Zennström calls the tip of high-valuations period, says founders and VCs should take away stigma of down rounds • TechCrunch


Because the world strikes into financial headwinds and geopolitical uncertainty, European founders should get used to taking powerful choices to make sure the survival of their startups. It will embody getting used to “flat” or “down rounds” of funding, after experiencing the excessive valuations of the final couple of years.

That was the message as we speak on the Slush convention in Helsinki from Niklas Zennström, the long-lasting Skype co-founder, Atomico CEO and certainly one of Europe’s most well-known tech gamers.

In a keynote tackle Zennström gave a blunt evaluation of the financial atmosphere, whereas unpacking how he failed a number of instances in his personal profession throughout powerful financial situations.

Speaking about how he needed to wind down two of his personal companies previous to Skype, he mentioned as we speak’s entrepreneurs would now want to show their consideration to the long-term success of their firms, and survival, fairly than the “good instances of the bull market” and the excessive valuations of the previous, and that this may imply powerful selections.

Zennström mentioned regardless of the dangerous status of down rounds (a financing during which an organization sells shares of its capital inventory at a worth per share that’s lower than the worth per share it bought shares for in an earlier financing) or a flat spherical (a funding spherical during which a startup points shares on the identical post-money valuation as throughout its earlier fundraising spherical, successfully which means that the worth of the corporate has gone down), startup founders could have to just accept these as the worth to pay for retaining their firms alive for the long term.

“There’s a stigma. We’ve turned the down spherical right into a worst-case state of affairs. We’re embarrassed about what it would say about our enterprise, that it’s value much less now than it was a 12 months in the past,” he mentioned.

He pointed to information from PitchBook displaying an uptick in down rounds in Q3 this 12 months, with nearly 19% of all European VC funding now becoming this standards. That is up from 12% in Q2, and the development is continuous into This autumn.

However he challenged Slush attendees to consider down rounds otherwise and to not take it personally: “Firstly, ‘down rounds’ are only a operate of the broader market. It’s the truth we’re dealing with proper now. Folks aren’t prepared to pay what they had been a 12 months in the past for shares in a expertise firm. Expertise funding in Q3 is round 30% down on the identical interval in 2021. At Sequence A, pre-money valuations have fallen as a lot as 50% from their highs earlier this 12 months. On this atmosphere a decrease valuation isn’t any reflection on you. It’s market dynamics.”

He added that startup founders at present in fundraising mode ought to increase straight away: “The most important challenge with down rounds is that folks go away them so late. It’s straightforward to hope the market will enhance. I’ve seen founders tempted to place off the increase ready for issues to alter. For an organization that’s pre-profit, which means consuming into future runway. And the much less runway a enterprise has, the riskier that firm turns into.”

The choice after six months may imply “a rescue financing affected by aggressive liquidation preferences and exit clauses. Don’t let that be you,” he mentioned.

Lastly, he mentioned down and flat rounds “are actually about progress. Elevating cash strategically, earlier than the purpose of no return, may show a masterstroke. Any founder with the braveness to lift cash early, on clear phrases, can proceed to scale at a time when others are slowing down and dropping expertise. This can be the one greatest time to rent nice folks away from the competitors. Whether or not the market modifications in a single or three years, these companies received’t have stood nonetheless.”

Reflecting on his personal expertise as a founder, Zennström mentioned he had based and folded a few firms previous to Skype, which was painful, however “in actuality, it wasn’t as massive a deal as I assumed. My group had nice expertise and bought superb new jobs. And I introduced the most effective folks with me to the subsequent thought. The one factor that crashed was my dream… and perhaps my ego. However as soon as it was over, I had the chance to begin afresh. I used to be much more motivated to show I may construct a profitable firm.”

Ending on a optimistic notice he mentioned: “I began Kazaa in 2000 and Skype a number of years later — simply after shares crashed 80% within the dot-com bust. And at first I assumed — wow, I missed the boat!… However then a humorous factor occurred. We managed to discover a manner by means of. As our financial institution steadiness dwindled, we grew to become extra scrappy and value environment friendly. What I realised was extra resilient and enduring firms come from downturns. And based mostly on what I noticed then, and I’m experiencing now, I’ve by no means been extra enthusiastic about what Europe is constructing…”

Following the speech, I requested Zennström if he thought it self-serving for a VC to be presenting a shiny view of down rounds. He mentioned: “Atomico hasn’t led many down rounds, so that is about my private expertise as an entrepreneur and from conditions I’ve seen gifted founders wrestle with years after Atomico’s preliminary funding. When a down spherical comes later, we’re then in the identical boat because the founder — we each expertise any lower in worth.”

He mentioned information doesn’t counsel this funding atmosphere goes away anytime quickly, and the present cohort of firms will expertise extra down rounds: “The issue we’ve is {that a} mixture of misplaced embarrassment and blind hope that the state of affairs will change is stopping founders from elevating in any respect. Which means these founders cease constructing, and expertise stops being developed. This might cease some superb applied sciences of their tracks if we don’t kill the stigma. That may be very unsuitable when Europe has such a tremendous toolkit for achievement within the long-term.”

Subsequent month Atomico will publish its annual State of European Tech 2022.



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