How to value a startup?

I am currently in corporate acquisitions for a summer internship, how would you guys value a startup acquisition ?
I see that most of the times it's about Sales multiples for the company itself, for comparables and transactions too. Since DCF doesn't make much sense (usually startups are private so it's tough to get data except for general revenues and normally CashFlow is always negative for a startup)

Are there other multiples or more complex ratios ?

Thx

Comments (60)

Aug 20, 2007 - 5:29pm
consultantmonkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

One way:

Project cash flow 5 years out. Throw a multiple on it or calculate in perpetuity. Then discount back 5 years (assume no cash flow generated in the meantime) and add any investments that need to be made.

This in a nutshell is the VC method.

http://blog.ryanjunee.com/2006/09/startup-valuation-the-vc-method/

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:22am
antmavel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks but usually if you want to acquire a startup it's private firm so you don't have any idea of its profits. Moreover there are usually very few comparable public companies since a startup should come up with proprietary technologies or some niche to be efficient. Think about Ebay, Skype, Vontu (anti data leakage), VMWare (which is now public at 10% but before was private and without a real competitor), ...so comps are not working usually in that case...

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:27am
mrlover1, what's your opinion? Comment below:

if you have the different financing levels such as angel round, seed rounds and stuff.

you could use irr to figure out, if i'm thinking right

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:28am
texansde46, what's your opinion? Comment below:

How to value a startup!? (Originally Posted: 12/09/2014)

Can anyone give me information on how it is done? I realize a dcf should not be used so should you only use comps? Any help is greatly appreciated.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:29am
bootsnapper, what's your opinion? Comment below:

A DCF can be used assuming you are semi-comfortable with the firm and the company eventually reports positive cash-flows. precedent transactions/exits should give you also a sense of what to expect.

I'm sure others have a more refined approach. I'd also google how VC firms value start-ups it should give you a sense of where they come up with their pre-money valuations.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:30am
yig, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Maybe look at some comps.

Array
Aug 21, 2007 - 12:32am
SSits, what's your opinion? Comment below:
yig:

Maybe look at some comps.

Comps analysis only useful when you have like-for-like comps data publicly available, which is generally not the case for start ups.

And, at start up stage when EBITDA is deeply negative, you're usually then comping price to UVs, price to sales multiples or some other useless bullshit that TMT bankers love to pretend have meaning.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, post threads about how to do it on WSO.
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Aug 21, 2007 - 12:31am
DickFuld, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Literally just make up a number. If it is truly a startup, it's in the wild ass guess category. You should base it on the size of the addressable market and what kind of market share they can get and use some number for normalized earnings and multiples by more established companies and thendiscount that figure with an extremely high discount rate.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:33am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Finally, Some Quantification – The Expected Value of Launching a Startup (Originally Posted: 06/01/2014)

I recently came across a blog post from 80000hours.org with some of the best quantitative data I've seen to date on the consideration of the payoff of the choice to throw your career path into the startup arena. Titled "How Much Do Y Combinator Founders Earn?", it makes the frustrating and ubiquitous mistake of applying the average – i.e. statistical mean – to all its findings, which leads to absolutely meaningless conclusions when you're talking about startups. Still, while the conclusions miss the mark, the research here is better than anything I've come across before. Here are my takeaways.

Caveats

Before I start making sweeping generalizations, let me be clear: this data applies to Y Combinator, the startup equivalent of Harvard undergrad/GS IBD/Wharton MBA/KKR PE. The data, and my conclusions, can probably be safely extrapolated to the startup equivalents of Yale undergrad/JPM IBD/Booth MBA/Carlyle PE – that is, other top startup accelerators like Techstars – but those conclusions will probably not apply elsewhere. The bottom line is that if you can't get into a top accelerator, you should probably think long and hard about whether making the jump is a wise decision. If you get into Y Combinator, for example, you're in the top 2.5% of applicants for that year, which means that the experts (at least the closest thing the startup world has to experts) estimate your chances to be significantly higher than your average startup. Since the standard valuation is $1.7M, with $1.6M belonging to the founders, your starting equity value is at $530k - $800k.

Those numbers make the calculations completely different, and set apart startups admitted to the top accelerators as a completely different category from the rest of the herd.

Early Value

Y Combinator portfolio companies get $120k for three months. Assuming you have the recommended number of two or three cofounders, including yourself, and (BIG assumption coming up) your company is pursuing an idea that will get you to the next iteration stage in three months' time with no additional employees/consultants and no large expenditures beyond the typical company setup costs, you have more than enough to pay yourself the equivalent of $50k/year.

That's nothing to call home about, but it does take a nice cut out of the pure dollar value opportunity cost you're paying by leaving your cushy corporate job. (For those of you not familiar with startups, equity value is supposed to make up the difference.) Once you get to the next stage (angel investment), $50k/year is still a good expectation.

A big consideration here is how long each stage takes you. To make the startup decision pay off, you're probably going to have to stick it out for 5 – 10 years before you can exit. Besides the obvious conclusions that you better like what you're doing and believe in the value of what you're bringing to the world, this means that you need to be comparing your opportunity costs on a 5 – 10 year time horizon. The hope is that you can get through the early stages (i.e. those stages corresponding to the product/market fit search and seed/angel investment) as quickly as possible in order to get to a level of compensation that narrows the gap to minimize the remaining years' opportunity cost in take-home pay.

