Growthink Blog

The Early Exit


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The next big technology investment idea is the “Early Exit.” The best articulation of it comes from Basil Peters, a serial technology entrepreneur, co-Founder of Nexus Engineering, former Canada Entrepreneur of the Year, and Managing Partner at 3 venture capital funds – Fundamental Technologies I and II and the BC Advantage Funds. His blog is one of the best resources on technology investing out there.

Aptly to the point, Basil is the author of a great book – “Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors.” His core thesis is that successful private equity investing is now driven by quickly getting to the smaller investment exit. 

Or, as he says it, "Today, the optimum financial strategy for most technology entrepreneurs is to raise money from angels and plan for an early exit to a large company in just a few years for under $30 million."

This is a realistically attainable for the individual investor. Here's why:

You, Mr. or Ms. Main Street Investor, are NOT getting a piece of the next big IPO: The 2 best known venture capital funds –Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins - because of their reputations and massive bankrolls – will continue to get the lion’s share of the deals with rockstar IPO potential. Try these names on for size – Electronic Arts, Apple, Google, NVIDIA, Rackspace, Yahoo!, Paypal, Amazon.com, America Online, Intuit, Macromedia, Netscape, Sun Microsystems.

They were all Sequoia and/or Kleiner investments that became mega-successful IPOs. To give a feel for the power of their investment model, estimates are that Kleiner’s investment in Amazon scored returns of 55,000%!

YOUR big problem – your friendly neighborhood stockbroker (if they exist anymore) isn’t getting you in on any of these deals anytime soon.  And if you don’t have a $100 million bankroll and the very right connections to become a Kleiner or Sequoia LP, you’re not joining their club.

Hit’em Where They Ain't:
The size of most modern venture capital funds has increased, with the average sized fund now having more than $160 million under management. As a result, the vast majority of professional investors simply can’t and won’t invest in smaller deals. The new VC model has, for better or for worse, become “Go big or go home.” As such, competition for smaller deals is much less and the deal pricing on them far more favorable.

Small Deals Rock:
You don’t need a lot of money anymore to build a technology startup – not with outsourcing, viral marketing, and the Software as a Service (SaaS) revolution. And if your business isn’t cash flow positive REAL FAST, you probably don’t have a very good business.

So the new technology investment model is to place small amounts (under $1 million) into companies that a) develop intellectual property and compete in markets with lots of active strategic acquirers (think Internet, software, biotechnology, digital media, and energy) and b) have management with the mindset and track records to ramp-up and exit FAST and at very attractive but not pie-in-the sky multiples. 

Not a game that big private equity or venture capitalists are interested in playing because it is just too hard to put large amounts of money to work in such a fragmented marketplace.
But if done right, an EXTREMELY lucrative one for thoughtful entrepreneurs and the investors that back them.

To Your Success,

Jay Turo
Chief Executive Officer
Growthink, Inc

The Talented Mr. Ridley


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Arguably the best book ever written on the power of entrepreneurial capitalism - The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley - should be required reading by anyone interested in protecting and defending the free enterprise way of life.

In an awe-inspiring tour de force of exposition, Mr. Ridley takes the reader all the way back through human economic history. Back to the 1st entrepreneurs who discovered fire and the copper axe, through the Phoenicians, through the great trading cultures of India and China before their long (and government induced) sleeps, through the age of the Medici and the early Dutch wellsprings of modern trade, through the 19th Century Industrial Revolution in England and Scotland, to the American Century and the dawns of the computer, information, and communication ages. 

As the book title implies, it is a tale of sturdy optimism and hope.  He takes head-on the naysayers, the pessimists, and the chattering classes that earn their bread via hawking fears of impending woe and doom. Some tidbits of his refreshing wisdom:

Africa – Getting Better Slowly But Surely. Those who hold (either overtly or more quietly because of political correctness) that Africa will not emerge anytime soon from its poverty and strife are just dead wrong. He points to the inspiring example of Botswana, where a hard-earned culture of property rights and rule of law have fueled economic growth rates to rival the highest-flying Asian Tiger. And he notes the cascade of statistics pointing to standards of living increasing dramatically – as productivity has been unleashed by the mobile phone revolution across the continent.

