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投资理财 - 风险投资

资深风投亲解投资决策内幕

Adam Lashinsky 2014年02月08日

Maveron公司成功投资过十几家企业,包括eBay、Groupon等。公司资深风投资本家丹•拉维坦亲口讲述了自己结识Trupanion首席执行官、并最终决定投资的决策过程。他总结认为,风投成功的秘诀是,先看人,再看业务。

    

    Maveron是一家美国风投公司,总部位于西雅图和旧金山,由星巴克(Starbucks)首席执行官霍华德•舒尔茨和投资银行家丹•拉维坦于1998年创建。这家公司专门从事消费者业务,因为成功地投资了多家市值数十亿美元的公司而闻名,其中包括eBay、凯佩拉大学(Capella University)、团购网站Groupon和母婴用品团购网站Zulily。(另一家快餐连锁店Potbelly的市值已经超过了5亿美元。)

    拉维坦最近接受《财富》采访的时候解释了自己投资Trupanion的原因。Trupanion是一家总部位于西雅图的创业公司,为宠物提供健康保险服务。了解风投公司的投资决策过程是一件非常有意思的事情。下面,我们就来听一听拉维坦亲口向《财富》杂志资深高级编辑亚当•拉辛斯基讲述的内幕。

    我们投资的一些最好的创业理念在传统风投界看来有些不着边际。最近,很多人都一直在讨论Potbelly和Zulily。但我们对一家名为Trupanion公司的业务特别感兴趣。它从事的是宠物健康保险。

    Trupanion是一家为狗、猫提供健康保险的公司。令我感到惊讶的是,美国人每年在宠物上的花费约为550亿美元。而且每一年,当我看见带有宠物合影的假日明信片时,我都会想到我们所居住的世界竟然已经发生了如此大的变化。

    2005年左右,我们曾在宠物行业内搜寻可扩展、具有吸引力的创业点子,因为宠物行业的吸金能力确实不俗。而大家当时都在投资有机食品之类的产业。我们倒是觉得,这种类型的投资没有什么风险收益。然后,有一天,我接到了我朋友打来的电话,他说:“你得见见这个家伙,他开了一家宠物健康保险公司。”

    我觉得很有意思。随着了解的不断加深,你会发现,兽药在过去25年多时间里的增长速度是GDP增速的两倍。过去,猫狗接受的手术和护理与人存在很大不同,但这个差距正在不断缩小。如今,宠物的治疗护理方式与人的治疗护理方式越来越接近。因此,在保险领域有很多非常有意思的长期趋势。事实上,我们在深入了解后发现,英国有25%的宠物都买了保险,美国只有1%。看起来简直是天壤之别。这位来自于温哥华附近鲍恩岛的家伙走了进来,说:“我想成立世界上最好的宠物健康保险公司。”

    我花了一年的时间来了解他,熟悉项目,因为我的合作伙伴提醒我说,我对保险一窍不通,而且我们最后还拉拢了再保险公司Renaissance Reinsurance与我们共同投资。

    但是对于整件事,我的观点是,在那个时候,我询问了一批兽医。实际上,我们公司基金的一位投资人的配偶就是兽医。在这一行业中已有一些早期尝试,但它们执行的并不好。兽医认为这总体来说不是什么好创意。他们担心会被保健组织拖垮。2007年就发生过这种事情。当时经济稳健,很多人都有闲钱,但是人们没有这种消费意识。

    快进到数年之后,也就是2010年,突然间,人们的闲钱没有那么多了。突然间兽医也开始担心,他们的客户没有那么多的钱来给予猫狗所需的护理。突然间,这个趋势又开始发生变化。Trupanion的方案相当简洁明了,同时也得到了兽医的认可。

    在我看来,这就是一个例证,因为这个点子在当时并不是很盛行。但是我们是先支持人,而后支持他们的业务。一直以来,我们所支持的Trupanion这位与众不同的家伙给我们留下了非常好的印象。

    但请别误会,我们并不是不喜欢那些有利可图的大趋势。最近,我与查理•蒙格【沃伦•巴菲特的商业合伙人兼伯克希尔哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway)的副董事长】身边的人进行了交谈。他们问蒙格:“为什么你不怎么在意细节?你是典型的粗线条类型。”他回答说:“在我看来,宁可大致是对的,莫要全盘皆错。”我们曾经听信了顾问公司的报告,投资了一家名为Eos的航空公司,我想我们当时恰恰就是全盘皆错。消费者热爱自己的宠物,而且害怕宠物因重大问题而导致灾难性后果,我想这一点大致是对的。