If you choose the right kind of startup, you can get past this stage within a year, meaning that the opportunity cost of bringing home $50k/year doesn't last too long. At the next stage (VC funding), salaries tend to go up to around $100k/year. From the data available, it appears that this will be about where your salary stays for the foreseeable future.

Math Break: Cash Compensation / Opportunity Cost Calc

Let's take a brief moment to do some math.

Year 1 cash comp: $50k/year Year 2 – 5 cash comp (we're assuming an exit on the earlier side): $100k/year Total cash comp: $450k salary

Take your total expected salary over five years, subtract $450k, and you have your net opportunity cost to compare against the possibilities for the equity value of your startup. We're making some assumptions here – that you will successfully land angel funding, VC funding, and have a fairly early exit – but given that you're coming from a top accelerator, these assumptions aren't too ridiculous. You're also making assumptions about the "traditional" career options you have, so I don't think a significant premium needs to be factored into this calculation to account for the net of these assumption's risk. This is, however, a significant assumption – feel free to debate in the comments below.

equity value

Per the explanation above, typical starting equity value, assuming two founders and admittance to a top accelerator, is $800k. That's not a bad start, and the value is obviously supposed to increase significantly. Here is a great chart that the folks at 80,000 Hours put together:

Photo

This data is based on companies going through the 2005 – 2009 Y Combinator programs. Since more recent companies haven't hit that five year threshold, it doesn't make sense yet to include that data. However, since success rates are trending upward, we can probably label these numbers as conservative projections.

There are dozens of ways to sort this information. 80,000 Hours took the worst possible approach by taking the average, which is an equity increase of about $2.5M per year, per founder. Considering that 78% of all founders' equity is attributable to 0.5% of the companies (AirBnB, Dropbox, and Stripe), this doesn't tell us a whole lot.

Here's how I would sort this data:

38% of the companies are dead, leaving no equity to balance out the opportunity cost. For these founders, assuming they had the opportunity to pursue lucrative careers elsewhere, this was clearly a loss, at least in the short-term.

50% of the companies are either operating or were sold at valuations below $40M, which to me is a break-even for a few years in finance or consulting. On the lower end of the scale, compounded annual growth of the equity approximates the early years of what I will call a "low-intensity" traditional career – a few years with a mid-tier firm, followed by a few years in industry. On the higher end, the CAGR approximates a "high-intensity" traditional career – a few years with a top tier consulting firm or IB, followed by a few years at a top HF/PE firm. A few of these companies probably fell short of even a "low-intensity" traditional career, but 38% of the total are/were valued over $5M, which even after dilution through a funding round or two still probably leaves each founder at least around $1M for their 5 – 10 years of effort.

12% of the companies are either operating or were sold at valuations over $40M, making them substantially more profitable than an equivalent time period spent even on the highest-intensity traditional career track. As a very rough estimate, founders are ending up with at least $5M each for their efforts.

(The paragraphs above make a lot of implicit assumptions about dilution – mainly that it typically ranges from 50% - 80% depending on how long the company operates, and that how long the company operates is directly correlated with the number and size of its funding rounds. Calibrate accordingly.)

Expected equity value

To me, the only math that makes sense here is the calculation of the odds. Said another way, it's the net opportunity cost you calculated above, compared to these odds: 12% win, 50% lose, 38% draw. However, that "draw" category is a win in my mind, because I would spend those years doing something I think is meaningful. In my mind, that makes the odds roughly 50/50, but with significant upsides and downsides.

Terminal/Exit Value

The most significant portion of this calculation, of course, is the exit value: what you do for the next 40 years of your life after that 5 – 10 in a startup, consulting firm, investment bank, etc. This is where quantification really breaks down – not just because career paths followin'g the 5 – 10 years after college are impossibly numerous, but also because what you will define as "value" at that point in your life is also incredibly unpredictable. How important will money be to you? Marriage? Kids? Travel? Doing something meaningful? Leaving a legacy?

Like any DCF, the most reasonable thing to do is to honestly admit you have no idea what the projections will look like after year 5 – 10. Sure, PE experience will set you up for opportunities to make a ton of money elsewhere. Sure, the 50% of startup founders who fail may or may not have to start from square one. The fact is, I don't know who I'll even be at this point, so I'm excluding it from the calculation.

One important consideration here is that any attempt at a calculation, quantitative or qualitative, will have significantly different results based on which career stage is the setting for your comparison. Earlier, I was assuming a comparison of the options immediately after college. At this point in your life, money is probably a huge consideration, and a path of IB -> MBA -> PE might leave you with that need fulfilled, whereas six years at a failed startup will put you at a completely different place in life – and not in a good way. If you've already traveled that road and are looking for something new, your "exit value" might be completely different.

Conclusion

I've struggled for a while with the inability of any expert in the field to put some actual numbers on the payoff of the startup career choice. There are plenty of numbers and assumptions here, many of which are very open to criticism and differing expectations. I'm sure WSO's propensity to challenge assumptions won't disappoint me.

