Master's Thesis, 2012
77 Pages, Grade: none
List of Tables
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
1.2. Research Objectives
1.3. Research Design
2. Overview and Definitions
2.1. The New Economy
2.1.1. Birth and Growth
2.1.2. Pure Play Companies
2.1.3. Winner-Take-All Competition
2.2. The Development of Start-ups
2.2.1. Stages of Development
2.2.2. Funding Rounds and Sources
2.2.3. Introduction to Valuation
2.3. The Venture Capital Funding
2.3.1. Venture Capital
2.3.2. Investment Criteria
2.3.3. Ownership Dilution
3. Dealing with Intangibles Assets
3.1.1. Intellectual Capital
3.1.2. Brand Equity
3.2. Expenses Misclassification and Other Characteristics
3.2.1. R&D Expenses
3.2.2. Marketing and Advertising Expenses
3.2.3. Other Characteristics
3.3. Accounting Treatment
3.3.2. Fair Value Determination
4. Financial Valuation Methods
4.1. Discounted Cash Flow Valuation Method
4.1.1. Forecasting Cash Flows
4.1.2. Discounting Cash Flows
4.1.3. Pros and Cons
4.2. Relative Valuation Method
4.2.1. Identifying Peer Companies
4.2.2. Comparing Multiples
4.2.3. Pros and Cons
4.3. Other Valuation Methods
4.3.1. Probabilistic Methods
4.3.2. First Chicago Method
4.3.3. Real Options Method
List of References
This dissertation paper deals specifically with the valuation of Internet start-ups after the burst of dot-com bubble. The objective is to contribute to the development of this field of study by filling some of the existing gaps. Indeed, it is a relatively recent subject, and the research devoted to it is still limited.
It has been found that the valuation of an Internet start-up does not only depend on its stage of development, but also on five qualitative factors: the team, the business model, the market, the risk, and the exit options. In fact, venture capitalists base their valuation on the perceived growth potential of the company.
Subsequently, this dissertation paper addresses the issue of intangible assets. In fact, an Internet company derives most of its value from its intellectual capital, brand equity, and website. These intangible assets, as well as their accounting treatment, are deeply analyzed. It has been noticed the misclassification of their expenses can have a considerable impact on the valuation of the company.
The discounted cash flow valuation method, which is based on financial projections, and the relative valuation method, which is based on comparables, are identified and examined in- depth. Their analysis is crucial to determine how to properly value an Internet start-up.
Ce m é moire traite le sujet de la valorisation des start-up Internet, et ce, apr è s l ’é clatement de la bulle du secteur. L ’ objectif est de contribuer au d é veloppement de ce champ d ’é tude, qui est relativement r é cent, et dont les travaux de recherche sont limit é s.
Il a é t é constat é que la valeur d ’ une start-up Internet ne d é pend pas seulement de son stade de d é veloppement, mais é galement de cinq crit è res qualitatifs: l' é quipe, le mod è le d'entreprise, le march é , les risques, et les options de sortie. Il s ’ av è re en effet que les capitalrisqueurs é valuent une entreprise en fonction de son potentiel de croissance.
Une soci é t é Internet tire l ’ essentiel de sa valeur de ses immobilisations incorporelles : son capital intellectuel, sa marque, et son site. Le traitement comptable de ces immobilisations est donc analys é en d é tail. Il a notamment é t é remarqu é qu ’ une mauvaise classification des d é penses li é es à ces immobilisations peut avoir un impact consid é rable sur la valorisation de l ’ entreprise.
La m é thode d ’é valuation par l ’ actualisation des flux de tr é sorerie et la m é thode d ’é valuation par comparaison sont é tudi é s dans ce m é moire. Leur analyse permet de d é terminer la meilleure fa ç on d ’é valuer la juste valeur d ’ une start-up Internet.
I hereby first and foremost express my great gratitude to Won Kim, my dissertation advisor, for its guidance and support from November 2011 to July 2012. He was always available for discussions and suggestions about the different factors that could enter in the determination of the valuation of Internet start-ups.
I am very grateful to the venture capitalists who gave me relevant information on how they value this specific kind of companies.