    所以回头想想,还是人的问题。我们可以找到一个好行业或业务,但是我们投资的是创业初期。因此,除非拥有顽强的意志、决心、智慧和锐意进取的能力,否则是行不通的。我们拉了一个清单,列出了我们支持的企业家所应具备的10大成功个性。除非你能在最为激动人心的行业中开创最赚钱的业务,否则,如果没有执行,没有领头的,没有创造价值的人,我们是不会投资的。

    我之所以深受这位家伙的吸引,原因在于他不走寻常路,而且信心十足,但同时又很沉稳,意志坚定。他一遍又一遍地找我,对我说他一心想成立Maveron。

    有一次,他说:“你知道吗,我觉得你们能增加价值……”我回答道:“你住在温哥华。如果你真觉得Maveron能增加价值,搬到西雅图来吧。在这里我们可以把价值增量最大化。”第二天他给我打电话说,“我回到家跟我妻子商量了一下。如果你能注资的话,我们愿意搬到西雅图。”

    这就相当于他是在非常直接地说:“我想把这个业务做起来,我是认真的。”他是在2007年说的这番话。我们在2007年达成了交易。我们投资了公司;当时公司的名字叫做Vet Insurance。他寻求我们帮助的其中一个原因是,他认为Vet Insurance并不是最合适的公司名。

    我们聘请了为星巴克起名的人,Trupanion是他给起的名字。我们召开了第一次董事会议,他对大家的到来表示热烈欢迎。他走到白色书写板前面,写下了一个大大的“10X”。他说:“我清楚你们来这里的原因,你们所想要得到的就是10倍的回报率。那好,我就来实现这个目标。但眼下我跟大家说这话的原因在于,各位要帮助我实现这个目标。大家都是被选中的投资人,而且大家对于10倍的回报率也是志在必得。我来负责实现这个目标,但是我需要你们的帮助。”

    整个过程都非常愉快。我和CEO们干的事情中,我和他一起干的事最有意思:我和他每年都要爬一座山;我们会梳理他认为今年应该实现的目标,互相商量;我们会从太阳谷的这座山的山顶带回来一块石头。每年我们都要去爬这座山。它就在我家后面。我们会写下具体的目标,我的桌子上和他的桌子上都放着一块石头。他的管理团队已经受不了这些石头了,因为他总会毫不犹豫地在捡石头之后提高目标。这就是我们先前所讨论过的业务与人的结合。我觉得,如果你要问我们成功的秘诀是什么,那么它就是,在很多情况下,我们总能非常幸运地、早早地发掘不错的人才。然后我们为他们提供一切资源,跟他们站在一条线上。

    Maveron is a U.S. venture capital firm based in Seattle and San Francisco that was co-founded in 1998 by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and investment banker Dan Levitan. The firm focuses exclusively on consumer businesses, and has made a name for itself with successful investments in the billion-dollar companies eBay (EBAY), Capella University (CPLA), Groupon (GRPN), and Zulily (ZU). (Another, the fast food chain Potbelly [PBPB], is more than halfway to the billion-dollar-valuation mark.)

    In a recent interview, Levitan explained how he came to invest in Trupanion, a Seattle-based startup company that offers health insurance for pet animals. It's a fascinating look at the investment process for a venture capital firm. Below, Levitan in his own words, as told to Fortune senior editor-at-large Adam Lashinsky.

    Some of the best ideas that we've invested in have made no sense to conventional sources. A lot of people have been talking about Potbelly and Zulily lately. We have a business that we're quite excited about called Trupanion. It's in pet health insurance.

    Trupanion is health insurance for dogs and cats. It's astounding to me that Americans spend approximately $55 billion on their pets every year. And every year I'm reminded when I see the holiday cards with people's pets how much of a change that's become in the world we live in.

    In the mid-2000s we were looking for scalable, compelling ideas within the pet segment because all this money had been allocated to it. And everyone invested in organic food and this and that. And we kind of couldn't find in our mind venture returns in those kinds of investments. Well, one day, I get a call from a friend, and he says, "You need to meet this guy. He has this pet health insurance company."

