Optimize for value, not for valuation

Speedinvest has completed over 25 seed investments in a little less than 5 years, and that means a lot of deal negotiations. Termsheets are essentially a sales process, where founders try to sell their product (the Startup) as well as possible, and the buyer (the Investor) tries to assess the real value to his or her business, which is, in this case, future returns. The price for the product is the valuation. Naturally, during the negotiation process price is one of the main topics. But the analogy with selling a product clearly ends there. Unlike the price tag on a washing machine or used car, where the future value is subject to simple and well accepted formulae, the future value or returns of a startup is subject to more complex interpretation. It’s a figure so highly individual and incomparable, that there is no golden rule for setting the price.

“Investors are greedy, they want all of my startup!”

We always try to tell founders (during seed-stage deals and also in later rounds): don’t optimize for valuation. Now you could say „Of course, you’re an investor, you want to get as much as possible from my precious company, lower valuations make more sense for you“. Wrong. We want to have a fair share in a successful startup. We don’t look for the lowest valuation, we look for the right valuation. Why? Because the wrong valuation can make or break a startup. What is a fair share? Big enough to make us take good care, small enough that the founders are motivated.

Let’s get into a bit of background. Chances are high that we as a Seed Investor are not the last investor you might have. We’ll invest up to 500k, but you will most likely need more money, depending on your product and the industry you are in. Investors come in clusters or “rings”, much like an onion skin. There is the right investor for every phase, and that means every investor has a different sweet spot and a different valuation range. So getting the right valuation for your startup is an options game, where you have to try to keep as many options open as possible, and then close just the right one.

If your valuation in the Seed phase is too high, you automatically exclude a certain cluster of investors. This is because your current valuation plus the near-term increase based on your traction or progress, will lead to a new minimum valuation for future rounds, and that new valuation might put good investors out of range. And conversely, if your valuation is too low, investors that want to put in a certain sum (because of their business model or investment strategy) will get too many shares (yes, there is such a thing for investors as ‘too many shares’). If founders are heavily diluted in early rounds, future fundraising can be impossible. Investors might decline if the valuation is too low, or worse, just keep you waiting until you “get more traction”. If you fall below that critical sweet spot, you could face the ‘Long NO’.

So valuation is much more a signaling and a targeting exercise than about maximizing a number. A professional investor will want a certain stake in the company to devote the necessary attention, so it’s not only about the ownership, it is also about focus.

But valuation shows how awesome we are

For many founders valuation seems to be a sign of success instead of a means to an end. Focusing too much on valuation is an easy trap: valuations seem comparable at first sight; and everyone talks about valuation. But the very important value brought by the right investors is not so easily assessed. Let’s look at a common example that might show the difference between value and valuation: at Speedinvest, we frequently come across startups that have managed to get Business Angels on board early on. Often they pay enormous valuations in early stages, because a) they are happy whatever the result may be (Roulette), b) they don’t care about the next round (Inexperienced) and c) they will be a minority shareholder going forward anyway, not putting a lot of focus or effort in (Distracted). Would you play Roulette with someone who is inexperienced about the game and easily distracted?

Many founders then wake up in the next funding round, finding out the hard way that no professional investor will pay the valuation increase they expected. The story that “so much has happened since our last round” doesn’t work if you are too expensive for the investor. Down rounds are bad. Very bad. They create the signal that “something didn’t go as planned” and they need a lot of explanation. In this case it is far better to have a nice, easy, upward trajectory. You might show slow growth and get by on bridge rounds for a little while, but at least you are moving consistently in the right direction.

Using valuation as a measure of success is a trap. Paul Graham puts it this way:

„Not only is fundraising not the test that matters, valuation is not even the thing to optimize about fundraising. The number one thing you want from phase 2 fundraising is to get the money you need, so you can get back to focusing on the real test, the success of your company. Number two is good investors. Valuation is at best third.“

So optimizing for higher valuation will

  1. Take you longer, defocusing you from what actually matters, your business
  2. Get you lower quality investors, that will not contribute much
  3. Hurt you in later phases, because of inflated expectations and limited options
  4. Not make you rich.

Looking for the right investor, that helps you get to the next phase, is much more important than anything else. Focusing on raising your round quickly also matters. 2 % more of your startup won’t make a change.

PS: Some words on convertibles.

Convertibles are growing increasingly popular among founders because you can “close the round quickly” and, probably the strongest argument, you don’t need to set the valuation (yet). Both assumptions are wrong.

In fact, no decent investor will forego the process of defining how you want to work together or fail to put that in writing (e.g. investment agreements). So you’ll end up drawing up the same list of terms as you would in a priced round. It looks quicker, but in truth it isn’t.

The benefit of setting a higher valuation, because it’s a cap (upper limits) and has a discount, creates the same signaling problem as above. If your cap is too high, you end up with a down round, with the serious risk of giving away more than you wanted, just because some things don’t go as planned. Floors (lower limits) are pretty uncommon in Europe still, and those would limit the potential damage.

Additionally, if you happen to raise a lot of money with Convertibles with different caps, the math quickly gets ugly and it becomes really hard to tell a potential new investor how big the round actually is and what the valuation will be. All the convertibles add up, thus increasing the round and all of a sudden you are raising a seed round in the millions, with most of the money already spent in the past.

Convertibles are good in two cases only: 1) if you think that you can scale the business substantially in the next months and need some money to get there from your existing investors or potential investors to reach the next financing round or 2) if you are raising some small tickets from casual investors, that don’t want to negotiate terms heavily, are insensitive of valuation and are fine with the instrument. In all other cases, do an equity round. It will save time, work and trouble.

Good reads:







Speedinvest verstärkt Präsenz in Deutschland

Speedinvest, der Risikokapitalgeber mit Büros in Wien und im Silicon Valley, der im März dieses Jahres seinen mit 58 Millionen Euro dotierten 2. Fonds präsentierte, verstärkt seine Präsenz in Deutschland. Mit Helmar Hipp und Marie-Helene Ametsreiter werden zukünftig zwei erfahrene Entrepreneure in Deutschland zukunftsträchtige Startups scouten.

Speedinvest ist bereits seit seiner Gründung in Deutschland aktiv und investierte dort bisher in das Fintech Startup Payworks, sowie Joblocal, einen Anbieter regionaler Jobplattformen, der 2014 von der Funke Gruppe übernommen wurde. Darüber hinaus sind mehrere Startups des Speedinvest Portfolios in Deutschland äußerst erfolgreich unterwegs – allen voran Shpock (erfolgreiches Mobile-Classifieds Portal), Wikifolio (führende deutschsprachige Social Trading Plattform) und Flaviar (kuratiertes Kennenlernen von Spirituosen).

Der Schwerpunktliegt auf Seed Investitionen, allerdings verfügt Speedinvest mit einem erwarteten endgültigen Fondsvolumen von ca. 75 Millionen nun auch über ausreichende Mittel, um Startups in späteren Finanzierungsrunden zu begleiten. Der inhaltliche Fokus liegt auf digitalen Geschäftsmodellen, wobei sich Speedinvest, neben ein Reihe sehr erfolgreicher B2C Beteiligungen vor allem in den Bereichen Fintech und disruptive Kerntechnologien (“Deep Tech”) einen internationalen Namen aufbauen konnte. Insbesondere für Technologie – getriebene Startups hat Speedinvest mit seinem eigenen Büro und Sales Team im Sillicon Valley ein einzigartiges Angebot für europäische GründerInnen geschnürt.

