In June, it was reported that the Australian superannuation fund Hostplus invested $USD125 million (AUD$181 million) into Boston-based Safar Partners.
The Australian Financial Review article noted the Safar Partners fund “backs commercialisation of science and technology at three leading US universities ….. and claims deep links with the laboratories of Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and University of Rochester.”
From reading this, Safar Partners looks to be a fund of funds structure.
It is a positive sign for hard working Aussies having some of their retirement savings being put to work in investments driving technology innovation at leading US tech institutions like MIT. Side note: if you’re visiting Cambridge in Massachusetts, be sure to visit the MIT Museum.. It’s amazing.
What other Australian superfunds should learn from Hostplus is by investing into US universities, they are looking at venture capital beyond the normal Series A, B, C round venture capital 6-10 year fund lifecycle.
It is visionary that Sam Sicilia and Neil Stanford at Hostplus have looked at their fund member cohort (average aged of Hostplus 1.2 million members is 34) and matched it to the longer term horizon of return of capital coming from early stage investments in technologies being developed at Universities.
Frequency Ventures has introduced and set up meetings for Australian superfunds with US venture capital funds in the Bay Area (Silicon Valley) which these typically have a 6-10 year fund lifecycle.
The model early stage US venture capital funds work to is that while about 1/3 of the capital raised will be invested in 2-3 years with a following 1/3 of capital invested in the subsequent 4-6 years in follow on Series A, B, C rounds, superfunds like Hostplus also want 10 to 15+ year time investment horizons – that match their cohort retirement ages when retiring members want to start cashing out their super. 1/3 of capital in VC is saved for maintaining pro rata for very successful investments and for bailing out portfolio companies that are struggling.
It’s all about the expected lifecycle of return. “Going early” and investing into tech being developed in labs at Universities has more risk as technologies are often undefined in university labs and use cases too early to wrap around an embryonic technology research and development process.
MIT has an impressive record of significant innovators and inventions and if you are wondering which is the most successful University cranking out money machines then counting all degrees, Harvard University is the #1 US College by alumni who have created the highest amount of net wealth.
Long before I starting writing ‘Inside Silicon Valley‘ in the fall of 2012, I had learned the schema of the Bay Area investing acting as advisor, seed investor and participating in post-seed and Series A venture rounds as a Venture Capital investment manager in Palo Alto. It is these years of building relationships that facilitate the vision of Frequency Ventures and path ahead in assisting super funds, institutional investors of alternative assets, family offices and wealth management funds to allocating funds into either top tier US venture capital funds and direct investments in Series A, B & C rounds of disruptive technology companies.
Blue Run Ventures, based in Menlo Park, has closed Fund VI with US $130 million. Frequency Ventures met with and spoke to Australian Superfunds and their asset managers during 2018 about participating in Blue Run Ventures Fund VI.
Previous Blue Run Ventures funds have invested in PayPal, Coupa Software (Nasdaq: COUP), Waze and Kabbage, the SMB lending platform.
Congratulations to Cheryl Cheng who was promoted to General Partner for her amazing support in providing the opportunity for us to represent and pitch this very experienced team of venture capitalists to Australian Superfunds.
Having spoken to and met with the top investment executives from more than 25 Australian Industry Super Funds in Australia over the past 12 months, bringing allocation to over 4 top Silicon Valley venture capital funds raising between US $150 million and $300 million in their fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth funds, there are several insights to share:
1. More than 80% of Australian Industry SuperFunds with Funds Under Management of $5 billion do not currently invest in nor have current plans to invest in technology venture capital funds. 30% cited their ‘asset consultants’ as being influential in their investment decision making process. In meetings with these asset consultants in both Sydney and San Francisco, it was very clear that they were not convinced their clients (Australian SuperFunds) would be investing in US based technology VCs funds.
2. Two of the Asset Consultants representing large Australian Industry SuperFunds invest directly into US venture backed software start ups. StepStone Global and Hamilton Lane have funds within their operations that invest in technology venture funds and start ups directly.
US based Venture Capital Funds represented by Frequency Ventures have consistently 3 attributes: multiple fund cycles over 10 to 20 years of operation, history of returning invested capital to limited partners and large exits / IPOs of well known successful companies. Among the 4 top Silicon Valley venture capital funds Frequency Ventures has allocation into, PayPal, NetFlix, Nest, Coupa, Dropbox were portfolio companies. WOW! One of the funds has raised over US$3.1 billion in 9 funds since 1995 returning $1 billion in distributions.
