In a low-yield world, is Pre-IPO investing the hidden secret to higher yields?

by Sandeep Kumar | June 1, 2021
  • Pre-IPO secondary transactions are growing, and over the past few years have consistently generated higher returns over other traditional asset classes
  • Startups are remaining private longer. The average age of technology companies going public has gone from 4 years in 1999 to 11+ years now. As a result, several broker networks and pre-IPO marketplaces have emerged to provide liquidity to early-stage investors and employees
  • Our analysis shows that secondary investments in mature startups 2–3 years prior to a liquidation event have yielded between 40%-70% annualized returns with fairly high success rates. That’s not a typo!
  • Case in point — Slack went public with IPO priced at $38.5 per share, earning around 200% above the last private funding round 10 months prior to the IPO
  • However, investing in Pre-IPO is no silver bullet. Just like all other forms of investing, you can go wrong and will go wrong. Imagine investing in Airbnb in 2017, or in Bytedance in Dec 2019. Airbnb’s valuation has halved since, while Bytedance has taken a nosedive.

It’s been busy year for public markets. The pandemic shock and resulting global economic turmoil has seen world exchanges experience a never before roller-coaster ride in the last few months. What with the V-shaped recovery in the stock markets and emergence of Robinhood traders across the world, equity is the name of the game right now. A slew of technology startups is slated to come up with IPOs in the next 12 months, and people are actively debating investing in these IPOs for listing gains.

There is a set of investors, however, who already own shares in most of these Pre-IPO companies, and are waiting for listing gains. They purchased these shares either directly from angel investors, early-stage VCs, and employees holding vested ESOPs or from one of the secondary marketplaces mostly available in the US.

To give you some perspective, our team went back 5 years and looked at the secondary market valuation histories of all IPOs that happened during this period.

(All numbers are taken from actual secondary transactions. Data for a few years in not available.)

Returns realized from investing in Pre-IPO companies 1/2/3/4 years prior to IPO event startups

If you don’t like dense tables, let us call out a few things:

  • If you had invested $ 10,000 in Beyond Meat on 02 Oct 2015, it would be worth $ 102,000 as on 02 May 2019, the date of listing.
  • If you participated in a secondary transaction as on 21 Sep 2018 in Lyft, you would make a cool 150% return in about 6 months. On the other hand, if you bought Lyft as a retail investor in the IPO, you would be sitting on an approx. 70% loss right now.
  • On a more modest note, an investment in DropBox or Uber in late 2015 would earn you only a 2–3% annualized return, highlighting that not all hits are a homerun.
  • Other notable names are Slack (42% annualized return), Roku (88% annualized return), and Coupa (104% annualized return)

Our outside-in neutral perspective can be summed up as:

  • If you make a good selection (right about 60–70% of the time) of investing in the right startups in the secondary markets, the returns far outweigh any other asset class with comparable risk.
  • The biggest benefit to the investor according to me is the shortened investment period. Shorter the time period, lesser chances of something going wrong. In the time that it takes to invest and wait in an early-stage VC, you could churn your money twice and maybe make higher, but more certain returns. Corollary being that shorter the investment time horizon, shorter can be the returns as well.
  • You get to invest in high-growth Unicorns at an earlier stage before the company goes public and leftover gains are distributed.
  • A mature startup is slightly more stable, has proven product-market fit, has hopefully learned how to scale, and has a proven team that works well together. All this adds up to slightly higher principal protection.
  • Don’t go for overhyped startups, irrespective of how mature a startup is, you have to make a call on if the valuation has some margin of safety built in.

What is a Pre-IPO marketplace and how does it work?

Pre-IPO marketplace is a private market where the private company shares exchange hands between private (almost always accredited) investors. Pre-IPO shares are generally held by founders, employees and early-stage angels/VCs. Sometimes the holding period becomes just too long to tolerate (ask any early investors of Palantir!). VCs need to show performance and return capital, angels and company employees need liquidity. Ergo, the need to sell shares in the secondary market to new investors. Please note one important distinction. In a secondary sale, the company does not receive any proceeds from the sale, it is shareholders exchanging monies and assets.

With private markets maturing and investors getting more sophisticated, this secondary market has expanded rapidly over the past 4–5 years. The development of broker networks and secondary marketplace have reduced some of the liquidity concerns of the investors and contributed to the rapid growth.

