The changing nature of venture capital

SoftBank and Andreesen Horowitz (a16z) recently announced new funds that reinforce the increasing scale of the venture industry. SoftBank announced its intent to raise a second Vision Fund through a public offering, a first for any venture firm. A16z announced two new funds, an early-stage $750 million fund and a growth-stage $2 billion fund.

A16z is the latest firm to launch a family of funds, four in the past 18 months totaling $3.5 billion, including the earlier announced Bio and Crypto funds. A16z joins GGV, Lightspeed and Sequoia as firms that have raised families of funds that cover specific sectors, stages or countries. In the last 18 months, Sequoia has raised nine funds, with nearly $9 billion committed; Lightspeed four funds for nearly $3 billion; and GGV four funds with $1.8 billion.

These funds and others like them will change the nature of venture capital. Venture is no longer a cottage industry where partners sit around a conference table on Mondays meeting companies and discussing which to support. Venture no longer operates as a collection of individual practitioners like a dental clinic. Venture firms are moving from job shops to scaled organizations with an armada of specialists in human resources, marketing, finance, engineering, legal and investor relations to support their investment and fundraising activity. Once firms with just a few partners, SoftBank, Sequoia and GGV now have teams of hundreds of people working to support continual fund raising, origination and portfolio development in the United States and abroad.

Funding startups is an inherently local business.

Investment banking and private equity firms provide a road map for how the venture capital may develop. The leading investment banks and private equity firms were closely held partnerships for many decades, before increasing capital intensity required a change of corporate structure. Founded in 1914, Merrill Lynch, a securities brokerage firm, was considered an interloper in the cloistered investment banking world. But as more capital entered public securities markets, securities trading houses such as Merrill Lynch encroached on Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman and Kuhn Loeb, which then dominated highly profitable investment banking.

A wave of consolidation followed as partnerships gave way to full-service investment banks armed with capital to backstop their lucrative mergers and acquisition and financing practices. Founded in 1854, Lehman acquired Kuhn Loeb in 1977, which was then acquired by American Express in 1984, combining Lehman’s banking practice with Shearson’s brokerage business. The last bulge bracket investment banking partnerships Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs went public in 1993 and 1999, respectively.

Private equity firms soon followed. Like investment banks, partnerships prevailed in private equity. But as their appetite for capital grew to finance ever-larger acquisitions, private equity tapped the public markets for larger, more stable capital. Today, the five largest private equity firms are all public. Apollo Global Management, a PE firm now with $250 billion under management, went public in 2004. Blackstone, the largest PE firm, with $470 billion under management, followed with an IPO in 2007. Carlyle, KKR and Ares soon followed with public offerings.

Venture capital has been insulated from the capital intensity that fueled consolidation of the investment banking and private equity industries. Funding startups is an inherently local business. Technology innovation has historically been capital-efficient as early technology leaders such as Microsoft and Oracle went public after raising less than $20 million in private funding. And venture is a risky, volatile business, where profits vary substantially, failure rate is high and returns are highly cyclical.

Innovation is costlier as entrepreneurs and investors seek to disrupt rather than enable industries.

But like the investment banking and private equity industries, venture capital is becoming more capital-intensive. Innovation is costlier as entrepreneurs and investors seek to disrupt rather than enable industries.  Startups require more capital to achieve escape velocity with the ever-present, growing threat from technology incumbents. Startups are moving into new industries competing with larger incumbents. And “lean startups” that rely more on company-building services offered by their investors are not “lean” for venture firms that must build out service capacity in talent acquisition, sales, product marketing and finance to accelerate venture growth. Today, staff devoted to supporting startup development often exceeds investment professionals in large venture firms.

The venture industry is highly fragmented, with more than 200 venture firms in Silicon Valley alone. Hundreds of venture firms are starting in cities and countries that were previously considered deserts for technology innovation. The venture industry is likely to consolidate significantly in the next decade as funding confers greater advantage to large venture investors.

