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Chasing start-up value through venture capital

Holly Morgan | June 9, 2017
With innovation high on the Australian agenda, entrepreneurs are entering a new era in technology.

"Entrepreneurs now want to be the best in the world, they don't want to restrict ambitions to being the best in Australia only."

Alongside global ambition from the outset, Scevak said Blackbird Ventures also seeks classic entrepreneurial DNA, recognising the fundamental characteristics required to be successful in a start- up environment.

In short, it's the ability to get things done with limited resources, under intense pressure and within a chaotic environment.

Bucking the trend that technologists can become true leaders, Scevak believes great developers can evolve into great CEOs, with venture capital firms playing a key role in the personal progression of a start-up founder.

"We root for people doing their life's work," he added. "Capital takes two things to be a success.

"Firstly, it takes a company building a product that is needed by customers. And secondly, you need an entrepreneur who is carrying out their life's work because they need to be able to say no to the $20 million exit from Salesforce when they're just starting to succeed."


Pros and cons

But despite the allure of greater levels of investment, partnership with a venture capital firm means agreeing to a roller coaster ride of emotions for start-ups.

And crucially, entrepreneurs must be ready for the ride.

"The process for successful businesses is have control, have no control, then have control again, Scevak explained. "Every triumphant company has given up control when they have IPO'd or created new shares with the founders through earnings."

As a general rule of thumb, when a start-up agrees to any round of financing, it instantly gives up 20 per cent of the company.

A business won't lose control or equity distribution in the first two rounds, but Scevak said it's almost inevitable the entrepreneur will give up ultimate control.

While seeking extra help from venture capitalist firms is chiefly designed to maximise the impact of the product as soon as possible, it's a very deliberate decision to make, and shouldn't be taken lightly.

Niki Scevak - Managing Director Blackbird Ventures
Niki Scevak, Managing Director of Blackbird Ventures

For Scevak, as a CEO, entrepreneurs must be clear on the control tug-of-war that will emerge once entertaining a venture capital play.

"Venture capital is not right for so many businesses," he acknowledged.

From an Autopilot standpoint, Sharkey said partnership with a venture capital firm represented a "no-brainer" for the business, because it made "strategic sense" from a product perspective.

"Venture capital organisations want billion dollar exits or are often looking for a return in excess of 10 times their capital," he added. "The reality is some opportunities or business models just aren't positioned well to offer this kind of return or potential growth.


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