However, by going through this exercise, I've come to the same conclusion that it seems everyone else does. The numbers, in the end, don't tell the whole story, though hopefully these figures give you a frame of reference. It's a trite expression at this point, but a startup is the right choice if it's something you love doing – not necessarily for the intrinsic happiness it gives you from day to day, but the value of being convinced that you need to do what you are doing every day in order to make the world a significantly better place. As Zuckerberg put it, "Unless I feel like I'm working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I'm not going to feel good about how I'm spending my time."

In other words, the expected value of the startup route for you will be greater than the alternative if you don't have to do a DCF to know it will. If you do – think twice.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:34am
prospie, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Rhys da Vinci:
I've come to the same conclusion that it seems everyone else does. The numbers, in the end, don't tell the whole story, though hopefully these figures give you a frame of reference. It's a trite expression at this point, but a startup is the right choice if it's something you love doing – not necessarily for the intrinsic happiness it gives you from day to day, but the value of being convinced that you need to do what you are doing every day in order to make the world a significantly better place.
Not even that. The YCombinator experience is not going to "set you back" if your startup tanks. People in the Valley respect the name. Some probably see it as a helpful resume booster. Fast forward 15 years and I doubt that person is financially hurting because he originally passed up an entry-level job for YC.

Similarly, running numbers on the IB-->>PE-->>MBA path is way shortsighted. Look at that person's earnings at age 35 and THEN compare. A senior banker would laugh at this comparison of junior-level bonuses. Most of those 24-year old guys in NY blow through that money anyway. We're talking pennies versus what the partners make.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:35am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

People in the Valley (and elsewhere) might respect the name, and if you're an engineer it probably doesn't matter that at your last company the salespeople couldn't sell the product you built, or the finance guys couldn't get the next funding round to pay your salary. You'll be hired easily, and the Y Combinator name will be a boost to your resume.

On the other hand, if your background is finance or consulting (i.e. the intended audience of this site and my post), if you want to get back on that career track after your startup - which you likely will, as the startup experience is unlikely to give you any more lucrative career options - you will be starting over at the level at which you left, in the best case scenario. It's also highly likely you'll have to take a lower position than from when you left. If you left straight out of college, your chances of getting into IB/PE/HF/consulting at that point will be very low.

I somewhat agree with your second point, though - that's the general point of the "Terminal/Exit Value" section. I do think it's helpful to have these numbers as a point of reference. If data were available on people who took the two different paths a decade ago, that would be nice, but it isn't. (Or at least I'm too lazy to go do the data collection myself.) What I can do is have a better understanding of where each path may leave me in the short term, which better positions me to assess how my future earnings and career will be impacted. If I understand where I might be five years into the future, I can make much better predictions about where I might be 10 - 20 years in the future, which should be my primary consideration in this whole dilemma, as you point out.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:36am
prospie, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Rhys da Vinci:
On the other hand, if your background is finance or consulting (i.e. the intended audience of this site and my post), if you want to get back on that career track after your startup - which you likely will, as the startup experience is unlikely to give you any more lucrative career options
This I completely understand, and didn't realize was your point.

Sadly, a possible conclusion here is that if you want to do high finance or strategy consulting or a similarly established path, then you should do it and stick with it - don't explore. If you don't make up your mind early on and fasten yourself to that track, you can be penalized and really fall behind.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:37am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Exactly. First world problems, right? That's why historically, the most ultra-successful entrepreneurs started out either poor or rich, but not often middle class. The poor have little to lose and the rich are nicely set up for success and have something to fall back on. Those in the middle class, and HENRYs especially, have the most to lose.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:02am
alicewonderland, what's your opinion? Comment below:

WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG. Absolutely wrong.

Lots of the top top business people are very often from highly educated families, parents have done well, private education, solid universities. Even the dropouts are from very good families. Branson dropped out of one of the BEST private schools in the UK (on par with eton), Zuckerburg is from a solid middle class home, Gates father was a corporate lawyer and he had early access to private education and computers. Jobs came from more modest means but was by no means poor in comparison.

Please go and do some thorough research behind many of the top top business people. You will find many had nice family upbringings, private high school education, professional parents, top university educations etc. This also extends to all the top Venture Investors, most of them are from outstanding backgrounds including HBS/Stanford b-school plus a few robust investments, operating experience, exits under their belt.

Furthermore 97% of F500 CEOs all have a college degree, 67% of this number have a further degree ie. LLM, PhD, MBA etc. 4% respectively have a degree from Harvard or Stanford.

Please honest to god do some in-depth research before you spout ignorant comments. Coming from a good middle class family gives you a chance and a safety net to really swing for the fences.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:04am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm not sure if you're serious or trolling, but if you're serious, please read the post again. You first paragraph is half examples of people who you admit were privileged, then became ultra-successful - but I presume from the name calling that you meant to disagree with me. Some might argue that Jobs doesn't fall in the "rich family" category, which is why I said "most", but if your parents paid full tuition for you to go to an expensive college while you fool around, in my book you're privileged. You are mistaken about Zuckerberg - his parents were both doctors, and they sent him to prestigious private schools.

We're also not discussing F500 CEOs here, but I guess those examples also support the general principle that you're much more likely to succeed if your parents are rich. Since every piece of research on the subject published over the last half century supports that fact, I don't feel any need to do any more myself.

