Micro VC fundraising and COVID-19

Follow me @samirkaji for my thoughts on the venture market, with a focus on the continued growth with the emerging manager landscape.

As we move into month three of the COVID-19 outbreak, the impact on the global economy has been unmistakable, and arguably the most significant since the US came out of the last recession. Conferences have been cancelled (SXSW!), business travel has nearly grinded to a halt, companies such as Amazon and Twitter have asked workers to stay away from the office, and the public markets have encountered massive turbulence.

Historically speaking, private early stage markets lag behind public markets by 12–24 months, and capital pullback typically occurs only after a sustained period of extreme volatility or downward shifting movement. And while it is far too early to understand the medium to long term effects of the virus on the private capital markets, companies (see Sequoia’s latest cautionary piece) and venture funds must start planning for a potential new reality.

Over the last decade, the emerging manager ecosystem has gone from infancy to early maturity with over 1,000 firms having been formed since 2009 (and according to Preqin, there are 1,023 firms in market right now for a new fund).

So what should emerging managers, the super majority whom are seed focused, expect when fundraising in 2020?

A few items:

  • Family office allocation disruption — In our late 2018 emerging manager survey, we found that 67% of the capital allocated to Fund I offerings were from family offices and high net worth individuals (53% for Fund II, and just under 50% for Fund III’s). Over the last 5 years, we’ve seen family offices as incredibly active (albeit opaque) participants in emerging fund allocations and in co-investments. While there certainly remain a large contingent of family offices with long histories of being as durable investors across market cycles, a material number of family offices just began investing in venture during the post-2009 period of economic prosperity. We should expect those in this latter group, particularly those whose family wealth has been generated from areas outside of tech, to retrench to varying degrees while waiting for some semblance of true macro visibility. I don’t believe that the paradigm has shifted completely from yield chasing to liquidity hoarding, but the pendulum is certainly swinging.

Of course, things could shift dramatically if positive developments quickly occur with COVID-19 and the public markets rapidly stabilize. However, I think it’s unlikely based on the history of past pandemics and the current info we have on the contagion level (I’m definitely not purporting to be an expert of any type).

As a result, while managers certainly shouldn’t panic — As we all know, it’s wonderful place to have dry powder in uneven and anxious markets — a bit of conservatism and patience around fundraising targets, timeline, and process should be exercised.

VC/tech advisor, venture blogger, active angel investor, banker

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