Finally, I express my gratitude and thanks to my friends and family for their help and encouragement throughout the development of the dissertation paper.
Table 1: Internet Start-ups’ Standard Correlation
Table 2: Balance Sheet after Seed Round
Table 3: Balance Sheet after Angel Round
Table 4: Balance Sheet after Series A Round
Table 5: Example of Relative Valuation for Internet Start-ups
Figure 1: Number of Internet Users from 2001 to 2011
Figure 2: Global Number of Internet Users from 2001 to 2011
Figure 3: Early Stages of Development of Traditional Start-ups
Figure 4: Qualitative Factors in Valuation
illustration not visible in this excerpt
The following chapter will introduce the topic of this dissertation paper, the research objectives, the research design, as well as the structure.
In the last decades, the global economy has seen a shift away from manufacturing companies to service and technology companies. It should also be noted that this shift can be especially observed in the developed countries. With the emergence of the Internet industry, also known as the new economy, every existing company has been forced “to rethink its strategy and its place in the Internet world”1. In fact, the Internet is not only a business phenomenon, but also a social revolution.
With the increasing importance given to this new economy, the valuation of Internet companies has started to draw people’s attention. The dot-com crash in 2001 highlighted the weaknesses of the valuation methods applied at this time. In fact, investors lost a large amount of money, which makes them realize they needed to adjust the way they used to value Internet companies. The valuation of Internet start-ups after the burst of dot-com bubble is precisely the subject that will be analyzed and presented in this dissertation paper.
Suppose that a business angel or a venture capital (VC) is interested in investing in an Internet start-up, the problem is to figure out what the company is really worth. In fact, it is at this moment that the valuation becomes necessary. The core issue to be answered is how this valuation should be done. It must also be noted that the Internet is one of the few industries where a company is worth something even if it is not profitable. Besides, when valuing a start-up, what should be also kept it mind is that it does not matter what the founding team thinks the company is worth, it only matters what the potential investors think it is worth.
The valuation of Internet start-ups is still a relatively young subject of research. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more important in today’s economy. The main issue that needs to be faced it that there is not a valuation method universally applied, which means that no one really knows how to value an Internet start-up. In fact, when asking VCs which is the best approach to value this kind of companies, they commonly agree that it is an open ended question and that unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. Indeed, the valuation of Internet start-ups is more art than science.
If there is an active market, this is to say if the company is listed on a stock exchange, the fair value is the market value. On the other hand, if there is no active market, this is to say if the company is not listed on a stock exchange, which is the case of all start-ups, the fair value must be estimated2. In order to do so, it is necessary to use one or more of the valuation methods detailed in this dissertation paper. Notice that the two generally accepted methods for valuing Internet start-ups are the discounted cash flow (DCF) valuation and the relative valuation. An introduction on three other methods will be also given.
This dissertation paper attempts to answer multiples questions: starting with the identification of the qualitative criteria that need to be considered when making an investment, ending with the examination and comparison of the different accepted valuation methods, and passing through the analysis and valuation of the most relevant Internet companies’ intangible assets. These different points contribute all together to have an exhaustive and clear explanation of the valuation of an Internet start-up after the burst of the dot-com bubble, giving at the same time a significant contribution to this field of study.
Significant research has been conducted on both venture capital financing and valuation of start-ups. However, most of the studies are not specific to the Internet industry or are not updated to the current environment.
Ulrich Hege, Professor of Finance at HEC Paris, released in 2001 the article “L’Evaluation et le Financement des Start-up Internet”3, whose title can be translated in English as the valuation and financing of Internet start-ups. However, this paper has been written during the burst of dot-com bubble; and therefore, does not cover the valuation methods that emerged after it. Among the multiple publications of the valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, Professor of Finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, two have been very useful to the development of this dissertation paper: the research report “Valuing Companies with Intangible Assets”4 published in 2009, and the book “The Dark Side of Valuation: Valuing Young, Distressed, and Complex Businesses”5 published the following year. In spite of their contribution to the subject of valuation, Aswath Damodaran’s publications are not specific to Internet companies. Michael Jurgen Garbade published in 2011 at the University of Kassel the doctoral dissertation “Differences in Venture Capital Financing of U.S., UK, German and French Information Technology Start-Ups: A Comparative Empirical Research of the Investment Process on the Venture Capital Firm Level”6. First, Michael Jurgen Garbade’s empirical research work is not focused on Internet start-ups. Second, it does not address the topic of valuation.
