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美国VC模式陷入困境 一半VC机构将破产?


  
    这些天,当你与别人更多谈及硅谷的VC行业时,你就会得到更多的负面消息。

    这是有充分原因的。人们不再有耐心和毅力。上一次,大约在2001年,在互联网泡沫破灭后,整个VC业获得了一张“逃离监狱的保释卡”。原因在于,上世纪90年代末创立的大量新公司辩称,他们任何糟糕的表现应该得到原谅——这是互联网泡沫的错误,每个人都受到了影响。他们的投资者--主要是精明的大学基金对此表示赞同,给予VC机构更多资金进行再投资。由于大部分VC基金持续十年,这的确保证了VC机构非常长的存续期。

  然而,一些事情已经改变。The Funded创始人Adeo Ressi试图通过一系列幻灯片来串联起这些改变。但有的地方是对的,有些是错的。The Funded是一家供创业者平价VC的网站。

  Adeo Ressi最近被邀请到哈佛商学院对金融和企业界人士发表演讲,哈佛商学院曾经制造了大量的VC。他的观点是VC行业已从根本上出现故障。


     具有讽刺意味的是,他的听众(哈佛商学院)可能是问题的部分原因所在:莱西认为,VC模式的缺点之一是VC依赖于自己的朋友关系网。而在所有关系网中,哈佛商学院是最为紧密的一个。毋庸讳言,Ressi的话在那里不是很受欢迎。我不太赞同莱西的这一观点,实际上,突破现有的关系网络正在变得流行起来。VC行业内部越来越多样化,他们迫使自己努力寻找任何类型的杰出的创业者。我不认为Google的创始人是局外人。他们是斯坦福工程学生机器的一分子,多少年来斯坦福大学都是硅谷传奇的重要来源。

  在整体经济状况不佳方面,我和Ressi持相同观点。最令人惊惧的是对VC机构的资本投入远高于这些VC机构对创业公司投入的资本量,用Ressi的话讲,就是VC行业对经济正在造成净负面影响。在经济低迷时期这种失衡短暂存在还是可以理解的,但令人担忧的是这种状况可能将会持续相当一段时间。

  我不能肯定这种局面将会持续多久,但目前状况确实与VC行业传统上宣称的主题相违背,即VC是价值的净创造者,能促进股市增长并创造就业。到现在为止,这一积极作用是毋庸置疑的。

  造成目前这种难堪局面的主要原因包括:

  1.在上世纪90年代末之后,硅谷早期的成功案例(英特尔、思科、Genentech等),吸引了如此多的创业资本,使得VC成为全球投资者竞相参与分一杯羹的正式的资产类别。但是VC行业本来就是一个细分市场,有着自己的发展模式。然而,过多的资金涌入,但与之相适应的交易过少,这严重扭曲了经济体系。对好公司的估值被拉得过高致使VC难以投资。人人亏损。

  2.其他人已经变得更为聪明。创业企业很早就开始进入了大公司的侦查视线。雅虎、微软、谷歌、思科等已经开始收购非常早期的创业企业,这潜在地阻止了新兴企业成长为价值数十亿美元的大公司。2000年,亚马逊回避以10亿美元收购谷歌。今天类似的事情可能不会再发生。

  3.贪婪。这一点纯粹而又简单。好的VC有动机募集更大规模的基金,因为2%的基金管理费可以为他们带来数百万美元的薪资和报销单(包括私人飞机,至少在过去的光辉岁月如此)。但把所有资金运转起来,投资者就不能聚焦于处于创业早期的公司,因为这些小公司不能吸引足够的美元。因此,贪婪的VC们转而开始把数千万美元甚至上亿美元投资给一家公司。这就是目前出现大量资金投资后期公司潮流的原因,即所谓的私募股权投资。现在,问题来了,因为人们没有办法让他们的投资流动起来。这种事之前就已经发生;我们对人们支持黑石进行IPO感到惊讶,因为很明显它注定要失败。
 
    这真的都是如此黑暗并且注定的吗?

    我记得2000年中期会见德丰杰(DFJ)合伙人Tim Draper时的情景,当时互联网泡沫已经破灭。令我吃惊的是,他劝说我在新闻报道中持积极态度,报道硅谷好的方面而不要专注于坏消息。当然,我没有听从他的劝说。接下来的3年里,我坚持报道我认为对这个行业有价值的积极的和消极的两面,当然结果是自己没能真正交道多少朋友。

