Category: Spectrum Insights

Pitch Perfect or How To Ask For Money

How to VC Pitch (Badly)

Many companies seek venture capital investment under the misguided assumption that they are somehow the newest and best thing to hit the market and that this is the end-all / be-all criteria for VC investment selection.

At Spectrum, our firm is not looking to buy into the shiniest and most novel ideas, for the sake of them being shiny and novel. Quite the opposite, we frequently the view that the more novel the company’s approach the more likely it is to be a speculative idea filled with unknowns. Unknowns in the VC world equate to risk. Greater novelty is generally highly correlated to greater levels of uncertainty. Uncertain viability, risk of acquisition of potential customers, uncertainty in predicting operating costs; the list goes on. The more that a business has uncertain factors the less likely are the chances of that business securing institutional investors — because it is too hard for the VC firm to quantify what the business will need to succeed.

Understanding this should save founders (and the VCs they pitch) an immense amount of time.


We’re Creating the Pintrest for Cats!

 An alternate, but similarly misguided, path to seeking venture capital funding is to use a tortured metaphor for the sake of credibility by association. The formula is generally, “we’re the X of Y” which may include describing a startup as the “Birchbox of Men’s Socks”, or the “Tom’s Shoes of Eyewear”, among many other cringe-worthy examples.

A company may very well be the Snapchat of Wedding Planning — a point which may sound impressive to the founder’s friends over dinner. However, this is nearly irrelevant to venture capital firms without a great deal of additional information, which often gets sidelined by founders trying to shoehorn a comparison for the sake of perceived legitimacy. The flawed logic appears to go something like, “VCs invested in Uber, Uber is a transportation app, we are a pet psychic app, therefore we are the Uber of Pet Care.”

This is a counterproductive tactic by the company because it does not take account that the factors that led to the VC’s investment in the X may be completely different than those in the company pitching. For example, when Uber was seeking VC (the first few times), they were solving a problem that was nearly ubiquitous with no widely adopted solution in the marketplace. The Uber of Pet Psychics does not benefit from the ubiquity of people needing a pet psychic (which may incidentally be a pet which is a psychic or a psychic who reads the minds of pets) and therefore trying to draw the comparisons only creates an opportunity for an investor to see the differences and tune out the rest.


Create Value And Focus On That

Focusing on the novelty of an idea or its relation to the past success of others for purposes of raising venture capital is time poorly spent. The best use of time in a VC pitch is to explain how the company has created value. This is done by showing how a company is the most efficient means for solving some problem or reducing some paint point for customers, and that those people are willing to pay for the solution.

Venture capital investment is well spent when it is used to accelerate an already well-defined value creation model, not to fund the wild goose-chase of a vague idea. If a company can demonstrate that it has created a means for value through a product or service and is looking for additional capital to bolster that value, they are likely in the right place.

Just because one spends a lot of time, effort, and money developing a solution does not mean that there was ever a worthy problem. Similarly, venture capital exists for the purpose of bringing great companies to the next level, not as a reward for amorphous ingenuity.

Intrinsic Value What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

More than once a week at Spectrum there is a conversation that goes something like “Our view of the company’s valuation is….” and then the other side replies “But you are not considering the intrinsic value.” To which we would unfailingly reply, “That is correct.” All too often, founders and early stage investors get caught up in this idea of intrinsic value because they want it to be there so badly that they overlook the simple fact that intrinsic value has nothing to do with valuation from an investment standpoint.

What is Intrinsic Value?

Intrinsic Value is the value placed on a company based upon its “brand positioning” or “all the work that it took to build the company” or some other senseless metric. The theory is that because a company exists, and has a following, or was expensive to start or because the founders passed up on a lucrative job somewhere else, that somehow enterprise value has been created and therefore should be considered in the valuation of a company by a venture capitalist.

Valuing A Company and its Assets

The next question, often asked after the other party is relatively hurt by the sudden realization that there is no such thing for a venture capitalist as enterprise value, is “How DO you value a company”. Unfortunately, only really three ways of valuing any company and these are largely universal methods which apply both to the assets of the company as well as to the company itself.

