicate with each other more effectively.

I’ve personally been a part of numerous international expansion efforts. Some went fairly smoothly. Others flat out failed. But it’s always more expensive than we’ve budgeted for and more time consuming than we planned on. Through these experiences, I’ve amassed many techniques that I hope will help future companies plan and execute their internationalization efforts.

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Trustpilot Closes One of the Largest Rounds Ever for a European SaaS Co

Copenhagen, Denmark headquartered online reviews company Trustpilot announced today that is has closed a $73.5m funding round led by London based Vitruvian Partners with participation from all of their current investors – SEED Capital, Northzone, Index and DFJ Esprit*. The round was raised on the back of continued explosive growth – everyday, more than 10,000 consumers sign up for a Trustpilot account and they now have over 13 million reviews for over 100,000 online brands. This round marks a milestone for Europe as it is one of the largest fundraising’s ever for a European cloud based software company and proves to other entrepreneurs that you can build a global business from right here in Europe. Continue reading →

Build the Win/Loss Review Habit Early

If you’ve ever spent time with an enterprise sales team you’ll understand what a win/loss review is. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Typically, when a deal you should have won didn’t close, you review back over the sales execution to see where you failed. This shouldn’t be applied to deals that were never appropriately qualified by your BD reps, but rather genuine qualified opportunities that fit your typical buyer profile. And inversely, you should also analyse why you have won deals instead of just drumming the gong and moving on. Continue reading →

Corporate Development vs. Exit Validation

If the first time you are speaking with a corp dev exec from a large potential acquirer is at the start of or during a sale process, it’s already too late. Hours of relationship building with the potential acquirers (corp dev AND relevant business unit execs) should already have been invested into prior to any formal sale process. This begs a few questions: 1) should you speak with corp dev teams? 2) when? 3) how much should you share with them? and ultimately 4) what is the difference in corporate development vs. exit validation?

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