Archive for the ‘VC Board Best Practices’ Category

Governance Models That Don’t Scale: The World According to Charles T. Munger and Jean Jacques Rousseau

JJRMungerCan you name five benign dictators who have ruled successfully for any meaningful period of time (non-fiction)? Can you name five successful, long serving CEO’s (excluding Warren Buffett) whose governance histories are free of the “high-beta” associated with outliers such as Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs?

It’s not easy. Why? Because enlightened dictators and their corporate CEO equivalents are very, very rare; maintaining immunity to the intoxicating effects of power challenges basic human nature.

It is in this context that I found “Corporate Governance According to Charles T. Munger”, a brief article from the Stanford Closer Look Series, thought provoking if not practical. The article was written by David Larker, Director of the Corporate Governance Research Program at the Stanford Graduate School of business, and Brian Tayan, a researcher with Stanford’s Corporate Governance Research Program.

The authors summarize and explain Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles T. Munger’s unorthodox view of a model for corporate governance.    According to the article, Munger believes that corporations and their boards should empower their CEO’s more, not less. Munger’s effective CEO, modeled, of course, on Warren Buffet, should be unencumbered by rigid process and freed of unnecessary, excessive checks and balances. Why? So that the CEO can lead effectively. How? In Munger’s construct, CEO’s police themselves, holding themselves accountable to their loosely overseeing directors by binding themselves to a trust based system. And corporate directors should reward these CEO’s for creating shareholder value, while deliberately underpaying them in terms of their annual salary-based cash compensation. According to Munger, and as quoted in the article:

“Good character is very efficient. If you can trust people, your system can be way simpler. There’s enormous efficiency in good character and dis-efficiency in bad character … We want very good leaders who have a lot of power, and we want to delegate a lot of power to those leaders…The highest form that civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust—not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another.”

I agree with Mr. Munger completely, while asking the same questions raised by the authors at the end of this article:

“The trust-based systems that Munger refers to tend to be founder-led organizations. How much of their success is attributed to the managerial and leadership ability of the founder, and how much to the culture that he or she has created? Can these be separated? How can such a company ensure that the culture will continue after the founder’s eventual succession?”

Unfortunately, and founders notwithstanding, the collective global capitalist experience since private property rights were invented and enforced has shown that there aren’t enough of those people on this planet.

kozlowskimug1For a specific cautionary example, I am reminded of Tyco International and its former CEO, Dennis Kozlowski. Kozlowski was recently paroled, almost twelve years after his indictment, ultimate conviction, and after serving over eight years in Attica, for a $134 million corporate fraud (this amount represents a small fraction of the losses suffered by public shareholders). The disgraced former directors of Tyco International (vintage 1999), seemingly highly trustworthy and accomplished men and women, also come to mind. This group, along with the enterprise builders at Enron, Worldcom, and Adelphia, to name just a few, are at the top of my list of examples of poor corporate stewardship and help explain why Mr. Munger’s model for corporate governance is still-born.

But I did say the article was thought provoking, as Charles Munger’s corporate governance philosophy, in my view, evokes Jean Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the Lawgiver.  Author Alex Scott summarizes Rousseau’s core thesis from the Social contract succinctly in this excerpt from his book, The Conditions of Knowledge: Reviews of 100 Great Works of Philosophy :

“The general will always desires the common good, says Rousseau, but it may not always choose correctly between what is advantageous or disadvantageous for promoting social harmony and cooperation, because it may be influenced by particular groups of individuals who are concerned with promoting their own private interests. Thus, the general will may need to be guided by the judgment of an individual who is concerned only with the public interest and who can explain to the body politic how to promote justice and equal citizenship. This individual is the “lawgiver” (le législateur). The lawgiver is guided by sublime reason and by a concern for the common good, and he is an individual whose enlightened judgment can determine the principles of justice and utility which are best suited to society.”

I agree! Let’s find that individual and give him (or her) the keys to the public policy car! Munger’s corporate lawgiver, the enlightened CEO, is also an admirable model worth aspiring to emulate.