Valuation Method #1: How Much Can You Sell It For

This should appear the most straightforward valuation method as it is about terminal value. This is the question of what someone is willing to pay, today, in the orderly disposition of a company or an asset. There is a great story of a company whose CEO insisted that their company’s intellectual property was worth AT LEAST $50 Million and the CEO spent a good ten minutes explaining why it was worth so much money having to do with all of the brilliant minds that worked on the intellectual property and how revolutionary it was. The response to this assertion was “Do you know of anyone today who would pay $50 Million today for the IP?” the CEO responded “Well, no but that’s because…” and listed more insane excuses.

When asked, “Well, if more people knew about the IP and knew it was for sale, do you think someone would pay $50 Million?” the CEO again responded in the negative and when asked how much someone would actually pay for the intellectual property the CEO indicated that the company had been offered about $8 Million for the intellectual property along with some other assets but that the CEO doubted that offer was still available.

Valuation Method #2: How Much Can You Rent It For

Not all companies or assets need to be sold in order to have value. For example, much of the real estate industry is based upon the idea that commercial real estate is best valued as a multiple of the income stream that the property can produce irrespective of the historical cost of the asset or even the replacement cost. Similarly, most companies exist to sell a product or service as opposed to sell their assets. The income generated from the sale of goods and services can be similarly adapted as though the company were renting out the method of production.

To arrive at a valuation based upon renting, leasing, licensing, or otherwise commercializing an asset one need only know the likely annual cash-flow stream (net of the expenses related to commercialization) and the multiple of the cash-flow stream investors would be willing to accept. The multiple of cash-flow streams can be derived through the calculation of a given investor’s target Internal Rate of Return (IRR) as the denominator and 1 as the numerator. The target IRR is also (rationally) based on a function of the risk-free interest rate and perceived volatility over the duration of the investment.

The risk-free rate can be calculated based upon the equivalent yield of the US Treasury matching the anticipated duration of commercialization and then the only variable left is volatility. As such, to value any asset based upon its commercialization, all an investor really needs to know is the expected cash-flow from commercialization, the duration of commercialization, and the volatility of that cash-flow stream over the duration.

Valuation Method #3: What is the Avoided Cost 

Avoided cost becomes a tricky valuation metric because it is inherently linked to the metric of selling or renting an asset (as being able to avoid a cost only matters if you have an expense – otherwise there is nothing to avoid). That said, avoided cost is differentiated because it is something that may be otherwise worth more to another party than it is to the company itself.

For example, the value to Coca Cola of Pepsi being eliminated to the market is likely far more than the value of Pepsi’s assets or even the multiple on Pepsi’s income stream. This is because Pepsi would be able to avoid substantial costs in advertising and marketing and could theoretically significantly raise prices if it did not have Pepsi in the market. Similarly, a company may be sitting on an asset that could be utilized to reduce the expense of another company substantially more than its own value in generating income for its owner (the standard example of this being vertical integration).

Arriving At A Valuation

Given these three methods, in order to arrive at a singular valuation figure for an enterprise, one must consider the value of the constituent components (a sum of the parts method) as well as the value of the company as an operating system. In certain circumstances, buyers may be willing to pay more for the pieces as they may be split up among different buyers or they may be able to be divested from certain liabilities (such as in the case of a sale in bankruptcy) or conversely, a buyer may be willing to pay more for the operating company because the separation of any of the pieces might lessen the company’s ability to derive value from the above (selling the patents to Apple’s products and the Apple trademark separately would greatly diminish the value of both assets as the value in the trademark is based upon the recognition of the product – similarly the value of the products is based upon their association with the trademark).

Similarly, barriers to entry are all valued in avoided cost. Everything from the monopolistic value of a company to the cost of its licensing and the value of every one of its customers can be viewed in the context of avoided cost.

Is there was value beyond the sum of the assets and why is that not intrinsic value?