Historical venture capital returns from US venture capital funds compared to Australian venture capital funds should be the focus for Australian Industry SuperFunds.
The main topic that asset consultants discussed with Frequency Ventures in meetings is cost cutting of management fees instead of focusing on the true reason for investing in venture capital as part of a diversified portfolio. That is, exponential returns that other asset classes do not have.
Australian Industry Super Funds need to understand that US venture capital investment has sprinted past decade-highs and shows no signs of slowing down. In 2018, U.S. companies have raised $84.1 billion — more than all of 2017 — across 6,583 VC deals as of Sept. 30, 2018, according to data from PitchBook’s 3Q Venture Monitor. In 2017, companies raised $82 billion across more than 9,000 deals in what was similarly an impressive year for the industry.
The 4 US Venture Capital Funds that Frequency Ventures have over $150 million of allocation circled and presented to the 25 Australian Industry Super Funds in Australia over the past 12 months is an opportunity to participate in a rapidly growing asset class.
How long can Australian Super funds ignore this market and asset consultants stifle Australia SuperFund venture capital investments in the technology companies that become the largest businesses on earth?
I’ve just arrived back in San Francisco from visiting Super Funds and their asset consultants in Australia to the news that investors put $33.1 billion to work across all stages for U.S. and Canadian startups in the June quarter. That’s an increase of 16 percent from Q1 of 2018 and a whopping 43 percent increase from Q2 of 2017.
While there is healthy skepticism that mega rounds of venture capital will not last forever, you only have to look at the super-sized fundraising by Index Ventures announcing it has raised $1.65 billion for two new funds and Lightspeed Venture Partners closed its twelfth flagship fund with $750 million and its third “select” fund with $1.05 billion.
Part of our mission here at Frequency Ventures is to facilitate Australian superannuation funds making alternative investments in US based venture capital funds, ensuring the utmost transparency and proper governance. As the super funds net inflow of contributions rise, so does the importance of diversifying beyond publicly listed technology stocks and technology index funds to get exposure to high investment returns.
With almost $100B of current venture capital being raised annually in North America, Australian super funds should not ignore investing into the US venture capital asset class. There are several observations I would like to share based on my recent conversations with super funds investment teams and their asset managers.
1. Super Funds invest in Venture Capital to Reflect their Member Cohort.
One investment professional remarked to me that HostPlus invested in venture capital funds in Australia as part of a broader marketing proposition for their members, many of whom are younger working in hospitality and tourism sectors. HESTA Super Fund, the national industry superannuation fund for people working in health and community services, recently allocated a further $40 million to the HESTA Social Impact Investment Trust (SIIT), which is managed by Social Ventures Australia who invest to obtain both financial and social returns. As I mentioned to HESTA in recent conversations, Social Ventures Australia might be able to help the dire homeless situation in San Francisco as access to affordable and stable housing is essential.
2. Thematic Investment Opportunities
Without getting too high on my tech soap box and handwaving the ‘amazing’ benefits of technology, I believe it is reasonable to say having spent the past 6 months talking in-depth with industry super funds in Australia, that their senior investment management teams are not fully aware of the extent of transformative changes to their industry that technology is making. I appreciate it is difficult from Sydney or Melbourne to be exposed to what is going on at the cold face of innovation in Silicon Valley. Super fund investment officers are not engineers either.
While in Australia in June, I saw Tesla’s driving around, people very comfortable using the Uber app on their phone and this television commercial from MTAA Super. The logical conclusion to draw is that MTAA Super (a $10 billion national industry-based super fund that has proudly served the motor trades and allied industries for over 25 years) should be investing in autonomous vehicle technology as many of the motor mechanics and motor services members would be fascinated with this technology.
MTAA have an opportunity to leverage their member cohort and take advantage of being involved in US Venture capital funds that provide exposure to early stage investments in autonomous vehicle technology.
Over coffee last week at Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto with long time colleague David Ehrenberg, he mentioned that the 3.8 million truck drivers across the USA are at risk of semi-autonomous vehicle technology being developed by Uber, Google’s Waymo and others. Keith Nilsson, a venture capital colleague who was on the team at TPG who invested into the early rounds of Uber recently shared with me his investment into Peloton, a trucking automated vehicle technology company hard at work solving the two biggest challenges facing the $700 billion trucking industry: crashes and fuel use.
