Y Combinator’s new era, with smaller batches, a refocus only on early-stage investing and a new chief executive, is in full swing. As The TechCrunch team sat through hundreds of startup pitches during YC’s biannual Demo Day, the backdrop of change was certainly noted.
For one, a majority of the early-stage investors I’ve spoken to have complained about the valuations coming out of the cohort, saying that it’s getting too pricey to invest. It’s a conversation that bubbles up around Demo Day time and time again, but given the downturn, some expected to see valuations that they think are more realistic for businesses only a few months old. I’m also hearing that YC’s new standard deal, specifically its most favored nation clause, has played a role in incentivizing founders to pursue higher valuations.
There was a time when a startup, fresh out of the program, raised at a valuation north of $30 million, only to be beat the next year, when another startup out of YC raised at a $75 million valuation. (Both the aforementioned rounds were led by A16z, and to be fair, A16z did not complain to me about early-stage valuations).
To me, high valuations have always been the conversation around YC. I don’t know what will change it, whether it’s a new competitor, a fresh influx of check-writers as some leave, or if the conversation even needs to disappear in the first place. I will say that if you build something people want, that’s great — you just have to keep that “want” alive as you build new iterations of that first product.
Garry Tan, the new chief executive of YC, seemingly addressed some of the valuation conversations on Twitter. writing more broadly that “value investing in venture is like restricting your search for your lost keys under only brightly lit street lamps.”
Tan added in the same thread, “Competition and high valuations exist because large possible markets represent large possible outcomes. Competition doesn’t mean a market or idea is bad, it typically means a great market that lots of people want … The best investors tend not to use heat as a signal one way or another.”
Much has changed since May 2022, when YC sent a memo to founders to “plan for the worst.”
… During economic downturns even the top tier VC funds with a lot of money slow down their deployment of capital (lesser funds often stop investing or die). This causes less competition between funds for deals which results in lower valuations, lower round sizes, and many fewer deals completed.
In these situations, investors also reserve more capital to backstop their best performing companies, which further reduces the number of new financings. This slow down will have a disproportionate impact on international companies, asset heavy companies, low margin companies, hardtech, and other companies with high burn and long time to revenue.
What I would really love is, when YC does its blog post introducing the batch, it would also offer some sort of analysis on which percentage of startups are raising at $8 million valuations versus $20 million valuations versus $45 million valuations. I wonder if it can clear up some misconceptions (or hey, I’ll even take it if they confirm them!). While we’re at it, the percentage of startups that go on to raise a Series A would also be a fascinating data point.
Now, even if valuations have not come down for some YC startups, some of the aforementioned advice has been taken, specifically around the slowdown that will be felt for international companies. Just 21% of publicly announced startups in the winter 2023 batch are based internationally compared to 42% in the batch prior.
Anyway, that is what is top of mind for me coming out of Demo Day. I always enjoy the two-day pitch-off because it gives us a glimpse of what is top priority for a whole slice of founders, some of whom are trying to put meat back in plant-based meat.
Here are some of our pieces for further reading:
AI is in full force, unsurprisingly, but, astoundingly, yes, there’s a whole cohort of Y Combinator-backed startups that are trying to build ‘ChatGPT for X.’
Our favorite startups from YC’s Winter 2023 Demo Day — Part 1
Our favorite startups from YC’s Winter 2023 Demo Day — Part 2
In the rest of this newsletter we’re talking about horizontal verticals and data leaks. As always, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram to continue the conversation. If you feel like supporting me extra, subscribe to my personal (and free!) Substack.
Another AI takeaway for you
Last week, a founder told me that “there’s too much opportunity” in Cerebral Valley, the new nickname for Hayes Valley as it gets overtaken with tech enthusiasts and builders in the AI space. I ended up writing a whole story about how people are riding the hype wave and trying their best not to fall off.
Here’s another takeaway: The AI “boom” isn’t really just about startups building AI tools; it’s any startup that is trying to integrate AI — from Duolingo to a direct-to-consumer business — to stay competitive. As a result, investors don’t really need to invest in net new companies to get exposure to AI’s potential halo effect. If all your portfolio companies start to integrate with the right existing tools on the market, they could bloom too. It’s the promise of horizontal tech.
Don’t ever leak data, but especially if you’re building this
On Equity this week, we spoke about a shocking data leak that TC’s Zack Whittaker broke: “Alcohol recovery startups Monument and Tempest shared patients’ private data with advertisers.” More than 100,000 patients are affected.
Here’s what to know: Data shared with advertisers includes patient names, phone numbers, photo, unique digital ID, as well as “which services or plan the patient is using, appointment information and assessment and survey responses submitted by the patient, which includes detailed responses about a person’s alcohol consumption and used to determine their course of treatment.” The uniquely vulnerable customer base that Monument and Tempest both work with complicates the years-long leak even more. Like we said on the show, don’t ever leak data, but especially if you’re building this.
Throwback Saturday: If you missed Startups Weekly last week, catch my last issue here: “Always be prompting.”
Let’s hang on campus? TechCrunch is coming to Boston in less than two weeks! On April 20, I’ll be at TC Early Stage with my favorite colleagues to interview top experts at the best one-day founder summit in town. Book your pass ASAP! Speakers include Techstars’ Kerty Levy, Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson and NFX’s James Currier.
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And finally, a note on the devastating loss of Bob Lee, an entrepreneurial force
Bob Lee, chief product officer at Mobile Coin and the creator of Cash App, was killed this past week in San Francisco. The outpouring of messages that followed confirmation of Lee’s untimely death — messages from Block’s Jack Dorsey to Figma’s Dylan Field — offered a window into just how much of a force he was within tech. Sending the deepest condolences to his family, and may he rest in peace.
Take care, and tell your people you love them,