Showing posts with label Private Equity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Private Equity. Show all posts

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Negative yield ecosystem

   In the Fynbos shrub lands of South Africa, an occasional forest fire is essential for survival of majority plant species there since their seed is released from its woody encasement only after being burnt (obligate seeders). By analogy, the on-going negative yield inferno that’s rapidly destroying investor wealth too may crack open a few seeds of hope and redemption - The core assumption of a fiscal conflagration ecosystem.
Unlike in a natural phenomenon though, any positive outcome from this dismal fiscal scenario has to be necessarily a derivative of human behavior in face of risk. The Prospect theory explains this when it says ‘the decision makers will be risk averse when choosing between gains and risk seeking when choosing between losses’ – This could mean the investing universe over next few months (& once the ECB buy-back bubble in 2016 too is suitably burst…) would stop sinking more money in government, sovereign bonds and look at riskier options like equity that don’t at least start with a chilling promise of sub-zero return – many articles like herehere & herecovered this possibility quite convincingly.
But again, just as forest fire burns down dry tinder first & then progressively dehydrates and engulfs vegetation that was relatively less-drier & safer before, the investors’ new found appetite for risk gradually could expose the relatively self-correcting equity and other asset classes to the risk of long-term under performance. While this eventuality may not be completely unanticipated by the investing junta, the reason why they’d still ignore it in the shorter term once again is explained by the prospect theory’s ‘reference level dependence’ characteristic, whereby a poor performance of a much riskier equity investment would still look eminently better than a known negative yield of a bond.
So if it isn't even equity, what seeds of hope would crack open?
In their quest for the feel-good investments, it is likely the investor interest in PE will spike in the short to longer-term. This expansion of the PE pie will of course be helped by its historically steadier IRR as compared to other asset classes (@ annual return of 15% calculated across 10 years)
While any such incremental flows into the PE may still be a blip compared to what’s at stake in traditional asset classes, considering the critical nature of capital availability in building/ growing companies that’d eventually feed the future equity market, I’d think Private Equity in its glow of new found investor love will turn out to be the quintessential seed that’ll regenerate the fiscal ecosystem.
Well it just might be that the hot winds of negative yields could prove a windfall for the VCs & FoFs currently raising funds.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Don't worry folks, this isn't yet another Uber bashing or defending article. Since so many are already on that job, I'd rather pass the blame up & rile the investor universe a little instead :-)
First a disclaimer:
Conceptually I admire Uber - I dig the fact that something as mundane as local commute can have such disruptive business potential. As a user I loved the sheer convenience & practicality of an app based cab service that eliminates the fuss of 'booking' a chauffeured cab & thrilled that I'd always know how far my ride is & jus' how many more are creeping around near where I am. I liked it that this company made it possible for quite a few folks in the recession hit USA to make a decent living without looking too bad doing that.
Okay the real poser now
Among all the financial greats such as Fidelity Investments, Wellington Management, Black Rock Inc, Summit Partners, Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Menlo Ventures et al who poured in a whopping $1.2 billion into Uber merely a few months ago, is there one that had raised/ browsed over the possibility that Uber with it's now famous thumbing-its-nose-at-rules approach is potentially waltzing each day into a new & huge regulatory risk?
Is it possible at all that there were absolutely no indicators of this looming risk in July 2014 considering that by December 2014 Uber managed to get into trouble in 15 different countries ranging from USA (California, Nevada, Portland); Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Philippines, Taiwan and India?
Are the PE, VC organizations in their quest to go after high potential start-ups not sufficiently factoring in any ethical, livelihood & regulatory aspects, that could turn into risks, before unloading truck loads of money? If indeed these aspects were overlooked by them, is it that in their over-enthusiastic support of Uber & it's disruptive enterprise model, the investing universe did a major disservice to them by not letting them get aware of a potential risk they're aggregating (pun intended) with each city they are expanding into?
I really hope Uber cleans-up & pursues its definitive potential so I could hail my fav' cab again soon within my city and elsewhere too - I could be dead-wrong but I feel though that the investor organizations need to do some soul-searching into what exactly their due-diligence is all about or not & if their multibillion valuations are indeed less market regulatory risk.
Post Thought - 11th December
The banning of Uber in India is akin to a parent banishing the teenager from home just because she/ he is caught smoking for the very first-time. The normal approach would be to tell em' 'you are grounded' & proceed to put some sense in the kid which in case of Uber would be asking them to suspend their operations till all aspects are cleared out - I hope Mr. PM will raise above petty politicking and be the stern nurturer of progress people expect him to be.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Deal-Flow : Value-addition :: Silicon-rapids : Organic back-waters

Reacting to the rather weird scenario wherein some VCs are trashing their own brotherhood, Bruce Booth wonders in his latest article if this is an outcome of a Lake Wobegon-like illusion or if it is the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

In my comment against this post, I offered my own little suggestion for this apparent case self-deprecation (OR is it not) and more....

