ELIAN D. ALVAREZ

- VENTURE CAPITAL - ANGEL INVESTMENT -
- ENTREPRENEURSHIP - LATAM - INNOVATION -
- INVESTMENTS - PRIVATE EQUITY - FINANCE -

Evolution of the Venture Capital Sector

Jul
06

Venture capital (VC) industry is highly volatile. It is constantly evolving and has undergone massive changes in the past ten years due to the growth of the software sector. The shift toward the IT industry will continue to persist until one of the two situations occur:

  • Either the software market starts experiencing saturation as a result of huge inflow of money in the industry or
  • There is a manifestation of a new industry that shows higher profits, hence catching the attention of investors.

There are some analysts in the financial sector who are also anticipating another bubble bust that will be similar to the dotcom bubble in the 90s.

 

Rise and Fall in the VC Sector During the Past 5 Years

In 2015, VC investment around the globe experienced a growth of 19 percent. The total funding was between $128.5 billion and $130 billion, which has been the highest in the last 5 years. However, the investment continued to grow in the U.S. from $58.8 billion in 2015 to $69.1 billion in 2016.

As far as the rise of unicorn companies on a global level is concerned, it gradually declined after 2015 when the total number of startups that reached unicorn status were 71. The number reduced to 40 in 2016. On the other hand, a decline was also observed in seed funding as it dropped by 25 percent and touched the lowest point since 2012. The late and early stage investments also went down by 14 percent and 5 percent respectively.

 

Opportunities for VC Investors

Although, a large number of high profile investors pursue seed stage deals, they usually have sufficient funds to invest in the most attractive startup companies, which has subsequently strengthened Series A and Series B rounds.

Moreover, seed stage investments performed really well in 2014 and 2015, indicating the fact that investors who made those investments will be continuing in 2017. It will give rise to a great opportunity for investors who are seeking to make an investment at a later stage.

The momentum in the IPO will also increase, because the public sector tends to grow when valuations in the private sector are higher. It is quite likely that the IPO market backed by VC investors will outperform in 2017 as compared to 2016. For example, it has been reported that Snap Inc. is expected to offer its share at about $20 billion. If the offer materializes, it will be one of the largest VC backed IPO deal. In addition to that, Spotify, Pinterest, Dropbox and Uber are some of the names creating buzz in the IPO sector.

 

Rising Trends and Acquisitions

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have grabbed a lot of attention between 2015 and 2016, and they are likely to secure more investment in 2017 as well. There were more than 300 businesses that managed to raise early and seed stage funding in 2016, yet, approximately dozen secure funds at a later stage.

Moreover, a number of healthy acquisitions have also taken place recently. The examples include the acquisition of Movidius by Intel for $350 million and acquisition of virtual assistant developer Viv by Samsung.

 

Economics and Investors’ Behavior

There is a major role play of economics when it comes to VC investments. Since economics follow a cyclical pattern, it is highly likely that history will not be repeated nor will the unpredictable happen. Also, economics involves study of human behavior that contains an element of irrationality. This element enables us to anticipate the shifts in behavior of VC investors only to an extent of its repetition and history, but it cannot be predicted with full certainty.

VC investments change with the passage of time. As the inflow of funds increases in the software sector, it gives rise to increasing competition in the market, which eventually reduce the overall returns as several firms compete to maintain a customer base. It might also cause a shift in venture capitalist behavior in times to come if other sectors seem more viable.

 

All in all, the justification of a VC investors’ behavior can be summed up by saying that venture capitalists tend to go in a direction where the money flows.

No undefeated fighter (like Floyd Mayweather Jr.) in Investments

Sep
15

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is not only considered the best boxer of all times, but also one of the highest paid athletes of 2012 and 2013 in the Forbes list. Known to be an invincible boxer, Mayweather won 12 world titles and was six-time winner of the Best Fighter ESPY Award, two-time winner of The Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the year, and three-time winner of the BWAA. This year, he has been ranked by ESPN as the greatest pound-to-pound boxer of the last twenty-five years.