The Climate Change Mafia.  Controversially but powerfully, Ridley defends fossil fuel use as being the key driver of modern economic growth. And he points out the vastly under reported costs of "sexy fuel" alternatives - solar, wind, bio-fuels, et al.  You may not agree with all of Ridley's points here, but if you care about this debate, you should hear him out. 

Optimism as the Intelligent Choice.  Most excitedly, Ridley takes head-on ANYONE that claims that the present time is anything but the greatest in human history. 

How can Ridley credibly claim this? Very simple – from that tale of human history with which Ridley begins his book. He makes the overwhelming case that the 2 key drivers of human prosperity since time immemorial have been innovation and trade.

And as they are both happening today faster and in greater quantity than at anytime ever, the result is more prosperity for more human beings than at any time ever. 

Now you probably know that. But here is something that I had forgotten in the face of all of the talk of recession and global financial crisis out there - that the statistical odds are overwhelmingly in favor of everything just getting better!

For all of us, for our children, and our grandchildren.  As in more prosperity, better education, more safety from premature death and disease, and yes even more happiness. 

As Mr. Ridley points out, most of our grandparents had standards of living not much greater than that of Zambians today. And by corollary, if current trends continue, the grandchildren of today's Zambians will have standard of living's equal to those of ours today.

And as for our grandchildren, well they will live in a world, like our grandparents before us, that we can only dream of.

And as Mr. Ridley prove conclusively in this wonderful book, for all of this prosperity and bounty it is the entrepreneurs and the innovators above all that we have to thank.

So thank you, Mr. and Ms. Entrepreneur. 

And thank you, talented Mr. Ridley. 

Looking for Opportunities Now?

Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of startup and emerging company opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects.

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, please click here.


The #1 Mistake Investors Make (And What To Do About It)


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How many times have you heard someone say, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket"?

When it comes to any kind of investing, this is very good advice.

But, if this is the case, why don’t investors in private equity diversify?

Unfortunately, most individual investors in private equity significantly under-diversify their portfolios -- investing in one or only a handful of companies.  By so doing, they both greatly increase their risk profile and greatly decrease their probabilities of seeing investment return.

Quite simply, investing in just one or a handful of private companies is way, way too risky for most investors and should be avoided at all costs. 

Rather, to leverage the dynamic returns in this sector – click here for a summary of 8 in-depth studies examining returns for the startup and emerging company (or "angel investing") asset class showing an average annual return reported across the studies of 27.3% - the only prudent approach is via a portfolio of positions.

Building a Portfolio - Problems With Current Solutions

Admittedly, a portfolio approach to private equity is much easier said than done for the individual investor.   The 3 traditional methods of early-stage private equity diversification all have significant drawbacks:

1.    Building a Portfolio One Company At A Time.   It is certainly possible to build a portfolio one company at a time.  Famed technology investors like Vinod Khosla and Ron Conway have taken this approach, with personal investment positions in literally dozens (if not more) of companies.  They, however, are both professional investors and technologists, and deeply networked into the core U.S. angel investor deal community - namely Silicon Valley.  And as they and other both admit in interviews, there are strong "hobbyist" and "philanthropic" aspects to their deal interests.  Vinod Khosla, in particular, has stated that he is motivated in his current investing as much by his desire to contribute to the development of eco-friendly technologies as he is to making money.

2.    Joining an Angel Group.  Increasingly in recent years, there have sprung up angel investor networking groups around the country.  Most are centered in the main entrepreneurial hubs - Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Austin, Phoenix, Salt Lake - among other locales, and generally involve groups of individual investors coming together to review and diligence deals in a group review format.   These groups have a lot of benefits - including networking and providing a forum for both less sophisticated investors and entrepreneurs to learn the basic process of private company investing.  Like Mr. Conway and Mr. Khosla, many of the angels in these groups are retired (or semi-retired) executives and businesspeople who participate in them as much from a hobbyist perspective as from a money-making one.   Not surprisingly, their general investment track records are mediocre at best, and there is a high likelihood of "negative selection bias," whereby the better companies and entrepreneurs are often loathe to approach them because of the inefficiencies of their investment processes and the somewhat "off" messaging and perspectives of many of their members.