How real are the returns?

Historically, stock markets have given returns of ~10% annually. But investing in select Pre-IPO companies, such as high growth tech startups can provide substantially higher returns. With a larger number of companies choosing to stay private for a longer-term, many investors (majorly retail) miss out on the ultra-high growth stage of the company. This is the stage where the company’s valuations rise multifold and retail investors miss out on the substantial portion of the returns waiting for the IPO to happen. Also, IPO is not the only liquidation event, instead there are a lot more corporates and private equities acquiring mature startups.

Take the example of the Direct listing of Slack, a popular workplace collaboration tool that went public in 2019. The Company raised series A funding in 2009 and decided to take 10 years to go public. Slack’s stock was valued at $11.91 per share in the last VC funding round 2018. Within a year, Slack’s shares after IPO opened at $38.5 per share, implying an approximately $23 Bn fully-diluted valuation Company’s price closed at 225% above the last private funding round 10 months ago.

Few other success stories in the last few years:

Zoom is a global video communication platform that went live with an IPO in April 2019. Zoom went live at a valuation of $10 Billion with shares priced at $36, by the day close shares traded at $62. Zoom in the last VC round raised $115million putting the company’s pre-money valuation at $885.03 million (at $14.97 per share).

Beyond Meat is a plant-based meat producer that went public in May 2019. The company’s IPO was priced at $25 per share, valuing the company to $1.5billion. By the end of the day shares were trading at $65 per share. The company last raised $50 million in 2018 at a valuation of $1.3 billion, with shares priced at $16.15 per share.

ForeScout is a network security monitory firm that went public in 2017, 17 years after it started its operations in 2000. Till date company has raised around $300 Mn in funding. In the last funding round company was valued at $1 Bn, but when the company went public the valuation of the company dropped to ~$800 Mn. This is an example of a situation where things didn’t go as planned.

Allocating a small portion of your portfolio to Pre-IPO high-growth securities can provide opportunities of earning substantially higher returns than investing in public markets, with risks lower than that of the initial stage VC investors. But it is no silver bullet where all the bets are winners, you have to be selective and meticulous in the due diligence of private companies before investing to earn substantial returns in Pre-IPO secondary market. Buyers beware!

Where will the Secondary pre-IPO Market go from here?

Private markets have grown and matured over the past two decades. Since 2002, Global Private Equity asset value has grown more than twice the rate of public market capitalization. At the same time, the private equity secondary market has also seen tremendous growth in volume. We believe that a similar progression of events may happen in the startup secondary market as well. Once very insignificant, the pre-IPO secondary market has evolved to become a very useful mechanism for founders, ESOP owners, CXOs to liquidate their private securities, either partially or fully. Companies now tend to remain private for longer period of time and thus increasing the relevance of the secondary market. Secondary pre-IPO market has seen a continuous growth in transaction volume and has become a reliable source to get differential exposure and skip the J curve. The chart below indicates the rising secondaries transaction volume.

What’s driving the growth of the Secondary pre-IPO market?

1. Longer gestation period to a liquidity event

To date, there are 400 unicorn startups (private companies that are valued above $1 Bn) globally. With large corporates and funds willing to back these companies, they don’t have a huge incentive to go public to raise funds. Going public also exponentially increases the compliance and reporting needs. According to McKinsey & Company, the average age of U.S. technology companies that went public in 1999 was four years. By 2014, that average rose to 11 years and the trend is on the rise. There could be many reasons factoring in a company’s decision to delay raising capital from public:

  • Additional cost involved
  • Incurring new and ongoing operational requirements (filing financial statements)
  • Losing autonomy
  • Risk of takeovers
  • The dreaded IPO flops
  • The delayed IPO exits have led investors to look for other options to exit and diminish liquidity concerns.

2. Founders need liquidity, VCs need to show successful exits

I was speaking to a founder who has been running a very successful tech startup in the valley for the past 10 years and may take another 4–5 years to successfully do an IPO or sell out. The problem is, he needs liquidity today to fund his kids’ education, mortgage, and other obligations.