This dissertation paper deals specifically with the indentified gap: the valuation of Internet start-ups after the burst of dot-com bubble. In fact, this work tries to fill in the inefficiencies and incompleteness of most current studies.
In order to give an explanation of the valuation process of an Internet start-up, the dissertation paper starts with an opening introduction, followed by an exhaustive body, and ends with a brief conclusion, which resumes what has been said and suggests future studies.
The main body of the paper is structured in three chapters.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the valuation process, giving the definitions of the most significant terms and concepts related to the subject. This chapter focuses on the three following points: the Internet industry, also known as the new economy; the development of start-ups; and eventually, the venture capital funding. Each of these sections is then organized in three parts. For what concern the new economy, the paper will concentrate on its birth and growth, focusing on the pure play companies, and examining its winner-take-all competition. In the case of the development of start-ups, the focus will be put on its different stages, on the sources and rounds of funding, and a preliminary explanation of the valuation process will be offered. The section about the venture capital funding talks about venture capital in general, explaining the criteria used when determining the potential of a start-up, and explain the concept of ownership dilution.
Chapter 3 is focused on the analysis of an Internet start-up’s intangible assets. This chapter examined the three following points: the identification of intangible assets, the misclassification of the expenses related to them, and their accounting treatment. Each of these sections is then organized in three parts. In the first section, the three main categories of intangible assets of an Internet company are identified: the intellectual capital, the brand equity, and the website. The next section explains why research and development (R&D), marketing and advertising expenses should be capitalized, and illustrates two other characteristics of companies which have a great amount of intangible assets. The section concerning the accounting treatment talks about the recognition of intangible assets, the determination of their fair value, and goodwill.
Chapter 4 analyzes and compares different financial valuation methods, with the aim to understand how a VC can determine the fair valuation of an Internet start-up. The two most accepted methods, which are the DCF valuation method and the relative valuation method, will be presented in details. This chapter is divided in three sections, and each of them is subdivided in three parts. The first section concerns the DCF valuation method, and examines its pros and cons. The same is done in the second section for the relative valuation method. And the third and last section provides a brief introduction on the probabilistic methods, the First Chicago method, and the real options method (ROM), presenting their main characteristics and uses.
The following chapter will discuss three different, but related, subjects: the first section will give the history and explain the new economy, which is to say the Internet industry; the second section will illustrate development of start-ups; and the last section will explain the venture capital funding.
This section is divided into three parts: the history of the birth and growth of the new economy; the description of pure play companies; and the explanation of a winner-take-all competition.
It is important not to confuse the Internet with the World Wide Web (WWW), commonly called the Web. The Internet, which was created in 1969, has been defined as “the physical network that links computers across the globe”7. In fact, it is the system that interconnects computers and peripherals using a standard protocol. In other words, the Internet is a set of connections. The Web is a subset of the Internet, which only emerged in 1989 and is dedicated to broadcasting HyperText Markup Language (HTML) pages. Although the Internet and the Web are obviously not the same, it has become common to swap the words.
People only began turning to the Web with the release of the Web browsers8. Indeed, these software applications have enabled users to obtain access to information sources. Netscape was one of the first web browsers. The company was created in 1994 and went public in 1995. On the day of its initial public offering (IPO), the value of the stock doubled9. As a consequence, Netscape reached a valuation of $2.1 billion. Microsoft answered by launching Internet Explorer during the same year. In 1995, a student also founded Yahoo!, the search engine that became the uncontested leader between 1998 and 2000. Google, another search engine, was created in 1998. The new economy was born.
Figure 1 shows the growth of the Internet usage from 2001 to 2011. In developed countries, 29% of the inhabitants were already using the Internet in 2001. Ten years later, there were 74% of them. This is to say that in a developed country like France, three persons out of four are using the Internet. In the developing countries, the percentage of Internet users increased from 3 to 26%. According to figure 2, almost 2.5 billion people were using the Internet in 2011, which is more than one person in three.
