4 Observations on the Current State of VC

Jonathan Tower
May 26 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post
A “new normal” is taking shape as startups and investors find novel ways to continue to innovate and support transformational companies

In our last piece, 6 Emerging Tech Trends for a Post-Covid19 World, we discussed trends that we at Catapult were seeing emerge from the current crisis. The post focused on sectors and themes across the technology landscape that have been enjoying a Covid19 ‘bounce’ or, at the very least, renewed interest from tech investors who feel, as we do, that companies focusing in these areas are well positioned to benefit from the changes in consumer behavior and commerce provoked by the pandemic.

In this post, we’ll offer 4 brief insights into what we’re currently seeing in the funding environment. Hopefully, this will provide some clarity to startup teams, fellow venture investors, and limited partners (LP) who are seeking to best navigate the current market uncertainty and position themselves for the road ahead.

1. Portfolio ‘triage’ is non-trivial, but starting to abate.

This presents obvious challenges to startups in a fundraising process that are seeking an audience with those venture funds that have largely turned their focus to internal matters. The good news, however, is that there are signs that this is beginning to abate. Shortly after the first market gyrations of late February, many funds got out in front of this cycle and began putting out their biggest fires first, which has allowed them to now slowly increase new deal originations and to have more ‘pipeline’ conversations with new relationships. As such, while getting on the Zoom schedule with a partner with check-writing authority at a fund that’s digging out of portfolio challenges is still difficult, it’s a lot easier than it was a month ago.

Clearly, this is also a fund-by-fund issue. Some firms with more troubled companies will be more preoccupied than others with firefighting distractions this year. Fortunately, this is not quite the case for newer funds without a legacy overhang of prior investments requiring attention. With valuations coming down, along with lower operating costs and more talent available, this is an exceptional time for newer funds unburdened by troubled companies to triage to be deploying capital on new investments.

2. Cadence of fundings at Seed/Early stage increasing whereas Mezz/Late stage companies still face challenges.

On another level, this uptick has a lot to do with the market environment facing a Seed/early stage company versus a more mature one, and the kinds of expectations attached to a Seed investment. Investors understand that, typically, the first two years after funding a Seed stage company will be dedicated to building the product or service, not profitability or concerns about near-term macroeconomic conditions. In many ways, this makes a bearish market like the one we are experiencing now and will likely continue to inhabit for the rest of this year ideal for funding and growing a Seed stage company — a point we covered in detail in a prior post, The Bull Case for Venture Capital in a coming Bear Market.

In contrast, later stage companies are viewed through an alternate lens by investors and held to a different standard. The expectations are also different. Near-term market conditions carry much more weight; and, unless the company is in a sector that will likely be a clear beneficiary of Covid-19, those near-term market conditions are not terribly favorable.

Additionally, the pandemic has altered the late stage funding landscape which has, in turn, ratcheted up financing risk for many late stage companies that continue to burn cash. Six months ago when there seemed no shortage of Fund-of-Funds, Corporate Venture Funds(CVCs), and family offices eager to invest in promising later stage companies, financing risk was considerably mitigated. This is not the case today. While there is still a good amount of late stage capital available from non-traditional investors, it seems to be accessible now only by the strongest and most sought-after companies.

3. Overall mood improving as notions of the “new normal” come into view

On the GP side, fundraising remains robust. There has been a record number of $1Bn+ venture funds raised in just the past quarter. While many of these fundraising conversations were already well advanced before Covid19 hit, there were still a number of funds that began marketing and had closes while the markets were just coming to grips with the pandemic. While some LPs have backed away from participating in these funds, there has been no shortage of other LPs willing to seize an opportunity to access a manager it long wanted to access and, thus, stepping in to take those available allocations.

4. Companies now need to prove they’re a Covid benificiary or are Covid-resilient

Jonathan Tower is Founder and Managing Partner at Catapult VC. Catapult is a global early stage venture firm with assets in multiple geographies investing in the best startups from fast-emerging tech ecosystems outside Silicon Valley and helping those companies achieve global scale. Jonathan’s previous investments include Dollar Shave Club ($1Bn acquisition by Unilever), Jet.com ($3.5Bn acquisition by Walmart), Madison Reed, MapR Technology, IfOnly.com, and many others that went on to great outcomes.

Jonathan writes frequently on venture capital and technology topics on his blog, Adventure Capitalist, and he’s been a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, FastCompany, Forbes, The Washington Post, The LA Times, and other leading publications.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jonathan_tower

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +730K people. Follow to join our community.

Jonathan Tower

Written by

Jonathan is Founder and Managing Partner at Catapult, a global early stage venture firm with assets in multiple geographies.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +730K people. Follow to join our community.

Jonathan Tower

Written by

Jonathan is Founder and Managing Partner at Catapult, a global early stage venture firm with assets in multiple geographies.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +730K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store