How to value a startup in a downturn


The value of technology companies has fallen as the broader public markets have repriced themselves in light of COVID-19-related market and economic disruptions.

And as the public markets sort out the new value of a huge piece of global business, private companies are being shaken as well.

What happens in the public markets trickles into the private markets, so if we’re seeing the value of public tech companies fall, startups are going to take a hit. To understand that dynamic, we spoke with Mary D’Onofrio, an investor with Bessemer Venture Partners. She’s the right person to chat with about the links between private valuations and public share prices as she not only helps put capital into growing startups, she also helps run the Bessemer cloud index (now a partnership with Nasdaq, and trackable on a day-to-day basis).

As she’s versed on both sides of the public-private divide, we asked her how she values startups in normal market conditions and in more turbulent times like today. We also dug into how founders are reacting to the changing world that may no longer be as amenable to their business plans. Pulling from our conversation, D’Onofrio told TechCrunch that startups want to be valued like companies were a few months ago, while investors want to pay today’s market prices.

But enough introduction, let’s get to the conversation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity; thanks to Holden Page and Walter Thompson for help with the transcription.

TechCrunch: During our last conversation, we discussed how to value startups. You explained a method in which you consider the future value of cash flows. How do you value startups today versus how much you think they’ll be worth down the road?

Mary D’Onofrio: I think what’s important to know is that outside of a market disruption, which I think was the the nature of the question to begin with, cloud software tends to trade on revenue and revenue growth. Companies should fundamentally be valued on the present value of their future free cash flows. But I think with cloud software, in particular, there’s a prioritization of taking [market]share, and then applying a very long term healthy margin structure on a very massive revenue base once you get there, and generating cash then.

And so I think in bull markets, when capital is readily available, prioritizing growth makes a lot of sense because you want to capture as much share as you can. And then losses are also tolerable because the capital is available to fund that massive growth. And there are actual measurable metrics that validate that structure, with CLTV to CAC [customer lifetime value to customer acquisition costs] being one of them.



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