Raising Less Money Worked Out Perfectly

I met with a successful founder who shared an interesting insight with me: he sold his company for ~$200 million and is happy he wasn’t able to easily raise capital early in his journey. Most founders view insufficient resources as a negative, so my curiosity was sparked.

The founder and his early investors viewed the market they were going after as a $10+ billion opportunity. It was a new market, and his company was at the forefront. Wanting to be the undisputed market leader, he tried to raise a war chest to go after this opportunity. He didn’t raise the $100 million he wanted, but he was able to raise $20 million.

Fast forward a few years. An interesting thing happened. The new market he was going after ended up not being as big as they’d anticipated: $1 or $2 billion instead of $10+ billion. The much smaller market was split among this founder and all his competitors.

As the smaller market size became clearer and investors started getting closer to the end of their fund life cycles (~10 years), they started thinking about the company exit. They decided to run a process to sell the company and got an offer for ~$200 million. It wasn’t the $1+ billion they’d hoped for years earlier, but it was satisfactory given the smaller-than-expected market.

I won’t get into all the math, but since the founder raised ~$20 million total at a fair valuation, the ~$200 million exit gave his investors a satisfactory return. Therefore, the founder and the company’s employees weren’t subject to liquidation preferences. Investors, employees, and the founder were all happy.

Though the ~$20 million this founder raised wasn’t what he hoped for, it ended up being the right amount of capital to build a company appropriate for the size of the market. If he’d raised $100+ million, his outcome would have been materially different. He wouldn’t have been able to sell for ~$200 million because that wouldn’t result in a sufficient return for investors (exiting would have been delayed by years). Or, if he’d sold for ~$200 million, that would have limited or eliminated payouts to himself and his employees because of liquidation preferences.

This founder’s story highlights the importance of founders understanding the potential size of their market (to the extent possible) and seeking resources to build a company appropriate for it.