But can there be a Mayweather among Venture Capitalists or Investments in general? When it comes to Venture Capital investments, there is no undefeated Fighter; nothing like Floyd Mayweather Jr. in boxing. A venture capitalist has to face the risk of losing his investment at some point in time. Just because they think they have taken all the right decisions, doesn’t mean they will always generate higher profits. There are a number of external factors that play a vital part in making a venture capital (VC) investment successful or unsuccessful, and none of these are avoidable.

Every investment has its ups and down, and venture capital investments are no exception. Being an investor, it is very important to have a realistic mindset; one cannot simply rule out the risk associated with that investment. However, what he can do is manage the risk. Same is the case with venture capital investment; a venture capitalist can always minimize the risk and increase the chances of success by working hard and continuously analyzing the market. If not all, it will allow him to succeed in most of them. Like Mayweather said, “To be the best, you have to work overtime.” And that is the key; a key to success.

In every sport, an athlete can improve the likelihood of success if only he trains hard for it. The loss is unavoidable, yet, it can be managed and minimized so as to reduce its overall impact. So, how can a venture capitalist minimize the risk of loss? What attributes must he possess to make a venture capital investment a success?

Understand the Market – One of the crucial elements of VC investment is to have a good understanding of the market. The markets are continually evolving and venture capitalists must have a good understanding of rapidly changing market trends in order to make the best out of their investment.

Be Optimistic about the Change – A key factor to adapt to a change is to stay positive. A co-founder of the Polaris Ventures and Emeritus Chairman of National Venture Capital Association, Terry McGuire, said, “You have to believe that the world can change; be optimistic and at the same time, be realistic and guarded, not romantic”.

Situational Awareness – A founder of Accel Partners, James R. Swartz said that a good venture capitalist possesses a trait of situational awareness, meaning he can walk into any meeting and identify the issues in just a few minutes; he can sort of cut through it and figure out what’s going on.

The CEO and fund manager of Renaissance Venture Fund, Christopher L. Rizik, has identified three qualities of a good venture capitalist. According to him, a good VC has a good sense of the world around him, and how it changes. Another quality is patience – a smart venture capitalist would never lose control or panic when the going gets tough, in fact, they make profits and eventually succeed as opposed to those who freak out and give up at an early stage. Lastly, a VC has to be fair to everyone as individuals want to work with those venture capitalists who are fair, smart and treat everyone well, and not with the ones who just think about themselves.

It is all about practicing, bringing precision and polishing your skills in order to learn and grow. Like Mayweather once said,

Everybody is blessed with a certain talent, you have to know what your talent is; you have to maximize it and push it to the limit.

Value Investment Strategy in Venture Capital

Sep
08

Why succeed in every investment (or the majority of them) is more important than depending on the statistical model of “Spray and Pray”.

Starting a business is not easy. One has to invest a lot of effort, time, and brain in order to introduce an idea that can stand out and is of value to others. Every individual is naturally inclined toward investing in a startup with better prospects than a start-up that would not generate any value and likely to fail in the future. Every investor would want to see his investment a complete success, whether it be an investment in a single stock or a bucket full of stocks. Same is the case with Venture Capitalists; they wish every investment to be successful, and for the same reason, prefer to use value investment strategy over the statistical model of spray and pray.

Although, spray and pray has got a lot of media attention in the past few years, and the face behind it is none other than Dave McClure, the founder of 500 startups, yet, you cannot deny the fact that it is important to reasonably manage your risk.

Nurturing the Idea is as Important as Making Money Out of it

Nurturing the idea is as important as making money out of it and this is exactly what value investors believe in, because you won’t be able to make money out of it if it doesn’t grow well. Manu Kumar, the founder of K9 Ventures, said that most companies do not turn out to be a failure because of their investors, but despite their investors. This is why he doesn’t want the startups, he has invested in, to fail, and wants a reasonable success rate in his investments. He keeps an average of four or five companies in his portfolio and he wants each one of them to be a success. This is why he is very selective and prefer to go for the one with good prospects. He keeps his investment between $100k and $200k and screen companies down while expecting a much higher rate of success. He looks for appropriately priced deals and doesn’t touch anything that is five or higher.

