venture capital threads

fred destin
a great twitter storm about the effect of coronavirus in our venture capital lives…
 

1/ A little thread on how one venture capitalist thinks about the pandemic from a fund standpoint
2/ First of all stating the obvious — this is first and foremost a global scale humanitarian crisis right now. It’s staring us in the face but from (most of ) VC Twitter you wouldn’t know it.
3/ My job is to manage a fund. As such my first take is to form a view on the depth of the crisis. The difficulty is that no one can model this thing. Any forecast we make is more likely to reflect our own appetite for risk and view of the future than anything else.
4/ Analysts are paid to produce numbers, and so numbers they will produce, but we do not believe that any macroeconomic model can cope with the current situation, in the same way that the 2008 crisis broke the “dream machine” of risk models that underpinned credit derivatives.
5/ Neither do we trust the numbers coming out of China, or think that any of the South Asia countries are out of the woods yet. We will see. There is too much we don’t know. The best hope lies with science (notably, cheap testing).
6/ We do however have to advise our startups on what to do, so we need to form a somewhat informed view of the future, and a decision framework. As Howard Marks recently told Harry on his podcast, investors cannot let themselves be impacted by emotion.
7/What we can reasonably assume is that it will deeper and longer than 2008, probably harsher than 2000-2003 and probably, hopefully, nowhere near as bad the Great Recession.
Government response, agile manufacturing and health / biotech mobilization should ensure that.
8/ Because travel and trade froze at the same time, and given that the whole world is gradually moving into lockdown, the global economy is experiencing a combined supply and demand shock which is unprecedented.
9/ Working capital gets hit first and hard, with household wages and consumption following in lockstep. Credit follows naturally.
10/ Governments have played the Quantitative Easing game non-stop over the last few years. Rates are so low that even the Fed has nowhere to go, and it is unclear what rate cuts would achieve anyway.
11/ The US is also hampered by deep partisan politics which render both federal government and states less effective in their stimulus response. All this does not bode well.
12/ On the other hand comparisons to the Great Recession seem excessive — governments have long understood how to use Keynesian methods in recession, and the massive stimulus packages are witness to that.
13/ We are anticipating a deep dive that will last 12 months or more, followed by a tough period of stagnation before a return to growth. As I said, these are planning assumptions not forecasts, and they will be overrun by facts week after week. Hope this tweet ages badly.
14/ In the face of such uncertainty — VCs will look at existing portfolios first and look at (a) crisis impact company by company (b) financing risk on the existing portfolio (c) valuation risks.
15/ At @stride_vc we are relatively “lucky” in that (a) we invest at seed so burns are usually low and valuations are reasonable (b) almost all our companies are funded into 2022 (c) we are only about 30% invested and early in our investment history
16/ The companies most at risk are those who have recently starting investing into growth and are into that weird “Series B gap” where you start tooling up for scale and are heavily reliant on hitting growth forecasts. A tough place to be right now given the uncertainty.
17/ Per company assessment yields a surprising picture – a majority of our companies are not currently seeing a major impact and a few are accelerating. I don’t know how long this lasts. The point is that the data does not tell you what you’d necessarily expect right now.
18/ The immediate adjustment tends to be hiring freeze and a hard reassessment of cash flow forecast with deep cuts in growth and a significant uptick in churn. Anything else and you’re probably deluding yourself or not being prudent. That is the only way to forecast runway.
19/ We tell all our management teams that forecasts do no matter anymore — the only things that matter are (1) taking care of your team (2) making a calm and dispassionate assessment of the impact on your business (3) taking a few but well reasoned decisions right away and …
20/ … deciding very exactly what to measure and what leading indicators you are going to monitor obsessively to determine where your market is going. This is completely company specific, and it is important to avoid confirmation bias on positive news.
21/ Right now I am SURPRISED at how functional our companies’ clients are in the face of this pandemic – decisions get made, deals get closed. Large corporations have not frozen in the face of this crisis – they are moving, and fast. Long may that last.
22/ From an investment standpoint – we here hit the pause button for a bit — I am not smart enough to process this information and have confidence in our decisions on new investments, and our focus is 100% on assisting our founders with hands-on advice.
23/ Whether we hit pause for 2 weeks or 2 months I don’t know yet. We invest money on behalf of other people and right now we do not feel confident putting cash to work. I read voraciously and try to understand as much as I can, and I haven’t gotten my head around this yet.
24/ What is absolutely clear in my mind is that you can expect deal volumes to plummet this quarter. It makes for good marketing to say that you are open for business, and I like the positivity, but we need to see how much $£ actually gets put to work.
25/Uncertainty kills decision making.
VCs are in the business of taking risk AND managing risk.
Right now you can take it, but in most cases it’s really hard to manage it
PS/ and for clarity, since question was asked, yes we absolutely do support our existing portfolio companies.

