Can The Crowd Be More Patient?
One of the most noticeable changes to the VC business over the past decade is the movement of investment allocation from capital and time intensive sectors like biotech and clean tech to capital efficient and fast moving sectors like internet and mobile.
This makes total sense if you think about it. VCs are professional money managers. We are provided capital to invest as long as we can return it to our investors with a strong return in a reasonable amount of time. A strong return is 3x cash on cash. A reasonable amount of time is ten years max.
Internet and mobile product development cycles are measured in months not years. And the capital required to get a product built and into the market is less than $1mm. And the returns, when things work out, can be enormous.
Contrast that with biotech. A new drug takes $100mm in capital investment to get to market. And that process can take a decade or more.
If you were a professional money manager, where would you invest? Where has USV invested our investors' capital for the past eight years? It's not even a contest. Internet and mobile wins hands down.
But internet and mobile will not and can not solve all of society's problems. We need new medical approaches to preventing and/or curing disease. We need new scientific approaches to generating, storing, and being more efficient with energy. Maybe we need more space exploration. Maybe we need more undersea exploration.
Enter the crowd.
When the Gotham Gal and I allocate our personal capital, we do it broadly. We give it away to good causes. We invest in things we want to see in the world regardless of whether there is a good return on it. We are driven by the outcome as much as the return.
I suspect that many people approach the allocation of their personal capital similarly. And that is very different than a professional money manager behaves.
So the advent of crowdfunding, for equity, for philanthropy, and for patronage, seems like a great fit with these capital and time intensive projects that the VC business has largely abandoned.
If we saw a promising technology that could prevent or cure cancer, we would be inclined to help fund that, regardless of the timing and magnitude of the financial returns it could produce. If we saw a promising technology that could store and move energy more efficiently, we would be inclined to fund that as well.
I can feel the crowdfunding movement coming. It's in the air. And I think it will be impactful and helpful in many way. And I hope that its impact will be most felt in the sectors that have been starved for capital, not the sectors that are awash in capital.