Watch Jason Calacanis, legendary angel investor and VC explore the ‘State of the Venture Industry’ and read the key takeaways from this interview below .
On Early Stage Investing
Since 80-90% of startups fail, the best strategy for new investors is to invest in companies with traction. When starting out, focus on companies that are generating revenue and have at least 5 real paying customers that you can talk to, who were not sourced from the founders’ inner circle.
Part of the job is being an investigator. Make sure that you and the founder are aligned on simple definitions such as customer and user. In some cases, founders define a customer as someone who has logged in once. Find out if the metrics and definitions match your expectations and verify all the data.
The sweet spot is $10k-$20k MRR. In the beginning, focus on these companies to gain some experience in investing. With time you will develop an understanding of the market and startups like myself and Adeo. Lastly, try to focus on a few geographies, for example, I’m currently active in only around 2 to 3.
On the Market
New entrants coming to the market such as Tiger Global and other public market investors are marking up valuations. Their strategy is getting in on as many quality deals as possible with small regard for price. Averaging a deal every 48 hours comes at the cost of due diligence. In contrast, we do more careful diligence than ever.
So we are seeing a very frothy market and reality may soon come if the bubble bursts. We will then get back to valuing companies based on their earnings. Right now people are voting on the potential of technologies but eventually, they will weigh their earnings. Companies like Apple, Microsoft and Tesla are being judged this way now. Many others like Uber and Lyft are starting to show profits, but they’re the outliers.
Outcomes are a function of the process so, we still focus on that and the fundamentals of a company. To not get caught up in the mania, I try to stay humble and not look at the previous victories and I look at each company with a fresh set of eyes. I focus on what I can control and not worry about the rest.
In this market, I will at times sell 10%-20% secondary shares when the right opportunity arises. I want to lock in wins for my LPs and investors as we don’t know when the liquidity will emerge. I believe in slowly pairing your position and think that this is a wise philosophy in the current climate, though some people believe that you should let your winner ride.
On Sequoias New Fund Structure
They have decades of relationships with long-term LPs such as endowments and foundations. These LPs are not sensitive to time so they are aligned with Sequoias ‘patient capital’ thesis. If Sequoia held their positions in companies such as Google, Apple and many others, they could be somewhere from a $500 billion fund to all the way to a trillion. So for LPs in Sequoia, it makes sense to hold on to these assets for the long term and not take the tax hit.
This way Sequoia can also be on the boards of these companies and have a much larger influence. For example, Roelof Botha, a friend of mine who made me the first ‘Sequoia Scout’ sits on the board of Square, which went public at $15 – $20 per share and is now at $250. As a board member, he knew the company was on a tear, so was able to make the decision to not liquidate their position, knowing that there was a possibility of getting 20X more returns after the IPO. So with companies like that, you would want to hold them for the long-term, but only the top-5 venture firms can probably do that and this fund structure allows them to do so.