A few boutique investment banks and private equity firms have withstood the scale and capital advantages of bulge bracket firms. Similarly, seed and early-stage venture firms will resist SoftBank-style institutionalization. Venture firms with expertise in specific technologies, industry sectors or geographic markets will still produce superior returns. However, capital intensity is rising. The venture industry will ultimately be dominated by a few global venture firms supported by independent seed and early-stage funds with proprietary access to high-potential startups.

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What startup names are most effective?

Entrepreneurs take a long journey when naming their brainchild, comparable to a parent naming their own flesh and blood.

There are many reasons behind naming – one untalked-of and probably the most important. This is, how to choose a name that gets you more business.

Technology changes how we do business. So, when developing a business name, putting some thought into how people are going to find you and what you want them to do after they find you could go a long way.

Ignoring this could do just the opposite and result in being harder to find, getting less return from your advertising and having your competitors capitalize off your brand.

Businesses have been using things like alphabetical order, call to action, keywords and more to shape business names for optimized discovery, recall and responsiveness since the phone book.

When looking for a business, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one of these two business name optimizations frequently used in the past for discovery:

1. Optimizing for discovery in phone books

Pre-internet, a listing in the phone book was key to getting your business discovered – but how did businesses get to the top of the list in their category? Piece of cake. Free listings in the white pages were categorized by business type and ordered alphabetically. Many companies ended their name with a describing word of their category and started it with something like “AAA” “AA”, “AA1” and “A AAA” to be one of the first listings in their category. You will still find thousands of these business names in different locations by typing “AAA” into

2. And a similar strategy was used for search-engine discovery

Prior to 2012, search engine algorithms gave weight in their rankings to sites that included keywords in their domain, otherwise known as exact-match domains. So, Google was more likely to rank “accountantsmelbourne-dot-com” higher than “abc-partners-dot-com” if a user searched for “Accountants Melbourne” because the keywords matched the search with similar words in its domain.

Over time, domain names and business names alike grew longer. Many were purposefully packed with every major keyword applicable to their niche.

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The next service marketplace wave: Vertical market-networks

The last few decades have produced many successful marketplaces. We went from goods marketplace pioneers such as eBay and Amazon to simple service marketplaces such as Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Upwork, Thumbtack, TaskRabbit, and Fiverr. But why haven’t we seen many successful B2B service marketplaces?

Table of Contents

Why Many B2B Service Marketplaces Failed

Some would argue that companies such as Upwork, Thumbtack, Fiverr, or TaskRabbit are horizontal B2B marketplaces in the sense that they provide access to suppliers of different services. But while businesses do indeed transact with freelancers on such “horizontal” marketplaces, for most service verticals these are limited-value, one-off transactions. They fail to enable long-term business collaborations.

So, such marketplaces haven’t delivered more valuable services nor introduced a new paradigm for how businesses buy specific services at scale and on an on-going basis. Why is that?

Horizontal marketplaces are stuck at the discovery process

Horizontal services marketplaces don’t provide much value beyond matching clients with quality service providers. In other words, they don’t facilitate collaboration between buyers and suppliers, never mind provide ways for the two parties to collaborate more efficiently over time as they engage in follow-on projects.

In essence, the model these marketplaces were built around is not much different from the likes of Craigslist, which put a convenient UX on traditional classified advertisements.

Complex B2B services require workflow and collaboration tools

In their article “What’s Next for Marketplace Startups?,” Andrew Chen and Li Jin found that there aren’t many successful service marketplaces because those offerings are complex, diverse, and difficult to evaluate. It’s challenging to define a successful transaction in a service marketplace because it’s harder to quantify success.

One reason is that several service providers must often work together to complete a single job for a buyer, requiring a complex workflow from end to end. As a result, it’s difficult for marketplaces to not only mediate service delivery but also make it significantly more efficient for buyers and suppliers. If both the buyer and suppliers don’t see a significant efficiency gain other than being initially matched, why would they continue using the marketplace?

