Who will fare better in the current venture downturn?
Will it be the legacy investors with years of experience amassed through multiple market cycles — but who also have a sizable portfolio to worry about — or the emerging managers who are looking at the market with fresh eyes and a clean slate? We're about to find out.
Last year saw a record 270 first-time funds close, according to PitchBook data, which means there are almost 300 emerging managers who raised their fund in a bull market and are now deploying it in very different market conditions.
We polled six first-time funds to better understand how this group of investors is navigating the downturn.
Several first-time fund managers, like Giuseppe Stuto, co-founder and managing partner of 186 Ventures, a Boston-based early-stage generalist fund, told TechCrunch that entering the downturn with a very small existing portfolio could serve as a big advantage.
“We don’t carry any of the baggage that may come with having previous funds or having a lot of capital tied up in what seems to be highly overpriced vintages,” Stuto said. “Just like a founder, who looks at the world differently than subject matter experts, we (first-time managers) bring a fresh outlook of how certain problems and industries are developing.”
Leslie Feinzaig, the founder and CEO at Graham & Walker, a fund that backs early-stage digital startups, added that even though she started investing her fund during the bull market last year, focusing on a company's potential downstream risk was crucial — as a first-time fund manager, she couldn't jeopardize her budding track record in any way.
“The big advantage is that we don't have many prior investments that are now high risk, and we don't need to focus as much of our time on triaging the portfolio,” Feinzaig said. “I can focus almost entirely on the path ahead.”
Because these investors have a smaller garden to tend, as they say, they can focus more on making sure the new companies they add to the portfolio are more resilient against current market trends.
One thing these managers are better equipped to help their portfolio plan for is runway. Stuto said that when 186 Ventures started investing in the fleeting days of the bull market, extension financing wasn't a big part of the conversation, but now that it is clear that will be a challenge for startups, 186 Ventures plans to focus more on making sure its investments allow for a much longer runway.
“Bridge financing was readily available last year, so it was easy to hand-wave whether you’d be able to attract new investors at a ‘slight' up round,” he said. “Part of our thesis now is that this bridge financing will likely not be as available, so depending on the industry and who the other financing partners are in the round, we have increased our ‘market readiness' threshold.”
Ariana Thacker, the founder and solo GP at Conscience VC, agreed and said while she's still looking for the same kinds of startups, she is definitely putting an emphasis on deals that result in the company having 24 to 36 months of runway.
Read the full survey here to get their full take on what they’re doing to prepare for the downturn, how their approach to investing has changed, and how to pitch them.