This morning, the law firm Fenwick & West published new findings about all the U.S.-based unicorn financings that took place during the last nine months of 2015. It’s rife with interesting nuggets, but perhaps most fascinating is that in the fourth quarter of last year, half of the 12 rounds it tracked featured valuations in the $1 billion to 1.1 billion range — and terms that were far more onerous than earlier in the year.
Fenwick & West politely suggests these companies may have been “willing to be more flexible” regarding “investor friendly terms” in order to attain their billion-dollar-plus valuations. We’d call the behavior bone-headed.
The instinct is understandable, to a degree. For the last couple of years, the media has been almost singularly obsessed with companies valued at north of a billion dollars. Some management teams invariably concluded that to attract the attention of reporters and even potential recruits, they needed so-called unicorn status.
Slack is among them. CEO Stewart Butterfield told Fortune in January of last year that if he couldn’t get a billion-dollar valuation straightaway for his company, he wouldn’t raise capital at all, saying the valuation was a “psychological threshold” for “certain types of customers” who want the “comfort of knowing we’re highly valued and financially secure.” Butterfield said the valuation helped with hires, too. “There is a class of employees who are more risk-averse and work at some company like Google or Facebook and they have a mortgage and kids,” he told Fortune. “It helps a lot of those kinds of people as well.”
Well, it does until it doesn’t.