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Figure 1: Number of Internet Users from 2001 to 201110
Not only a business phenomenon, but also a social revolution, “the Internet is changing the way we live”11. In fact, everything has changed since the birth and growth of the Internet: from the way to communicate, to the manner of doing business. Also notice that this evolution is irreversible, which means that going back is not an option, and the only possibility is to go forward.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Figure 2: Global Number of Internet Users from 2001 to 201112
Since its emergence, the Internet industry has been very cyclical. The first speculative bubble took place between 1995 and 2000 and was called the dot-com bubble. This period was marked by exaggerated expectations of future profits. Analysts anticipated a very high market growth. Financing was widely available and stock prices skyrocketed. At the height of the dot-com bubble, rumors were enough to convince VCs “to purchase shares without analyzing results, debts, capital structure or costs, but merely expectations based on the non-existence of any method of valuation for these types of companies”13. In fact, traditional valuation methods seemed to be irrelevant for the Internet industry, and most investors overlooked them. Internet businesses were then valued based upon the amount of traffic they attracted.
This method led to excessive valuations. Many Internet entrepreneurs have made millions and billions out of unprofitable companies14.
The dot-com bubble finally burst in 2001. As a result, the whole Internet industry went into a crisis situation. Analysts and specialists have been highly criticized for being responsible for the excessive valuation of Internet companies15. It must be remembered that most of these companies had never made a profit. Since the dot-com crash, investors have suddenly become more cautious and reticent when valuing and financing Internet start-ups. This cut in the money supply has opened the door to another issue. Indeed, “many companies that needed to raise capital for investment found the capital market suddenly shut to them”16.
A few years after the dot-com crash, the Internet industry has moved towards the so-called Web 2.0. While the Web 1.0 had only focused on broadcasting information, the Web 2.0 was viewed as a means of interactive experience. Examples of Web 2.0 include social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Notice that the emergence of this new version of the Web has seen a return to excessive valuations. Thus experts fear a new bubble, and most alarmingly, a new burst17. It has always been crucial for a company to be in the right place at the right time. But this is even truer in a cyclical industry such as the Internet industry.
In practice, there are only two types of Internet business models. The first one is called brick- and-click and refers to the companies that incorporate both offline and online presences. The other type of Internet business model is called pure play and refers to the companies that only incorporate online presence. For example, while the French retailer Fnac, which has physical stores, is a brick-and-click company, Amazon.com, which does not have any physical stores, is a pure play company. As another example, Facebook, the famous social network, is also a pure play company.
As it has already been mentioned, this dissertation paper aims to analyze, understand and explain how venture capitalists value Internet start-ups, and more specifically, pure play start- ups.
The Internet has been recognized as a winner-take-all kind of business18. This means that in this industry the market leaders capture most of the profits, while the remaining competitors struggle to survive. Indeed, “profitability is confined to a very small number of Internet winners”19. It is therefore imperative for Internet start-ups to adopt aggressive strategies in order to conquer market leadership. This is to say, to invest massively in R&D, marketing and advertising. In fact, competition between Internet start-ups often looks like a patent race20. Notice that a winner-take-all industry leads to the superstar valuations of the market leaders.
For example, an Internet start-up that becomes a dominant player in its field will see its valuation increase rapidly and massively. This was the case of the professional network LinkedIn whose valuation skyrocketed because of the company’s leadership position. Once again, most experts believe that these superstar valuations are “losing touch with reality”21.
This section is divided into three parts: firstly there will be a general illustration of the different stages of development of most start-ups, giving particular attention at the case of Internet start-ups, that follow their own evolutionary process; secondly the different funding rounds and sources will be identified and explained; and finally, a brief introduction about the valuation will be provided.