  但是,我将永远难以忘记Tim Draper的乐观,最终,他的观点被证明是有价值的,尽管在当地听来是如此荒谬。虽然Benchmark Capital的合伙人Bob Kagle预言VC行业将出现剧烈动荡(他说将有一半的VC机构在未来几年消失),但实际上动荡并未发生。直至2005年左右,VC机构的数量事实上扔在增长。德丰杰成长壮大,对Skype和百度等公司的投资让他们赚了大钱。当然,Tim Draper只说对了一半,他曾表示,创业投资将维持强劲,甚至可能增长。但是现在创业投资已经回落至互联网泡沫之前的水平,但去年之前其确实保持稳定并增长。

  11月11日,我再次联系了德雷珀,因为听说德丰杰正计划筹集8亿美元的基金。就像上次一样,经济和整个投资环境严重恶化,有限合伙人(给像Draper这样的VC提供资金的机构)表现出恐慌,一些人实际上已经难以履行现有的承诺(capital calls)。在这种环境下,德丰杰为何认为其将能够成功筹集大量资金呢?

  德雷珀拒绝对此置评,但他做出了如下表示:
    目前散播一些VC的良好意向是一个不错的主意。华盛顿可能正在洗耳恭听VC创造就业和积累财富的消息。总之,VC可能是能够把美国拉出泥潭的资产种类。你可以继续对萨班斯·奥克斯利法案吹毛求疵。也许正是这项监管在过去5年导致了美国创业经济中最重要的价值流失。

  换句话说,我们重新回到十年前。十年前的互联网泡沫刺激政府出台一系列新的监管规定,也就是萨班斯·奥克斯利法案(Sarbanes-Oxley),迫使创业公司对会计报告(需要更多繁杂的审计)采取更为保守的态度。VC们对此怨声载道,直至2005至2007年IPO市场开放。现在我们再次面临可能更为严峻的状况,因为这次VC机构不会再次获得那么多善意了,人们也不会把太多的敌意转移到萨班斯·奥克斯利法案上面。对Draper而言,积极乐观是与生俱来的。而德丰杰被广泛认为是硅谷最为激进的VC机构,他们总是愿意在获得创业企业相同股份的同时比别的VC支付更高的价钱。

  然而,这次将可能有很多VC机构破产。1998年至2006年,创业投资的表现远不及其他资产类型。一些VC机构如红杉(Sequoia)、凯鹏(KPCB)、Benchmark、Accel等的回报率高于平均水平,因为他们具有很多成功的投资案例。但是如果你投资于普通的VC机构,结果将是相当糟糕的。因此从捐赠基金和各类基金会到基金的基金(fund-of-funds)和主权财富基金(sovereign wealth funds),各类有限合伙人都有可能将调整投资方向。

  总而言之,VC模式已经失败。这一次,Bob Kagle关于一半VC机构将破产的预言更加可能成为现实。

   
   
    注释:好投网共同创始人户才和在新浪科技提供的翻译稿基础上根据英文原文进行了校译,不准确之处,敬请提出,谢谢!


    附英文原文:

       The VC model is broken

       Matt Marshall | November 12th, 2008

      These days, the more you talk to folks about Silicon Valley’s venture capital industry, the more negative the message is becoming.

      And for good reason. There’s no more patience. Last time, circa 2001, the entire VC industry got a “get-out-jail-free card” after the Internet bubble burst. That’s because the scores of new firms created in the late 1990s argued they should be forgiven for any poor performance — it was the bubble’s fault, and everyone was affected. Their investors — chief among them, the elite university endowments –agreed, and gave the VC firms more money to invest again. With most VC funds lasting for ten years, this ensured the VCs a very long life indeed.

      However, several things have changed. Adeo Ressi, founder of TheFunded, the site that lets people rate venture capitalists, is the latest to try to articulate the changes with a dour set of slides. He gets some things right, and some things wrong.


     Ressi was invited to present his views to the finance and entrepreneurship faculty at Harvard Business School, a place that historically has produced a lot of venture capitalists. Ressi’s message is that the venture capital industry is fundamentally broken.

    Ironically, his audience (HBS) might be part of the problem: One of the shortcomings with the VC model, Ressi argues, is that venture capitalists rely on their network of friends. Of all networks, HBS is one of the tighter ones. Needless to say, Ressi’s message wasn’t very warmly received. In fact, while blasting the old boys network is a popular thing to do, I’d actually disagree with Ressi on this point. Increasingly, you’re seeing diversity within the VC community, and they’re pushing themselves hard to find great entrepreneurs of any kind. I disagree that the Google founders were outsiders. They were part of the Stanford engineering student machine, a source of Silicon Valley magic for years.

     Where I do agree with Ressi is in the ugly economics overall. Most daunting is that there’s more money being invested into venture firms than those same VC firms are generating from their investments in start-ups — in other words, Ressi argues, they’re now having a net negative affect on the economy. You’d expect this lopsided dynamic to exist temporarily in a downturn. But the worrying thing is that this state of affairs may last for quite some time.