My comment:
If I go by what Mahendra Ramsinghani said here on LPs bothering more about deal sourcing capability than value-add by VCs, Khosla’s indictment of ‘95% zero-value add VCs’ shouldn’t really rock the boat more than the supposed shake-up caused by the AngelLists’ & Kickstarters’ of the world – The ‘80% negative-value-add’ rhetoric though is way below the belt & confounding.
Perhaps these intriguing proclamations are a manifestation of nervous energy of the PE biggies that are ‘but-of-course rattled too’ by the progressive warming of the PE globe and thus eager to reaffirm their value-add alternate asset investor status to the larger LP universe.
Can’t help but note again that a lot of the above paradigms, shake-ups, prophesies & reactions are all still relevant mostly to the 'silicon-rapids' (IT et al) and much less to the 'organic-back-waters' (~biotech) – taking a cue from what you said about the CEO, I’d think the loneliest job in the world at present probably is that of a biotech venture capitalist :-)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

End of the day it's all about the Benjamins', impressive TVPIs not withstanding!

In a wake-up call of sorts, Super LP Chris Douvos cautions GP universe that end of the day it's 'all about the Benjamins', impressive TVPIs not withstanding!...

'tis the central dogma of investing alright, but still leaves enough scope for a small repartee of my own - here goes;

My comment
Not sure if it’s a norm, but it’d surely surprise me if the GP takes an investment call in a particular portfolio company without as much as doing a cursory review of its exit potential & potential exit valuation – they probably do too, but don’t necessarily assign a value, given the magnitude of arbitrariness in doing so. It hence is somewhat ironic that the exit valuation in this model is merely a derivative of the overall size/ value of the fund raised by the VC and doesn’t factor-in anything that’d determine the potential of an individual investee enterprise – confounding this  further is the VC having to justify this derived value.

So while the proposed analysis does sound like a non-nonsense approach to assessing the fund performance, that part about “reality checking those putative outcomes” would still remain the single most challenging & expectedly the most contentious aspect even as LP-GP engage with an intent to cracking the funding arithmetic.

Nonetheless, it’s good to be reminded that for all practical reasons the sum of individual valuations of portfolio companies in a particular fund is but an unexciting statistic to the PE Portfolio manager in the LP organization keen on showcasing something akin to the promise of an ‘absolute return’ his hedge-fund counterpart typically presents :-)

Friday, June 28, 2013

A start-up messed up at its foundation OUGHT TO be fixed!

The celebrated venture investment guru Peter Thiel postulated a law that says "a start-up messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed" - Bruce Booth attempted a commentary of this law in the context of Biotech ventures through his blog post titled 'Foundings Matter: Thiel’s Law Applied To Biotech' - While Bruce's application of Thiel's law is based on a tacit agreement of the postulation, I believe this can be argued differently, as indicated by some campus talk here...

Below is my comment against the article by Bruce Booth, wherein I agreed and disagreed with the author in two independent contexts....

My comment:
It bugs me no end just how little the VC & PE literati out there ever attempts to explain all those lurid, smart theories in the context of biotech enterprises instead of solely building case-studies out of super-achieving IT start-ups that brought-in bags of cash to the VCs very early into its life cycle. This peculiar penchant among the authors for avoidance of anything called biotech enterprise I feel is owing to a general investor impatience for acknowledging the veracity of any investment that can’t be cashed out profitably within 3-5 years & thereby not showcased as a text-book case of intelligent investing. While otherwise is a decently thought-provoking & stimulating book, “Venture Capitalists at Work: How VCs identify and build billion dollar successes” by Tarang Shah is one such recent addition to my list of disappointing treatise.

Peter Thiel too probably isn’t greatly different after all, since a lot of the wisdom he’s been postulating is validated only within the narrow context of IT start-ups - Your effort Bruce, at ‘pharmifying’ the ‘Thiel’s law’ is thus a very welcome diversion.

