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投资理财

LinkedIn屡败屡战的募资过程揭秘

Lee Hower 2011年05月30日

上上周,LinkedIn上市了,投资者争先恐后地买入这家市值现已超过90亿美元的公司的股票。但这家社交网络公司的募资过程并不总是这么容易。

2004年LinkedIn庆祝注册用户数达到50万时的员工合影(右起第五位是Hower) 

    上上周,LinkedIn上市了。作为一名股东以及创始人团队的一员,我自然很高兴看到公司受到投资者热烈追捧。对于这家我们在近9年前创立的企业而言,这是一个非常重要的里程碑。

    许多人询问我2003年LinkedIn获得首轮风投时的情况。鉴于近年来公司取得的成功以及创始人雷德•霍夫曼目前如日中天的声望,很多人都觉得当年融资应该不是难事。事实上,我们的首轮风险融资虽然最终结果不错,但着实花了一番功夫:过程中我们受到了种种质疑。现在我觉得可以在此回顾,以飨读者:

    首先,必须要回溯到2003年初:当时,谷歌(Google)仍是一家非上市公司(其IPO是在2004年8月);雅虎(Yahoo)是行业领先的消费者互联网公司,时任首席执行官为特里•塞梅尔;当时,硅谷仍在努力走出科技泡沫以及2000年底到2002年的行业大滑坡;网络广告、以及电子商务和网络增值服务的市场规模只有如今的1/10和1/3。(2002年全美网络广告市场的规模是60亿美元,远低于2010年的250多亿美元,而且呈现同比下降。)

    当时,Salesforce.com还只是一家注册用户仅76,000人的初创企业(现注册用户数已超过210万);苹果公司(Apple)正准备推出一款革命性的iPod产品,用感应式转轮取代原先的机械转轮,而斯蒂夫•乔布斯进军手机领域的想法在当时看来也有些荒诞不经。

    即便是在当时的硅谷,社交网站也只是一个有待推广的概念:Friendster仍在进行非公开的Beta版测试(此后2003年10月才收到谷歌收购要约,Friendster拒绝了谷歌的要约,接受了Kleiner/Benchmark的风投资金)。马克•扎克伯格此时还只是哈佛大学的一年级新生;Facebook即便是作为封闭的校园社交网站也尚未出现。业界没有可依托的社交平台……如果人际关系图对于你来说很重要,那你最好从零开始自己制作。将近两年后Web 2.0的概念才由蒂姆•奥莱利推广开来并流行(首届Web 2.0会议于2004年底举行)。

    我还和雷德•霍夫曼开玩笑说,这些都是他成为大名鼎鼎的“雷德”之前的日子。

    是的,虽然当时他已经是一位很成功的PayPal管理层成员,但这次却是他首次担任首席执行官。虽然他早已投资了Friendster和其他一两家公司,相当长时间以后他才凭借对Facebook和Zynga等公司的投资,成为一位传奇的天使投资人。假如今天雷德要创办一家公司,他很可能会获得美国所有风险投资人的支持;但在2002年底,我们在其芒廷维尤公寓创办LinkedIn时,情况却并非如此。

争取Sand Hill Road的支持

    好了,现在你对2003年初的情况已有了大概了解。雷德组建了创始人团队,大部分来自其之前的初创企业,另外有些人是他认识多年的老朋友。雷德为我们提供了网站启动资金,2003年5月5日网站发布上线。此后不久,我们开始与风投初步洽谈首轮融资事宜。

    接下来的几个月里,雷德和我踏遍了Sand Hill Road。我们洽谈过的公司很多你可能都知道,但有些你可能并不知道,有几家如今已不在这个行业里了。有些公司对PayPal的故事相当熟悉,有些则只是随便看看。

    总的来说,我想我们至少洽谈了25家类型各异的公司。虽然我的记忆可能有遗漏,我们和其中至少六家公司洽谈了全面合作关系。风投公司的反应不一。有几家风投很快理解了我们追寻的机会,并看好我们的团队和理念。其中有一家的合作显然很有分歧,少数直言不讳的普通合伙人认为,投资消费者互联网公司是浪费时间和金钱。另一宗合作则导致了我们对未来5年走向的一场辩论(模型是我建的,所以我回答了大部分问题),显然他们并不是最合适的首轮融资方(该公司现已退出早期风投领域)。而第三家公司对雷德进行了“压力测试”(即反复盘问),看他在Paypal取得一定成功后是否仍有创业热情。洽谈结果不甚理想。

    我当然不是希望那些没有投资我们的公司陷入倒霉的结局。如今我作为种子期风险投资人,能够理解在企业初期进行投资评估的难度。当时很多风险投资人都在泡沫中损失惨重,能对消费者互联网公司感兴趣已属不易,而LinkedIn网站推出仅几个月,我们只有几万的注册用户,接下来一年多内可能也不会有收入产生。但我同样感谢在首轮风投融资过程中表示出投资兴趣的少数公司和他们身上的那种激情。正如我常常说的,初创企业融资不是要说服怀疑者,而是要找到真正的笃信者。

    在首轮融资的末尾,即2003年秋天,我们收到了两家公司的风险投资协议,还有第三家表示有兴趣参与(但不愿意领投)。两份风险投资协议的条款和估值差不多,我们感到两家公司都会成为很好的合作伙伴。

    出于种种原因,我们最终选择了Sequoia Capital的风险投资协议。有点讽刺意味的是,Sequoia很晚才首次表示出兴趣 (但幸好他们动作很快),这轮470万美元的融资于2003年11月才结束,融资前估值为1,000万美元至1,500万美元。因此,从开始到结束,我们的融资大概花了4、5个月的时间。

    接下来正如他们所说,一切已成为历史。或者更准确地说,是许多优秀人才的多年努力和创新的历程。

    Lee Hower (@leehower)是LinkedIn创始人团队的一员,从LinkedIn创立之初至发展初期担任企业发展总监。现在,他是波士顿投资公司NextView Ventures的联合创世人和普通合伙人,专注于投资种子期的互联网公司。他的博客见AgileVC.