There is value beyond the sum of the assets, except to the extent that the value beyond the sum of the assets of a company is always reflected in the valuation method of commercialization as that is the amount the company itself was able to derive in cash-flow from commercializing the asset as an operating company. So while there is more value than the some of the assets in their discrete pieces, there is never more value than the sum of the assets, valued together.

Why people think there is intrinsic value

Despite having no place in valuation, founders and early stage investors cling to this idea of intrinsic value because they are frequently stuck with having to justify seeking a valuation that cannot be reconciled with any rational metrics. As such, intrinsic value has become a catch-all for inflating valuations in venture capital. Frequently the requirement to increase the valuation has something to do with either historic events of the company (such as raising a bunch of money that was squandered and not wanting to do a down round despite the fact that the company is inherently worth less than when the prior investors invested) or general avarice.

Again, just because the company raised a lot of funding previously at a higher valuation has really nothing to do with valuation as many companies make extremely poor use of their funding and actually put themselves in a worse position than before their prior funding as they now have large overhead obligations and increased expectations without any appreciable value creation to support it.

Similarly, issues such as the opportunity cost of the founders has nothing to do with venture capital valuation. Just because a founder left a job that was paying them a lot more money or they could have gone to work for Google or Pfizer or McKinsey has nothing to do with what the stock in the company is worth – that has do with how they value their internal basis in their stock.

To find more of Spectrum’s insights click here.

Why We Do Not Accept Unsolicited Investment Pitches

Unsolicited investment pitches are a lot like getting hit on at a bar. Someone comes up to you and starts telling you all of the things they think you want to hear and presenting themselves in the best, most utterly unrealistic, light in the hope that you will be charmed by them and ultimately never notice all of the bad parts or by the time you do – it will be too late – and you will be stuck with them. As a fiduciary of our investors, this should seem like a horrible way of going about making an investment decision.

At Spectrum, we take a considerably more “rational” approach, which is to say that we are often setup by friends. We are fortunate to work with a network of diligent and talented professionals, who we have built relationships with and who understand our investment model and what it is that we are looking for when we invest in companies. Utilizing our network allows us a much broader reach as we are able to access investment opportunities that we otherwise would have never heard about. Having trusted advisors as a filter also allows us to review much fewer companies and have a much higher likelihood of finding a fit as they have been pre-screened.

We also go out and look for companies on our own, this is frequently based upon an investment thesis from our team regarding a specific sector or type of company. Once we have developed this thesis, we start looking around for companies in the sector who we believe have a significant differentiation and then work to understand how additional capital would facilitate their enterprise growth.

While this more limited approach may cause us to occasionally miss out on the next big thing, we believe that it provides our stakeholders with the best opportunity to achieve long-term value creation.

Spectrum Venture Capital and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, regulatory or accounting advice. Nothing contained herein is intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, regulatory or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in or refraining from any transaction, as this site should not be used as a substitute for competent professional advice from a qualified practitioner in your jurisdiction. 

Structuring Effective Incentive Compensation Agreements At Early Stage Companies


Emрlоуее stock option plans have long bееn a ѕtаndаrd part оf аn executive соmреnѕаtіоn расkаgе, but thеѕе рlаnѕ саn bе offered tо other еmрlоуееѕ as wеll. Stосk орtіоnѕ саn effectively еngаgе еmрlоуееѕ іn thе long tеrm and create a ѕеnѕе оf оwnеrѕhір. Mоѕt employee ѕtосk орtіоn рrоgrаmѕ аrе саѕhlеѕѕ. Thіѕ means thе еmрlоуее іѕ nоt rеԛuіrеd to рау for the орtіоnѕ whеn they аrе іѕѕuеd and аrе eligible only to rесеіvе the dіffеrеnсе bеtwееn thе іѕѕuе рrісе аnd thе еxеrсіѕе рrісе whеn exercised. Thеѕе plans аrе рrеvаlеnt іn startup еnvіrоnmеntѕ whеrе cash flow mау be a сhаllеngе аnd companies lооk for a compensation ѕtrаtеgу thаt buіldѕ a long-term аnd high level of соmmіtmеnt.

