Category Archives: Venture Capital

Stanford will invest in companies founded by students

“The prestigious American university Stanford will now invest in start-ups.” Thus begins an article in the newspaper Le Monde. The author, Jerome Marin, is rather negative about this decision, as the following quote shows: “The confusion is fueled even at the top of the university: the president has close ties with several giants of Silicon Valley, including Google as it is a member of the Board.” Without trying to argue, I think the reporter is misled.

Stanford va investir

But before I give you my point of view , I’d like to mention that I looked for other articles related to the topic, I found at least two :
– That of TechCrunch, close in spirit to Le Monde’s one, Stanford University Is Going To Invest In Student Startups Like A VC Firm. The article is also critical but I think better informed… and it also deals with the tension between the academic and business worlds. “That tension between academia and industry was highlighted this past spring when a number of students dropped out of school to start Clinkle”.
with references to another New Yorker article.
– The press release by Stanford University, StartX, Stanford University and Stanford Hospital & Clinics announce $3.6M grant and venture fund. If you read the statement carefully, it is about a gift from Stanford to StartX and a joint Stanford-StartX fund. StartX is an accelerator created by Stanford students and I understand that the University therefore supports this initiative. There is no mention, however, of a fund managed by Stanford as a VC fund.

The reason I think the reporter is mistaken is when he says that “Stanford will invest in companies created by its students”. As if it was new. Even if I agree that the stakes taken in start-ups in exchange for licensing of intellectual property is not an investment per se, Stanford still has acquired stakes in more than 170 of its spin-offs in the past . In addition the Stanford endowment has invested on an individual basis in many start-ups in the past (not to mention in many VC funds). For example, I found in a database I am building on Stanford-related companies, that Stanford invested in Aion (1984), Convergent (1980), Gemfire (1995), Metreo (2000), Tensilica (1998). Website LinkSv mentions Stanford invested in 143 companies. [I am aware there might be some confusion between investor and shareholder, so the topic remains somehow confusing].

Finally, in the 2000s, the Office of Technology Transfer at Stanford managed two funds, the Birdseed Fund (for amounts of $5k to $25k) and the Gap Fund ($25k to $250k) as shown the 2002 OTL annual report.

It is not at all new that Stanford invests in its start-ups. There has also always been tension, let’s do not deny it either. A little-known example of Cisco-Stanford early relationship. So nothing new under the sun. But you will not be surprised if I add that the overall result seems (is) extremely positive for all stakeholders, the university (including in its academic dimension), individuals, start-ups and the economy in general.

The father of venture capital: Georges Doriot

Not many people ever heard of Georges Doriot. I knew his name because I know a little about VC (you can always check my visual history of VC). But I did not know much about him. Now that I read Creative Capital by Spencer Ante, I know much more. As usual, when I comment books, I mostly do some copy-pastes. Here they are:

CreativeCapital-Doriot-Ante

In 1921, Doriot came to America on a steamship. Even though he had no friends or family in the United States, never graduated from college, and dropped out of graduate school, the Frenchman became, arguably, the most influential and popular professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business. Over three generations, Doriot taught thousands of students [Page xiv].

He was early to recognize the importance of globalization and creativity in the business world. “A lot of the things that were attributed to Peter Drucker [link blog] were Doriot’s ideas” says Charles P. Waite [Page xv].

He believed in building companies for the long haul, not flipping them for a quick profit. Returns were the by-product of hard labor, not a goal. Doriot often worked with a company for a decade or more before realizing any return. That is why he often referred to his companies as his “children”. “When you have a child, you don’t ask what return you can expect” Doriot was quoted in a 1967 Fortune story “Of course, you have hopes – you hope the child will become President of the United States. But that is not very probable. I want them to do outstandingly well in their field. And if they do, the rewards will come. But if a man is good and loyal and does not achieve a so-called good rate of return, I will stay with him. Some people don’t become geniuses until after they are 24, you know. If I were a speculator, the question, of return would apply. But I don’t consider a speculator – in my definition of the word – constructive. I am building men and companies.” [Page xvii]

“A creative man merely has ideas; a resourceful man makes them practical.” [Page xviii]

[He] ushered a new era of corporate culture. At Digital, the engineer was king. Hierarchy was out. Controlled chaos was in. Like Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, Digital was a petri dish in which the counterculture was spawned in the late 1950s. “He was definitely part of a social revolution that loosened things up.”

