VC Investment in Internet Deals Did NOT Fall Off A Cliff

This data comes from the MoneyTree™ Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), based on data provided by Thomson Reuters. Their press release sounds kind of gloomy:

“Venture capital investment plummets in Q1 2009 to 12-year low”

Now, you may read a lot of doom-and-gloom headlines. Our headline is more like, “The dog did not bark”. Yes, we know that does not sell newspapers! Read on, though, if you want to go beneath the headlines and see what is happening in web technology investing.

We have been interviewing investors every week for the last 2 months, and been tracking Series A deals since October 2008 (“meltdown month”). On both scores, we are seeing signs to be at least cautiously optimistic. The data we get is mostly anecdotal, so we wanted to see how this compared to the rigorously compiled data from MoneyTree.

Neither Boom nor Bust

That is the headline. Boring, huh?

The MoneyTree data is all about VC investment in America. That is, only in America. It does not record deals done in Europe or Asia. But it does record deals in all fields — biotech, clean tech, etc. — and all stages, from early to late.

What interests us at ReadWriteWeb is the small subset that is (a) seed- and early-stage, and (b) Internet-specific. So we drilled into those numbers. Q1 2009 saw 34 deals, with a total of $138 million invested. Is that good or bad? Well, 34 companies getting their first investment round is one helluva celebration for 34 entrepreneurs, their teams, and their investors. Every one of those has high and reasonable hopes of becoming a big and successful company. So take a moment to celebrate with them.

But those numbers are down from 55 deals worth $196 million in Q4 2008 (presumably, the deals closed before the financial meltdown but were executed and recorded afterward). In Q3 2008, there were 80 deals worth $286 million. So, the trend is down. But you did not need me to tell you that, right?

Remembering Booms and Busts in Cold Numbers

When you look at the charts, you see the insane spikes in 1999 and Q1 2000. How about 486 deals worth $4,533 million in Q1 2000? Yes, that is 486 ventures that got their first round funding in those 3 months!

Obviously, we will never see that again. Nor should we want to. There was a horrible destruction of capital, and those who worked through it called it the technology nuclear winter because of the loss of confidence it bred for years. How about 15 deals worth $76 million in Q2 2003? That was actually the lowest in the 53 quarters tracked by MoneyTree.

If you want to be positive, then, our position now is twice as good as it was in Q2 2003. So here is an alternative headline:

“VC investment in Internet startups is up 100% from last downturn”.

Sounds good, but only goes to prove that headlines are just… headlines. What will really happen next quarter and the rest of the year? That is, have we reached the bottom?

Have We Reached the Bottom?

That is the question investors always ask in the stock market. But how about in the web technology innovation business that we report on for ReadWriteWeb: have we hit bottom? The investors we speak to are bullish and give good reasons for their bullishness. But if we are going to repeat the trend lines of the last cycle, we should be worried. Here is why…

The dot-com bubble noticeably burst in March 2000. Anybody paying attention could see that “it was over.” That was like October 2008, clearly a transition. But it took another 12 quarters before early-stage Internet financing hit rock bottom, in Q3 2003. If we follow that trajectory, we are in for a world of pain. But investors have been giving us all kinds of reasons why we will not follow that trajectory. The most obvious reason is that the boom period in Internet deals in this cycle is way, way lower than it was in the last cycle:

  • Q1 2000 – $4,533 million
  • Q4 2007 – $434 million

That’s right. This boom cycle at its peak is 90% lower than it was in the last cycle. So we don’t have as far to fall. Phew!

At least we’ll know next quarter. But then, analysts always say that, don’t they? “Wait and see.”

Here We Are in Q4 2004

How was business for you in Q4 2004? Because that was the last time we had comparable amounts of money invested in early-stage Internet ventures:

  • Q1 2009 – $138 million
  • Q4 2004 – $141 million

So What Did Fall Off A Cliff?

Clean tech fell off. Total clean tech dollars invested:

  • Q4 2008 – $1,141 million
  • Q1 2009 – $154 million

(That includes all stages, not just early-stage.)

Yep, that is right. The clean-tech revolution that you’ve read about? Ouch! Just about $1 billion less invested in this quarter. Hm, did crashing oil prices have anything to do with that, and have we seen this movie before? But we digress…

What Are Investors Telling You?

Investors have been telling us what they think. We have been tracking Series A deals to get a sense of what is actually happening. What are you seeing? Have investors gotten slower or more cautious?

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