Chat with any venture capitalist about the current down market and their talking point is always the same — great companies get funded during downturns.
But is that really true?
It does seem odd that when the economy slows and VCs pull back on their checkbooks, they all of the sudden are able to sort the wheat from the chaff. However, the theory is that during tough times, great companies will rise to the top and investors will do more due diligence and leg work to find them.
That sounds good and makes a certain amount of sense, but does it actually play out? Did great companies get the biggest fundings when the market tanked during the global crisis of 2008-09? Or did VCs actually back their fair share of washouts just like any other time?
Running a quick search of Crunchabse’s data for the largest rounds raised by U.S.-based startups between mid-2007 and mid-2009 gives us a glimpse at all the “great” startups that got funded during the previous downturn.
The top 10 rounds from the last downturn
Here is a quick rundown of the 10 biggest rounds from that era:
Those two companies’ stories turned out about as differently as one can imagine.
Media company ZeniMax is best known as the publisher of the Fallout gaming series and many others games — and for winning a lawsuit against Oculus for copyright and trademark violations. Less than three years ago, Microsoft announced it would acquire ZeniMax and all its subsidiaries for $7.5 billion.
Nanosolar’s story turned out very different — as did the tales of most solar companies from that time (which we’ll get further into). The San Jose, California-based startup developed a low-cost printable solar cell manufacturing process. But, after the financial crisis, prices for solar panels made of crystalline silicon plummeted. By 2013, Nanosolar’s competitive advantage evaporated and it had laid off most of its workforce and was soon gone.
Austin, Texas-based HomeAway comes up next with the third-largest round during that time — a $250 million Series D. The startup was a pioneer in the vacation rental marketplace. It actually went public just after the downturn, and was later bought for $3.9 billion in cash and stock by Expedia. HomeAway also made several acquisitions, with its best known likely Vrbo.
Coming in fourth is none other than Facebook…