For 20 years Doriot was a professor and a business advisor. “How did a man with hardly any experience running a business come to be such a world-class businessman? The answer is that during those years, dozens of companies hired the professor to help guide them through the worst disaster that ever hit the American economy. In that dark decade, Doriot gained a lifetime experience as an officer, director and consultant” [page 64].

American Research and Development Corporation (ARD)

The idea of an entity helping companies by making risky investments was born before World War II but could be implemented only in 1946. On June 6, 1946, the American Research and Development Corporation (ARD) was incorporated under Massachusetts law. It believed in “innovation, risk-taking and an unwavering belief in human potential”. They also realized that organizations with fiduciary resources and the seasoned operators running them were not daredevils skilled in the art of invention and that, conversely, inventors were struggling creative types with no money. ARD sought to bring together these two independent yet largely separate communities.

Typically, ARD preferred to take a hands-off approach. They were there to coach, guide and inspire. Running the business was the job of the entrepreneur. But quite often, circumstances called for more drastic action. [Page 121]

“Never go in venture capital if you want a peaceful life”. [Page 126] In 1953, Doriot was gloomy about the state of venture capital. “Venture capital is not fashionable anymore.” Waves of technologies seemed to come out of nowhere and crash onshore every twenty or thirty years. The trick of a venture capitalist was to catch the wave several years before it crested ad to bail out before it crashed. [Looks like speculation, or doesn’t it?] It is interesting to see how the great interest that existed seven or eight years ago in venture capital has disappeared and how the daring and courage which were prevalent at that time have now waned” wrote Doriot. [page 138]

More about ARD’s facts and figures in the table below.

A star is born – 1957

“In the early 1950s, the postwar euphoria of the previous decade that had infused Americans with a sense of infinite possibilities morphed into a Cold War miasma of fear and paranoia. Yet underneath the surface of fear, a subculture of experimentation and rebellion flourished. In the early – to mid-190s, Allen Ginsberg, jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs developed a radical new form of literature that emphasized “stream of consciousness” writing. Modern abstract painting by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko overthrew European conventions of beauty and form. And in laboratories and universities across the northeastern seaboard, a bunch of scientists and engineers tinkered away on strange but powerful new electronics and computer devices that promised to completely change the way people communicated and conducted business. “ [Page 147]

In the spring 1957 Ken Olsen then at MIT would team up with his buddy Harlan Anderson. They had an idea and a plan. They needed some money. They approached General Dynamics, who “turned them down flat because we didn’t have any business experience.” Then they contacted ARD. ARD had the perfect formula: two grade A men paired with an outstanding idea. ARD offered $70,000 for a 70 percent stake. Ten percent was reserved for a seasoned manager (who would never be found or hired) and the remaining 20% to the 2 founders (12% to Olsen and 8% to Anderson). Because computers were not fashionable, the company project name was changed from Digital Computers to Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). [Pages 148-150]

The birth of a new industry

1957 was a critical year. America was shocked by the Sputnik. Public money flowed both to R&D with the creation of ARPA (later DARPA) and to venture capital through the new SBIC program. “Many of today’s most successful venture capitalists rightly point out that the SBIC program never created a company of considerable or lasting success. But if the SBIC program did little to advance the art and practice of successful venture investing, it did help propel the venture industry by attracting talented young men who later became pioneers of the field.

In 1957, Doriot also worked at the creation of INSEAD in Paris which was opened in September 1959. Doriot would have 3 careers in his life, a professor at Harvard business school (including helping in the creation of INSEAD), a consultant and even a administrator for the Army, the reason why he was a general and finally a VC with not only ARD but also at the origin of TED (UK), CED (Canada) and EED (Europe).

