Recently the venture capital industry has been under review by critics, venture capitalists and the media, each noting how it is changing, why and what we can expect moving forward.
I agree the landscape is changing – not unlike any other industry – and it is not the first time that venture capital has experienced change. After the dotcom bubble burst over a decade ago, the industry underwent a healthy self-examination, and a number of venture firms quietly disappeared. Today, we are in an era of cyclical innovation and it would be shortsighted to think any industry can remain undisrupted for an extended period of time. Disruption leads to new ideas, innovation and efficiencies if approached thoughtfully.
Mark Suster’s recent article in FORTUNE made several excellent points about the “changing structure of the venture capital industry” and he brought a more holistic view to the conversation at large. Here are a few things he mentioned that I unequivocally agree with:
1. Less capital is required to start a company, creating more opportunities for early stage funding. This dynamic results in more competition for investment from different players, creating new competitive forces in the VC industry and democratizing access to capital. Here is a comprehensive list from The Washington Post that itemizes the types of funders in the market these days. It’s also opening up opportunities for funding outside of the traditional centers of venture capital – which we believe is leading to the growth of new entrepreneurial ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley and New York. Revolution recently embarked on a Rise of the Rest Road Trip to showcase these thriving ecosystems and ensure they continue to grow. We feel as a company that this will help the entire ecosystem flourish.
2. Typical VC isn’t being gutted – it’s being supplemented. Mark says the value in the private market has led “other major non-private-market investors to become late-stage VCs.” Where there is supply, you will find demand, more players will certainly enter the market, but there are also more opportunities for venture capital investment. Venture capitalists can distinguish themselves by adding unique value to their investments. At Revolution we focus on collaborating with our portfolio companies to give them the greatest chance of success and we focus on investing in companies where we can add value because of our background and experience.
3. Companies are raising larger amounts of capital before going public. The private market is maturing and participating more in the funding of private companies, to a point where we’re seeing some of the largest companies pushing off IPOs. There are a few reasons for this: there is more late-stage capital available with traditional hedge funds “crossing over” to the venture asset class; going public is still expensive, time-consuming, and distracting; and lately private market valuations are higher than public market valuations (so private financing is less dilutive for companies). This imbalance will reset – it always does – but in the meantime relatively cheap capital is available to mature private companies. Dan Primack has suggested that this trend for the delayed IPO is virtually unpatriotic, but I think that’s a little overstated as the capital markets are merely doing what they are designed to do.
There are many perspectives to be considered but I don’t think there is a reason to be pessimistic about venture capital and where the industry is headed. Technology and innovation will continue to push every industry to adapt in ways that are difficult to ascertain but smart thinking and investing in companies that are built to last will prove valuable for investors and our economy. And I think it will become increasingly important for startups to consider what type of funding and what partners are most beneficial to their company at each stage of their growth.