Why a Stripe down round would be a ‘good lesson’ for startups, according to one VC

January 31, 2023, 7:18 PM UTC
Updated January 31, 2023, 9:19 PM UTC
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison being interviewed
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison is interviewed at the WIRED25 Summit in San Francisco in 2019.
Matt Winkelmeyer—Getty Images

Payments titan Stripe is a highly watched—and highly revered—company in the venture community. And although the payments provider is reportedly in talks to raise new funding at a steep discount from its last valuation, some VCs see a potential down round as a positive example for companies in the tumultuous market.

Stripe is reportedly in talks to raise up to $3 billion at a valuation between $55 billion to $60 billion—which, although a hefty price tag in the current environment, would be a huge discount from the firm’s last valuation of $95 billion in early 2021. The company told employees late last week that it would either go public or make a deal to allow employees to sell stock within the next 12 months (reports on Monday suggest the potential fundraise does not completely rule out going public). Stripe declined to comment to Fortune. The Wall Street Journal first reported the company was pursuing a raise at up to a $60 billion valuation. Importantly, Stripe is already being valued at around $60 billion via a 409a valuation, as the company internally cut its valuation.

But according to Brian Ascher, a partner at VC firm Venrock, a possible down round could be “healthy, and a good sign, and a good lesson” for companies, which is, “Hey, those valuations from 2021 weren’t real, or at least…you’re not worth that today,” he told Fortune. “Being willing to take money at lower prices is just reality, and there should be a strong preference to take a clean deal at a lower price than increase your own risk by doing unnatural acts to maintain your valuation by having all sorts of structure and terms around you that tend to bite you at the exact wrong time when things go bad.”

Stripe’s potential fundraise is reportedly expected to be used to cover the tax bill tied to some longtime employees’ stock grants expiring in the next year, instead of to fund the company’s operations. A person familiar with the matter told Fortune late last week that if Stripe did a private market transaction, it would most likely be raising capital from VCs plus a tender offer (which allows insiders to sell shares), and that a private raise would be in lieu of going public. Joshua Kushner’s Thrive Capital is leading the potential new round, per the New York Times, contributing $1 billion.

If Stripe does raise at a roughly $60 billion valuation, that drop is “a lot less than most public tech companies over this past year, so nothing at all to freak out about,” Venrock’s Ascher added. He notes that “using the money to give employees liquidity seems like a good thing for the employees, and it will keep Stripe’s cap table from getting too long [versus] if these employee shares were instead to trade on secondary markets bought by dozens or hundreds of random buyers.”

Although the company reportedly does not need to raise capital, its revenue growth has reportedly seen a big drop while the company was unprofitable in 2022. However, if Stripe were to use a new fundraise only to cover the cost of tax liabilities, instead of to fund operations or expansion, for example, VCs like Ascher don’t think it’s anything to worry about from an investor perspective. He notes these investors will have seen Stripe’s financial performance and believe Stripe can execute its plans without additional cash, but that, on the contrary, an “untimely” large tax bill would be hard to cover without disrupting operations.

Meanwhile the climate for fintech startups—whether or not they’re as highly regarded and valued as Stripe—has changed dramatically since many of these companies, including Stripe, last raised cash.

Sarah Hinkfuss, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, noted that “overall, what you’re expecting in terms of growth in global GDP and payments growth for Stripe has come down—their projections have come down and that’s also [true] for the earnings expectations for publicly traded companies in fintech and everywhere.”

In other words, for down rounds “in this day and age, it’s more mathematical and less emotional.”

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