As with Rousseau’s 1762 treatise, history has sadly shown us that we lack sufficient incorruptible raw material across the entire history of mankind to render the “lawgiver” experiment successfully scalable, be it in public government or corporate governance.

The unbridled exercise of power is the ultimate intoxicant, and very few humans can responsibly limit the flow of that drug, especially not when they have are given the opportunity to administer it to themselves.

 

 

New Video: Key Startup Investing Risks for Friends, Family, and Angel Investors

Establishing a mutual understanding between investors and entrepreneurs as to what each expects from the other is essential to a harmonious beginning for a new venture.

The future is likely to be challenging;  if entrepreneurs expect to be able to count on additional support from their friends, family, and Angel investors, several key risks that must be addressed in advance.  This video focuses on four of those fundamental risks:

(1) A startup’s high probability of failure;

(2) The mathematics of dilution;

(3) The tendency to misunderstand a company’s stage of development and, therefore, its capital needs;

(4) Understanding the risks associated with investing good money after bad and knowing when to call it quits.

Some important statistics:

In 2012, the average amount of seed or angel capital raised per company was $880,000 (Source: Pitchbook)

61% of seed-funded companies will not be able to obtain follow-on funding (Source: CB Insights)

Those seedlings that won’t find capital will be the victims of the so-called Series A Crunch

While seed investments increased by 64% in 2012, Series A investments declined by 2%. This defines a supply/demand imbalance exists between institutional VC capital and the ‘Seed Crowd’ .

It is a tribute to America’s innovation culture that, while most startups fail, we are currently experiencing such a boom in seed financing in the United States. Institutional venture capital is not increasing; on the contrary, the industry continues to consolidate by firm and is declining in total.

Being aware of the risks inherent to startup investing and having a clear understanding of the basic parameters of dilution mathematics should be helpful to investors and entrepreneurs alike.  If you are an entrepreneur, this video may be very helpful to you so that you can explain these risks to your investors.  If you are an investor in very early stage companies, this video provides useful perspective on risk and portfolio management.

This video is Chapter 2 of the Entrepreneur Essentials Video Series.

How to Break the Familiar Pattern of Board Dysfunction in a Startup

After watching Board Dysfunction: Root Causes and Solutions, an experienced CEO told me that the video succinctly identifies and summarizes issues that are intuitively clear but often overlooked in practice. Experienced investors know that successful investing often employs pattern recognition. But when it comes to boards of directors, the unfortunate recurring pattern that is familiar to many experienced directors raises red flags about dysfunction. This is particularly acute for startups because most startups have inexperienced board members, and usually the least experienced directors come from the management team. This problem is compounded in the earlier stages of a company’s development because inexperienced co-founders often make common mistakes that could be avoided. Left unchecked, such errors in board management, board configuration, and in board process can cripple a company’s future growth path.

If you are an entrepreneur involved with your first startup, a venture capitalist who wants to educate management on acceptable and unacceptable board behavior, or an independent director new to small company board dynamics, this video should be helpful to you. The video combines PowerPoint slides with specific anecdotes to illustrate frequent errors made by inexperienced boards. The content also highlights typs of behavior that are unacceptable and that should raise concerns among all directors.

It’s easy to say that directors need to communicate more frequently and openly.  But how do you accomplish that? How do you hold directors accountable to each other? The video outlines process tools that are readily available to boards and that can help solve problems. Ironically, viewers may watch this and feel that a number of the points raised are intuitively clear. That is actually the point of this work– most of the time, the people in the room know what’s wrong, they feel it, but they either don’t feel comfortable articulating the problem or can’t easily implement the solution. By watching this video with your peer directors, you can now raise issues that are already in your mind but have not been comfortably stated out in the open.

Please consider this video to be a management tool. It is for investors and entrepreneurs alike, with a focus on the perspective of the entrepreneur.

Introducing the Entrepreneur Essentials Video Series

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I’ve written about board governance challenges for startups since 1999, publishing one book, a series of three white papers, and many articles and blog posts on this topic. Because I am both a venture capitalist and a technology entrepreneur, I understand the different perspectives of entrepreneurs and investors from both sides of the boardroom table.

