2019 was the year that brought us WeWork’s disastrous IPO effort, which ended not with a blockbuster debut, but with a hefty bailout from SoftBank, its top investor. The rescue valued WeWork at $8 billion, a stunning fall from its peak at $47 billion.
The WeWork saga was a kind of reckoning for tech valuations in private markets. But that doesn’t mean venture capitalists are shying away from big deals, according to a recent outlook from analysts at PitchBook.
The research firm thinks mega-deal activity will reach a new record in 2020, when startups are expected to notch more VC-backed investments of over $100 million than ever before. This year saw an all-time high of 222 mega-deals in the United States.
Depending on the industry, “as long as the company has a plausible story for a clear path to profitability, investors are going to fund it,” Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida who specializes in valuations and IPOs, told me.
The WeWork effect: The big takeaway from WeWork’s botched IPO, in his view, is that a focus on growth at all costs has given way to a greater emphasis on how startups can starting making money. The humbling of SoftBank, which paired its huge financial clout with a focus on rapid expansion, certainly helps, in his view.
But venture capital firms still have a lot of money to plow into major deals. PitchBook notes that returns and cash flow to VC investors have been “especially positive” in the past two years amid a healthy environment for IPOs and buyouts. And more nontraditional investors — say, asset manager T. Rowe Price or the Qatar Investment Authority — have been more likely to get in on the venture capital action.
The takeaway: In a low-interest rate world, investors are searching for higher returns. That provides more support for venture capital, not less.
Bonus stat: Since 2018, most tech companies have reached unicorn ($1 billion valuation) status before their public debuts, according to CB Insights. The median amount of funding raised by tech startups before their IPOs continues to rise.