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Advice

This section is for entrepreneurs to post general advice on the fundraising process for other entrepreneurs to use. Topics include terms, tactics, and strategies that have proven either effective or ineffective. Help other CEOs succeed with some sage advice from your own experiences.

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Always File for Trademark or Put Into Use!

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2010-01-27

Tags: Operations Trademarks

PUBLIC:

No matter how obscure you think something is, or how off-beat a domain name is, never, EVER register the domain and then leave it parked even for a minute.

We just went through the painful process of spending hours and hours until we hit on a cool domain name for our rebranding (sending coupons to mobile phones) -- kupongo.com. Less than 45 days later while we were working up our new look website to launch with it, we got an inquiry from someone about buying it. When we told them we were going to use it for our business... they went and registered kupongo.net and filed a trademark for kupongo in the exact same line of business. Then tried to bully us into selling them the .com domain for $500 because "we wouldn't be able to use it anyway."

Unless they don't actually put it into use (and we can then pursue abandonment), well, we can't use the domain for OUR site.

If we had used the domain at all beforehand, well, we'd have a position. But by trying to be stealthy, and conserve cash...well...it didn't work.

Lesson learned for me...don't let it happen to you!

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Free Legal Agreement Generators

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by fnazeeri on 2010-01-21

Tags: Operations Legal Agreement

PUBLIC:

I just came across these free tools for generating website terms of service agreements and privacy policy agreements.

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The Seven Levels of Traction

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2010-01-07

Tags: TheFunded.com Traction

PUBLIC:

So, in my experience, there are seven levels of "traction," and each level has various nuances. For example, "the launch" could be a soft launch or a beta launch. "The idea" may be rough, modeled, patented, etc.

THE TRACTION CURVE
1. The Idea
2. The Team
3. The Prototype
4. The Launch
5. Adoption
6. Revenue
7. Profitability

At each level of traction, quality of the execution is measured by investors. So, a great idea with a great team may secure a similar sized funding as a mediocre idea with strong adoption.

In the 2010 market, most semi-professional investors, such as organized angels, require a prototype for serious consideration, and most venture capitalists require initial success with adoption. There are exceptions, though rare, and you can overcome the need to hit traction thresholds by dominating in the present. Amazing adoption eliminates the need for revenue (Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube). A great team overrides the need for a prototype, etc.

Any other advice?

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The Gift of Not Getting Funded (Early)

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by calbin on 2009-11-04

Tags: Funding Sources Recommendations

PUBLIC:

Initially my business partner and I were so enamored with our idea that we didn't get feedback from our potential cutomers. This lead to a two year journey that should have taken 6 months.

Early on my partner and I said that we were not going to put our families in jeopardy for our venture. No credit cards. No risky loans. No robbing our 401k. We stuck by that and it was a wise choice.

From the outset we received tons of accolades from friends and family so we went to investors who said they liked our idea but couldn't figure out who was going to pay for it. The gift came in two forms 1) Not getting funding early which would have almost certainly been spent on a dead end road and 2) forcing us to make our idea stronger and better.

What our lack of funding made us do is go back to basics. We know we had the seed of a good idea but struggled to come up with a sustainable model. Along with lots of hard work we talked with potential customers and came up with a solid way to generate revenue. Our potential customers are now signing letters of support saying they like our product and find it beneficial for their business and are willing to be contacted by investors. We have never had this in previous attempts to raise money and now feel confident in our plan.

A potential investor we met early on who now heads an angel fund believes in our new plan and is working to get us funding. Our CA lawyer helped us craft a very sharp executive summary and in the next few weeks will begin making warm introductions.

Don't despair if you haven't gotten funded yet. It could be a gift in disguise.

So what I am asking of The Funded community is can you recommend any investors/angels/groups/VC's in the consumer space (specifically investors who might have a penchant for wine)? Thanks in advance and I will keep the community posted.

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In Demand: Free Early Stage Start Up Legal Library

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by KipMcC on 2009-08-28

Tags: Operations Lawyers NDA Legal Incorporating Agreements

PUBLIC:

The next time you talk to your law firm, let them know they should pioneer (be the first, take credit) the following concept:

Early-stage, cash-efficient start-ups increasingly require an equally efficient supply chain in order to make it work. Take for example Capital Factory, Y-combinator or even micro-style investments from more traditional VCs. A start-up raising $20k – $250k simply cant afford traditional legal costs associated with:

* incorporating,
* equity and option plans,
* option grants,
* convertible debt agreements,
* all docs associated with being INITIALLY funded (term sheets, standardized series-A docs),
* NDAs,
* separation agreements and release paperwork,
* contractor agreements, and so on.

