March 27, 2020
Fundraising Startups

This is how much harder it is to raise capital during a downturn


By Collin West, Nihar Neelakanti, and Gopinath Sundaramurthy

The recent coronavirus outbreak has shocked markets around the world and US equities, in particular, have dragged into bearish territory faster than any other tumble. But as an institution focused on venture capital and startups, we asked the question, how will current economic conditions impact fundraising at the startup level. If history can teach us anything about the trials and tribulations startups have to go through during a downturn, we decided to look at the most recent market crash in September 2008 and looked at how VC-led rounds were impacted during the first full year after the crash  

We found that across all rounds types (Seed – Series D) that the median round size went down. Founders across the board were raising lower amounts of capital, and in some cases over 30% less. It’s unlikely that startups decided to become more capital efficient overnight – we think the market forced it.

Median Amount Round Type

Figure 1: Median Early Stage Dollars Raised between the years 2007 and 2012

Note: Median round sizes are typically lower than the mean because round sizes tend to follow a power-law like most things in startups. But medians represent trends more clearly because outliers do not throw off the data. This is why we present medians. 

Compounding this, in 2009 we also saw a dramatic increase in the median % equity sold per round. 


This means that not only were startups raising less capital but they were also selling a higher % of their company for that capital than before the 2008 crash.

And fewer rounds were happening in 2009 (with the notable exception of seed):


Overall, if we can learn from history, there is a decent chance startups are in for a rough time ahead. It is a reasonable assumption that capital will be harder to raise, and many startups will raise at a lower valuation than before this crisis. We are advising startups that have not hit profitability to curb spending, focus on revenue-generating products, and think very carefully about new hires.

To put this into perspective, in 2008 a Series A company raised a median of $4M for 14% of the company. This leaves an effective valuation of a 28.5M post.

In 2009, however, 30% fewer companies raised a Series A. And the companies that did successfully raise – raised 12.5% fewer dollars (a median of $3.5M) and had to sell 25% of their company (78% more). This leaves an effective post-money of = $14M post, basically half the valuation of the year before. 

The silver lining

There are a handful of factors that suggest that the current tumble is different than any prior downturn. Pandemic infused uncertainty, consumer demand and perception shifts, low-interest rates, increased globalization of systems, etc will all play a role in determining how and when a recovery will happen. But we have to continue to believe in better days ahead. After all, we know that the last recession (2008-2009) saw the birth of some of the most iconic companies in the past decade. Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Pinterest, WhatsApp, and Square are just a handful of the companies forged within the parameters of a downturn. In our conversations with a number of investors and thought leaders in the space, we also believe that a handful of existing and new categories will advance through 2020 and beyond. For example, the healthcare and life science sector may experience a more favorable regulatory environment moving past the coronavirus age. Companies within the future of work thesis may move beyond early adoption into mass-market categories like education and healthcare. As investors in Zoom, we’ve seen the extraordinary rise and adoption of remote work and believe that video communications will continue to enhance human connectivity post-pandemic. What about telemedicine? Will current stay-at-home policies change consumer perception towards digital health in the long run? At the same time, what will startups like Carbon Health, Remedy, and Plushcare do to continue to make the teledoctor experience more human?

While we don’t know how this downturn will play out, we do believe in one thing: Some of the most iconic companies of the next decade will undoubtedly be launched in this pressure cooker of change, and that this is a unique and pressing opportunity for founders alongside equally intrepid investors to partner in building the economy of the future. As famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Stay the course, when thwarted try again, harder, smarter, persevere relentlessly”.

We are certainly staying the course. 



All the data used in the development of all charts and insight was obtained from Crunchbase private-market data.

Disclaimer from the data provider: “Crunchbase’s dataset is constantly expanding, but there are gaps. A company may not have all the founders and chiefs listed on its Crunchbase profile or have the complete details regarding the executive’s education listed in detail.

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  1. Nice article! Just wanted to confirm, is this data for US market or global? Thanks!

    1. Kauffman Fellows
      3 year ago

      US Market!

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