As many of you know, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) are all the rage on wall street right now. SPACs are publicly traded “shell companies” that raise capital in an IPO process and then use that capital to merge with a privately held business.
SPACs have been around for at least thirty years and I have always thought of them as a “liquidity path of last resort” for our portfolio companies. The thinking was that if you could not go public in a traditional IPO, and if you could not find a traditional M&A buyer, then you would consider a SPAC.
But my thinking on SPACs has changed in this latest SPAC frenzy. I now see them as part of the continued “assault” on the traditional IPO process and largely a good thing.
For most of my career as a VC, the IPO has been the holy grail. Our very best portfolio companies would be offered an opportunity to go public by the top investment banks on wall street. And I have been involved in several dozen IPOs in my career.
The terms of an IPO are fairly locked down and are largely a great business for the top wall street banks and their buy side clients. I don’t take as much offense to this situation as others in the VC business have. I have viewed it as a mutually beneficial relationship between the top banks, VC firms, and the founders and CEOs who lead our portfolio companies.
However, in the last few years, competition has emerged for IPOs. On the left has come direct listings. And on the right, we have SPACs. Now founders and CEOs and Boards have a plethora of options for moving from a privately held business to a publicly held business.
Competition and choice is good. That is deeply held belief of mine across all aspects of life and business. And so the deluge of SPAC money coming to market right now is a good thing for the founders and CEOs who lead our portfolio companies. It offers them a wider array of options for going public than they had before. I am certain that will be a good thing for the tech sector and the VC sector.
All of that said, I do think SPACs have positives and negatives relative to IPOs and Direct Listings. What is right for your company will depend on the circumstances you find yourself in, including whether or not you need to raise primary capital, whether or not you need a lot of secondary liquidity, whether or not your “story” will be exciting to public market investors right out of the gate, how quickly you need to transact, and a host of other factors.
It is also the case that a number of VC firms and growth investors are raising their own SPACs. That too reflects the changing dynamics of the investment business and how fund managers like USV access capital and deploy it. I have always been a traditionalist when it comes to raising capital and deploying it. I like the small VC firm model, a close and long standing relationship with our investors (called LPs), and the rhythm of raising funds and sending the money back again and again. But I appreciate that others don’t see things that way and they may be on to something important with the VC SPAC model. We will see. I like that people are experimenting with the model. It will be revealing to all of us in time.