The unexpected new world

Second Newsletter done at Bright Pixel – subscribe here!

Life as we know it has changed in the last few months. It started as something that was only happening in China to something that’s keeping us all awake at night and concerned. Some said it was inevitable; that, sooner or later, something like this would happen. 14 years ago, Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, described to a TED audience what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take it seriously.

We’re not facing the end of the human race, but what everyone failed to predict were the human and economic consequences of such an impactful event. Research, medicine and, unfortunately, even some lives will help us overcome this situation and build a better world, based on our learnings from our previous errors.

However, once we are back to our daily lives – even before that – we will face a new economic reality. Right now, our lives and markets are frozen still. As USV founder Fred Wilson noted, while all assets are probably subject to a sell-off in a crisis, the market begins sorting winners and losers fast.

It’s time to look at this atypical situation as an opportunity to change, to start creating and implementing solutions that we wouldn’t dare to think about before in such a globalized, interconnected, fast-paced world. Let’s take the time we have been given to reinvent ourselves and face a new market reality.


A brief look at the world
Tribe Capital warns that a downturn can take years of cascading developments to fully express itself, if we consider similar past events. The international issues that have marked 2020 so far led to a spike in market volatility leading the S&P 500 declining 30% from its peak in just 16 days. In the 2008 debt crisis, it took 350 days to decline almost 60% from its peak and it still didn’t bottom out for another 200 days.

While ones are experiencing the need to dismiss their employees, others like Amazon or Walmart are surfing the wave and foreseeing the possibilities ahead of them. This tech giant announced plans to make 100 thousand new hires for its logistics operations and the Walmart is hiring another 150 thousand. Moreover, specifically in venture capital, there are new attempts emerging to counter the panic by mediating between firms still cutting checks and the companies that need the money. A new program called Luma Launch out of LA has already gathered 400 names of investors seeking activity. There is a sense of irony, however… because Luma itself will not be among those investing…


The VC narrative

There is more than one voice advising to prepare for tougher times, so investors are slowing down their analysis of new opportunities whilst reaching their portfolio companies with important recommendations to keep their businesses sound. Priyamvada Mathur lists the need to cut unnecessary expenses to extend cash runway, expand the customer base, be sure to have a dependable board of directors and, at last, but not least, how to become a great storyteller about how the company is successfully solving a problem…

Redpoint Ventures’ managing director Tomasz Tunguz also leaves six startup disciplines for challenging times, including the focus of the team: while sales teams need to keep pipelines primed by wooing existing customers, CEOs need to think about transitioning from management to leadership roles. Sequoia also warns their founders and CEO’s for the effects of Coronavirus, the black swan of 2020: some companies may experience softening demand; some may face supply challenges. While the Federal Reserve and other central banks can cut interest rates, monetary policy may prove a blunt tool in alleviating the economic ramifications of this global health crisis


What’s coming next?

We don’t know exactly what that world will look like – although Sequoia has published a matrix with several economic macro scenarios -, we can imagine some of it. Basically, take the trends that were already in motion and hit the fast-forward button. Virtualization of events, activities, and interactions – the MIT Technology Review says that social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. Automation of processes and services. Political and economic decentralization. “Now is the time when we need to think about what we would like the new world to look like, and start planning for it and building it”

