All posts filed under “Analysis

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Three new features in Seed-DB

I’m pleased to say that Seed-DB now has three new features!  Some of these come from direct feedback; others are features I’ve been planning to add for a while.  I hope you find them useful.

Median + Average funding

Brad Feld got in touch with me to refer me to his post where he discusses the differences between average and median funding in venture capital.  Brad’s post makes a lot of sense for Seed-DB, too.  I had previously just listed average funding for the startups in an accelerator; I have now added a column for median funding of the startups in that accelerator.

There is a slight hitch in how this is implemented because some accelerators have very few startups with Crunchbase profiles.  In these cases even the median figures would be inaccurate because only the startups with solid funding rounds were typically shown.  So if a startup doesn’t have any Crunchbase funding listed, I calculate the median using a combination of Crunchbase profiles (where available) and the average funding per startup (for each company that doesn’t have funding shown).

The result of this is that median values are accurate where most startups in an accelerator have up-to-date Crunchbase pages.  TechStars in particular excels at this.  As usual, if you have questions or concerns about this e-mail me directly.

Application Dates now available

There are over 120 seed accelerators listed on Seed-DB; this is a lot of choice for entrepreneurs around the world!  As of today, Seed-DB will highlight seed accelerators with open application windows and direct visitors to the accelerators’ application page.  These windows can be entered well in advance.  On the day applications open a bright yellow button will appear next to your accelerator.

Only a couple of accelerators currently have entries.  If you’d like to add information on the application open/close dates for your accelerator, enter them in this form.  (I’ll check this link periodically and add what is submitted.)

I hope this helps startups learn what programs are open for immediate application, and helps accelerators generate additional application/deal flow.

Significantly improved updating

While not directly visible by users, the automatic updating of startups and accelerators has been drastically improved.  Most changes in Crunchbase pages should be reflected in Seed-DB within 24 hours.

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Seed-DB: a month of changes

Seed-DB was launched on July 25th, and since then it’s been a fascinating ride.  Here is the latest news on everything related to seed accelerators and Seed-DB.

Follow Seed-DB on Twitter

Seed-DB now has a Twitter account: @GoSeedDB.  Follow it to get all of the latest updates and announcements on the site.  Like this newsletter, it will be low-traffic with just important updates for startups, accelerators, and investors.

Y Combinator Demo Day – public/stealth analysis

Some accelerators (like TechStars) publicly announce all of their companies at their Demo Days; while startups in other program (like Y Combinator) only publicly announce when they’re ready.  Y Combinator’s Demo Day is taking place on Tuesday, August 21st.

In this years’ Y Combinator Summer 2012 class, there are 84 startups.  As of today (Monday, August 20th), 50 of these startups (60%) have already gone public.  I would expect another 10-15 startups to go public on Demo Day, leaving 20-30% of the startups to go public at some point in the future.

This past month on Seed-DB

I’ve focused effort on Seed-DB in the last month on two main themes:

  • improving breadth and quality of data
  • bug fixes in the application

In less than 30 days, the number of companies in the database has increased 25% to over 1600 companies.  VC funding tracked has also increased by about 25% to over $1.28billion.  And the number of jobs also increased 25% to over 3700 jobs created.  Thanks to lot of feedback from accelerators and startups, I’ve cleaned up the data sources to improve the quality of data on Seed-DB, too.  (There’s a link on every page where you can get in touch with me if you have data to correct!)

One problem with articles like Jared Konczal’s in Forbes is that the data in Seed-DB is still very preliminary; there are many gaps.  I’ve tried to make these clear; users can now see what startups are associated with Crunchbase pages (and thus I’ve able to get funding/employee data) and which startups don’t have this data.

Finally, by launching and getting valuable feedback from a number of people I’ve identified and fixed a number of bugs in the application.  Thank you to everyone that’s reached out to me with corrections.

Important upcoming feature

The biggest upcoming feature is an application deadline tracker.  I’ll be adding a column to my list of accelerators to highlight programs that are open for applications.  I hope this will help startups find accelerators that they might not otherwise know about.

Seed accelerators in my list will be able to send me the date applications open and close, as well as a link to their application page.  If you run a seed accelerator, please e-mail me and I’ll add you to my announcements list once this functionality is ready to go.

Advice for seed accelerators

There are a few recommendations I have for seed accelerators everywhere:

  1. Make it easy to find your startups; a portfolio page or something similar.  (You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find startups from some programs.)  If you can’t promote your startups on your own website, why are you doing it?  Ideally categorize them by class.
  2. Get startups to create a Crunchbase entry, and at least ensure they add the funding they got from your accelerator.

Thanks for listening; and be sure to follow @GoSeedDB!

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Introducing Seed-DB: a database of seed accelerators and their companies

SeedDBlogo

I’m pleased to announce Seed-DB, a database of seed accelerators and the companies they have accelerated.  I originally started assembling this data in the summer of 2009 as part of the research paper I wrote for my MBA thesis at the University of Cambridge: “Copying Y Combinator: a framework for developing Seed Accelerator programs.”  Ever since, I’ve been keeping it up-to-date in a number of Google Spreadsheets.

