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投资理财 - 风险投资

风投行业需要建立新的投资表现评价体系

Larry Cheng 2012年02月15日

风投行业以基金为单位的考评体系赖以存在的根本假设正在慢慢失效。

    长期以来,风投行业一直以“基金”为单位来衡量投资表现;风投公司围绕特定策略、募集成立相互独立的资本池——基金,然后遵循这一策略,对公司进行投资。“基金”概念在风投行业历来非常重要,因为投资回报正是基于基金计算的。而像美国康桥咨询公司(Cambridge Associates)这样的研究公司,每天的工作就是比较不同基金的相对表现。

    但是,风投行业以基金为单位的考评体系赖以存在的根本假设正在慢慢失效,即人们可以、且仅可以投资于某一只基金。

    我来具体解释一下。现在,风险投资业内出现了两个并行不悖的趋势,导致以基金为单位的考量体系正在慢慢失效。第一个趋势是,有限合伙人(LP)越来越多地开始围绕品牌风投公司整合自己的投资资产。越来越多的资金流向了更少的风投公司。在该趋势出现之前已经形成并与其并行发展的是,品牌风投公司纷纷创建可供选择的不同类型基金,运用不同的策略进行资本配置。

    十年前,风投公司每次只通过一只基金投资。可如今,大型风投公司基本上都有自己的种子基金、早期基金、成长基金、中国基金、印度基金和专门基金(如移动、数据)等等。

    关键在于,有些风投公司不允许有限合伙人选择他们最感兴趣的基金并只投资这一只基金。他们强制进行更广泛的资产配置,要求有限合伙人投资多只基金。

    业界存在两种做法。有时,一般合伙人会拿出最有吸引力的基金(所有投资者都想投资的基金),规定有限合伙人如果想投资这只基金,就必须同时投资他们旗下的其他基金。或者,一般合伙人会说,有限合伙人投资的不是某一只“基金”,而是“特许权”。它意味着有限合伙人把资金交给了风投公司,由风投公司决定如何将这笔资金分配到不同的基金中。不同的方法,同样的效果。

    所有这些意味着什么?简单来说,就是基金层面的投资回报并不总是那么能说明问题,因为有限合伙人并没有机会单独投资这只基金。如果有限合伙人只能通过投资一篮子基金才能获得和这家公司共同投资的机会,那么真正能反映投资回报水平的,只能是一篮子基金的投资回报数据,而不是单一的某一只基金。但由于很难知道这些篮子的具体构成,以单只基金为单位的评价体系仍在沿用,只是对一批业内规模最大、知名度最高的品牌基金来说,这个评价体系的重要性正在日渐降低。这个过程或许是缓慢的,但它预示着整个行业更普遍的趋势。

    本文作者拉里•陈 (@larryvc)是波士顿风险投资公司Volition Capital的合伙人。他的博客是Thinking About Thinking。

    The unit of measurement in the venture capital industry has long been the "fund" -- a discrete pool of capital that a firm raises around a particular strategy, and then deploys by investing into companies aligned with that strategy. The fund has had longstanding significance in the venture industry because it's how returns are calculated. And research firms like Cambridge Associates have been built around comparing the relative performance of various funds.

    But the utility of the fund as the metric of measurement for the venture capital industry relies on a fundamental assumption which is slowly, but increasingly untrue: That you can invest in that fund, and only that fund.

    Let me elaborate. There have been two parallel trends in the venture capital industry that are eroding the utility of the fund as the unit of measurement in the industry. The first trend is that LPs increasingly are consolidating their positions around the branded venture capital firms. More dollars are flowing to fewer firms. Prior to, and in parallel to, that trend, the branded venture firms are creating a menu of different types of funds with distinct strategies with which to deploy that capital.

    Ten years ago, venture capital firms were investing out of one fund at a time. Now it is not uncommon for the largest firms to have their seed fund, their early stage fund, their growth fund, their China fund, their India fund, their specialty fund [mobile, data, etc.] and on and on.

    Here is the key point: Some of these firms will not allow LPs to select the fund that most interests them and invest in that fund on a discrete basis. They force a broader asset allocation into multiple fund vehicles in order to invest with that firm.

    The logic works in one of two ways. Sometimes the GP will hold out the most attractive fund – the fund that every investor wants to get into – and stipulate that in order to get into that fund, the LP must invest in their other funds as well. Other times, the GP will say that the LP isn't investing into a "fund", rather they are investing in a "franchise." This means they allocate capital to the firm, and the firm may decide the relative allocations to the various funds. It's another approach to the same end result.

    How does this all net out? It simply means that fund-level returns aren't always relevant because LPs never had the opportunity to invest discretely in that fund discretely. If LPs had to invest in a basket of funds to invest with that firm, then the true unit of measurement of returns is the basket, not an individual fund. But, it's impossible to know how these baskets take shape so the individual fund persists as the unit of measurement, despite its increasing irrelevance with a number of the largest and most branded funds in the industry which may slowly but surely portend a broader trend for the industry as well.

    Larry Cheng (@larryvc) is a partner with Boston-based VC firm Volition Capital. He blogs at Thinking About Thinking.

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