One View of the Future of VC Allocations

So I'm working on a blog post with some fundraising tips for PE and VC pros that are making the rounds.  The thesis is: you've got to come to meetings armed with better rhetoric, as many institutions have become wildly cynical about private equity strategies after feeling the acute sting of illiquidity during the downturn.  Said another way, people realized that the cost of illiquidity was much higher than they had estimated and many asset allocators are now (re)asking the questions: "are we getting adequately compensated for the risk and illiquidity of privates?" and, more importantly, "why bother?"  Talking about being top quartile will get you nowhere when the person across the table reports to a CIO who's obsessed with the opportunity costs of their capital. 

But before I finished that post, I thought I'd put up a slide deck that I pulled together a few months ago; I've presented variants of this storyline to a few different groups since the beginning of the year.  It's a review of some dynamics that impact institutional investor attitudes towards VC, but I think several of the thoughts are generalizable across private equity. 

Now, I don't think there are necessarily any earth-shattering insights embedded in the slides; it's more of a refresher of first principles.  On the other hand, I continue to be surprised at the number of GPs with whom I speak that think LPs will return en masse with open checkbooks at any moment.  I didn't want to be all gloomy and doom-y, so I tried to end the presentation on a optimistic note, but I do hope that people understand that we've crossed over to a new paradigm that's different from the illiquidity bull market that marked the better part of the last 15 years.  This isn't just a "get-a-mulligan" detour on the way back to 2006; instead, I think the fundraising equilibrium we find over the coming quarters and years will feel a lot more like the tough slogs of the late 80s and early 90s.

I sometimes teach "The Yale Case" (insert reverent pause here,) at business schools and I always open by asking the students what they think the key lessons are.  "Diversification!"  "Equity Bias!"  "Asset Allocation!" come the cries from the well-scrubbed students.  "Nope," I tell them.  "the real lesson of the Yale Case is: don't try this at home . . . "  I fear that many institutions have now learned that lesson the hard way and may be reluctant to return for some time.  And, as always, people will return when they see money being made, but, as with the lottery, the worst time to buy a ticket is typically just after somebody else has won the big jackpot . . .

VC Presentation May 2010http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=32095003&access_key=key-286car1il8kko71w718v&page=1&viewMode=slideshow