VCs with a fund life of 10–11 years at times are unable to liquidate all their investments within this period. Given the need to return capital to investors, it can also become imperative to sell a portion of the portfolio in the secondary market. Whatever be the reason, the fact remains that there is increasing high-quality supply available in the secondary market.

3. Increased secondary market efficacy

With the advent of multiple offline brokers and online platforms (such as Torre Capital), it has become easy for founders to connect with buyers looking to acquire stake in unicorn startups. Increasing tokenization of asset classes using technology has also helped reduce investment minimums, documentation, and timelines.

How does the Pre-IPO market actually work?

Investing in Pre IPO shares generally can be done in a few ways.

  • One way to invest in unicorn startups is via Brokers or advisory firms that specialize in Pre-IPO secondary transactions. Using offline brokers or investment banks requires a large transaction size (a couple of million at least) and may come with high transaction charges (sometimes up to 10%), and longer lead times.
  • Another upcoming way is to list your shares on a secondary platform which then collates a set of shares and offers it to its existing investor network. The drawback here is that unless you are offering shares of very well-recognized startups, there may not be enough demand.

Taking an example of company XYZ. The Company was founded in 2010 and the founder owns 100% of the shares (complete ownership). Company raises 1M at the post-money valuation of 10Mn. Thus, the early-stage investor owns 10% of the shares and the founder owns the remaining 90%. Over the next few years, multiple investors invest in a company and the valuation of the company also rises. Founders and early investors have a large portion of their wealth locked in the company stock. Traditionally, the only way for them to liquidate their share was for the company to go public or engage in an M&A transaction. But now, they can opt to sell a portion of their shares on a secondary platform and enjoy the benefits of their labor while continuing to grow their company.

We at Torre Capital provide our investors access to best-in-class startups, and shareholders easy liquidity in two ways:

  • You can opt to list and sell your shares outright on our platform. Our investors are always looking for high quality opportunities to invest in.
  • If you don’t wish to sell your shares, or can’t because of restrictions, you can also secure a loan from Torre Capital against your shares.

With our broad network across the globe and many collaborations, we bring to our investors the best of opportunities while allowing startup shareholders fast access to liquidity.

Pre-IPO market comes with its own set of risks investors should be aware of

Private markets are growing and maturing at a fast pace but investing in the Pre-IPO private equity market and securities in the secondary market carries extra layers of risk over investing in public securities such as bonds and public equity. Some of the risks that a secondary market investor bear is:

  • Risk of IPO not going live or getting delayed

There is a small risk even with high growth unicorns that the IPO may not go through, or the company may further delay going public. This risk is generally mitigated by the discount at which the Pre-IPO securities are available. But the probability of not going live and the inability to find other exit options is always present.

  • Sudden reduction in liquidity or valuation because of black swan events

Take the example of Bytedance. Till December last year, you could not get hold of shares of Bytedance even at inflated premiums. Due to the happenings over the past six months, investors who came in the past 12 years might find it quite difficult to exit their investment. WeWork is another example that has been much talked about. Such situations can’t be ruled out completely. The secondary private market has an inherent liquidity risk as the number of buyers and sellers in the market is limited. Also, there is no one centralized platform or stock exchange with market makers.

  • Information Asymmetry

Private securities in the secondary market are not held to same reporting standards as those on the public side. This makes it much harder for an investor to evaluate a private company. Founders and managers holding the security have more information available than the buyer and have no big incentive to share the information in the market. This information gap adds the risk and impacts investor confidence in the secondary market.

In conclusion

We firmly believe that Pre-IPO markets for mature/unicorn startups is going to expand exponentially over the next 5–10 years, and investors should carefully examine the opportunities available. If suitable for their risk profile and portfolio size, this can be a great asset class to allocate 5–10% of your portfolio to in order to improve overall returns and reduce dependence on traditional investments.

