Venture capital and tech startups could be in for a wild ride in 2016, if January was any indicator. There were no U.S. IPOs, the S&P 500 fell more than 5 percent, and deal data showed VC activity slouching its way out of 2015.
So what will the next 11 months means for venture-backed tech companies still looking to drum up investor interest? No one can know for sure, but there are some precautionary measures that startups should take, according to Mark Suster, a partner with the Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Upfront Ventures. And startups will definitely want to watch the activity of hedge funds, corporate investors and other tech backers who aren’t venture capitalists.
Rising values among public tech stocks incentivized a drive to cultivate IPO-destined unicorn companies. In the race to participate in those investment rounds, more players got involved.
“Ten years ago there was about the same amount of money pouring into VC as found its way into startups,” Suster wrote in a piece for Fortune. “But, in the past two years, 2.5 times the dollars went into venture-backed startups as went the money that poured into VC.”
Suster illustrated his point with a chart, noting that VC fundraising in the U.S. was relatively flat when comparing totals from 2006-2007 and 2014-2015. While the latter period saw slightly less VC fundraising volume, it also saw a windfall of non-VC financing for venture-backed startups, with total financing for VC-backed companies reaching two-and-a-half times the amount of funding contributed be VCs alone.
In 2015, CB Insights tracked a dramatic increase in the share of deal activity belonging to non-VC investors. Even Upfront noted in a 2015 report that non-VC investors had become responsible for almost two-thirds of deal investments.
Based on Suster’s analysis, fluctuations in non-VC participation could have an even greater impact on funding levels than pullback at venture firms. Sister predicts that most rounds over the next 24 months with be flat, with an increasing number of down rounds in the mix as well. Assuming that’s the case, the ratio of VC fundraising to total financing will be an interesting chart to look out for.
Moreover, startups in 2016 are likely to have less leeway than they’ve had in years past when it comes to burn rates and runways. Market conditions may change, of course, but an overwhelming 90 percent of VCs surveyed expect valuations to go down this year, according to Upfront results cited by Suster.
We may very well see some outlier rounds, but if overall totals sag and the unicorn herd starts to thin out, VCs won’t be the only ones responsible for the valuations that make it happen.
You can see Suster’s full presentation below: