Growthink Blog

I love Kiva


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I love Kiva.  For those not familiar, Kiva is a person-to-person micro-lending site – allowing individuals, primarily from developed countries, to lend directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world.  The borrowers are in places like Cambodia, Bolivia, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Peru, and Tanzania – and primarily borrow to allow their very small businesses to expand and hire.

Let Entrepreneurial America Breathe Again - Please


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The old adage about the definition of insanity -- "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" -- has never been more applicable than it is right now with the crisis in our financial markets and our government's response thereto.  The daily, depressing drama of the federal government's frenetic, "bailout flavor of the day" response mechanism would be comical if it wasn't so tragic, frustrating, and anger-inducing.

Sometimes I feel I went to bed one night in the United States of America and woke up in the U.S.S.R. in the midst of a "5-year plan." It is long-overdue time for Main Street America, for Small Business America, for Scientist's and Engineer's America, for Junior Achievement America, for Paper Route America, for Immigrant America, for eBay America, for Mary Kay America, for Franchise America, for Venture Capital America, for Startup America, for Entrepreneurial America to stand up and shout ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Because they built this country.  Because they represent and embody its best and most admirable and most idealistic qualities.  And because if the Washington bureaucrats would just let them be and get out of their way they can and will dig this country out of its current hole far quicker, cheaper, and more fairly than via the banana republic cronyism that masquerades as policy in Washington these days.

The funny thing is, Entrepreneurial America has never been more vibrant, more creative, more productivity-building, more value-creating, than it is right now.  With the collapse of the "Blue Chips," the playing field has never been more level, the competitive arena never more wide open, the cost of key business inputs (labor, rents, technology) never less than it is right now for entrepreneurs.

What these firms need to succeed is not government handouts or "stimulus," but simply good old-fashioned growth capital.  And for this capital, these companies -- in such dynamic growth arenas as alternative & green energy, healthcare & biotechnology, digital media, and software -- are priced at  "end-of-the-world" levels.  In other words, as long as the world does not end, they will make themselves and their investors money.

So my suggestion to all of those in Entrepreneurial America: make yourself heard.  Call and write your congressperson and senator.  Email essays like this to your family, friends, and colleagues.  Support your local small business.  If you see a website of a business you like, write the company and tell them to keep on keeping on.   Blog.  Twitter.  Post on YouTube.  Shout out on Facebook.  Because this is a fight for private enterprise and economic freedom and one that Entrepreneurial America, and the world for that matter, cannot afford to lose.

Read Jay's second article in this series - Entrepreneurial America, Part 2.

Webinar: Keys to Successful Private Company Investing

Please join me on a live, interactive web conference where I will share with you my keys to successful private company investing including:

- How to utilize the Internet to source and research opportunities
- How to conduct data-driven risk analysis on private company deals
- How to exploit the "pricing inefficiency gap" endemic to private equity
- The importance of technology bias (and which technologies to bias) when selecting deals
- How to properly apply "black swan," or "randomness" thinking to private company investing strategy

To register, click here: http://www.growthink.com/livedeals


Why Entrepreneurial Capitalism Now


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It is absolutely astounding how quickly the discussion around the appropriate government response to the economic crisis has morphed -- from one around whether it even makes sense, or is the proper thing to do, for government to bail out ailing financial and manufacturing firms -- to one simply around "how much," "how fast," and "how many."


Searching for the "Google" of Clean Tech? Diversification is Key


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The National Venture Capital Association recently released data for 2008 venture capital investments.  Venture capital firms invested $28.3 billion in 3,808 companies in 2008.  This represents an 8% decrease in dollars and a 4% decrease in deal volume from 2007.  

One big bright spot is clean tech.

Venture capital firms invested $4.1 billion into 277 clean tech startups in 2008, a 52% increase from 2007.  Popular investments include solar, biodiesel, nuclear energy, and battery start-ups.

When we step back and try to view these investments over the long-term, it becomes clear that only a handful of these start-up companies are going to become extremely successful.  Only a few of them will dominate their marketplaces and become the "Googles" of solar, wind, water, and biodiesel.

While the majority of individual investments into start-up companies will fail, the asset class as a whole has historically produced superior returns to most other alternatives.  Seed stage and early stage venture capital investing has achieved historical 20 year returns of over 20%.  The asset class as a whole is only able to achieve these returns by investing in a handful of "home runs" -- the startups that grow to be multi-million and billion dollar acquisitions and IPOs.

Despite what the admittedly brilliant minds on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley would have us believe, it is nearly impossible to predict which of the hundreds of thousands of promising new companies launched every year will become the "next Google" of their industry.

That's why diversification is a critically important "best practice" for successful venture capital and private equity investing.  As such, the investor's goal should be to aggregate positions in several promising early stage companies in order to improve the chances of finding that "Black Swan."

And as the public stock markets take a beating, real estate continues its downward spiral, and cash is endangered by the long-term threat of inflation as a result of record U.S. government deficits, we at Growthink believe that the early stage private equity asset class is among the most attractive long-term investment alternatives available to qualified investors.

To learn more about our perspectives on this subject, we welcome you to attend our webinar:

Webinar: Keys to Successful Private Company Investing

To register, click here: http://www.growthink.com/livedeals
 


Risk of Inflation is VERY Real


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Sometimes things are so obvious as to be hard to see.  

That is certainly the case right now with the incredible flood of federal stimulus pouring into the economy - both in terms of fiscal and monetary policy.   But saying it in this way, as it is often done by the chattering media classes, makes the issue unnecessarily opaque and complex.   We agree with Milton Friedman (and not just because of his long Stanford connection) when he describes inflation as "always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon."