(Image via Getty Images / Lidiia Moor)

The $50 billion translation industry is a prime example of complex B2B services marketplaces. On the supply side are roughly 50,000 small agencies around the globe responsible for more than 85% of this $50 billion industry. (Note we are referring to agencies here as suppliers, though they play on both sides.)

On the demand side are businesses that need to translate text from one language into another. Plus about 1,500,000 freelance linguists work in this industry, many of whom are more specialized than professionals in other industries.

Anyone can find and hire a translator on Fiverr or Upwork. Both provide a vast selection of language translators. However, the quality and cost of the translation depends on the translation tools available to the translator as well as their subject expertise.

Neither Fiverr nor Upwork provide computer-aided translation (CAT) and collaborative workflow solutions for users of their platforms. Additionally, neither provides an effective way for all parties to collaborate and continuously improve the efficiency and quality.

But the problem with traditional marketplaces goes even further: Multiple translators and reviewers are usually needed to complete a single job for a customer. Multi-language translation projects are even more complicated. Such projects require multiple service providers and cost estimates, in addition to project management tools.

This is why building a B2B service marketplace is difficult. Service marketplaces must not only connect buyers and suppliers, but also provide tools to enable an efficient and collaborative workflow that reduces wasted time and effort.

Horizontal marketplaces suffer high attrition

In addition to the problems already outlined, traditional marketplaces experience another issue that prevents them from growing and retaining market participants: Buyer and supplier attrition.

Many business services are based on regularly recurring engagements. In some cases, a buyer and a service provider interact daily, requiring a different workflow than gig-marketplaces are built around.

Buyers and suppliers have little motivation to continue interacting on a platform with no workflow automation solutions. They lack a way to improve service efficiency and quality, automate collaboration, payment, paperwork, and other basic processes required for a business.

This is why many traditional marketplaces suffer from slow network effects and high attrition. (A network effect is what happens when a platform, product, or service delivers more value the more it is used.

Think Facebook, eBay, WhatsApp.) Why wouldn’t companies work directly with service providers outside of a marketplace after they were introduced? What incentives keep the service transaction on the marketplace? These are critical questions to answer when building a marketplace.

Traditional marketplaces target broad services, making it nearly impossible to provide workflow solutions for buyers and suppliers. Going forward, successful service marketplaces will be developed relying on an industry-specific SaaS workflow. This will focus buyers and suppliers on longer-term projects and interactions that serve the unique needs of collaborations and transactions in a specific vertical.

Image via Getty Images / OstapenkoOlena

What makes a successful service marketplace?

In “The next 10 Years Will Be About Market Networks,” James Currier, Managing Partner at NFX Ventures, defines a new era of service marketplaces, which he calls market networks.

A market network is a platform that combines elements of an n-sided marketplace, a network, and workflow solutions. An n-sided marketplace is one that requires coordination of multiple supply-side parties to provide a complex service for a single buyer.

Market networks enable multiple buyers and suppliers to interact, collaborate, and transact on the same platform. They provide users with industry-specific workflow solutions that enable efficient, ongoing collaboration on long-term projects. This reduces costs and leads to a higher quality of services and increased overall value for all users.

But how do you actually build a successful market-network platform? While the answer to that varies from company to company, here is our approach. We were able to build a market network for the translation industry that combines the components: network, marketplace, and workflow solution.

STEP 1: SaaS workflow platform unlocks high-value collaboration

The first step to building an effective complex market network is to develop a workflow that is easy for users to embrace. It might not seem like much, but this increases productivity by enabling teams to perform tasks that were previously impossible.

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What money should be

With the release of the Facebook consortium’s project Libra whitepaper, the internet, tech world, financial services industry and policy circles are all burning with conversation on the project’s potential. We are still very early into Libra’s life — it is, after all, still a proposal — and there is an endless set of questions left to answer. The project could redefine how we view money or it could be a complete failure; we won’t know which for years to come.