    And I thought it was interesting. As you peel away the onion, you see that veterinary medicine is growing over the past 25 years at twice the rate of the GDP. The operations and care that they can give these dogs and cats has narrowed between what they used to do and human beings. And now it's kind of gotten closer to how they treat humans. So there are a lot of secular trends that were really interesting in insurance. In fact, as we looked into it, 25% of the pets were insured in the U.K., and 1% of the pets in America were insured. It just seemed like such a dichotomy. So in walks this guy from Bowen Island, outside of Vancouver, and he says, "I want to have the best pet health insurance company in the world."

    I spent a year getting to know him and working on it because my partners kind of reminded me that I didn't know anything about insurance, and we ended up getting Renaissance Reinsurance to invest with us.

    But my point in all this is, I asked around a bunch of veterinarians about that time, and in fact, one of the investors in our fund was married to a veterinarian. And there had been some early attempts at this business, and they weren't executed very well. Veterinarians thought this was a bad idea in general. They were afraid of being HMOed to death. This was happening in 2007, when the economy was robust -- lots of people had discretionary dollars, and there wasn't this concern for spending.

    So flash-forward a few years later, to 2010. Suddenly people don't have as many discretionary dollars. Suddenly that's the worry of vets, that their customers don't have the money to treat dogs and cats the way they need to. Suddenly the shift starts changing. Trupanion kind of had a very simple straightforward program that vets can embrace.

    That's an example of something that, in my mind, wasn't an obvious idea at the time. But we back people before we back businesses. And this particular guy that we backed at Trupanion, just always felt was a really good guy.

    I don't want to give you the impression that we don't like macro trends that work. I was talking to someone recently who was with Charlie Munger [Warren Buffett's business partner and vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway], and they asked Munger, "How come you don't really look at the details? You're such a big picture guy." And he said, "I'd rather be roughly right than precisely wrong." I think that we were precisely wrong with all the consultants' reports on a transatlantic airline we invested in called Eos. I think that we were roughly right that consumers love their pets and are fearful of the catastrophic consequences of major problems with their pets.

    But I get back to it all being about the people. We can find a great sector or business, but we're investing so early that unless there's this tenacious grit, determination, resourcefulness, ability to evolve, it won't work. We've created a checklist of 10 characteristics of an entrepreneur that have been the successful characteristics for us in terms of who we back. Unless you find that you can have the best business in the most exciting industry, but if the execution, if the torch-holder, if the value-creator isn't there, then we don't make it happen.

    And this guy was fascinating to me because he was unusual, he was confident, but he was quiet, he was determined. And he kept coming at me and telling me how much he wanted Maveron.

    And at one point he said, "You know, I think you guys add value, da-da-da-da-da-da." And I said, "Well, you're living in Vancouver. If you really think Maveron will add value, move to Seattle. That's where we can add the most value." And the next day he called me and he said, "I went home to my wife, and I talked to her. And we'll move to Seattle if you fund us."

    That was a very direct kind of, "I'm serious about making this business work" statement. That was 2007 when he said that. We closed the deal in 2007. We invested in a company; at the time it was called Vet Insurance. One of the reasons he came to us was he knew that Vet Insurance wasn't probably the best name.

    We used the naming guy that did Starbucks to come up with Trupanion. And we had a first board meeting, and he welcomes everyone, and he goes up to the whiteboard and he writes a big "10X." And he says, "I know you guys are here because this is what you want. 10X. Well, I'm going to deliver that. But the reason why I'm telling you this now is you're going to help me deliver that. You've been picked, and you need to own 10X also. I'll own it delivering it, but I need your help."

    It's been a really nice ride. I do one of the most fun things with any of my CEOs: He and I climb a mountain every year, and we go through what the goals that he thinks the year should be, and we kind of negotiate, and we take a rock from the top of this mountain in Sun Valley. We've climbed the same thing every year. It's a mountain behind my house, and we write down what the goal is, and the rock is sitting on my desk and on his desk. And his management team is sick of hearing about all these rocks because he's not shy in raising the bar for them. That's the integration of business and people that we were talking about before. I think that if you ask what's made us successful, it's because we've been fortunate enough to identify, in a number of cases, great people early. Then we throw all the resources behind them and are aligned with them.

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