Over the last three weeks, we have discussed the various factors that drive the 25% IRR return potential of the startup and emerging company investing class.
We then reviewed the various approaches to gain exposure to this return potential: Investing directly in operating companies, doing so through a Venture Capital Fund, or “Doing as Warren Does" and utilizing “The Berkshire Approach” of investing in an operating company that in turn invests in other operating companies.
Unfortunately, all of these approaches rely on something in exceedingly short supply in today’s financial marketplace.
Now, wouldn’t it be great if investing actually worked like all of those lovely ads that mutual funds, brokerage firms, and insurance company say it does?
As in, Trust Us and we will take care of it for you.
If this were really so, it would free up so much valuable time and energy.
For family, hobbies, volunteer work, and more…knowing that one’s financial future was in someone else’s safe and capable hands.
But it just doesn’t.
A big part of the problem is that "Us" is for the most part large Wall Street banks and brokerage firms.
And if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that banks and brokerage firms are NOT places where smaller investors (and today small is anyone with less than $100 Million) should be expecting anything approaching extraordinary and high trust treatment.
Now, let me be clear: I am not a conspiracy theorist nor do I see Wall Street as at the heart of our Country's ills.
But I am someone that has looked at stock market return records of the past 15 years and sees too many people on Wall Street making a lot of money while delivering extremely average returns.
The word that best describes a state of affairs like this is institutional.
Self-preserving, bureaucratic, slow, dull.
And what it creates is a just a lot of…Blah.
Tired, mediocre ideas.
Blah Results and Blah returns.
Think of it this way: How much of a fish out of water would an innovator and a wealth creator like Steve Jobs have been on today’s Wall Street?
Yet, for the very most part, it is to this world that most of us turn to manage our money.
So when results come back that are barely average, we should not be surprised.
Now, there are alternatives.
Let us not forget that the most famous and lauded investor of them all hails from Omaha.
And more to the point, the great entrepreneurs, the builders of businesses, those that actually create wealth…
…have always percolated at the edges and NOT in financial centers.
In The Silicon Valleys and The Silicon Beaches and The Salt Lakes and The Seattles and The Austins of the World.
The challenge is to see and act upon this reality.
To not be swayed nor frightened by the financial industry’s omnipresent marketing machine.
Because just like the greatest investor of them all became famous and fabulously wealthy far from Wall Street…
…We too can earn portfolio - transforming returns by doing something not any more complicated than thinking and acting for ourselves.
And when we do, a world of opportunities open up that are anything but institutional.
To Your Success,
There were a lot of Warren Buffett "hero worship" type responses to my posts last week on "Doing As Warren Does" and applying the principles utilized to make Berkshire Hathaway the most successful investment company of all time.
And it is understandable why so many people - from very different world views and levels of financial sophistication - rightly consider Mr. Buffett to be the “Perfect Investor.”
His qualities in this regard are almost cliché - honest, humble, frugal, opportunistic in the face of adversity, and possessing of an other-worldly foresight as to where and how to find outsized returns.
But there are a couple of problems.
First, Mr. Buffett, for all of his amazing track record, is 83 years old.
And he is on record as saying that he rarely invests in technology companies as he does not feel qualified to properly diligence and understand them.
Both of which beg the question as to whether the “Buffett Way” is still the way to win in this global, technological age of ours?
And if it is not, then who will be the The 21st Century Warren Buffett?
The Perfect Investor for our era?
While the identity of this person will be almost impossible to discern before the fact, he or she will almost assuredly possess these characteristics:
They Will Love Risk. Relative to the Mid-Century America in which Warren Buffett developed his philosophy and approach, our era of global and hyper-warp speed technological change requires a much different approach to uncertainty and loss.
While Mr. Buffett was able to build an alpha-performing portfolio without significant risk-taking on any one position, the modern investor simply does not have this luxury.
Instead, they must be far more comfortable and proficient with an “Outlier” approach, where a few big wins offset middling performance - and even complete loss of principal - on the significant majority of held positions.
They Will Focus on Market Opportunities More than on Execution. While quality, determined execution will always be at the heart of successful business-building, our Modern Day Perfect Investor will recognize this as a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition for business and investment success.
