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Valuations for venture-backed companies at record highs

Valuations for U.S. venture-backed companies are at record highs, per data released this morning by PitchBook.

Between the lines: It's the new normal, in which nontraditional investors are traditional, unicorns are pigeons and startups are in the driver's seat.

Inside the numbers: Valuation creep can be seen across all stages of the VC ecosystem, from seed to pre-IPO. It's also showing up in both the medians and averages, and also across quartiles, reflecting how this isn't just a few big deals skewing the data.

  • Early-stage valuations hit all-time records in Q2 2021 of $50 million (median) and $105.4 million (average).
  • Late-stage valuations also hit new highs, with the trendline suggesting that average late-stage valuations could top $1 billion by year-end.
  • Value hunting: Deals in the four major tech hubs of SF, NYC, LA and Boston remain more expensive than deals elsewhere in the U.S.

What's happening: Most of this is just animal spirits running rampant, with price discipline now viewed as passé. Plus a ton of crossover money seeking yield and public equity markets forcing a reverse denominator effects on LP bankrolls.

  • This often means that funds are owning smaller percentages of their portfolio companies, with average late-stage stakes falling below 20% for the first time ever.
  • It's possible that a Fed taper or federal tax increases could grow valuation growth, but neither

What to watch: Fed tapering? Congress raising taxes on the wealthy? Maybe, but we've just lived through 18 months of a global pandemic that freaked out investors for all of five minutes.

  • Until and unless the public markets repeatedly punch venture capitalists in the nose, forcing them to taste their own red ink, startup valuations will continue to rise. And there's no indication that's going to happen, after several years of feeling like it should happen.

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When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

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