I propose the following: forward-thinking law firms should create a FREE legal library that includes AT LEAST the items listed above. The should GIVE this library to start-ups that agree to become clients after a funding event of a particular size…maybe $250k or more. To be clear: I’m suggesting that law firms loss-lead with this free legal library and win clients that may become the next Google (or, realistically, may also go out of business). It’s time for the supply chain to evolve. we're starting to see some standardization of termsheets...now let's continue the thought.

http://kipmcc.wordpress.com/

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Raising Capital: Closing the Deal (Slideshare)

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by TylerDurden on 2009-08-28

PUBLIC:

Good deck from Joe Beninato who's been a very successful startup Founder.

http://www.slideshare.net/jbeninato/r...

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Investor Due Diligence

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by CEO for a while on 2009-08-10

PUBLIC:

Guys and Gals,

I'd like to recommend that we entrepreneurs band together to stop an inexcusable practice among VCs. I've done a few startups, sold a few companies, bought a few companies. Been active in the publicly-traded and private arenas. Something that completely irks me about VCs today is that they want entrepreneurs to open their books pre-term sheet (on top of the ridiculous gymnastics we already do to get capital.)

After a pitch, and untold number of follow-up discussions, a VC should be able to put down terms. We should not have to introduce them to any 3rd party (our valued business partners, customers, etc.) because its taxing to them UNTIL there's a term sheet on the table.

A later stage company would never let an investor or buyer in the door unless there's a term sheet. Why should an early stage company abandon this discipline?

My view is that we can make claims pre-term sheet. And if they find our claims to be exaggerated post-term sheet (during diligence), they can walk. It's non-binding anyway.

Thoughts?

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Penalties for Using a Non Registered Broker to Raise Money

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by raisecapital on 2009-07-14

Tags: Funding Sources Broker Dealer Legal

PUBLIC:

In California, 25501.5 of the Corporations Code gives any person who purchases a security from, or sells a security to, a broker-dealer that is required to be licensed, but is not, the right to bring an action for rescission of the purchase or sale, or if already sold, for damages. Five year statute of limitations, or two after discovery, which ever is first.

1029.8 of the Code of Civil Procedure was amended to cover people who should be licensed as a broker-dealer, but who are not and take a commission for selling securities.

The purchaser can sue the "finder" for damages, and may recover treble damages (limited to $10,000 above the purchase price) and may be awarded attorneys fees and costs.

Most important, the law give the investor the right to rescind their investment (get their capital back) for two years, which puts the capital at risk for that period of time. That may make additional rounds more difficult to raise.

So the finder is, in fact, guaranteeing the investment.

Has anyone run into this in fund raising? Have they asked the finder about it? Has anyone recouped their investment or known of someone who did using this law?

By the way, it is my understanding that this doesn't apply to officers of the corporation.

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Five Tips for Pitching

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Mr. Smith on 2009-06-26

Tags: Pitching Strategy

PUBLIC:

Getting a meeting with an investor is hard these days, but it can be done. Once in a meeting, here are five strategies to make the meeting go well:

>> STICK TO THE FACTS
Sell your idea on factual information only. Avoid adjectives and superlatives whenever possible. You do not have the best, the most, or the greatest anything. Most investors see 2,500 deals per year. They need basic information to determine interest. Suspect information is a red flag, and it only takes one red flag for an investor to lose interest.

>> KEEP YOUR PITCH SHORT
You should be able to explain your company in 10 slides that take about 20 minutes to present. If you want to succeed, then videotape yourself giving the pitch. Watch the video and write down everything that you want to improve in a list. Repeat this process until you are happy with the results. At the end of your pitch, say: "does anyone have questions that I can help you with?" The shorter your pitch, the more questions that will you have, and more questions are good.

>> ANSWER EVERY QUESTION BRIEFLY
Answer every question with one or two sentences and with as few words as possible. Uncomfortable silence is a tool that you can use to elicit another question. If you do not have or know an answer, say: "I don't recall the answer to that off the top of my head, can I look it up in my files and get back to you through email." Questions are an excellent sign of interest and engagement. When an investor gets into 'question mode,' they usually have a series of 5 to 10 questions that they need answered quickly to evaluate the opportunity. You are doing well in a pitch when the investors are talking.

>> ASK FOR FEEDBACK AND TAKE NOTES
Make sure to leave a few minutes to collect feedback. Ask the investors, 'do you have any recommendations for the business?' Have a pen and paper out, and write down everything that the investors say. It's a common courtesy to take notes, and it is expected. After an investor says something, say 'thank you.' Do not get defensive. Nothing sours a relationship faster than getting into a debate.