A start-up can be defined as a small new business. Therefore, a company that goes public or that is taken over by a competitor is not considered as a start-up anymore. Figure 3 shows the early stages of development of traditional start-ups, which are the idea stage, the start-up stage, and the second stage. It can be noticed that according to this figure, a company starts to generate revenue between the idea stage and the start-up stage. Then, the company improves its cash position and ends the second stage by reaching the breakeven point. While this classification is applied to most industries, the Internet industry is the exception. In fact, Internet companies do not have the same life cycle than traditional companies. They can move from one stage to another without making any revenue, which is only possible with venture capital funding.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Figure 3: Early Stages of Development of Traditional Start-ups22
Internet start-ups have five stages of development: the seed stage, the start-up stage, the second stage, the third stage, and the bridge stage. The seed stage is equivalent to the idea stage. As with traditional start-ups, “at this point there is a founder, some portion of a management team, and the idea for the company”23. To summarize, the seed stage is just business planning. Then, the start-up stage begins once the product gets to the market. This is to say, once the website goes online, even if it is only a prototype. The next stage, which is the second stage, is reached when “the start-up is growing (…) and is about to become an established market player”24. When this is accomplished, the Internet start-up goes to the third stage. The company is then considered as an important market player. Finally, the bridge stage, also called the pre-public stage, is the last stage of development. The start-up is almost ready to go public. It might only need more time or more capital.
Banks and insurance companies generally do not provide venture capital funding. In fact, it has been defined as the “capital provided for high risks that would not normally attract conventional finance”25. To be more precise, banks have completely stopped investing in Internet start-ups since the burst of the dot-com bubble. They rather finance companies with low risk of failure. This basically means that Internet start-ups are dependent on funding from private sources26, including business angels and VCs.
Business angels are wealthy individual investors that typically invest between EUR 5,000 and EUR 200,00027. Table 1 reveals that they put in money in the start-up stage of development. On the other hand, VCs only invest in start-ups that have reached at least the second stage of development, which is to say the companies that are becoming established market players. Unlike business angels, VCs can provide several EUR million. But if a start-up is very successful and needs even more capital than what most VCs can provide, it will be time for the company to go public.
Investors should look at how much capital the start-up will need across its life cycle. However, “you don’t know how long it will take the company to exit, how many rounds of cash it will need”28. This means that it is never easy to determinate how much money is required to reach the last stage of development. And this is the reason why “the entrepreneur doesn’t have the leverage to do more than take what is offered”29, rather than ask for an amount that is not measurable and justifiable. Nevertheless, it is also true that Internet startups typically do not require a lot of capital to get started. But large expenditures on R&D, advertising and marketing are still needed to gain market shares.
It must also be noted that is unlikely for an investor to provide a start-up with as much money as it needs all at once30. But instead, the investor will offer to the new company just enough to reach the next stage of development. This is what is called a financing or a funding round. Seed, angel, series A, series B and series C are the terms commonly used to describe the different funding rounds.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Table 1: Internet Start-ups ’ Standard Correlation
Table 1 shows the standard correlation between the stages of development of Internet start- ups, the rounds of their funding, and the different kind of investors they may have. However, “the financing rounds are not directly tied to the stage the company is in”31.
1 Karen Southwick (2001), The Kingmakers: Venture Capital and the Money Behind the Net, New York, John Wiley & Sons, p. 26.
2 IPEV Board (2010), “International Private Equity and Venture Capital Valuation Guidelines”, IPEV Board, p.
3 Ulrich Hege (2001), “L’Evaluation et le Financement des Start-up Internet”, Revue Economique, Vol. 52, Numéro Hors Série: Economie de l’Internet, p. 291-312.
4 Aswath Damodaran (2009), “Valuing Companies with Intangible Assets”, New York University.
5 Aswath Damodaran (2010), The Dark Side of Valuation: Valuing Young, Distressed, and Complex Businesses, 2nd ed., Upper Saddle River, FT Press.
6 Michael Jurgen Garbade (2011), “Differences in Venture Capital Financing of U.S., UK, German and French Information Technology Start-Ups: A Comparative Empirical Research of the Investment Process on the Venture Capital Firm Level”, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kassel.
7 Dave Chaffey (2007), E-Business and E-Commerce Management, 3rd ed., Essex, Pearson Education, p. 4.
8 Ruthann Quindlen (2001), Confessions of a Venture Capitalist: Inside the High-stakes World of Start-up Financing, New York, Warner Books, p. 10.
9 Ruthann Quindlen (2001), Confessions of a Venture Capitalist: Inside the High-stakes World of Start-up Financing, New York, Warner Books, p. 9.