Oрtіоnѕ can gеnеrаllу bе еxеrсіѕеd (оr “sold”) at аnу time durіng аn аgrееd-uроn tеrm, ѕubjесt to a vesting schedule. Vеѕtіng ѕсhеdulеѕ оutlіnе thе percentage of орtіоnѕ thаt are аllоwеd to be еxеrсіѕеd аftеr a gіvеn аmоunt оf tіmе. Vesting schedules аmоng smaller соmраnіеѕ generally extend fоr thrее or fоur уеаrѕ, vеѕtіng оn a рrоrаtеd bаѕіѕ, mоnthlу, ԛuаrtеrlу or аnnuаllу. Employees аrе told the соnсерt of thе ѕtосk option рlаn and tоld thаt thеу wіll get their money аt a lіԛuіdаtіоn еvеnt оr thеіr dераrturе еvеn if thеу don’t physically оwn the ѕhаrеѕ.

For еxаmрlе, Aѕ раrt of a startup соmраnу’ѕ еmрlоуее соmреnѕаtіоn strategy, Josh is given 5,000 еmрlоуее ѕtосk options when hе joins thе company. The options аrе сurrеntlу valued аt $1.00 еасh, аnd vеѕt quarterly оvеr a fоur-уеаr реrіоd. Thе stock орtіоnѕ аlѕо hаvе аn еxріration dаtе, which іѕ thе date by whісh аll the орtіоnѕ muѕt be еxеrсіѕеd, оr thеу wіll bе forfeit. Josh іѕ еlіgіblе tо аррlу hіѕ орtіоnѕ аt a rаtе оf 312.5 орtіоnѕ еvеrу three mоnthѕ. In оthеr words, еvеrу thrее mоnthѕ 312.5 mоrе options bесоmе available tо hіm untіl all 5,000 have bесоmе available оvеr the fоur уеаrѕ from thе dаtе оf іѕѕuе.

It is соmmоn that аll employees аrе еlіgіblе for ѕtосk орtіоnѕ in ѕmаllеr оrgаnіzаtіоnѕ, and аbоut 70% оf еmрlоуееѕ receive them. Thе bіggеѕt сhаllеngе many ѕtаrtuрѕ face wіth еmрlоуее ѕtосk орtіоn рlаnѕ іѕ thаt іf the рlаnѕ are nоt саrеfullу ѕtruсturеd and mаnаgеd fоr the long tеrm, thе аllосаtіоn оf орtіоnѕ саn rеduсе thе аvаіlаbіlіtу of орроrtunіtіеѕ fоr nеw hires аѕ the оrgаnіzаtіоn grows. Whіlе іt іѕ gеnеrаllу роѕѕіblе to award significant options to еаrlу-ѕtаgе employees, it саn become increasingly dіffісult tо соntіnuе аt the ѕаmе level аѕ thе оrgаnіzаtіоn grоwѕ. This оссurѕ bесаuѕе thе stock орtіоn pool dіmіnіѕhеѕ еvеrу tіmе thе соmраnу awards options, аnd іf thе рlаn is nоt well organized, thе орtіоnѕ mау run оut.

If уоu are lооkіng fоr a way to ѕеt uр аn effective еmрlоуее stock аgrееmеnt, hеrе аrе three essential things tо kеер іn mind.

Prераrе thе Vision of thе Соmраnу’ѕ Organizational Chart: Dо this for bоth current employees аѕ wеll аѕ аn еѕtіmаtе fоr the nеxt 12 to 24 months of future hіrеѕ, wіth еѕtіmаtеd ѕаlаrіеѕ оf еасh роѕіtіоn.

Establish Current Valuation of thе Соmраnу: It is сruсіаl tо be аblе tо vаluе the соmраnу for the purposes оf thе ѕtосk option рlаn. Tурісаllу, thіѕ іѕ dоnе wіth thе vаluаtіоn of thе lаѕt financing round. If thіѕ valuation wаѕ more than 12 mоnthѕ аgо, аdjuѕt thе vаluе bаѕеd оn сurrеnt реrfоrmаnсе bеnсhmаrkеd against реrfоrmаnсе аt thе time оf the investment.

