Time to Change Your Investment Model

Interesting analysis of how valuing of public companies is changing with an increased focus on intangible assets and decreased focus on earnings

http://www.cfapubs.org/doi/pdf/10.2469/faj.v73.n4.4

We demonstrate empirically that the gains from predicting corporate earnings, or consensus hits and misses—an activity at the core of most investment methodologies—have been shrinking fast over the past 30 years. We identify the main reasons for this loss of earnings relevance and propose an improved alternative to current investment methodologies, one that focuses on the “strategic assets” of the enterprise and their contribution to maintaining the company’s competitive edge.

New Investment Checklist (2017)

Below is my current working pre-new investment checklist.

Most of these questions are answered early through conversations with the Founder or others at the company – so this is mainly a final reminder of what qualities I’ve found to be important in potential investments over my time at True (either through others or learning directly the hard way)

Would love any feedback on any potential new qualities to add (or questions about attributes on the list that you’d disagree with)

New Investment Check List

Founder Questions:

1. Who is the main protagonist Founder that you’re backing?

a. Are there any potential trust issues?
b. Would you want to work with this person for the next 12+ years?
c. How do they treat other individuals? (Lawyers, employees, etc)
d. Do they have the ability to be a long-term leader for the company?

2. What do they understand about the market that other don’t?

a. What experience led to that unique insight?
b. Why would others think they’re wrong?

3. Do they have the ability to recruit great talent?

a. Who are their co-Founders and how is equity split?
b. Who are early advisors and why are they excited?
c. Can they identity the people they will hire for their first 10 roles?

Business Questions:

1. Does the company’s mission matter?

a. Will you be proud to talk about this investment?
b. Can it inspire employees, future investors, etc

2. What is the company’s long-term sustainable competitive advantage?

a. Network effects are ideal
b. Are there features that increase customer lock-in or switching costs?
c. Is this a company that could exist for 100+ years?

3. Are you swimming with the tide long-term?

a. What are the major macro market forces in your favor?

4. Why is this possible now?

a. Why would have previous attempts failed?
b. Either technology or capital efficiency story
c. Why would others say this business won’t work now?

5. Is there significant innovation around product?

a. 10x better than alternative products
b. Are there any alternatives that could be indirect competitors?

6. How often do customers interact with the product?

a. Ideally more than once per day

7. What is the quality of the company’s future revenue?

a. Visibility or predictability of revenue matter
b. Recurring or Re-occuring revenue is ideal
c. Arbitrage doesn’t usually lead to long-term enterprise value
d. Any customer concentration issues?
e. Any partner dependencies?

8. Is there a path to $100m in Annual Revenue? $1 Billion in Annual Revenue?

a. At scale, what is the customer + margin profile of the business?
b. What is the profile + challenges of similar businesses at scale?

9. Is there significant innovation around early go-to market strategy?

a. Organic marketing is best
b. Are there channels to effectively reach your target customers at scale?

10. How much equity capital is required to scale the business?

a. Are there alternatives financing sources if more capital intensive?
b. Can you make money as a seed investor?

Most Important Question:

1. If you could only make one investment this year, would this be it?

The Fifth Protocol (2014)

Cryptocurrencies are an emergent property of the Internet – almost a fifth protocol in the Internet suite. If Satoshi Nakomoto did not exist, it would still be necessary to invent them. Someday, they will be used by the machines in our network, on our desk, in our garage, and in our pocket to exchange value and achieve consensus at blinding speeds, anonymously, and at minimal cost.

Source: https://startupboy.com/2014/04/01/the-fifth-protocol/

Crypto Asset Analysis + Seed Investments

Presentation from our Annual Team Offsite at Stinson Beach in July 2017 included below.

This shares some of our internal discussions on how we’re starting think about evaluating new types of crypto projects + assets.

As an active investor in startups built around open source software, we’re increasingly excited about new + interesting business models to support community activity and have been participating in the cryptocurrency space since WordPress.com started accepting Bitcoin in November 2012.

As a firm focused on pre-seed and seed investing, we believe there will continue to be opportunities for venture capital firms to invest the initial startup capital into new crypto projects (as part of an initial equity financing or as part of an agreement in exchange for future protocol tokens.)

We’re interested in potential opportunities in:

  • Decentralized applications (ie projects like FunFair for Decentralized Gaming)
  • Enabling infrastructure (ie projects like 0x (Decentralized for Trading Tokens) or zCash (Blockchain + technology focused on privacy + selective transparency)

In particular, in potential crypto investments we’re looking for:

  1. Applications that truly need to be distributed (“Need to be built on a blockchain”)
  2. Solid technical team (with expertise across Internet infrastructure and crypto)
  3. Utilization Token tied to business model
  4. Potential for Strong Network Effects

If you think you’d be a fit with our portfolio based on the above information, please reach out – it’d be great to learn more.

