How Startup Valuation Works

Last Updated on May 19, 2023

Startup Valuation

Any company’s startup valuation is never simple. Assigning a valuation to startups with little to no revenue or earnings and uncertain futures is a difficult task. It usually involves valuing established, publicly traded companies with consistent revenues and profits as a multiple of their earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) or based on other industry-specific multiples. However, it is much more difficult to assess a startup that is not yet publicly traded and may be years away from making any money.

It is common knowledge that raising capital is an essential component of any startup’s journey. In order to build a successful company, businesses must go through various rounds of capital raising, including pre-seed, seed, and series rounds. The time of raising money and the precise quantity one wishes to raise are crucial when it comes to the seed stage.

Timing is important because if founders and companies take too long, they may confront greater market rivalry; conversely, if they arrive too early, they run the risk of being irrelevant in the market. Therefore, a startup’s product must be ready for market launch by the time it receives seed capital.

However, the biggest issue occurs when a business is forced to turn to external sources like micro VCs, angel investor groups, and incubators since it is unable to pool cash from the founder’s resources or internal sources. Startups must determine the necessary seed amount before approaching any of the external sources indicated above. At this point, valuation enters the scene. So let’s go into more detail about this procedure.

What Is Startup Valuation?

Startup valuation is, to put it simply, the process of determining a company’s valuation, or how much it is worth. An investor invests money in a firm at the seed fundraising round in exchange for a portion of the company’s stock. This is why valuation is crucial for business owners since it helps them decide how much ownership to provide a seed investor in return for money.

For an investor, it is also very important since they need to know how many shares of the company they will get in exchange for the seed money they invested. Therefore, startup valuation can essentially make or break a deal, which is why it should not include any guesswork based on the valuation of other comparable firms.

In addition, entrepreneurs must have a thorough understanding of how the startup valuation process operates before moving forward with determining the actual value of a firm. Even without any revenue production, startups should quote an excessively high valuation to seed investors. If they fail to achieve the lofty expectations, they may have to raise money at a reduced valuation in the following round.

Long-term effects could be detrimental, and the firm or entrepreneur might find it challenging to secure seed capital from other businesses or investors. Quote too high, on the other hand, and the firm can finish up offering investors a bigger portion of the stock, which will again be detrimental.

Read: How to Pitch Your Business to Investors Effectively

What are Startup Valuation Methods?

Financial analysts can employ a variety of startup valuation techniques. We’ll go over a few well-liked techniques for appraising companies down below. In the broadest sense, startups are fresh business initiatives that an entrepreneur launches. They typically concentrate on creating original concepts or technology and offering them to the market as fresh goods or services.

Cost-to-Duplicate Approach

As the name suggests, this strategy entails estimating the price tag required to start a competing business from scratch. According to the theory, a wise investor wouldn’t spend more than it would take to duplicate anything. This method frequently examines the tangible assets to ascertain their fair market worth.

For example, the entire cost of programming time spent on building the software used by a software company could be used to estimate the cost to reproduce that firm. It can be the expenses incurred to date for R&D, patent protection, and prototype development for a high-tech startup. Since it is fairly objective, the cost-to-duplicate approach is frequently used as a starting point for valuing businesses. After all, it is founded on historically verified expense records.

Market Multiple Approach

One of the most often used techniques for valuing startups is the Market Multiple Approach. The market multiple approach functions similarly to other multiples. The company in issue is compared to recent market acquisitions of like kind, and a base multiple is established based on the worth of those recent acquisitions. The base market multiple is then used to determine the startup’s value.

Assume that companies who develop mobile application software are selling for five times sales. You might use a five-times multiple as the starting point for pricing your mobile apps business while changing the multiple up or down to account for different qualities if you know what real investors are prepared to pay for mobile software. Given that investors are taking on greater risk, if your mobile software company, for example, were at an earlier stage of development than other comparable businesses, it would probably fetch a lower multiple than five.

Read: What are the Top Funding Options for Startup Ventures?

Risk Factor Summation Approach

The Risk Factor Summation Approach assesses a company by quantitatively accounting for all business risks that may have an impact on return on investment. The risk factor summation method involves estimating the startup’s starting value using any of the other techniques covered in this article. The impact of various business risks, whether favourable or unfavourable, is considered in relation to this baseline value, and an estimate is added to or subtracted from it depending on the impact of the risk.

The total worth of the startup is calculated after accounting for all possible risks and adding the “risk factor summation” to the startup’s initial estimated value. Management risk, political risk, manufacturing risk, market competitiveness risk, investment and capital accumulation risk, technology risk, and legal environment risk are a few examples of the business risks that are considered.

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Approach

The majority of a startup’s value typically hinges on its potential for the future, particularly those that have not yet begun to produce profits. Therefore, discounted cash flow analysis is a crucial method of valuation. Using an anticipated rate of return on investment, DCF entails estimating how much cash flow the company will generate in the future and determining how much that cash flow is worth. Startups often face a higher discount rate due to the high likelihood that they won’t be able to produce stable cash flows in the future.

The problem with DCF is that its quality depends on how well the analyst can predict future market conditions and create accurate long-term growth rate assumptions. Projecting sales and profitability for more than a few years can frequently turn into a guessing game. Moreover, the estimated rate of return employed for discounting cash flows has a significant impact on the value that DCF models provide. DCF must therefore be used very carefully.

Development Stage Valuation Approach

In order to swiftly estimate a general range of company value, venture capital firms and angel investors frequently employ the development stage valuation approach. According to the venture’s stage of commercial growth, investors often set these “rule of thumb” figures. The company’s risk is lower and its value is higher the further along the development road it has advanced.

Once more, the specific value ranges depend on the company and, of course, the investor. However, it is likely that investors will give the lowest valuations to firms with little more than a business strategy. Investors will be willing to place a higher value as the company meets development milestones.

A common strategy used by private equity firms is to increase capital after the company hits a specific milestone. For instance, the initial round of funding could be used to pay personnel to work on product development. A further round of funding is given to mass-produce and promote the idea after it has been shown to be a success.


A company’s exact value is very difficult to ascertain in its early stages because it is still unclear whether it will succeed or fail. The valuation of startups is said to be more of an art than a science. That holds a lot of truth. The methods we’ve seen, however, contribute to a slight increase in the art’s scientific rigour.

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