Update: To those of you still confused, this was in fact an April Fools joke.
In a move reminiscent of AngelGate, Silicon Valley’s top angel investors are banding together to counter what they’re considering an existential threat. That threat? Start Fund, a new investment entity created by DST’s Yuri Milner and Ron Conway’s SV Angel. Start Fund shocked Silicon Valley in January when they announced that they’d offer every new Y Combinator startup $150,000, site unseen and without any due diligence.
Angel investors panicked, realizing that Start Fund would likely result in soaring valuations. Y Combinator startups were no longer cash strapped, and negotiating leverage moved dramatically in their favor. “Start Fund was created to take traditional angel investors out at the knees,” said one such investor. “It’s highly irresponsible to invest in companies you’ve never met, and there will be unintended consequences that could hurt Silicon Valley over the long run.”
Top angel investors were already meeting regularly to align investment strategies to keep startup valuations down. The collusion involved an unspoken agreement (known as the “$4 million line“) not to compete for deals but rather to let one angel lead a deal and set valuation and then that angel would let the others invest alongside them.
“That was a superior strategy and we were successfully keeping startup valuations at reasonable levels,” said investor Josh Felser at the time adding that “nothing we did was illegal because it wasn’t in writing.”
But Start Fund changed the rules so much that in the last couple of months, say investors I’ve spoken with, the valuations of startups taking investment has increased dramatically. “Start Fund is the single biggest threat to our existence, and we have to adapt immediately” investor Jeff Clavier said at the Web 2.0 Expo earlier this week.
Adapt they have. In a joint announcement today on Angellist, top angel funds First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, FLOODGATE, SoftTech VC, 500 Startups, and Freestyle Capital, and nearly fifty individual angel investors, annouced End Fund, which plans to invest $1 million in 100 new startups immediately. Like Start Fund, entrepreneurs do not need to pitch their business idea or have any products built or even designed. “We’re investing in people, not ideas,” says First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman in the release.
Dave McClure, principal at participating fund 500 Startups, will lead End Fund as the fund’s only general partner. McClure was chosen, say insiders, based on his ability to make quick investment decisions based on little or no information at all. Last year, for example, McClure invested in a startup who gave him a ride to a meeting. “You did this without any due diligence or research into the company?” I asked him at the time. His answer – “Yes, but I had a referral from someone.”
“This is a blanket $1 million investment offer to virtually any new technology startup,” says McClure. Like Start Fund, the money is offered as a convertible note with very few conditions. Startups must fill out a web form containing five basic questions about their startup, including a one word description of the business, and agree never to take an investment from Start Fund. The first 100 startups to complete the web form and agree to the basic terms will be given the $1 million via a wire transfer.
There is some fine print beyond the initial requirements. Applying entrepreneurs must also have their own computers, internet access and an email account. And the company’s next round of financing cannot be closed at a pre-money valuation of more than $4 million, and the company is only permitted to raise equity in the future from the funds and individual angel investors involved with End Fund.
“Unlike Start Fund, which limits its investments to Y Combinator companies, End Fund will invest in any startup at all, with virtually no questions asked and on a first come, first served basis.” The group says that this will reduce risk considerably because of the deeper pool of talent they have to tap v. Start Fund. And the fact that only the first 100 startups to apply will get the funding means that the fund will automatically be structured to favor entrepreneurs who can make decisions and then execute very, very quickly.
“We are at a unique point in history, where any two people can create a new startup and have a nearly certain chance of at least modest success,” says McClure. “Even if the product fails completely, Google and Facebook will compete to acquire the team and investors will at least get their money back.”
Milner and the SV Angel team could not be reached for comment