The success of DEC would make ARD highly successful but would also contribute to its end… As an investment company, ARD was highly regulated; compensation of its employees would become a long battle with SEC and IRS. Only 4 ARD employees would get DEC shares (worth $20M for each individual) and the allocation looked arbitrary to many. “Pressure was growing on ARD to divulge its growing mess of regulatory problems, and to take Digital public. But Doriot did not think Digital was ready to deal with the unforgiving spotlight of public ownership.” [Page 186]

Doriot did not prepare his succession, incentives were low for employees. Some left. Elfers was first and founded Greylock, Waite would follow him. “There was one more reason Elfers left. He realized along with an increasing number of investors in new companies that venture capital and the stock markets mixed as well as oil and water. For Elfers, the solutions to many of ARD’s problems was to take advantage of a new organizational form: the limited partnership (LP). In 1959, the first LP was organized in Palo Alto: Draper, Gaither & Anderson. Then in 1961, Arthur Rock, a former student of Doriot formed Davis & Rock. There were distinct advantages. General partners who ran the firm received not only a management fee, they also received a share of the capital gains. A limited partnership would avoid the glare of public disclosure.” [Page 190]

Still the DEC IPO was a success (see table). “The Digital IPO amounted to a financial revolution. It was really mind-blowing that you could take such a small amount of seed capital and get ownership of a company that was worth more than IBM in a fairly short period of time.” [page 197]

Doriot-DEC-FF

The emergence of Silicon Valley

“Today many financiers and entrepreneurs assume the west coast always dominated the VC business. They simply do not realize the industry was pioneered by ARD and a few other northeastern firms in the three decades following World War II. So why did Silicon Valley take over leadership?” [page 227] Spencer Ante explains that with MIT, Harvard, in Boston and New York as the financial capital, the East Coast had a huge lead; but a hospitable climate, ethnic diversity and the vision of Terman at Stanford were critical for the West. “Terman was disturbed to find most of his top students fleeing to the east coast. In 1934, two of his best students, Dave Packard and William Hewlett, followed the same path. Terman wooed them back.” [page 229] Then following Fairchild, semiconductor makers started popping up all over northern California. “All It needed was a steady supply of venture capital.” It’s ironic to read that Tom Perkins declined joining ARD. He wanted to launch his own firm. With Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins would become one of the top 2 VCs in Silicon Valley. The rest is history… ARD was merged with Textron for $400M in 1972. It had made more than $200M in DEC from an initial $70k seed investment.

“In 1978, there were 23 venture funds managing $500 million. By 1983, there were 230 firms overseeing $11 billion. “ [page 250] No doubt, the East Coast missed some of the features that the West would develop with an open culture and the right incentives, in addition to what Doriot pioneered on the East Coast… He dies on June 2, 1987. He was 87 years old.

Doriot-ARD-FF

Venture Capital in Europe and in the USA

A very short note on an excellent presentation by Jean-David Chamboredon, partner with ISAI fund, entitled Funding Innovation in Europe. I particularly liked two slides that show the success rate of investment in a start-up, and the other one addressing a subject that is dear to me, the comparison of VC in Europe and the USA. Thank you to my colleague Marie-Laure for mentioning this study have me 🙂

ISAI-VCreturns

ISAI-USvsEU

French start-ups (again)

I am attached to France for obvious reasons. And recently, I have read a lot about French innovation. It’s not as bad as the general public may think but it is not as good as I would like. Still there are reasons for hope. Let me comment two recent works:
– an article from Le Monde newspaper, entitled Heureux comme un patron de start-up en France
– a report from OSEO (the French Innovation Agency) which I had mentioned before in You have to go global, and right from the start, but which I had read too quickly!

The article from Le Monde is about French Accelerator Le Camping. The article is optimistic (maybe a little too much), but you should read it if you understand French. What I noticed was:

– “The Hexagon can also count on experienced funds such as Partech (but also Idinvest, Apax) who continued to irrigate the area after the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000. About fifteen venture capital funds finance about a thousand start-ups and inject 200-300 million euros per year in the digital field, said Philippe Collombel. The French industry is one of the best in the world, judges Christopher Bavaria, president of Idinvest. And there are many areas where a little “Frenchy” managed to make a name alongside the leading Anglo-Saxon player: Dailymotion vs. YouTube, Viadeo behind LinkedIn , Deezer on the heels of Spotify …” I think this is dangerously optimistic but nice! We should not be just a copy-paste version of the USA though.

– “Another asset of the Hexagon: its serial entrepreneurs. The first generation began with the Minitel, has launched the digital era in the late 1990s, and overcame the bubble. They include Marc Simoncini (iFrance, Meetic), Jacques-Antoine Granjon (ventre-privée), Patrick Robin (Imaginet, 24h00), Xavier Niel … Twenty years later, they play the “business angels” for the younger: PriceMinister, Dailymotion, Criteo, or Deezer.” Quite true.

