Founder Institute CEO Adeo Ressi shares his thoughts on the recent changes in the funding landscape, and the risks he sees for the future.by Adeo Ressi (Founder & CEO, Founder Institute & TheFunded.com)
Since 2008, I believe there has been more innovation in the field of funding entrepreneurs than in any other short period in history. Recently, I have been asked by many entrepreneurs, investors, and journalists to provide my thoughts on the last five years, and on where we are headed in the future. Here's my opinion.
In 2008, as we watched banks fail and governments hand billions to organizations that ultimately stole value, I believe thousands of people around the world came to the same realization: bankers and politicians had led the world into a dark place, while the passionate entrepreneurs who were building value struggled in the shadows. The time had come to focus and support those that build value.
As a result of this thinking, we have seen a massive amount of innovation.
In the five years since the "Great Recession," the broad field of funding entrepreneurs has changed more than in any other point in human history. There are literally hundreds of changes worthy of discussion, but lets discuss what I believe are the five most important.
Increased Viability of Bootstrapping
Everything a tech entrepreneur needs to build an amazing product or service is now nearly free, eliminating cost as a key barrier to entry for innovation. The free part was born out of the crisis of 2008, when most service providers and technology companies were struggling to stay in business. Everyone from lawyers to hosting companies said to entrepreneurs, "you can sign up and use my service now for free, as long as you agree to pay me later, when you can." Vendors realized that this was not only good for business, but it was also the right thing to do to help fix the economy.
Now, anyone with a dream that is willing to work hard can build a world-class company at a reasonable cost. And, market forces will continue to reduce the costs, both tangible and intangible, that stand in the way.
Shifting Business of Venture Capital
The venture capital market as we once knew it is dead. The vast majority of the people, the language, and even some of the deal terms, are gone. The amount of money and the volume of deals has declined, opening opportunities for new players to enter the market. The venture capitalists who did survive probably don't even recognize themselves in the mirror anymore.
With increased competition, the venture capital industry is becoming increasingly founder-friendly as well. Now, the newest partners being hired into firms typically have recent entrepreneurial experience, and we are seeing increasingly favorable deal terms. New firms are being launched that look at differentiating through analytical investment, like Right Side Capital Management, or through services, like Andreessen Horowitz. Many firms are even starting to look like full-fledged consultancies.
Angels to the Rescue
Angel investing has become significantly easier on both sides of the fence, with standardized terms like convertible equity, and tools like AngelList or Gust. For the first time in the last 20 years, the amount of angel investment dollars has surpassed venture capital. And it's not just a little larger - it's TWICE as large, and maybe more.
I actually believe angels are pouring over $75 billion per year into startups. I also believe angels are funding the “gap” of the “Series-A crunch”, significantly reducing the impact that I, and many others, predicted. There are hundreds of promising companies being created now that will only ever raise money from angels, which ultimately means lower fundraising and management overhead, and more incentivized team members. This is undeniably a good thing.
Emergence of Crowdfunding
Governments around the world are loosening rules that govern the funding of private companies, supporting a boom for inexperienced investors to finance companies with small amounts of money. Startups will soon be able to advertise that they are seeking an investment and raise money from anyone.
Obviously crowdfunding still faces a ton of challenges, such as preventing the cheaters, the thieves, and the charlatans from stealing the show. However, I believe those that cite the current shortcomings of the JOBS Act (of which there are many) are being shortsighted. It will be a very, VERY, bumpy road, but the potential for change is absolutely massive.
Rebirth of Incubators and Accelerators
In most developed cities around the world, incubators, accelerators, and other programs are being launched to help founders beat the odds. They come in all shapes and sizes, from office rentals to early-stage investors, offering a mix of training, mentorship, investment and services.
The promise of a return is uncertain, not all of these initiatives are created equal, and many will crash and burn - even by the end of this year. But, I think most people who criticize these programs are overlooking a simple, underlying fact: their motive is to help.
You can certainly argue that there are too many incubators (there are), and you can scrutinize the management, philosophy, and financial sustainability of most programs as well. However, of the hundreds, if not thousands, of incubator and accelerator programs that I’ve seen, I can probably count on one hand the number of "bad apple" programs that genuinely try to take advantage of entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, these organizations want to help, and I believe it is the right thing for the ecosystem to support any program that wants to help entrepreneurs succeed. Everything else will work itself out naturally.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
The promise for a bright future is now great, but the reality is still harsh. In particular, the lack of sizable liquidity events or exits is very concerning.
To see greatness emerge from all the innovation we have seen these last few years, there needs to be three big changes to our current situation, in my opinion.
- First, the terms of acqui-hire deals need to be standardized, and dozens of these deals need to be completed each month, turning bold founders into millionaires.
- Second, large companies sitting on billions in cash need to start buying good companies for tens of millions of dollars, and stop trying to copy the innovation spawned by these fledgling startups.
- Lastly, there needs to emerge a thriving secondary market for the strongest startups, allowing founders and employees to take money off the table without going public.
The good news is that I know plenty of great, amazingly talented people working on all of these initiatives, so I am confident that the future is bright for funding entrepreneurship.
About the guest blogger: Adeo Ressi is the founder and CEO of the Founder Institute, the world's largest early-stage startup accelerator with over 800 graduate companies worldwide. Through the Female Founder Fellowship program, the Founder Institute is committed to narrowing the gender gap in tech startups and surpass 30% female-led graduate companies. Adeo is also the founding member of TheFunded.com, an online community to research, rate, and review funding sources worldwide. Photo credit: chichacha via Flickr.