None of the mess-ups you listed right from ‘un-reproducible science’ to ‘inappropriate capitalization’ can be contested as inconsequential in any which way & together these six make a great check-list for the entrepreneur on how not to go wrong initially & for a full-fledged due diligence by the VC either at the initial funding or an informal, abbreviated review prior to subsequent funding rounds. I however am struggling a little bit to accept that the DNA can’t ever be repaired once messed up – isn't disruptive innovation, which inherently amounts to re-coding the DNA of the enterprise /or enterprise's innovation/ business model, an accepted strategy now?

In the June 2013 issue of HBR, Rita Gunther McGrath (Author of “The End of Competitive Advantage”) talks on how the current day enterprise scenario is all about moving away from the conventional ‘Sustainable competitive advantage’ model and instead moving towards “Transient competitive advantage’ – Biotechs' that operate within an ever evolving, dynamic clinical scenario I believe can’t really base their strategy on sustainable competitive advantage & have to necessarily adapt, quickly & efficiently to the transient competitive advantage model & this may necessitate periodic re-coding of the enterprise DNA - What I quote here is what pretty much you and others said earlier regarding the need of emergence of ‘lean-start-ups’.

So instead of trying overtly to ensure all loose ends are tied-up upfront (…including the phantom scenarios!) & showcase a supposedly fine-tuned enterprise DNA to the VCs, the start-up would do good to expand the scope of the business plan to incorporate a well thought through set of situation-appropriate pivots & an alternate disruptive innovation model or two.

My two Rappen*

*on a business trip in Switzerland at the time of posting this article

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Nobody’s saying no to India’ – phew, that’s a relief...

The survey of a few global LPs by VCCircle that was intended to understand 'what a LP wants from Indian PE managers" but actually feels like "why a global LP wouldn't want to put his best bucks in Indian PE" threw up some expected & some strange surmises, but nevertheless makes an interesting read –

The link to the article is below & below that is a repro' of my own comment on the article;

My comment:


Interesting surmises!

What makes the takeaways less validated however is the lack of disclosure or at least a categorization of the LPs surveyed**. This gap I felt more acutely for a few like the question # 9 the response pictorial of which indicates that 50% of LPs surveyed will put money in PE/ VCs that're focused on investing in growth-stage enterprises – this averaged-out response doesn't allow one to assess if this is the response of each LP sub-set falls within this range or if some LP sub-sets deviate from the mean significantly.

I also felt a lot of the questions were overtly leading & that could skew the responses in favor of the inherent bias/ prejudice in the question (for e.g. 10 & 11..)

And yeah, the sliver-lining… It warmed my cockles that LPs have acknowledged of the promise of Healthcare Industry in India & the candid confession that ‘no body’s saying no to India’ – phew, that’s a relief.

**I realize it’s possible this can be done still from the data available OR it has already been done… only I couldn’t see it in the downloaded report.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What when the boundaries blur between VC & PE?

My response on the highly thought provoking blog post "Venture Capital 2.0" by Drug Baron (David Grainger) - posted on 01/Mar/2013


Once again a really thorough proposition by Drug Baron that leaves frustratingly little scope to contradict. For the sake of a debate I would still like to raise a few questions; make a few statements & generally try not to sound like mouthing a rejoinder in support of Venture Capital 1.0 - which it definitely is not! J

It is absolutely true that the VC model should periodically re-invent itself & evolve like the innovations of other kind it chases routinely – this, I believe is not just true of VCs focused on life sciences but for all others too. Also, after a quick read, I realized that one could misread the term “asset centric investing” if they do not go through what exactly Index ventures pursues through its IDDs – David, you may consider hyperlinking your statement “Asset-centric investing is only the first step on a road to improved returns for life science investors” to

Now, since the primary intent of the asset-centric-investing model appears to be de-risking venture funding to the LPs (and thus raise funds with less difficulty), the inferred premise(s) of this model appear to be as follows;
  • That the early discovery prior to lead-validation should-not-be/ need-not-be venture funded

  • That owing to the large investment & the inherent risk of failure, innovation (in particular drug discovery) is something better left to academic/ federal institutions & large pharmaceutical organizations that can afford the risk (did someone say, ‘risk is neither created nor destroyed, only transferred and hedged differently!’ :-))

  • And finally that any VC backed biotech with a “pipe-line” hasn’t probably thoroughly screened the clinical & commercial viability of candidates including, probably in a few cases other than, the lead-program candidate for which it managed to tease out some funding?

No doubt this model makes absolute sense to the fund of funds or LPs on its focus on sheer reduction of risk to IRRs but not sure if this model helps generate & nurture novel enterprises & why should it? - now I do realize that the ACI model also believes that creation of an innovative enterprise is NOT the VCs responsibility (probably since they are using ‘others money’ for this noble cause? J) & more a responsibility of the struggling entrepreneurs themselves?

Without sounding too knowledgeable about it, I would like to believe that across the past few years, VC seemed to have played a role in keeping afloat the spirit of enterprise at the most critical & vulnerable early stages and thus helped, however minimally, in letting a lot of budding innovators take root & grow their enterprises into cash-cow organizations that’d offer a lot more de-risked alternative asset investment options to the LPs.

So while I generally & unequivocally support the need for yet another paradigm shift in drug discovery methodology & innovation models, I am not sure if a VC model de-risked to this extent almost morphing into a PE would help this innovation paradigm nor help create the much needed pipeline of early innovative enterprises that later mature into investable asset-centric organizations.

Post thought:

In the current context of drastically reduced spend on basic discovery by big-pharma, I see that most most biotechs, drug discovery organizations have started to reinvent themselves into “drug development organizations” and have quite voluntarily started de-risking by building a pipeline/ portfolio of in-licensed/ spun-off ~pre-validated drug candidates . So I guess without so much as a nudge, the enterprise out there is all ready for Venture Capital 2.0 – Now again that doesn’t say much about the survival chances of real innovation that not necessarily stems from the largest of organizations/ institutions….. after all, garage innovation in life sciences appears to be a distinct possibility in in these winds of open source drug discovery.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

IRR v/s Social Impact: Do financial institutions necessarily go through this dilemma?

The news on Times of India Social Impact Awards & what Nicolas Aguzin, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan- Asia-Pacific said during his speech there about JPM's commitment to its social responsibility triggered a cackle of thoughts that're simultaneously standalone, contradictory, inter-connected and inter-dependent;

  • CSR (Corporate Social REPONSIBILITY) isn’t necessarily the same as CSI (Corporate Social IMPACT)
  • Given all the progress out there in the science of measuring impact, it’s possible a lot of companies have figured out OR will figure out sooner than later, how they could reposition their CSR as CSI
  • In an effort to make their social impact measurable, it’s possible that corporates' inadvertently project & expect social-change in a defined, time-bound (& not practicable) fashion?   - While objectivity & accountability are a must, through my wife’s  work in the development sector (at an implementation level..), I could sense/ witness how some inappropriately designed impact measures of a funding organization can/ have killed or maimed a promising social initiative, which if supported on a longer term could've indeed resulted in replicable, scalable & sustainable social change
  • Finally, if not blatantly so, at the very root most CSR initiatives tend to carefully (& smartly?) avoid any conflict of interest with the organization’s business goals – while this is understandable since the very purpose of a business is NOT social impact but profitability in the longer-term, it definitely makes more long-term business sense to ‘tangibly’ align the CSR/ CSI with an organization’s core business mission. While I wouldn’t risk associating this with the “social business model” of Prof. Muhammad Yunus, I’d think it’s nevertheless related, but limited to formulating the CSR plan – Social-Aligned Business Responsibility-SaBRe anyone?? :-) 

While attempting to apply, superimpose the above ethos onto the social sensitivity of the investing universe out there, I could only come up with a posse of questions, but no obvious answers – ponder this;

  • What would amount to a social impact of a financial institution (LP)? – i.e. apart from making sure the eventual investments (through GPs) are in alignment with certain mandated geo-political guidelines – I do see some institutions following macro-level charters like the Equator principle et al & that’s no doubt a great start, but not sure if that’s comprehensive enough in all complex geological, social contexts and effective for what length of a long-term?
  • In a climate where the accepted investment efficiency measures employed are the time-bound investment-to-exit cycles & IRR, is there a safety catch, any checks & measures that’d  ensure sustenance of an innovative enterprise that may have a greater social impact, if not an eye-popping ROI?

Food for thought…

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Climb down from the towers BoDs..

We are all Board Members on LI by Lucy P Marcus

As an employee who always worked with a sense of ownership, accountability, I always felt its strange that the board's engagement with key employees (second line, executing level) within the organization is non-existent & more often than not, its strategic guidance is based on a colorful slide-deck or an birds-eye-view executive summary that rarely reflects the subtler aspects of business realities and it's short & long-term sustenance. While I see a common thread here that the board has a responsibility towards company's vision & and should represent the stakeholders interest rather than it’s own, I am wondering why so many critical decisions are still taken by boards without ever engaging directly with the stakeholders that actually go about translating the vision into action? & I’m presuming that employees at key positions too are considered a part of the stakeholder pool & not just the investing PE universe.