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This article has been co-authored by Daksh Arya and Sargam Palod who are in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

Related Posts

Crypto Scare: Is the Hype Settling Down?

by Sandeep Kumar

Keep up to date with the latest research

Crypto Volatility Index (CVI) hit a near one-year high of 127.03 on May 12th. The value of Coinbase, a big bitcoin exchange, has plummeted. A cryptocurrency that advertised itself as a reliable medium of exchange has gone bankrupt. A drop in cryptocurrency values has wiped away more than $300 Bn. The decline in cryptocurrencies is part of a broader shift away from riskier assets, which has been fueled by rising interest rates, inflation, and economic uncertainty resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These reasons have exacerbated a “pandemic hangover” that began when life in the United States began to return to normal, damaging the stock values of companies like Zoom and Netflix, which profited during the lockdowns. However, crypto’s collapse is more severe than the stock market’s overall decline. While the S&P 500 has lost 18% this year, the price of Bitcoin has plunged 40% in the same time. Bitcoin has dropped 20% in the last five days alone, compared to a 5% drop in the S&P 500. Let us have a look at the kind of impact the crypto slump is creating on various stakeholders.

How the fall of TerraUSD and Luna has created panic?

The crypto shock occurred primarily after the sudden crash of the stable coin TerraUSD and Luna token. For the past six months, investors bought UST in order to profit from Anchor, a borrowing and lending platform which offered a 20% yield to anyone who bought UST and lent it to the protocol. The idea was criticized as it was likened to a Ponzi scheme which would not be successful. Karma hit the founder, Do Kwon, hard enough who is known for calling out critics as “poor”. Former Terra employees and retail investors in the crypto are holding the Kwon responsible for the losses. While he is still optimistic about his plans to revive Terra, Kwon is facing some major backlash in the form of lawsuits, fines and penalties.

Since May 10th, when TerraUSD and Luna began to show indications of difficulty, cryptocurrencies used by South Korean gaming firms for in-game purchases and trading have experienced erratic trading. As of then, C2X, which formerly used TerraUSD as its main platform thanks to a collaboration with Terraform Labs, the firm behind TerraUSD, which is now depegged from the US dollar, was trading at roughly 1,000 won. According to industry officials, game firms with products that include virtual coins and other blockchain functionality are still on high alert due to the recent collapse of the TerraUSD and Luna cryptocurrencies.

Wemix, a cryptocurrency run by Wemade Co., the maker of the play-to-earn game “MIR4 Global,” dropped by 28 percent during the TerraUSD fiasco before recovering back to the 2,700 won level on May 16th. MBX, Netmarble Corp’s virtual currency, has also plummeted by more than 80% to roughly 11,000 won, compared to around 64,000 won on May 6. Klaytn, a blockchain platform established by internet behemoth Kakao Corp., was also down to roughly 500 won, down from over 650 won on May 10th. Companies are keeping a close eye on the newest developments and concerns in the Bitcoin market in general since a loss of user and investor confidence might jeopardize the gaming industry’s Blockchain ecosystem, which many companies have already extensively invested in. Several crypto exchanges including Coinbase, Binance, Coinswitch Kuber, CoinDCX, even temporarily delisted Luna coin.

Sector euphoria that fueled the NFT boom has given way to more pessimistic conditions, forcing the mostly speculative NFT market to face reality. NonFungible, an NFT data business, stated that transaction volume was down 47 percent in Q1 2022 compared to the previous quarter. The figures are even more dramatic when looking at daily average sales, which fell by 92 percent between September 2021 and April 2022. Such challenges are far from insurmountable. For an NFT market that has been weak on value proposition but strong on hype, a washout was always going to happen. This data will be seen by critics of NFTs as the beginning of the end for projects that have been marked by over-promises, rug pull scams, and flash over substance. A reduction in speculation is more likely to refocus entrepreneurs on adding clear value to digital assets. A more clearly defined use case with a highly motivated and well-capitalized stakeholder to assist drive forward development is required to propel innovation forward.

What to expect in the longer run?

The fall of USDT has reflected poorly over the entire stable coin industry. Developers created functional and safe algorithmic in order to make it less susceptible to government oversight and more resistant to inflation than fiat-backed stable coins. However, they have lost their peg and failed. Some crypto analyst even suggest that the idea of algorithmic stable coins will now be put to rest. On the other hand, despite the volatility in the crypto industry since the beginning of 2022, private equity and venture capital investment into the crypto and Web3 space have been optimistic. The recent shocker has led Terra’s major investors to decide whether to help bail the project out or pull back and escape. While Lightspeed Venture Partners, one of the investors of Luna token, is planning to double down specifically in infrastructure, DeFi and emerging use cases, there is a possibility that the DeFi hype may now calm down. Until economic growth and corporate earnings forecasts are altered, there will be a sluggish flow of fresh money into equities, commodities, bonds or cryptocurrency markets in the coming months.