President Obama and Entrepreneurship: "The Risk-Takers, the Doers and the Makers of Things"


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In my 10 years at Growthink and my 20 years in business, I have never lived nor worked through a period with as much uncertainty and negativity, as much economic depression, as much market fear, as we are living through right now.  As spirits have waxed low in the markets, I would be not candid if I did not confess that I have bouts of dispiritedness.

Windfalls and Pitfalls: Private Equity and the Individual Investor


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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 private equity investors 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.


Investment Fundamentals: 3 Illusions and What To Do Now


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As the investing month of October mercifully draws to a close, there is now a palpable sense of calm in the financial markets.  While the horrific damage – in both value and psychological terms – is very, very real, and may take years from which to recover, there has been a healthy mindset transition to a “what is to be done” thinking, feeling and acting.


The Current Market Conditions


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The extreme malaise in the financial markets is unlike any of us have seen in our lifetime. It is discouraging and disconcerting on many levels.

As Americans it is gut-wrenching to see so many proud institutions and the country as a whole take such a hit in prestige, wealth, and reputation.

For the private equity and venture capital world's as a whole, the erosion of stock market value reduces the likelihood and size of prospective acquisitions and the buoyancy of the IPO market - which in turn drives down earlier-stage deal valuations and the general "doing deals" excitement levels. We have already seen the shrinking of the hedge fund world these last few months - look for this contract to start hitting the private equity and venture capital markets.

But certainly by no means is all bleak nor are we at the end of days. As we know, at the end of dry desert, green grass grows. Without question, from the seeds of the current market correction will grow the great opportunities of the next 5-10 years.

So, for those with creativity, resilience and persistence, now is a great time to start and/or grow successful, lasting businesses.

 


It's a Brave New World


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We are living through one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the financial markets.  It is rattling even the most steadfast and optimistic of investors.   For better or for worse, we can only look with misty memory to the halcyon, golden, go-go market and investment days of the 1980's and 1990's.   We are truly in a brave new world - one where the old assumptions and dogmas are truly on the dustbin of history.   

A few takeaways:

Big is Not Safer Than Small.   Whatever the results of the government mortgage bailout, both in terms of the House vote and its market impact, for equity holders of the big banks and mortgage and insurance players caught up in the mess (Bear Stearns, Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, AIG, WaMu, Wachovia, and to a lesser but still painful extent, Merrrill, Goldman, and Morgan), it is misery.   For the big financials, if there wasn't horrendous news these last few weeks, there would have been no news at all.  It is absolutely astounding – though not necessarily surprising when viewed through the prism of the dysfunctional and way over-blown incentive systems of key executives and traders at these firms – that so much value could be wiped out so quickly.   Investors for a long time will have serious hangovers and reservations regarding investing in these entities in any form – stock, debt, and/or derivatives.   Quite simply, the whole sector is tainted.

Cash Is Not Safe.  Never in U.S. economic history have there been as many question marks as there are now around the security of cash – passbook savings, checking accounts, money markets, certificates of deposits and other cash-like instruments.   

The question marks are threefold:

  1. The underlying entities holding cash are more sick than not, and, as such, their liabilities (i.e. your deposits) are exposed.
  2. The FDIC backstop/guarantee – as it gets stretched by Congress in terms of amount and type of cash instrument – is getting spread thin across an unprecedented number of defaults and in too tight a time frame.
  3. Inflation.  The old truism is that governments never actually “default” on their debts.  Rather, as expenditures for bailouts, wars, transfer payments between generations, and bridges to nowhere mushroom the budget deficit aside the enormous trade deficit the inevitable outcome has to be the government simply printing more and more money.   Thus inflation.


So cash, our old friend – whether in the bank or under our mattress – is both under parking risk of default (a low risk for sure but much more so than just a few weeks ago) and under systemic, significant inflation risk.  .

Executives Good, Traders Bad.  In 2007, venture capital firms invested approximately $26 billion in startup and emerging companies.   These companies were the best of the brightest stars in dynamic new industries like green/alternative energy, medical technology, digital media, and Internet software.   In Washington, the nation's political leaders are committing more than 25 times this amount, effectively, in bailing out the residential mortgage market.

Now don't get me wrong, the housing and foreclosure crisis is real and painful in this country.  But let's take a step back and think about priorities for a second:

  • Would it be better to have more non-fossil fuel startups and technologies and fewer McMansions?Would we rather have more medical researchers and scientists or Wall Street derivatives traders?
  • Who should be rewarded: the executives and visionaries working to build real operating companies, or the Wall Street whiz kids that made billions trading leveraged “house of cards” sub-prime mortgage portfolios?
  • Quite simply, do we want to be a nation and a society that rewards entrepreneurship and business-building or one that rewards financial instrument manipulation?


Thinking about it for only a minute, the answer is obvious.   It is even more obvious to the biggest investors in this toxic debt: the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Russians, and the Arabs.   Certainly, owning U.S. mortgage-backed securities now looks like a losing hand for these folks and far more disturbingly, owning U.S. treasury securities is far from being, as they say in the finance textbooks, a "riskless" investment.

So where is this foreign capital now going to go?  Well, most of it will now in all likelihood stay home, or be invested in emerging/developing economies.  But here is the key point: while the U.S. investment climate looks very, very unattractive compared to what it once was it is still by far the best place in the world to invest in startups, to invest in entrepreneurs, and to invest in operating companies.  And it is not even close.

While most Americans – terrified by the hysterical financial media that the end of days are near – are increasingly blind to this fact, the more detached foreign investment players know the real deal.  There are both uniquely and insanely great American operating companies all in our midst.  Some are publicly traded, most are not.  In the coming years, watch for a return to this kind of back-to-basics business-building/value creation investing.  It can’t come soon enough.


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Jay Turo

Dave Lavinsky