While there isn’t much to add to the (likely thousands) of pundit takes on the project until more details come out, this moment does provide us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at money itself. We should be asking ourselves: how does money work today and how should it work?

Money is an anachronistically analog part of everyday life. The last 25 years saw the digitization of most services businesses, from communications (email) to bookstores (Amazon) to taxis (Uber). Yet, even with the rise of fintech and significant innovation in consumer finance, money itself has remained curiously unchanged.

The future of money is just beginning.

There are good reasons for money to have remained unchanged. Currencies are controlled and issued by states, and for many reasons, they need to be controlled and issued by states. But the reasons are a reflection of the “facts on the ground” today. Money is too sensitive and too critical to allow for the same level of disruptive innovation we’ve seen in other assets. But if we were to design money de novo today from a Rawlsian original position, it would probably look pretty different.

Libra gives us an opportunity to talk more openly not just about what money is, but about what money should be. And regardless of what happens with Libra — which faces regulatory and competitive headwinds — the moment won’t be wasted if we take this time to contemplate the future of money. Below are some (not collectively exhaustive) starting ideas for that conversation, from the most basic to the more exotic.

Money should be free

Let’s start with the most obvious: put simply, it shouldn’t cost anyone money to use money. Financial institutions and fintechs are (slowly) moving toward this consensus, but in many cases, people still have to pay just to access their money.

ATMs charge fees for withdrawals. Checks cost money to print (and for those who feel the U.S. is moving past them, 90% of checks are still written in the U.S.). Foreign remittances incur transfer fees, bank-to-bank wires incur fees, check-cashing incurs fees, paying vendors with PayPal incurs fees, etc. etc.

The early promise of apps like Venmo, Square Cash and WeChat Pay (and earlier, Clinkle) is to let people transfer and use their money at no cost. Apple Pay and Google Pay take that promise a step further by making the phone — not the dollar — the primary instrument for in-person purchases — all at no cost to debit directly from a bank or credit card account.

But these apps have no equivalent in many countries. While mobile money services like M-Pesa have been ubiquitously successful in Kenya and neighboring countries, countries like Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy — still have significant cost of cash problems and expensive policy restrictions on the use of cash. I ran into many “Unable to dispense cash” error messages in my time in east Africa, where just having a bank account could incur non-trivial costs.

Incurring a fee just to use money is an outdated standard.

Money should transfer instantly

To most people reading this, the difference between instant payments and those that take a couple of days is not significant. A paycheck could come on Friday or Monday. A Venmo cashout can take a day or two to hit a bank account.

But as Aaron Klein at Brookings notes, slow payments disproportionately affect poor people. The time it takes for a check to clear, for remittance funds to settle or for payroll to be deposited can mean the difference between paying a bill and incurring an overdraft fee. It can mean not having enough money for weekend grocery shopping. These realities drive consumers to turn to payday lenders ($7 billion in annual fees), check cashers ($2 billion) or overdraft fees ($24 billion!).

Identity should be programmed into money.

As NPR noted when they waited for a Kickstarter payment, “We just need Amazon’s bank to send money electronically to a checking account at Chase bank. It’s just information traveling over wires. How long could it take: A minute? An hour? It took five days.” That is because the rails on which money is moved in the U.S. are more than 40 years old. As Klein notes, you can now send money more quickly from Slovakia to France than DC to Philly — and fixing this delay could be the single fastest way to combat wealth inequality in the United States.

This is another obvious easy win for the future of money.

And signs of that future are emerging. Apps like Earnin and employers like Walmart are paying workers in real time, to allow people to use their money as soon as they earn it. Libra’s own website opines that getting and using money “should be as easy and cheap as sending a text message.” Money should move at the speed of communications.

Money should take ‘one click’ to use

Amazon is notorious for pursuing one-click purchase technology, removing the last small obstacles between consumers and their buying decisions. Money should be no different: moving money to savings, sending it to a friend, making a loan or investment, paying a bill — these activities could all use a more frictionless UI upgrade. Unfortunately, today, accessing your money frequently requires a string of passwords, PINs, IDs or 2FA — all absolutely critical for security, but friction-inducing.

