Startup Studios: The Rise of Human Capital
What if investing in early stage startups wasn’t just financial? Exchanging a few shares of a startup’s capital against mentoring or advice — sometimes in addition to seed money — is a trend that is becoming more and more serious. It started with accelerators like Y Combinator or Techstars a few years ago; more and more VCs are also jumping on the bandwagon by offering guidances and other services in addition to their financial rounds — for instance, a16z is providing strategic advice and help on recruitment to all startups in its portfolio.
Today, startup studios change the rules of the game by providing intensive human efforts in addition of funding seed money.
The chart below maps early stage startups investors according to the volume of human and financial capital provided.
To simplify, human capital is measured in man-hours. Although it is a practical way to quantify the human investment provided it doesn’t well represent the quality of the contribution. Human capital is more generally defined as the collection of resources — all the knowledge, talents, skills, abilities, experience, intelligence, training, judgment, and wisdom possessed individually and collectively by individuals in a population. In our case, it defines the non-financial resources that are brought by an individual or by a team to increase the company’s assets.
bring on the table a small amount of money (around a few $10k) and usually dedicate a limited amount of time and resources. Business angels’ contribution is generally restricted to some strategic advice and personal introduction. When they are more organized, provide more money and take more active role in portfolio companies they are called SuperAngels.
provide a more substantial amount of money (between $20k and $100k) in exchange for equity (usually around 5–10%). In this model, a large number of hand-picked startups — usually tens of startups per batch and between 1–5% acceptance rate — benefit from mentorship and education during a few months. Most of the accelerators offer a strong network of alumni and investor contacts. Startups also benefit the recognition of being part of the accelerator’s selection.
usually take a much bigger slice of the cake but provide a fully dedicated team and a lot of financial and human resources to a small number of companies (not more than a few each year), along with a strong platform (tools, a network and knowledge). Some studios own the ideation process while some work with very early stage companies. Studios’ support might last long, generally few years, and in some cases during the entire startup’s life.
aim at providing an important amount of money to startups (from a few 100ks to several million for early stage rounds) in exchange for equity (around 20–30%). In addition to money, they bring governance, control, and advice, especially during board meetings. VCs sometimes have a dedicated team offering extra support to portfolios startups in the form of legal, managerial, strategical help. They are called hands-on VCs.