What do the numbers say? CB Insights sees a 16% quarterly decline coming in Q1’20 – second only to the 36% fall between Q2’12 and Q3’12 – and it is expected to decrease even more in the next quarter. While the analysts at Pitchbook see COVID-19 as, at least in part, exacerbating old trends. Sustainability and profitability, which are quintessential to surviving any downturn, had re-entered the VC lexicon no later than the WeWork debacle. The founder-friendliness in term sheets had already taken a blow, with investors simply demanding more, and that should be expected to continue. Exits, which had already receded somewhat after the IPO frenzy, will also fall again; despite SoftBank’s considerations mentioned above, many firms will also probably be less than willing to sell assets at lower valuations. At the same time, there is no lack of potential dry powder, so even with fewer exit possibilities, investments will probably not be hit in the same way as in 2008

A moment to enhance the Portuguese entrepreneurs

Some Portuguese startups, among them some of our portfolio companies, such as Jscrambler, Probely, Automaise, Taikai, Reckon.ai, or EatTasty, are taking efforts to become even more relevant and put their know-how and solutions at the service of the society and health entities. We’re proud to see that when needed, there’s no competition

 

tech giants

A great read!

Benedict Evans’ great trends analysis – if you have something that you really should read to put your brain thinking about the future, is this excellent report – mobile & smartphone disruption is reaching its peak and its end in the typical S curve rollercoaster ride… What happens when everyone is online? What will be the next big thing in our lives?

Click here!

20 by 20

we decided at Bright Pixel to ask 20 people to try and guess what 2020 will be all about…

I was one of the lucky “bastards” to write about the trends that we will looking for in 2020…

20by20 site

My two cents below…

What is a trend? A general direction in which something is developing or changing. Or, simply defined also as… a fashion. So, a trend can be fleeting or here to stay. You will never know.
Perhaps the best way to try to predict 2020’s trends is to look back.
For example, twenty years ago, the first camera phones were launched (by Motorola) and now we know for sure that, for the better and worst, they are here to stay and take notice in any tiny detail of our increasingly less private lives, blurring today our assumptions of what is public domain and what is not. The year 2000 also gave us, unfortunately, our first successful reality show – The Big Brother – and that also redefined the boundaries of what is entertainment and of what could be shared with a vast audience. The gaming industry had also a big bump with the launch of Playstation 2 and a set of novelties from Nintendo and others.
If we pick these few examples alone of our not-that-recent past, we can spend hours discussing how they evolved and morphed into new realities now.
A wide array of filters and gimmicks are now available for our collective and instant delight. A full set of businesses were born exploiting our digital presence, from short videos to snapchats and tik toks (the most valuable startup in the world, go figure…), from social media to influencers and other annoying ways to digitally share and supposedly interact with people 24/7.
Not all is bad in having an enhanced ability to digitally interact or define our digital self. We have more immersive ways of interacting (virtual, augmented and mixed reality, to name some new realities…) and engage with other people and entities in several contexts – companies like Didimo (one of the great portuguese startup examples) will help us have a better experience in several contexts of our lives.
For example, our digital self will be able to do a lot more online in several retail environments, that for professional reasons I tend to follow closely. Who would believe in the year 2000 that buying clothes, shoes or almost anything that you can think of online… would become the norm? Or that we have today people paying absurdities for digital-only clothing? And that perhaps make-to-order retail models that promote a more personalised retail experience whilst reducing inefficiencies and, hopefully, other eco-conscious trends will start to pick up more and makes us a bit less fast consumer oriented over time.
Advances in how we manage our digital presence also will be key for several other areas of our lives – from healthcare to education, mobile and immersive gaming to other types entertainment (where the content wars will be on the rise, by the way, between the deep-pocketed streaming services, that are killing our once beloved traditional content providers and distributors (TiVo was born in the 2000’s!).
Our digital existence also brings us other tremendous challenges in 2020 and years to come… how should we manage and protect our data? To what extent should we explore the power of AI in analysing our data and what are the ethical implications around everything that we will do and have sitting around in our digital worlds? Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence are just two taglines for a full array of trends around this existential issue of having this new resource to explore, protect and manage – our digital oil, called data. All of the companies within our portfolio are exploring in some way or manner this brave new world around our digital oil. They are the oil prospectors of the 2020’s.
Then, looking back, we also had the hype of the blu-ray discs in 2000… Is 5G our 2020 blu-ray equivalent? Or perhaps blockchain will also prove to be our digital blu-ray perfect example… we will always have fleeting fashions for our collective satisfaction. Enjoy 2020 while it lasts.