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I talk a lot about getting in early. The earlier, the better (here’s why).

But it can be tricky to figure out just how much cash a brand-new business needs… let alone what it deserves.

Often, a company seeking seed funding has no assets, customers, or revenue.

Some don’t even have a prototype developed.

When a business is nothing more than two guys, a big idea, and a laptop, how do you know what you’re buying?

The fact is, nailing down an exact valuation for an early-stage startup is close to impossible.

There are dozens of accepted methods out there… none of which are perfect.

That’s why I suggest working through the three best methods, comparing their results, and landing somewhere near the average.

First, let’s go over the basics. Bear with me – I’m going to give you more information than you probably need. As you know, I like to be comprehensive in my coverage.

In practice, when you’re first starting out, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about the valuation. Most startups have already established their valuation with “lead angels” by the time they’re bringing on additional investors – and the best advice I can give you is to ride on those angels’ coattails. More on that here.

What is a valuation?

Simply put, a startup’s valuation is the amount of money it’s worth in its entirety – team members, assets, intellectual property, and all.

If you’re investing in Company X, the first step is to agree on the pre-money valuation; i.e., what the startup is worth before your investment goes in.

Say that you agree the business is worth $750,000 as is (the pre-money valuation). You’re prepared to invest another $250,000.

Here’s how that math plays out:

If you make that investment, you end up with a 25 percent stake in the company, because your investment comprises one quarter of the startup’s post-money valuation.

That’s why getting the valuation right is so important – it directly affects the amount of equity you end up with.

It’s not an exact science, so every valuation formula has its weak points.

Instead of choosing one and dealing with the consequences, you’re going to calculate three different ones – then meet somewhere in the middle.

Here are the three best ways to determine a startup’s valuation.

1) The Risk Factor Summation Method

In this method, you’ll evaluate a startup based on 12 risk factors. Less risk, more value. You will add or subtract up to $500,000 from the bottom line based on those scores.

For example, a company run by a fabulous team of entrepreneurs, all of whom have built successful businesses in the past, has very low management risk. That factor adds $500,000 to the bottom line.

On the other hand, if a startup has one major competitor who holds a portion of the market, that’s a high risk factor (but not disastrous). As such, it will detract $250,000 from the valuation.

Here’s an example:

In our example, the pre-money valuation of Company X is $1.75 million.

2) The Scorecard Method

The scorecard method also considers value in terms of risk mitigation. But this time, we’re getting a little more mathematical.

First, we’ll score each risk factor from 0 to 100. Zero indicates a terrible, crushing risk. One zero is a deal breaker, if you ask me – I don’t like to see any values under 60 or 70.

A score of 100 indicates that the startup more or less matches the norm. Qualities that give the startup an exceptional advantage may be scored above 100; 125 is a typical “bonus” score.

Here’s an example:

From here, you’ll do the math to get a multiplier value. Math below:

One you have a rough idea of what the startup would be worth, use this multiplier to adjust your estimate.

Let’s say you’ve agreed the startup is worth somewhere around $2 million.

Your multiplier (0.9925) adjusts the pre-money valuation down to 1,985,000, to account for the startups’ shortcomings in addressing the risks ahead.

3) The VC Method

In this method, we’ll work our way backwards, based on the ROI we hope to get.

For example, say that we believe Company X could be acquired for $20 million in a few years. We would like to receive a 10x return on our investment.

Here’s how that plays out:

In this case, the pre-money valuation is $1,750,000. That was easy!

Now you have 3 different valuations to work with:

The Risk Factor Summation Method: $1,750,000

The Scorecard Method: $1,985,000

The VC Method: $1,750,000

Looks like a pretty good ballpark. From here, you’ll either settle somewhere around $1.8 million, or use these figures as guidelines while you negotiate further.

There’s a little give and take here. The lower the valuation, the more equity an investment dollar will buy.