With this new video series, I updated and expanded fourteen years of collaborative work and have structured the content to focus on the entrepreneur’s perspective. The first video will be released on September 5.

Stay tuned for

Chapter 1      Board Dysfunction: Root Causes and Solutions

Chapter 2      Managing Risks in A Startup: Four Key Issues

Chapter 3      10 Things You Need to Know About VC’s (Before You Meet Them)

I intend to help management teams get much more of the flavor of the issues they will undoubtedly face as directors of startups.

Chapter 1, Board Dysfunction: Root Causes and Solutions, updates the material I have developed with other experienced investors and entrepreneurs, emphasizing the challenges that entrepreneurs face.

In these videos, I don’t just ask difficult questions, I answer them.

To learn more, go to my Facebook fan page Entrepreneur Essentials

Liquidity for Venture Backed Companies Still Comes Largely in One Flavor—Cash Acquisitions

Denis Dougherty of Intersouth Partners was recently interviewed by Brian Gormley of The Wall Street Journal on the decade-long liquidity crisis that continues to plague the venture capital industry. Responding to the question “What do you see as the biggest investment opportunity for venture capital in 2013?”, Dougherty said, “If we have a broadly rebounding economy, the big corporations would begin to buy products and programs that they want to have, not just the ones that they have to have. Venture capitalists that have an inventory of acquisition-ready companies will do well.”

I agree with Dennis. My concern, based on my direct experience negotiating half a dozen acquisitions sine 2008 (three in 2012), both inside and outside of technology, is that the negotiating environment for such ‘acquisition-ready’ companies is fraught with challenge from the seller’s perspective.

Recent reports reveal that mergers and acquisitions still account for over 90% of liquidity events for venture-backed companies in 2012, a lamentable condition that has plagued the US innovation ecosystem for close to a decade. In my view, many acquisitions of emerging growth companies often lead to the burial of promising technologies by incumbents more focused on protecting market share than on delivering the best product or service to their customers… (think Linksys, Flip…)

It is critical to know the state of the art in merger terms leading to an acquisition and in post-merger covenants, particularly with respect to the release of cash consideration held in escrow or as a holdback by the buyer.

Shareholder Representative Services (SRS) has produced another excellent report that investors and management teams should scrutinize very carefully before engaging in merger negotiations.

I have one general comment to make about the SRS report before reviewing its key findings:

In any negotiation, just because the average term is X, you should not abdicate your responsibility to improve your position and negotiate to get a better outcome for yourself.  You may consider some terms to be acceptable in the agreement because your lawyers tell you “it’s the market” in the heat of battle.  That might be OK, but it also might be a rock that will not always be floating above your head…

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Because the current world of venture-backed exits remains dramatically and asymmetrically skewed to the advantage of the acquirer, the aggregate statistics in the SRS report reveal a landscape pockmarked by buyer-friendly terms. Challenge yourself to do better as a seller!  More on this topic to follow…

New Book by Professor Mannie Manhong Liu and Pascal Levensohn– Venture Capital: Theory and Practice, published by the University of International Business and Economics Press, Beijing

I never expected to have my first book published in China, much less in Mandarin, but that goes to show how much the world continues to change.  My contributions to this undergraduate textbook, Venture Capital: Theory & Practice, are the result of two important collaborations.  First, the body of collaborative work on corporate governance best practices that I have developed since 1999 with other venture capitalists and professional service providers to the venture industry; and, second, the direct collaboration on venture capital that resulted from meeting Professor Mannie Manhong Liu in the summer of 2007 at the  Symposium on Building the Financial System of the 21st Century between China and the US, sponsored by the Harvard Law School together with the CDRF (China Development Research Foundation) and PIFS (the Program on International Financial Systems).

Venture Capital started in China in 1985, when the first government-sponsored venture capital firm was established. The industry built slowly until a few years into the new century. In 2006, China’s total venture capital investment reached $1.78 B, becoming number two globally, next to the US; the US venture capital investment was $25.6B that year, accounting for 67.9% of the world total ($37.7b).  While China was far behind, accounting for about 4.7% of the total, nevertheless, China became number two and has kept that status ever since.

