Cash and Community in the Time of Covid
March 20, 2020
Dear Female Founders,
Firstly, I hope you and your families are healthy and adjusting to new ways of working; many of you trying to cope with children who are now out of school and also perhaps caring for your parents and elderly family members. Unbelievable turn of events as I think about — to think I was drinking margaritas only two Fridays ago with all my girlfriends and today I am in social isolation writing my first Medium post. Makes me realise how small we are compared to nature and no matter how much we think we are in control, we really are not. For me, it is a time for being here 200% for the companies I advise and have invested in, as much as it is time, on a personal level, for reflection.
I have heard some rumours about London VCs pulling out of financing new companies so I thought I might put this ‘rumour mill’ to test. A few companies that I am advising had reached ‘almost’ term sheet stage but funds pulled back saying that they will now be focusing on their existing portfolios. Simultaneously, others have received term sheets, albeit from new funds, that don’t have an underlying portfolio and have fresh funds to deploy.
To better understand the investment climate, I wrote to 37 early stage VC funds two days ago. All but one responded to me — thank you so much if you are reading this, you all know who you are. 86% of them responded saying ‘yes’, that they are definitely open for business with a few giving me a ringing BAU endorsement. One or two even mentioned that it was also a good time to find some companies with strong growth prospects to add to their portfolio. Many who said ‘yes’ also said that things would take longer to close. Unlike other financial crises, other than hoarding food, we have to adjust to a brand new way of living and working — all of us. One can perhaps fall in love online (or in a pod (1)) but getting a $5MM cheque on Zoom sounds a bit unrealistic to me too. How about hugging (well I am a hugger) the person you are giving money to, feeling the product you are investing in and reading the body language on both sides of the table? Not sure #virtualisthenewreal.
Deals will take longer to do because focus and resource has shifted to current portfolios. Funds will focus on ensuring that the companies in their current portfolio that need all their energies on all sorts of issues from firing to re-forecasting and raising cash, get it. Many mentioned that they would be ‘more’ selective now while doing new deals, financial projections are hard to rationalise (who knows what tomorrow brings) and expected to see valuation corrections.
Some tips from me: If I had to guestimate, it will take you probably twice as long as to fundraise now, than pre-COVID-19 days. Please look at your own numbers and while hard to do, try and estimate the impact of COVID19 on your projections and include a slide on this in your pitch decks. CAC’s will change, life-time values will change, sales cycles will change, people will focus on survival rather than nice to haves. When you do fundraise, try and raise for 18 months. In the interim, conserve as much cash as you possibly can. Keep in mind that some sectors such as travel & hospitality might be hit harder than others while telemedicine might benefit.
Of the remaining 17%, two funds said life had changed overnight and they would not be investing in the near term due to pressing portfolio needs and the remaining funds were fully deployed.
I also spoke to a few angels. A ‘flight to quality’, ‘cash is king’, better to be liquid than in private investments in times like this were some of the responses I received (sample size not large enough to draw any conclusions). One angel was extremely positive and said it was our time to support and would still be investing in companies that were growing fast. However, focus on existing portfolio was a recurring underlying theme.
Sorry I don’t have better news to share but not all doom & gloom either. I think the London start-up community is extremely resilient and has come together to help each other. Flavia Richardson has started a community ‘The Early Stage System Support Network’ (https://padlet.com/esesn2020/uktechtogether) with free resources for founders to help them through this unprecedented crisis. If you want to help with marketing, legal, fundraising or any other support, you can fill out this form (https://flaviapr.typeform.com/to/CFcI4I). Finally, the London VC community is very much open for business, albeit at a slower pace. If we can ride out the storm (by conserving cash — I know some very tough decisions coming), we can come out stronger (& COVID19 free) on the other side.
I am very much here to help any founders who want a ‘virtual’ coffee to talk about fundraising options or how to survive with work, no gym, two children and a dog in a COVID19 world. And thanks to the Atomico Angel Program, I still have capital to deploy in 2020. You can find me on firstname.lastname@example.org (no offense but female founders only please!).
Sending love & health,
(1) For some non-COVID19 related news, please join me at 9pm each night to watch ‘Love is Blind’ on Netflix
(2) The divine in me bows to the divine in you.