Show Me The Money:
The Cash-Burn Rate is More Important Than Ever
Is Your Venture Capitalist-Financed Customer Able to Pay for the Credit Sale?
By Cathy Markowitz, Director
of Credit Newport Corporation and
Scott Blakeley, Blakeley & Blakeley
LLP Fall 01
Venture capitalist (VC) financed businesses, often referred
to as dot-coms, have provided new avenues for manufacturers and distribu-tors
to bring the product to market and make sales. Identifying the potential
transformation in the distri-bution chain to scores of industries,
VC's poured $100 billion into startup dot-com companies last year.
The hallmark of the VC investment in a dot-com is to invest at the
dot-com's startup, perhaps put an additional round or two of financing,
and cash out through an IPO or when the dot-com is sold.
VC's never expected profits immediately from their dot-com
investments. However, the VC's are restless with the continued downturn
with their dot-com investments. Many dot-coms have burned through operating
cash reserves, face losses and fierce competition, and tightened investment
requirements from venture capital firms, resulting in a failure to
For the vendor selling to the dot-com, the capital structure
is not like a "bricks-and-mortar" enterprise that relies
on bank financing or internal financing to operate. Banks and asset-based
lenders generally do not offer financing to the dot-com because of
its limited operating history and lack of tangible assets to secure
the financing. However, when a dot-com's funding disappears, the dot-com
often desperately searches for a buyer of the business. The insolvent
dot-com either shuts its door, finds a buyer or takes cash at any price.
Vendors go unpaid. Tired of companies burning through cash, bondholders
have recently sued to halt use of cash and liquidate assets to pay
The value of most dot-coms is intellectual property, such as customer lists,
licensed technology and engineering teams. In analyzing whether to sell the
dot-com on credit, the credit professional must use different credit criteria.
Excess cash burn rate is often the benchmark to determine whether the dot-com
has assets available to pay for the credit sale. However, given the shakeout
of dot-coms, a credit professional can no longer look to the VC to provide
an additional round of financing to pay the vendor. Indeed, VC's view the
current dot-com investment market as a "down round". This year
VC's are expected to invest half what was invested last year. This means
it is harder than ever for dot-coms to obtain additional financing, and perhaps
harder to pay the vendor.
With the source of future capital stalled, more dot-coms
are running out of cash and faced with either shutting their doors,
finding a buyer, or securing cash from a VC at an extraordinary price.
What does this mean to the credit professional?
No Assets Available For Vendors With Liquidating
A number of initially well-funded dot-coms have closed
their doors, and auditors for several well-known dot-coms have issued
warnings that the dot-com's survival is in "substantial doubt." Liquidation
is a growth industry for the dot-com, and a dot-com's liquidation yields
little for vendors. Indeed, a dot-com's market value bears little in
a liquidation. E-Toys had a market value of $10 billion and its tangible
assets have yielded cents on the dollar in the Chapter 11 liquidation.
Creditors are owed over $285 million. Pets.com had a market value of
$300 million. In an out-of-court liquidation, Pets.com assets yielded
$6 million. Northpoint Communications had a market value of $5.6 billion,
and was sold for $135 million. Webvan is a recent dot-com failure.
With over $1 billion invested in venture capital money, Webvan recently
filed Chapter 11 to liquidate its assets. Prior to its bankruptcy filing,
Rhythms, an Internet provider, was spending $1.9 million a day greater
than its revenue.