3.    Becoming a Limited Partner Investor in a Venture Capital or Private Equity Fund.   While the biggest private equity and VC funds - the Blackstones and the Sequoias of the world - are, because of their size, off limits to all but the largest of individual investors ($50 million+), there are literally thousands of smaller venture capital and private equity funds that accept capital in smaller increments from individual investors.   Some of them have good track records of success (though relatively few in the current market), but as "portfolio plays" they have some core limitations:

o    All but the largest funds themselves only invest in a handful of deals.   It is unusual for the typical VC or private equity fund to do more than a few deals/year, and also have a tendency to concentrate their holdings in a single industry or stage of business.

o    Far more problematically, because of their traditional 2.5% (on average) management fee model, there has been a great propensity in recent years for the better funds to grow quite large.  It is unusual for a fund with quality managers with a track record of success to have less than $150 million under management.   This larger fund size, in turn, greatly defines the kinds of deals in which the fund can, for logistical purposes, invest.   It is unusual for a fund of this size to make an investment of less than $10 million into a single deal, thereby requiring them to invest mainly in later-stage technology and/or higher cash flowing middle market companies.   While there is nothing inherently wrong with these strategies, the problem is that in recent years there are have been literally more venture capital and private equity funds out there than actual operating companies in which to invest!   This reality has a) greatly driven down the number of deals that a typical fund has/can do in a particular year and is b) leading to a "dead man walking" fund phenomenon where funds sometimes go years without actually making investments.

So What To Do?

We strongly recommend that anyone evaluating earlier-stage, private company deal opportunities do so only in the context of significant advisory and diligence assistance from accounting, legal, IT services, and management consulting firms that specialize in working with startups and emerging companies.

Quite simply, as a wise old horseman once quipped - bet on the jockeys not the horses.

Jay Turo
CEO
Growthink, Inc.

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Do Movies Even Matter Anymore?


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Toy Story 3? Karate Kid 3? Iron Man 2?  Sex and The City 2? The A-Team? Where are all of the NEW Ideas in Entertainment?
 
The movie business of today is all "pre-sold" IP.  NEW media has become the home of innovation and imagination.
 
Learn What Hollywood 4G Will Look Like
 
Nothing is more important to U.S. consumers than their entertainment choices, but are movies and broadcast TV even relevant in the new world of entertainment?

Or will the convergence of content, internet, mobile applications, games and social media be the onrushing asteroids that will soon destroy the movie dinosaurs?

Is it a 3-year fad, or will new technologies like 3-D keep going to the movies from being relegated to the dustbin of history like Vaudeville, the afternoon newspaper, the evening news, the variety show, and the compact-disc?

Has the U.S. movie box office - traditionally the holy grail of movie industry metrics -- become increasingly irrelevant?

What is the future of Pay-Per-View/Video-on-Demand (PPV and VOD)?


Video-on-demand alone is estimated to grow from a $1.1 billion dollar business this year to $5 billion by 2012, taking market share away from DVD retailers and intensifying the carriers' ambition to bid for the best (and first run) titles.

How about Internet Video?

Annual U.S. revenues from internet video services spanning user-generated content to television shows and movies will exceed $7 billion this year.

And this business is becoming LESS advertising driven -- transitioning from today's model of more than 85% of revenue being ad-based to less than 60% and trending down with the balance being generated by content payments, either for one-time viewings or via subscriptions.  

What do these these new realities mean for the content creators of new media and for traditional studios, filmmakers, producers, and distributors?

What is the future for good-old fashioned DVD rentals and sales?

Get The Answers

I am very excited to share with you the opportunity to meet the Managing Director of Growthink's new media and entertainment practice, Mr. Lee Muhl.

Lee, quite simply, has forgotten WAY more about the entertainment business than most of us will ever know (see his biography below).  
                 
And he has graciously agreed to share the answers to the above questions, which winning business models to run with, which losers to run from, and much, much more!

--
Jay Turo
CEO
Growthink, Inc
                 
Follow me on Twitter
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Biography of Mr. Lee Muhl, Managing Director, Growthink's New Media and Entertainment Practice

Lee Muhl heads Growthink's entertainment-media vertical, encompassing the making and distribution of films, television programming, games, new media content and numerous related distribution platforms, technologies and methodologies including theatrical exhibition, DVD, PPV-VOD, mobile applications, internet/IPTV, and a variety of new content modalities (digital theater conversion, advertainment, infotainment, advergaming).

