Over the last few months I have been spending more time talking with Venture Capital firms as we start to launch VivaKi Ventures in EMEA and I have to say it has been fascinating. On top of that I have been talking with individuals who have working in multiple start ups. If I am honest I am struck by the combination of instinct, nous, luck, crowd mentality and incredible returns and losses the VCs work off.
Information is extremely varied and disparate but overall it appears that the funds do a number of things, they are looking to make sure they have some ‘skin in the game’ in different sectors – we must be in mobile, we must be in video etc, sometimes buying into companies that from the outside appears misguided – Groupon to the punter on the street just appeared crazy but that did not stop anyone investing. Then we have this emotional crowd mentality where people in the investment community get excited and invests illogically based on sentiment, not dissimilar to the city swings we see on share prices.
In times of financial ups and downs investment firms are then trying to recoup the best returns, again, perhaps not always thinking straight in IPO situations, one of the views on Facebook was that the institutional investment firms had cash, it was making no returns through any conventional financial methods whether the stock market or banks and so the money was burning a hole in their pocket. An IPO like Facebook and others was a great opportunity to hit those return goals.
After all that there is the general rule of thumb that anywhere between 30 and 50% of companies will be complete write offs. I got thinking about that, and in discussions on that subject it struck me how blase they were about it. It is not working, cut it. You may be an owner, founder, an employee in these companies working hard and caring very much whilst backing you is a company that may one day wake up and say – lets pull the plug. It feels like that is an easy thing for them to do, when they are balancing that decision with high returns of 30x somewhere else. It is very matter of fact and shows just how hard it is to be a successful start up, especially in such difficult times.
I know for sure that there are good VC firms and less good in terms of caring for their investments but they all for sure know that they can walk away from companies easily as it is all built into the maths. Good luck to everyone who starts their own business or joins a start up. It is a brave world.