There are many opportunities for Australian superfunds to find venture capitalist in Silicon Valley who invest thematically in sectors which correlate to their industry funds. In Sydney recently, I met with Cambridge Associates. Cambridge Associates represent LG Super, who manage over $11 billion in superannuation assets for approximately 90,000 members, including current and former New South Wales local government employees. Our conversation centered around different investment verticals that would appeal to their constituents. There is a lot of education that needs to take place with various super funds who traditionally feel more comfortable investing in commercial real estate funds and equities!
3. Defining a Venture Capital Strategy for Australian Super Funds
It is encouraging to have begun the dialog with Australian super funds and their asset managers. These conversations help define what the investment opportunities in venture capital need to look like, which goes above and beyond aligning the cohort of members for Australian super funds with the investment thematics of US Venture Capital firms.
A real strategy for venture capital for Aussie super funds needs to be underpinned with knowledge of both the US venture capital market and Australian super funds objectives. Preparing investment memorandums that articulate the rationale, process and returns for Aussie super funds is a key part of Frequency Ventures mission is to help hardworking Aussies get exposure to this technology investments.
4. Later Stage Co-Investment is a Strategic Requirement
It is apparent that Australian super funds can support the growing trend of venture backed technology companies to stay private longer, to generate more growth and profits without having to tap into the public market via an IPO.
The trend toward unicorn companies (valued at $1 billion plus) staying private longer (think AirBnB, Uber, SurveyMonkey) is an advantage for super funds who often want to write bigger checks as part of later stage preferred co-investments. It is interesting to note that late state deals dominated the global venture capital market in Q2 of 2018, accounting for nearly two-thirds of total investment. Overall, investors put an estimated $57 billion to work in later stage rounds in the June 2018 quarter more than double year-ago levels.
In summary, Australian super funds are in the initial phase of their venture capital investments life cycle as limited partners with domestic Australian VC firms. They should be expect longer periods before liquidity when compared to US VC funds. We continue to help the Australian super funds understand the mechanics of the high growth venture capital investment, how to structure strategies around investing to share in returns being achieved by experienced Silicon Valley venture capitalists while providing compliance, governance and transparency.
Lat month, a senior investment officer of one of the largest Australian Superannuation funds and Marc Phillips, Investment Director of Frequency Ventures, met together with general partners of several venture capital firms in San Francisco.
Frequency Ventures has confirmed allocation into US Series A Venture Capital funds which is sparking interest from Australian Superannuation funds who look to invest in new markets.
While some in the capital markets in Australia have argued venture capital investment by Australian Superannuation funds are token marketing exercises to appeal to the younger cohort of their members, there is much more to it than chasing unicorn status investments like Lime Scooters which elegantly lined the sidewalk in South Park as we walked between meetings.
The surge in Australian Superannuation funds under management and investments into local Australian VC funds has provided international opportunities where local Australian tech companies attract later stage A & B capital rounds from US investors.
Frequency Ventures provides access for Australian Superannuation funds to serial Silicon Valley venture capital funds with proven return on investment and disbursements to limited partners.
Through our extensive relationships built over decades, helping hardworking Aussies achieve higher returns from their industry superannuation fund by securing allocations into higher return asset classes such as technology venture capital is our mission.
Networking is a large part of how Silicon Valley operates and we also enjoy helping Australian superannuation investment executives meet our network of investors and start up technology executives. Enjoying a ball game watching our beloved San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in downtown San Francisco was a great way to end the day of intense investment roadshow meetings. #GoGiants.
Having lived in Silicon for many years, the single question I am asked by most Australians is how to best invest in US technology stocks. Having started my career in licencing US technology for the APAC market and eventually investing directly into Silicon Valley technology start ups as an angel investor and then as a Managing Partner of a venture capital firm, I have reached the conclusion there are better returns for Australian investors to have their superannuation member fund invest in a range of venture capital firms in the USA rather than investing directly via crowdfunding platforms.
While crowdfunding platforms like AngelList, Kickstarter or Indiegogo are accessible to anyone with money, they are perilous to say the least. US Venture Capital firms with a track record of performance and return of funds to limited partners are infinitely better investment funds to attain exposure into US technology start ups. There’s the dilemma… how does the Sunday BBQ crew in the leafy suburbs of Australia park their money into a US VC fund.
