上周四， 《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)一篇探讨互联网初创企业正面临“现金紧张”的文章在风投界引发热议。
的确，募集资金的风投公司数量越来越少，但这股趋势已持续多年，目前风投业仍有充足的弹药。毕竟，超级天使的崛起只有一年而已。而且，过去18个月里许多大中型公司推出了种子期投资项目——加大了新兴初创企业的总资本池。例子包括恩颐投资（New Enterprise Associates）、Greylock风投公司和Menlo Ventures投资公司。有些人认为这些项目只是装点门面，但在统计中钱就是钱（而且，我反而认为这些项目大多数都是实实在在的）。
对我而言，更大的问题是种子期之后的资本供应情况。我说的不是Facebook或Groupon规模庞大的Series F轮融资，而是500万美元至2,500万美元的Series A或B融资。我认为在这个阶段有点资本供应不足。首先，现在有多少风投公司自封为Series B投资者？不多(这并不奇怪，第一轮资本未得到第二轮或第三轮资本的响应)。
Venture capitalists today are buzzing about a Wall Street Journal story about how Internet startups are facing a "cash crunch."
It's mostly based on AngelList data (or not, see update below), plus venture fund-raising statistics from Dow Jones. I don't dispute either of them, but believe they need to be viewed in a broader context. More importantly, I think the real story they tell was overlooked.
First, overall venture capital activity is not decreasing. Official Q3 data won't be released until later this week, but a preliminary look shows that U.S.-based companies raised less money than in Q2 but more than in Q1. And since third quarters are traditionally slow due to the vacation months of July and August, there doesn't seem to be much news in the top-line numbers.
Moreover, around 49% of completed U.S. venture deals in the past three months were for seed-stage or early-stage companies. For the past 12 months, the figure stands at 47%. The difference in dollars invested as a percentage of the whole was negligible (from 30.4% for past 3 months to 30.6% for past 12 months).
AngelList data is an important metric, but it also reflects the biases of a relatively small -- and arguably skewed -- subset of venture investors. For example, the recent market volatility has likely knocked out a lot of angel tourists who had been allocating 10 or 15% of their assets to venture investing (denominators don't only affect public pension funds). Institutional VCs, however, have not been similarly affected (and I include super-angels in this category).
It certainly is true that fewer and fewer VC firms are raising money, but that trend has been in place for years and there is still plenty of dry powder. After all, the rise of super-angels is barely one year old. Moreover, many larger firms have launched seed-stage investing programs within the past 18 months -- thus increasing the overall capital pool for nascent startups. Examples include New Enterprise Associates, Greylock and Menlo Ventures. Some folks discount these programs as cynical window-dressing, but money is money within this particular argument (and I happen to think most of the programs are legit).
To me, the larger issue is capital availability beyond the seed-stage. I'm not talking about massive Series F rounds for Facebook or Groupon, but rather Series A or B deals in the $5 million to $25 million range. This is where I see a bit of capital gap. How many venture firms out there market themselves as Series B investors, first and foremost? Not many (it's no surprise that First Round Capital hasn't been copied by a Second Round Capital or Third Round Capital).
For example, expansion-stage deals made up 28% of all U.S. venture deals completed in the past 12 months, and around 35% of the total invested capital. Five years ago those figures were 36% and 42%, respectively.
How come? Because post-seed A or B rounds often carry the same risks as seed with less potential reward. It's one thing for an existing seed investor to participate pro rata, but quite another for an outsider to join the party (unless success seems obvious, at which point the valuation will be sky-high). In fact, that's a pretty good case for entrepreneurs to sign on with larger institutional VCs at the seed-stage, rather than trying to rely on angels who are one 400-point Dow loss away from being tapped out.
I know some entrepreneurs don't want to get "lost" in a larger firm, and appreciate the personal attention and networks of angels. And there certainly can be a happy mix of both. But, if you have to choose, the institution is far more valuable. If Web startups are hitting a cash crunch, it's likely because they chose the wrong seed-stage investors (assuming they had a "choice") and there aren't enough mid-round institutions to help them out.
Update: AngelList's Naval Ravikant just tweeted the following: