Report: How Are Pre-Seed and Seed VC Firms Investing in 2024?

The venture market bottomed out from historic highs last year. Total deal volume slumped roughly 50% from 2021’s peak, exit activity hit a ten-year low, and venture fund performance dropped across the industry. These rapid changes have created a new landscape for venture capital, and it’s affected how VCs are investing.

Right Side Capital surveyed 110 Pre-Seed and Seed VCs from February 2024 to May 2024 on their investment activity and strategies in 2023 and their plans for 2024, with a focus on Pre-Seed Rounds and Seed Rounds. VCs revealed that they are optimistic about the funding landscape in 2024 and that they have high expectations for revenue levels and growth rates from portfolio companies.

Below we share what we learned.

VCs Were Active in Pre-Seed Rounds in 2023

Surveyed VCs revealed that they were fairly active in Pre-Seed investment last year. Of the VCs surveyed, 87.0% made at least one investment in round sizes of $1M to $2.5M, and 35.2% made more than five investments at this stage.

Seed Round Deal Volume Was Less Than Pre-Seed Round Deal Volume in 2023

VCs reported less deal volume in Seed Rounds in 2023 as compared to Pre-Seed Rounds during the same period. Only 12.1% of surveyed VCs made more than five investments at this stage, and 25.9% made no investments at all. The majority (62.0%) made between one and four investments at this stage.

Investment Outlook Is Optimistic in 2024

Nearly half (45.4%) of respondents plan to make five to nine new investments in 2024, which is a significant increase from 2023, and 24.1% said they planned to make 10 or more investments this year. All respondents planned to make at least one investment, which indicates a more positive outlook from 2023.

Pre-Seed Fundraising: What VCs Expect from Founders in 2024

At the Pre-Seed fundraising stage, only 46.3% of surveyed VCs will invest in a pre-revenue startup, 27.4% will invest in a startup with sub-$150K annual recurring revenue (ARR), and 14.7% require $150K – $499K in ARR. For some surveyed VCs, revenue expectations can be even higher: 11.7% said they required startups to have $500K or more in ARR.

Growth expectations are high for Pre-Seed Rounds, with 34.8% of surveyed VCs expecting startups to double year over year at this stage, and 37% expecting startups to triple year over year.

Seed Fundraising: What VCs Expect from Founders in 2024

Expectations vary a lot for startups raising their seed rounds. At this stage, 17% of surveyed VCs will invest at pre-revenue, but 24% want to see ARR of $1M or more. That’s a big change from four years ago, when $1M or more in ARR was the criteria for Series A funding.

Surveyed VCs expect aggressive growth at this stage, with 47% investing in startups that are doubling year over year and 34% investing in startups that are tripling year over year. 

Most VCs Recommend 6-12 Months of Runway

The majority (53.7%) of surveyed VCs advise their portfolio companies to maintain six to twelve months of runway before raising their next round. Only 29.6% of VCs advise startups to have over 18 months of runway.

Capital Efficiency Is More Important Than Ever

VCs reported that, in this leaner landscape, they are placing a greater emphasis on capital efficiency for portfolio companies. For 81.5% of respondents, capital efficiency is more important than ever before. The survey included an option for respondents to indicate that capital efficiency was unimportant, but not a single respondent selected it.

Roughly One Third of VCs Have Changed Their Investment Thesis

We asked respondents to write in answers about how their firm’s investment thesis has changed in 2024. Below we break down the results of those write-in answers.

Summary of Investment Thesis Changes in 2024

No Change (58%) The majority respondents indicated that their investment thesis has not changed significantly from 2023.

More Focus on Specific Areas (15%) Some VCs have an increased focus on specific sectors such as health, cyber, AI, and cybersecurity. They’re putting a greater emphasis on software, particularly AI-powered applications, and avoiding certain sectors like consumer and hardware.

“Like everyone else, [we have] more interest in AI-powered applications.”

– Survey respondent

Adjustments in Investment Strategy (10%) Some VCs are shifting to smaller check sizes. They indicated more capital allocation for Pre-Seed and they are rightsizing investment amounts to achieve more significant ownership.

Greater Sensitivity to Valuations and Due Diligence (7%) VCs are more sensitive to valuations, ensuring companies have more runway, and conducting more thorough due diligence. They’re also focusing on financing risk, revenue, traction KPIs, and efficient use of capital.

“[We’re] thinking more about financing risk and making sure companies have more runway.”

– Survey respondent

Increased Sector Preferences and Deal Dynamics (5%) A small subset of VCs have a growing preference for companies with experienced founders, significant revenue, and efficient burn rates. They’re avoiding overinvested spaces like sales-enablement software and sectors that are seen as high risk for next-round funding.

“[We’re] rarely taking pre-product risk unless the team has prior operating experience.”

– Survey respondent

No Specific Answer or N/A (5%) Some responses were “N/A” or did not specify a change in investment thesis.

Final Conclusions from the RSCM 2024 VC Survey

The venture capital landscape in 2024 has adapted to a leaner and more cautious environment. Right Side Capital’s survey reveals a higher bar for revenue expectations and a greater emphasis on capital efficiency than in more bullish periods.

Despite the challenges of 2023, VCs are optimistic about 2024 and plan to increase new investment volume. Overall, VCs are adopting a resilient and forward-looking approach, emphasizing sustainability and capital efficiency to navigate the transformed economic landscape.

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