Next Things First

Running on Empty by Rob Coppedge

The snow storm that has left Seattle immobilized (the schools were closed a day *before* the storm, just for good measure) has created the perfect  cold, wintry environment to read the just released National Venture Capital Association survey.  It confirms the icy predictions we’ve been making over the past month – things do not look good for start ups and early stage companies in 2009. In fact, for those that will need the capital markets, things look quite bad.

Respected Seattle business journalist John Cook comments on the NVCA report:

I’ve been informally conducting my own survey of VCs, lawyers and entrepreneurs around town.  The message I am hearing is not pretty, with one VC saying that nearly everyone is hunkered down. Long-time tech entrepreneurs such as The Cobalt Group’s John Holt and Jobster’s Jeff Seely have told me recently that it is about the worst economic environment they have seen.

The general feeling is that the capital markets may be shut for another 12 to 18 months, meaning that startup companies will have to learn to exist on the fumes of their previous venture rounds or get to profitability sooner than anticipated.

Running on fumes… Wow. I made the mistake of using that line with several start up CEOs recently and they almost took my head off. “What do you think we’ve been doing?” “We don’t have any fumes left… we ran out in the third quarter”.

A 70s Flashback for Start Ups

Running on Empty: A 70s Flashback for Start Ups

Without access to capital many of these early stage companies won’t make it to the next gas pump. Unfortunately, with news like this NVCA survey and  Coller’s Global LP Barometer, it doesn’t sound like the capital markets are going to show any sympathy.

Sure, there may be bigger problems out there.  But when billions of dollars are spent to bail out industries that  need to shed jobs, it is troubling to see the innovation and job creation engine of our economy seriously threatened by a lack of relatively small amounts of capital (mere rounding errors to the Treasury’s bailout accountants).

Posted by RobC

The (Even Longer?) Long Cold Winter by Rob Coppedge
another kind of long cold winter

another kind of long cold winter

Consistent with what we’ve been predicting offline, the WSJ reports that a critical number of institutional investors are reporting their private equity allocations to finally be met or exceeded. The article references Coller Capital’s periodic (and always interesting) Global Private Equity Barometer:

One of the big drivers of private-equity investment seems to be running out of steam, as research shows two-thirds of investors expect to reach or exceed their target private-equity allocations by the end of next year.

A survey of 107 investors by Coller Capital, a so-called secondaries firm that buys stakes in private-equity funds from investors, found 66% of investors expected to reach their target private equity allocations. The total included the fifth of respondents who expected to exceed their target allocations.

In their report, Coller goes on to say that institutional interest in private equity hasn’t decreased — just their ability to play:

The problem for investors is not appetite, but stretched allocations and a shortage of cash.

Portfolio management is predicated on ratios — and since the public equity market has tanked, the private equity allocation has grown larger as a percentage of the pie. What this doesn’t take into account is that the private equity valuations often trail the public markets (and significantly — by definition and design, they do not have the volatility of publicly traded, highly liquid securities).

So, for venture capitalists looking to go back to market for new funds and early stage companies looking to raise new capital, this news might add a few months to their long cold winter. We don’t know exactly how this will play out, but the net effect doesn’t look promising:

  1. It will (at best) not be a good year to raise a new institutional venture fund;
  2. Because of the uncertainty of the markets, compounded by the lack of new capital coming in (see #1), existing VCs are going to be extremely hesitant to place new capital; and
  3. So … start-ups are going to have a really really hard time getting capital, growing and perhaps even surviving.

Time to invest in a nice warm coat, gloves and hat … ?

Related posts: A Cold Winter for Start Ups / More on the Cold Winter … From an Entrepreneur’s Perspective

Posted by RobC