Archive for the ‘Investor Relations’ Category

3 Deadly Sins First-Time Venture Capital Fund Managers Rarely Avoid

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Why do so many first-time venture capital fund managers, who have been a success in their past, cease to act like a success when raising their first fund? Undoubtedly, the fundraising journey is long, on average somewhere between 15 to 24 months for funds under $150 million from firing the gun until the final close. Nowhere is that harder for General Partners, who are new to the investment game and of limited interest to institutional money. Over the past 10 months, I have had first-hand experiences with 6 fund managers in US and Europe and talked to a multitude of placement agents, who have shared their experiences from over 120 such fundraises. Three deadly sins:

  1. General Partners underestimate the three pools of personal capital (cash, credit and investment) that they need to successfully arrive at their desired destination and thrive. They over invest in non-essentials (expensive office space, hiring employees), at the outset, and under invest in external expertise (fundraising, skills development) when they most need it, typically, in the tough grind that follows some immediate success  securing a cornerstone investor.
  2. General Partners underestimate the importance of maintaining a high level of self-worth. They allow a “poverty mindset” to quickly become their default position. They jump on the first offer of committed capital driven by a fear of failure, they beg for favours (introductions, expertise) on terms they’d never accept and they fail to act like a peer in front of investors (constantly “pitching” rather than investing appropriate time building a peer-level trusting relationship).
  3. General Partners underestimate the return on their time invested in accomplishing various activities along the “journey”. They spend excessive amounts of time “fine-tuning” their methodology at the expense of articulating the results and value the potential limited partner walks away with. They allow their intellectual curiosity and ego, to lead them into targeting investors, who are highly unlikely to commit, in their desired timeframe. Why? They consciously ignore who they are today (an ambitious first-time manager with an investment thesis yet to be proven, and zero successful exits) and they are overly pre-occupied with who they imagine themselves to be in future for ego reasons (the next Fred Wilson, Bill Gurley, Josh Kopelman).

The final thought: You might be a great investor but first, can you actually create and build a successful business (skills, behaviours, expertise)? I am not talking about a division of a large VC firm, a global bank, a management consulting firm or something you did on the side in university. I am talking about a boutique asset management business.  That is the first question your highest potential limited partners are trying to convince themselves about.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Seed-Stage Investing: Time, Not Money

Monday, April 16th, 2018

If we don’t value our time, why should others? I have spent a good chunk of the past 3 years, inundated by entrepreneurs largely seeking help accessing global pools of predominantly private capital, at the seed stage. A timely blogpost yesterday by the insightful venture capitalist Fred Wilson reaffirmed a point that I have been reminding hundreds of individuals – “what is the return on your time invested, not your money”?

Here is what I see:

  • The Poverty Entrepreneur“: A majority of individuals, who have been a success in their “past” but they don’t act like a success today (forever claiming poverty, reluctant to hire external expertise on equitable terms, seeking endless “free” favours without regard to others’ time). Often relics of large management consultants or banking.
  • “The Abundant Entrepreneur”: the rare, hidden gem, more often than not a seasoned entrepreneur, who is respectful of others’ time, willing to pay equitably for high quality advice and has a high level of self-worth.
  • The Acquiescent Board Chair“: the well-known business person, who dabbles in young businesses either for affiliation needs with other impressive figures or the rare chance of a jackpot outcome. Very much a discretionary investment of their time, they are prone to ask apologetically for extended favours (contingent fee basis) from advisers, knowing in all probability it is a low return on everyone’s time invested but we are all in the “hope factory” together.
  • “The Scrambling Adviser”: A cohort of financial and corporate advisors (often solo and boutiques), who this IS their prime source of wealth. They are invariably failing to balance time invested, a sustainable business and a career successfully.  Few survive for long without exploring alternatives.
  • “The Luxury Adviser”: A cohort of financial and corporate advisors, whose principle source of wealth (founding business, a banking career etc.) affords them the luxury of dabbling as advisors and investors in the seed area without regard to the actual return on their time invested.
  • “The Blunt Investor”: A cohort of professional investors, whose prime source of wealth arises from seed stage investing, time is precious and they are wont to give very blunt responses to requests for their time or flatly ignore them.
  • The Luxury Investor“: A cohort of angel and high net worth individuals, whose prior success affords them the luxury of significant discretionary time. Driven by their intellectual curiosity and wealth (time and resources), they are more relaxed about time given to seed investments (an interesting alternative to “pro bono” advice and charitable giving).
  • The Tax Investor“: A cohort of angel and high net worth individuals, whose tax structuring particularly in the UK attracts them to seed investing. They are cogniscent of time in so much as it enables them to understand the net financial consequences of seed investments.