Venture Capital is a popular buzzword in China. Renmin University was among the first universities to create a venture capital major in the School of Finance and teach venture capital for undergraduates.  In recent years, many universities have followed, teaching venture capital as an elective course. In October 2010, our new textbook will become available.

Mannie and I share a strong interest in research in the field of venture capital and private equity. Mannie was working for Professor Josh Lerner at Harvard Business School before she returned to China to teach these subjects. The backbone for my contribution to our effort is the best practices work “for practitioners by practitioners” that I have developed in the area of venture capital through the multiple articles and three white papers that I’ve written.

Mannie was invited by a publisher in Beijing to write a textbook for undergraduate students in China; she in turn invited me to join her as the book’s co-author. Writing the book was a very intensive task, and both of us have worked on it for many months, with Mannie and her team translating my work and both of us discussing the context of the content for the Chinese audience.

Venture Capital: Theory and Practice, is in Chinese and is categorized as one of  “China’s National College Major Investment Textbook Series for the ‘Twelfth Five-Year Plan.’” The book has three parts and a total of 12 chapters. The Theory includes chapters on the venture capital concept, entrepreneurship, and a simple history; The Practice covers fundraising, business plan construction and analysis, investment due diligence, post investment monitoring and exit; and The Future emphasizes early stage investment, especially angel investment, as well as Cleantech VCs and socially responsible investment.  In the last chapter, Venture Capital in China, we explore the amazing development of China’s unique venture capital industry.

This textbook combines the strength of my Silicon Valley experiences as a venture capitalist and Mannie’s research as a professor, and it will help strengthen Chinese college-education programs in this particular field.  The book draws on and acknowledges important contributions from the members of the Working Group on Director Accountability and other experts in the field of venture capital.  I’ve donated all of my royalties from the book to the Society of Kauffman Fellows, which reported on the publication of this book in their July report.

VC Governance FAQ: (10) Are limited partner defaults on capital commitments triggering a wave of lawsuits in the venture industry?

images-11This is the last in our series of 10 frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question: I’ve read that some GPs are suing LPs for not making capital calls. The LPs claim that they are cash constrained and/or the VC fund has not performed. Why throw more money their way? Do you see a trend here of broken contracts?

Answer: First, it would appear that the reports of numerous LP  defaults exceed the reality. Based upon discussions with industry  participants, most institutional LPs have, in fact, met their  obligations to make capital calls. Second,  the decision of a GP to sue an LP over a default is most often the absolute  last resort. The GPs are not in business to institute litigation — this a  distraction for the GP and added publicity that neither GPs nor LPs desire.  When the LP Agreement is executed, all of the parties enter into a contract  with the expectation that both LPs and GPs will honor their respective  commitments. The GPs have committed their time, and have built an organization  to implement an investment strategy and program for the fund. They should be  entitled to rely on the contractual obligations of those sophisticated  investors who agreed to support this program over the long  term.

VC Governance FAQ: (9) Does an anemic IPO market deter VC investing?

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This is the ninth in our series of ten frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question: Do you think than anemic IPO market will remain a deterrent to VC investing?

Yes I do.  I believe that an entire generation of American innovation is at risk as a result of the lack of IPO’s.  The statistics are overwhelming in support of my position, starting with the fact that over 90% of jobs created by VC-backed companies occur AFTER their IPO—and this has been the case for 40 years.  What concerns me the most about the IPO vacuum is that it is systemic and is the result of a “one size fits all mentality” when it comes to regulation of the securities industry.  A relatively unknown emerging growth public company with a $500 million market cap has different needs for research and trading support to provide liquidity for investors than IBM.  I remain surprised that this seems to be difficult for our policy makers to understand, but I am encouraged that the SEC has recently invited public comments for a 90 day period to address structural problems with the U.S. equity markets.

