April 10, 2021
Photo: Christian Joudrey/Unsplash
Hello and welcome to Pipeline! This week: pro rata problems, the SEC's SPAC sparring and a new record in VC funding.
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Global venture funding reached a record $125 billion in Q1, up 50% from the prior quarter, and almost double the first three months of 2020. While early and seed-stage funding data often lags because startups often wait to announce their raises, many signs point to early-stage funding coming back after some weakness last year.
The fundraising cycle itself also seems to be speeding up. Companies can be marked up over several rounds in just a matter of months.
It sounds like a good problem to have. But seed funds with hot investments can find themselves with hard choices to make. Without investing their pro rata, seed investors can be crammed down to a small holding in a suddenly big company. If they do chip in, there's less money to make new investments.
Outside late-stage capital could be the answer. One firm, Alpha Partners, provides exactly that. The firm, which has raised $62 million for its first two funds and is raising a third fund of up to $300 million, targets newer seed firms on their first, second or third funds.
Another answer is special-purpose vehicles. These are one-off funds created to invest in growth deals.
Not every follow-on deal makes sense. There are so many companies to look at, and prices are rising, which can make it hard for seed investors to stay in deals.
Business leaders who understand that success rests on superior customer experience are always seeking better ways to unite their teams in order to best serve the customer. That means weaving support and service teams throughout the entire organization rather than pushing customer care into its own silo.
Somak Chattopadhyay is managing partner of Armory Square Ventures, a seed and early-stage firm based in Syracuse and New York City.
What a big issue that your partners are talking about at your Monday partner meeting?
Lately we have been thinking through how our companies in nontraditional tech hubs can best recruit and retain talent post-COVID. We used to say that a company is based in Buffalo or Columbus or Pittsburgh. But as companies virtualize their workforces, it's hard to say where the company is truly based. This presents new challenges in attracting people who care not only about building a market leader, but finding ways to transform their local communities.
What's an interest or obsession of yours that most people don't know about?
I am a classically trained violinist and obsessed with all types of music from classical music to hip-hop and jazz. My favorite composer of all time is Johann Sebastian Bach. I have been listening to his melodies and fugues since I was a child, playing them solo and in orchestras. I had the chance to visit his home in Leipzig, Germany, a few years ago. That trip remains one of the highlights of my life. Today, Bach is a balm for my soul. When I am facing a challenge at work that I can't get my head around, I turn on Bach for a few hours and usually an answer or two emerges from the meditation. I still can't get over how prolific he was and how refined his music was. He was generations ahead of his time.
What's one way you changed working in 2020 that you plan to keep going forward?
I turned a lot of in-person, one-on-one meetings into group Zoom calls. Entrepreneur presentations used to take much longer. First, someone from our team would meet a team in person, then there would be follow-up calls and meetings, and then perhaps a company might reach our investment committee for consideration. Today, our whole team can meet a team remotely on Zoom, have a single follow-up or two and go straight to our IC. That has streamlined the time we spend on each company and allowed more team members to participate in the deliberative process.
What company or startup sector is the most underrated right now?
I think ed tech remains a huge opportunity for investors, and still has a lot of room to grow through new innovation. The pandemic showed us how broken our education system is. We are not graduating enough skilled workers to fill the jobs in the tech sector but we are at the same time seeing record amounts of unemployment especially in young people aged 16 to 24. My college roommate, Sal Khan, is doing some incredible work through Khan Academy. I do think that there are many other for-profit models that can help fill the skills gap in the country and also help address inequality in our society.
What's a challenge you've had to overcome in your career? Do you have a tip for others?
When I was growing up, I was deeply concerned about what others thought of me and I was also incredibly fearful of rejection. Over the last few decades, I have become far more focused on being an independent thinker and do not take rejection personally. One tip I highly recommend to all entrepreneurs and investors is to consider developing a mind-body practice through yoga and meditation. I started a yoga practice in 2008 and I can honestly say this has played a large role in helping me stay grounded and focused on my decision-making as a fund manager.
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