I read Bill Gurley’s article on “What is really happening to the Venture Capital Industry” and submitted my reply. While his article provides a decent explanation of the mechanics of Venture Capital (VC) today, especially for entrepreneurs who want to get to know the workings of VC better, it (again) offers no clues as to how it should work. Those of us working in the venture sector know how LP allocations work, the important question is (just like with innovation): what should a brighter future look like. And Bill’s article falls very short on that.
VC is not an industry
Far from merely an excusable slip of the pen, the self-serving pronouncement in the title of Bill’s article is indicative of how many Venture Capitalists see themselves; as the center of the universe of innovation. A ballsy statement for VCs to make considering that they hold no assets (I’ll explain). Some of them go even further by correlating their, should I repeat dismal performance to the capacity of disruptive innovation and even the lack of great entrepreneurs.
It is true that VC should be the most effective way to get early stage innovation out of the gate. The reality is that in many cases VC is not, and has not proven to deliver the promised value. Some describe the VC sector as broken, others blame it on mechanics, or a too large VC pool, or mega funds, or a sudden lack of exits, or the economy, or anything else they can hang their hat on – with the media having a field day delving into the pros and cons of every argument.
And with money to distribute, the articles from VCs – who created the problem in the first place – gain most of the popular momentum. At this point do we really believe their analysis is credible? But that is why you are now reading this blog too, so lets continue…
Innovation is a marketplace (continued)
Venture Capital is the arbitrator in the marketplace of innovation connecting the assets of Limited Partners (money) with the assets of entrepreneurs (ideas), both collectively referred to as marketplace participants (supply and demand). Simplified, the VC makes choices and investments (and yes, regulates) on behalf of the LP in return for equity in the assets of entrepreneurs (ideas and execution), of which at exit VC gets a commission (the carry and then some).
For any marketplace to thrive, the needs of supply and demand participants have to be satisfied. Only then will each participant come back for more (and tell their friends).
LPs expect the venture sector to outpace their other (often less risky) asset allocations and entrepreneurs want to change the world and get rich while doing it (in that order). LPs have not seen more than 10% IRR over the last 10 years from VCs (there are other measurements of VC failures) and smart entrepreneurs shelve their ideas because of unfavorable funding conditions and fundamental misalignment between VC and entrepreneurs (also read my blog Idiot CEOs).
The self-regulatory nature of marketplaces has started; new LPs and entrepreneurs refuse to enter and many currently active LPs and entrepreneurs will take their losses and leave. If the rules of engagement do not change, money hungry entrepreneurs who continue to submit to sub-prime VC will stay, supported by non-discretionary LPs who have the patience to wait for miracles. Unchanged, the future of disruptive innovation is bleak.
Long live the VC
But although the marketplace (in its current incarnation) may and should die, its participants never will. There will always be a need to deploy high-risk/ high-yield assets and there will always be entrepreneurs that can produce disruptive innovation. All it takes is a new marketplace in which the meritocracy of ideas from entrepreneurs is matched with discretionary support from LPs.
The matchmaker in that marketplace better be a VC who understands that simply serving one participant, while depressing the needs of the other will inevitably lead to removal of the arbitrator status in the marketplace. Only a VC with vision who understands free-market principles, and satisfies LPs and entrepreneurs simultaneously can generate the meritocracy of ideas that are priceless.
VC is here to stay, but the overinflated personalities with no authentic value-add will be kicked to the curb. For LPs and entrepreneurs it will take some time to recognize which VC is on his way out and which one is on his way in. 7-10 Year VC fund vintages with lack of transparency will do that to you.
But if you read my blogs carefully (or ask my advice) you will learn to spot them from a mile away.