The arising concerns due to the crashing crypto market have been drawing attention to the regulation of cryptocurrencies. From USA to India, public officials are calling out the need for a regulatory framework to guard against the volatility risks of crypto. The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for stable coin regulations to mitigate the risks, ensuring there are no gaps in the regulation. In India, experts are in a process to lay out tax policies for cryptocurrencies. However, naysayers believe that it could disturb the huge potential that the crypto industry brings in terms of intersection of blockchain, machine learning and job creation. Lack of clarity on policies is discouraging innovation in the sector and forcing job seekers to look for opportunities outside India where there are more crypto friendly policies.

A wake-up call for investors

There is no doubt that crypto is a volatile space. The crypto market has survived all this due to the underlying premise that the blockchain is a powerful tool that can change the way the next generation of digital products is built. However, some investors try to make quick money out of these volatile markets. Several people lost their entire life savings through crypto investments. It is advised that investors should research the projects, the technology and promoters before investing in tokens and not just follow returns blindly. Shocks like the recent one will act as a wake-up call and likely make investors mature. As per Sidharth Sogani, founder and CEO of Crebaco Global, a rating, research and intelligence firm focused on blockchain and crypto, more trouble is yet to come. He mentions that as for the crypto market is concerned, we might see a further down or a sideways movement for the next three to six months before it enters the bull market again.

So next time you make any investment decision, especially in a volatile market like crypto, be sure to be patient and do extensive research instead of running after quick returns.

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This article has been co-authored by Sayan Mitra and Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

Valuation Reset: Who are the gainers and losers?

by Sandeep Kumar

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From a year of record funding to valuation check, how have things changed?

For any startup, raising funds is an inevitable part of the journey, and it highly depends on how the company is valued. VC funding sky-rocketed in 2021 with over $643 Bn going into global venture investment. This marked a 92% growth compared to the previous year. Consequently, we witnessed more than 10 new unicorns being minted each week on an average, adding around $1.8 Tn in value.

The amount of funds that went to higher-risk, early-stage startups was notable in 2021 as it witnessed almost 100% YoY growth in early-stage funding, with $201 Bn in about 8,000 startups. However, the good times do not seem to continue in 2022. Often, startups overvalue themselves in order to raise funds without giving up much of their equity. This may be detrimental in the long run — in case the company struggles to meet the expectations of the investors, it will have to raise funds at a lower valuation in the future rounds. Moreover, external factors like geopolitical tensions, inflation, underperforming IPOs and public markets have also affected the startup valuations. Through this article, we try to understand the different reasons for the decline in valuations and the kind of impact it could have on investors and startups.

Source: Crunchbase

Valuation reset for overvalued tech unicorns

After the hyped market in 2021, venture capitalists are now renegotiating their deals. As reported by WSJ, Tiger Global Management which has been one of the most prolific startup investors is renegotiating the investments for several companies, reducing the valuations by more than 20%. Manhattan Venture Partners also noted a nearly 10% plunge in the stock purchases of certain private companies in the first month of 2022. Some high-growth startups are even scaling back the funding rounds or delaying their IPOs that could value them lower than expected.

Let’s have a look at some recent examples where startups have been revalued by the investors or have themselves reset their valuations.

  • Philadelphia-based growth startup, Dbt Labs Inc, scaled back its funding round that valued it at around $4 Bn instead of the initially negotiated $6 Bn.
  • Fidelity, which has an investment in fintech giant Stripe, recently marked down the value of the company by over 9%.
  • The delivery giant, Instacart slashed its valuation by about 40%, valuing the company at $24 Bn down from its earlier valuation of $39 Bn.
  • Startups like OYO and Pharmeasy, who were preparing to go public are now considering downsizing their IPO valuations considering the market conditions.

The effect of tech sell-offs in public market is also visible in the private secondary market as there is a heightened interest in selling shares at a discounted price, typically 10% — 30% lower than the last quarter of 2021. With fewer IPOs, shareholders are looking for liquidity solutions in the secondary market, ready to sell their shares at a discount.