– However, “the Business Angels do not support enough entrepreneurs” […] “There are not enough funds enbling jumping from start-up to that of medium-sized companies.”

[You may also be interested about an analysis of the Acceletor trend from the Financial Times, which is also quite good: Start-ups put their foot on the accelerator. “In the past they could have been labelled an incubator, which is apparently different from an accelerator.” […] “Probably the first accelerator was Paul Graham’s Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. Since 2005 it has fostered almost 500 start-ups, including big successes such as AirBnB and Dropbox.” […] “This method of building new companies at warp speed is fascinating. The philosophy is to try lots of different ideas, fail fast, and pivot if something does not work. I like the sense of urgency, the work ethic, the high-pressure environment that helps drive rapid progress, and the incredible opportunities to network and cross-fertilise.” […] “However, in general, I think start-ups take a long time to become viable – years not months – so trying to achieve so much in such a concentrated period of time feels unrealistic.” […] “There are now an estimated 123 accelerator programmes around the world.” […] “Some veterans think many will close, just as many of the projects they incubate will fail. But all this frantic activity will surely boost entrepreneurship, stimulate jobs, and – in the long run – create wealth, so it deserves applause”]

You can find (in French) the OSEO report by clicking on the picture. I was wrong in my previous post, I learnt a few things! And it has more depth than the good Le Monde article. The first one is about the fears and difficulties of entrepreneurs.


Click on picture to enlarge.


Click on picture to enlarge.

Fear of failing with its attached stigma remains high. Finding customers is the biggest challenge, higher then finding investors. Interesting. Then there is an interesting lesson about the age of founders, which you can compare to an analysis I have made on 165 public companies.


Click on picture to enlarge. Source: personal data

This is a popular topic, and you might read again Wadhwa’s study, his Washington Post article or Is There A Peak Age for Entrepreneurship? I am not sure how to read all this, but I have the feeling there is a tendency to higher age recently… The average age of French founders is 41 whereas the public companies I have have founders with an average of 36.5 (and 34 for the companies founded before 1995).

Finally there is an analysis of “models of development of start-ups”.

The authors compare 2 main classes of start-ups (out of 5), the ones being the most common (classes 3 and 5 in the figure). [Class 4 is more an intermediate status en route to either 3 or 5; class 1 is M&A and class 5 have not developed at all.]

“In class 3, 41% of the total population, companies have a lower level of development because the company is “self-centered”. 50% have no partner, no subsidiary. The project leader is still a dominant position in the capital: 68% have a stake greater than 75% in this class; 1 out of 2 still 50% to 75% of capital.”

“In contrast, firms in class 5, have a proven open behavior. They have opened their capital to have the resources to advance an innovation project. 60% of project owners have less than 25% of the start-up in this class, as well as half of them with between 25% and 50% of the capital. Moreover, almost all listed companies are in this class. 80% of these companies are internationalized (export or implantation).”

“These are companies that have had time to grow: almost half who them are more than 8 years old and almost 40% are between 5 and 8 years old today. The maturity only does not explain, however, their momentum. Indeed, they were faced, too, with problems of redefining their business plans as well as those of class 3, even a little more frequently. However, they saw this less as a constraint.”

“In addition, Class 3 focuses more on public funding which is considered a main lever for growth. The youth of this population and the lower opening of their capital can hypothesize that the public support at the pre-seed and seed stages is an essential substitute to private capital.”

“The statistical comparison classes 3-5 on these variables reveals that:
• The median Class 5 has a higher workforce than class 4, which employs, more people than class 3 (respectively 10, 6 and 4 employees);
• Classes 4 and 5 achieve an identical median turnover (about 580k€) higher than the median Iclass 3 (390k€);
• On the median level of equity, it is still significantly higher for class 5 (409k€) than for class 4 (284k€) and Class 3 (149k€), and more than €1million for the upper quartile of the class 5 only 389k€ for the class 3)”

Of course the conclusion of the report is to encourage the filtering and then development towards class 5. but myless optimistic conclusion is that even class 5 companies are not big success stories…

The Venture Capital Secret: 3 Out of 4 Start-Ups Fail

In a recent article from the WSJ (thanks Greg :-), it is claimed that Venture Capital is much less succesful than thought: 3 Out of 4 Start-Ups Fail. Well I am surprised by the surprise. I did some copy paste of the paper below, and I put in bold the things I found interesting. You should jump there and come back here!

I have done my analyis in the past. You can go back to by 2’700 stanford related companies (slide 9 of the pdf) or more anecdotically to Kleiner Perkins first fund.

So yes, there is a lot of failure in VC and the numbers do not count so much. It might be that in the past, there were fewer failures than today, and the reasons would be numerous, but the important point in the paper is the following: “the truth is that if you don’t have a lot of failures, then you’re just not doing it right, because that means that you’re not investing in risky ventures”

 

 

From the WSJ article:

It looks so easy from the outside. An entrepreneur with a hot technology and venture-capital funding becomes a billionaire in his 20s. But now there is evidence that venture-backed start-ups fail at far higher numbers than the rate the industry usually cites. About three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the U.S. don’t return investors’ capital, according to recent research by Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. Compare that with the figures that venture capitalists toss around. The common rule of thumb is that of 10 start-ups, only three or four fail completely. Another three or four return the original investment, and one or two produce substantial returns. The National Venture Capital Association estimates that 25% to 30% of venture-backed businesses fail.

Mr. Ghosh chalks up the discrepancy in part to a dearth of in-depth research into failures. “We’re just getting more light on the entrepreneurial process,” he says. His findings are based on data from more than 2,000 companies that received venture funding, generally at least $1 million, from 2004 through 2010. He also combed the portfolios of VC firms and talked to people at start-ups, he says. The results were similar when he examined data for companies funded from 2000 to 2010, he says. Venture capitalists “bury their dead very quietly,” Mr. Ghosh says. “They emphasize the successes but they don’t talk about the failures at all.”

There are also different definitions of failure. If failure means liquidating all assets, with investors losing all their money, an estimated 30% to 40% of high potential U.S. start-ups fail, he says. If failure is defined as failing to see the projected return on investment—say, a specific revenue growth rate or date to break even on cash flow—then more than 95% of start-ups fail, based on Mr. Ghosh’s research.
Failure often is harder on entrepreneurs who lose money that they’ve borrowed on credit cards or from friends and relatives than it is on those who raised venture capital.

“People are embarrassed to talk about their failures, but the truth is that if you don’t have a lot of failures, then you’re just not doing it right, because that means that you’re not investing in risky ventures,” Mr. Cowan says. “I believe failure is an option for entrepreneurs and if you don’t believe that, then you can bang your head against the wall trying to make it work.”

Overall, nonventure-backed companies fail more often than venture-backed companies in the first four years of existence, typically because they don’t have the capital to keep going if the business model doesn’t work, Harvard’s Mr. Ghosh says. Venture-backed companies tend to fail following their fourth years—after investors stop injecting more capital, he says.

Of all companies, about 60% of start-ups survive to age three and roughly 35% survive to age 10, according to separate studies by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes U.S. entrepreneurship. Both studies counted only incorporated companies with employees. And companies that didn’t survive might have closed their doors for reasons other than failure, for example, getting acquired or the founders moving on to new projects. Languishing businesses were counted as survivors.

Of the 6,613 U.S.-based companies initially funded by venture capital between 2006 and 2011, 84% now are closely held and operating independently, 11% were acquired or made initial public offerings of stock and 4% went out of business, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Less than 1% are currently in IPO registration.

—Vanessa O’Connell contributed to this article.
Write to Deborah Gage at deborah.gage@dowjones.com

Supporting creators: what VCs really are.

If you have the opportunity to visit VC firm Index Ventures in Geneva, you may see the following:

I had a closer look, was allowed to take the picture and learnt that the Index partners have four such “pictures”, one for each meeting room which has the following names: Frederick Terman, Ahmet Ertegün, Ernest Rutherford and Leo Castelli. What do have these very different people in common? In their own activity, they were the best supporters of “creators”, of “talent” and contributed to the success of people they supported. What ever critics may say, great venture capitalists help entrepreneurs in their success.

It was striking for me to discover this the week I published my post on the Black Swan. In particular, I quoted Taleb when he talks about creation: “Intellectual, scientific, and artistic activities belong to the province of Extremistan. I am still looking for a single counter-example, a non-dull activity that belongs to Mediocristan.” and later “You not only see that venture capitalists do better than entrepreneurs, but publishers do better than authors, dealers do better than artists, and science does better than scientists.” (I can add that gold seekers made less money than the people who sold them picks and shovels.) This is not fully true, one should probably add “on average”.

