Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Venture Capital Market

There's a wonderful blog conversation ongoing between Paul Kedrosky and Fred Wilson on the optimal number of venture capital firms. To summarize, both advocate for a reduction in amount of capital and number of VC firms participating in the market.

Check out Kedrosky's post from this week - Fred Wilson and the Venture Capital (Non-)Cartel and Wilson's - The Venture Diet is Working.

I look at it from a market standpoint, driven by supply and demand. But like a good economic analyst, I've got more than two hands...

1. Good firms will survive and poor ones will exit. The challenge though is the slow speed of entry and exit in the VC market. Firms can take years to raise capital from investors, then need time to evaluate eventual investments, then ride them through to exit. Unsuccessful firms that enter the market take years to display their incompetence, so the market is stuck in the intermediate term with an over supply of VC firms and capital. Overall, you'd think that's a good thing for entrepreneurs - more investment money chasing fewer projects. But, VCs are not a commodity product - each have their advantages and strengths that abet entrepreneurs in their drive to successful exit. This means that entrepreneurs need to examine their options more closely - more money and more favorable terms doesn't always mean the best deal.

2. Maybe the challenge is not an over-supply of VC firms, but a dearth of investment targets. Are we out of good ideas? I'd say no way this is the case. There are always plenty of good ideas in today's global marketplace, with that number rising exponentially as countries like India and China gain increased access to technology and build a economic infrastructure that supports the development of new technologies to replace the old.

3. Market inefficiency could be an explanation - there isn't enough communication between aspiring entrepreneurs and VCs. I don't think this is the case either - VCs get hundreds of business plans submitted every week and "investable"start-ups only going to develop in markets with access to communication nodes and infrastructure that provides clear awareness and access to the existing VC firms.

4. Or maybe it's that the venture capital model is no longer relevant for a majority of emerging companies. Back in December 2008, I wrote that venture capital is moving "up the ladder." As deal size requirements get bigger and bigger, that means that the exit opportunities must be bigger and bigger. There's limited room for the mega-exits, so that means that more and more start-ups are seeking smaller investment amounts funded by angel investors, leaving the formal venture capital firms with fewer investment opportunities. Bigger exit requirements also mean smaller rewards for company founders and early-stage team members that accept venture capital. That makes the whole idea of funding with VC less attractive. Altos Research is bootstrapped, profitable, and quickly growing (gasp!). Our company founders never wanted to use VC as a vehicle for precisely this reason (and others...).

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