VC pull-back and a shift in focus

As market correction started happening in the public markets, its effects have been trickled down to the private market as well. As a result of huge tech sell-offs and dropping valuations in the public market, many VC firms have tightened their grip on startup funding as well. Investors are rechecking the startups’ valuation at a lower level to account for the pressure on the public peers. Firms like Tiger Global Management and D1 Capital have pulled back from investing in late-stage startups. The growth stage and later-stage funding seem to be stagnated. At times like these, some startups may be in desperate need of raising funds, so they will have to lower down their valuation expectations to be able to raise some cash. Meanwhile, startups that had raised huge rounds last year are being advised to use their funds wisely and prepare for even worse times.

The plunging tech stocks facilitated by inflationary concerns and rising interest expectations added to the pessimistic lending behaviour. The stocks of public companies, which typically guide the valuation of startups, saw a decline in valuation. By the end of January, companies that went public last year were down an average of 32.6% since their listings. Less proven companies performed even worse. Not only did the drop hold back investors, but also delayed the startups from going ahead with the IPO. The reset in startup valuations was well predicted, but what is surprising is that historically there has always been a long lag in the private market’s reaction to a public market slowdown, now it’s much faster.

However, things are not the same for all the sectors. While consumer businesses have taken more brunt of the pullback, companies dealing with blockchain, cryptocurrency, and cybersecurity have continued to attract VC interest. Despite the tight funding hand, investors’ focus has been shifted to seed and early-stage startups. The risk may be high with early startups and they are far away from taking a meaningful exit, but they allow investors to write smaller checks that could still give them some returns.

How is the valuation reset going to impact the stakeholders?

A drop in valuations is a double-edged sword. Investors may welcome the dip in valuation as it would mean that they would get new deals at a meaningfully lower value. VCs would love to offer lower prices on new deals, but also want their existing portfolio companies to be marked up in subsequent rounds. There is also a significant chance that the public companies, that guide startup valuations, will normalize back to the mean of the last couple of years. Consequently, VCs have tightened their lending capacity and shifted their focus to early-stage startups. Many startups had raised huge amounts for the early rounds, which raised the expectations and hence the valuation of the company. Now, slashing their valuation in order to raise funds would mean that startups will have to dilute a greater chunk of their equity.

The kind of valuation reset that we have started to witness was much needed after all the craziness in 2021. However, whether this is just a minor correction or has a long-term impact is difficult to determine now and we will have to wait and see at least till Q2 or Q3 of this year to understand where this goes. Till then, startups need to utilize their available cash prudently.

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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

How will the Cybersecurity Sector Rise in a Digitized World?

by Sandeep Kumar

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Every now and then we keep hearing about instances of cyber threats and attacks wiping out millions of dollars from various organizations. The cases have risen as several companies went completely digital, especially post-pandemic. 2021 saw a record rise in cybercrime with ransomware attacks rising by 151%. As businesses realize the importance of digital security, they are taking steps to keep their digital stack secured, making cyber resilience a top business priority. As per a survey by WEF, nearly two-thirds of businesses find it difficult to deal with cybersecurity incidents due to a lack of skills. Hence, they need to rely on partnerships with security firms to secure their business from such threats. Cybersecurity is a massive market with over $150 Bn in annual spending. It has led to a positive outlook toward cybersecurity startups. As a result, VCs are betting their money on security startups. 2021 is considered a record-breaking year for the sector as cybersecurity startups raised over $29 Bn in venture capital, outpacing the previous two years combined.

Source: 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac | Momentum Cyber

VC activity and trends

VC investments in cybersecurity have grown gradually over the years. In 2021, VC firms had a really big appetite for cybersecurity as the deal volume crossed $29 Bn, seeing a YoY growth of over 136%. With this, the size of the funding rounds has also increased for security startups, as 82 financing rounds grabbed a deal of more than $100 Mn.

As the startups in the sector are attracting VC money, there has been significant growth in the number of unicorns. About 30 cybersecurity startups achieved the unicorn status last year, with a few of them achieving the mark in just a few years of their inception. For instance, Orca Security, which was founded in 2019, raised $550 Mn in October at a valuation of $1.8 Bn. Wiz, a cloud security provider which was founded in 2020, is now valued at $6 Bn!

