Top 10 Startup Financing Takeaways from Investors Michelle Goldberg and Andy Sack

3/6/09Follow @gthuang

First of all, the terms “downturn” and “recession” don’t do justice to the current climate, says early-stage tech investor Andy Sack. As he puts it, “This is the seminal event of our lifetimes. This is our World War II. I guarantee I’ll be talking to my grandchildren about the Depression of 2009-10: ‘Make sure you save.’”

Sack was speaking at the MIT Enterprise Forum Venture Lab event in downtown Seattle last night. He was joined by Michelle Jacobson Goldberg, a partner at Bellevue, WA-based Ignition Partners who is on the board of Mpire (maker of Widgetbucks), Visible Technologies, and SEOmoz. The room was packed with scores of entrepreneurs looking for financing advice. “It’s ugly out there, and raising money has never been f-ing harder,” Sack told them.

What’s interesting is that both Ignition and Founder’s Co-op, Sack’s seed-stage fund with Chris DeVore, have made investments in the past 90 days. Founder’s Co-op has made bets on Frugal Mechanic; LookStat, an analytics and workflow-automation startup focused on the microstock photography industry (this was news to me); and a new smartphone company that hasn’t been announced yet. Meanwhile, Ignition announced earlier this week that it has led a $10 million investment in Silicon Valley-based Zenprise, a mobile-management software firm.

Goldberg and Sack spoke for about an hour on their perspective as investors, what startups need to know to get funded these days, and what the hot (and not so hot) areas of investment are. Here’s my top 10 list of takeaways:

10. Valuations are way down. “Anything that’s early, if you used to raise $3 million, you might raise $1 million now,” Sack says. And count on a similar calculation for the valuation, he adds.

9. Investors are seeing more pitches than ever. “There’s been an incredible amount of deal flow,” Goldberg says. To which Sack adds, “Deals are getting done, but more slowly and with a higher bar…Deals getting done really have to resonate with a customer base.”

8. Your next financing is your last. “Everyone wants to see your break-even plan,” says Sack. “Financing risk is higher than technology risk.” And Goldberg adds, “Take the money … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • Ignition, Ignition

    Goldberg was quoted as saying ““Every single deal we’ve done is with people we know, and know well. We’re not going cold with entrepreneurs who walk in and have a great idea.”…

    Hmm… to quote a particularly sagacious movie character “…and that is why you fail.” :-)

  • She Really Hasn’t a Clue

    Did Goldberg really say that “If Facebook can’t do it, how is a startup supposed to do it?” Whereas VCs used to ask startups “What’s to stop Microsoft from competing and beating you?” it’s now “If Facebook hasn’t, you can’t”? How asinine.

    I was kinda neutral on Ignition for a while, willing to let them prove themselves this kind of opinion really makes me think that Seattle VCs really have no freakin’ clue. She doesn’t even have any direct operational or entrepreneurial experience anyways.

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  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    I think Michelle Goldberg meant ‘every single deal’ they’ve done in the past few months—not ever. As for Facebook, it’s certainly a valid question how to monetize Web 2.0 sites. She didn’t say a startup couldn’t figure it out, just that it’s a big challenge.

  • Ian

    Contrast Michelle’s/Ignition’s view that “We’re not going cold with entrepreneurs who walk in and have a great idea” versus Paul Graham/Y Combinator’s approach which embraces this, and then compare their respective track records even given Y Combinator got started much later than Ignition, and it’s clear Ignition is lost.

    I actually want Ignition to do well, and the Pacific Northwest needs them to do well. But their exceeding arrogance without any home-runs to prove their proposed model shows they are just plain poor VCs.

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  • vicky

    Michelle For the record facebook was making money last year and this year i.e 2010 made close to 800 million.