Value Investing Strategy – Bridging the Gap between Investors’ Mindset and Founders’ Perception

Another famous name among the Venture Capitalists, Thomas Korte, said that they do everything in a scaled way, because the majority of the founders tend to take the funds they are offered in the seed stage. There are very few in the market who believe that their investors would take them through Series B and Series C, and their apprehensions are true to a certain extent. At one point, McClure said, “it is not that their portfolio has a high death rate, it’s just that there is a higher death rate out there.” Instead of aligning himself with the founder and an acquirer, he prefers to align with an investor and acquirer. So, if a company has a scalable impact, he makes a deal as soon as possible. It is not easy to bridge the gap between investors’ mindset and this commonly held belief of startups. However, Value investing strategy can contribute towards changing this mindset and bringing harmonization to achieve common goals.

Benefits of Value Investing

Potential to Make High Profits – As opposed to spray and pray strategy, value investing has a potential to make high profits, because value investors tend to invest in companies that are being offered at a discount price and sell them well above their intrinsic value by bringing their true value to light through solid research on a value stock, its peers, and the sector.

Avoid Exposure to High Risk – Investing in a few companies with good future prospects will not only enable the investor to focus on materializing the potential value, but also keep the overall cost to a minimum. The investor will not be dependent to succeed on that only company that make the revenue beside all the others have already failed.

 

Yes, there might be a lot of effort and hard work involved the value investment strategy to be implemented while choosing the startups for investments, but it is important to note that short term price fluctuations are not always a true depiction of the true value of an asset.

As Benjamin Graham, the founder of value investing and mentor of Warren Buffet, once said, “In the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”

Value Investing or Spray and Pray

Sep
01

In my last article I wrote about the value investment strategy, now I will compare it with the “Spray and Pray” method.

Value investing and Spray and Pray are two of the widely talked about strategies in the world of venture capital. Some of them view value investing as a reasonable approach, because it is concentrated toward investing in companies that are undervalued and have a strong business model with good future prospects. While others consider spray and pray method to be a wise approach as they believe it gives rise to diversification and enables investors to generate maximum return out of a few startups that reach a unicorn status. Before going into detail about which strategy is better, let’s take a look at what value investing and spray and pray strategies actually are.

Value Investing

It is a commonly used venture capital strategy, where investors seek the companies that have a potential to produce large profits for an extended period of time. It is a concentrated investment approach that allows VCs to identify good startups after keeping in mind certain factors, including the cash flow position of a company, profit generation from its key operations, and its potential to grow in future.

Spray and Pray Method

Spray and pray method is a more diversified approach and is considered aggressive by some investors. A well-known name in the world of venture capital, Dave McClure, founder of 500 start-ups, is usually known as a spray and pray venture capitalist. However, he detests the idea of being characterized as such. A few years ago, he participated in a panel discussion of angel investors, where he said that he puts a lot of thought into his investment strategies, so it is not fair to call it spray and pray method; it is diversification with a thorough working behind it.

More Concentrated Approach or Diversified Approach – Which is Better?

When it comes to choosing between value investing and spray-and-pray strategies, mixed reviews are received from the market. For example, in an interview with McClure, he argued that a high volume and diversified investment strategies, like spray and pray, provide consistently stronger cash on cash returns than in the case of more concentrated scenario. He supported the idea by explaining his portfolio of 500 startups that around 60 to 80 percent of his investments do not reach any return less than 1x invested, whereas, 15 to 20 percent do provide 3 to 5 times the original investment. Moreover, 5 to 10 percent reach exceed the value of $100 million, but the actual return is generated from 1 to 2 percent of the startups that reach a unicorn status and provide 50 times or more of the originally invested funds.

When we talk about multi-party seed round, investors are compelled to earn their right to participate in the next phase due to the increased level of competition. It not only provides greater value to venture capitalists, but also turns out to be beneficial for entrepreneurs. According to McClure, using spray and pray at the seed level, collecting insight and optionality on early stage startups, and then doubling the bet on the successful investments, can actually break the perception of considering the concentrated portfolio strategy as industry best practice.

Flagship ventures, on the other hand, carefully select later stage value investments. They actively evaluate and fund the companies that are at an advanced stage in a product development, yet, these firms require additional funds and strategic involvement to reach their full potential. In a panel discussion of angel investors, Jed Katz from Javelin Ventures said that they invest as little as a few hundred grands to $2.5 million in the companies and dedicatedly invest the time and energy to expand their scalability. Another venture capitalist, Manu Kumar from K9 Ventures, said that he prefers all his companies to be a success, and this is the reason why he is very cautious about where he should invest. He further said that there are various strategies at a seed level, however, it doesn’t mean that one strategy is right and the other is wrong; they are just suitable at different levels.

Value Investment

Aug
25

Value investment strategy is one of the strategies used in the stock market, where investors look for the companies that have the ability to generate returns at a reasonable level during a sustained holding period. In other words, a value investor tries to find a company that is undervalued by the market, but it has a potential to show an increase in its share value once the market rectifies the error of valuing that firm. So, it allows an investor to buy a well performing share at a cheaper price.

How to Screen for a Value Stock?

Value investors are not concerned with the factors that usually cause price fluctuation in the market. For them, the factors that would impact a stock price are oil prices, inflation reports, wars, and hikes in the Federal rates. This is the reason why they look for stocks with strong dividends, earnings, cash flow, and book value, because value investing is not just about purchasing an undervalued stock, it is about purchasing a good stock that is undervalued. However, just having the strong fundamentals doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a value stock investment opportunity, because a company with strong and consistent earnings growth, attractive cash-flows, decent dividends, and a minimal amount of debt might represent a growth investment, and so, value investors won’t be interested in it.

An investor must keep three questions in mind when he seeks a high value stock:

  • How is the cash-flow position of a company?
  • If the company is generating profit from its key operations?
  • What are the future prospects in terms of growth potential?

Quantitative Aspects

How to assess a good value stock? (Just some RATIOS)

  • High Dividend Yield – The stock with an ability to generate high dividend yield, is considered a good value stock. However, a comparison should be made in the same industry.
  • Low P/E Ratio – It is a comparison between a share price and the earnings generated by each share. Paying less for more profit will be a good indication of a good value stock.
  • Low Price to Book Ratio – The lower this ratio is, the better it would be, as it shows how much will be left after the liquidation.
  • PEG Ratio – Value investing doesn’t simply means investing in low Price to earning stocks. Another largely accepted metric for finding out the intrinsic value of a company is PEG ratio, which is calculated by dividing the P/E ratio of a stock with its projected earnings growth rate over the years. It measures how cheap a stock can be while keeping in mind the growth of its earnings. Therefore, a PEG ratio of less than 1 means a company is undervalued.
  • Net-Net Method – According to this method, if a company trades at 67 percent of its current assets, an investor doesn’t have to adopt any other measure of worth, because it depicts that a buyer is getting all the non-current and intangible assets free of cost. But, there are only a few companies that are trading this low.

Qualitative Aspects

Value stocks can be found in any industry, including finance, energy, and even TECHNOLOGY. Yet, they are mostly commonly located in industries that have recently been hit by a difficult time, for example, the cyclical nature of auto industry give rise to a period of undervaluation of companies like General Motors and Ford.

Warren Buffett, one of the most astute investors of all time, learned the art of trading from Benjamin Graham, who was the father of value investing. Buffett has always emphasized that buying a good company at a fair price is far better than buying a fair company at a good price, which is true. Value investing is not about purchasing stocks at a bargain price and hoping for the best, nor is it about making quick money on a market trend. The main idea behind it is to invest in companies with strong business models.

It is important to have a long term strategy with value investing. The investors shouldn’t get faltered by short term market features, such as volatility or daily price fluctuations, because a good firm will not lose its worth even on a bad day. Although, value investment strategy is dependent on a stern screening process, yet, it has a potential to generate reasonable returns in the long run.