Zukünftig wird der Fonds seine Aktivitäten in Deutschland verstärken. Neben Direktinvestments in deutsche Startups wird Speedinvest seine Portfoliounternehmen im Markteintritt in der größten Volkswirtschaft Europas unterstützen. Aus diesem Grund freut sich das Team Helmar Hipp als neuen Venture Partner bekanntzugeben.

Hipp verfügt über mehr als 20 Jahre Erfahrung in der Internet- und Medienindustrie und ist ein Experte für digitale Geschäftmodelle und dazugehörige Wachstumsstrategien. Zuletzt war er als CEO der Ifolor Gruppe tätig und ist darüber hinaus Business Angel und Beiratsmitglied verschiedener Startups. Bei Speedinvest wird er als Venture Partner sein umfassendes Know-How im eCommerce und B2C Segment in die Auswahl und Betreuung der besten deutschen GründerInnen einbringen.

Darüber hinaus wird Marie-Helene Ametsreiter, Topmanagerin aus der Telekommunikationsbranche und ehemalige CMO der Telekom Austria Group, in der Münchner Startup Szene aktiv werden. Ametsreiter ist bereits seit 2014 Partnerin bei Speedinvest und unterstützt Portfoliounternehmen in den Bereichen Marketing und Business Development. Per Anfang 2016 wird Marie-Helene Ametsreiter nach München übersiedeln und dort verstärkt in im lokalen Ökosystem präsent sein.

Oliver Holle, CEO von Speedinvest zum verstärkten Deutschland Engagement: “Speedinvest setzt auf globale Modelle, in die wir sehr frühphasig einsteigen und diese dann gemeinsam entwickeln. Deutschland hat mehr zu bieten als eCommerce Copycats, hier wollen wir unseren Fokus setzen.”

The Flaviar App – your IMDb for spirits!

Starting today, you’ll always know what drink to order in a bar or which bottle to buy. The Flaviar App is your go-to resource for Whisky and other fine spirits – your IMDb for spirits! With a database of 10,000 bottles it provides all essential information and ratings at a glance. But the real kicker is the ability to visualize flavours with the Flavour Spiral, a way to taste what’s inside the bottle, before you actually try it. The Flaviar App is available as a free download in the App Store.

Stop Guessing What’s Inside the Bottle

“We all hate that feeling of insecurity when looking at shelves full of bottles, trying to decide what to get. Prices, labels and bottle shapes can’t tell me if I’m going to like the drink or not.” says Flaviar co-founder Grisa Soba. “That’s why we made the Flaviar App – to give people the best insights possible on what to expect. It’s the closest to tasting a drink before actually tasting it!” For every drink, Flaviar serves up its rating and information about the distillery and production methods, tasting notes and its Flavour Spiral. As Soba puts it: “We want this App to be your IMDb for liquor!”


The Flavour Spiral Lets You See Flavours in a Drink

The Flavour Spiral is Flaviar’s innovative way to visualize flavours that can be found in a drink – a fresh take on the traditional Nose-Taste-Finish approach that can come off a little flat. “After having worked for almost three years on finding the perfect way to visualise a drink’s flavours, their dynamics and gathering data, we are convinced that the Flavour Spiral is what drinkers of fine spirits have been missing,” says Soba.

Flaviar commissioned an artist to draw 252 flavour components for the Flavour Spiral. These art pieces are a great inspiration when looking for food pairings to go with a drink, too.

With the Flavour Spiral adding the visual component, you can now experience a drink with all your senses. “Seeing the Flavour Spiral is much more intuitive than just reading a written description. It also shows the balancing of flavours, so I find it meaningful and useful,” one user review states.

User tests of the Flaviar App also proved that with the Flavour Spiral it’s much easier to detect and recognize flavours in your drink, previously indiscernible. Great news for those that are just getting into spirits and mixology!

Build Your Home Bar – Virtual and Real

The Flaviar App lets you manage your personal collection of drinks in the My Bar section. Once you are ready to take your flavour explorations into the real world, you are only a few taps away. Although Flaviar is not a liquor store (at least not a typical one), you can submit an order for many bottles right through the App, or choose one of Flaviar’s curated Tasting Packs with samples of fine spirits. Either way, your home bar will become the best bar in town in no time.

payworks provides NFC payments on 50,000 Digitax cabs

payworks and The Payment House to provide NFC payments on up to 50,000 Digitax cabs across Europe

The Payment House, provider of eeZee Taxi, a mobile application suite for cab drivers and their passengers, has chosen payworks to launch an NFC payment solution to cabs in the UK, the Nordics and Central Europe. The solution will be rolled out by Digitax, the leading provider of taximeters and other taxi solutions equipping more than 50,000 taxis in total in Europe. The joint solution will support both contact and contactless payments via credit and debit card and will be tightly integrated with Digitax’ taxi products.

The initial UK launch of the joint solution took place with some of the London Black Cabs in the beginning of July and was closely followed by EastCoast Taxis in Newcastle two weeks later. The solution will be gradually expanded across the country from the beginning of August with Belgium following a week later. The fully integrated taxi solution for the Nordic taxi market (booking, dispatch, fleet management, payments & invoicing) will be rolled out later this year. In addition to EMV Chip & PIN acceptance in the cabs, The Payment House allows passengers to pay with a passenger app called eeZee Pay, removing the need of a credit card being present.

payworks runs a payment platform for developers, enabling providers of integrated POS applications to easily integrate payment terminals and Card Not Present payment functionality into their apps via the payworks mPOS software development kit (SDK). By relying on the payworks Software as a Service infrastructure, The Payment House is able to process transactions with local Acquirers, making it possible to rollout to different countries without the need to change the integration.

“We are very impressed with the flexibility of the payworks platform, which enabled us to get to our launch much quicker than we expected. The speed we gained since we started working with payworks will be instrumental for our future success”, says Staale Reiersen, Group CEO at The Payment House.

Christian Deger, co-founder and CEO of payworks adds: “We are seeing an increasing number of companies using the payworks platform to deliver solutions to the taxi vertical. It is exciting to see how The Payment House uses our technology to deliver an innovative payment solution to this space on a European scale.”

New Enterprise Associates (NEA) collaborates with Speedinvest – 55M USD for European Startups

New Enterprise Associates Collaborates with Austrian VC Speedinvest – $55 million for EU Startups

New Enterprise Associates, the world’s largest venture fund by assets under management, invests $5M in Speedinvest’s second fund and reserves $50 million to drive global growth in Speedinvest’s portfolio of top EU startups

Global venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, Inc. (NEA) and Speedinvest GmbH today announced a collaboration that could see $55 million in early-stage and growth capital reserved for the best global companies to emerge from Europe’s burgeoning startup scene.

