Micro-VC pioneer SoftTech VC announces $85M fourth fund, points to changing market conditions for increasing size

By Michael Carney , written on June 27, 2014

From The News Desk

SoftTech VC has raised a new $85 million early stage fund, founding partner Jeff Clavier just announced from stage at the PreMoney conference. The firm’s fourth fund is its largest ever by 50 percent, a fact that’s as reflective of changing market conditions as they are of LP’s interest in backing Clavier and his partners.

The average size of both Seed and Series A rounds have increased significantly since Clavier raised SoftTech III ($55 million in 2010), he tells me, meaning the firm needs more dry powder if it wants to keep up. Whereas a firm would typically write a $300,000 to $500,000 check to lead a Seed round, today that number is in the $500,000 to $1 million range. The result of this shift is that if the firm wants to make a particular number of investments in each fund – SoftTech is targeting 50 deals – and obtain a target ownership percentage – 7 to 10 percent – while setting aside for follow on investment – Clavier has earmarked $50 million of the $85 million total – it needs more cash. The math doesn’t lie.

SoftTech could have raised a larger fund, Clavier believes, but deliberately remained sub-$100 based on the investment types it wants to pursue.

“Once you have a $150 or $200 million fund, you can no longer target 7 to 10 percent ownership in each company – there aren’t enough big outcomes out there to make the math work,” he says. “And then, if you need 20 percent, you start becoming the sharp elbows guy – we like to syndicate. We think $85 million is the optimal sized fund for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

At the risk of diverting a bit too far into the weeds, I found it interesting just how transparent Clavier is about his LP makeup. Fund IV was made up of institutional LPs, family offices, and individual investors, including anchor LPs Michael Kim at Cendana Capital and James “Trey” Hart at Northern Trust – who represents a syndicate of 20 institutions and 40 individuals. Apparently, that’s how the seed fund sausage is made.

Despite the firm’s name, SoftTech is not a software only firm. In fact, connected hardware is one of Clavier’s four focus areas, as illustrated by prior investments in Fitbit, August (smart locks), and, most recently, Coin. Fund IV will be no different. In addition, he will also look to invest in the SaaS, consumer services, and marketplace sectors. Outside of these areas, the firm is also exploring what it describes as “new wedges” in areas such as digital health, ed-tech, and new platforms (drones, blockchain, and virtual reality).

In prior funds, SoftTech has invested in Mint (Intuit) WildFire (Google), Bleacher Report (Turner), Gnip (Twitter), Brightroll, Eventbrite, ZEFR, Poshmark, Postmates, and others. Since completing its first close in Q4 2013, SoftTech IV has already invested into DocSend, Panorama Education, Halo Neuroscience, Niche, Soldsie, and Sapho.

It’s not just the size of early stage deals that have changed in recent years, Clavier tells me. The challenge of raising follow-on funding has also increased, with more seed-funded companies chasing the same or fewer Series A, B, and C dollars – the infamous Series A crunch. It’s not only an issue confounding entrepreneurs, but one that early stage investors need to be mindful of as well.

“When we evaluate deals, we need to think not only are these great founders, building an awesome product, in a large market, but also, what’s the fundability of the company going forward – what milestones do they need to hit in the next 12 to 18 months to raise that next round and do we believe they can get there?,” Clavier tells me. “Venture capital in French literally translates into ‘risk capital,’ but VCs today are looking for more data than ever before.”

SoftTech recently relocated its headquarters to San Francisco, maintaining only a satellite office in Palo Alto. Clavier isn’t alone in this trend either, as Silicon Valley’s center of gravity has been slowly shifting north for years.

In the last two years, only two of the firm’s deals have been south of SFO, Clavier says. SoftTech isn’t a Northern California only firm, however, it’s weighted heavily that way. Historically 80 percent of its deals have come in the region, with 10 percent being located in the Northeast (New York, Boston, Philadelphia) and the remaining 10 percent spread across Southern California, Boulder, and Canada.

Clavier who started investing in 2004, is one of the original “super angels,” and later, with the raise of SoftTech’s first institutional fund in 2007 again led the trend toward “micro VC.” In 2010, with the launch of SoftTech III, he expanded his team to include partner Charles Hudson and principal Stephanie Palmeri.

Given his years of leadership, it’s telling to consider how he views the changing market today and the ways in which SoftTech has had to shift its strategy as a result. As Clavier points out, deal sizes and valuations are in fact growing and the Series A Crucnch is very real. It’s not just entrepreneurs who need to navigate this changing landscape, but investors too. Clavier has long been one of the best. Those following in his footsteps would be wise to note the course that SoftTech has charted.

[image via LeWeb on flickr]