To date, Lee has overseen the successful conclusion of more than 100 Growthink engagements for funding plans and sophisticated media financial models, including film projects ranging from the production of numerous independent films and major studio productions to scores of angel and seed development fundings.

Originally trained in transactional entertainment law and the representation of above-line talent, Lee worked with a number of well-known writer-director-producers in both traditional studio/network deals and in arranging non-studio financing for independent film production including such classics as Bladerunner.  In 1999, Lee joined the Silicon Valley new media content contingent as an Internet-company CEO, and has since founded two innovative Los Angeles media companies. With Growthink, Lee has continued his deep involvement with film, digital media, content delivery protocols, gaming technologies and sports initiatives.

A former partner in two leading Los Angeles media law firms, Lee holds a J.D. from the UCLA School of Law where he also served as Chief Comment Editor of the UCLA Law Review, and earned his B.A. in History from UCLA. He is a current member of the California State Bar, and the Hollywood Writers Guild.


Get In on the Ground Floor with an Olympic Bid


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50 years ago, Squaw Valley, California played host to one of the most treasured and revered Olympic games in history

Now, half a century later, the opportunity to craft another chapter in the region's rich Olympic heritage is upon us.

There is a strong probability that the Unites States will submit a region for consideration to host the 2022 Winter Games, and right now Reno-Tahoe region is positioned to be the clear front-runner.

The Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition has been working diligently to prepare for this opportunity.  Influential regional leaders, such as the Coalition’s Chair Nevada Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki and Squaw Valley Ski Corporation’s Nancy Cushing believe that Reno - Tahoe will once again successfully host the Olympics.


Jay Turo
CEO
Growthink, Inc

Follow me on Twitter
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The One Thing You Still Can't Live Without


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Interestingly, this one thing is something you can't live without. At least not for long. And how you use it, pay for it, and access it is going to change.

But fortunately, there are some cutting-edge entrepreneurs working wonders on solving the challenges of this one thing.

What is it?

Water.

All around the world water shortages long ago crossed the crisis threshold.

In California. Arizona. New Mexico. Georgia and Florida. The Middle East. China.

Too many years of antiquated public policy, population and economic growth, climate change, and unsustainable agriculture have strained water resources in all of these places to and beyond the breaking point.

The American Entrepreneur to the Rescue

The greater the adversity, the greater the opportunity. And in the dynamic technology landscape of "new water," American entrepreneurs are leading the way.

There are a number of transformational technologies required to solve our world's water issues. Some are currently being developed by start-ups, while others present untapped business opportunities.

What are They?

I would like to invite you to an exclusive opportunity to meet Dr. Yoram Cohen, the Director of the Water Technology Research Center at UCLA and a world-renowned expert on water technology and commercialization.

Dr. Cohen will share with us where the market opportunities in water are now and what technologies and companies are best poised to prosper in the months and years to come.


Jeff Bezos Investing in Google: Luck or Foresight?


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After my column a few months ago regarding Jeff Bezos' now famous (and incredibly profitable) investment into Google in 1998, I was deluged with comments and opinions on this question - was his investment luck or was it foresight?

The backdrop again: In 1998 when Larry Page's and Sergey Brin's Google offices were a Menlo Park, California garage - Bezos invested $250,000 of personal funds into the fledgling search engine.

When Google went public in 2004, that $250,000 investment translated into 3.3 million shares of Google stock. At Google's IPO that represented a stock share position worth over $280 million!

While Bezos does not disclose how many of those shares he still holds, at the current price of Google stock they would represent an investment position of over $1.5 billion.

So was it luck? Or foresight?

In Bezos' words, "There was no business plan.  They had a vision. It was a customer-focused point of view."  And more tellingly he adds, "I just fell in love with Larry and Sergey."

So whether luck or foresight, this is a wow story of the first order.  Lessons learned:

1.    Think Long Term. Even though Google has been the fastest rocket ship growth company in the history of capitalism, it was still SIX YEARS from Bezos' investment in the company to liquidity.