While European countries such as Germany and Austria have produced global brands like SAP and Red Bull, European entrepreneurs traditionally face a shortage of venture capital and small, fragmented local markets. Speedinvest was designed to provide not only the necessary seed-stage capital, but also the hands-on support of its founders, all successful serial entrepreneurs, in addition to a strong EU-USA bridge program.

The Speedinvest formula has yielded excellent results in a short time, and New Enterprise Associates announces today that it will be focusing some of its capital and resources in an effort to help provide a global platform for the best European startups. NEA will invest $5 million directly into Speedinvest’s newly launched second fund, and anticipates reserving $50 million for follow-on investment in Speedinvest portfolio companies.

NEA is one of the largest venture capital firms in the world with over $17 billion cumulative committed capital since inception, having recently closed its fifteenth fund with $2.8 billion dollars in committed capital. The firm has invested in companies such as Salesforce, Groupon, Box, Silicon Graphics and Macromedia that have defined the technology and economics of Silicon Valley. NEA executes a diversified venture strategy across geographies, with offices in China, India and across the US, in addition to having a broad portfolio, investing in companies at all stages of growth and across a diverse range of sectors including healthcare, consumer technology, and enterprise software and services.

‘We see tremendous opportunity in the European startup ecosystem, and have invested in some very promising companies like GoEuro. By collaborating with Speedinvest, we can create a platform that helps ensure the very best EU startups have sufficient access to capital to achieve global scale,’ said Scott Sandell, NEA Co-Managing General Partner. ‘Like NEA, Speedinvest is a team of company builders. We believe that supporting Speedinvest’s innovative model is a great way to expand our focus in this key market.’

In addition to providing capital, Speedinvest’s general partners also take operational roles with portfolio companies to accelerate growth, particularly in business and corporate development. Speedinvest’s Silicon Valley operations shorten the steep learning curve, and provide seasoned entrepreneurial talent for fundraising and customer acquisition that are often out of reach of European startups. This ‘hands-on’ formula addresses the primary challenges facing European founders, and has been validated with strong results. Speedinvest has produced 4 exits in the past 12 months.

‘NEA and Speedinvest are well aligned in their view of the opportunities offered by the European startup market, and for Speedinvest this collaboration represents the best possible opportunity for our companies,’ said Oliver Holle, founder and CEO of Speedinvest. ‘It gives them the ability to achieve a global scale that only a handful of funds can provide. NEA also represents the very top-tier of the Sand Hill Road funds, a firm that has written the history of venture capital, and their support is a great show of appreciation for what we have built here in Europe.’

About NEA
New Enterprise Associates, Inc. (NEA) is a global venture capital firm focused on helping entrepreneurs build transformational businesses across multiple stages, sectors and geographies. With nearly $17 billion in cumulative committed capital since inception NEA invests in technology and healthcare companies at all stages in a company’s lifecycle, from seed stage through IPO. The firm’s long track record of successful investing includes more than 200 portfolio company IPOs and more than 320 acquisitions. www.nea.com.

iyzico Closes $ 6.2 Million Series B

iyzico Closes $ 6.2 million Series B Investment Round with the IFC, 212, Endeavor Catalyst and Speedinvest

iyzico, the Istanbul based payment solutions company, closed a $6.2 million Series B investment round with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s investing arm, Istanbul based venture capital firm 212, New York based investor Endeavor Catalyst, and Speedinvest from Austria. The IFC led the investment round.

The investment, which brings iyzico’s financing to date to $ 9.4 million, will allow iyzico to expand its research and development team, and scale its payment technology globally.

“We’re thrilled to work with the IFC, 212, Speedinvest and Endeavor Catalyst,” said iyzico CEO Barbaros Ozbugutu. “It is particularly exciting to work with the IFC – a body with tremendous knowledge and experience in financial tech sector worldwide. Having become the leading payment solution for online businesses and enterprises in Turkey, iyzico is enthusiastic to take its technology global.”

As it looks beyond Turkey, iyzico plans to target the markets of the Middle East. “Our goal is to become the Stripe of the region,” Ozbugutu said. “We’re eager to bring our easy to use and effective payment solution to the many online companies sprouting and scaling up from Lebanon to Jordan and beyond.”

“Iyzico provides comprehensive online payment solutions for ecommerce merchants and marketplaces.  Iyzico-enabled merchants can offer consumers a broader choice of local payment options at lower cost and with improved security.  We believe the company will be an important part of the infrastructure for Turkey’s fast growing ecommerce sector” said Andi Dervishi, Head of IFC’s FinTech Investment Group.

Speedinvest raises 58M EUR for Second Fund

Leading EU Early Stage Venture Fund Speedinvest raises 58M EUR for Second Fund, Proposes New Model for Early Stage Investing

Speedinvest has just announced the launch of its second fund with 58M EUR this week., the largest ever raised in Austria. The European tech ecosystem has traditionally been undercapitalized, but recently there is increasing overall interest in tech startups. A competitive, global environment is developing where money is chasing premium returns outside hotspots like Silicon Valley. Oliver Holle, Speedinvest founder and managing partner, explains Speedinvest’s new model: ‘Europe has a few great fundamentals for venture investment, but in order to make seed stage VC work in our region, we really had to re-invent the model.’

Speedinvest brings significant innovation to venture capital, in terms of LP structure and incentive model for GPs. Specifically, the Speedinvest model offers a unique growth platform for its portfolio companies by engaging members of the fund in full-time operational roles such as marketing, business and corporate development, thereby significantly extending the value chain typically covered by venture investors. This model not only raises the success rate of Speedinvest’s seed investments, but also contributes significantly to the equity pool for its investors.

This “work for equity” model is also the basis for Speedinvest’s incentive model for its general partners, as Holle explains, ‘We charge very low management fees and we don’t charge carried interest. In exchange for our extensive, hands-on work, the general partners take an equity stake in the fund. It’s an incentive model that nicely aligns general partners, investors and founders. We succeed when everyone succeeds. Rather than live on management fees and hope for the next unicorn, we create a lot of value out of consistent, strong base hits. Of course, we don’t exclude the unicorns, but our model significantly raises the floor on traditional VC and that is essential for Europe.’ Erik Bovee, Speedinvest founder and US managing partner underlines the importance of this entrepreneurial approach to VC, ‘All of the Speedinvest founders are serial entrepreneurs. We have been through the cycle a few times, and we take very active roles with our portfolio companies, much more than just board seats and networking. We help them address specific challenges. One key goal is to build business in the US. With our offices and partners in both Europe and Silicon Valley we are designed to do just that. So far, the formula works very well.’

Speedinvest’s investors align well with this approach. Speedinvest is supported by 80 entrepreneurs and private investors who actively co-invest and in some cases collaborate with Speedinvest’s portfolio. Apart from AWS, an Austrian government agency that invested 7M EUR, Speedinvest´s funds are 100% private – in stark contrast to the typical Central European fund where often more than 50% comes from taxpayers. Speedinvest enjoyed 3 highly profitable exits in 2014 and has plenty of proof points for its model from its 1st fund: startups like Wikidocs, acquired by Atlassian in 2014, or indoo.rs, an indoor navigation startup that just launched its innovative solution for San Francisco International Airport and is partnering with Marvell in Silicon Valley. Speedinvest counts another half dozen European success stories including Shpock, Wikifolio, Holvi, Hitbox and Crate.io that attest to the success of their ‘hands on’ investing model.