Fortunately, digital identity systems have been a ripe area for innovation in the past few years. Smartphone OS’s now allow people to use biometric identifiers — like fingerprints or Face ID — to authorize the use of their money, with mixed success. Decentralized identity systems like 3Box sell the promise of one universal, self-owned ID profile that can be used to permission any service built on top of it (including financial ones).

Identity should be programmed into money. If units of currency can have an “ownership” field, that field can be unlocked using more frictionless identifiers tied to the user and then re-coded when ownership is changed, making one-click use possible. (This could operate similarly to Everledger’s diamond registration program.) This could also prevent theft: If the “ownership” identity field is secure enough only to be altered in legitimate transfers, money could also be programmed to be unusable if that field is transferred improperly (i.e. stolen). This brings up a related point…

Money should be secure

One of the cities with the fastest rate of mobile payments adoption is Mogadishu, Somalia. Why? Because mobile money is safe — in Mogadishu, where muggings are frequently deadly, carrying cash can be a matter of life or death. The future of money is one in which physical theft is no longer possible because money is securely digitized.

Money should be stable

While theft drives mobile money adoption in Somalia, a BBC report titled The surprising place where cash is going extinct found a different driver of cashless payments in neighboring Somaliland: hyperinflation. The rapidly devaluing Somaliland shilling has made goods that were previously affordable two times as expensive in as many years, leading shoppers to opt for mobile dollars over bundles of cash.

This is one of the expressed promises of Libra and other stablecoins like the Gemini Dollar or the ill-fated Basis: no wild fluctuations. As Caitlin Long points out, “central banks in developing countries are notorious for their lack of discipline in maintaining the value of their fiat currencies, which too often lose purchasing power.” A global, consortium-moderated currency could tame that irresponsibility.

How does money work today and how should it work?

Hyperinflation isn’t as rare as it sounds. It was the status quo two years ago when I visited Zimbabwe and goods were quoted in three prices. Over the last year in Europe, Turkey’s lira dropped 25% in value in its own crisis. And today in Venezuela, inflation stands at over 1,000,000%, making goods un-buyable. The most common explanation for these events is that they happen when people lose faith in governments to protect the value of their currency. The drop in value led to massive capital flight, ironically, to Bitcoin as a source of stability (including a Bitcoin ATM in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital).

Interestingly, the Libra is not the first supranational currency to be proposed (see economist John Maynard Keynes’ Bancor plan). It isn’t even the first international reserve currency based on a basket: the IMF maintains the XDR, a currency pegged to a weighted mix of dollars, euros, yuan, yen and pounds (the Libra will be fiat-pegged to all those, less the yuan). But the Libra would be the first non-sovereign global reserve currency competitor, and the first one that individual people could actually use.

It remains to be seen whether the Libra itself one day gains enough intrinsic value (what Matt Levine refers to as a collective fiction) to separate from its underlying basket of currencies, the same way the U.S. dollar left the gold standard.

The money of the future should not be intrinsically tied to faith in local government — it should retain its value and stability independently so that it doesn’t risk rapid devaluation.

Money should be interoperable

The internet could have developed very differently. If we look back to the early days of the internet, there was always a chance that multiple competitive “walled garden” internets grew side by side, competing for users, and refusing to talk with each other. Fortunately, thanks to the work of nonprofit governing bodies like ICANN, the world mostly runs on one internet. Even in countries like China that wall off certain websites, internet pages still talk to each other using the same set of protocols that they do everywhere else in the world.

Money should be no different. It should be as easy to buy lunch with a currency in one country as with that same currency in another. The same payment protocol should underlie any type of purchase, physical or digital. Transferring between currencies should be instantaneous and free, not require visiting an (online or digital) exchange.