Specifically, the SEC wants to know if anyone from the public has thoughts on whether the current market structure is fundamentally fair to investors and supports capital raising functions for companies of various sizes, and whether intermarket linkages are adequate to provide a cohesive national market system”. The Commissioners expressed particular interest in receiving comments from a wide range of market participants. Comments on the Concept Release are due within 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

For more on the SEC Concept Release, click HERE

I believe that the U.S. equity capital markets must be structured with the goal of promoting the growth of publicly held small businesses in America.  America had this structure in place prior to 1997, and we should take a hard look at what has changed to render the small company IPO extinct (contrary to popular belief, it first became an endangered species before the technology bubble).

images-15Compounding this problem is the fact that, with no IPO options, the consideration paid for companies in trade sales—acquisition by larger companies—has been declining.  Why should venture capitalists take the risks associated with starting up a new company, working through all of the difficulties with multiple financing rounds and executive changes over a six-to-eight or even ten-year period, only to get backed into a corner by a large multinational that dominates the sales channel and can wait them out?

The biggest problem the VC industry has today is that, absent access to public market capital, there are too few VC-backed companies that are self sustaining cashflow generators.  The biggest problem that the U.S. economy has today is unemployment.  You would think that maybe the stewards of the U.S. economy, our legislators, could make some structural changes to our small company capital markets regulations to fuel the greatest job creation engine in America—the entrepreneur driving an emerging growth company.  This problem goes way beyond venture capital—as 47% of all IPO’s since 1991 were backed by neither VC’s or private equity firms—this is an American problem.

VC Governance FAQ: (8) How can a limited partner exit from a VC fund?

images-16This is the eighth in our series of ten frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question: What happens if an LP wants to exit a VC fund? What are their rights?

Answer: The options here are limited, and they are (1) the LP can try to sell their interest, including the obligation to fund future capital calls, to a fund that acquires secondary interests.  The good news is that a robust market exists for such interests in venture capital partnerships today; or (2) default.  If you do wish to sell, the GP needs to approve the transfer, and the standard partnership agreement language leaves this decision in the “sole discretion” of the GP.  There is no free lunch if you change your mind several years into a 10-year-plus partnership participation. And there shouldn’t be, which also means that either the secondary market buyer will take their pound of flesh by buying the LP’s interest at a substantial discount, or the GP will by offering the interest and its economic value on a discounted basis to the other LP’s.  It is far less disruptive to the GP and to the GP-LP relationship for the exiting partner to sell to a secondary buyer, but these buyers are totally financially driven and are going to get the best deal possible for themselves.

VC Governance FAQ: (7) How should institutional investors contact VC funds?

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This is the seventh in our series of ten frequently asked questions from investors in venture capital partnerships.

Susan Mangiero, CEO of Investment Governance’s Fiduciary X, asked me the following:

Question; How should institutional investors contact VC funds? Directly or via an investment consultant? Do the traditional investment consultants have the background to conduct due diligence on the VC fund(s)?

Answer: First, nothing beats direct contact with managers.  I think the VC industry conferences in specific industry sectors provide a great forum for institutional investors to meet directly with VC funds.  Historically the two largest conferences have been sponsored by IBF and DowJones.  There are also sector specialty conferences, such as the IT Security Entrepreneurs Forum held annually on the Stanford campus, the bring out domain experts.I think that it also makes sense for institutional investors who don’t have the resources to do a full search to work with consultants—however, I will say that, in my experience, many consultants become gatherers of statistics and information—meaning paper pushers—and few of them actually bother to have a deep and current understanding of what is really going on in the market. I’ve actually been shocked at how clueless some consultants are about what is really going in the VC industry. I think the evidence supporting this point is in the fact that, because of the long term nature of the VC business, consultants will choose to back a certain fund and then assume that they can sit back and wait for five or ten years to see if they made the right choice.  This is a big mistake, and one of the root causes is because there is a low probability that the same analyst or partner in the firm that made the original “commit” decision is still going to be at the consultant even four years after the original decision to recommend the fund was made.  So I am suggesting that a lot of the “standard” recommendations by the consultants in VC are stale.  So you need to do research on the consultant’s process as well as directly meet with the venture firms.  Any venture firm that won’t meet with you probably doesn’t need your money and won’t give you the kind of respect in a relationship that you should expect, so that’s a great first cut in your process.images-13