    I’m not sure how long this negative balance will last, but for now it certainly contradicts the message traditionally propagated by the VC industry — that it, that VC is a net creator of value, namely of stock market growth and job creation. That positive impact was indisputable — until now.

    There are a number of key reasons why things are so ugly:

    1. The early successes in the valley (Intel, Cisco, Genentech, etc) attracted so much venture capital after the late 1990s that VC became an official asset class that money investors around the world sought to get a portion of. However, this is a niche industry, and should have stayed that way. Too much money has swept in, with too few deals to accommodate it. This has distorted the economics badly. Valuations are driven up for the good companies, making it prohibitively expensive for VCs to invest. Everyone loses.


    2. Others have become smarter. Larger companies put start-ups on their radar much earlier. Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, Cisco have acquired start-ups very early in their life, taking them off the market for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars — but potentially keeping some start-ups from becoming billion-dollar companies. Amazon famously balked at buying Google for about $1 billion back in 2000. That may not happen today.

     3. Greed. Pure and simple. Good venture capitalists have an incentive to raise ever larger funds, because the 2 percent they get in fees on the funds can bring them millions of dollars in cushy salary and expense accounts (including private jets, at least in the good old days). But to put all that money to work, the investor can’t focus on early-stage companies, because those small companies can’t absorb enough dollars. So greedy VCs turn to invest tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars into each company. That’s why there was this rush to invest at the lastest stage possible, namely private equity. There’s major pain in that sector right now, because there’s no way for anybody to liquidate their investments. This is something we saw coming a while ago; we’re surprised people supported the Blackstone IPO; it was so obviously set for failure.

     Is it really all gloom and doom?

     I remember meeting Draper Fisher Jurvetson partner Tim Draper in mid-2000, when it had first become clear that the first Internet bubble had permanently burst. At the time, to my surprise, he exhorted me to be positive in my reporting, that is, to show the good side of the valley and not dwell on the bad. Of course, I largely ignored him. I ended up writing about three years worth of aggressive, negative coverage of the industry and its fallout, and didn’t make a lot of friends.

     But I’ll never forget how sanguine Draper was — and how in the end, his view proved to have merit even though it sounded so absurd at the time. While Benchmark’s Bob Kagle predicted a huge shakeout in the industry (half of all firms would disappear in a few years, he said ) that shakeout actually didn’t happen. The number of VC firms actually grew through 2005 or so. DFJ itself thrived, making big money from companies like Skype and Baidu. Draper was only half right, of course. He said that venture investing would remain strong, and possibly even grow. VC investing dropped back down to where it was before the bubble, but it did remain solid and grew through last year.

    It is noteworthy, then, that I found myself yesterday contacting Tim Draper again, upon hearing that his firm DFJ is raising a large $800 million fund. Jus like last time, the economy and overall investment environment has deteriorated badly. Limited partners (the institutions that give money to VC firms like Draper’s) are panicking and some are actually having trouble making good on their existing commitments (not meeting capital calls). Why on earth would DFJ think it could raise a fresh big fund in this environment?

    Draper declined to comment on his firm’s fundraising efforts, but here’s what he said:

    It wouldn’t be a bad idea to spread some VC good will around about now. Washington could stand to hear about Venture Capital job creation and wealth building. After all, ours is the asset class that may be able to pull the US out of this mess. You might also go on an anti-Sarbox rampage. That might be the regulation that has sucked the most value out of the entrepreneurial economy in the last 5 years.
In other words, we’re back to where we were ten years ago. The bubble a decade ago inspired a new set of regulations — known as Sarbanes Oxley — that forced startups to be much more conservative with their reporting and which required more burdensome auditing. The VCs complained about it — until the IPO market opened up in 2005-2007. Now that’s over, and we’re facing the possibility of an even more severe drought. That’s because there will be less mercy for VC firms this time around. And thus the plea not to focus too much on all this negativity. For Draper, such positivity is his natural demeanor. DFJ is widely known as the most aggressive venture firm in the valley — offering much larger amounts of money for an ownership stake in start-ups than other VC firms offer.

     However, a lot of VCs are likely to go under this time. This asset class significantly underperformed other asset classes between 1998 and 2006. A handful of firms — Sequoia, Kleiner, Benchmark, Accel and a handful of others — have pulled up the average performance somewhat, because they’ve produced an inordinate amount of the successes (a small group of homeruns, the eBays and the Googles, account for 25 percent of total VC returns over the past 20 years; see Ressi’s slides). But if you invest in the average firm, you’re doing very poorly. So limited partners will probably shift from endowments and foundations increasingly to fund-of-funds and sovereign wealth funds.

     So, yes, the VC model is badly broken. This time, Bob Kagle’s statement about half of all VCs going out of business is more likely to be true.

  


 

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