The Future of Speedinvest: Pan European Focus, Pioneers partnership

Speedinvest is expanding its traditional Central European focus and will source deals from across Europe. For this purpose, Speedinvest has built a strategic partnership with Pioneers (http://pioneers.io), the organization behind the Pioneer’s Festival, one of the world’s premier technology events, as well as more than 60 smaller startup events across the globe. Pioneers holds an annual startup competition with over 800 applicants and provides a platform of events and media support for startups. Pioneers provides Speedinvest with a source of dealflow, and a platform for exposure that are unrivalled in Europe. Speedinvest 2 will also provide later-stage, growth capital, in addition to writing pre-seed tickets for the best, nascent companies.

Speedinvest has also bolstered its core team with new partners from the upper reaches of the European startup and corporate technology world. Michael Breidenbrücker, founder of Last.fm (acquired by CBS $240 million), Marie-Helene Ametsreiter, telecom executive and ex-CEO of Croatia’s leading mobile carrier VIP.net, and Stefan Klestil, angel investor and financial technology expert, have all joined the Speedinvest team as general partners. Last, but not least, Johann ‘Hansi’ Hansmann, one of the most prolific and successful regional angel investors, has joined Speedinvest as chairman of the board.

‘Speedinvest has really gone from strength to strength,’ concluded Holle. ‘We had originally targeted 25 million Euros for our first close in February of this year, but have raised nearly 60 million to-date. Our second, and final close will take place in autumn of 2015, and I won’t be surprised if we end up nearly doubling our original fund size of 50 million. Speedinvest is strongly positioned to make Vienna a center of gravity not only for Central Europe, but for the entire EU tech ecosystem.’


Speedinvest hebt die österreichische Venture Capital Industrie auf das nächste Level: Mit 58 Mio EUR an Investitionszusagen innerhalb weniger Monate liegt Speedinvest 2 weit über den Erwartungen. Österreichs somit größter Venture Capital Fonds stellt neue Partner und Strategie vor.

Wien, 3.3.2015 – Nach einer intensiven Fundraisingphase von nur fünf Monaten gibt Speedinvest das First Closing seines neuen Fonds mit einer Dotierung von 58 Mio Euro bekannt. Damit wurde das ursprünglich kommunizierte Ziel von 25 Mio für das First Closing deutlich übertroffen. Speedinvest ist mit diesem Fondsvolumen einer der größten Frühphasenfonds in Europa und positioniert sich klar als Nr.1 Venture Fonds für digitale Startups im Raum CEE. Das Closing steht unter dem Vorbehalt der gesetzmäßigen Registrierung der Speedinvest GmbH als „EuVECA Manager“ und der Speedinvest 2 KG als „EuVECA Fonds“ bei der FMA.

Venture Capital ist ein wesentlicher Wachstumsfaktor für jede moderne Volkswirtschaft. Dies steht im krassen Widerspruch zur Entwicklung der letzten Jahre in Österreich. Laut der Branchenorganisation AVCO wurde 2013 (und, soweit bisher bekannt, auch 2014) weniger als 5 Mio EUR an privatem Kapital (und 15 Mio EUR öffentliche Mittel) für die Bereiche Private Equity und Venture Capital eingeworben .

Nun setzt Speedinvest einen neuen Standard. Dem Team rund um Oliver Holle, das seit 2011 mit seinem ersten Fonds 10 Mio EUR in Startups aus der Region investierte und bereits 3 internationale Exits erzielte, gelang es nun, innerhalb von nur 5 Monaten Investitionszusagen von 58 Mio EUR für den Venture Capital Fonds Speedinvest 2 einzusammeln, davon 51 Mio EUR (87%) aus privaten Mitteln. Speedinvest ist somit nicht nur in Österreich eine Ausnahmeerscheinung, sondern auch im europäischen Vergleich. Laut EVCA stammen nahezu 40% der Mittel für Venture Fonds aus öffentlichen Quellen, private InvestorInnen und Stiftungen tragen im Schnitt nicht einmal 25% der Mittel bei.

Oliver Holle sieht diese Zusammensetzung als große Stärke: “Bei Speedinvest erhält Risikokapital ein menschliches Gesicht. Mehr als 90 InvestorInnen und Business Angels stellen einen Teil ihres hart verdienten Vermögens Startups hier in der Region zur Verfügung. Diese InvestorInnen sind selbst zu einem guten Teil erfolgreiche UnternehmerInnen und viele davon wollen sich auch aktiv einbringen. Dieses Netzwerk ist ein einzigartiger Vorteil für Speedinvest und unsere Startups.”

Es ist beabsichtigt, Speedinvest 2 als Europäischen Risikokapitalfonds nach den einschlägigen Vorschriften aufzulegen. Das dafür erforderliche Registrierungsverfahren bei der FMA wurde bereits eingeleitet. Der erfolgreiche Abschluss dieses Registrierungsverfahren ist Voraussetzung für das rechtswirksame Closing von Speedinvest 2.

Wer sind die InvestorInnen hinter Speedinvest?

Eine Vielzahl der InvestorInnen des ersten Fonds finden sich wieder, darunter etwa Russmedia, Hansi Hansmann, Eva Dichand und Gerhard und Michael Ströck. Ebenfalls wie im ersten Fonds setzt auch die Austria Wirtschaftsservice Gesellschaft mbH (AWS), die Förderbank des Bundes, ihr Vertrauen einmal mehr in das Team und sprach Speedinvest im Rahmen einer Ausschreibung 7 Mio EUR aus Mitteln der Nationalstiftung für Forschung, Technologie und Entwicklung zu.

Besonders stolz ist Speedinvest, auch erfolgreiche österreichische Startup UnternehmerInnen als InvestorInnen gewonnen zu haben, so etwa Gründer von Paysafecard, Gentics, Wikidocs, Blue Tomato, Dynatrace oder Runtastic. Des Weiteren stoßen das deutsche IT Unternehmen Allgeier Gruppe, die Püspök Gruppe, die Heinzel Group und die Gebrüder Weiss dazu, die seit einigen Jahren an Corporate Innovation im digitalen Bereich arbeiten und dadurch noch näher an das Startup Geschehen heranrücken. Weitere prominente UnternehmerInnen bzw. Top ManagerInnen, die sich in der InvestorInnenliste wiederfinden, sind Andreas Bierwirth, Niko Alm, Clemens Drexel, Günther Kerbler oder Rudi Semrad.

Johann “Hansi” Hansmann, der wohl bekannteste Business Angel Österreichs und wesentlicher Mitinitiator von Speedinvest 2, bringt den Erfolg auf den Punkt: “Speedinvest hat durch seine erfolgreiche Tätigkeit in den letzten vier Jahren, auch in der Kooperation mit Pioneers, das Interesse von vielen InvestorInnen, die sonst niemals in Private Equity Fonds investieren würden, erweckt. Diese Plattform des Vertrauens wird uns auch weiterhin enorm helfen, nicht zuletzt für das Second Closing. Die Türen sind ja – noch – für einige Monate offen!”

