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Semaphore's 2021 Confidence Survey Results!

“Bubble, baby II!”

This was the comment left behind in the very last response received in our 13th annual Semaphore Confidence Survey. The comment “Bubble, baby” was my favorite economic analysis comment left a year ago. It seems some of you come back on an annual basis and remember what you said. Commentary exploded this year with pithy two-word replies and our very first emoji too vulgar to note were accompanied by nearly 500-word essays. Everyone has an opinion – you decide whether any are worthwhile. Click here for the results and you will see an expanded sampling of thoughtful commentary on matters of race, carried interest, sexual harassment, Trump, and breaking up Big Tech. Until the last day of the survey it was a see-saw race whether you believed Facebook, Google, should be broken up. In the end a near landslide 57% said “tear them apart”.   You were not shy about other opinions.   The survey closed the night before the impeachment vote in the US Senate and 83% of our respondents correctly predicted Trump would not be convicted. Of course, last February 62% of you predicted he would be reelected.

COVID proved troubling as 59% reported it hurt your business with 54% believing that it would continue to do so in 2021. That said, it did not appear to hit our respondents in the pocketbook. 67% earned more in 2020 than the prior year with 21% earning less. The same 67% expect to earn still more in 2021. This follows along with the continued expression of confidence expressed in ourselves - a full 97%. This near unanimity of confidence plummets to a 54% confidence rating in the US Economy and only 37% believing one should be confident in the International economy.

One person enjoying a honeymoon is President Biden with 56% expressing confidence in the new president as compared to 69% who were not confident in his predecessor just a year ago. Even Congress has seen a boost in confidence to 20% up from 4% last year. Under the Capitol Dome, Speaker Pelosi enjoyed the confidence of 32% with new Senate Majority Leader Schumer at 30%.

Sadly, 78% agree that sexual misconduct, harassment, and gender bias remain a problem, and 68% believe inherent racism is a structural industry obstacle. The self-identified gender mix of respondents this year were 80% Male, 18% Female (up from 9% last year) and 2% choosing Gender X.

The top five states were 26% from California (supplanting NY for the first time), 20% New York, 18% Massachusetts, 6% Texas and 3% Connecticut. Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois came in each at 2% and no other state represented more than 1% (with Missouri topping Utah for first on that list).

Canada represented 21% of international respondents, 13% UK, 5% Germany, 5% China, 5% India and 2% France, Italy, and Singapore, with multiple respondents in descending order from Israel, Australia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Columbia, Spain, Viet Nam, and single responses from 14 other nations.

Of the 620 participating this year 21% were from PE shops; 32% were VCs; 4% Hedge Funds; 9% were LPs; 11% were operating executives; 11% were Investment Bankers; and 12% were third party vendors/advisors to the industry (lawyers, accountants, etc.) – reasonably consistent with last year albeit more heavily representing VC.

A favorite comment this year was “I have encountered rapacious thieves in PE as well as some of the finest people I could ever hope to meet…”. In our baker’s dozen years that the Semaphore Confidence Survey has taken your temperature we ruefully note we have seen too many rapacious thieves given our niche taking over troubled funds. It is mercifully balanced by very many fine individuals and firms with whom we proudly enjoy working to right the misdeeds of plundering bandits.

Please keep safe, wear a mask, get jabbed in the arm so we can do it all again next year. Check out the full results and enjoy informative and sometimes entertaining opinion by clicking here.

Mark DiSalvo is the Founder and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore,, a leading global professional services provider of troubled Private Equity, Venture Capital and Hedge funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for eleven funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit provider, and advises Limited Partners around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London, Luxembourg, and Dallas.


Topics: troubled funds, equity, Semaphore, market diligence, market, business, Survey

Thoughts on Jeopardy Analysis

Blog 3 of 3 in the Due Diligence Often Discovers Discrepancies series

I expect that there are many folks out there who will challenge our analysis.  I’ve anticipated some of the objections and have addressed what I think are the three major ones below.

 1. Shouldn't some of the points that we reallocated from Watson to Ken have gone to Brad, lowering Ken's revised total? While that is true, Brad would have also taken additional points from Watson. If we had data from Brad, we expect that the gap between Watson and Ken would be narrower, but that Ken would still enjoy a solid lead.

2. What about Game 1? Watson did even better in Game 1 than it did in Game 2. Wouldn't that have kept Watson the winner? Probably not. The reason Watson racked up such a huge total on Game 1 was that it answered 29 of 32 questions correctly in Double Jeopardy.  I didn't have a tape, but I believe Ken and Brad also knew many of those answers and were shut out by the buzzer. Allocating those responses across players would have put one or both players within striking distance when they got to Final Jeopardy. Watson blew Final Jeopardy with a comically bad answer to an easy question.  So, what would likely have happened is it would have been in second if not third place heading into Game 2

3. What about the humans' own "unfair advantage".  Humans tend to ring in before they know the answer and then have several seconds to figure it out. If they had to answer right away like Watson, wouldn't Watson cream them?  While this is true, I take exception to the notion that this represents an advantage for the humans.  Instead, this represents a fundamental difference in how computers and humans process information.  While it can take humans a few seconds to work out the right answer, we can intuit nearly instantaneously whether or not we will be able answer the question. Great Jeopardy players have great intuition and rarely get questions wrong after they ring in, as Ken Jennings demonstrated by getting just 1 question wrong in Game 2. Watson on the other hand seemed to either come to an answer very quickly or never got there. It doesn't have intuition and more time didn't appear to help it significantly. Changing the rules to take out the intuition factor would shift the advantage to Watson but would be counter the goal of the contest - figuring who is better at answering questions.

Let us hear your objections and observations.


This article was contributed by Jon Klein. Jon is the founder and general partner of The Topline Strategy Group, a strategy consulting and market research firm specializing in emerging technologies. Jon brings a unique blend of strategy consulting and hands on operating experience to The Topline Strategy Group and works closely with Semaphore on a variety of engagements.


Topics: due diligence, diligence, market, analysis

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