Who’s Going to Buy This Startup?

Many “atypical” markets are surprisingly M&A friendly, but VCs may not recognize the potential buyers without guidance

Founder Collective
Jul 15 · 3 min read

“I don’t see who would acquire this startup.” I’ve heard this excuse from VCs explaining a decision to pass on investing in an atypical market. It’s usually a diplomatic way to express a deeper concern about a business, and it’s often a mistake. Here’s why:

We heard this all the time when pitching our startup, Brontes, in the dental industry. Turns out we and all of our competitors had meaningful exits. Brontes itself had 5 bids to buy the company in an industry that most VCs believed was devoid of buyers.

If a startup creates a product & builds a business around it, it’s extremely likely that someone will want the asset.

During our 1st decade at FC, we’ve seen portfolio co’s acquired by:

🛒 Supermarkets

🚘 Automakers

🏦 Banks

🏭 Industrial Manufacturers

👨‍🌾 Agribusinesses

That’s in addition to the usual suspects like Apple/Google/Facebook/Amazon, other tech giants, private equity firms, ad holding companies, and so on. Software has eaten the world. Every company is now a tech company. There are more buyers of startups than ever before.

There are legitimate concerns about unusual acquirers:

👛 They usually offer lower multiples

🐌 Buy fewer companies overall

🗿Tend to prefer more mature startups

But it’s not like traditional buyers are without warts…

Tech buyers have a tendency to:

☕️ Use their market power to grind down the price

🖍️ Redraw cap tables to misalign stakeholders

📻 Go radio silent unexpectedly and suddenly

Be prepared to help educate VCs about potential exits, while not focusing the discussion on this topic. A big market is more important than an obvious buyer. If you get big enough, the public markets can provide an exit. The livery car industry provides a prime example.

Speaking of the livery car industry, most VCs are awful at sizing markets. See why market sizing is so challenging from this market analysis of Uber already 4 years into their market expansion & imagine what it was like to size the market at the start.

VCs will engage in top-down or bottom-up analysis, but they mostly use other large transactions in the market to convince themselves. Once a company has sold for $1B in the market, it’s a great market. Until that happens, it isn’t.

While I advise against a slide highlighting potential acquirers or exit opportunities, it is a useful backup slide if you’re pitching a startup in an atypical space. You can break it out when an investor starts doubting the possibility of a strong exit in your industry.

Many “atypical” markets are surprisingly M&A friendly, but the majority of VCs may not recognize the potential buyers without guidance. And if you’re working on something weird & wonderful, we’d love to talk.

Founder Collective

Written by

Our mission is to be the most aligned VC for founders at seed. #ProudInvestor in @Uber @TheTradeDeskinc @Buzzfeed @Cruise @Diaandco @PillPack @SeatGeek & more.

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