2.    Get In Early. Sure, it would have been great to get into Google at its IPO price of $85/share, especially as the shares are up over 535% since then. But Bezos got in, after adjusting for stock splits, at EIGHT CENTS PER SHARE!

Talk about leverage. That translates to a 112,000 percent increase from investment to IPO, and then if he held onto the shares for another 535% on top of that.

3.    Invest in People. At the time of Bezos' investment, there were a large number of very well-funded and far more successful search engines already on the market. Remember this was 1998 not 1994. Yahoo. Alta Vista. Lycos. Excite. Looksmart. Webcrawler. Infoseek. Inktomi and GoTo to name just a few.

But Bezos was attracted to Page and Brin as people, as technologists, as leaders. And obviously their customer-centric focus really tracked the way that Bezos looks at the world.

4.    Take a Shot. For every Jeff Bezos who invested in Google, there are stories of literally dozens of investors that were presented with the opportunity and did not.

This of course does not mean that the probability of any startup having Google-like success is anything but very low, but it does mean that it is far greater than the ZERO percent likelihood of success of those who don't even try.

5.    Get Lucky. Yes, luck is a key, and sometimes the key, variable in entrepreneurship and business. As opposed to fighting or getting philosophical re this reality, a far better question to ask is, "How can I improve my likelihood of, for lack of a better turn of phrase, getting lucky?"
 
Looking for Opportunities Now?

Each year, Growthink reviews hundreds of startup and emerging company opportunities and selects those with the best management teams, market opportunities, and financial prospects.

To learn more about opportunities we are following now, please click here.


Entrepreneurs of the World, Unite!


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Actually, opposites do NOT attract.

Government bureaucracy does not equal economic prosperity.

Centralization of power in Washington does not equal representative democracy.

Regulatory complexity does not equal consumer protection.

Lawyers parasitically feeding off...well, everything does not equal justice.

Senior citizens fighting maniacally for their social security, for their Medicare, for their drugs, in the face of crippling federal budget deficits does not equal paying it forward.

Teachers' unions, fighting school choice and merit-based pay does not equal U.S. competitiveness.

And complaining about any/all of the above does NOT equal doing something about it.

No, if you want to help create good jobs for all of those that want them, if you want to insure a better future for our children, then:

Turn OFF the TV.

Turn down the radio.

Put down the newspaper (though you probably have done that already).

And...

Start A Business. That business idea you've been kicking around for years?  Well, join the 6 million Americans every year (that's 3% of the adult population) and start a NEW business. In addition to pursuing your dreams, you will also be doing more to create jobs than the government ever will. Why? Because 2 out of 3 of all new jobs are created by new and young (less than 5 years old) firms. Click here to learn more.

Grow A Business. If you own or manage an existing business, go for it. Launch that new product. Offer that new service. Try that new marketing strategy. Implement that new software. Apply for that bank loan. If you don't know how, or need inspiration, read Entrepreneur, Inc. and Fast Company Magazines. This list, too.

Invest IN A Business. Supporting good non-profits is great, but even better is to support entrepreneurs while making excellent money doing so. Startup investing has outperformed every major investing class, with IRRs of over 27.3% (click here to learn more). Compare this to the Dow Jones (returned less than 1% annually these last 10 years), or real estate (2%), or the current cash/money market yield (0.7%).

Jay Turo
CEO
Growthink, Inc

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Made In China


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This Saturday, I took my 2 and 3 year old sons to Toys"R"Us to buy them baseball gloves. A great American tradition to be sure, and with opening day just 2 weeks away, both spring and the national pastime were in the air.

I looked for the American baseball glove names of my youth - Rawlings, Wilson, Easton, Spalding, Cooper.

My boys happily tried on gloves (most much too large for their little hands) to find the perfect fit.

For whatever reason my eye was caught by the fine-print label on one glove and its none too surprising "Made in China" imprint.

My curiousity piqued and my young sons' attention of course being diverted by all of the amazing toys in the store, we started wandering about.

Tonka. Backloaders, dump trucks, bulldozers, and more. Made in China.

Chutes and Ladders. Gnip Gnop. Battleship. Twister. Yahtzee. Risk. Connect Four. Made in China.

The erector sets have evolved impressively from the clunky sets I remembered. Made in China.

