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No Sand Between Our Toes (2014)

Why our feet are not stuck in the mud.

I truly thought we might be skipping this 7th annual post – or have to retitle it “Feet Stuck in Mud”.  The cycle of summer seems to start only after the kids leave school and then return. My wife Tricia used to say “summer starts on the 4th of July and ends two weeks later,” and that sentiment brings near universal agreement –especially to those who have to pay attention to the back-to-school shopping rhythm and planning that truly does start in late July.     In truth, I was looking forward to an extended August respite because business was, well – just slow on the new biz development front.   No complaint, we are plenty busy and full of appreciation for clients and obligations we have right now. Our current collection of funds under management and associated portfolio companies are steaming along as we continue the work-a-day obligation of sustaining and growing value.   One of my favorites in the portfolio is going to crash through a $75 million run rate this year after plateauing near $25 million for the last few years.  Exciting stuff!  Our dozen plus Federal New Markets Tax Credit projects are either completed or in the ground, being particularly proud of the redevelopment of Liberty, Kentucky after its near total devastation by a tornado just two years ago.  We have even seen one of our completed University projects jump start an even more advantageous investment in a textbook demonstration of economic development leverage resulting in the creation of a fully privately funded nursing school. New jobs created, lives improved and strong emotional satisfaction from Florida to Oregon and San Antonio to New York City. 

So…what am I grumbling about?  In truth, we love the hunt for new fund and business opportunity.  We revel in the initial introduction to a vexing challenge.  It takes upwards of a year when we work with Limited Partners to help them understand the mitigation opportunities they have when they are involved with a troubled fund and/or recalcitrant General Partner.  All those months of free consulting – becoming intimate of the private troubles and competing interests, managing the diverse opinions and educating all parties about the complexities and opportunities of the intervention process  and the initial entry – is wonderfully exciting all by itself  (even if we don’t get paid for the effort).  I may be overselling that a bit but for those of you involved in biz dev I think you can more readily understand. 

We had at least two funds scheduled to come off the “contemplation and discovery” phase and move into “direct intervention” for the beginning of this summer.  However, for various reasons the engagements were put on pause until the fall.  We even demurred we step into one of those funds because we saw another path that would allow a repair of the GP/LP relationship twinned with some governance and oversight changes. Less income and work for us but it’s about doing the right thing for the client.  I will confess to missing the excitement of walking into a new challenge...alas. 

It was if we were planning to dig our feet firmly into the soft wet beach sand rather than trodding yet a few more airport terminals this August.  Then, just as the doldrums of summer were about to wash over us, BANG, a client crisis arrives.  Nothing is better than being able to stride into a maelstrom of doubt and fear that a challenging situation requires.  I can’t tell you about it just yet (on second thought, I’m likely to never tell you about it unless it becomes a heavily veiled business school case study) but I promise you we are enjoying the trials and pains of putting our clients at ease and reigning in the troubles caused by their badly-behaving GP. 

Maybe Tricia was right.  I did get the frantic initial Limited Partner call on July 20th. Summer did end two weeks after Independence Day.  Oh well, there is always Labor Day weekend.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of troubled Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: troubled funds, equity, venture funds, private equity funds, Semaphore, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, portfolio company, LP, private equity

Results of 6th Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

 

Confidence at All Time High

Results of 6th Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

 