Bis spätestens September 2015 sollen weitere InvestorInnen noch die Möglichkeit erhalten, bei Speedinvest 2 mitzumachen. Ziel ist ein Gesamtvolumen von 70 Mio EUR, wobei auch hier mehr möglich erscheint.

“Open for Business”, mit neuem, erweiterten Team

Speedinvest 2 wird nach Erfüllung der regulatorischen Voraussetzungen mit vollem Schwung starten. Insgesamt wird sich bei den Investments die Schlagzahl im Vergleich zum ersten Fonds noch einmal deutlich erhöhen. Geplant sind zumindest 10 Neuinvestments / Jahr, davon mehr als die Hälfte außerhalb Österreichs.

Um diese Vielzahl an Projekten auch weiterhin mit außergewöhnlichen, unternehmerischen Ressourcen zu unterstützen, hat sich Speedinvest bereits vor einigen Monaten mit durchaus prominenten Persönlichkeiten aus der Startup und Technologie-Welt verstärkt:

• Marie-Helene Ametsreiter, Topmanagerin aus der Telekommunikationsbranche und ehemalige CMO der Telekom Austria Group,
• Michael Breidenbrücker, Serial Entrepreneur und Co-Gründer von Last.fm, einem der weltweit erfolgreichsten Online Musik Dienste,
• Stefan Klestil, einer der im DACH-Raum bekanntesten Business Angels im Bereich Finanztechnologie (FinTech), ehemalige Führungsfunktionen bei First Data und Wirecard,
• Klaus Matzka, als Mitgründer von Gamma Capital Partners einer der Pioniere der österreichischen Venture Landschaft und zuletzt bei Pioneers aktiv,
• Lucanus Polagnoli, Co-Geschäftsführer von Whatchado und Private Equity Insider,
• Johann “Hansi” Hansmann, aktivster Business Angel Österreichs, er übernimmt als nicht operativer Partner den Vorsitz des Investment Committees.

Das bestehende Erfolgsteam rund um Oliver Holle mit den Gründungspartnern Daniel Keiper-Knorr, Michael Schuster, Werner Zahnt sowie den beiden US Partnern Erik Bovee und Marcel van der Heijden bleibt selbstverständlich erhalten.

Fokus auf Zentraleuropa, weiterhin 100% digital

Speedinvest 2 soll seinen Fokus weiterhin konsequent fortsetzen. Der Schwerpunkt wird auf Seedfinanzierungen in der Höhe von durchschnittlich 500.000 EUR je Initialinvestment gelegt. Mit dem neuen Fonds soll nun eine Möglichkeit geschaffen werden, die oft diskutierte Finanzierungslücke bei Startups in späteren Phase zu schließen. Bis zu 3 Mio EUR kann Speedinvest hier je Investment Case investieren.

In der Auswahl der Startups liegt der Fokus weiterhin auf digitalen Geschäftsmodellen, wie etwa E-Commerce und Medien, Finanztechnologie (“FinTech”) sowie Gründungen im Kerntechnologiebereich (“Deep Tech”). Vor allem der Finanztechnologiesektor wird im Jahr 2015 als eines der dynamischsten und spannendsten Investmentthemen gehandelt.

Erik Bovee, US Partner bei Speedinvest, sieht jedoch auch völlig neue Trends die auf den Fonds zukommen: “Wir sehen uns zur Zeit eine Anzahl an hoch interessanten Hardware oder Robotics Startups an. Gerade die Verknüpfung dieser Technologien mit dem mobilen Internet birgt enormes Potential.”

Der regionale Fokus wird sich deutlich ausdehnen, so plant Speedinvest grundsätzlich, pan-europäisch die besten Deals zu sourcen. Hier soll auch die Partnerschaft mit Pioneers einen signifikanten Vorteil im Dealflow bringen.

“Mit Pioneers verfügen wir nicht nur über einen Partner, der quer durch Europa in den Startup Communities vernetzt ist, sondern auch über eine Plattform, um rasch und unkompliziert kleinere Investments (20.000 bis 100.000 EUR) umzusetzen.” betont Michael Schuster, bei Speedinvest für die Pioneers Partnerschaft verantwortlich, die Wichtigkeit dieser Kooperation.

Selbstverständlich bleibt Speedinvest weiterhin ein österreichischer Investor. “Wir alle kommen aus der österreichischen Startup Szene und sehen und als ein integraler Teil dieser Bewegung. Viele Technologie-Insider wissen bereits, dass wir in Österreich über Weltklasse Technologie verfügen. Nun liegt es auch an uns zu zeigen, dass wir Weltklasse Unternehmen bauen können!”, meint Oliver Holle.
Wichtige Hinweise für die Presse:

Es ist beabsichtigt, Speedinvest 2 als Europäischen Risikokapitalfonds gemäß der Verordnung Nr. 345/2013 vom 17. April 2013 über Europäische Risikokapitalfonds (“EuVECA-Verordnung”) aufzulegen. Gemäß dieser Verordnung können Anteile des qualifizierten Risikokapitalfonds an andere Anleger als professionelle Kunden vertrieben werden, sofern diese sich verpflichten, mindestens 100 000 EUR zu investieren und schriftlich in einem vom Vertrag über die Investitionsverpflichtung getrennten Dokument angeben, dass sie sich der Risiken im Zusammenhang mit der beabsichtigten Verpflichtung oder Investition bewusst sind.

Nach der EuVECA-Verordnung ist es notwendig, sowohl den Verwalter als auch den Fonds zu registrieren. Dieses Registrierungsverfahren bei der FMA wurde von der Speedinvest GmbH bereits eingeleitet. Sein erfolgreicher Abschluss ist Voraussetzung für die Wirksamkeit des Closing und die Aufnahme der Investitionstätigkeit des Fonds.

Es wird aus regulatorischen Gründen dringend darum gebeten, in der Berichterstattung über Speedinvest 2 stets darauf hinzuweisen, dass das Closing und die Investitionstätigkeit von Speedinvest 2 unter dem Vorbehalt der gesetzmäßigen Registrierung der Speedinvest GmbH als „EuVECA Manager“ und der Speedinvest 2 KG als „EuVECA Fonds“ bei der FMA stehen.


Wake up and smell the esports

A recent South Park episode aired in North America, ‘#REHASH’, and probably had most viewers over the age of seventeen, and who don’t devote at least 20 hours per week to playing Minecraft or League of Legends, a little mystified. In the episode, pre-school children taunted the show’s main characters, who are assumed to be about ten years old, because they didn’t understand the culture of video games as a spectator sport. The older children had only a vague understanding of who PewDiePie is, and no understanding whatsoever why their four year old siblings would rather watch video of people playing Minecraft than actually play the game themselves on the family Xbox. The living room is dead and a new entertainment industry has sprung up while you old people were sleeping.