>> BE AN EXPERT IN YOUR INDUSTRY
You should read every recent blog post and know about every key development in the primary industry and all related industries to your idea. It is very likely that an investor will have seen and researched a very similar idea within the last 45 days. It is also very likely that this investor will ask you about mundane developments or other companies in the field as a test of your knowledge and to show off their own expertise. When confronted, you say, 'Yes, I was aware of that. Thank you.' This will lead to more questions.

As a closing point, be confident and assured. A common misperception is that a deal can be done in one meeting. It usually can't. So, the goal of any meeting should be (1) to get another meeting and (2) to specify follow-up items.

Do members have some other suggestions to add in the feedback?

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Using Finders / Consultants to Help Raise Money.

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2009-06-13

Tags: Funding Sources Intermediaries

PUBLIC:

Entrepreneurs build companies and hope to make money.
Investors invest and hope to make money.
Customers buy products and hope to make money.
Advertisers advertise and hope to make money.
Employees work and hope to make money . . . . . . . . .

Using a Finder or Consultant to help you raise money is perfectly OK.

A Finder or Consultant who asks for any money upfront is not OK. If the Finder / Consultant doesn't believe in your product or service enough to base his / her compensation on the successful raising of money - then why should an investor believe in what you are doing.

The only time a Finder or Consultant should be paid is if you need extensive help with your business plan, etc. You can avoid this by creating a Board of Advisors (one of whom can help with your business plan) that would be paid in stock options down the road.

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Need Some Basics on Running a Board Meeting

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2009-05-29

Tags: Operations Meetings Board

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A Very Interesting Take on "Idiot CEOs"

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by nkannan on 2009-05-13

Tags: Venture Business CEO

PUBLIC:

I saw a blog post by Georges van Hoegaerden titled, "Idiot CEOs." Here is the link:

http://www.venturecompany.com/opinion...-entry-id-148

A very amusing post that makes us CEOs think about financing alternatives to VCs.

Your thoughts?

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Pro formance Capital Pay to Play

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2009-05-07

Tags: Funding Sources Scams

PUBLIC:

The vultures are coming out of the woodwork.

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Startup Executive Compensation

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by fnazeeri on 2009-04-23

Tags: Operations Compensation

PUBLIC:

I've mentioned this survey several times before, but this time I bring news of the 2009 survey opening to participants. This year the survey covers five countries (China, India, Israel, UK and US) in two industries (technology and life sciences). If you are CEO or CFO of a startup company in any of these countries/industries then I encourage you to participate in the survey. It doesn't cost anything to participate (other than the 30-60 minutes it takes to complete the survey) and the benefit is that you get the full results once they are published.

In years past, the results were published in a PDF and a hardcopy book, but starting in 2009 the results will be published online via a password protected, members-only site (so participating is really the only way you can get the results). I think the 2009 data will be very interesting as it will reflect the effects of the overall economy as well as provide global comparisons. Don't miss the opportunity to get the 2009 data...take the survey now!

If you haven't seen the results of this survey before, I'm including both of last year's unabridged reports results below. It's actually pretty simple, yet since the data is otherwise so hard to find it's pretty powerful. Basically the survey collects salary, cash bonus and equity information for the top executives in private companies (mostly venture- and preventure-backed companies). The survey also collects information about the background of the executives and of the company (like location, size, funding, industry, etc.). The report is then able to give ranges of compensation based on these attributes.

Read more here including access to the full 2008 compensation survey reports.

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Free Online Term Sheet Generator

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by fnazeeri on 2009-04-22

Tags: Negotiation Terms Tools

PUBLIC:

Today Wilson Sonsini is launching an online term sheet generator. It's actually really cool and quite helpful in understanding the key terms. I actually got a sneak peak a few weeks ago and wrote a review here.

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Advice Needed: to Accept or Not Accept a Bridge / Convertible Note?

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2009-04-11

Tags: Funding Sources Convertible Debt

PUBLIC:

I would like to get your input and advice on what to do: buy time with unfavorable terms of a bridge / convertible loan, or ???

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Legal and Tax Implications of Founders' Equity Splits

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by fnazeeri on 2009-04-06

Tags: Operations Lawyers Taxes

PUBLIC:

Great post from Prof. Noam Wasserman at HBS on the legal and tax issues of splitting equity.