Seed-DB puts all of the best information I have and puts it in a much more digestible format for easy viewing and comparison.  I have integrated Crunchbase data to get up-to-date information on funding rounds, number of employees, and more.  I believe that Seed-DB is the most useful and comprehensive resource on seed accelerators around the world.

Economic impact

One of the clear things that stands out to me is the economic impact of seed accelerators.  Even though the data is far from complete for some programs, these are some key statistics as they stand today:

  • >100 programs world-wide
  • >1300 companies have been accelerated
  • ~65 companies have already exited for an estimated $930million
  • >3000 jobs created
  • >$1billion in angel and venture capital funding raised
In particular, as the data becomes more complete I estimate that the number of jobs created could easily double.  And as the companies mature and have exit events for investors, the exit values will be much, much larger.  (Paul Graham has publicly stated that just the top 21 Y Combinator companies have a combined value approaching $5billion.)

Key disclaimers

Incomplete data

As hard as I’ve tried, the information on Seed-DB is NOT 100% complete.  There are three reasons for this:

  • Missing startups.  Some accelerators have made it very difficult to find lists of startups that have gone through their programs, so there are many startups missing in less visible programs.  Please contact me if you can provide me with any details.
  • Missing data in Crunchbase.  Many companies have not entered any information in Crunchbase.  That’s where I get details on funding and number of employees, so if you want this information to be accurate please update it there.  (If you run an accelerator, it would be ideal if you could encourage your startups to do this.)
  • Missing accelerators.  I believe I’ve tracked down all of the seed accelerators world-wide, but please let me know if I’ve missed some.  Note that I’m using a pretty strict definition of a seed accelerator.  I hope to eventually track other types of programs, too.

MVP

To use a buzzword, this is a minimum viable product.  Reid Hoffman has been quoted as saying “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”  Well, I’m at that point.  There’s a lot that I still want to do, some of user-visible projects and tasks are on the roadmap, but what’s launching today is the core of my vision.

Valuations

Please note that while exits are often publicized, the price paid for most companies is NOT public.  So for the vast majority of companies I’ve simply had to guess.  I’ve put a confidence level by each guess, with the highest-level confidence reserved for the cases where the price was public or widely reported.  These values do not come from any of the companies involved.

Final word

If you’ve made it this far, I’d ask you for three things.

  1. Sign up to my seed accelerators newsletter.  (It’s very low traffic, and I don’t share or sell e-mail addresses… ever.)
  2. Send me feedback.  I want to make this useful for startups interested in accelerators, people founding/running accelerators, and investors interested in companies from accelerators.
  3. If you’re interested in collaborating with me on the technical side of things, please get in touch.  I’m new to web applications, and could use an experienced partner.

Thanks for your attention!

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Five baseline assumptions on seed accelerators

There has been an explosion of new seed accelerators recently, and with that comes an explosion of press interest, blog articles, and more. I was even interviewed for a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, though my quotes were all cut. (Speaking of which, I learned a lot of about media through that experience. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the writer/journalist thinks, the editor really calls the shots and enforces a point of view.)

I want to lay out the five baseline assumptions that I make when explaining seed accelerators:

  • All accelerators improve the chances of startup’s success
  • There is a wide spectrum to how much help an accelerator gives a startup due to reputation, deal flow, quantity/quality of applicants
  • The best seed accelerators are started in order to do better investing, and partners really make money through follow-on investments
  • A lot of seed accelerators will fail, and there’s no problem with that
  • Entrepreneurs should understand what they’re selling to an accelerator (but not worry about it too much)

And here’s why:

All accelerators improve the chances of startup’s success

While I don’t think that every startup should go through an accelerator, I do believe that going through any accelerator improves the probability that that a startup will be successful. It’s very straightforward: the whole point of the accelerator is to provide tools, mentorship, connections, and support to startups so they can be successful. Perhaps I’m a bit of an optimist, but I would be surprised if any startup coming out of an accelerator would say that the program had hurt their chances for success or provided them with zero value.

Unfortunately, this is a very difficult data point to test. I’ve assembled a lot of information about the status and success of over 1100 startups that have been through nearly 100 accelerators across the globe, but capturing the data for the entire startup ecosystem that hasn’t gone through an accelerator is damn near impossible.

There is a wide spectrum to how much help an accelerator gives a startup due to reputation, deal flow, quantity/quality of applicants

I doubt this is a controversial point. The degree of acceleration that startups get by going through Y Combinator is significantly different than many of the newest accelerators. For example, YC companies have a very high rate of getting follow-on funding, and their alumni network is unparalleled.  Newer programs don’t have anything like this.

When it comes to understanding the seed accelerator ecosystem, the best metaphor is the US university educational system. There are some programs that are clear leaders; like Y Combinator / TechStars and the Ivy League. There’s massive demand to get into these handful of programs, and they attract the very best startups. Once inside, you have some of the best access to people in industry and massive advantages because of that credential. And because they’re so good, they attract the best people with the best chance of long-term success.

There are also more regional accelerators, like the state university system. They tend to be more attractive for people looking to stay closer to home. Some of these have the capacity to be real powerhouses, but many are just average. But even though I call them “average”, by graduating from the university/accelerator, you have a better chance of long-term success than if you did it all on your own.