Far more important will be “visionary” assessments of global markets, specifically as to which types and forms of technology will disrupt these markets over the next 5 to 10 years.
They Will Possess a “Modern” Morality. The idea that that which is moral and right needs to be updated alongside the wild, rapid, and continuous updating of our technologies is a hard one for those of a certain age and era to accept and embrace.
Yes, perhaps “prudent” and “conservative” in this Brave New World of ours are as much barriers to success as they are emblematic of it?
Maybe pomp, flash, celebrity - as opposed to being things to be frowned and looked down upon - instead are assets to be nurtured and promoted.
Maybe morphing one's business model on annual, quarterly, or even monthly basis is not a sign of scattered focus, but rather a necessary competence to survive and prosper in our modern conditions of permanent uncertainty.
It may sound and be unsettling.
But to paraphrase an old but yet very modern philosopher it is sometimes only chaos that can give birth to a dancing star.
In short, our Modern, Perfect Investor will probably not look anything like Warren Buffett.
Other than in the one quality that matters above all else…
…outsized results earned over time.
That never goes out of style.
To Your Success,
P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio? Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”
Click Here to learn more.
Many were of the genre that “…Yes these companies you describe sound amazing - awesome technologies, exciting markets, management with knock-your-socks off resumes, but when it comes to actually investing them….”
…How do I even have a chance of separating the wheat from the chaff?
The superstars from the also-rans?
Or, more to the point, the ones that will make money from the ones that won't.
This is the ultimate question, isn’t it?
First of all, we are certainly not referring to “stock picking” to beat the markets. Everyone knows that this is not possible. (And if you have even a sliver of remaining doubt on this point, read this article).
And we're not talking about high profile, private companies that have already raised tens (and sometimes hundreds) of millions of dollars and are deep in the investment news cycle.
For these companies and hundreds of others backed by venture capital firms, by the time the public knows about them, almost always the best opportunity to invest in them has long past.
And, for the most part, we are also not talking about businesses or projects competing in mature and well-covered like Real Estate.
For sure, there are lots of solid real estate investment opportunities, but as it is such an efficient and well-covered market – with tens of thousands of investors seeking projects and deals of all sizes that the likelihood of finding those that offer returns even slightly above average is pretty low.
And let’s also cut out investing in “things” like art, collectibles, and commodities. While in places interesting for sure, statistics over a long period of time show that their average investment returns is significantly less than that of an S&P index fund.
So what investors seeking alpha are left with almost exclusively is that most special segment: startups and emerging companies.
Companies almost always with these characteristics:
They are Small. As in less then $10 million in in revenues and less than 30 employees. Not hard and fast rule, but holds true 95%+ of the tie.
They have an Ambitious Leader. At the beating heart of these companies is almost always a charismatic individual that leads big and manages small.
A leader with an articulate “point of view” on where a market and an industry are heading.
And who can then translate this vision to the day-to-day small business discipline required to turn dreams and visions into objective reality and results.
They Compete in Big Markets. This one is easier than ever before. Why?
Well, with a 7 billion person strong, $84 trillion global economy, almost every business – even those in the smallest of niches - has a large global opportunity.
Of course, to profit from them opportunities requires great leadership and management (see above) but the opportunities are everywhere.
Companies with Thoughtful Revenue Models. This is where the ability of a company's leader to think and act both “big” and “small” are so critical.
Quite simply, companies that build asset and equity value for their shareholders are vigilant in ensuring that their monetization strategies are built around long-term customer retention and satisfaction, and NOT short-term gain.
Companies that are Lucky. The new and eternal mantra of our age is luck. Books like the Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and the Age of the Unthinkable profess on it.
Aspiring entrepreneurs who seek their name in lights pray to it.
And the average man unwilling to step outside of his box gets none of it.
Yes, as it has been true since Roman times in our booming deal economy for investors and entrepreneurs like Fortune does Truly Favor the Bold.
The question, of course, is will it favor you?
Remember the bull markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when everybody was making money in the stock market?