    LinkedIn went public last week. As a shareholder and part of the founding team, I'm obviously pleased with the investor reception it has received. It's a great milestone for the company we started nearly 9 years ago.

    A lot of people ask me what it was like raising the Series A venture capital round for LinkedIn (LNKD) back in 2003. Many assume it was a cakewalk, based on the success the company has enjoyed over time and the current stature of our founder Reid Hoffman. We ultimately had a good outcome with our Series A, but I assure you it required some hard work and we faced plenty of skepticism. I thought I'd revisit it and share the story:

    First, you have to rewind mentally to early 2003. Google (GOOG) is still a private company (their IPO was Aug 2004). Yahoo (YHOO) is the leading consumer Internet company with Terry Semel as CEO. Silicon Valley is still emerging from the tech bubble and massive downturn of late 2000-2002. The market size for online advertising, e-commerce and web premium services is between one-tenth and one-third of the size it is today. (The entire U.S. online ad market in 2002 was $6 billion, versus $25 billion+ in 2010, and had shrunk year-over-year.)

    Salesforce.com (CRM) is a startup with 76,000 subscribers (over 2.1 million today). Apple (AAPL) is gearing up to launch a revolutionary iPod with a touch sensitive wheel instead of a mechanically rotating one, and the thought of Steve Jobs entering the cell phone business is mildly preposterous.

    Online social networking is a concept still being evangelized even in Silicon Valley: Friendster is in private beta (wasn't until Oct 2003 it received a Google acquisition offer, which it turned down for a Kleiner/Benchmark round). Facebook doesn't exist, even as a walled-garden college social network (Mark Zuckerberg was in his freshman year at Harvard). There are no social platforms to build on top of... if a social graph is important to what you're doing, you better create one from scratch. It'll be nearly two years before the concept of "Web 2.0" is popularized by Tim O'Reilly (the first Web 2.0 conference happened at the end of 2004).

    I also joke with Reid Hoffman that this was back in the days before he was "Reid."

    Yes, he was a very successful PayPal exec, but this is his first time as a CEO. And this is long before he was a legendary angel with investments in Facebook, Zynga, etc. (although he already was in Friendster and one or two other companies). If Reid were to start a company today, he'd probably have every VC in America offering to back him, but this wasn't necessarily the case when we started LinkedIn out of his Mountain View apartment at the end of 2002.

Pitching to Sand Hill Road

    Ok, now you have the context for early 2003. Reid assembled the founding team, drawing largely from his prior startups, with a few other folks he'd known for a long time. He provided our initial seed funding to launch the website publicly on May 5, 2003. Not long after the product launch, we began the initial conversations with VCs for a Series A round.

    Reid and I ran around Sand Hill Road for the next several months. Many of the firms you'd recognize, but a few you might not and a couple we pitched are essentially out of the VC business today. Some groups were intimately familiar with the PayPal story and others were only casual observers.

    In total, I think we spoke with at least 25 firms of various types. We pitched the full partnership of six that I can recall, though it's possible I'm missing somebody. It was an interesting mix of reactions. A couple quickly grasped the opportunity we were pursuing and liked our team and concept. One partnership was clearly very divided and a vocal minority of GPs thought consumer Internet companies were a massive waste of time and money. In another, we descended into a debate about our 5-year forecasts (I built the models so I fielded most of these questions), and it became clear they probably weren't the best fit for our Series A round (this group is no longer in the early-stage VC business). And a third firm "pressure tested" (i.e., grilled) Reid to see if he still had entrepreneurial zeal, after already having some success at PayPal. That one didn't end terribly well.

    I certainly bear no ill will to the various firms that ultimately passed on us. As a seed-stage VC myself now, I can appreciate how hard it is evaluating companies at the earliest stages of development. Lots of VCs had been burned in the bubble and enthusiasm about consumer Internet companies was very much a contrarian view. LinkedIn's product had only been live for a couple months, we only had tens of thousands of registered users and wouldn't start generating revenue for more than a year after this point. But I can similarly appreciate the enthusaism of the small handful of firms that did express interest in our round. As I'm fond of saying, startup fundraising isn't about convincing skeptics but rather finding true believers.

    At the end of the process, which ran into the fall of 2003, we received term sheets from two firms and had a third which expressed interest in participating (but it didn't want to lead the round). The terms and valuation for both offers were comparable and we felt both firms would have made good partners.

    For a variety of reasons we ultimately chose Sequoia Capital's term sheet. Kind of ironic, since Sequoia first showed interest pretty late in the deal process (but to their credit moved quickly from there). It was a $4.7 million round which closed in November 2003, and the pre-money valuation was between $10 million and $15 million. So, from start to finish, our fundraise took roughly four to five months.

    The rest, as they say, is history. Or more accurately many years of hard work and innovation by a lot of great folks.

    Lee Hower (@leehower) was part of the founding team at LinkedIn, serving as director of corporate development from the company's inception through its early growth phases. He currently is a co-founder and general partner at NextView Ventures, a Boston-based investment firm focused on seed stage Internet-enabled businesses. He blogs at AgileVC.

 

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