Sure, new industries spring up all the time in recent years, but I was struck while giving a talk at a telecommunications conference in Silicon Valley the other day that 40-year-old executives had precisely the same lack of clues as cartoon ten-year-olds. PewDiePie? Who? DotA2? World championships ten million dollar prize purse? And suddenly I had everyone’s attention.

What kind of fast growing cultural phenomenon separates not only the middle-aged from the adolescent, but also slices finely through adolescent demographics with a resolution of months, not decades? One that grows so large, so quickly that unless you were in precisely the right place at the right time (playing League of Legends obsessively in 2012) you probably missed it.

esports, or the spectator sport of video games, has gone from almost nothing to a bona fide professional sports industry within two and a half years. In 2011 the Season 1 League of Legends World Championships was held at a small festival in Sweden, with 1.6 million global viewers, and a total prize pool of 100,000 USD. In 2014 the Season 4 League of Legends World Championships occurred live at the 45,000 seat Seoul World Cup Stadium in South Korea. 27 million viewers tuned in from around the world, and the prize pool was 2.13 million USD.

To put that into perspective, Major League Baseball’s World Series recently drew 14.9 million global viewers.
Here is a nice illustration of what that evolution looked like (stolen from Reddit):

esportsThe world championships for a similar video game, DotA2 (short for Defense of the Ancients 2) had a total prize pool in 2014 of 10 million USD. And the story is the same for Call of Duty Black Ops, with over 1 million USD in prize money, and a host of other popular titles.

The rapidity of esport’s growth has had some interesting side effects. esports has had to professionalize very quickly, and traditional media companies and sports agencies have begun to pay attention, but in the interim years there was tremendous opportunity for new players. Most people know about Twitch, and its acquisition by Amazon for just under 1 billion dollars. A few new entrants into this market have appeared, including SpeedInvest portfolio company hitbox.tv, who leads the pack of contenders for Twitch’s crown. But this won’t be a ‘winner take all’ market. Early investors have wondered if Twitch will suck all the oxygen out of the room, and create a service like YouTube, that dominates one sector of online video. But esports is growing in a number of directions, and esports video will resemble traditional sports far more closely than the vast monopolies enjoyed by internet companies that provide a best-in-class, narrow feature set, such as ‘search’ or ‘video self-publishing’ to a massive audience. There will be an esports ESPN (and, in fact, that might be a direction in which ESPN evolves, although the culture of traditional sports is not entirely compatible with esports); there will be a Tennis Channel of esports; Fox Sports; Eurosport; the Golf Channel, and on and on. This market can be sliced in many different ways for an online service, not just in terms of content programming, but also in terms of features and viewer requirements. Live viewers of professional esports might want high quality, stutter free video with professional production quality and professional announcers, but people watching celebrity gamers such as PewDiePie (the largest YouTube channel by subscribers), and others in the ‘Let’s Play’ movement who offer casual, and often comedic, video game play to millions of spectators, require features that engage an audience personally: chat, sweepstakes, voting and polling and loyalty programs. In the future, esports services in certain segments will provide unique features and interactivity.

esports is at the end of the very beginning of its commercial evolution. Justin Kan, founder of Twitch, was very clear in a recent interview at TechCrunch Disrupt: he believes that esports will be as large, if not larger, than professional sports. And I agree. The global video game market is already larger in dollar terms than cinema. Everyone plays video games. And live broadcast for video games isn’t just for elite cyber-athletes. PewDiePie and hundreds of others prove this. The esports market is at the very beginning of its growth, and it will have plenty of room for the professional gamers, in addition to the speed runners, ‘Let’s Players’, modders, hackers, the critically unskilled (and often unwittingly hilarious), and even the trolls and griefers.

On that note I’ll leave you with an old video of two young geniuses exploiting bugs and their opponents’ naivete in Team Fortress 2. ‘Team Roomba’ don’t have skills. They don’t have a coaching staff or a private bus or team jerseys. In fact, they are terrible and probably live with their parents. But they are hilarious, and 2 million people have watched them making their teammates lives an utter misery.


Pitch Perfect

Yawn! Another blogpost on pitching. Is that going to make the world any better, solve riddles and problems of our time? Will it make me / you happier, slimmer, more beautiful, etc.? No. But the honest truth is: I can’t stand bad pitches any more.

You might think that we reached a point where everyone has consumed everything there is about good pitching, inhaled all the good material and all the pitches are perfect. Let me tell you the ugly truth from the front: they are far from that, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. It is probably the one skill where US startups crush any European Startup anytime. Unfortunately. Because there is a dozen of other disciplines, where we easily trump them. So let’s fix this.


I looked at my past year as an investor, and figured out I heard about 1 pitch a day, including weekends. Roughly 400 companies have tried to communicate their ideas in anything from 6 to 60 minutes and I can tell you, I went out of those pitches with a warm fuzzy feeling only 1 in 10 times. Why? Because still pitching is considered an “art” where it is really a craft, a skill, that can be trained and perfected, that can be learned and refined like nothing else in Startupland.

The preparation for this article was easy, attending Pioneers Investors Day and the Startup Awards weekend in a short time span. I tried to identify the most common issues and summarize them in clear statements, that make it easy to follow. So without further ado, 4 areas that your pitch needs to do perfect.

The Deck

  • Use a common structure, there are enough good examples. Why? This way you make sure everything expected is in there and I can follow it easily. Innovation should not be happening in the deck, but in your company.
  • There is only one, or maximum two, slides on the product in your deck. Why? It may be a super technical, super complicated product as such, but if you are not able to describe it in 2 slides, how on earth are you ever going to sell something?
  • Know your pitch. Inside out. If you stumble, I stumble. Why? After all you are talking about your company, your baby, your main occupation. You should know your stuff, right? Right?

The Speech

  • You are what I focus on. I need to get the strongest possible impression from you. Why? Because I also judge your startup based on the human capital. So show me the best you can.
  • That means: never turn to the wall and read your slides. Always keep eye contact. Hands out of the pocket. Give me the strongest, most assertive voice you have. No mumbling in your beard, no slow and silent speech. Why? Your energy translates to my energy. If you mumble your slides to the wall, hands in your pockets, no movement, I will feel uncomfortable or even bored. You don’t want that.
  • Love your pitch as much as you love your product. Why? Yes you might be in love with your product (that’s most likely the reason you started this company), but you need to love your pitch just as much to convince me. You will be pitching for sales, partners, employees, etc. in the future, pitching is your most important skill.

The Tools

  • Prototypes, product, etc. to the audience. Why? If you have something to show, give it to me. I am as curious about cool stuff as you. I WANT TO TOUCH IT!
  • No complex setups. Why? Whatever can go wrong in a pitch will go wrong. If you are not able to master your tools, you lose an opportunity to tell a story. Never be obsessed with those, be obsessed with getting the message across.
  • Stories are your best friend. Why? They immediately engage me, give me a context, and make for a perfect outline of your presentation. If you have a story to tell, use it. It’s your most powerful tool

The Q&A

  • This is the most important part. Why? A good Q&A can save a bad pitch. A bad Q&A can ruin it.
  • Short, precise answers. Why? I need to get the feeling you know your thing inside out. No need for long stories here. Time is precious. You wan’t to take as many questions as possible to show you know your thing.
  • Great question. Not. Why? Don’t congratulate me on a good question. Answer it. Q&A is No-Bullshit-Time. It’s like in a boxing ring, you would never tell the other guy “good punch”, would you?