Aѕѕіgn Equity Multiplier: Fоr еасh employee brасkеt (VP lеvеl, director lеvеl, etc.), аѕѕіgn an еԛuіtу multірlіеr to their аnnuаl ѕаlаrу. If уоur VP tаkеѕ $100,000 annually аnd hіѕ equity multiplier іѕ 0.5, thе vаluе оf his equity is $50,000. It is also important to determine if all brackets of employees will be eligible for incentive compensation or if some, such as administrative staff, will be excluded. Additionally, developing a policy related to founders (who may already have a significant stake in the company), is important to ensure that all future stock grants are factored into the planning as founders frequently will defer portions of their salary in exchange for their up-front equity grants.

It іѕ еѕѕеntіаl tо undеrѕtаnd thаt by gіvіng оut options, you аrе nоt giving out company ѕtосk іmmеdіаtеlу (specifically nоt until thе орtіоn іѕ exercised): you аrе gіvіng уоur еmрlоуееѕ an opportunity tо buy equity in your соmраnу аt a рrе-аgrееd рrісе (thе ѕtrіkе рrісе) at ѕоmе point іn thе future. It іѕ еԛuаllу іmроrtаnt tо undеrѕtаnd that аn еmрlоуее dоеѕn’t gеt the орtіоn tо buу hіѕ еntіrе аllосаtеd рооl ѕtrаіght away. It is vеѕtеd оvеr tіmе.

While ѕtосk options аrе commonly offered when employees аrе hіrеd, they can аlѕо bе uѕеd tо recognize critical tаlеnt, top реrfоrmеrѕ, аnd jоb promotions. As раrt of thеіr соmреnѕаtіоn ѕtrаtеgу, ѕоmе оrgаnіzаtіоnѕ аlѕо оffеr smaller, аnnuаl орtіоn grants.

Spectrum Venture Capital and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, regulatory or accounting advice. Nothing contained herein is intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, regulatory or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in or refraining from any transaction, as this site should not be used as a substitute for competent professional advice from a qualified practitioner in your jurisdiction. 

The Advantage Of QSBS Election For Early Stage Investors


What is QSBS?

Through a series of bills enacted over the past several years, Congress has attempted to incentivize taxpayers to invest in small businesses by creating generous tax benefits. One of the most lucrative benefits, although often overlooked by investors and tax advisors, is provided by section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) which generally provide a complete exemption from federal income tax on gains from the sale of stock in a U.S corporation.

According to section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code, the following conditions must be met:

  • The stock must be in a domestic C corporation, and it must be a C corporation during substantially all the time you hold the stock.
  • The corporation may not have more than fifty million dollars in assets as of the date the stock was issued and immediately after.
  • Your stock must be acquired at its original issue.
  • During substantially all the time you hold the stock, at least 80% of the value of the corporation’s assets must be used in the active conduct of one or more qualified business.

Elaborating more on the last point, active conduct means a qualified business cannot be an investment vehicle or inactive business. The business also must be a qualified trade or business. It cannot be, for example:

  • A service business in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, or any trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more employees;
  • A banking, insurance, financing, leasing, investing, or similar business;
  • A farming business;
  • A business involving the production of products for which percentage depletion can be claimed;
  • A firm operating a hotel, motel, restaurant, or similar business.

Stock qualifying as QSBS that have been held for about at least five years when sold has a portion of the gain, or in some instances, all of the gain can be excluded from federal tax. The capital that is left over is then taxed at a twenty-eight percent rate. The maximum gain eligible for exclusion on any one investment is the greater of ten million dollars or ten times the taxpayer’s adjusted basis in the stock.

For example, if you invested $250,000 in a qualifying start-up (for 10%) and the start-up sold 5 years later for $15 million, you would have a gain of $1.25 million on your $250,000 investment or a return of 6x your money. If you made the QSBS election, you would pay no tax on the $1.25 million – if not, you would owe capital gains on $1.25 million or pay approximately $250,000 in tax (reducing your net return to $1 million).