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Deal Closing

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by blitzmedia on 2009-04-06

Tags: Closing Terms

PUBLIC:

We are a start-up digital and social media, talent management and branding company. We have at least 9 revenue streams which are viable and are currently producing money. We are projected to turn a profit in year 2 and reach over $20M in revenues by year 5. We have a agreement with a large media company to produce content for their site and network. At this stage, we have a bank that is willing to give us a line of credit for $400K however we need a guarantor to approve the line. We have offered potential investors 10-20% of company equity and to pay off the line within 3yrs on a 10 yr loan. In year 3 we'll even offered to buy any investor out with a 25% ROI on the $400k line. Furthermore, any investor wouldn't have to put any money down but its a case where the bank will look at an investors company or personal assets to insure the line. We have came close to sealing the deal with few a investors but we haven't closed on any yet. Is there anything we can do to sweeten the deal?

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The Inlaw Conflict

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by RichieBlueEyes on 2009-03-28

Tags: Operations Lawyers

PUBLIC:

This is a repost from a blog that is going live on Monday morning on Bootstrapper.com, I figured I would post it here first...

So today's post is about a topic near and to everyone in our community, The "inlaws". By that I mean the inherent conflict of interest that tends to occur within the legal community in relation to the venture community. I've gotten to know a number of lawyers in the community quite well over the last few years and have a lot of respect for them and are friends with a number of lawyers, however it is a small community and an interesting thing that occurs is that the same law firm can and often does represent both sides in a transaction (either directly or indirectly). What do I mean? Well, a law firm can represent a fund in one deal and the entrepreneur in another and both be going on simultaneously. It creates a confusing situation.

Outside of the venture sphere, the situation could be seen as a conflict of interest but given our world, it is standard practice. Often times the lawyer may be the one that introduced the company to the investor which is great for both parties but further complicates the question of representation.

The founding member of The Funded always likes to say that the lawyers work for the fund not for you and that the second $ is closed, it is no longer your counsel.

Given that the fund represents (generally) infinitely more business than a single entrepreneur, there is a point in there. On a technical level corporate counsel represent the controlling shareholder or bloc of shareholders but on a practical level it's something to think about.

Overall, it's usually good to have a venture law firm for your company because they do tend to know how to raise money and the process, however it may make sense to have a personal counsel review everything for how it looks from your perspective as the entrepreneur because you want someone looking at your docs that is representing you personally, not your company.

To conclude: Cover Your Ass no matter what you do - I've been screwed out of vesting and know many entrepreneurs who have as well. Protect yourself and make sure you have protections in place.

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The Collapse of the VC Ecosystem & What It Will Look Like Post Recovery

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by fnazeeri on 2009-03-08

Tags: Venture Business Crisis

PUBLIC:

I wrote this post on how the VC market is imploding which is not news to anyone on TheFunded, but I tried to take it a step further and talk about what it will look like post recovery. I read a great post on Seth Godin's blog about how everyone talks about the "crisis in our face" but not the "crisis in the distance." Anyway, here's a crack...let me know what you think.

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Sillicon Valley Resources

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Anonymous on 2009-03-06

Tags: Operations Resources

PUBLIC:

I (did not) want to share some resources in the Silicon Valley for serial start up CXOs:
http://www.tiesv.org, http://www.vctaskforce.com, http://www.sdforum.org and http://www.svase.org - the last one runs a weekly "pitch a VC breakfast" each Thursday.

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Stock in the New Start Up

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by will on 2009-02-14

Tags: Preparation Equity

PUBLIC:

Now that I have seen the dark side of stock rights and the way they can be wiped out for founders, the new startup is being created differently. I am seeking opinions on how others have done it.

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Finding Money Online Through Financing Web Sites

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by SevenX on 2009-02-11

Tags: Funding Sources Intermediaries AngelsSoft

PUBLIC:

[The Founding Member has suggested that this post, originally written in response to a query on the discussion board, be reposted here for broader visibility.]

No web site site can promise to find you money. Period. In fact, perhaps the best way to figure out whether a site is legitimate is the extent to which it DOESN'T promise to find you money!

Of the various possibilities out there, there are realistically four categories, in pretty much the following order:

1) Angelsoft.net: doesn't promise anything, is primarily a site that investors use themselves, doesn't expose any of your information publicly, has by far the best free search engine for legitimate early stage funding sources, and lets you prepare and send applications and videos for free directly to a limited number of screened, legitimate investment groups. If you want to pay $250 extra, you can promote your offering by posting it in a pool that 15,000+ accredited investors (and ONLY accredited investors) can browse through. They publish their stats online, and they show that between 1.3% and 5% of posted deals get funded. So your odds are between 20:1 and 75:1 against. (As Winston Churchill said about democracy: "It's the worst form of government there is...except for all the others.")

