Archive: investment

There’s something rotten in the Kingdom of Venture Capital

It’s generally a bad idea to generalize….(pun intended).

 

And criticizing VCs when you are in the process of fund raising is probably a bad idea and puts whatever you say at risk of being perceived as whining.

 

But having raised an excellent early stage round from some of the best Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs that I know, I cannot help but reflect on the contrast between the approach of the Angel Investors we have on board compared to the process and decision making that we – and others – experience with insitutional VCs.

 

The cliché of Venture Capital investments is that Angel Investors invest on a hunch, whereas insitutional VCs follow a more rational, risk-balanced and professional process.

 

Our experience has been that the really good, tough questions have been asked in detail by our Angels – to skim just the top of these questions:

- explain your metrics?

- what is the margin of error of your financial model?

- how do expect to scale?

- how much do you get out of a dollar spent?

- how big is your adressable market?

- what is your competitive moat (Buffet terminology)

- what are the strengths of your team, what do you need movong forward?

 

Too often, these were not the questions asked by VCs. It may be that in today’s market, they simply don’t have the time to parse their deal flow in depth and instead rely on market consensus that this or that startup is “hot”. This leads to herd investing, and that may explain the disappointment of portfolios largely kept alive by follow-on rounds and convenient “exits” to friend VCs portfolio companies. It even makes sense, in a way, by “pooling resources” – if, that is, the VC initially triggering the herd did actually ask and answer the hard questions.

 

What it does not do is create an environment for the type of long shot value creation that Silicon Valley excels at. Ueber, AirBnB, Twitter, Quora would not have stood a chance with how many European VCs – obviously not all – approach their deal flow.

 

Add to that the rituals of pitching, event networking, and buzzword-slinging that are endemic, and it makes you wonder whether these VCs really are following the right path to identify truly ambitious startups correctly. Today’s hot startup often gets caught up tomorrow in business model issues that were recognizable from the outset. I sometime miss an analytical response and understanding of the market, at least from VCs that do not have an industry focus.

 

It’s hard to picture a barefoot Steve Jobs convincing any of today’s European VCs to invest in Apple.

 

 

the Hamlet VC

Managerial Versus Entrepreneurial Decision Making

The following text is from a McGraw-Hill Book on Entrepreneurship published in 2005

The difference between the entrepreneurial and the managerial styles can be viewed from five key business dimensions—strategic orientation, commitment to opportunity, commitment of resources, control of resources, and management structure. Managerial styles are called the administrative domain.

 

Strategic Orientation
The entrepreneur’s strategic orientation depends on his or her perception of the opportunity. This orientation is most important when other opportunities have diminishing returns accompanied by rapid changes in technology, consumer economies, social values, or political rules. When the use of planning systems as well as measuring performance to control current resources is the strategic orientation, the administrative (managerial) domain is operant, as is the case with many large multinational organizations.

 

Commitment to Opportunity
In terms of the commitment to opportunity, the second key business dimension, the two domains vary greatly with respect to the length of this commitment. The entrepreneurial domain is pressured by the need for action, short decision windows, a willingness to assume risk, and few decision constituencies and has a short time span in terms of opportunity commitment. This administrative (managerial) domain is not only slow to act on an opportunity, but once action is taken, the commitment is usually for a long time span, too long in some instances. There are often no mechanisms set up in companies to stop and reevaluate an initial resource commitment once it is made—a major problem in the administrative (managerial) domain.

 

Commitment of Resources
An entrepreneur is used to having resources committed at periodic intervals that are often based on certain tasks or objectives being reached. These resources, often acquired from others, are usually difficult to obtain, forcing the entrepreneur to maximize any resources used. This multistage commitment allows the resource providers (such as venture capitalists or private investors) to have as small an exposure as possible at each stage of business development and to constantly monitor the track record being established. Even though the funding may also be implemented in stages in the administrative domain, the commitment of the recourses is for the total amount needed. Administratively oriented individuals respond to the source of the rewards offered and receive personal rewards by effectively administering the resources under their control.

 

Control of Resources
Control of the resources follows a similar pattern. Since the administrator (manager) is rewarded by effective resource administration, there is often a drive to own or accumulate as many resources as possible. The pressures of power, status, and financial rewards cause the administrator (manager) to avoid rental or other periodic use of the resource. The opposite is true for the entrepreneur who—under the pressure of limited resources, the risk of obsolescence, a need for flexibility, and the risks involved—strives to rent, or otherwise achieve periodic use of, the recourses on an as-needed basis.

 

Management Structure
The final business dimension, management structure, also differs significantly between the two domains. In the administrative domain, the organizational structure is formalized and hierarchical in nature, reflecting the need for clearly defined lines of authority and responsibility. The entrepreneur, true to his or her desire for independence employs a flat organizational structure with informal networks throughout.

 

Source: Hisrich, PhD, Robert D., Michael P. Peters, PhD and Dean A. Shepherd, PhD. Entrepreneurship. 6 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2005.

Rezession die beste Zeit für Social Media? [German]

Peter Turi hat ein Video – Interview geposted, dass er mit mir auf dem DLD 09 geführt haben. Darin stellt er solche spannenden Fragen wie:

1) Ist Rezession eine schlechte Zeit für Startups?

2) Wird sich bei den Startups die Spreu vom Weizen trennen?

3) Wird YouTube sevenload verdrängen?

4) Was ist das “nächste große Ding?”

Hier sind meine Antworten:

Interview Turi2 (2009): Interview with Axel Schmiegelow about his entrepreneurship (German) from curtis newton gmbh on Vimeo.