Half of your post supports my assertions, half is off-topic and irrelevant to the discussion, and then you start throwing insults and accusing me of not doing research. If you're trolling, please make a bit more effort to be funny. If you really are serious, please read posts in the future before commenting on them, try to make it a little easier to understand what your opinion is, and refrain from the name-calling.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:38am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I really don't think YC is as special as you make it out to be. I have three friends who did YC. I only know one Rhodes Scholar. Please let's not pull a Brady4MVP, here. It is good experience but not moreso than two years in the front office at a large bank.

The one value of YC is that it is validation that your startup may be closer to that upper tail. I would not compare it to doing all of Harvard undergrad, GS, HBS, KKR. The two are completely different. Prestige does not exist in tech or in the startup world. Especially in an industry where two kids in the back of a garage can build a better social media business than you.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:40am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

You're kidding, right? The YC guys have mad swagger...

But seriously - to clarify, what I am saying is that YC and the other top 2 or 3 accelerators provide a degree of validation, connections, funding, etc. that is an order of magnitude greater than those provided by the dozens of other decent accelerators in existence. I certainly don't mean to say that a few months in YC is as "prestigious" as any of those examples; I'm only trying to illustrate the structure of the startup world in terms that the audience here will quickly comprehend.

Having said that, I do disagree about prestige not existing in the tech or startup world. It might not be quite as all-encompassing as in the investment banking world, but it's much more important than in your average industry. People from Stanford get into Google, people from YC get investments from the big name VCs... it's really not that different.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:46am
highlander, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Rhys da Vinci:

You're kidding, right? The YC guys have mad swagger...

Do they frequently wear their YC T-shirts to LA bars, strutting and acting like they own the joint? Do they just ooze success, confidence, swagger, basically attributes of alpha males?
Aug 21, 2007 - 12:47am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Are you psychic?

+1. I looked everywhere for the full quote but couldn't find it - now I know where to go next time I need it.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:49am
highlander, what's your opinion? Comment below:

That's not even the full quote. Those were the only two sentences that I could fit into the context.

Brady4MVP:
One more thing. The HBS guys have MAD SWAGGER. They frequently wear their class jackets to boston bars, strutting and acting like they own the joint. My buddy told me that he saw a bunch of second-years wearing HBS venture capital/private equity club shirts to bars as well. They just ooze success, confidence, swagger, basically attributes of alpha males. Even dorky guys like my friend, who could not get laid in chicago to save his life, have gotten exponentially more confident since arriving at HBS. I have not yet seen him in person yet, but judging from the communication, it's a fundamental transformation.
Aug 21, 2007 - 12:44am
NorthSider, what's your opinion? Comment below:
IlliniProgrammer:

I really don't think YC is as special as you make it out to be. I have three friends who did YC. I only know one Rhodes Scholar. Please let's not pull a Brady4MVP, here. It is good experience but not moreso than two years in the front office at a large bank.

You can't be serious. I agree that YC (and most other accelerators) are hyped beyond reason, but there's simply no comparison between FO BB roles and going to YC. There are thousands of FO positions at BBs every year; YC is more selective, more interesting, more demanding and will build your network far more valuably than working in IB.

I'd take someone who sent a company through YC and seed capital before failing over a Rhodes Scholar any day. Let alone just another FO BB analyst.

"For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible."
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Aug 21, 2007 - 1:12am
Bondarb, what's your opinion? Comment below:
IlliniProgrammer:

I really don't think YC is as special as you make it out to be. I have three friends who did YC. I only know one Rhodes Scholar. Please let's not pull a Brady4MVP, here. It is good experience but not moreso than two years in the front office at a large bank.

The one value of YC is that it is validation that your startup may be closer to that upper tail. I would not compare it to doing all of Harvard undergrad, GS, HBS, KKR. The two are completely different. Prestige does not exist in tech or in the startup world. Especially in an industry where two kids in the back of a garage can build a better social media business than you.

I think it is funny that people take as a given that "prestige" has infected wall st to such a degree that it is used as a a baseline of snobbery to judge other industries...i dont want to get off on a tangent but the belief that that one has to have XYZ background to succeed on wall st is really something that is much more ingrained in the minds of 22 year olds on this site then it is in reality. Textbook example of a "limiting belief".

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:41am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Great point - we should probably normalize the data. Thirty-four out of the 55 that failed did so in 2008 or 2009. Clearly, the recession had an impact. It certainly makes things difficult when funding dries up.

There are dozens of other ways to normalize/sort/filter, so here's the data if anyone wants to take a look: http://www.seed-db.com/accelerators/view?acceleratorid=1011.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:42am
Improving, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It is true that many startups will fail, but so will many financial careers. I don't think anybody made that point yet, but it is of course naive to believe most WSO members will end up as partners at anything finance-related.

One must beat the odds either way

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:45am
ke18sb, what's your opinion? Comment below:

There is totally prestige in Tech, probably just as much if not more so than IB. All the big tech firms hire at "target" schools for the good entry level jobs. For VC funding, one likely needs to have gone to a "target" to get a meeting or worked at a top firm to get a meeting. Yes, it is possible to be a kid in a garage that is the next big thing but that kid likely went to Stanford/Harvard/MIT.

Tech is just a current cycle of the same type A personalities that go into leading fields.