The explosion in cryptocurrencies built around narrowly vertical use-cases has been interesting to watch, but true adoption will only come with a universal resolver that allows people to frictionlessly move between use-cases without manually switching their unit of currency.

Different types of money should be use-based, not geography-based

Branching out from the prior point: What if money had built-in rules that determined what it was useful for? Dan Jeffries provides some instructive examples of what this could look like: deflationary coins could automatically adjust their value to track inflation. Inflationary tokens could be built to lose value quickly to incentivize spending.

Governments could reward spending on environmentally friendly goods by creating currencies that automatically discounted the prices of those goods. Currencies could have rewards and loyalty programs (e.g. Starbucks) automatically built in. Currencies could expire if not used in a given window, or only activate upon a certain date or trigger action. This is the promise of cryptocurrencies as “programmable money” rather than just “digital gold” (the Ethereum/Bitcoin debate).

Money should be an open development platform

If money becomes programmable, the possibilities for what can be built on top of money are endless and unexplored. Some of the most obvious examples are financial applications (like Calibra, the project Libra wallet).

It shouldn’t cost anyone money to use money.

The existence and ubiquity of a single-digital currency is just the first step. Following that step are applications, like lending (institutional or peer-to-peer), investing, savings, gift-giving, etc. Imagine, as a use case, being able to ping your bank via text and ask for a one-week microloan to cover a big purchase — and the loan being approved and sent back to you by text. Or imagine your kids’ allowance automatically accruing to them weekly via text — and an allowance “bonus” applied to any money they set aside for savings instead of spending. As David Graeber would note, it’s these credit and investment applications that create the potential for true growth in a financial ecosystem.

Many view Libra as a future platform, like the iOS Apple Store, that will house a potentially infinite volume of applications built on top of it. These could be universal rideshare apps, airline rewards accounts, e-commerce experiences, etc. that all plug into the same rails that your money is built on, so that the UI is entirely driven by the user intent (e.g. buying something) without requiring you to move any money between accounts.

Money should have (some) guardrails

The last feature money should have is built-in guardrails. This is the most controversial claim here, and one that will ruffle the feathers of the censorship-resistant, self-sovereign crypto community.

Digital money has the potential of traceability and programmable rules to create safety guardrails and prevent, for example, terrorist financing, black-market purchases, money laundering, transfer of stolen funds, etc. Libra, with its strict know-your-customer standards, will certainly work with financial regulators to ensure that it is meeting these guardrail standards. (Even though early reactions from legislators have run the gamut from skeptical to apoplectic.)

Yet there are sound reasons to be skeptical of digital money guardrails. Repressive regimes could use them to contain capital flight and offshoring (a key use case for Bitcoin in China). They could target an individual’s wallet to shut down their freedom of movement or purchase, and precisely trace their physical location. Back-door hacks that abuse guardrail functionality to disable money could have the effect of entirely freezing a country’s infrastructure and bringing down its financial system. It’s important to counterweight these possibilities when considering where guardrails should be set — and whether they should differ across borders.

The future of money is just beginning.

These are exciting times. The potential to move beyond centuries of slow progression in financial services has never been greater. The internet, combined with the ingenuity of blockchain and cryptosystems, could build the framework for a global network that brings the world onto one universal monetary standard. There are many questions to answer between here and there, but with Libra acting as a catalyst, people are finally beginning to ask them. Get ready for more innovation to come — this is just the beginning.

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Is seed investing still a local business?

According to CB Insights, the number of seed-stage funding deals in the U.S. declined for the fourth straight year in 2018, continuing a trend that has seen the number of deals steadily drop, while the average size of deals increased. It’s safe to say this is the new normal. Yet, there continues to be a huge surplus of available capital and there are more funds out there than ever before.

For new entrepreneurs, as well as repeat founders of early-stage startups, these changing conditions are having a dramatic impact on how, where and from whom they raise early capital. In years past, raising a seed round often boiled down to finding a local VC or angels that would invest a few hundred thousand dollars on just an idea for a company. It was more about who you knew and where you were located, rather than actual traction or feedback from the target market.