Reps and Warranties in Venture Capital Deals

This weekend a friend of mine called me up, as he was completing – as a leading seed investor – the first round (series A) of a company that I have a minority stake in. He told me that the round being negotiated was just short of Signing, as all main deal elements had been agreed with the investor (a large and well-known VC Fund), but there was one last point of contention left, and – big surprise! – that was Reps and Warranties.

That made me think once again about the peculiar habit of venture capitalists to turn Reps and Warranties almost as much a difficult topic as in M&A. If you think about the term “Venture Capital”, the whole concept is that you venture into something and there is no precisely NO guarantee of success.

Of course it makes full sense to commit founders to proper representation of the state the company is in and to also make them liable for the so-called Title Guarantees, in effect making sure that the shares being transferred to the investor are free of third party rights, are indeed constituted legally and are not subject to any limitations. However, I do not understand why these Reps and Warranties so often go to the core of the risks of the business model, thereby in effect giving the venture capital investment more the character of debt financing, disguised in the Reps and Warranties clause.

Why do I say this?

Because if a founder signs up for – say – a 3 Mil. Euro investment and the company fails due to an event that is at the core of the typical risk of the business model, this may create a warranty case that in the worst of all contract agreements may include full damage to be paid by the founder. This then means that the investor may get up to the total sum of that investment in damages from the founder because of an event that constituted the essence of the typical venture risk.

So put very bluntly, by enforcing Reps & Warranties covering business risks, the investor covered his venture risk by making the founder liable for failure of exactly that risk.

We all know that founders who may be otherwise admirable do not like to focus on legal details and may have bad luck in a choice of their attorneys.

That can be a deadly mistake.

When founders find themselves in such a contract situation, it is not just a reflection of poor negotiation skills on the side of the founders, who – one might argue a bit unfairly – therefore would not deserve anything better.

Such contract clauses are also always a case of misguided priorities on the side of the investor.

While as an investor I have full sympathy for contractual rules that prevent an irresponsible founder from walking away, as in the old adage “with my time and your money to waste, we have nothing to lose”.

However, it is equally unfair to put the investor of a venture in a position where his investment becomes more a case of debt with higher returns and higher default risk than of real venture investment. Moreover, discussions and probable litigation about business risk damage retribution by the founder can divert vital energy from surviving the damaging event, since both the founder and the investor will bes spending considerable time hedging their risks or enforcing their rights. THat can ultimately be much more damaging than the damaging event itself.

Here is my advice to founders in any negotiation about Reps and Warranties:

1) Before negotiation of deal terms, identify the natural risk of your business model

2) Prepare to describe and argue to the investor what the typical risk of the venture is and make it clear from the outset that that risk cannot will not be carried by the founder(s).

3) Make the investor acknowledge these risks early in the process of negotiating the terms

4) At term sheet level make sure that the basic principles guiding an equal distribution of reps and warranties rights between founder and investor include the following

a. Liability of founders is limited to willful behavior and gross negligence

b. There must be a cap of a certain percentage of the investment, in my opinion not more than 50% of the investment sum.

c. For all cases of non-willfull behavior the warranty term should be at most 12 months

d. Each founder is only liable for the fraction of the cap that corresponds to his fraction of shares in the entire company, so a co-founder who has 20 % of shares in a company shall only be liable up to 20% of the cap.

e. All shareholder managers with shares smaller than 7% should be exempt from any liability unless there is a specific reason for that.

f. Damages should be paid only to the extent that the Founder / Manager liable had best knowledge of the Warranty issue.

g. Retribution of damage should be limited to the damage that is incurred directly by the damaging event, confirmed by court ruling and could be reasonably expected. There should be no damage retribution for a loss of valuation of the company, which should be explicitly excluded. Valuation loss is usually covered by downround protection clauses.

h. Retribution of damage should be limited to such damages as cannot be corrected or “repaired”.

i. No damage retribution should be given for damages that are incurred due to lack of cooperation on side of the investor. This could include anything ranging from late payment of investment funds, lack of cooperation in litigation cases, failure of the board members dispatched by the investor to agree in litigating to avoid the damage, and so forth.

k. The most important advice that can be given to any founder signing Reps and Warranties is to put a large amount of energy into the due diligence and disclosure process and the documentation of that due diligence and disclosure process. THis is where attention to detail is a very necessary evil. The contract must include a clause that no events or fact about the company that were or could reasonable have been expected to be known to the investor at the time of the investment can lead to a claim of the investor against the founder. Thus claims are excluded if the the facts that led to the damage were known to the investor.

l. Negotiate all these points, then focus on disclosing well all risks that are part of the business model or lie within the company.


Often investors will present the founders with tough Reps and Warranties basically to incentivize them to puta significant amount of energy in thinking through the risks of the company and the development stage the company is at.

However, founders should rate their investors on the basis on their willingness to accept clauses that correspond with or at least resemble what I advise.

Good Luck!


When do I Invest? – Video Interview [German]

Recently I had the nice experience of being interviewed by the blogger / founder of http://www.easn.de or Everything A Startup Needs. He asked me to relate:

- how dw capital grew out of denkwerk

- what makes our positioning unique

- what are my criteria for investment

- and how much idealism a Founder can sustain

Of course, an [edited] video interview cannot convey all the things and remarkable people that shaped the rich history of 10 years of denkwerk, but maybe the interview gives anyone interested an impression of the philosophy behind our seed venture unit, dw capital. So, here goes:

Video Interview of Axel Schmiegelow

For the record, and because I also have an agency background:

I do believe in Branding, but I don’t believe Branding should be an excuse for bad conversion of a media campaign.

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