Valuing a Venture Capital Portfolio
Every quarter our firm goes through a process to value our entire portfolio. Those values, on a schedule of investments we publish to our investors every quarter, flow through to our financial statements and capital accounts and establish how much an interest in our partnerships are worth at that time.
We have always taken this process very seriously and approach it with a lot of rigor. Every partner is highly engaged with this process. Although we have a fantastic financial team at USV, we do not simply outsource valuing the portfolio to them because we understand that those who are closest to the portfolio companies will have the best view of what they are worth.
We have a few rules and I would like to share them:
– Be conservative. The auditors try to get us to mark our portfolio up to reflect “market prices” but we prefer to keep our portfolio marked below market prices, particularly in times of market froth. This leads to a fair bit of haggling with our auditors that is mostly a waste of everyone’s time but we feel that it is important to maintain our conservative posture.
– Get Ahead of Market Pullbacks. We like to move quickly to take our marks down when we see the market environment changing. Public stocks often lead private valuations by several quarters so we like to look to public market comparables and mark down quickly.
– Never Mark Higher Than Potential Sale Value. Every time we have a significant M&A exit in our portfolio, I like to check that the proceeds to USV exceed our current mark. I believe we have always met that test. I hope we always do.
– Take Total or Partial Write-Downs In Advance of Problems. When a company is having real issues, we like to take total or partial write downs. We sometimes reverse them if the company recovers. If you might lose money on an investment, it is always best to signal that ahead of time.
– Have Multiple Sets Of Eyes On The Marks. We debate and discuss the marks with each other. This is all about getting multiple sets of eyes on the marks. While the partner closest to the company will always have the best sense of value, debating and discussing often leads to a better answer. We do this in everything we do at USV. It’s a huge part of our culture.
Valuing a private investment or a portfolio of private investments is an inexact exercise. Because there is no liquid market for most of our positions, we don’t really know what someone would pay for them right now. So we do the best we can, take a very conservative posture, and revisit them quarterly. That has worked well for us over the years.
Q1 of this year was a down quarter for USV and we expect we will see additional markdowns in Q2. But our markdowns have not been as steep as the decline in the Nasdaq over the last six months. That is because we maintained a conservative bias throughout the last few years and resisted the efforts of some to get us to behave differently. And that feels good and right to me.