You undoubtedly recognise some of these individuals if you have got this far, perhaps yourself. I am not here to tell you what you should do but I am here to urge you to apply critical thinking, and to ask, “is this a great way to surrender my scarce time, not just my money?”

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

Snow Joke

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Climbing out of a snow drift back onto a piste for a first-time skier is hard if you have never done it before, “raising money” from investors is equally hard for a first-time entrepreneur or private equity manager if you have never done it before. I have helped tens of people with both challenges. Yet I run into smart people weekly, who have been a success in the past but refuse to act today like a success when it comes to investing in their own development.

The common factors for success are do you possess the requisite combination of skills, behaviours and expertise to accomplish your goal (climbing a mountain or raising a fund)? If not, can you find someone, who has successfully accomplished what you are seeking to do, and possesses the skills and volition in the real world to help translate and transfer their success to you (qualified expert)? If you can, hire them. If you cannot or even refuse, you are seeing the problem. The pathway is either excessively risky or ambiguous for even experienced individuals or your own behaviour is contributing to your difficulties. Which is it?

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Capital Reality

Friday, December 15th, 2017

I just finished reading a quite brilliant book, Lifestorming by Alan Weiss and Marshall Goldsmith. Marshall reminds the reader of one of his most powerful learning points from arguably one of the smartest minds over the past century, American businessman, Peter Drucker. I smiled when I reflected upon how frequently I am asked to correct this behaviour in my own work, particularly amongst entrepreneurs and private equity investors building businesses.

An excessive amount of time is wasted

  • Trying to prove how right we are (brilliant idea, investment decision-taking) and how good we are (vanity) with ourselves and our key constituents when the real objective should be to maximise the positive difference we are able to make in the life we choose to lead, and the world we live in.
  • Trying to control events or issues where we have ceded or have zero power over the outcome.

The private equity or venture investor doesn’t have to invest. The entrepreneur doesn’t have to accept the investment. When they do accept majority investment, the entrepreneur ceases to have the ultimate decision-making power. Don’t whine or somehow think you retain superpowers, you really don’t, concentrate on making a positive difference within those constraints. If you don’t like the constraints, let it go and move on. The same applies to capricious General Partners feeling that the private equity model is underappreciated in the wider world or when power has shifted from their investee businesses to their customers or competitors.

A case in point, yesterday’s headline sale to Disney of large chunks of the Murdoch empire, is just that recognition that the Murdochs cease to have the power to positively impact their family’s and their assets’ future within the constraints laid down (market competition). Letting go is a common sense response, nothing more.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

It Is Really Not About You

Friday, November 10th, 2017

 

Why do so many seasoned, and less seasoned entrepreneurs seeking to attract new investment shoot themselves in the foot? They are rarely short of industry knowledge but they are woefully lacking the process skills and critical thinking to attract serious investors. Acquiring investment is about investors. An investor validating their own judgement, no one else’s.

Yet all I here at the outset, is how great the entrepreneur’s business skills and judgement are, wrapped up in their business model and growth plans.

When I push back and ask, “what” (strategy) have/are you doing to help your ideal investor validate their own skills and judgement after they are done with your investment? I am invariably met by a blank stare. That is compounded by my supplemental question, “how” (tactics) have/are you planning to help your ideal investor validate their own skills and judgement when they are done with your investment?

