Sunday, August 9, 2009

VC Decision-making: Investing in an Existing Portfolio of Companies.

Executive Summary: Investing in existing portfolio companies involves a lot of groundwork to be done by the Venture Capital General Partners. Below is an experience recounted by a VC investor, followed by some of my thoughts on the tale well told.

The VC Doubling Down Experience
Fred Wilson has a great post on "doubling down" vis-a-vis portfolio companies:

The Analytical Backgrounders
If you have read a previous generic post linked below, you will definitely enjoy an experienced VC investor sharing his experience above in making the decisions:
1. Creating Value through Operational Improvements:
2. Microeconomics, Synergies and Operational Portfolio:

Identifying a subset of "core"/ "sustainable" (your mileage may vary) investments from a portfolio during tough times is not an easy process even for great investors. The key aspects of Fred's post are:
1>raise funds during tough times, and,
2> choose to pump in more money into the newly identified "core" investments, instead of making new investments.
3> "restructure" existing investments in some way- e.g. strategy, team, cost.

To better understand the VC decision making process, here are some questions you may ask:

1> Fundraising For An Existing Portfolio
- Would you have your "core" investments list, and their follow up round funding needs in hand, when you raised funds?
- Would your fundraising account for possible iterations to this list? E.g. Would your fundraising process include discussions on potential exits and the potential returns to LPs from these exits?

2> Portfolio Picking as Cherry Picking
- Portfolio Company Consultations: Would you choose which investments needed more money from you on a case by case basis? Would this process be any different from board level discussions on company performance, except for more stringent criteria being thrown into the mix?
- Follow on funding Factors: Would the lack of (or unfavorable term sheet conditions in) follow up rounds of funding due to economic conditions force you into considering more investments in the same companies than you normally would?
- Finance Portfolio Constraints: Would you exit firms that had strong potential, but would skew the risk-reward profile of your portfolio?
- Exit Negotiations: What factors would cause you to take a "non core" company off the "for sale" list? i.e. What could cause you to exit the exit negotiations? How many "non core" companies would you have in play for exits at any point of time? Would you keep the window of being part of a follow on syndicated lending team on some "non core" companies?

Another way to quantify this is as follows:
- Company Funding Needs: How may of the newly identified core/ sustainable investment could do without funds from the same VC firm?
- Finance Portfolio Constraints: How many of the investments outside the "core" list had funding needs that the VC firm could not accommodate in the risk-return profile of the reconfigured portfolio, despite strong potential of meeting expected returns?

The Investor Basics
1. (Re)Evaluating financial options can be difficult in tough times over investments you have made which count on an expected future value, but that's par for the course for any investor.
2. The next step is to identify core investments that continue to be strong on performance indicators,and which, in your judgement, will provide strong returns. This too is par for the course for any good investor.

For those who have doubled down in tough times, a simple question to ask would be how many companies you exited went on to provide "spectacular" returns after their exit?

Its NOT So Easy
This only goes on to illustrate that a VC's decision making to exit portfolio ventures is, for starters, pretty difficult on the VC as well.

What do you think?


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