By Mark S. DiSalvo

Is irrational exuberance on the horizon?  Will the Merry-Go-Round ever stop? Can the Masters of the Universe continue to rule? Notwithstanding the recent February Dow swoon the 2014 Semaphore Confidence Survey suggests No, No and Yes.
Extraordinarily, 91% of our over 500 respondents were confident in their own businesses, fully 50% higher than a year ago. 94% were confident in themselves, an all-time high, growing from78% last year.  In contrast only 31% of respondents expressed confidence in the President with 49% stating a lack of confidence in him, significantly above last year’s 37% number. As miserable as that may be it is decidedly better than the leader of the other branch of government, Speaker John Boehner, who has an 11% favorable v 66% unfavorable rating. As dreadful a rating for sure but it is far better than Congress as an institution with 87% expressing no or little confidence in our elected officials and only 1% offering an expression of confidence in the House or Senate.
In contrast some 80%, nearly double last year’s 43%, remain confident in the PE/VC Industry, while 6% express confidence in the US economy and less than half at 22% enjoying confidence in the International economy. This is expressed in the near wild enthusiasm around expected deal number and size.  96% reported completing between 1 and 4 deals and a similar number expecting to do the same.  More surprisingly is that over a quarter of us completed more than six transactions and fully a third anticipate exceeding that plateau in 2014.  And the deal sizes are growing.  Across venture and PE the average initial investment size is expected to be 50% larger in 2014 than last year. 
So what will all this prospective deal effort be in? Health Care investing shot to top in expected activity, up from fourth. Enterprise Software got bumped to #2 and Energy oriented investing rocketed to third place and last year was not even in the top ten.  With Business Services ranked fourth in prospective deal making with Digital Media and Financial Services tied for 5th place. Agriculture investment broke the top ten for the first time and came in a close 6th.  Gaming was not only out of the money but also failed to make the top twenty. Social/Community Technology, On-line Consumer Retail and Food rounded out our top ten deal hopes.  
And where does all this enthusiasm and confident take us. 77% expect to earn more than they did in 2013 with only 6% expecting to earn less. This on top of the fact that 65% earned more last year than they did in 2012 and 23% reported earning less.
For the second year in a row my industry colleagues continue to see the prospect of more income, more deal flow and high confidence in themselves, their peers, and industry. This clear read comparing the raw highlight data from the 6th annual Semaphore Confidence Survey with last year’s results suggests that our industry remains on the rise.  Too much more enthusiasm and consequent riches and our seemingly hated colleagues in Congress might find it more politically palatable to eliminate capital gain rates on carry.
The distribution of respondents in the US remained nearly the same from past years - the top five were 29% California, 16% Massachusetts, 11% New York, 6% Connecticut and 5% Texas with only New Jersey dropping out of the mix (guess the GW Bridge traffic might have been too heavy to get our usual Garden State respondents to reply). DC 4% and Illinois came in at 3% and no other state represented more than 1%. Our US respondents had reasonable confidence in their state governments with 26% expressing confidence - at least in comparison to the US Congress.    
International responses were quite different.  We had our widest ever distribution of respondents with only the UK remaining on top with 37% of all international survey-takers with (10 points higher than last year) followed by  9% Canada, 7% China and 3% France rounding-out the top four just as they did the prior years. We received multiple respondents from Germany, the Philippines, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Viet Nam and single responses from14 other nations including our first ever from Bora Bora (must have been a PE partner on vacation!). International respondents had depressingly poor opinions of their governments with 5% expressing confidence in their countries leaders, down from 7% in 2013.   
The 563 of us who did reply this year, up from 470 last year, was over weighted by third party professional participants compared to past years.  The mix this year compared to the last year was VC (24% v 39% ), Buy-out pros (25% v 24%), Limited Partners (6% v 13%) operating executives (7% v 6%) and third party professional (38% v 18%). Hmmm…charting this back to the income responses, perhaps the continued increase in income levels is attributable to the transaction fees and expenses associated with our explosion of deal numbers and values.
Comments this year were more muted in tone than past years and can be viewed on the survey highlights link below. Perhaps the tight bandwidth contributed to the lack of wit expressed.   Here is one none-too-pleased respondent commenting on the survey itself:
            “Well done, like an overly charred steak forgotten on a summer BBQ grill. Terrible survey.”
I hate when that happens as I like my steak very rare.
Hope everyone’s expectations are indeed met in 2014.  See you next year.
To see the highlights of the results of the 2014 Semaphore Confidence Survey please click here.  If you want to do your own comparison, the 2013 Semaphore Confidence Survey results are here.
Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of troubled Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: market diligence, troubled funds, Venture Capital, equity, investment, venture funds, technology, private equity funds, Semaphore, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, turnaround, LP, private equity

Zombie Funds

 Apocalyptic Future or Salvation?

A few days ago Luisa Beltran of PE Hub asked whether and what we should call the now popular appellation “Zombie Funds”.  I responded to her with the following:

“Here at Semaphore we call them “clients”.  No need for a pejorative characterization. It’s rather matter of fact.   Often it’s because GPs and LPs become mutually misaligned (for instance, when a carry hurdle may never be met it just makes sense for everyone to move on – the GPs to other career interests and the LPs knowingly recognizing that a better more attuned option exists to manage out the fund).

Yes, in some high profile cases it’s because of fraud or malfeasance of a GP that we find ourselves stepping into General Partnerships at the request of the LP.  Certainly those are the notorious examples.  Funny in that the GPs we replace become our best references.  Notwithstanding, generally it’s just good business judgment to let an entity such as Semaphore step in to “refresh” the relationships and more easily get the fund portfolio to perform until appropriate liquidation of the fund. The former GP moves on to other more potentially lucrative experiences, the LPs gets a more profitable eventual liquidation and everyone’s reputation is salvaged.  So let’s commonly drive a stake into the heart of the Zombie mischaracterization and understand that end of fund life sometimes requires good and compassionate hospice care.“ 

Here is the link to some other responses - PEHub.  Take a look.  If you want to discuss this or have a challenging fund situation please write me at mdisalvo@sema4usa.com.

