Boston London New York

Good Fortune, Dan

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 @ 1:45PM 

I think I was subscriber number 293 – certainly somewhere under one thousand.  That got me the privilege of sharing a Dim Sum meal in Boston’s Chinatown with the curly haired, lightening talking, quick-fire questioning editor of what was then known as PE Week Wire.  In those days Dan Primack would meet with anyone.  Witness his suffering me gnawing on Fung  Zao (chicken feet steamed in black bean sauce—don’t knock it till you try it) and learning that the young scribe was a former political activist, community newspaper reporter and editor as well as failed federal level campaign manager.  I kept thinking to myself “he’s just like me (politically) except with hair and actually is able to write – and he really does speak intelligently about the fund business”.   It was odd that we both started our careers in politics for it was abundantly clear, in my case anyway and I’ll bet Dan’s, that early in our community oriented activism that neither of us could spell PE. 

Dan has not since shared a meal with me (showing excellent judgment) but has offered countless insights on our business sector spiced with an open and undeniably irreverent style.  It seems his corporate overlords, as he respectfully touted his employer, could look past bald political opinion, an undeserved mistrust in the initial coaching abilities of Doc Rivers, a penchant to encourage nationwide betting on college basketball and a desire to increase his own subscribers’ income taxes.  He also shared, in a disarmingly intimate manner, absolute love for his wife Jen along with the tests of that affection including a grueling trek up Machu Picchu, frequent trips away from home in the “trusty” (read “death trap”) old Pontiac – and now the blessings of soon-to-be fatherhood. 

I learned to appreciate the aggregation of content, saw the business blogosphere grow up in front of me, witnessed the creation and explosion of the peHUB brand, the wisdom of contrarian thought, and most particularly appreciated the daily news that would occasionally set up an insight or future knowledge base that would occasionally get me a gig.  The day just plain required that 10am Primack fix.

Dan’s announcement begs the many questions of an ever curious investor. What prompts a founder’s departure?  Was there a fatal flaw in whatever the relationship/agreement was with Thompson Reuters?  Was he pushed because of cost cutting?  Did he jump for better security and/or more cash?  Is this next gig an entrepreneurial adventure (and did I miss the opportunity to participate!)? What can I learn from his experience to cement my own portfolio relationships?  I suspect we will yet learn the answers to those queries as Dan himself will be as revelatory as one could expect and present his own valedictory.

This fund manager and advisor will continue to be a reader of peHUB and hopes its next editor will bring the same irreverence and a unique perspective to the marketplace.  The entire Semaphore team and I wish Dan Primack all good fortune(.com). 

               

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 funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for seven Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, 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 and London.

Topics: Venture Capital, Venture Capital, equity, private equity funds, VC, investment

Reward Offered for Industry "Killers" - Results of Annual Semaphore PE Industry Confidence Survey

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 @ 3:15PM  

By Mark S. DiSalvo

It seems my industry colleagues have been wrongly optimistic and also hyper cynical. At least that is the bottom line of the read I get in comparing the analysis of the 2nd annual Semaphore Confidence Survey with last year's results.  And some people have very threatening ways.

Let's start with pay.  At the start of last year 51% of the nearly 500 respondents to the 2009 Confidence Survey believed they would earn more money than the prior year.  The truth was that only 11% of this year's respondents reported they did in fact earn more than the prior year and nearly 67% earned less than the prior year.  But hope springs eternal, just like every investor is certain that they will score a tens strike on the next investment, 78% of this year's respondents believe they will earn more money than last year.  Let's check back a year from now and see whether BMW dealers will be smiling.

My peers demonstrated their optimism with their pocketbooks too (well, their LP's dollars anyway). In the beginning of 2009 8% expected not to do any deals and fully 74% thought they would make up to six investments.  The year proofed strong with no respondents reporting the intent to do no deals and nearly 98% doing up to six deals with 73% closing 1-3 deals. Further, those deals were larger than expected with 62% self reporting their deals were in excess of $25 Million in each discrete investment when they anticipated less than 17% believed their deals would be above $25 Million in size at the time of last year's survey.  As one respondent commented "I smell irrational exuberance". 