Bad News: Those days are GONE… and they’re not coming back
Click below to discover mine and Growthink’s exclusive report on WHY today’s stock market is broken -- and what you can do about it:
http://www.growthink.com/stock-market-dead <-- Click here
It’s almost hard to imagine how strong stock market returns used to be…
Just look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
• 1982: 19.61%
• 1983: 20.27%
• 1984: -3.74%
• 1985: 27.66%
• 1986: 25.58%
• 1987: 2.26%
• 1988: 11.85%
• 1989: 26.96%
The good times continued in the 1990s. On January 1, 1990, the Dow Jones was at 2,810. By December 31, 1999, it had exploded to 11,497 -- an increase of 409% in just 10 years.
But today’s stock market is BROKEN.
From 2000 to TODAY, the Dow Jones has only moved from 11,078 to 16,700 (only 40%). And INFLATION has reduced purchasing power by 37%... which means the net returns of the Dow Jones have been close to ZERO.
Download this report and discover why the stock market is broken – and what you can do about it.
With 41% of all U.S. venture capital investing activity, Silicon Valley is the nation’s unrivaled tech early technology investing epicenter.
As the innovations and wealth that have flowed from Valley Tech companies - from Apple to Cisco to Ebay to Facebook to Google to HP to Netflix to Pixar to Oracle to Yahoo and thousands more - have enriched the world beyond measure.
And since the start of this year, almost impossible to believe stories of fortunes being made there have inspired us all (and provoked more than a little jealousy, too!).
I profiled a pair of these stories - Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital parlaying a $58M investment into WhatsApp into a $3B fortune when in February Facebook purchased the messaging app
And Super Angels Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, who through their Founder’s Fund invested $16 million into virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR, which returned more than $740 million when Facebook bought the business last month.
Great for them.
But it does beg the question: Has Silicon Valley become so dominant - has it so separated itself - that the best opportunities can only be found there?
Of course not.
In fact, the argument can be made that the worst place to invest right now is in Silicon Valley.
As the stories above illustrate, deal prices there are high, and there is more money than ever (including $7 billion in fresh capital raised last quarter) chasing fewer and fewer deals.
So smart money is starting to look elsewhere.
Like in Los Angeles.
Long renowned as a digital media and entertainment hub, LA Tech investing activity has never been greater, with both funding and deal activity at a five year high.
Smart investors are making a lot of bets on young LA companies, with 70% of all area investing activity happening at the Seed and Series A stages.
Like in the Valley, Internet and Mobile-related businesses dominate - with close to 80% of all venture activity being concentrated in these areas.
These investments are paying off, with 59 recent venture-backed Tech Exits, including Demand Media (IPO), Cornerstone on Demand (IPO) Riot Games (Purchased by Tencent), Edgecast (Purchased by Verizon), Servicemesh (purchased by CSC), LiveOffice (purchased by Symantec) and Integrien (purchased by VMware).
And many, many investing “win” stories like these can be found in Tech Centers like New York, Boston, Chicago, Austin and more.
Yes, the Valley is great but it is far from the only game in town.
And there is a strong case that its best investing days may be behind it.
The word to the wise here is to look elsewhere.
To Your Success,
P.S. Click here for a recording of my private equity investing webinar: What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too.
Don’t you just love these booming markets? Well, if you don’t, try on these IPO, M&A, and financing stats from 1st Quarter 2014:
Initial Public Offerings: 72 companies went public in the U.S. in the 1st quarter - the largest number of new issuers since 2000 -raising a total of 11.1 billion. And, as of Monday 54 of the 72 of them were trading above their IPO price.
Mergers & Acquisitions: Global mergers & acquisition activity totaled $710 billion (Thomson Reuters), up 54% from last year.
Private Equity. Private equity firms did 850 deals, representing investments of greater than $152 billion (Pitchbook), up 11%.
Venture Capital. 1,348 companies raised more than $15 billion from venture capitalists, up 36%.
They also raised $10.3 billion for 578 funds in the 1st Quarter, up 51% from last year.
After many years of ongoing economic and investment dreariness, isn’t this so refreshing?