10 “Internet Users”, International Telecommunication Union, http://www.itu.int/itu-d/ict/statistics/, consulted on April 18, 2012.
11 Karen Southwick (2001), The Kingmakers: Venture Capital and the Money Behind the Net, New York, John Wiley & Sons, p. 27.
12 “Internet Users”, International Telecommunication Union, http://www.itu.int/itu-d/ict/statistics/, consulted on April 18, 2012.
13 Carmen Lozano and Federico Fuentes (2006), “The Problems of Internet Company Financing: A Methodological Analysis”, International Research Journal of Finance and Economics, Issue 3, p. 92-100.
14 Eduardo S. Schwartz and Mark Moon (2000), “Rational Pricing of Internet Companies”, Financial Analysts Journal, Vol. 56, Number 3, p. 62-75.
15 Krishna G. Palepu and others (2007), Business Analysis and Valuation: Text and Cases, IFRS ed., London, Thomson Learning, p. 24.
16 Krishna G. Palepu and others (2007), Business Analysis and Valuation: Text and Cases, IFRS ed., London, Thomson Learning, p. 22.
17 “LinkedIn Doubles its Value on Day 1 of IPO - DotCom Bubble #2?”, ManagementDirect, http://www.managementdirect.com/resources/linkedin-doubles-its-value-on-day-1-of-ipo-dotcom-bubble- 2/?r=387/, consulted on May 11, 2012.
18 Tom Taulli,“Putting a Value on your Startup”, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomtaulli/2012/01/03/putting-a-value-on-your-startup/, consulted on March 17, 2012.
19 Thomas Noe and Geoffrey Parker (2005), “Winner Take All: Competition, Strategy, and the Structure of Returns in the Internet Economy”, Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Vol. 14, Number 1, p. 141- 164.
20 Ulrich Hege (2001), “L’Evaluation et le Financement des Start-up Internet”, Revue Economique, Vol. 52, Numéro Hors Série: Economie de l’Internet, p. 291-312.
21 “LinkedIn Doubles its Value on Day 1 of IPO - DotCom Bubble #2?”, ManagementDirect,http://www.managementdirect.com/resources/linkedin-doubles-its-value-on-day-1-of-ipo-dotcom-bubble- 2/?r=387/, consulted on May 11, 2012.
22 Aswath Damodaran (2010), The Dark Side of Valuation: Valuing Young, Distressed, and Complex Businesses, 2nd ed., Upper Saddle River, FT Press, p. 214.
23 Ruthann Quindlen (2001), Confessions of a Venture Capitalist: Inside the High-stakes World of Start-up Financing, New York, Warner Books, p. 199.
24 Michael Jurgen Garbade (2011), “Differences in Venture Capital Financing of U.S., UK, German and French Information Technology Start-Ups: A Comparative Empirical Research of the Investment Process on the Venture Capital Firm Level”, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kassel, p. 56.
25 Stephen Valdez and Philip Molyneux (2010), An Introduction to Global Financial Markets, 6th ed. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 489.
26 Aswath Damodaran (2010), The Dark Side of Valuation: Valuing Young, Distressed, and Complex Businesses, 2nd ed., Upper Saddle River, FT Press, p. 215.
27 “Les « Business Angels » Veulent Séduire les Cadres Salariés et les Jeunes Investisseurs”, Les Echos,November 28, 2011, p. 27.
28 Carlos Eduardo, “How Does an Early-stage Investor Value a Startup?”, The DrawingBoard, http://thedrawingboard.me/2012/01/18/how-does-an-early-stage-investor-value-a-startup/, consulted on February 20, 2012.
29 Ruthann Quindlen (2001), Confessions of a Venture Capitalist: Inside the High-stakes World of Start-up Financing, New York, Warner Books, p. 170.
30 Richard A. Brealey, Stewart C. Myers, and Alan J. Marcus (2009), Fundamentals of Corporate Finance, 6th ed., New York, McGraw-Hill/Irwin, p. 416.
31 Ruthann Quindlen (2001), Confessions of a Venture Capitalist: Inside the High-stakes World of Start-up Financing, New York, Warner Books, p. 198.
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