Venture Capital Disrupts Itself: Breaking The Concentration Curse by Cambridge Associates

The Old Wives Tale … Conventional investor wisdom holds that a concentrated number of certain venture firms invest in a concentrated number of companies that then account for a majority of venture capital value creation in any given year. Therefore, LPs seeking compelling venture capital returns should only commit to a handful of franchise managers. And those are precisely the managers that do not offer access. Thus, LPs are “cursed” and will never experience the differentiated return pattern offered by venture capital exposure.

… Is Flawed. As the venture capital industry and technology markets have evolved and matured, however, more managers are creating significant investment value for LPs, with value increasingly created through companies located outside the United States and across a range of subsectors. Specifically, our analysis of the top 100 venture investments as measured by value creation (i.e., total gains) per year from 1995 through 2012, an 18-year period, demonstrated:

  • an average of 83 companies each year account for value creation in the top 100 investments in the asset class for each year;
  • in the post-1999 (i.e., post-bubble) period, the majority of the value creation in the top 100 each year has, on average, been generated by deals outside the top 10 deals;
  • an average of 61 firms account for value creation in the top 100 investments in venture capital per year; and
  • the composition of the firms participating in this level of value creation has changed, with new and emerging firms consistently accounting for 40%–70% of the value creation in the top 100 over the past 10 years.

In short, the widely held belief that 90% of venture industry performance is generated by just the top 10 firms (which our analysis shows was somewhat relevant pre-2000) is a catchy but unsupported claim that may lead investors to miss attractive opportunities with managers that can provide exposure to substantial value creation.

Broad-Based Value Creation

For the 18 years covered by this analysis, the top 100 investments accounted for a percentage of total value creation that ranged from a minimum of 72% in 2012 to a maximum of over 100% across several years, making this a robust data set to analyze (our methodology is described in the sidebar). The top 100 deals’ total gains outstripped the total gains of the asset class in each of the years that marked the dotcom crash (1999 to 2003) and in 2005 and 2006 (Figure 1). This fact was particularly salient in 2000, when the asset class as a whole generated a net loss, while the top 100 showed a gain, as well as in 2001, when the total gains of the top 100 accounted for 217% of the asset class’s gains.

Yet, make no mistake: there is substantial, broad-based value creation in venture capital. Post-1999, investments ranked 11 through 100 accounted for an average of 60% of the total gains generated by the top 100 investments per investment year (Figure 2), besting the top 10. The exceptions to this trend were 2005 and 2010, which were driven by investments in two outstanding companies, and 2011, which is still developing from an investment maturity standpoint. This is in contrast to the pre-2000 period, in which the top 10 investments accounted for an average of 57% of the total gains, ranging from 44% to 68%. Indeed, after 1999, the pooled gross MOIC generated by the cohorts appears to have stepped down from the lofty highs of the comparable tech bubble cohorts.

Minding the Multiples. While much is being said about unicorns, defined as venture-backed companies that achieve a $1 billion valuation, investors should stay in vigilant pursuit of those managers making venture investments that deliver substantial total gains on the valuations they have paid.

Venture Capital

Venture Capital

Figure 3 demonstrates that substantial value creation is very much alive and well, depicting gross MOIC dispersion of the top 100 total gains from 1x–3x all the way through to 10x–25x, and our favorite, 25x+. Analysis incorporating these ranges is likely not on offer in any other investment strategy, and underscores the opportunity for investors. Deals that generated a gross MOIC of 5.0 or greater accounted for an average of 85% of total gains in the top 100 investments per investment year, and in most years, at least 60% came from investments that generated a gross MOIC of at least 10.0. The pooled gross MOIC for investments outside the top 10 was greater than 4.6 in all mature years (i.e., excluding 2011 and 2012) included in the sample set, and the average pooled gross MOIC of deals outside the top 10 across the entire data set was 8.5. As with Figure 2, one can see the two eras of venture capital quite clearly, with an average pooled gross MOIC pre-2000 of 32.8 versus the average of 7.8 after 2000.

Venture Capital

The Unusual Suspects: Not Just Silicon Valley-based, Consumer Internet

Investments Driving Returns. Companies represented in the top 100 investments show increasing diversity. Although many investors have abandoned investing in health care venture capital, health care investments accounted for 10% to 30% of the total gains produced by the top 100 investments in most years. Seed-and early-stage investments have accounted for the majority of investment gains in every year since 1995 (Figure 4), suggesting that despite the deep pockets of late-stage investors, early-stage investments hold their own on an apples-to-apples basis (total gains). Within the United States, the share of the top 100 investments originating from outside of the traditional venture capital hotbeds of California, Massachusetts, and New York has consistently been at least 20% of the total gains created, and, in 2004, roughly 50% of gains from US investments came from investments based outside these major hubs.

Venture Capital

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