Every time, it went the same way. I would ask a CEO to tell me his company's valuation on its new round of venture capital or growth equity financing, and he'd decline. Same thing if I asked the company's PR rep, or lead investor. Occasionally a rival venture capitalist who had lost the deal would spill out of spite, but it was rare. In general, valuations were considered precious trade secret.
That was ten years ago. And five years ago. And even three years ago. Today, however, such reticence is the exception to a new rule in which valuations are used to legitimize and promote venture-backed companies. Just think of all those unicorns, and that we all know of their existence.
Part of the shift is media-driven -- a byproduct of increased coverage and reporters figuring out how to scour SEC and Delaware filings systems. For example, last week I asked Honest Co. co-founders Brian Lee and Jessica Alba if they had leaked their company's near $1 billion valuation. They said they hadn't, and that the resulting focus on their "value" was more negative than positive.
Most of it, however, is intentional. I spent time speaking with several veteran PR pros about the matter, and heard the following points repeatedly:
1. If the company is in a highly-competitive space, disclosing a strong valuation can help with both employee recruitment and customer acquisition. "It's viewed as proof of validation and that the company is less risky," one PR pro explained. "It means the paycheck won't bounce, and the product will be delivered."
2. Don't let the CEO spill the beans. The big risk to disclosing a high valuation is what happens if the company then raises at a flat or down-round next time. Basically, all of that employee/customer validation is reversed. The key, therefore, is giving the CEO some wiggle-room to... ummm... well, basically to lie to everyone. The flexibility to say those original reports were wrong, as evidenced by the fact that neither the CEO nor company ever confirmed them. So how do you leak "properly?" Via PR on background, without attribution. Or, put in more recognizable terms, via "sources familiar with the situation" or "sources close to the company."
3. Some CEOs simply cannot help themselves. "There is a lot of 'mine is bigger than yours' at Silicon Valley cocktail parties," another PR pro said. "It's one thing if a CEO discloses valuation for strategic reasons, but a lot of times it's just bragging." This is particularly true if a company has not yet shipped product, thus increasing the future reputational risk and forcing the company to make unnatural financing decisions inthe future (like doing a debt deal for the purpose of maintaining valuation).
4. For companies that do want to keep their valuations private, one huge fear is that inaccurate information will leak. For example, a startup raises at a $150 million mark but it is reported as $400 million. Each PR person I spoke with admitted that, in such cases, they will try to steer the inquiring reporter toward the correct number. "I don't want to be on record as saying reporters should bluff, but of course they should," said the rep of a large Silicon Valley venture firm.
THE BIG DEAL
• BC Partners has agreed to acquire Phoenix-based pet retailer PetSmart Inc. for $8.7 billion, or $83 per share. It would be the largest U.S. leveraged buyout of 2014. Rival bidders reportedly included Apollo Global Management and a joint offer from KKR and Clayton Dubilier & Rice. Read more.
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based online survey platform, has raised $250 million in new equity funding. T. Rowe Price Associates, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Baillie Gifford & Co. were joined by return backers Tiger Global Management, ICONIQ Capital, Google Capital, Social+Capital Partnership and SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg. Part of the proceeds will be used to provide secondary liquidity to early investors and employees. Read more.
• Happn, a French “hyperlocalized” dating app, has raised $8 million in new VC funding from Alven Capital and DN Capital. www.happn.fr
• Cristal Therapeutics, a Dutch developer of nanomedicines for optimizing the therapeutic performance of drugs, has raised over €6 million in new VC funding. Chemelot Ventures was joined by return backers Thuja Capital, BioGeneration Ventures, Nedermaas, Utrecht University Holding and Beheer Innovatiefonds Provincie Limburg. www.cristaldelivery.com
• iFit, a Taiwan-based online fitness and weight-loss community, has raised $3 million in Series A funding. Cherubic Ventures led the round, and was joined by Yuan-jin Capital, Sino Strategy Group and individual angels. Read more.
• Drivemode, a San Jose, Calif.-based driving interface for Android smartphones, has raised $2 million in VC funding from Incubate Fund. www.drivemode.com
• Beactica AB, a Swedish fragment-based drug discovery company, has raised an undisclosed amount of VC funding. Almi Invest led the round, and was joined by UNIONEN and Uppsala UniversityHolding. www.beactica.com
• Virtuos, a Shanghai-based developer of 3D art and game development for consoles and mobile devices, has raised an undisclosed amount of Series B funding from Xuhui Venture Capital. www.virtuosgames.com
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Apollo Global Management and Wesfarmers Ltd. (ASX: WES) have made a joint bid to acquire General Electric’s Australian consumer finance unit, according to Bloomberg. The business could be valued at upwards of A$1.5 billion. Read more.
