Valuation is probably the most emotive issue to be addressed in any investment negotiation.
Both entrepreneurs and investors seek reassurance that they are not agreeing to an inappropriate (unfair) valuation that will result in them receiving an inadequate share of the anticipated future exit proceeds. Both seek to find definitive valuation techniques that will give them the “correct” valuation. Both are often attracted to the more mathematical, formula based valuation methods involving discounting future values of potential exit values to present day money values.
While many of these methodologies have some merit, it is appropriate that whatever valuation they suggest, that this is sense checked against what is happening in the local market at the time of the deal. Always compare proposed valuations with other comparators in the local market. If you and the company are not based in Silicon Valley then Silicon Valley valuations are largely irrelevant.
Bill Payne carried out a valuation survey of US angel groups collecting pre-money valuation data for pre-revenue company investments from 35 angel groups in 22 states. He found that valuations ranged from $0.8 million (Boise Ohio) to $3.4 million (Silicon Valley), with an average valuation of $2.1 million. The survey showed wide geographic variance, with, perhaps not unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston showing the highest valuations, and Idaho, New Mexico and perhaps surprisingly, San Diego at the lower end.
There are a number of factors that likely result in these regional variations. The nature of the business will have an influence, with Biotech, life science and medical devices typically funded at higher pre-money valuations than, say, software and Internet companies. Increased competition among investors for “good” deals will tend to drive up valuations. Valuations in Silicon Valley are driven by the need to have much larger investment sizes because of the significantly higher cost of operating a business there.
However the size of the investment round seems to be one of the most influential factors. Some investment rounds can be for £2 million or more, while others may be for £100,000 or less. Since angels typically prefer purchasing less than a majority ownership, a higher pre-money valuation is more likely for a larger round size. 2016 valuations may have been up at $3.6m (notably down from a high in 2015 of £4.5m), but the Angels still took 22% of the equity
The Angel Resource Institute’s annual report (The HALO report) on Angel activity in the USA constantly shows that while valuations vary both by geography and by year, the amount of equity taken by the Angels remains remarkably consistent at between 20% and 30%. So a higher valuation does not result in less equity dilution of the founders.
Having empirical data on local valuations will provide extremely valuable in the negotiation process, providing a “reality check” to both aspirational values put forward by entrepreneurs and “scientific” valuations produced from mathematical formula. Angel groups should seek to cooperate in collecting and sharing local valuation data to ensure their own investments start out on a solid foundation.