venture capital

Technology: It’s Over…

In an “Entrepreneurial Thought Leader” lecture given at Stanford University earlier this year, Tom Siebel argues that all of the great technological advances and development of great companies are behind us – and the growth rate for the tech sector is just on par with the rate of current economic growth.

The previous sentence introduces a segment of the February 2009 Stanford lecture, see here for the event’s full video.

It’s not the first time some killjoy predicts the end of tech fun: in 1899, a Charles H. Duell, none less than the Commissioner of the US Patent and Trademark Office, the USPTO reportedly said: “Everything that can be invented has been invented”.
There is a distinct possibility the infamous quote is nothing but an urban legend but, time and again, some sage comes to a forum and tells us the great times are behind us, the tech industry has now entered a grey era of incrementalism.
I’ve personally heard it a few times. In the early 1970s, at Hewlett-Packard where Bill Hewlett told such skeptics where to file their predictions away. In 1985, when I moved to Silicon Valley to take over Apple’s Product Development. I was told Silicon Valley was doomed, it was becoming a ghost town as unheard of layoffs were taking place. In the early 90’s, when the first Gulf War and a bad economy emptied shopping centers and restaurants.
Soon thereafter, the Internet came out of the research lab closet, the browser was invented and yet another wave of innovation came about.
As for Tom Siebel, his background makes the gloomy prediction more puzzling: he’s not part of the kommentariat, he is an industry mensch, the inventor of CRM, rising to the industry’s firmament and later selling Siebel Systems to Oracle for $5.8 billion. Perhaps he was merely trying to arouse his audience and start a reaction.

Still, is he right? Have we entered an era where all of the great technological advances and development of great companies are behind us – and where the growth rate for the tech sector is just on par with the rate of current economic growth?

Absolutely not. More

The VC Money Pump: NAV

The acronym stands for Net Asset Values. Be forewarned: this is the more boring installment in the VC Money Pump series of columns (see part 1 and part 2 ). Worse than spreadsheets and compound interest calculations, today’s topic forces us to deal with FASB (Federal Accounting Standard Board) regulations. Expensive futility as far as we are concerned.

For perspective, let’s go back to the previous crisis: the Internet Bubble. Fortunes were lost when Cisco’s stock went down by 90% — with the entire high-tech sector. But new fortunes were about to be made.
First, there were the political fortunes of posturing solons. Seeing the damage done by accounting fraud at Enron and WorldCom, canny politicians seized the opportunity to harness the public’s ire to their career’s progress. Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley begat what we now call Sarbox (the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002), a new set of much stricter accounting rules. To the angry investing public, to the recently fired as a result of the downturn the senators’ message was clear: We’re here for you, we’ll throw the Armani-suited thieves in jail and we’re putting in place the safeguards needed to avoid a repeat of such catastrophe. More

Inside a Venture Capital fund: Reserves

Last week, with Excel’s help, we looked at the “simple” computation of a VC fund’s rate of return. This week: Reserves, a most important sets of numbers.

As a rule, for every dollar initially invested in a company, we immediately set aside an additional $2 or even $3 as a reserve for future rounds, future injections of capital. Entrepreneurs often tell us they’ll only need one round, this round of financing before reaching the cash-flow positive nirvana. I know, when an entrepreneur, I did it (to) myself, several times… We don’t argue, we smile, nod and enter the appropriate reserve amount in a spreadsheet.
Next, we try to forecast the additional rounds: one round in 15 months, perhaps, and another one 18 months later.
As we do this for every company in our portfolio, the spreadsheet tells us how much capital we’ve invested so far and, as companies develop and need more capital, how much will be required and when.

Then, the hard work starts. More

The Venture Capital Money Pump

This week, I intend to take you through the pipes of a VC fund’s “money pump”. It starts with dollars coming in from our investors, our Limited Partners, LP, to be invested in entrepreneurs’ big ideas. Later, sometimes much later, money comes back to be shared between the LP and us, the General Partners, the GP.  And, of course, there are those cases where we loose every penny. We’ll look at how the hits and misses balance and how we (try to) keep track of the streams.

One simple and, I’ll state it outright, simplistic, misleading assumption is the set of win/lose numbers. The theory varies, you’ll see why later. For today, I’ll just say we assume a $200M fund making 20 investments averaging $10M each. Out of these 20 investments, 6 are losers; 8 fall in the “money back” category, roughly returning what we put in, maybe a little more if we had an early exit; 6 are “winners”, returning between 4.5 and 6.5 times our money.

How much money does such a fund makes? What is the rate of return, the equivalent interest rate on the money put at risk by our LP? More