And in what are we investing?  We may be either fickle or very nimble as a business class. This year's expected top three industries were not in the top three last year. Health Care, Enterprise Technology and Financial Services were win, place and show as compared to Digital Media, Sustainable Energy/Cleantech and Infrastructure at 1, 2 and 3 last year.   Health Care moved up from 4th last year.  People are apparently smelling money and opportunity in Obama-care. As one person noted, "...when you mess with 16% of the economy something's got to break our way."

The just under 400 who did reply this year were similar to last year's mix of VC and Buy-out pros, with a decidedly higher representation of operating executives responding.  This year's mix of survey takers were very high on themselves believing that 63% were confident in their business and 77% confident in the person they see in the mirror.  Both marked increases to last year's numbers.  They even had more confidence in their bosses with 50% expressing that view - nearly double last year.

This confidence however does not extend itself to America's political leaders.  Respondents were downright, well...down on President Obama and his economic team. Only 11% expressed any confidence in the president with 55% damning his economic team (compared to 37% disapproval for Obama).   The cynicism is markedly clear when literally no one - not a single person - expressed any confidence in Congress with 65% stating no confidence in the folks under the Capital dome. Even state governments and state legislatures earned 12% confidence. This is what happens when you threaten to screw with capital gains taxes, I guess. Interestingly, the survey closed on election eve of the Massachusetts vote to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate.  I think we know how the Bay State respondents voted!

Click the link to see the highlights of the results of the this year's Semaphore Confidence Survey results.  If you want to do your own comparison, click the link to see last year's Semaphore Confidence Survey results.

While some might think the survey results rather depressing in either fact or faultily hopeful there was more than a bit of entertainment. Several wondered after the wag who famously noted in the survey comment section last year that, "PE is dead and I wish my boss were too."   Commenter's this year frequently asked after that quote master, speculating if he or she were "on the lam", noting that "if he did murder his boss it would be justifiable homicide".  Our infamous predictor never surfaced - neither admitting to the crime or the prediction. However, a new would-be industry murderer surfaced stating with equal certainty, "‘PE Killer' was wrong. It is VC that is dead. And my boss is comatose..."  I doubt that either PE or VC conclusion reflects the true state of our industry.  That said, apparently at least two of our colleagues have either a morose sense of humor or deserve to be patted down before they go to an industry conference. Maybe we should post a reward to uncover their identity.  Wanna contribute? I'll put up the first half a buck.

____________________________________________________

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 as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.

 

Topics: Venture Capital, troubled funds, private equity funds, Semaphore, general partners, limited partners, technology diligence, technology, VC, finance advice

Should GPs support the ILPA Private Equity Principles?

Posted by Mark DiSalvo on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 @ 011:15 AM

By Mark DiSalvo

I have been fielding these same questions from my GP, LP and other industry colleagues:

  •  "What do you think about the ILPA Principles?" (soft voice)
  •  "How do you think it will affect my business?" (worried voice)
  • "They don't matter - we go through this every ten years when LPs try to get the upper hand." (with bravado)

Others are either more certain in their opinion or not so sanguine and believe that this effort will have a long term (and dependent on your perspective) positive or deleterious impact on the industry.  A few LPs, smaller ones and non-ILPA members are even cowed by the impact feeling that the "big dogs" are dictating their ability to enter into funding opportunities.  I've been most surprised by the few on the record comments by industry members and in particular the lack of specific statements by GPs. So...I thought I'd relate some of the conversations I've had these past days and share my expressed opinion. 

