Secondary Markets Are Heating Up

Bloomberg published an article today entitled Shares of Startups Are Turning Dirt Cheap, Attracting Venture Funds. It contains some insights into the current state of the secondary market for start-ups.

A secondary sale is usually a transaction between two parties to exchange equity in later-stage start-ups. The start-up isn’t involved, except that sometimes it must approve the transaction.

I know a few investors, both individuals and institutions, who bought or sold shares on the secondary market in 2020 and 2021. Usually, it was a way for the buyer to get exposure to a company when they couldn’t become an owner in a funding round. The seller was typically an early employee, angel investor, or seed-stage venture fund. These investments were done at a valuation premium relative to the last funding round.

Things appear to have changed. According to the Bloomberg article, recent secondary sales have been done at steep valuation discounts relative to the most recent funding rounds. And there is increasing appetite by funds to buy on the secondary market and increasing desire by institutions such as pensions to sell private investments on the secondary market.

As more institutional investors, venture capital funds, and start-up employees seek liquidity when an IPO isn’t an option, I’m curious to see how secondary markets evolve.