While a bricks-and-mortar company may have tangible assets
that will allow it to reorganize should it run into financial difficulty,
dot-coms do not fare well. The dot-com that cannot obtain an additional
round of financing simply disappears. While a bricks-and-mortar company
may find a buyer for its assets, a dot-com usually does not have such
an opportunity. Dot-com assets are liquidated at 30% of invoice in
Show Me The Money: Analyzing Cash-Burn Rate
A dot-com usually does not generate profits or have meaningful
tangible assets, and traditional credit scoring may not be an accurate
measure of risk of non-payment with a credit sale. With a publicly
traded dot-com, the stock market may be a method for measuring its
financial strength and ability to repay a credit sale. Given the VC's
reluctance to provide additional financing to a dot-com, the credit
professional must analyze the excess cash burn rate more closely than
ever. The cash burn rate is determined by the amount by which a dot-com's
expenses exceed its cash flow. Start-up dot-com's usually raise a year's
worth of cash to operate at a time. The adage "cash is king" seems
especially true for dot-coms, given their lack of alternatives to finance
operations. To determine how long cash may last, and the prospects
for payment on a credit sale, the credit professional may divide the
dot-com's burn rate by the amount of cash it has. If the dot-com is
publicly traded, the credit professional may look to the quarterly
burn rate. A high burn rate will result in the dot-com unable to finance
operations and repay vendors.
How does the credit professional obtain the financial
information for a burn-rate analysis?
Cathy Markowitz is the Director of Credit for Newport
Corporation, a global supplier of high precision components, instruments,
(continued from page 1) (continued on page 10) micropositioning and
measurement products and systems to the fiber optic communications,
computer periphereals, semiconductor equipment and scientific research
Recently Newport began finding customer startup companies
strapped for cash, and forced to wait months for a second round of
VC funding. Newport found VC funding dramatically changed in a year.
In addition to funding delays, customers are receiving much less VC
funding than projected and the funding is being dispersed incrementally
based on milestone accomplishments. In response to these factors and
to prevent losses, Newport has made modifications to its customer startup
LEVEL 1 (Up to $250,000)
a) Confirmation of VC investment directly with the investor
b) Bank reference where VC funding is maintained
LEVEL 2 (Over $250,000)
a) Same as above
b) Same as above
c) 35 to 50% deposit and a security agreement
Both versions of this matrix were reviewed by sales and
finance before implementation to ensure a fit with customers and to
minimize risk. Some customers are reluctant to sign a security agreement
or perhaps their VC's prefer that they don't, so Newport is creative
with its credit options. Newport encourages startups to consider leasing,
or letters of credit, if the startup VC matrix does not suit their
With the economic downturn, there is no guarantee that
dot-com startups will survive, so Cathy also does a lot of reading
and attending seminars and venture capital forums to continually educate
herself. This is a growing market segment for Newport, so there is
a need to stay informed on credit and collections techniques as they
change. Cathy also relies on the credit network developed through years
as a credit professional and on her local NACM affiliate, CMA Business
CMA Business Credit Services helped Cathy form an educational
group devoted to this new niche market and the result is the creation
of the Southern California E-Merging Companies Education Group, which
meets quarterly. The group has defined an e-merging company as any
business not generating revenue from operations or traditional sources
but from venture capital investment or equity funding. The purpose
of the group is to share ideas and techniques through speakers and
member expertise and ideally develop new models for credit extension
to e-merging companies. There is also a Northern California chapter
of the E-Merging Companies Education Group.
High Cash Burn Rate and Zone of Insolvency Cause
Bondholders to Sue
In the telecommunications industry, cash burn rates are
especially critical. Some creditors, especially bondholders, have attempted
to restrict telecom companies from using cash out of fear that they
will go unpaid.
Creditors, with a close watch on the cash burn rate,
are acting collectively earlier out of concern that the telecom may
not pay. Bondholders have recently sued to restrict a company's use
of cash out of concern the company's cash-burn rate will render it
insolvent and unable to pay creditors. Creditors are demanding payment
prior to a default as they contend that the company's board of directors
owes a fiduciary duty to creditors when the company is insolvent or
near insolvent. Creditors are contending that cash-burn rates of many
companies are outstripping revenues and such companies should be liquidated
to satisfy creditors' claims rather than continue to operate.
Still Opportunity For Sales
With the downturn in the economy and limited VC funding,
a dot-com's cash-burn rate is key with any credit analysis. As Newport
Corporation shows, a variety of credit options allows a vendor to make
the sale and minimize risk in a down round of VC funding.
Cathy Markowitz is the Director of Credit for Newport
Corporation, located in Irvine, California. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted by permission from Trade Vendor Quarterly