Last not least: Know what you want. The Ask is what you do this pitch for. Pitching is about getting something. And even if you are just in training mode, ask for what you currently need. You never know who is in the audience and might be able to help.

Alright. Let’s pitch!

Exit: Founders, you weren’t using your soul, were you?

This post appeared first on Venturebeat.

Here’s an extreme version of what you can expect to hear just before signing over your startup in an acquisition deal: “Our counsel says including your first-born child in reps and warranties is totally standard. We have never had any pushback on this!”

Welcome to the fun part! You are about to be acquired by ACME SaaS ‘n Widgets! You have agreed upon, and signed a term sheet, after three weeks of painful wrangling that nearly cost a marriage and two lifelong friendships. Now, all you have to do is finalize the purchase agreement and send over a few due diligence files. You are almost over the finish line! This part is just a formality, right? Right?

The end is near, but you aren’t done yet

First, a few notes on organizing your team for the final push. The operational work of assembling and shipping the due diligence material and jumping through all the hoops and audits can be daunting. Make sure you budget time, and get your COO, your accountant and your back office A-Team well prepared. Chances are they will be in crisis mode off and on until the notarized signatures (in blood) are dry.

You also need a good lawyer, obviously. If you are big enough then maybe you have in-house counsel, but probably not. Spend some time shopping around as early as possible. Deep M&A experience and references are essential, but really pay attention to soft skills. Things can get tremendously pressurized and complicated and you want an experienced M&A attorney who also communicates clearly and efficiently. Keeping things simple and building a rapport with the buyer’s counsel are just as important as any LLM.

Also, you should agree on a cap on legal fees. Throw as much legal work into the deal as possible, and don’t hesitate to get a little pushy in negotiating an ‘all in’ price for full support for the entirety of the acquisition process. These are lawyers, after all.

Regarding due diligence, you will go through code audits, share all of your contracts and financials, and I guarantee that some weird stuff will come up that you didn’t anticipate. Startup financials are often messy and, honestly, when was the last time you put your source code through an auditing service to check for license and IP conflicts? You really need to keep a level head and make sure you have stable, inexhaustible crisis experts on the core team. Consider the stresses, late nights, and the fact that the deal will look like it is falling apart two or three times during the process. Delegate responsibilities accordingly.

Finally, you are going to find yourself confronted with a purchase agreement that is probably close to one hundred pages long. By the time you are through with the red lines, and the addition of schedules, you will be holding the draft of a major historical novel. Friends of mine have had this document bound and it sits today on the living room shelf as a constant reminder that they now have an enormous legal vocabulary and a pile of cash in the place where a soul used to be.

About that soul…

Now, about that soul: you are going to want to pay particular attention to a long section of your purchase agreement covering ‘Representations and Warranties’. This is where you will be living for the next three months. This section comprises all of the guarantees, risks and liabilities that you, your executives and founders (and perhaps your shareholders and extended family) will be assuming in the case anything goes wrong. The first draft of this part of your agreement issued by the buyer is going to be utterly terrifying, and here is the reason:

There has been a lot of early stage investment in the last few years. As one VC famously said in 2010 ‘An entire generation of entrepreneurs are building dipshit companies […]’ in the hope of selling to Google for 25 million dollars. Blame was squarely pointed at YCombinator and Super Angel investors like Ron Conway. I guess I fall into this bucket as well, but I sleep pretty soundly because the success of YC companies like Dropbox and AirBnB, or Uber (and my own investments Runtastic, the greatest sports training app of all time, or Shpock, one of the world’s leading consumer-to-consumer e-commerce apps; just sayin’) has shown this prognosis to be idiotic. But the flourishing of early stage investment and the rise of the ‘Super Angel’: prolific individual investors with fairly deep pockets, have started to change the legal dynamics of some acquisitions. Lots of people want to sell their companies. A few of them want to sell at an early stage. And many are backed by rich business angels, and thus buyers have the option of pushing founders and their investors to put their money where their mouths are. Buyers are increasingly likely to ask individual shareholders to take on large, personal liability.

You are going to want to push back hard on reps and warranties in any case, but you are somewhat likely these days to find the buyer putting you, your angels and VC in the firing line. Please, for my sake, and for the sake of my future, spoiled children, make this a ‘no go’ area. Uncapped, personal liability for individual shareholders is not OK, and we need to make it stop right now. It flies in the face of the principles of corporate law, and any attempt to include this sort of provision in a purchase agreement should be punishable by an eternity in the fiery pit.

You and your lawyer can really go wild redlining the first draft of the purchase agreement, paying very close attention to the reps and warranties. Work early with your founders and shareholders to establish hard limits here.

The following months are going to be a complete roller coaster, but try to keep in mind that there was tremendous goodwill and impetus on the part of the buyer to engage in this process and deploy copious and expensive resources to push the deal ahead. Everyone wants to see this through, and often seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome if you all keep a cool head and get enough sleep. Deals that get to the purchase agreement stage probably maybe won’t fall apart.

If and when you do finally push your deal over the line, take a deep breath and get psyched about your upcoming stint as VP of Whatever at ACME SaaS ‘n Widgets. Try to learn from the new job, and enjoy it as much as you can, because, I guarantee you, the moment your earnout is achieved or your handcuffs are off, you are going to be out of there. Then take your cash pile and go help out some promising startups. And, when the time is right, like a father sitting down with his moody tween, have a talk with them about the birds and the bees and break out your old collection of VentureBeat articles about M&A.

Startup Grind Vienna: Oliver Holle

Startup Grind Vienna kicked off two weeks ago and invited Oliver for a truly personal interview about his entrepreneurial path. If you couldn’t make it to the party at Sektor5 you now have the chance to watch the video online.


The exit: Fear and Loathing in M&A for founders

This post appeared first on Venturebeat.

You’re sitting in your office late on a Friday, alone. Hot wet tears are streaming down your cheeks. Your mobile phone rings constantly. Your CTO, shareholders, and everyone else is calling to learn how the meeting went. The COO who joined you on the conference call has already left and is taking Monday off.

And, of course, now there’s a dilemma.

After months of prep, tech and business development meetings, megabytes of pre-due diligence material, an ambitious joint business case, synergies, frank and open discussions about feelings and lifelong goals, dinner with the proposed acquirer’s leadership team, and a process that seemed to be going so smoothly, you have just hung up on the buyer’s VP of corporate development. They are excited about your joining the family, fantastic opportunity, etc. and they are happy to offer you precisely 40 percent of what you were sure your company was worth.

How do you explain this to your shareholders? Your co-founders? Who is to blame for this life altering disappointment? Why you? Why now?

Fear is a powerful negotiating tactic

There are a few important things to be learned from this scenario. First, Bovee’s law of mergers and acquisitions: if there is going to be bad news it always comes late on Friday afternoon, just as you are making plans for the weekend. You receive a call from the chairman of the board at 4:53 p.m., and you know, immediately, from the tone of her voice what she is going to say. It always happens on Friday.