In the absence of a strategy and tactics for creating powerful, sustainable and profitable partnerships with  investors, an entrepreneur’s mission will never be met and manifest. Here is three powerful lessons from my most successful clients:

  1. Raising, deploying and realising capital is a “process”, not a small number of events. It has a “before” (trust, relationship building, conceptual agreement culminating in agreed terms), “during” (effective implementation, impressive value creation, robust risk mitigation) and “after” (planned disengagement, rapid realisation of committed capital plus impressive gains, efficient remittance of resources). Or to put it crudely, cash and resources “in”, cash and resources “out” / time period.
  2. Timing has a “hierarchy of priorities”. (1) the investor’s financial, intellectual, social and cultural needs (most only think about the first need and rarely consider how those are changing in the lifetime of the investment), (2) the availability of an appropriate exit to ensure the investor’s objectives are met and (3) the  future of the business.
  3. They think and act like a successful investor. An investor thinks with logic but acts on emotion, although in some cases the latter might be as heard to discern as Robert Shaw’s face in that infamous card game on the smoke-filled train carriage to Chicago, in my personal favourite, The Sting.

Uncovering The Investor’s Logic and Emotional Reasoning

  1. The reward logic behind the deal. How might it meet or exceed the investor’s need for capital preservation and capital gain, the return on the investor’s intellectual time invested, the social impact met and the cultural benefits accrued (for example, greater affinity with like-minded investors)?
  2. The risk logic behind the deal. What is the seriousness and probability of foreseen and unforeseen obstacles with the deal preventing the investor meeting or exceeding their desired outcomes? Then, what preventative and contingent actions can realistically be applied to arrive at the deal’s “ultimate net risk”?
  3. The sum of the above is the investor’s “great deal” logically. We are not finished yet!
  4. The emotional rewards behind the deal. How might the emotional imperatives of the investor (“reward”) be transformed (repute, peer recognition, trusting relationship with the General Partners and co-investors, promotion prospects, larger bonus and share of carried interest, ego, greater responsibilities, career development, future capital made available, new fund created, more impressive future dealflow presented and so on)?
  5. The emotional risks behind the deal. What is the seriousness and probability of foreseen and unforeseen obstacles with the deal preventing the investor meeting or exceeding those desired outcomes? Then, what preventative and contingent actions can realistically be applied to arrive at the deal’s “ultimate net risk”?
  6. The sum of the above is the investor’s “great deal” emotionally. That is what they are going to make their final decision based on. Are you investing sufficient time and energy in the right area? Are you thinking it through smartly? My guess is most entrepreneurs are spending 90% of their time on the logical reasoning and perhaps 10% on the emotional reasoning when it probably needs to be inverse. Why would you do that?

The smart readers will quickly grasp that a PowerPoint deck or teaser is largely worthless at addressing the latter. You need absolute credibility. You need to take time to build a peer-level trusting relationship. You need to ask powerful questions in a way that the investor is willing to reveal his or her priorities. The shorter the question, the more the investor will reveal. It crystallises it for them. “What are your hopes? Why? What are you fearful of? How did you get to your position?” Frame the question, listen and follow up in a smart way. You cannot coerce or motivate them.

Your job, as an entrepreneur, is to aggregate and connect the dots for the investor. To convert, the credibility and seductive rapport into committed capital with the use of powerful language and a compelling interface for the  investor.

After reading this you may very well panic and spot a yawning gap in your skills and techniques. That is OK, find an entrepreneur, who has done what you successfully seek to do and who can translate and transfer it to you.

A word of warning, a great many advisers don’t qualify, nor do a great many entrepreneurs, who are inept at the translation and transference. Hire qualified advice sparingly.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Warning Light!

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

 

When an entrepreneur or his/her Adviser overlook or cannot clearly articulate in 3 or 4 sentences, the greatest anticipated weaknesses in their business growth plans (markets, products, technology and relationships) given competitive market trends, you have a plan that won’t survive serious investor scrutiny. To pretend otherwise is to start driving a car where the wheel nuts lie strewn on the ground.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Lifting The Cloak Of Private Equity Secrecy

Monday, June 26th, 2017

 

 

How do you tell whether a private equity investor is “absolutely credible”? Realised investments, success stories, lists of co-investors, testimonials, references etc. are all valuable but can I actually see their intellectual property? I am referring to the availability of tangible communications (articles, presentations, models, audio, video etc.) encapsulating the investor’s best ideas, experiences, education, managing cultural change etc. – their intellectual capital – synthesised or recombined  into value for the would-be seller or top management. In almost all cases, the answer is a resounding “no”. You are asked to take it on trust.

I asked a serial CEO, and now Board Chair and Senior Adviser to many of the world’s largest private equity firms, how the secrecy helps the private equity investor? He was largely at a loss to explain it apart from avoidance of past PR bloody noses.