_______________________________________________________________________

Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), is a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: troubled funds, equity, private equity funds, Semaphore, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, turnaround, LP

Results of Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

 Self-Confident PE v Congressional Follies

By Mark S. DiSalvo

 

The Semaphore Confidence Survey respondents are truly prescient.  If America had only listened to our results last year it would have saved the American people over a Billion dollars in advertisements and political machinations in the just concluded presidential campaign.  Exactly twelve months ago some 47% of our respondents had confidence in Mitt Romney (funny, that number).  Game over.  Then again, only 39% were confident in President Obama.   Let’s see what Nate Silver can do with this year’s results!

While Romney is off the political grid and despite the big re-election, only 33% of respondents expressed confidence in the President with 37% stating a lack of confidence in him. That is decidedly better than his principal newest political foe, Speaker John Boehner, who “enjoys” a 3% favorable v 64% unfavorable rating. Those abysmal ratings are only superseded by Congress as a whole with nearly 80% expressing no or little confidence in our elected officials laboring under the Capitol Dome with not a single expression of confidence by any respondent.

In contrast some 78% of our respondents are confident in themselves and 43% remain confident in the PE/VC Industry with only 18% expressing some lack of confidence in how they earn a living. Personal confidence slipped a bit from last year’s results of 81%. Confidence in the US economy has slipped from last year, 37% to 46% and degraded even more with the International economy as the preponderance of those with little or no confidence grew from 47% last year to 57% today.  This seems a bit counterintuitive in that the number and size of expected deals appear significantly up by those self-reporting their expected investment objectives.  Further proofed by the fact that 65% earned more income last year than in 2011 and fully 57% expect to earn yet again more income than in 2012 - they’re going to need it to pay higher taxes.

Continuing the reversal of a trend prior to last year, my industry colleagues continue to see the prospect of more income, more deal flow and high confidence in themselves, their peers, and industry. This clear read comparing the raw highlight data from the 5th annual Semaphore Confidence Survey with last year’s results affords some fascinating insight across business and politics.

And in what is the group investing?  Enterprise Software replaced Social/Community Technology for the top spot with the latter moving down to third and Financial Services moving from eighth to 2nd this year.  Health Care Services moved from third to 4th with Digital Media rounding out the top five.  For the second year in a row, Sustainable Energy/Cleantech (for the first three years of our survey in the top five) failed to make the top ten.  On-line Consumer Retail and Gaming went from 4th and 5th to 9th and 10th.

The distribution of respondents in the US stayed remarkably the same from past years - the top six were CA, MA, NJ, NY, CT, TX, with only NY and NJ swapping places. Our US respondents had reasonable confidence in their state governments with 28% expressing confidence - that must look like heaven to the US Congress even though it is down from 37% last year.   

International responses were quite different.  We had our widest ever distribution of respondents with only the UK remaining on top with 27% of all international survey-takers with  Canada, China and France rounding-out the top four.  Russia, Japan, Switzerland and Germany were knocked out of last year’s top five. International respondents had crushingly poor opinions of their governments with the same 74% having no or little confidence in their countries leaders, up 3% from the 2011 survey and more than double the 31% of three years ago. 

The over 470 who did reply this year, up slightly from last year, were weighted a bit differently than  prior years’ mix of VC (39%  this year v 28% last year), Buy-out pros (24% v 33%), Limited Partners (13% v 11%) operating executives (6% v 19%) and third party professional 18% v 12%).

Comments this year were generally policy oriented and in a serious vein.  Some can be viewed on the raw data highlight link below.  There was one comment I’ll share in full from either a jokester or savant – or both:

“I met a fairy who said she would grant me one wish.  Immediately I said, "I want to live forever." "Sorry," said the fairy, "I'm not allowed to grant eternal life." "OK," I said, "Then, I want to die after Congress gets its head out of its ass!" The fairy replied, "You crafty bastard."  12/26/2012 2:14 PM

Maybe this individual should run for Congress.

See you next year.

To see the highlights of the results of the 2013 Semaphore Confidence Survey please click here.  If you want to do your own comparison, the 2012 Semaphore Confidence Survey results are here.

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Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: entrepreneurs, equity, investment, Business Operations, private equity funds, Semaphore, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, VC

Semaphore’s 2012 Confidence Survey

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Hello,

Do you expect to make more personal compensation next year than this year?  Feeling more confident or less confident in the President’s Economic team?  Your thoughts on Newt or Mitt?  Annually we ask our readers to weigh in and share their level of confidence in themselves, the economy and their businesses.  Last year we heard significant confidence – was it warranted?

Semaphore is conducting its fourth annual survey of Private Equity and Venture Capital partners, principals and professionals supporting the industry. The purpose of this survey is to gather input from our industry friends and clients with the results reported to all current subscribers of the Semaphore PE Signals Blog and our monthly Semaphore Reporter, as well as the subscribers of Term Sheet.