2) Vator.tv: the biggest public pitch site, legitimate, but wide open. Good news is that it's free, and that you'll likely get a lot of views of your video. On the other hand, very few of them (if any) will be from legitimate investors. Instead, you'll probably be approached by more than a few service providers, which may (or may not) be what you want, and scammers. But it's good for general exposure, and they are adding a bunch of neat new features, including micro-blogging for company updates so that interested parties can follow your corporate news. So if you're not concerned about the public nature of the site (or if you think that's a good thing), it makes sense. (Just be very, VERY wary of any "funding" leads that result from your posting.)

3) The legitimate attempts at investor matching: there are VERY few of these out there (and virtually all are not in compliance with SEC regulations) including for-profit ones (such as FundingUniverse) and not-for-profits (such as ActiveCapital (the only truly SEC-approved, legit one) and TheFunded's sponsor, IdeaCrossing). They mean well, but have few investors (usually starting from a local group or area: Utah in the case of FundingUniverse, Cleveland, Ohio for IdeaCrossing), and the for-profit ones are not cheap.

4) Everyone else: there are several dozen of these (perhaps even a hundred or more), ranging from out-and-out scams (any one in which you get an instantaneous response promising money, asking for money, or asking for financial information), to sites that function primarily as lead-generators for service providers. I don't personally know of a single company that has had a good experience with FindThatMoney, FundFinder, GoBigNetwork, RaiseCapital, Go4Funding, etc. etc. etc.

The bottom line is that raising capital is very, very (did I say VERY?) tough, particularly in this economy, and only a teeny, tiny fraction of companies will EVER get outside equity financing. The stats suggest that's something like 0.25% for venture money, and 1-2% for angel money.
So anyone who promises you quick and easy money is either well-meaning-but-delusional (the rare exception) or a scumbag-with-a-hand-heading-to-your-pocket (the vast majority.) As a first pass heuristic, if an "angel group" is not listed on either the Angel Capital Association web site (http://www.angelcapitalassociation.or...) or the Angelsoft Group Finder (http://angelsoft.net/entrepreneurs/an...) you should be extremely wary of any claims they make...but then, of course, you would be anyway. Right? Right??

Remember the immortal words of Robert A. Heinlein: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

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Re Position Now?

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Bruce Kasanoff on 2009-01-27

Tags: Preparation Strategy Marketing

PUBLIC:

In the middle of trying to launch a start-up (The Goal Mine), the deepening downturn has pulled me back to a practice (Now Possible) that has become more timely than ever: re-positioning companies.

As I look around the entrepreneurial landscape, what surprises me is how little substantive re-positioning has occurred... yet. The world has shifted, dramatically. The rules have changed. And yet most firms are pretty much still pitching the business model they developed before last fall. 95% of the time, that's not going to work.

This new world creates its own opportunities. All is not gloom and doom, unless you fail to acknowledge how much the rules have changed. Rents are going down. Lots of talent is available. People are willing to take chances (largely because they have no choice.) But at the same time, everyone has both hands on their wallet.

How should your firm re-position itself today? Whatever you decide, that decision should ripple quickly through your pitches, your sales materials, your product/service offerings, and even your pricing sheet.

One thing to keep in mind: hope is not a strategy. Hoping you'll get funding and find customers even though you did not change your positioning, well, that's not much of strategy. Basically, the entire world is taking a 50% pay cut. So what do you do differently?

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"Home Run" Insanity, but There are Perks

TheFunded.com Advice

Posted by Jon on 2009-01-20

Tags: Venture Business Crisis Economy

PUBLIC:

According to VentureWire, the number of venture investments in Q4 2008 fell to the lowest level since after the last crash, and the amount of money invested into the whole private equity sector halved from the same quarter last year. Many of the private equity investments being made are in "secondary funds," which buy distressed portfolio positions, so the story for the relatively small segment of venture capital is probably much worse.

The reality on the street for entrepreneurs raising money is brutal. Funds take meetings, but it's clear that they are not really making investments. With limited cash in the bank and limited prospects for raising more capital, it seems that all the good VCs are waiting for a "home run" opportunity to walk in the door and give them a 50% valuation haircut.

There is a silver lining. Deals perceived as being a "home run" have leverage. We just closed a later stage round after nearly a year of fundraising and pulled out over $1 MM for the founders, selling some of our equity. While our valuation was lower than we would like and the terms had some other unwanted teeth, when we threatened to walk, the deal was sweetened. Our traffic numbers are strong, so we had a few VCs coming to us with offers over the last couple months

From what I can gather, the VCs needs to justify making an investment in the current recession, so they have to issue less favorable terms. They can't explain the deal to their partners or investors otherwise. My advice would be to get as much exposure and traction as possible, have a few funds come to you, then target the best investor and negotiate the secondary perks more than the primary terms. Good luck!

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