55 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2017 Last revised: 16 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 12, 2017
We develop a financial model to estimate the fair value of venture capital-backed companies and of each type of security these companies issue. Our model uses the most recent financing round price and the terms of that financing to infer the value of each of their shares. Using data from legal filings, we show that the average highly-valued venture capital-backed company reports a valuation 48% above its fair value, with common shares overvalued by 55%. In our sample of unicorns – companies with reported valuation above $1 billion – almost one half (52 out of 116) lose their unicorn status when their valuation is recalculated and 11 companies are overvalued by more than 100%. Overvaluation arises because the reported valuations assume all of a company’s shares have the same price as the most recently issued shares. In practice, these most recently issued shares almost always have better cash flow rights than the previously issued shares, so equating their prices significantly inflates valuations. Specifically, we find 53% of unicorns have given their most recent investors either a return guarantees in IPO (14%), the ability to block IPOs that do not return most of their investment (20%), seniority over all other investors (31%), or other important terms.
Online Appendix is available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=2968003.
Keywords: Venture Capital, Unicorns, Valuation, Entrepreneurship, Startups
JEL Classification: G24, G32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Gornall, Will and Strebulaev, Ilya A., Squaring Venture Capital Valuations with Reality (July 12, 2017). Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 17-29. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2955455