But inevitably, with the good comes the bad. In this case, as the market for venture financing heats up to pre-recessionary levels, a few troubling investing trends have emerged that are impacting both entrepreneurs and investors -- some for the worse.
First, let's set the stage. Around 67% of start-ups in the first quarter of 2011 raised money at a higher valuation than their previous funding round, according to a new study from Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West, which surveyed 122 companies. And only 16% of these companies raised financing at a lower valuation than their last funding -- the largest gap between so-called "up" rounds than "down" rounds since 2008.
In terms of the recent growth of early-stage investing, last year funding rose 15% to $5.2 billion, while the number of deals leapt 25% to 1,147, according to the National Venture Capital Association.Much of this deal making focuses on the tech sector, where early-stage investors hungry for a piece of the next Facebook, LinkedIn (LNKD) or Twitter have created a gold rush-like scenario for social media-related firms. The problem: the funding mania sees some investors pouring money into start-ups with products that may not be ready for primetime. "You're got a fair amount of companies who would normally test something at an angel stage who are now going to bigger rounds when they haven't necessarily proven their product," said Charlie O'Donnell, a principal at First Round Capital in New York, who has noticed the average seed round increase from $500,000 to $1 million as investors have become more aggressive. "Sometimes a company [that's received early stage funding] hasn't cooked enough and it's kind of raw," said Paul Holland, a general partner at Foundation Capital in Menlo Park, Calif. "As a consequence you don't know what you have with the company until it has proven itself ... sometimes you're chasing smoke up a chimney." As a result, some investors are finding their capital tied to concepts that differ greatly from what they initially bet their money on. Take the recently-launched startup LocalResponse, a social advertising platform founded by entrepreneur Nihal Mehta that helps companies figure out how best to ping consumers with local ads and offers. Mehta initially raised $4 million from several prominent venture firms in 2007 to found Buzzd, a mobile location-based city guide and social network. But as the sector became more crowded and other check-in companies like Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla became more popular, Mehta decided to shift his company to focus on the business-to-business market instead. According to Mehta, some of his investors -- those that had taken a stake in his company under the assumption they were investing in a consumer mobile-based product -- were not pleased. "It was a struggle," he said. "They wanted the business that they invested in initially to succeed." After months of negotiations with his investors, Mehta launched LocalResponse in April, where he works with former rivals like Foursquare -- providing them with data -- rather than competing with them head on. "It used to be that market feedback would guide entrepreneurs away from the pursuit of bad opportunities toward something worth pursuing, but now the market doesn't push back as hard on mediocre ideas," said Jordan Cooper, a venture partner at Lerer Ventures in New York.
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