And aren’t we heartened that the doomsayers have been proven so fundamentally wrong?
Wrong about the U.S. economy.
And wrong about what is so clearly the dominant leadership position of this country in all of the great technologies growth industries of the 21st Century - software, biotechnology, energy, digital media, and more.
And beyond the numbers, there are some great stories.
Of new industries being built, of fortunes being made. Here is one of my favorites:
Last week, Facebook acquired virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR for approximately $2.24 billion.
Among the investors were Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, of PayPal and Napster fame, who through their VC The Founder’s Fund last year invested $16 million into Occulus.
Upon Facebook’s purchase of the company and correspondingly of their shares, their position is now worth more than $740 million, or a return of close to 50X on their invested capital.
How did they do this?
What selection strategies did they utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential?
Well, attend my webinar Thursday - What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too - to find out.
On it, I will share:
- Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in Occulus declined to do so
- How Thiel and Parker and their fund partners diligenced the deal and decided to invest in Occulus instead of in the dozens of virtual reality technologies then and now in the marketplace
- How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to their valuation analysis on the deal
- How today’s booming IPO and deal market, discussed above, is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace
Register now via the below link:
To Your Success,
P.S. Interested in the topic but can’t make the webinar time? Well, do register and will make sure that you get a recording of the presentation.
Global Technology Mergers & Acquisitions Activity is now at its highest year-to-date level since 2000 (in terms of both dollar volume and deal number).
Overall there has been $65.2 billion of M&A activity announced year-to-date (Thomson Reuters).
And then layer in the the crowdfunding boom (both donations and investment-based) and the exploding growth of peer-to-peer lending sites like Lending Club and Prosper.com, and never before have there been so many and so good “digital” places for those seeking and those providing capital to connect and transact.
More entrepreneurs and businesses having access to outside capital than ever before and...
…for the first time investors having the ability to efficiently build diversified portfolios of private equity and debt investments with strong, positive expected value.
Now compare all of this freshness and innovation against the ongoing dreariness of the “public” markets.
From 2000 to today, the Dow Jones has risen from 11,078 to approximately 16,268 (as of 03/26), or approximately 42%.
During that same time inflation has reduced the dollar’s purchasing power by almost exactly that same amount (38%).
So basically 15 years and ZERO real investment return.
Now what do these two fast diverging worlds, the increasingly innovative and transparent one of private investing on the one hand, and the flat and more opaque than ever one of the traditional public market returns on the other, mean for the entrepreneur and for the smaller investor?
Quite simply, it is all good.
For investors, it means access to higher returns.
Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing study, compiled by Robert Wiltbank, have demonstrated that the "...average angel investor (across the U.S. and UK) produced a gross multiple of 2.5 times their investment, in a mean time of about four years.
And for the entrepreneur, it means more, quicker, and cheaper access to capital, especially in smaller amounts.
Which leaves more time and energy for what entrepreneurs want to do and what we all need them to do…
…starting and growing profitable and innovative companies that make the world a better place.
Amen to that.
To Your Success,
P.S. To listen to a replay of my Thursday webinar, where I explored some of the key lessons learned from Sequoia Capital's $58 million investment into WhatsApp - and subsequent $3 billion windfall - upon Facebook's purchase of the messaging app last month, click here.
A version of this article originally appearedin Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here.
Last week, I shared how between 2011 and 2013, Sequoia Capital invested approximately $60 million in WhatsApp – the instant messaging subscription service bought last month by Facebook for $19 billion.
And how Sequoia’s return on that $60 million was close to $3 billion, or more than 50 times its original investment.
I then offered to share some of our research findings as to the selection strategies that early-stage technology investors like Sequoia now utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential.
Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelming.
So much so that only a very of those who wanted to learn more were able to get in before registration sold out.
So to accommodate all of the requests I have agreed to re-present our findings and will do so via web conference tomorrow at 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT.