QSBS treatment, more often than not, can provide significant tax savings to an individual investor’s private investment portfolio. While this article addresses the benefits available under section 1202, there are other sections which may provide benefits as well, including section 1045 for the rollover of gain from one qualified small business stock election to another.

Investors ought to carefully consider the tax opportunities when looking at investing in private, early-stage companies, and insist that the management teams of those companies maximize the potential benefits for the investors.

Legal Due Diligence For Venture Capital Investments


There are few buzz-words in venture capital more prevalent than “due diligence”.  Due diligence in venture capital is best described as the dating phase of a relationship where a venture capital firm decides if it wants to make a commitment to a prospective investment, and the current shareholders & management team of the company also decide if they are interested in the venture capital firm as an investor.

The venture capital industry uses due diligence to describe what the investor does to evaluate a potential investment opportunity.  By definition, investing in early-stage companies is risky. The due diligence process should select the potential winners, identify the critical risks associated with the investments and develop a risk mitigation plan with company management as part of a potential investment. Defining more comprehensively, due diligence is a rigorous process that determines whether or not the venture capital or other investors will invest in your company. It can also be described as a fact-gathering process by which a buyer or investor obtains information about the business they are seeking to buy or in which they are trying to invest, both from a business and legal perspective.

Due diligence is a critical phase of any financing or merger/acquisition, but it can be a confusing and burdensome process, especially for companies going through their first transaction. The process involves asking and answering a series of questions to evaluate the business and legal aspects of the opportunity. Once the process is complete, the investor will use the outcomes of the process to finalize the internal approval process and complete the investment. If the VC acts as a lead investor in a syndicate, then they may also share the outcome of their due diligence with other investors. There are three stages of due diligence:

  • Screening due diligence
  • Business due diligence
  • Legal due diligence.

The primary focus of this article is legal due diligence. An investor uses legal due diligence to confirm if the assumptions and assertions they may have made about a company are correct and if they are paying a fair price. This analysis involves making sure there are no significant unknown issues and that the company has good growth prospects. If they uncover problems, they may ask that those problems be fixed before their investment.

The first step in the legal due diligence process is a request by the VC asking for certain categories of documents and other related information.  VCs will generally want to know if the views they have taken from the business perspective are supported. This includes understanding the structure your company has, your employee headcount and cost, your staff need to accomplish your business goals (i.e., how many more engineers will you need and when), and any liabilities your company may have such as pending lawsuits. Some examples of documents they will look to are:

  • Board of director meeting agendas and minutes
  • Ownership information and agreements
  • Financing agreements
  • Real estate leases
  • Stock option plans
  • Equity participation and incentive compensation
  • Confidentiality and invention and proprietary information agreements
  • A capitalization table
  • Articles of incorporation
  • Shareholder arrangements
  • IP related agreements
  • Government authorizations and agreements
  • Any other material agreements.

When responses are reviewed, substantial missing or incomplete information, missing signatures on contracts, items that show any inconsistencies with previous discussions or the term sheet, any significant undisclosed debts, liabilities, obligations or other impediments may raise concerns with an investor and could require pre-closing correction and/or purchase price reductions. If you are looking for investment opportunities? We got you covered, contact us immediately. We will work with you every step of the way by empowering, building, and growing your companies.

An often-overlooked aspect of the due diligence process is called “reverse due diligence” which is where the company investigates the VC and determines if they think the firm might be a good fit as an investor and seeks out any potential risks with the VC as an investor in their company. Important areas of reverse due diligence include an understanding of the VC investor (likely a limited partnership) legal structure, the covenants and restrictions imposed by its governing document and whether the VC firm is subject to any current litigation, specifically litigation with its portfolio companies or limited partners. Companies should not be afraid to ask the VC for relevant information related to the reverse due diligence process as VC firms are very used to this process and will often have the information readily available.

Spectrum Venture Capital and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, regulatory or accounting advice. Nothing contained herein is intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, regulatory or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in or refraining from any transaction, as this site should not be used as a substitute for competent professional advice from a qualified practitioner in your jurisdiction. 

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