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68 | Cracking the Code: Demystifying Startup Valuation Methods

Updated: Oct 9, 2023


Valuing a startup is no easy feat. Unlike established companies, startups typically have little to no historical financial data and market data to base their valuation on. As such, there are several methods used to determine the worth of a startup. In this blog, we'll explore some of the most common startup valuation methods, provide examples of each, and recommend three books on this topic.


1. Market-based approach

The market-based approach involves looking at the valuations of similar companies in the market and using their valuations to determine the value of the startup. This approach can be done by looking at the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio or price-to-sales (P/S) ratio of publicly traded companies in the same industry.


Let's say we are valuing a startup in the e-commerce industry. We can look at the P/E ratio of Amazon, which is currently at 89.18 (as of March 2023). We can then use this ratio to determine the startup's valuation by multiplying its earnings by the P/E ratio.


2. Discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis

The DCF analysis involves forecasting the future cash flows of the startup and discounting them back to their present value. This method requires assumptions about future growth rates, profit margins, and capital expenditures, which can be challenging to estimate for a startup.


For example, let's say we are valuing a startup that expects to generate $500,000 in cash flows per year for the next five years. We can then discount these cash flows back to their present value using a discount rate of 10%, which results in a valuation of $1.86 million.


3. Cost-to-duplicate approach

The cost-to-duplicate approach involves estimating the cost to create a similar business from scratch and using that as a basis for valuation. This method can be useful for startups with a unique and defensible technology or business model.


As an instance, if we are valuing a startup with a patented technology, we can estimate the cost to create a similar technology from scratch, which could be millions of dollars, and use that as a basis for valuation.


4. Berkus Method

The Berkus Method assigns a range of values to five key factors: sound idea, prototype, quality management team, strategic relationships, and market opportunity. Each factor is given a dollar value up to a maximum amount, and the sum of these values determines the startup's overall valuation.


For example, using the Berkus Method, we assign a value of $500,000 to a sound idea, $1 million to a prototype, $500,000 to a quality management team, $500,000 to strategic relationships, and $2 million to market opportunity. The sum of these values results in a valuation of $5 million.


5. Scorecard Method

The scorecard method involves evaluating a startup on various criteria such as market size, competition, management team, and intellectual property. Each criterion is assigned a weight, and a score is given for each category. The total score is then used to determine the valuation.


Let's say we are valuing a startup using the scorecard method. We assign a weight of 30% to market size, 20% to competition, 25% to the management team, and 25% to intellectual property. We give the startup a score of 8 out of 10 for market size, 6 out of 10 for competition, 9 out of 10 for the management team, and 7 out of 10 for intellectual property. The total score of 78 out of 100 is then used to determine the valuation.


Valuation Trap


Valuing a startup can be a tricky process and there are several valuation traps that entrepreneurs and investors should be aware of. One of the most common traps is over-reliance on a single method for valuation, as each method has its own limitations and biases. Another trap is ignoring the impact of market conditions and competition on the startup's valuation, as these factors can significantly affect the startup's growth potential and ultimately its value.


Additionally, founders should be cautious of overly optimistic projections and assumptions about future growth, as these can lead to inflated valuations that are difficult to sustain. Finally, the emotional attachment that founders may have to their startup can sometimes cloud their judgment and result in unrealistic valuations. By being aware of these potential traps, entrepreneurs and investors can approach startup valuation with a more objective and realistic perspective.


As mentioned earlier, valuing a startup is often more of an art than a science, and the final valuation is typically based on negotiations between the startup and investors. However, understanding the various startup valuation methods can help entrepreneurs and investors arrive at a reasonable valuation.


Recommended Reading Material


If you're interested in learning more about startup valuation methods, here are three books we recommend:


1. "The Startup Valuation Bible: How to Value a Startup and Optimize for Exits" by Tyler Jensen and Evan Loomis - This book provides a comprehensive overview of startup valuation methods and includes case studies and real-world examples.


2. "Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist" by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson - While not solely focused on startup valuation, this book provides a wealth of information on the venture capital industry, including how to negotiate startup valuations.


3. "Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money and Having Fun Investing in Startups" by David S. Rose - This book provides an introduction to angel investing and covers various aspects of startup valuation, including the Berkus Method and the Scorecard Method.


In conclusion, startup valuation is a complex process that requires careful consideration of various factors. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the market-based approach, discounted cash flow analysis, cost-to-duplicate approach, Berkus Method, and Scorecard Method are some of the most commonly used methods. By understanding these methods, entrepreneurs and investors can arrive at a reasonable valuation and make informed investment decisions.



TL;DR


1. Valuing a startup is complex as there may be no historical financials or market data to rely on.

2. Common methods used to value startups include market-based approach, discounted cash flow analysis, cost-to-duplicate approach, Berkus Method, and Scorecard Method.

3. Startup valuation is often more of an art than a science, and the final valuation is typically based on negotiations between the startup and investors.

4. Recommended books on startup valuation include "The Startup Valuation Bible," "Venture Deals," and "Angel Investing."

5. Understanding startup valuation methods can help entrepreneurs and investors arrive at a reasonable valuation.

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