EDIT

On that note, I just scrolled though about the first 15 companies from YCs latest class. Almost everyone was either 1. had gone to a "target" school, 2. had successfully already been an entrepreneur, 3. worked top tech firm in a non entry level capacity - or all/mix of the above. These weren't undergrads rather mid career level people that have already proven to be very successful making into YC.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:48am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The tech firms also hire at non-targets. Sergey Brin said that UIUC is Google's most prolific source of tech talent.

When a list of the best CS schools, when a list of where people at a top tech firm like Google or Facebook is either dominated or at least has a fairly strong plurality from flagship state universities, there's no "prestige" in tech. I say that as someone who has a tech role and has had recruiters from Palantir and Facebook offering jobs without an interview.

Seriously we need to prevent the same shit that happened to banking from happening in tech. This is most likely to happen if a bunch of douchey bankers start fawning over the industry. The lifeblood of this industry is some lonely fat kid who reads comic books and is great at programming thinking he has a chance here, getting that chance- and then becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. If you have a good idea, and it can make money, there are few barriers to entry in tech. We are not a prestige business. We are not an exclusive business either, provided you have something to offer in the STEM department. If you are decent at coding (most people aren't) and you like (A) D&D (B) Star Trek (C) Final Fantasy (D) Comic Books or (E) LARPing there is always a place for you in this business.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:54am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm a huge Sergey fan, but if he really said that, he desperately needs to spend some quality time with his HR director. UIUC isn't even in the top five: http://goo.gl/9uhJwN. I would guess it's top ten, but doesn't that match up exactly with UIUC's computer science school's national ranking? That seems to prove the point that prestige matters, not the opposite.

The top five feeder schools for Google are exactly the five most of us would guess: Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, CMU, and MIT. Sure, plenty of state school kids are going to get into Google, just like plenty of state school kids are going to get into Goldman Sachs, but for the most part they're going to get the equivalent of the back office jobs, not the IBD TMT gigs.

Like any industry, once you've proved yourself through performance in the tech industry you can get hired anywhere - that doesn't say anything about the role of prestige.

The tech industry loves to pretend that it's still the geek's paradise it was in its early years, and hasn't fallen prey to the "corporation mentality". That ship sailed decades ago. Every industry needs an efficient mechanism for optimal identification and distribution of resources, including talent, and the tech industry has now passed through those early stages when that mechanism is still being built. Like I said, it's not quite at the level of ruthlessness we see in the finance industry, and it probably never will due to the nature of the industry (barriers to entry, capital requirements, etc.) but it is definitely there.

I have tremendous respect for @"IlliniProgrammer"'s contributions to this forum, but I have to respectfully disagree on this point.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:55am
highlander, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Rhys da Vinci:

The tech industry loves to pretend that it's still the geek's paradise it was in its early years, and hasn't fallen prey to the "corporation mentality". That ship sailed decades ago. Every industry needs an efficient mechanism for optimal identification and distribution of resources, including talent, and the tech industry has now passed through those early stages when that mechanism is still being built. Like I said, it's not quite at the level of ruthlessness we see in the finance industry, and it probably never will due to the nature of the industry (barriers to entry, capital requirements, etc.) but it is definitely there.

I really like this part. Well said.
Aug 21, 2007 - 12:50am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:

They deleted a lot of posts after Brady4MVP quit the site. It is possible that the "HBS students have MAD SWAGGER" comment might have gotten removed.

But seriously the more we all hype tech- the less we make it seem like it is a safe and comfortable and dark corner for geeks to hang out in, the more we undermine the whole business. YC is not prestigious- it is a safe place for geeky people to hang out and start a business.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:57am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Bingo. Not a single one of Google's top five schools is an ivy and three (UC Berkeley, CMU, UCLA) are non-targets. Google's top five list includes as many state schools as targets for banking.

We work in a prestige-free, competence based industry. Anybody with a computer and a GED can build a startup that becomes the next twitter. Let's stop worrying about prestige and let's start worrying about what people actually accomplish. Building a startup that gets funded by YC is an accomplishment. It is not prestige.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:58am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The target/nontarget bifurcation we typically discuss on WSO is assumed to be in the context of the finance and consulting industry. The classifications are different in this discussion. Every industry has different "targets", and the tech industry's targets aren't Ivies, they're tech-focused schools like CMU and MIT.

Aug 21, 2007 - 12:59am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Rhys da Vinci:

The target/nontarget bifurcation we typically discuss on WSO is assumed to be in the context of the finance and consulting industry. The classifications are different in this discussion. Every industry has different "targets", and the tech industry's targets aren't Ivies, they're tech-focused schools like CMU and MIT.

But if you ask the average student at UC Berkeley or UCLA or even CMU whether they go to a prestigious school, most will say no. If you ask the average engineer at MIT if he goes to a prestigious school, the answer will be "No, fuck you. Harvard is that way, asshole." (At Stanford people will probably agree with you)

People and industries are only as prestigious as they are willing to see themselves. And tech does not want to be seen as prestigious. This is what destroyed finance in 2008. People who did not know what they were doing got hired on prestige and made decisions that they were not capable of understanding.

You are free to claim that someone is elite or prestigious, but if they don't agree with you, they're kind of the experts on this. Go into tech if you want to be a geek or if you want to create stuff. Don't go in because you want prestige.