According to Momentum Cyber, cloud security has been the favourite segment to receive financing with a total of $4.3 Bn, followed by identity and access management receiving $3.4 Bn in funding, and endpoint security with $2.8 Bn. Geographically, the majority of the cybersecurity startups that received funding, securing over $17.4 Bn, belong to the U.S. followed by Israel (as per Crunchbase data).

Source: 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac | Momentum Cyber

Cybersecurity investment trend forecast

Based on the current momentum and growing threat landscape, the cybersecurity sector could see an even bigger year in 2022. This year, cybersecurity startups could see a market opportunity in the following areas, thereby drawing investors’ interest.


The crypto market is booming across the world. However, the area is also prone to growing amounts of cyberattacks. Most recently, Axie Infinity was a victim of one of the biggest crypto heists worth over $600 Mn. There are multiple cases like these, hence crypto security platforms (like Fireblocks) are expected to see investors’ focus. According to the Managing Director at Insight Partners, areas within crypto security, such as coin monitoring will see a critical focus. It is expected that large payment companies and even traditional market exchanges will carefully look at the space around security.

 Compliance and Auditing

2022 is likely to see a move towards “shifting left of compliance”, which intends to find errors early in software delivery for compliance and third-party audits. This also includes smart contract security audits. Some startups already working in this space include CertiK, Certora, and OpenZeppelin.

 Web3 and Metaverse

A large number of startups are exploring the web3 and metaverse space. This means startups involved in securing user identity and ownership could attract VC money. Identity management and authentication have already been popular in 2021, however, startups looking beyond and into the future of the internet could win big.

How to spot promising early-stage cybersecurity startups?

The number of cybersecurity unicorns and new startups in the sector is multiplying. As many startups are attracting VCs and raising funds at higher valuations, it is important to spot promising startups early-on to get higher returns.

YL Ventures, an America-Israeli VC firm specializing in early-stage cybersecurity investments, suggests some benchmarks that you can look out for. Some of the early-stage startups backed by YL Ventures include Orca Security, Enso Security, Grip Security, Piiano, Valence, and Eureka.

 Initial Revenue:

Series A companies with $500k in ARR attract strong investors. Best startups in the sector manage to reach the $500k benchmark in less than 18 months of operation. From this level, top-performing startups can reach $1 Mn in 18–24 months, which largely depends on the company’s ability to get relevant customers.

 Average Contract Value:

Contrary to founders’ concern, Average Contract Value (ACV) is rather a misleading point of comparison as cybersecurity goods and services, along with their business models, sales motions, and customer profiles, are far too divergent when compared across the industry. However, despite the divergence, it is expected that growth-oriented companies can improve their ACV over time as the company develops additional features and improves their ability to secure large enterprise customers.

 Initial Paying Customers:

On average, successful US-based cybersecurity startups will have closed their first payment within 12 months of their seed round. A company should aim to secure at least one paying customer one full year from initial funding. As per YL Ventures, at around the 18-month mark, a startup should aim for at least 10 paying customers. However, security startups in traditional and heavily regulated sectors may have a smaller number of contracts. They should instead focus on the size of the contract.


On average, successful startups will have a go-to-market (GTM) executive within the first year of securing seed funding. Apart from this, successful startups tend to have about 25 full-time employees by the 18-month mark, and the number doubles at around two years.

Cybersecurity’s demand on rise

The number of cyber threats is growing in current times, and they are not expected to decline in the near future. It is expected that over the next five years, global cybercrime costs will be rising by 15% per annum, and is estimated to reach $10.5 Tn by 2025. As businesses have made a shift towards a digitized economy, they need to protect themselves from such malicious attacks. Security companies are building themselves continuously with the necessity to deal with the present and possible threats. Contrary to the horizontal approach which focuses on enterprise applications, cybersecurity has now been focusing on the vertical approach so that specific pain points of each industry can be addressed.

The global spending on cybersecurity products and services is estimated to reach $1.75 Tn between 2021 and 2025. This number suggests the huge TAM potential that the industry holds in ensuring cyber safety. As the security concern comes to the forefront in business discussions, the cybersecurity bubble is going to rise and is not expected to burst any time soon.

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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur, who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.

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