It’s not the first time I see connections made between scientists, entrepreneurs/innovators and artists. I am convinced of the similarities. It was the second time only that I saw a connection made between academic mentors, publishers, art dealers and venture capitalists. Interesting… I think.

PS: if you click and enlarge the picture you my recognize the pictures, read the names of famous start-ups, Adobe, Apple, Cisco, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle, Yahoo and probably lesser known Stanford University motto “Die Luft der Freiheit weht” I had used as an introduction to Chapter 2 of my book about Stanford start-ups.

Is venture capital a universal solution?

Following my post from last Friday, here is a series I have been asked to write for EPFL start-ups. It is logical that it appears also here. This first chronicle is about Aleva, a great EPFL start-up, and it is also abotu venture capital. Here it is.

10.02.12 – Aleva Neurotherapeutics has succeeded in raising 10 million Swiss francs in venture capital. The EPFL start-up has shown that this type of financing is not out of reach for young Swiss companies.

For this initial article in the “start-up of the month” column, it was a “must” to talk about Aleva Neurotherapeutics. Andre Mercanzini, its founder, got his PhD at the Microsystems Laboratory (LMIS4) headed by Prof. Philippe Renaud. What was my motivation? André is a shining example of the enthusiastic and persevering entrepreneur. He obtained an Innogrant in 2008. This grant enables apprentice-entrepreneurs to devote their time to their start-up project for one year. The life of an entrepreneur is not exactly a bed of roses, and as well as enthusiasm you need courage. And you shouldn’t do it alone. By persuading another entrepreneur, Jean-Pierre Rosat, to join the adventure, Andre convinced three venture-capital funds (based in Lausanne, Basel and Zurich) to invest. But it was only in August 2011 that the raising of the 10 million francs became a reality, a full three years after Aleva was founded!

I’m not going to say much about the activity of this start-up. Aleva develops electrodes for neurosurgery and these are implanted in the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease or severe depression. I am not going to say more about Andre Mercanzini either; he can describe his adventure better than anyone else. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that Andre has already become a role model for other entrepreneurs from EPFL and that he himself had the opportunity to prepare his thesis in a very entrepreneurial laboratory. If you go to the page of LMIS4 mentioned above, you will see that no fewer than 13 start-ups originate from there. Emulation is a key element here.

Risk capital: for start-ups with rapid growth

What matters also to me, beyond the entrepreneurial qualities of the two founders, is to show that venture capital is not an unreachable objective. About 10% of EPFL start-ups have raised such funds. Some entrepreneurs who appeal to institutions in the venture capital area subsequently complain about their conservatism. Others avoid them like the plague, referring to them as “vulture capitalists”. This is open to debate. It’s undeniable that this type of investor is looking for companies with a potential for rapid and global growth, and not all start-ups can fulfill this criteria.

There is now available in the world, in Europe and in Switzerland, much more money than there was 20 years ago, even if there is a lot less than during the “irrational exuberance” period of the Internet bubble. It always has been, and will continue to be, difficult to find money (for any kind of project in fact). However, Aleva, but also Biocartis and TypeSafe (other start-ups from EPFL) have shown that it is possible. Is venture capital a must? I sometimes tend to think so when it concerns high-tech start-ups and I know that I’m sometimes reproached for giving it too much importance. I simply note that a very large number of successful American companies have applied for these funds and that boot-strapped companies are the exception in the USA. In Europe, it’s the opposite!

“In Switzerland, we prefer a small entity that you can control from A to Z”

I would like to finish with a quotation from Daniel Borel, another entrepreneur who studied at EPFL. “The only answer I can suggest is the cultural difference between the United States and Switzerland. When we founded Logitech, as Swiss entrepreneurs, we had to play the internationalization card very early on. The technology was Swiss, but the United States, and later on the world, defined our market, whereas the production quickly became based in Asia. I wouldn’t be at ease with myself if I were to paint a negative picture, because I think that many things evolve and that many good things happen in Switzerland. But it seems to me that in the United States, people are more open. When you obtain funds from venture capitalists, you automatically accept an external shareholder who helps you manage your company, but who can also sack you. In Switzerland, this vision is not so widely accepted: we prefer a small entity that can be controlled from A to Z, rather than a big undertaking that you can only control at 10%, which can be a limiting element.”

When Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia co-invest(ed).

I end 2012 with two posts related to my beloved Silicon Valley. This one is about the two great Venture Capital firms Sequoia Capital and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. The next one will be about Palo Alto-based author of thrillers, Keith Raffel.

I have already said a lot about these two firms. You can for example read again the following on KP:
About KP first fund (3 posts)
Tom Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist
Robert Swanson, 1947-1999
and about Sequoia:
When Valentine was talking (2 posts)

The recent IPO of Jive is the motivation for this new post because Jive has both funds as co-investors. I am obviously providing my now-usual cap. table and what you can discover here is the huge amounts of money both funds have poured in the start-up ($57M for Sequoia and $40M for KP) … is this still venture capital? I am not sure.


Click on picture to enlarge

I am not writing an article on Jive here but let me add that we have again here two founders who had each 50% of the start-up at creation and end up with 8%, the investors have 30%. What is really unusual is that the company raised money in 2007, six years after inception. A sign of a new trend in high-tech?

Now back to Sequoia and KP. When they co-invested in Google in 1999, I thought it had been a very unusual event. David Vise in his Google Story (pages 66-68; I also have mine!) explains how the start-up founders desired to have both funds to “divide and conquer”, hoping no single fund would control them. When I met Pierre Lamond, then at Sequoia, in 2006, I was surprised to learn from him that in fact the two funds has regularly co-invested together. As often in Silicon Valley, it is about co-opetition, not just competition.

So I did my short analysis. A first Internet search got me the following:
– The question on Quora “How unusual is it for both Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia to co-invest in a company?” (August 2010) gives 11 recent investments, including Jive and Google.
– Russ Garland in the Wall Street Journal adresses the topic in “Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia Combo Has Solid Track Record” (July 2010). He says: “But the two Menlo Park, Calif.-based firms have done plenty of other deals together – at least 53, according to VentureWire records. It’s been a fruitful relationship: 29 of them have gone public. They include Cypress Semiconductor Corp., Electronic Arts Inc., Flextronics International and Symantec Corp. That track record lends credibility to the excitement generated by the Jive investment. But most of those 53 deals were done prior to 2000; the two firms have been less collaborative since then. Of the handful of companies that both Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia have backed since 2000, at least one is out of business. That would be Abeona Networks, a developer of technology for Internet-based services.”
– Now in my own Equity List, I have 4 (Tandem, Cypress, EA, google) plus Jive.

So I did a more systematic analysis and found 55 companies. More than the WSJ! I will not put the full list here, but let me give more data: Kleiner has invested a total of $267M whereas Sequoia put $268M [this is strangely similar!], i.e. about $5M per start-up. On average, KP invested in round #2.07 and Sequoia in round #2.63, so a little later. Time to exit from foundation is 6.5 years. I found 27 IPOs (I miss two compared to the WSJ)

Is Garland right when he claims “But most of those 53 deals were done prior to 2000; the two firms have been less collaborative since then”? Here is my analysis:


Number of co-investments related to the start-up foundation year

If I look at the decades, it gives,
70s: 6,
80s: 30,
90s: 11,
00s: 7.
Clearly KP and Sequoia co-invested a lot in the 80s, much less in the 90s and 00s. Whereas the fields are

So what? I am not sure 🙂 . KP and Sequoia are clearly two impressive funds and as a conclusion, I’d like to thank Fredrik who pointed me to Business Week’s The Venture Capital Winners of 2011.

Sequoia and KP may not be #1 and #2, but their track record remains more than impressive. Here is a bad picture taken on an iPad!

A history of venture capital

I am surprised not to have published this before. It was one of my first work before I even wrote my book. It became its chapter 4. Venture capital is about 50 years old and it has changed a lot in parallel to innovation and high-tech. I hope you will enjoy these very visual slides!

Mind the Gap: the seed funding of university innovation

I recently read Mind the Gap: The University Gap Funding Report published by innovosource.

Disclaimer: I usually do not mention my activities at EPFL on this blog and this report deals exactly with the type of funds I manage there: the Innogrants. I was indeed interviewed for this report as one of the active members of the Gap Funding community and the Innogrants are one of the examples mentioned.

