VCs Are Missing Out on New, Innovative Ideas. Here's Why (and What They Can Do About It). There are numerous opportunities to disrupt the market by investing in new innovative ideas while challenging the norms of technology investing.
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It has been a challenging time for technology investing. S&P and NASDAQ are down, and crypto is down considerably. S&P 500 declined by 19% earlier in the year, and NASDAQ, which is tech-heavy, has lost almost 30% of its value in the same period, with some of the biggest tech giants reporting disappointing earnings.
The crypto winter continues with Bitcoin and Ethereum prices tanking following the collapse of FTX earlier this month, with around $200 billion being wiped off the crypto market in just days. It goes without saying that on the surface, it may seem like this is not a good time for tech investing, and many investors have indeed dropped their big tech stock in favor of "old economy" stocks. Still, could this be an opportunity to invest in companies with a discount?
Tier 1 wastage
For large VC funds, investors are often looking to partner with startups that can achieve more than a $50B outcome in order to get a return of 3-5 times the fund. However, with only 48 public tech companies currently valued at more than $50B and over 1000 venture funds gunning for these few, this is a challenging situation.
Furthermore, since VCs only typically take on 20 or 30 companies per fund, they often use "pattern recognition," whereby they use experiences from the past to make more efficient decisions about current investments. However, what can happen is that their portfolio companies all look pretty similar.
This can be problematic for entrepreneurs applying for VC funding who do not fit the "tried and tested" criteria many VCs use to decide whether to invest or not. In fact, we see that the majority of U.S. venture funding goes to white, Ivy-League-type entrepreneurs. In Q3 of this year, only 0.12% of venture funding went to Black entrepreneurs.
Even if these startups have the potential to be the next biggest thing, their idea will struggle to get off the ground just because they cannot get the venture capital. Furthermore, VCs also stand to lose out, simply because they are only focusing on that small segment of startups and not on the potential of others that perhaps do not fit the bill on paper.
Opportunity for disruption in the market
However, while many VCs are focusing on targeting increasingly large outcomes, this provides an abundance of opportunities for what is left. By targeting the underfunded startups, you can invest in businesses that have an 80% chance of a $300M outcome and gradually move upmarket from there.
Not only will this provide a funding opportunity for entrepreneurs who would normally have been seen as outside the box, but it can drive innovation and new ideas. Different people can solve different problems, so it stands to reason that funding a wider spectrum of people will create new, innovative solutions — potentially serving a wider, more diverse population.
A need for a change of perspective
It is not that venture capitalists have made bad decisions or ignored critical data. They haven't, but it is rather the culmination of multiple parties making rational decisions that have resulted in systemic levels of risk.
If we look at U.S. venture performance, the majority of returns are generated by a very small subset of players, with the top 5% of funds significantly outpacing the median.
This is also the case with startups, where you will usually have just one from the VC fund's portfolio bringing in the overwhelming majority of the returns if not all. When successful, VCs can see a return of 5-10x of their money back, and founders can become billionaires.
Yet, we now find ourselves in a post-Power Law meta, which opens up an opportunity for a new perspective and to start making new rational decisions. This shift has seen a substantial increase in both the VC fund count and value in the U.S., with 2021 proving to be a record-breaking year.
Approximately $329B was invested across 17.054 deals last year, a record for both deal count and value. Investors also passed the $100B mark for the first time ever, raising $128.3B.
How should venture work?
However, although we would like to think that this influx of funding is going to the entrepreneurs who could not otherwise get funding, this is not the reality of the situation.
A funding round in a startup will usually comprise 3-5 major funds and a variety of smaller checks putting capital in. However, a recent analysis by venture fund, Social Capital, has shown that there is a significant overlap of VCs co-investing with each other.
Additionally, funds over $500M accounted for 77% of capital raised by venture funds in H1 2022, with an average fund size of $317M. The returns are predominantly concentrated on those few companies and a few key investors.
What is the solution?
Many things can go wrong with startups once they have accepted venture capital, and they are typically left with two options: to shut down or pivot. Limited partners' fund managers are generally not going to consider risky bets, opting to look for consistent winners within their allocation. Furthermore, you have to look at what would incentivize them to diversify when they have received huge returns over the past decade.
Still, this provides an opportunity for an alternative product to invest in companies with limited fund size and equity optionality through redemption clauses or equity buybacks. As a serial entrepreneur myself, I have built multiple businesses in the last few years. Some failed, and a couple of them succeeded in multi-million dollar companies with offices on a global scale.
Now as Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Venturerock The Valley, we aim to support startups from seed to scale and decrease the high failure rate for startups. We are not looking to sell products, but rather to focus on startups that create a big impact and really solve a problem using emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI and IoT. All our partners combined have accelerated more than 700 startups to date.While many still focus on the big few, they risk missing out on new innovative ideas and breakthrough technologies simply because they did not fit the mold. Even though these startups may not turn out to be the next $50B company, they can still bring great value to the table, be very successful and create a big impact. These companies deserve to be supported on their journeys and to see their visions come to fruition.