On the VC Asset Class
If you look at the asset class of private equity and sub-segment that down into startups you are looking across the ecosystem and saying “Where is this performing relative to other assets in my portfolio?”.
I’ve got many options to put capital to work and as an asset class even though this one is riskier it typically performs equally or better than what others would classify as less risky. To me, it’s a combination of asset allocation performance but also when you find managers who are outperforming they are generally radically outperforming. So you tend to pile up on those and that’s fun to watch and help those managers.
On VC Asset Allocation
This for me is a community with which I’m very comfortable. So as an asset class, I walk into this with my eyes wide open and I understand the risks, metrics and value. That being said, my portfolio to some might feel over-allocated to VC. I’ve probably got around 25% allocation in this class.
But I’m not looking at the percentage. If I have a huge win in the portfolio I’m not really going to slow down my allocation to this asset class. I’m constantly looking at where my currently illiquid assets are and I have a bet that they’re going to become liquid at some point, or some portion of them will. So I’m not strict about that, to be honest.
On Evaluating New Fund Managers
How much money I put into new fund managers really depends on many factors. I usually invest anywhere between $300k – $500k the first time out, depending on the extent of the manager’s track record. This gives me a feel of what this person will be like. Over the long term, I can put in around seven figures.
In evaluating a manager in the early stage, I firstly look at their deal warehouse, if they have any. I look at what those companies look like and talk with a few founders to see what really attracted them to this particular manager. I want to see if they have access to deal-flow that I want but am currently not exposed to.
Importantly, I also look at the size of the fund they’re planning to raise and how they plan to allocate that. If a new fund manager says they’re raising a very large sum of money, that’s usually a red flag for me. To both raise and deploy large sums of capital is not a great thing for new managers. I also look at the size of the partnership, relative to the amount of capital being raised. I want to determine how many firms they can actually invest in or what they plan to invest in. Additionally, I look at how much time they’re willing to spend on each investment.
On Follow Up Investments
I have a couple of managers in the portfolio that have come back for second funds. I will say that in most cases I have re-upped with a bigger number in the second fund as generationally the funds get larger.
I will put a certain amount of capital to work in the first fund and then wait to see how that performs. And then when they’re back in the fundraising mode I assess again and ask some questions. How do they pick? What are those companies looking like right now? Have they had any exits? Have they had any follow on investments? What do those look like? What are the things that they’re doing that make them stand out amongst fund managers?
On Sector Focus
One thing I check is if we are sector-aligned. I tend to know the sectors that I’m most comfortable in and can make a reasonable assessment. I tend to stick to my knitting in the sense that I’ll invest with folks that are going to build funds in areas that I probably have a deeper level of understanding.
For example, there are some terrific pickers in the healthcare space and they’re successful as hell out there. However, because it’s not in my experience base it’s hard for me to initially judge whether they’re good or not. And so I tend to remain on the sidelines.
There are lots of LPs who come from that space who are better suited. Flip that around and say enterprise software and consumer-facing companies, I know that space quite well. I’m very comfortable there and even climate, greentech as well as fintech, I can get comfortable with. So there’s a lot of spaces I’m okay with and there are a few sectors that I know I need to probably stay away from.
On Terms and Economics
I have one other strong request that I make of all fund managers. I want to support the fund I want to be there and put a big chunk of money to work. But I also am very specific that when I make that investment, I also want co-investment rights when those opportunities present themselves.
If the fund is looking for other people to jump in and add more money to the company it’s my expectation that I’m acting more like another venture investor than an adjunct to the fund in that context. So in such situations, I want no fees or carry on those co-investments as I’m in the fund already
On Being an LP
I’m very active in the funds I’m an LP in. Again, part of my ethos is to operate in a way that not only provides capital but also my layers of experience to portfolio companies in the moments they need it. I’m always offering myself up to all the funds that I participate in as a resource and I’m extremely active in those funds.
As an LP, I want to economically grow the basket and put capital out where the entrepreneurs are, as opposed to pushing them into 5-10 economic centers. I think that model is tapped out. So as a significant backer of VC Lab, it’s important to me to back fund managers that are focused on undercapitalized and underserved markets. This is really important, however, these businesses must make economic sense. The deal still has to pencil out as that cannot be the only vector you judge.
One of our prime theses for myself and my wife is backing people from diverse backgrounds. We have a family foundation that my wife runs and we also have a for-profit entity that I run. In both of those, we look to deploy more than our fair share of capital to minorities and women investors, who themselves are investing in that sphere.
In Part 2 Court looks at the world of Venture Capital through the lens of an LP and shares his insights and advice for new fund managers.