Finally, I like seeing the growth of vertical-specific accelerators like RockHealth and Imagine K12, which are like professional schools. They provide real benefits for companies in verticals that have very specific needs and very specific markets. It’s no wonder you see companies like Agile Diagnosis go through Y Combinator and then later on also decide to go through RockHealth. As I mentioned in my thesis three years ago, I believe these specialized accelerators are where some really great and successful programs can and will be built.

The best seed accelerators are started in order to do better investing, and partners really make money through follow-on investments

When I interviewed Paul Graham and David Cohen for my thesis back in 2009, one thing was very clear to me. They started Y Combinator and TechStars in order to do angel investing better. In short, Y Combinator and TechStars were primarily founded to make money. This aligns the program and the startups; the startups want to create successful businesses, and the program partners want to make money which can only happen if those businesses are successful. Because they’re judging and assisting startups solely on their product/market fit and potential, I believe they have the greatest chance of generating the exits required to become profitable.

I’m personally not a fan of accelerators that are started for the purpose of, say, “kickstarting the startup ecosystem in Northeast Montana.” They usually get some government funding or grants from organizations that they’ve convinced to fund them. In short, these programs are often funded for ego. Now I don’t think these programs should die, because of the very first point above. (Any program will improve a startups’ chance of success.) But the incentives are not necessarily aligned in this situation. Startups still want to create successful businesses, but accelerators want to prove they’re doing good things for the community. I believe that these programs will not typically generate startups with exits that will make the program profitable long-term, so the program will need to go back to their investors to continue.

No accelerators that I know of do any follow-on funding, though some programs are able to offer convertible loan notes of small size.  This limits the profits that the accelerator will eventually earn. But this hides the fact that the partners of the programs DO invest in follow-on rounds individually through their own personal angel investing. For example, I understand that many/most of the YC partners invest in YC companies, though from what I’ve been told they don’t lead any follow-on rounds. (Probably partly for signaling effects, and partly because they have a lot of demands on their time.) So while the accelerators’ stake is initially 5-10%, it’s diminished with each round of funding. The partners who invest personally are able to continue to invest in future rounds, and while I have yet to do an in-depth analysis here, I believe that’s where the partners REALLY make their money.

Leading on from that, what an accelerator really brings to program partners is deal flow. So even if a program is marginally profitable or unprofitable, the founders/partners could effectively use it as a loss-leader for much more profitable follow-on investing.

A lot of seed accelerators will fail, and there’s no problem with that

I’m modifying this phrase from Pascal Finette’s blog post. A number of accelerators are started for the wrong reasons (ie, not strictly to make money) so I believe that they do not have a bright long-term future. I agree with Pascal that the money many programs earn from exits will never be able to make up for the costs of the program, and many will eventually close.

Seed accelerators failing isn’t bad! Even if an accelerator that’s trying to kick-start the startup ecosystem in north-east Montana runs for two years and then dies, that’s two years of startups that have been trained and two years of connections between startups and investors and mentors. Sure, while it could have potentially had a better outcome, that’s not a bad result.  From my data, just under 10% of the seed accelerators I’m tracking have already failed.  (Though some have been resurrected in other forms.)

Who really loses when an accelerator dies? It’s not the startups; they’ve already gone through and had their experience. The only people that lose are the investors behind the program, and they should have understood what they were getting into before they began.

Entrepreneurs should understand what they’re selling to an accelerator (but not worry about it too much)

When I was speaking to the journalist from the Wall Street Journal, she mentioned her editor was very concerned about the cost of these programs, that startups are giving away too much equity. I believe this line of thinking is short-sighted and wanted to briefly explain why.

The default end-state for a startup is failure. The reason for an accelerator’s existence is to help prevent failure, and they take a small equity stake in companies in order to align their incentives. The accelerator only ever “wins” when their startups “win”. Paul Graham has (of course) written on this topic, and made an easy mathematical argument. You should be willing to give up X% equity if afterward the business has a (100/(100-X))% better chance of success. So if you sell 10% of your equity to an accelerator, you’re better off provided that your business is (100/90 = 1.11) 11% better off than before you went through the program. I think with the vast majority of matches between startups and accelerators this price is most definitely worth it.

There is a market “price” / valuation for different programs, and entrepreneurs should recognize what they’re selling. For experienced entrepreneurs to go through a new accelerator is perhaps not worth the cost, because it could duplicate their existing experience, adding no real value. That’s why these programs should (and do) specialize in new entrepreneurs. Top-tier programs are able to add value even for experienced entrepreneurs, so it’s not uncommon for founders to go through Y Combinator even after starting and successfully exiting a previous YC company.

Summary

Seed accelerators are great opportunities.  For beginning entrepreneurs virtually any program would improve their startup’s chances for success. For beginning program founders, I would suggest that you deeply examine your motivations, and what could/would happen if the program doesn’t get the exits you expect from the first 1-3 years of startups.

There will be more programs founded, and a lot more startups going through them in the next few years. I hope the information here provides a good framework for discussing seed accelerators in the future.