There are a number of structural barriers to tech becoming a prestige industry. The biggest of which is the fact that techies are actually negatively resistant to being the cool kids. The second biggest is the fact that we are smart enough to realize that as soon as you add prestige as some sort of magnet to this industry, we start hiring idiots who are attracted to prestige. In 20 years, we go the way of finance.

So please stop acting like tech is prestigious. It isn't prestigious, we don't like it when you call it prestigious, and calling it prestigious hurts the industry. The only reason tech is prestigious is that it is one of the last industries that hasn't been completely ruined by douchebaggery (which is 20 years away the moment people see tech as a prestigious place to work).

Screw it, I'm quitting my job as a quant to be a motorcycle mechanic if this is what happens.

Best Response
Aug 21, 2007 - 1:06am
NorthSider, what's your opinion? Comment below:
IlliniProgrammer:

But if you ask the average student at UC Berkeley or UCLA or even CMU whether they go to a prestigious school, most will say no. If you ask the average engineer at MIT if he goes to a prestigious school, the answer will be "No, fuck you. Harvard is that way, asshole." (At Stanford people will probably agree with you)

People and industries are only as prestigious as they are willing to see themselves. And tech does not want to be seen as prestigious. This is what destroyed finance in 2008. People who did not know what they were doing got hired on prestige and made decisions that they were not capable of understanding.

You are free to claim that someone is elite or prestigious, but if they don't agree with you, they're kind of the experts on this. Go into tech if you want to be a geek or if you want to create stuff. Don't go in because you want prestige.

There are a number of structural barriers to tech becoming a prestige industry. The biggest of which is the fact that techies are actually negatively resistant to being the cool kids. The second biggest is the fact that we are smart enough to realize that as soon as you add prestige as some sort of magnet to this industry, we start hiring idiots who are attracted to prestige. In 20 years, we go the way of finance.

So please stop acting like tech is prestigious. It isn't prestigious, we don't like it when you call it prestigious, and calling it prestigious hurts the industry. The only reason tech is prestigious is that it is one of the last industries that hasn't been completely ruined by douchebaggery (which is 20 years away the moment people see tech as a prestigious place to work).

Screw it, I'm quitting my job as a quant to be a motorcycle mechanic if this is what happens.

You're just parsing the definition of "prestige" here.

I know dozens of techies at the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, etc. and others who are founding members of VC-backed start-ups. I can assure you that they are just as keen to judge someone based on their credentialing as are finance folk.

Sure, they don't care about Harvard; but you'll have them drooling if you have a CS degree from Stanford. They toss around brands like FB, Airbnb, Uber, etc. as analogues to GS, MS, BX, etc. They turn a supercilious brow to finance and consulting grads, whom they view as less intelligent (probably accurately). They would kill to be accepted into YC and treat its alumni as royalty.

That's why every start-up has the same hopelessly trite HTML5 scrolling splash landing. It's why each one has a page devoted to detailing which VC firms back them, the accelerators in which they participated and the hipster-vague bios for their "team", meant to portray how "cool" they are for not listing where they worked and throwing a bone to their yoga instructor.

If Silicon Valley isn't just as superficial as Wall Street, it's worse. And, for the most part, my techie friends who work there are happy to admit as much. Gideon Lewis-Kraus' No Exit is a nice introduction to the Valley. Two hard-working programmer-entrepreneurs, living in Hacker Houses, clamoring to put Google Ventures on their cap structure, bowing to the gods for their MIT PhD team addition, lauding their Persian rug angels for their notable successes with high-flying social media investments.

Tech is undeniably more meritocratic, competitive and technical. It attracts some of the most intelligent people I know. They may measure their prestige in a different currency, but that currency is just as valuable in the Valley as it is on Wall Street. It's not "prestige" in the "traditional, old money, burgundy upholstery, Harvard men" sense, but in the "new money, Sean Parker, f*** establishment, my-bio-is-about-my-kickboxing-instructor, 30-under-30, Stanford brigade" sense. But don't fool yourself, it's prestige all the same.

"For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible."
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Aug 21, 2007 - 1:07am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:
NorthSider:

You're just parsing the definition of "prestige" here.

I know dozens of techies at the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, etc. and others who are founding members of VC-backed start-ups. I can assure you that they are just as keen to judge someone based on their credentialing as are finance folk.

Sure, they don't care about Harvard; but you'll have them drooling if you have a CS degree from Stanford. They toss around brands like FB, Airbnb, Uber, etc. as analogues to GS, MS, BX, etc. They turn a supercilious brow to finance and consulting grads, whom they view as less intelligent (probably accurately). They would kill to be accepted into YC and treat its alumni as royalty.

That's why every start-up has the same hopelessly trite HTML5 scrolling splash landing. It's why each one has a page devoted to detailing which VC firms back them, the accelerators in which they participated and the hipster-vague bios for their "team", meant to portray how "cool" they are for not listing where they worked and throwing a bone to their yoga instructor.

If Silicon Valley isn't just as superficial as Wall Street, it's worse. And, for the most part, my techie friends who work there are happy to admit as much. Gideon Lewis-Kraus' No Exit is a nice introduction to the Valley. Two hard-working programmer-entrepreneurs, living in Hacker Houses, clamoring to put Google Ventures on their cap structure, bowing to the gods for their MIT PhD team addition, lauding their Persian rug angels for their notable successes with high-flying social media investments.

