There has been lots of talk lately about whether the venture capital model is “broken”. It is quite a complicated question (with no obvious answer) that I will leave to others more adept at statistical analysis than me to try and answer. I have been watching and listening though.
I was at an early stage investor’s conference in the Valley a couple weeks ago where this very question was asked to a panel of well-established, Sand Hill Road-based, VCs. These investors ran the gamut of pure early-stage $150M funds, to $1B+ plus funds who also claim they do early stage. Their answers? Well, it’s been two weeks of racking my brain and I’m still not sure that what they said makes sense.
Basically they said the model is not broken if you invest properly, and of course, they all invest properly. It must only be the guys at Sevin Rosen funds that are stupid investors I guess!
All sarcasm aside, there were a few very important issues that came up during this panel (and conference) that are worth discussing further. By far, the greatest recurring theme was CAPITAL EFFICIENCY. The tech IPO market is still on life support, and even though the M&A market is strong and providing liquidity opportunities, without a strong IPO market to goose up valuations, the average M&A valuation of less than $50M is a big problem.
Some high-level stats from the U.S. for 2006 YTD:
- $23B paid over 311 M&A deals for an average of $73M per exit, BUT the median exit is actually closer to $25M
- The median amount invested in these 311 companies - $50M
For a $250M fund, the math doesn’t work if portfolio companies continue to get funded with $50M when the exits average what they do...something has to change.
Hence, Capital Efficiency. Companies need to do more with less. Not exactly a novel idea here in
So, I see two challenges with this new-found approach to the VC market:
- While you still have less money going into companies, you still have way too many “me too” companies all chasing a limited number of exit opportunities
- The balance between “Capital Efficiency” and being “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish”.
This second point is especially important, and one that separates the successful companies (and VCs) from those that could be, but aren’t successful. The recurring argument in Canada as to why the VC community has not posted the same positive results as the US is that we don’t fund our companies to reach $1B+ in value and are happy to settle for the $50M exits – not the “go big or go home” attitude.
How to balance this with the new realities of Capital Efficiency will separate the truly successful VCs from the rest of the pack.