Tag Archives: Market size

Reasons to not invest

There are many reasons to not invest in a startup. Among others, these include concerns about the size of the market opportunity, the startup’s ability to capture value from its product, the competitive threat, the business model, and the investment terms.

Among potential reasons to pass, some are not related to the founder. For example, in the list above, this includes concerns about the investment terms.

However, most of the reasons to pass are in fact derivatives of the founder. In the list above, it’s the founder who decides to pursue a small opportunity, builds a startup in a part of the value chain that makes it difficult to capture value, is unlikely to be able to outperform competition, and is unable to build a strong business model.

So when you’re not investing in a startup for one of these reasons, which is most of the time, you’re not investing primarily because of the founder.

Market share, market size, and success

When pitching to investors, many founders point out that their market is so large that, even if they were able to capture just 1% (or a similarly small percentage like 0.1% or 0.5%) of it, they would become very large businesses.

In reality, the companies that develop into very large businesses do so by capturing at least a double digit percentage of their market. This figure is certainly more than 1%.

And the companies that fail capture much less, or none of their market.

By stating that even capturing 1% of their market would produce a very large business, founders are suggesting that they will succeed due to the size of their market rather than their competitive position and resulting market share within that market. The former belief demonstrates a misunderstanding of what it takes to succeed, so such companies rarely do.

The cost of raising too much capital

Most startups believe that raising more money is better. Startups are already undercapitalized relative to the incumbents that they’re trying to displace, so the more capital they have to close this gap the better.

While this is partially true, it comes with a very important caveat. And this is that the relationship only holds up to a specific point.

Having some money is almost always better than having no money. It lets you hire people, build a product, and hopefully get people to use that product.

However, raising money also carries a cost. Specifically, it sets a valuation for your company. And a valuation sets expectations.

Startup valuations reflect future expectations for the company, not its current performance. The company needs to use the capital it has raised to fill in the expectations set by its valuation. And the more you raise, the more difficult this becomes.

We can see that this is the case by thinking about the edge case of raising infinite capital. If a startup raised infinite capital, there would be a point beyond which it cannot put that capital to efficient use. Even if we ignore all other constraints, a startup is constrained by its market size and the time that it needs to spend to execute on projects so as to grow into that market. Taken together these factors create an upper limit for the amount of capital that a startup can effectively put to use in a given market during a given period of time.

When funding is readily available, you might be able to raise more than this upper limit. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Beyond a certain point, the shoes you’re trying to walk in will just be too big. Your feet won’t grow fast enough, you’ll end up with blisters on them, and you’ll be forced to buy smaller shoes.

And that’s where this analogy breaks down. It’s easier to find smaller shoes than to structure funding at a lower valuation.