Tech is undeniably more meritocratic, competitive and technical. It attracts some of the most intelligent people I know. They may measure their prestige in a different currency, but that currency is just as valuable in the Valley as it is on Wall Street. It's not "prestige" in the "traditional, old money, burgundy upholstery, Harvard men" sense, but in the "new money, Sean Parker, f*** establishment, my-bio-is-about-my-kickboxing-instructor, 30-under-30, Stanford brigade" sense. But don't fool yourself, it's prestige all the same.

But at the end of the day, you either build a website that works and solves peoples' problems... or you don't. The average consumer- even the average early adopter doesn't care about your bio or who is funding you. They care if the site works and if you have a usable website.

We live in a brutal world. And capitalism enforces a more meritocratic system on startups than you would think. Nobody in this industry cares where you went to school or where you worked. They care if you can pass a coding interview and they care if you can get something to execute faster and scale better. The dynamics of this situation enforce a system that is at least as meritocratic as sell-side trading and possibly as meritocratic as trading at a prop shop.

Tech is one of the last meritocracies. Let's keep it that way. And a bunch of fucking bankers and finance people have no business making broad claims about prestige in tech (CC UC Berkeley, UVA, CMU CS/ECE majors). I say this as a finance person but also as a coder and a quant.

At the very least, tech currency is not honored in the land of finance, and finance currency is not honored in the land of tech. So for the vast majority of people on WSO, it doesn't matter how much prestige tech offers. Either pursue tech or pursue finance.

Back to my rusty honda. I have a D&D convention to get to.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:09am
The Stranger, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I don't think that anyone is claiming that Tech is not meritocratic or that the average tech employee is not extraordinarily talented (especially compared to bankers). But at both schools I've been at (undergrad and masters), students who go to work for Google say it with the EXACT same tone as the kids going to Goldman and their peers react equivalently to both. So, while I agree that prestige is the last thing tech needs more of, I would argue that the warning signs are already cropping up.

Life's is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
  • 1
Aug 21, 2007 - 1:19am
NorthSider, what's your opinion? Comment below:

@"IlliniProgrammer" - Suffice it to say, you've made a number of points here I agree with, viz.:

IlliniProgrammer:
We live in a brutal world. And capitalism enforces a more meritocratic system on startups than you would think.

...

They care if you can pass a coding interview and they care if you can get something to execute faster and scale better.

...

The dynamics of this situation enforce a system that is at least as meritocratic as sell-side trading and possibly as meritocratic as trading at a prop shop.

...

And a bunch of fucking bankers and finance people have no business making broad claims about prestige in tech (CC UC Berkeley, UVA, CMU CS/ECE majors).

And a few of which I am highly skeptical, viz.:

IlliniProgrammer:
Nobody in this industry cares where you went to school or where you worked.

...

At the very least, tech currency is not honored in the land of finance.

To be clear: I am not a banker offering broad claims about the prestige of certain tech programs, I am a banker offering you the broad claims made by techies about the prestige of certain tech programs.

Moreover, I have found the tech "currency of prestige" to be equally as honored amongst finance professionals. Business grads are just as deferential to Google, Facebook, YC, etc. alumni vs. those of less "prestigious" employers among their tech friends as they are to GS, MS, BX, etc. alumni vs. those of less "prestigious" banks.

In my experience, you are misguided if you believe that no one in the tech industry cares where you went to school or worked. I have consistently and frequently encountered precisely the opposite, and I believe my sample size to be more than adequate to make an assessment. In some cases, I've found the "culture of prestige" to be even more potent in Silicon Valley than on Wall Street - and I don't say that lightly!

I suspect others will agree.

"For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible."
  • 2
Aug 21, 2007 - 1:14am
brandon st randy, what's your opinion? Comment below:
IlliniProgrammer:

Bingo. Not a single one of Google's top five schools is an ivy and three (UC Berkeley, CMU, UCLA) are non-targets. Google's top five list includes as many state schools as targets for banking.

We work in a prestige-free, competence based industry. Anybody with a computer and a GED can build a startup that becomes the next twitter. Let's stop worrying about prestige and let's start worrying about what people actually accomplish. Building a startup that gets funded by YC is an accomplishment. It is not prestige.

Illi are you in tech now? Did you join a startup? What does your firm do?

Too late for second-guessing Too late to go back to sleep.
  • 1
Aug 21, 2007 - 1:03am
alicewonderland, what's your opinion? Comment below:

"50% of the companies are either operating or were sold at valuations below $40M, which to me is a break-even for a few years in finance or consulting."

Are you stupid? You're comparing a few years of banking/consulting to selling a business. You're fulll of shit. Esp if you come off YC you're spending 1-2 years of your life at exit most likely at a decent technology company ie. TWTR, FB, LNKD, GOOG etc or somewhere else waiting through your earn out. That will land you some kind of senior title in a technology company, the kudos of that brand oh and of course cash and stock from a public market company.

I can tell with absolute certain even after your earn out finishes you will either get 1) picked up by a fund 2) run another company or 3) go work in a fairly senior role for another firm. You're not gona starve or be considered a failure or in anyway comparable to some pussy that went into investment banking/consulting for the so-called "prestige".