Mind The Gap is a great report because it describes a concept which was born a little before 2005, the seed funding, I should even say the pre-seed funding, by universities of their innovations, including start-ups. The next figure illustrates not only gap funding but all the existing tools enabling academic innovation.

Let me just briefly quote it (but you should know the report is not free, so I cannot summarize it in too much detail. The author allowed me however to give you a 25% discount code: USHAPE). In any case, it is extremely rich in data and information.

“This “gap” extends from where the government funding of basic research ends to where existing companies or investors are willing to accept the risk to commercialize the technology.” [page 9]. The author reminds us that “Failure is commonplace in these sorts of pursuits, but ask where you would find yourself (or where you are going) without GPS and the internet, and most recently a little iPhone “assistant” named Siri that originated from the DARPA funded CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes) program through a university consortium.” [page 20]

As a side element, there are also the emerging accelerators, “Popularized in recent years with the likes of Y Combinator and TechStars, accelerators combine access to talent and support services with “stage-appropriate” capital in return for a stake in the company or other repayment structures.” [page 22] but this is another subject!

There are already some “famous” gap funding tools: “another study by the Kauffman Foundation [1] investigated two well-known proof of concept centers at MIT (Desphande Center) and UC-San Diego (von Lebig Center) and reported general process and impacts.” [page 26]

[1] C. and Audretsch, D. Gulbranson, “Proof of Concept Centers: Accelerating the Commercialization of Univeristy Innovation,” Kauffman Foundation, 2008.

I do not want to quote much more this 100-page deep and very interesting analysis. My final comment is that a critical element is the leverage gap funding enables. You will find a full analysis on pages 88-90. In his Report Summary, the author depicts the value of gap funding through:

High commercialization rates
– 76-81% of funded projects commercialized on average
Attraction of early stage capital
– $2.8B leveraged from public and private investment sources
Business formation and job creation
– 395 new start-up companies
– 188 technology licenses to existing companies
– 7,761 new jobs, at cost of $13,600 gap fund dollars per job
Building a community of innovation
– Thousands of faculty and students engaged in the process
– Incorporate networks of technical and business professionals in the evaluation, mentorships, and leadership of these technologies
Organizational returns
– $75M returned to the organizations through repayments, royalties, and equity sales
– Maximize resource allocation and downstream savings, by permitting early failures through exploratory and evaluation tactics
– Empower universities to continue to take risks that support the type of breakthroughs that define our present, and the type of innovation that will carry us into the future

Let me finish with what I contributed to the report, i.e. a short description the EPFL innogrants:

When I met Jochen Mundinger in October 2006 it did not take me much time to make up my mind. I had previously seen many startup ideas and Jochenʼs Internet project looked to me original and powerful. Prior to any due diligence, I told him that if my analysis was positive, he would get a 12-month grant to work on his start-up. Because of this program, I am lucky enough to be able to make fast decisions and by January 2007, Jochen was working on his project. He did not wait until the end of his grant to found routeRank and by October 2007, with the support of business angels. Today, the service has grown and been recognized by the famous MIT TR35 award in 2010.

And then there was Andre Mercanzini, a Canadian citizen, who certainly has the drive and enthusiasm of many North-Americans. Andre obtained his PhD at EPFL following a few start-up experiences in the US. Andre has developed electrodes for Deep Brain Stimulation. The path was not as fast and easy as for Jochen. Though Aleva Neurotherapeutics was founded in mid-2008, Andreʼs prototypes needed further validation to attract venture capital (a major use of the grants). The Swiss ecosystem is rich with mentors and support so that Andre developed further his project to the point of raising $10M in his series A round in August 2011.

These are just two examples of EPFL innogrants. Initially backed by Swiss bank Lombard Odier, it has since received support from KPMG and Helbling, an engineering firm. The fact that similar initiatives were launched in Switzerland is another illustration that gap funding attracts and seduces. The Innogrants are a bet on young people. Since 2005, 48 projects have been funded out of more than 300 ideas and 24 companies created. We admit at EPFL that failure is part of the process and even if no start-up is ever launched, the grant is a learning experience. We also have the vision that Innogrants become role models and hope that more and more students will be less shy about expressing their dreams.