True Science Investments

Presentation from our Annual Team Offsite at Stinson Beach in July 2017 included below.

This shares some of the lessons from our investments involving life sciences (starting with Ginger.io in 2011 + Moleculo in 2012) as well as some of the evaluation criteria we think about for potential future opportunities.

As a firm, our focus is leading the first institutional round (usually pre-seed or seed) with investments of $500k to $3m. We often invest with angels and love research work coming out of universities or other labs.

For companies based in core science or research – we like to see:

  1. Great science with large potential impact
    1. Therapeutic applications in healthcare
    2. Other non-healthcare applications with high margin potential
  2. Founder is a leader in the space
    1. Ability to develop cornerstone IP + reputation in the space
    2. Multi discipline teams; cross discipline individual expertise
  3. Path to efficacy (or similar metric) on less than $10m of paid in capital
  4. Market size + Product + New Type of Regulatory Risk
  5. Platform opportunity with large market potential
    1. Ability to build defensible data moat is key
    2. More data makes technology better; increases enterprise value

If you think you’d be a fit with our portfolio based on the above information, please reach out – it’d be great to learn more.

Bill Janeway on Productive Bubbles (2015)

In a bubble you stop worrying about whether there’s gonna be more money behind you. The coordination failure through time is eliminated. That’s the functional role that bubbles can play at the frontier of the innovation economy. And this is simply a-a follow on to suggest theoretically that you should expect to see in bubble conditions riskier start-ups, further out crazier ideas, ones that might require so much money to get going. “Geez we’re gonna start a new automobile company. From scratch?” That only under something resembling bubble conditions would anybody take it seriously. And then Nanda and Rhodes-Kropf went out and actually looked at the data and what they found was that going back now 15 years start-ups that were founded during the dotcom, telecom, internet bubble at the end of the 90’s had a, a bimodal distribution. It wasn’t a normal distribution. More of them failed completely. But those that succeeded, succeeded bigger. There was an actual empirical demonstration of the phenomenon of financing risk that they talked about and the coordination failure that a bubble solves.

Source: Bill Janeway on Productive Bubbles 

Data Sources for Tokens + Blockchains

One is Token Filings from William Mougayar (who run the Token Summit)

http://startupmanagement.org/2017/07/20/introducing-token-filings-a-transparency-directory-for-icos-and-token-sales/

Second is Coindexter from Jonathan Libov (who was previously at USV)

http://whoo.ps/2017/07/19/hello-coindexter

Token Filings is more offering facts + recent news (think SEC Edgar) while Coindexter is more focused on primary research + commentary.

SEC Issues Investigative Report Concluding DAO Tokens Were Securities

https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2017-131

The SEC’s Report stems from an inquiry that the agency’s Enforcement Division launched into whether The DAO and associated entities and individuals violated federal securities laws with unregistered offers and sales of DAO Tokens in exchange for “Ether,” a virtual currency. The DAO has been described as a “crowdfunding contract” but it would not have met the requirements of the Regulation Crowdfunding exemption because, among other things, it was not a broker-dealer or a funding portal registered with the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

This opinion blog post does a good job discussing the implications of this particular enforcement language:

https://www.inc.com/brian-d-evans/sec-report-about-the-dao-ico-being-a-security-is-g.html

As the report goes on, they continue to explain that ICOs that are offering investments must register with the SEC. However, they also point out that certain exemptions may apply. In some cases, if a token is not a security, but instead has an actual utility, then the ICO (Initial Coin Offering) may not have to register with the SEC since that would not necessarily be considered an “investment” or security. They have not released detailed explanations of exactly what would or wouldn’t be considered a security, but only commented on The Dao.

Token Network Effects

// https://medium.freecodecamp.com/token-network-effects-a-new-business-model-for-a-decentralized-web-6cde8b4e862

The underlying magic of the token is to align incentives across all stakeholders to hold the token.

In this flywheel, the token increases in value as the utility of the project increases. As long as everyone in the ecosystem believes there is value, it’ll be difficult for the token to drop to zero. Each participant of the ecosystem is now aligned to increase the value of the token.

This relationship increases the value of the token as demand for the token exceeds the limited supply, and drives up the price of the token. These market forces enable projects to fund more development (more developers, entrepreneurs, miners, participants, etc) which creates a better project.