Second, driving value in an acquisition has nothing to do with all that stuff you were working so hard on the last few months. Value in an acquisition is driven by fear. Period. What is going to motivate a CEO to spend top dollar for an acquisition? Feelings? Synergies? A really, really good imaginary business case? No. The threat of being heckled on stage at her keynote because she publicly lost a perceived major advantage to a competitor at the last moment. I’m not going to name names, but I just saw this happen a few weeks ago, and it sucked.

Let’s go quickly back through the list I gave you in “The Exit” part 2: you have an ambitious global expansion plan, a data room, protected your IP, cleaned up your cap table, and made sure key people are happy. You have been practicing the pitch and the story relentlessly, obsessively with your co-founders, and have set up your internal corp dev team and “wargamed” all the scenarios and negotiating points. You were ready for this. You were so ready, but now it looks like it will be impossible to close a 60 percent gap. The buyer is willing to issue a term sheet, and wants 30 days exclusivity, but the only alternative seems to be to back away from the table. And the disappointment is going to hit your team hard.

Everything that you did is important, but the key piece is to manage the acquisition so that you can create significant and true leverage. And the best leverage is to have other acquirers sitting eagerly at adjoining tables.

Timing is everything

Timing your discussions with competitive bidders is absolutely essential, and it is by far the hardest part. This is where investors and board members come into play. In certain cases, you might even want to consider retaining an M&A professional, because this piece requires full-time dedication. In the early stages, you, as a founder, shouldn’t be too aggressive, and if you are the CEO, and particularly if you are also heavily involved in sales for your company, you may want to hand off the early M&A outreach to someone else. You’ll get involved soon enough.

This part of the process is very much like enterprise sales, except the beginning is much easier. And the middle is much, much harder. You need to open a big pipeline of potential acquirers, and reach out to them all systematically. There are a few factors that are working against you here, and which make acquisitions rare (and which make timing an acquisition to maximize your leverage not only rare, but nearly impossible): there are probably only one or two dozen companies who are realistic acquirers for your company, but among this set there is a high probability that the subset having both budget and having earmarked companies in your sector as strategic targets for that year is zero. That funnel gets so narrow so quickly that you really need to put energy into the early stage.

Making the initial calls is easy. Many people, battle-hardened from years of enterprise software sales, will be familiar with negotiating access to decision makers. That doesn’t happen so much in M&A. Get your chairman of the board or one of your VCs to call their CEO. ‘This is about a potential acquisition…’ There, that stage is done. You have negotiated access to the power person.

I get a lot of questions from founders about trying to quantify the early M&A process: what is Google buying this year? How much did they spend on companies in our sector? What about Apple? And you can quantify these things to a certain extent, but they don’t help much beyond building the initial pipeline. M&A is particular for each company, and is tightly wound with company culture. It’s a real black box, in many cases. For instance, Google does spend lots of money acquiring early stage companies. And they do lots of deals, but they are also quite well known for acquiring talent. In general, the deals are not often big. And if you are talking to a large acquirer like a Cisco or Yahoo!, they have often developed their shopping list for that budget period long before your conversation started. You will have limited visibility or influence. I’m sure your technology/team/market is amazing. The VP of corp dev probably doesn’t care.

Sorry, no intermission for M&A

For similar reasons, the middle part of your M&A pipeline development gets hard. This is where you should be personally involved, or someone who pitches your company really, really well. In the best case, the acquiring CEO will delegate representatives from corp dev, the CTO team, business development/strategy and possibly product in early meetings to assess the opportunity. In the worst case scenario, you will find yourself talking to a corp dev associate who was an investment banker two years ago. In this latter case, it probably isn’t a deal. You found yourself outside the core acquisition bucket for that budget year, and they kicked it to an associate. It’s not a priority, or your first pitch was really poor.

When you find yourself on track with the right teams, schedule your time very carefully so that you can bring them up to speed in tandem. If you need to slow things down, don’t delay responses or deliverables: make sure you appear totally on the ball, and have your material prepped. Respond to data requests within 24 hours. But push meetings out if you need to. You are very busy. Your schedule doesn’t open up for 2.5 weeks.

If this process works out well, you might find yourself in acquisition discussions with 2 or more competitors, and this is the ideal situation. If you have a growth scenario (fundraising and maybe an IPO somewhere down the road) that is nice, too, but the threat of a competitive acquisition drives the strongest leverage. But you do also need to handle these discussions diplomatically. Don’t be too aggressive. Figure out ways to signal, discreetly, and as early as possible, that you are in discussions with other buyers. But don’t throw it in anyone’s face. They will back off quickly. If you can signal this well it should help you avoid the ‘disappointing initial offer’ scenario as much as possible. It can save you some tears and a ruined Friday night.

What to do about a disappointing offer

If you do receive a disappointing offer you can back off graciously. And often a clearly worded email restating the positive sides of the acquisition, the synergies (technical and cultural) the palpable excitement among your founding team, and the significant upside in the joint business case, can work late-stage miracles in pre-term sheet discussions, particularly (and often only) if coupled with some serious competitive leverage. If you have the guts to walk away the buyer will sense it, and you can quickly qualify or repair the deal.

But also be aware that there are limits. I’m sure you have done your homework as part of the development of your M&A pipeline, but look carefully at annual M&A spend and deal sizes of your potential acquirer. You have already agreed on an internal strike price. Reality check it, and if it looks like you could be headed for disappointment, get together with your team immediately and explore alternative scenarios.

At this stage, all the elements should be in place to start with a reasonable offer. There will be some verbal back-and-forth, standard negotiating, and you will probably spend a week or two arriving at what both parties consider a fair price and high-level terms. This is when the buyer will issue a term sheet.

Term sheet time

The term sheet is often surprisingly light after all of the process you have been through. It comprises an outline of the deal, is usually non-binding, and gets you ready for the final purchase agreement which is where the real fun begins.

Things to pay attention to in the term sheet: the buyer will almost always ask for a ‘no shop’ period, during which you can’t talk to other acquirers while the term sheet is negotiated. Obviously, push to keep this as short as possible. If you can get two weeks, that is awesome.

The term sheet should also include the purchase price, deal structure, escrow and ‘hold backs’, if any; there might be some HR stuff, termination, governing law and a few other points. You will spend the ‘no shop’ period negotiating all this. One important consideration: make sure that the terms are crystal clear, and do NOT under any circumstances, assume that you can change agreed terms simply because the document is non-binding. Attempting to do this gives a very bad signal to the buyer.

The buyer’s perception of risk will rise considerably in later stages of negotiation over the purchase agreement, and screwing up early communication and then attempting to backtrack during later, expensive legal wrangling can kill deals. Fast.

So, in a perfect world, you have managed a competitive acquisition process, it is Friday afternoon, and you just got off the phone with the acquiring VP of corp dev. The offer was only 17% off the strike price you had agreed with your internal corp dev team, and there is every certainty you can close the gap. And, in case you can’t, Acme SaaS and Widgets want to schedule a corp dev call next week. You give your COO a big hug and you both stroll off into the night to have a drink and plan your weekends.