The key is to find a balance between founders, who benefit from a high valuation, and investors, who know that a lower valuation entitles them to a bigger piece of the pie.

At the end of the day, though, the business is worth what everyone agrees it’s worth.

So do your homework. Come to the negotiating table prepared.

But always stay flexible. After all, this is just as much an art as it is a science.

Until next time,

Neil Patel


28 responses to “How to Know What a Startup is Worth”

  1. Finally something that is of some value to me, a small investor The only problem with your formulas is that you are talking about investing thousands of dollars and I am still at less than that by a long ways.
    But it was nice to have an offer of anything from you without me having to buy a platinum something. I got in for a few bucks and thought you were going to give some good deals each month for the initial cost.

  2. I agree with the majority we don’t want to pay more for upgrades to get more deals…we just want deals for what we have already paid for! We all love your help and are ready to invest!

  3. I appreciate the lesson and all the information you share with us. It’s another step to making better decisions in the future, and being better prepared for the process to continue.

  4. Thank You for the information and examples; they are valuable tools for learning how to make good/better decisions!

  5. I agree with the others .I thought as a founder I would get deals but now I keep. Getting emails to pay Large amounts for deal. Flow etc…I like what Neil has to say but I am not able to invest thousands on risky deals.

  6. Well now I can understand Shark Tank. I have never invested and thank you for the excellent and easy to understand material.

  7. I am getting it a little at a time. As an investor I feel like I should be doing more than reading e-mails about great upcoming deals any day. I need a course type class or
    Investors for Dummies book. You did help me tonight though. I’m going to do some more reading.
    Thank you.

  8. Thank you for the information Mr. Patel. I especially enjoy the deals and videos that you and the other entrepreneurs take out time to prepare for us.

  9. Thank you for this information. It gave me a better understanding on how start ups came up with the valuation of the company. It is helpful in making a better decision.

  10. Thank you Neil for an email that isn’t another sales pitch. I too am feeling frustrated that the info I am trying to access always seems to be the next level I need to purchase. My investment dollars are limited and at this rate by the time I have the info I am looking for I will be out of money to invest.

  11. OK! Neil Thank you for the information, but guys I think we might need more insight into this valuation methods. Ordinarily without these valuation methods, If I need to value a company (pre valuation) I would have thought adding up a list of its specific asset and liability would do the job. I’m not so convinced most of this method of valuation is applicable to all startup in any part of the globe and this is due to the fact that it seems to me as though most of the values are assumed.
    For instance: the risk factor summation method; how did this method come about an adjustment amount of $500,000 or $ 250,000?, what if I want to use this method for a startup in Africa whose valuation is not even up to $200,000? In addition, how do you conclude what risk level is low, high or normal especially for factors such as regulatory risk, manufacturing risk, market/sale risk etc.?

  12. I hope you know that I am new and depending on hearing you recommending the company. Even if you are not allowed to give Investment advice, I am looking for some kind of a sign. Because I get into trouble picking by myself. That is when I get into trouble. Like Tom Gentile says we pick out the winners from the dogs.

    • This is a great valuable piece of information thanks so much. Oh by the way I had a great friend named Patel He’s dead and gone now I miss him we had a lot of fun together

  13. This is a great valuable piece of information thanks so much. Oh by the way I had a great friend named Patel He’s dead and gone now I miss him we had a lot of fun together

  14. That is, at best, a first step. I would still add a more detailed cash flow analysis, with written assumptions and sensitivity analysis, for up to six years and use both a sixth year industry cash flow multiplier and a venture capital discount rate, based on both the kind of capital and the result of the sensitivity analysis, to bring it all back to a net present value. What is often overlooked is the kind of capital raised, which could range from common equity with the founder to various kinds of preferred, subordinated, or contingent offerings, which could elevate your investment or make it practically valueless, all depending on the fine print terms. In short, there is nothing like negotiating directly with the founder. Everything else is open to extreme manipulation.

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