 It's pretty hard to disagree with common sense. I see nothing offensively troubling in the document (http://www.ilpa.org/files/ILPA%20Private%20Equity%20Principles.pdf).  In fact, it has offered a kind of first hand self-review opportunity for the industry.  I know.  I know.  We GPs are supposed to rebel instinctively against any proposal by an LP that governs or restricts our ability to do business. Bull!  We appeal to Pension Funds, endowments, banks and other institutions for fund capital and want as few restrictions as possible. After all, this is capitalism, no?  Atlas will not shrug his great burden but rather heave the world as we know it if these so-called Principles become ubiquitous.  Hardly.

OK, let's deal with the objection I most often hear when I mention my general support of the ILPA Principles, "But Mark, LPs are your clients. They give you the opportunity to triage or take over their troubled funds".  True. But no less than they are the client of every other more traditional fund. They give us all the opportunity to use our skills to generate opportunity for entrepreneurs, jobs for citizens, innovation for the public and profits that we GPs and LPs hopefully get to share. Sure, Semaphore's fund turnaround and workout practice depends on good relationships with and performance for LPs (the same as the rest of my GP colleagues) but this is only part of our business. Fully half of our professionals are engaged in the conduct of diligence on people, products, markets, strategy and technology for GPs (yes, those that will never require our turnaround services) who value the independent review of an investment judgment before they risk LP capital and their own carry opportunity.  It is this group of Semaphore clients that one expects has the most objections to the ILPA Principles.  In truth, extended conversation suggests differently.

Beyond the visceral reaction, there is need for deeper understanding of the moment in time in which we now conduct business than ever before.   We must rise above initial response to see our industry at a watershed moment. And we can lose the moment if we settle for the usual ad hoc proprietary negotiations that will get us, collectively, nowhere.  This is true of both PE and VC.    

Somebody once said that people change when they see the light, others when they feel the heat. There has been plenty of heat with the roiling of the marketplace, constriction of fund formation activity, difficulty of capital access and restricted liquidity opportunity.  Nevertheless I believe this is a moment of light more than fire.

I don't intend to take a point-by-point defense of the proposal. There may be one or two particular sentences that may seem to cross a long held and well trod line. But don't let your anathema to objectionable parts dismiss the value in the proposal as a whole. Take a breath then take a fresh read of the ILPA Best Practices enumerated. The Principles provide a "level setting" opportunity across the industry that will enable two things.  One, a fair and open platform between LPs and GPs that will afford, even accelerate, profit opportunity for both parties. And two, the best chance to put what could be a years-long, fund-by-fund battle to change the so-called power relationship between LPs and GPs. 

I'm not talking about GP surrender.  Good fund formation lawyers will and should protect the interests of GPs in negotiating LPA's.  Enlightened LPs know that there is elasticity in how the principles are memorialized in contract. However, if we cede no ground as GPs then disharmony and contention will become the hallmark of fundraising.  Commitments and allocations will both diminish as performance inevitably dips during this unnecessary boxing match.  We are all in a difficult enough environment that has too many of us suspect of "pay for play" fundraising and selfish exploitation of Limited Partner Agreements. 

One thing I do know for certain: I am likely to have fewer turnaround and workout engagements upon the adoption of these Principles.  A large proportion of the funds we take over are a consequence of governance sins committed by GPs and the lack of clarity in LPA's.  I'd rather redirect my company's growth in future years to the prevention of troubled fund situations. After all, when LPs have problem children it keeps them from spending time and money on the good relationships in their portfolio.  Selfishly, it might even help us grow our diligence and advisory practices. 

Francis Picabia is not a richly rewarded GP or powerful LP. Rather he was an artist who famously said "Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction." Run these Principles around your mind a few times.  I believe you will see the bright and profitable path that LPs and GPs should walk together. I contend that general support of the ILPA initiative will reward the industry with long term - even decades long - "peace" between the parties, a more robust fundraising environment, and opportunity for larger profit sharing for each.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore, 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 as well as Corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.

Topics: troubled funds, private equity funds, general partners, limited partners, ILPA, ILPA Principles

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

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