Hundreds of Hot Wheel model race cars - beautifully modeled Camaros, Jeeps, Corvettes, and more. Made in China.

On to the figurines and action figures. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tom Brady, Lebron James, Albert Pujols. Staring out lifelike from their boxes and Made in China.

Blond-haired blue-eyed Barbie and Ken. Made in China. GI Joe. Defending our freedoms and Made in China.

Notes To Self

Call me old-fashioned, call me protectionist but it just didn't feel right to buy my sons Chinese - manufactured baseball gloves.

Then thinking practically as a striving parent does, first order of business was to go home and get my boys immediately enrolled in intensive Chinese language instruction because by golly if this is how the world is now then where is it going?

And on this thought I caught myself. I realized I had fallen for the classic mercantilist trap and confused "Made In" with "Value Added."

What's the difference?  Well, for you parents reading out there put it this way - none of you I would surmise want their sons and daughters to grow up and work in a factory (though, of course, it is like all work noble and deserving of praise).

But a LOT of you would be VERY happy if your son or daughter went to work as a product designer for Lego.

In marketing or public relations for Mattel.

In corporate finance at Rawlings.

At the NFL league office.

In post-production on the movie Avatar.

As eco-friendly packaging and shipping designers for Toys"R"Us itself.

These Are the Good Old Days

While it is hard for many to accept, it is beyond clear that America is MUCH wealthier today than it was in the so-called good old days when the U.S.A. was the manufacturing capital of the world.

What's The Point?

Very simply, wealth and power in the modern world is NOT about making things. It is about reconceptualizing them.

Apple. Google. Microsoft. In Apple's famous (and grammatically incorrect) advertising campaign, none of these great American companies actually make anything in the strict sense of the term. But they invest lots and lots of time and money in thinking different about them.

To put it another way, modern wealth and power are NOT in the things themselves. They are in their recipes - the instructions of HOW to make them.

And in making new and better recipes, American entrepreneurs lead the way by miles and miles.

And assuming government stays out of their way, they will continue to do so.

To when my little boys enter the workforce and beyond.


Startup Investing - The Impact of the Stock Market


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The general misery that the public markets have subjected us all to over the past 12 years - with the Dow Jones, the S & P, and the NASDAQ all trading lower today than they were in 1999, begs the question - how does stock market performance affect startup investing returns?

The answer seems obvious. A falling tide sinks all boats. So goes the public markets, so go the private equity markets, of which startup investing is a subset.

This is best illustrated by the depressing statistic that in the last 12 years there has been more money invested into the venture capital industry than has come out of it. 
A lot of effort for naught.

But in spite of this, and maybe even because of it, startup investing returns over the past decade have been surprisingly, even shockingly good. 

According to data compiled by Thomson Financial and corroborated by eight large studies in the US and the UK over the past three years, average returns for startup investing were in excess of 20% annually this past decade, and over a longer 20-year period, have averaged more than 25% annually.

Why Is This and Will It Continue?

If you step back and think about it for a moment, these high returns make perfect sense. Startup investing is high returning because:

1. As Compensation for Illiquidity.  As the vast majority of startups are privately-held firms, higher returns must be offered as compensation for illiquidity. You can't day-trade startups as you can public stocks. This, of course, is both a good and a bad thing.

2. As Compensation for High Variance.  Startup investing is characterized by a few winners and lots and lots of losers. To incent investors to play this high volatility game, alluring terms and returns must be offered.

3. Small Businesses are Fundamentally More Efficient Allocators of Capital.  The plain but powerful truth is that a startup firm is by FAR the most efficient form of human organization ever devised to allocate time and capital.

And with more efficient allocation of time and capital, higher returns naturally follow.

Pablo Picasso

As Picasso so famously said, "Work is the Ultimate Seduction."

And the most seductive form of work for the best and brightest these days is to start and grow a company.

Best illustration of this - in spite of throwing millions at them, Google has a hard time hanging onto their best engineering talent.

The wonder kids just prefer their own gigs. Always have, always will. And anyone who has spent just a little time with a dynamic entrepreneur knows, they're in it to win it.

And when they do, like Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the results just take your breath away.
 

Are you in it to win it too? 

Jay Turo
CEO
Growthink, Inc

Follow me on Twitter
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