Comparing an exit to a few years at a startup what an absolute LOON.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:05am
Rhys da Vinci, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Again, please read the post before commenting next time. Nobody is comparing an exit to a few years at a startup. The comparison that is being made is an equivalent time period as a founder of a startup that reaches a successful exit vs. the same amount of time with a position in management consulting/investment banking/private equity/hedge fund/other high-paying finance position.

Since it doesn't appear you have the ability to do this yourself, I'll break it out. Assuming the median valuation is right in the middle of that range ($20M - this is being a bit generous to the startup track, as a quarter of that category is actually below $5M), assuming that the median exit time is in the middle of my stated range (7 years - again, being a bit generous to the startup track, as the median for this valuation range is a bit higher by most studies I've seen), and assuming that your share of equity by exit stays all the way up at 15% (again, generous), you're getting an average of $400k a year from equity and $100k for salary, for $500k/year total. A post-MBA associate at a megafund private equity firm, as a point of reference, will make $525k/year on average (per WSO's PE guide). That number, of course, will be lower for the overall industry and for lower-level positions, and higher for VPs, directors, principals, etc.

Like I said in my original post, the assumptions I make are quite subject to debate. Both sides of the equation are highly variable, and the consulting/finance side is especially variable based on what level you are during that time period. However, I would ask that you present your own assumptions so that we can at least understand how and why you disagree before making broad, sweeping conclusions and hurling insults.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:08am
alicewonderland, what's your opinion? Comment below:

You are comparing "an equivalent time period as a founder of a startup that reaches a successful exit vs. the same amount of time with a position in management consulting/investment banking/private equity/hedge fund/other high-paying finance position."

I'm sorry but you cannot compare this. Someone going into high finance is going to start on very comfortable money versus someone starting a company. YC companies almost always have 2 founders (minimum) and each company now only receives $80,000 not $120,000 as you've stated. If you are going to start a business and sell it that is infinitely harder than climbing the ladder in the finance world. The experience is not comparable.

If someone has worked in finance for a few years and reaches say the VP/Principal level it is not the same as someone who can turn around and say I sold my last company for $10-20m.

The person selling a business is clearly MORE impressive especially since that kind of experience is rare and in quite a few cases can vault you to a partner position at a fund in that industry.

Also re. your Zuckerburg comment we're on the exact same page here. Him, Gates, Branson etc all came from very monied backgrounds. People in tech always always forget this that those at the top a LOT of them are from nice wealthy backgrounds are usually white/european/jewish (and the same goes for the financiers in VC-istan who back them).

As another poster pointed out below yes SV firms are as elitist as possible. I can tell you almost everyone in that arena wants someone who is ex-Stanford CS or worked at Google, MSFT, Yahoo etc. It is just a different type of elitist and the people in these firms tend to be less "conservative" or "serious" or even "polished" as my friends on wall street.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:10am
moneymogul, what's your opinion? Comment below:

A few thoughts.

This prestige/meritocracy debate is a circle jerk. At the end of the day, it's all about achieving a big exit. And that's where Silicon Valley shines. If having mostly pedigreed engineers on board makes that easier, then that's what's going to happen. http://blogmaverick.com/2014/03/19/the-back-to-the-future-arbitrage-of-silicon-valley-and-what-it-will-take-to-beat-it/

I think a budding entrepreneur with a background in finance/management consulting would be better served by starting something (perhaps an actual business) outside of the usual SV-backed app startup sector.

This is subject to change, but I'm currently a much bigger fan of the Mark Cuban sales-oriented bootstrap style entrepreneurship than I am of app roulette. AirBNB gets touted a lot nowadays, but the founders sought out to build a profitable business from day one. And they're not Stanford CS dropouts, they're graduated designers from a no name school.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:11am
budfox55, what's your opinion? Comment below:

^^Agreed. I don't know how you can say that there isn't prestige in tech. It may not appear to be the same because finance types tend to be on average more "douchy" and tech types more "nerdy", but that doesn't mean that it isn't there. I recently graduated and I know a few kids who chose positions at Google and Microsoft over roles at less-known companies where they would have been doing more impressive and interesting (at least to them) work. Instead they chose the better known names because it looked better on their resumes, was more well known and respected, and would provide more opportunities down the road and something tells me this isn't exclusive to my school. If that isn't prestige than I don't know what is...

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:15am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I did some contracting for a startup for a few months. They were funded by YC and one of my friends was one of the cofounders.

.

I studied CS in undergrad but I am heading to a quant fund upon graduation. We do have some overlap with the tech community. .

At worst, tech may create prestige, but it certainly doesn't require any. Same with any sort of geek role in finance. You are only as good as your current project. .

Back to my rusty honda. . Edit: @"WallStreetOasis.com" WSO stopped honoring paragraphs!!! This severely interferes with readability. I am replacing my extra lines with periods in protest.

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:17am
Scott Irish, what's your opinion? Comment below:

@IlliniProgrammer was only parsing the definition of prestige if by "parsing," you mean defining it accurately. But the fanbois loved it

Aug 21, 2007 - 1:22am
Benjamin-Todd, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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Aug 21, 2007 - 1:23am
parkerspider, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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Sep 9, 2017 - 2:27am
hesua, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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