Limited attention and the role of the venture capitalist

Published on Nov 1, 1997in Journal of Business Venturing
· DOI :10.1016/S0883-9026(96)00130-9
Sharon Gifford6
Estimated H-index: 6
(RU: Rutgers University)
Abstract This research analyzes the venture capitalist's incentives to maximize the profits of the entrepreneurs of ventures and the limited partners of a venture fund. Venture capital is a professionally managed pool of capital invested in equity-linked private ventures. Entrepreneurs turn to venture capitalists for financing because high-technology startup firms have low or negative cash flows, which prevent them from borrowing or issuing equity. In addition, venture capitalists are actively involved in management of the venture to assure its success. This solves the problem of startup firms that do not have the cash flows to hire management consultants. Venture capital contracts have three main characteristics: (1) staging the commitment of capital and preserving the option to abandon, (2) using compensation systems directly linked to value creation, and (3) preserving ways to force management to distribute investment proceeds. These characteristics address three fundamental problems: (1) sorting the venture capital among the entrepreneurial ventures, (2) providing incentives to motivate venture capitalists to maximize the value of the funded ventures, and (3) providing incentives to motivate entrepreneurs to maximize the value of the ventures. Venture capitalists fund only about a dozen projects a year out of a thousand evaluated. Each project may receive several rounds of financing. Payoffs to VCs can be very high or be a complete loss. The typical venture capital (VC) firm is organized as a limited partnership, with the venture capitalists serving as general partners and the investors as limited partners. General partner VCs act as agents for the limited partners in investing their funds. VCs invest their human capital by placing their reputation on the line. The goal is to begin to convert the investment into cash or marketable securities, which are distributed to the partners. VC management companies receive a management fee equal to a percentage (usually 2.5%) of the capital of each fund. They also receive a percentage (15–30%) of the profits of each fund, called carried interest. Periodic reports are made by the VC firm to the limited partners. Usually these are only costs of managing the fund, and so revenues are negative. Most contracts specify the percentage of time that the VC will devote to managing the fund. The analysis of this research deals with the incentives of the VC who has limited attention to be allocated between improving current ventures and evaluating new ventures for possible funding. The analysis shows that the VC, as agent for both the entrepreneur and the general partners, does not have the incentives required to maximize their profits. The VC allocates attention among ventures and venture funds less frequently than required to maximize the entrepreneurs' and limited partners' profits. However, the VC does maximize the total profits of all ventures. Because the VC considers the opportunity cost of attention, the VC's allocation of attention is efficient. The implication of this result is that, although the entrepreneurs and limited partners could be made better off with a different allocation of the VC's time, this would be an inefficient use of the VC's time.
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