• Aquiline Capital Partners has agreed to acquire a majority stake in LenderLive Network Inc., a Glendale, Colo.-based mortgage services provider. No financial terms were disclosed. Sellers include CITG Capital Partners. www.lenderlive.com
• Bain Capital has agreed to acquire the UK brick and concrete business of Irish building materials group CRH for approximately $650 million. Read more.
• The Carlyle Group and Warburg Pincus have partnered on a joint bid to acquire Toronto-based credit rating agency DBRS Ltd. for more than US$500 million, according to Reuters. Birch Hill Equity Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners also submitted offers. Read more.
• FlexEnergy Inc., a Portsmouth, N.H.-based maker of small natural gas turbines, has raised an undisclosed amount of private equity funding from Intervale Capital. www.flexenergy.com
• Levine Leichtman Capital Partners has completed a dividend recapitalization for portfolio company Lawn Doctor Inc., a Holmdel, N.J.-based provider of lawn, garden and pest services. www.lawndoctor.com
• Midway Industrial Supply Inc., a Mounds View, Minn.-based distributor of fluid handling and spray finishing systems and equipment, has acquired Contrast Equipment Co., a Kansas City-based finishing equipment systems integrator. No financial terms were disclosed. Midway Industrial Supply is owned by Generation Growth Capital. www.midwayis.com
• Thoma Bravo and and Teachers’ Private Capital have agreed to acquire Riverbed Technology (Nasdaq: RVBD), a San Francisco–based provider of application performance infrastructure, for approximately $3.6 billion, or $21 per share. www.riverbed.com
• Five companies are expected to price IPOs on U.S. exchanges this week. They are: Juno Therapeutics, On Deck Capital, Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, First Guaranty Bancshares and Rice Midstream Partners. Read more.
• Arsenal Capital Partners has agreed to sell Charter Brokerage, a Norwalk, Conn.–based provider of logistics to the petroleum and chemical industries, to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK.A). No financial terms were disclosed. Read more.
• Crestview Partners has completed its $1.25 billion sale of DS Services, an Atlanta–based provider of bottled water and coffee direct-to-consumer services, to Cott Corp. (NYSE: COT). www.water.com
• Oculus VR, the virtual reality headset maker owned by Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), has acquired two virtual reality startups: Nimble VR and 13th Lab AB. No financial terms were disclosed for either deal. San Francisco-based Nimble VR had been seeded by CrunchFund, K9 Ventures and Intel Capital. Sweden-based 13th Lab had raised venture capital from Creandum. Read more.
• Regal Beloit Corp. (NYSE: RBC) has agreed to acquire the power transmission business of Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE: EMR) for $1.4 billion in cash. www.regal-beloit.com
• Terra Firma Capital Partners is “exploring options” to exit its 68.6% stake in Infinis Energy (LSE: INFI), a British renewable power generation company. Read more.
• Carbonite Inc. (Nasdaq: CARB) has acquired MailStore, a Germany–based provider of email
archiving solutions for small and midsize businesses. No financial terms were disclosed. www.carbonite.com
• Recall Holdings (ASX: REC), an Australian data storage company has rejected a A$2.2 billion, or A$7 per share, takeover offer from Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM). Read more.
• Technip (Paris: TEC) said that it will drop its pursuit of French oil services provider CGG (Paris: CGG), after being rebuffed on a $1.82 billion takeover offer. www.technip.com
FIRMS & FUNDS
• Linden Capital Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm, is planning a $500 million first close for its third fund by year-end, according to peHUB. The overall target is $600 million. Read more.
• Tailwater Capital, a Dallas-based private equity firm focused on the energy sector, has closed its second fund with $650 million in capital commitments. Capstone Partners served as placement agent. www.tailwatercapital.com
MOVING IN, UP, ON & OUT
• Ron Labrum has joined Linden Capital Partners as an operating partner. He previously was CEO of Fenwal Inc. www.lindenllc.com
• Trevor Stokes has joined British private equity firm Sovereign Capital as an investment executive. He previously was a vice president with Global Leisure Partners. www.sovereigncapital.co.uk
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