The founding vision of Frequency Ventures is to provide Australian superannuation funds who represent hard working Australians often not in the technology sector with access to invest into US Venture capital funds who have demonstrated returns on multiple funds. We can’t and won’t compare Venture Capital as an alternative sector in Austraila to the US Venture Capital market. That’s a superfluous conversation lamented by Australian VC general partners for many years.
Over the past 6 months, I have met with and received feedback from dozens of Investment Officers from Australian superannuation funds. My conclusions are:
1. Australian superfunds do not possess necessary technology skills on their investment teams.
Nor are they expected to. Our principles have deep experience investing directly in technology start ups and managing investments on behalf of investors. Like most things, the more you do it the more skilled you become. Frequency Ventures has this experience and provides superannuation funds in Australia access to experienced and successful venture funds, not first time funds that have not previously returned capital to investors.
2. Australian superfunds require alternative asset allocation into both geographical and vertical segments that Australia’s start up technology does not offer.
Software is not changing the world. It’s ‘transforming’ the world. Our lives are being impacted at every touch point with technology from listening to Spotify on our phone on the way to work each morning to apps we use to do our banking, order an Uber and pizza. Australia has 22+ million people and only via investment in US venture capital firms have investment into technology that penetrates the major markets globally that being transformed at massive scale. India and China are moving from 3rd to 2nd, and 2nd to 1st world economies via technology. Australia will not, at mass, build enough technologies that penetrate these markets globally. The venture capital ecosystem in Australia while slowly changing can’t compete with the capital and connections of Silicon Valley to fund global technology venture backed companies that provide exponential returns to shareholders.
3. Chief Investment Officers think public stocks provide exposure to technology stocks
And they should not. While we all agree public tech stocks are over valued as are private start ups, the Australian Stock Exchange is full of technology companies that have less than 1 million in revenue and have ridiculous valuations of 30-60x price/ sales. The ASX is a slot machine for technology companies looking for Series A funding. The entire lack of venture capital infrastructure and culture in Australia is why Silicon Valley Series A Venture Capital funds finds the best Australian tech start ups such as Atlassian (funded by Accel) and ThreatMetrix (funded by August Capital). I can name dozens more Australian companies that have avoided the doomed penny stock market route of raising money via an IPO in Australia to pursue a real return for all shareholders from the USA venture capital market.
Having allocation into some of the premier Series A Venture Capital firms in Silicon Valley, Frequency Ventures has opened the door for Australian superfunds to engage in technology start up investing with the leading venture capitalists in the world. It’s time for investment fund managers at Aussie superfunds to offer these returns to their members.
In time, it will be interesting to see if there is any parallel in Frequency Ventures launching in 2017, a record year for venture capital in the USA, thanks to the SoftBank’s $100 Billion Vision Fund which not just stole the show, it moved the goal posts out 30 years and rattled the establishment Sand Hill Road venture capital firms.
Sequoia Capital bounced back with rumours it is peddling a $8+ billion raising while on March 26, SEC processed paperwork showing that 18-year-old GeneralCatalyst has closed a $1.375 billion fund.
Venture capital activity in the United States reached its highest level since the turn of the millennium in 2017. According to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor, VC firms invested a total of $84.2 billion last year, up 16 percent from 2016 and more than 100 percent from ten years ago. Meanwhile, the number of completed deals dropped to the lowest level since 2012, a trend that was offset by a steep increase in the average deal size.
A Changing Venture Capital Environment
10 years ago, if a company got to a $500M valuation, the only path to new capital and an exit was an IPO. Those days are now a distant memory. With US venture capital tripling in the past 10 years, the increased supply of funding has increased valuations significantly, allowed ‘unicorn’ technology companies to remain private and avoid the public markets scrutiny and compliance. Post the financial crisis caused by the sub-prime meltdown in the USA and global “GFC” (global financial crisis), compliance and disclosure for public investment activity has made NASDAQ or NYSE listings less and less attractive.
The Bottomline for Australian SuperFunds
Record venture capital in the USA is being raised, the amount raised per deal is more. Superfunds should allocate investments in US Venture Capital funds. Despite valuations being higher, venture backed technology companies can stay private longer and avoid the cost / compliance of going public via an IP0.