To register, click here: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/647747626
On it, I will share:
• Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in WhatsApp declined to do so
• How Sequoia partner Jim Goetz diligence the deal and decided to invest in WhatsApp instead of the literally hundreds of comparable messaging applications then and now in the marketplace
• How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to Sequoia’s valuation analysis on the deal
• How today’s booming IPO market, with through March 1st more than 42 IPOs raising $8.2 billion – the highest YTD activity since 2007 – is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace
• And much, much more
Register now via the below link:
To Your Success,
This blog post was written by Mary Juetten, founder of Traklight.com, a site that provides inventors, creators, and small businesses with integrated software tools to identify and protect intellectual property.
Startups and small businesses are torn when it comes to protecting their ideas. There is a challenging balance between keeping the critical pieces secret and promoting products and services during fundraising – whether with angel investors, venture capitalists (VCs), or crowdfunding platforms.
The NDA question comes up more than you would think because scrappy entrepreneurs are always looking for collaborators, co-founders, and capital while jealously guarding their ideas. At least once a week, I hear one side of this debate or field a question on the topic.
What is a NDA?
Let me first say I am not an attorney (see the disclaimer at the bottom of this article). That being said, a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is a legal document used to protect ideas, know-how, and other secret sauce under a variety of circumstances.
One standard use of a NDA is protecting one company from another during discussions and negotiations. That means, if I approach Company A to code my software application, I want Company A and all their employees and contractors to keep all discussions about my project confidential. In the same situation, a mutual NDA means that everything Company A discloses about how they will work with me needs to be kept secret by me and my team. If I have a mutual NDA with Company A, I cannot go to software Company B and spill secrets learned from Company A.
As I said, I am not an attorney however I did go to law school (and yes, I graduated but chose to start my company rather than take the bar). The answer to almost every question in law school was, “It depends.” And that is the case here. Requesting and/or insisting upon a NDA depends on the situation. Are you hiring an employee? An independent contractor? Perhaps you are hiring a company for custom work, or are talking to potential co-founders, angel investors, or venture capitalists. Or maybe you are sharing information to collaborate or simply chatting in the grocery line.
NDA for Employees and Contractors
It’s my humble opinion that employees and contractors should be under NDA when you are revealing your know-how during initial discussions. It is purely good business sense to ask for that level of protection. The “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” strategy can backfire without a NDA, not to mention these handshake deals are not professional and can lead to messiness (a distraction when trying to start or grow a business).
Please seek professional advice to ensure that your contracts of employment, consulting, operating agreement, articles of incorporation, etc. have the appropriate non-disclosure provisions for your state.
NDAs are questionable for angels; NO for VCs
It is high unlikely the professional investor wishes to steal your idea. The main reason angel investors are reluctant to and venture capitalists (VCs) often refuse to execute a NDA is because they may then be limited in the future from funding similar companies. Another reason is that your company and products may conflict with their existing ventures.
One path forward is to only reveal enough information to interest potential investors while keeping mission critical secrets secret, especially in the first meeting.
No NDA for public pitch or demo competition
Trade secrets are no longer secret if revealed to the public. There is no confidentiality in a public setting, so leave your secrets at home. Disclosure of such secrets may impact the ability to patent here in the US and globally, so be careful in any public pitch, tradeshow, or presentation.
All entrepreneurs understand that the tough part is execution, not idea generation. And to be technical, ideas themselves are not intellectual property. So you need to think of the context of your discussion and what you are trying to protect.
Know your audience. If you have the next great software idea and you are not technical enough to code yourself it is likely a good idea to ask potential co-founders or software companies to sign a NDA before you reveal the details of your idea.
Does that mean you carry the NDA in your purse (or briefcase)? You may but it is mostly applicable for the meeting after your initial encounter. When revealing your secret sauce or business process in public, a NDA is critical.
In conclusion, if someone does not wish to sign a NDA, think of the context, timing, and the person before you walk away. That done, if you have that niggling, uncomfortable gut feeling about why the person will not sign the NDA, head in the other direction.
Visit Traklight and use “ID your IP” with Traklight’s compliments until February 28, 2014. Remember, you cannot protect something if you do not know you have it! Free “ID your IP” Code GROWT13 ($59 value).
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be general information and nothing in this article constitutes legal advice. Please consult with an attorney before making any intellectual property or other legal decisions.