By participating you’ll get to gauge your expectations with your peers, competitors and industry colleagues. The survey will take 2-3 minutes and respondent identity will not be reported to us.  Results will be published in the Semaphore Reporter and the Semaphore PE Signals Blog as well as in Term Sheet and on our website www.sema4usa.com .  Take the plunge.

 

Click here to take the survey.

Click here to see last year’s results.

 

Topics: troubled funds, Venture Capital, venture funds, private equity funds, diligence, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, limited partners

Morning Person Lament: The Upside of the New Down

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 @ 12:41 PM 

I'm a morning person.  No, not the kind you are thinking.  The type that goes to bed at 2:30 or 3:00 AM.  You won't find me at a power breakfast at a fancy hotel at 6:30 AM as I'll be making breakfast for my 12 yr old daughter Celia and then jumping, OK, reluctantly climbing onto the treadmill.

My colleagues at Semaphore know that I will handle any evening event or red-eye required travel with abandon but asking me to be presentably lucid in the morning is an effort.  Nonetheless, I accepted an invitation to speak at a recent T-Cubed seminar to discuss VC consolidation.  Wheeling slowly down Rt. 93 and 95 (the roads are a lot emptier in the evening) grinding to the Foley Hoag Emerging Enterprise Center, I reflected on the VC industry.  All too often we at Semaphore in our funds-under- management practice see the worst - disengaged, incompetent sometimes outright criminal General Partners as we take over trouble Venture and Private Equity funds. On the other hand, it is pretty small proportion and many outstanding GPs work assiduously, engaging Semaphore for diligence on people, process, markets, strategy and technology to help make the right decisions.  

At 7:15 AM a room alive with beaming chattering entrepreneurs and PE professionals greeted me at the event cosponsored by RSM McGladrey, Silicon Valley Bank and Foley Hoag.

70+ of my newest bright eyed and ebullient morning friends quickly gathered, coffee cups in hand and half eaten bagels aside and got down to a "down" discussion. There's not much fun in talking about Venture Capital industry consolidation.  I'll leave my fellow panelists to speak for themselves except to say that Michael Greeley of Flybridge and Alain Hanover of Navigator are decidedly morning people in the more traditional sense, being more awake than this correspondent, as they capably presented chilling facts about the steep drop off in fund commitment (both in numbers of General Partnerships funded and the aggregate amount of dollars committed) and cogently offered the gathered entrepreneurs personal experience and simply great advice on how to deal with the adverse conditions of the moment.

I stated that we should welcome the consolidation of the industry.  All too long I have seen General Partners who should not have been funded get funds. Companies that should not have been started were flooded with millions of dollars.  Fund and effort that was unsurprisingly unproductive and portfolios that offered no return to the well meaning but under-skilled entrepreneur, venture fund partners or Limited Partners providing the investment capital.  In embracing the situation it seemed to me, to surprisingly frequent nods from the audience attending, that we should celebrate the upside of the new down circumstance. 

It should never be encouraging to an entrepreneur that they have been turned down by, say 12 VC's but then had another 40 identified in which to speak and appeal for funds.  That is unhealthy and unproductive for all parties all around.  I argue that it is a better and ultimately more profitable circumstance that fewer funds with fewer partners and analysts (but more senior partners) talking with a smaller but more talented pool of entrepreneurs seeking funds is a better situation all around.

VC funding is not for everyone and once or twice a cycle it seems like everyone can get it. It's like when your brother-in-law the car mechanic starts dabbling in spec home construction or "flip" real estate you know the housing market will crash.  The discipline of fewer funds will improve the market for every one as the funded entrepreneurs will receive money from the most appropriate VC and receive the most attention possible from them to leverage each party's cash, sweat equity and intellectual contribution.

Oscar Jazdowski capably played ring leader at our forum and he ably challenged panelist and questioners alike. What I found is that early morning people really do get the worm - and the best advice.  Those 70 early risers walked away with, at least, some level of intellectual stimulation, a contact or two, lots of metrics and particular insight on how to be prepared for the best possible funding opportunity that they may deserve. 

Some learned, disappointingly, that VC funding was not for them or that they were wholly undeserving to receive funds. No one had ever told them that before.  While perhaps stung for a moment, they got to spend the rest of a sunny bright day reflecting and acting on how and what they should do to move forward  rather than waste precious time chasing VC dollars and delaying dreams that were unattainable.  They got liberation instead of money - and that may have been worth more that any millions of dollars they hoped to have received.  At least until the cycle turns again and the VC investing in this current economic trough provide great returns resulting in allocation increases by LPs.  Then we'll get back to the point where I'll have to get up again in a future decade and give the same talk.  I can handle it once every ten years or so.  Now if only we could have a forum that started at 10 PM?  I'll buy the last round.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (http://www.sema4usa.com/), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.

 

Topics: VC, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, private equity funds, diligence, limited partners, technology diligence, market diligence

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