But as competition for the best deals has ramped up, legacy investors in Silicon Valley are now beginning to seek investments in startups all over the world, due in large part to the proliferation of elite tech talent. While that may seem like a potential goldmine to entrepreneurs operating outside Silicon Valley, founders need to understand how investors think about investing in startups, particularly outside their home markets.

Here are three things entrepreneurs must remember when investors come calling from abroad.

Distributed teams are no longer a liability, but proximity to market is still a must

The prevailing school of thought historically was that in order for startups to have a legitimate shot at making it, they all have to be located in Silicon Valley or in another top U.S. tech hub. After all, the U.S. is where all the investors and best talent are located. However, that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. Yes, it is still crucial to have a foothold in the U.S., mostly on the business side of the company, as this is where so many potential customers are — but having a distributed team is no longer viewed as a red flag to many investors.

Other markets, like Israel, have proven track records of churning out elite tech talent. We have seen a number of successful startups that set up the company headquarters and at least one founder (usually the CEO) in the U.S. to be near customers and investors, while the rest of the engineering team remains in Israel.

Prudent investors will still require the CEOs of their companies to be in the U.S. market, but that doesn’t mean the R&D team can’t stay in the home market. This means that the other founder/CTO staying back with the R&D team must have the leadership skills necessary to keep everything on track, while the CEO establishes the business headquarters in the U.S.

Investors are hunting for value, often relying on local co-investors

Much has been made over the past few years about the soaring valuations of Silicon Valley startups. Every day it seems like a new company announces a $50 million-plus round of fresh funding, along with a new sky-high valuation. The frenzy created around all that activity has a profound impact not just on those companies themselves, but on all the smaller startups in the broader ecosystem, as well. The overwhelming competition for capital in Silicon Valley is forcing many seed investors to mitigate the inflated valuations in their portfolios by looking for more undervalued and underappreciated opportunities in other markets.

The best investors are not necessarily the biggest.

Valuations for startups outside of the U.S. are typically lower, and represent prime opportunities for investors that are being squeezed from the biggest VC funds that are writing checks earlier in the pipeline and driving up those massive valuations. Typically, late-stage investors would be the ones taking a “gamble” on outside opportunities like those in Israel or Europe, but competition is forcing seed investors to look for early-stage opportunities outside of their immediate geography.

As a result, seed funds are now becoming more open to co-investing with foreign funds. As mentioned above, investors are sourcing deals outside their home markets, but funds are still not comprising much of their portfolio beyond the U.S. These select deals are happening on the edges. In order to find the best deals in a foreign market, U.S. funds often seek local VCs to collaborate with, someone they have maybe done a deal with before that knows the local startup scene inside and out. They are still looking for a process of familiarity, even if it is overseas.

Not all investors add value

As a founder, who you take money from matters a lot. Is it a benefit or to your detriment to take money from investors who are not local to you? How involved will they be?

Startup founders need to think long and hard about the non-monetary value that investors provide. If they are removed from the day to day operations of the company and unaware of challenges the company faces, then what is the point in having them there?

Lately, there has been a rush of large funds to invest at the seed level, offering piles of cash but without any guarantee of long-term value and support. With this new “spray and pray” approach, billion-dollar funds just don’t have the bandwidth and attention to support their small investments the same way they do the larger, more capital-heavy investments.

The best investors are not necessarily the biggest. Instead, the best are the ones constantly adding value to actually help the business grow, whose core focus is to invest at the pre-seed and seed stages of a company. Are they making introductions to potential customers and partners, opening doors to new markets, etc.? Who are the investors that are going to actually help you work through problems? Who will be a partner to you?

Seed investing, like all venture capital, is changing in a meaningful way. What used to be a local, almost neighborhood-oriented process, is now a global business — at least in terms of deal sourcing. Yet, most investors still require physical proximity to the founder/CEO and the company HQ to ensure they can truly help the company execute on its vision.

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