Would you allow a surgeon to operate on your heart or the school to teach your child without a pretty clear understanding of how they think and operate, beyond the odd PowerPoint presentation or a few lunches? The time has come for more humility from private equity investors of all shades. That doesn’t require them to diminish their own worth rather to accept that greater transparency upfront is an accelerant to higher levels of trust with their key constituents and superior short and long-term performance.

© James Berkeley 2017.

In The Eye of A Private Investor

Monday, June 5th, 2017

 

You are a C-suite executive or senior manager (probably with a successful career in a mid and large organisation) flirting with future advisory roles (Operating Partners, Senior Advisers and so forth) with private investors (Family Offices, Ultra High Net Worth individuals and some funds) and their portfolio companies. I meet half a dozen a month. Are you looking through your lens or that of the investor’s? When I ask bluntly, “why would a private investor be interested in you?”, most default to regaling their past (skills, expertise, accomplishments) or they way they like to work (imparting advice, influence, guidance). Here is the tough news, most private investors really don’t care. They want to know about

  • the “transformative value” (TV) for the investor after the Adviser has applied their past to the future of their investee businesses (logical reasoning – increased revenues, stronger brand, faster growth etc.)
  • the speed and quality of the “validation” (V) for the investor’s own reasons to back or not, a specific business (emotional reasoning – “am I going to look good”, enhanced credibility, mitigate personal risks, obtain future opportunities or relationships with peers, other investors, investee businesses etc.).

TV * V = Private Investor’s return on investment or “Great Deal”

“What”, “where”, “when” do you score highest as a potential Senior Adviser? Why? How do you get to those private investors with the highest need for that value?

Keep that equation and those critical questions uppermost in mind BEFORE you walk into your first meeting with a private investor.

© James Berkeley 2017

The Uncomfortable PE Investor

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Whoever taught a young investor how to create great relationships? The thought dawned on me leaving a meeting with two forty-something European mid-market private equity investors. One was open, welcoming, used self-disclosure and possessed a mindset that actively encouraged reciprocal exchange of ideas, names and insights. The other, hid behind a corporate ethos of privacy, rarely showed interest in reciprocity and maintained a mindset that he knew everyone worth knowing. The former is a top performing fund manager running a $500M fund with over 6 closed deals in the public domain this past 18 months, the latter recently closed his first $200M fund with zero visible public success. If you were a limited partner or an entrepreneur, wouldn’t you have expected the exact opposite traits given the track record and profile?

Private equity is first and foremost a relationship business. Relationships based on trust and value. Developed by creating a seductive rapport (personal chemistry, powerful intellect, effective use of language) with entrepreneurs, limited partners and advisers. Manifest by converting that seductive rapport into deals closed, value created and profitable exits that create a “win-win” situation for the firm’s key constituents. Yet it seems a great many leaders in European private equity firms are totally complacent about their fund managers’ relationship building skills and behaviours, believing that financial acumen and capital alone will lure outstanding entrepreneurs with outstanding businesses. That is crap but hey, they’ll wait for 10 years to find the errors of their ways. In which time, the Fund Manager will have collected his monthly check, been promoted twice and sit smugly admiring his or her personal bank statement.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Investor Casting Couch

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

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“The Investor Casting Couch”: a mindset that says we are best served at our first meeting, acting cagey, and getting the other party (co-investor, adviser or entrepreneur) to reveal themselves to us first to protect our own self-interest, at all costs. In extreme cases, we must do as little as possible to reveal our own past, ideas or intellectual property.

Reality: Your actions merely serve to show that you have close to zero interest in building a trusting peer-level relationship, collegiality or collaborating in anything other than constant “fear” (stolen IP or contacts). You might, of course, be right on the odd occasion when you have a rogue across the boardroom table. However, 9 times out of 10 assuming that you have done your due diligence properly, you are merely revealing the depth and breath of your own insecurities. Why would you create that first impression? In the misplaced belief, it projects your superiority when all it does is project your stupidity. Why would anyone, except the desperate, choose to spend a millisecond further in your company?

I see this mindset widely adopted by experienced bankers, corporate financiers, private equity and venture capital professionals to the point of huge irritation. They have been a success in their career but they refuse to act like a success. Stop, in the name of common sense!

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.