Web start-up companies at this year’s Tech Crunch conference face a financial climate that has dried up venture capital, forcing them to turn to friends, family and foundations.
Dan Olsen, a Stanford Business School grad, was one of the many entrepreneurs presenting his newly developed software at the tech conference held in a converted wooden warehouse on Monday and Tuesday.
Olsen said he could not secure any venture capital and had instead turned to his friends — and their willingness to work for food — to develop his “real time discovery engine” that scans Twitter, Facebook and many other places in a specialized search called Yourversion.
“My friends come over and code all day on Saturday and, at the end, we have a barbeque and beers,” he said. “I give food equity.”
The National Venture Capital Association reported that the number of venture capital-backed investments in the second quarter of this year dropped to levels not seen since 1996.
“Many are speculating that the year 2009 represents a fundamental turning point for the venture capital industry,” Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist at Benchmark Capital wrote in a recent blog posting.
“All in all, one should expect a large number of VC firms to call it quits over the next five years,” he wrote.
Like many venture capitalists, he believed the industry could shrink by half.
PRIZES AND FRIENDS
Life360, a start-up that manages family safety and security online, struggled to raise funding until it hit a jackpot — prize money for developing a mobile phone application for Google Inc.
“We won the Google Android Developer Challenge and got $300,000,” said Chris Hulle, co-founder. “That is what got us going.”
Others turned to family, personal ties, foundations or proceeds from selling earlier companies to pay their way.
“If you don’t find like-minded people you can spend a lot of time looking for money and most people don’t want to take venture money until the valuations improve,” said Leila Chirayath Janah of SamaSource, a non-profit organization that gets funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. It connects tech workers in Ghana and other developing countries with Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook that outsource their testing.
Others simply rely on their own funds, emptying their savings or selling off equity they already own. Michal Blaha of Prague got Austrian venture capital money to start Atlas.CZ, a Czech portal similar to Yahoo, during the dot-com boom.
“It was easier then to get money,” he said.
He sold his company recently and used the proceeds to fund another, a travelers service called Ontheroad.
Amita Paul, chief executive of Objective Marketer, started her company with the help of family and friends, and is now charging for her social media marketing company. She said it was likely best to wait for a more stable market before seeking outside investment.
“We’re going to wait six months until valuations are better,” she added.