As discussed in the previous post – times are tough for VC funds – but what implications does that bring? Funds need to start lasting value creation to attract new capital! As a first step I think that VCs need to reevaluate how they select investments. So far the industry has a way too high failure quote – I even think that VCs with their general herd behavior often miss interesting opportunities. Secondly, they need to increase their target range. There are lots of successful start-ups outside of the Silicon Valley and SV like hubs that would present interesting funding targets. Thirdly, they really need to develop beyond pure capital providers. Almost all of them will tell you that they are really value add above and beyond capital – that is generally just a statement but far from reality. Increasing number of start-up accelerator programs indicates that pure venture capital financing is not successful. More skills, support and knowledge are necessary. Investing in a VC environment is incredibly hard and finding the right investment criteria and sticking with them is quite a challenge. This is nicely described in Paul Graham’s “Black Swan Farming” article. Source: http://paulgraham.com/swan.html
Small is beautiful
VC firms should also stop raising larger and larger funds. Even if they successfully invested their smaller funds it does not meet that they should now double or triple their fund size. In several articles and also in the conclusion of the Kauffman Foundation report the authors argue that only smaller VC funds are able to provide decent returns. In addition, they focus a lot on the compensation structure and clearly show that having a significant amount of “skin in the game” is necessary to get solid returns from a VC management team.
„The incentive for small funds is aligned with investors and more achievable. A $100 million fund could buy 20% of 25 startups and handily outperform the public markets by building four to five companies into $400 million exit values, or a broader set of successes across the most typical venture exit values of $50 million – $500 million. Annual fees keep the lights on in the meantime, while the potential profit share from generating 300400% gains provides the prime incentive.“
Compensation for the industry should also be changed. Funds will have to proof that their management team is not only investment savvy but also resourceful and has significant skin in the game.
While we agree on Kauffman’s recommendation on looking beyond large funds, a deeper analysis suggests the need to look at the risks and returns in the fund structure — the profit share of each partner, the spread of capital committed per partner, and so on — and remove the reliance on a heroic grand slam as the only, yet unlikely, path to outsized results. Other qualitative factors include structurally leveraging all partners’ expertise across the portfolio, and garnering meaningful returns from more than just a few deals. These are among the many critical and structural advantages of the smaller venture fund.
If these challenges are met successfully VCs will continue to play a significant role for start-ups – if not it looks like the industry’s funding sources will dry up and soon start-ups will have to look for funding elsewhere.