What do I see in venture through 2010???

The Jordan Edmiston Group recently asked me and a few other VCs a few pointed questions about the future for circulation in their July Client Briefing.  As an aside, I worked with JEGI two years ago and they did a fantastic job helping us sell Moreover Technologies to Verisign.  They understand the media and online world, are well connected, and work diligently to get the job done.  Anyway, here are the questions and my response:

Even though there is uncertainty in the credit markets, a stalled IPO market, and few billion-dollar plus M&A transactions, the investment activity level and appetite for quality businesses in the middle-market continues to be vibrant. Venture Capital firms continue to invest in companies that are providing answers to key disruptive market forces and are exiting those investments via M&A. The Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc. (JEGI) solicited a handful of key VC executives for their responses to the following questions:

1. What are the key market forces you believe will impact your venture activities through 2010?
2. How do you envision capitalizing on or responding to these market forces?
3. How is the environment changing for deal exits (e.g., IPO vs. M&A)?

(My answer is pretty consistent with what I have been blogging about during the last few years.  Here is an excerpt from the briefing and if you are interested in reading more and some of the other VCs responses, you can get it here)

We are continuing to move to a broadband connected world, where everything that we do on a device increasingly lives in the cloud. Our business applications, our music, our videos, pictures, and messaging will be easily accessible from any device, any time, and anywhere. We will continue to see new cloud-based applications and services, and data-driven services will play a larger role in this new world. There will be some great opportunities to invest in companies that take existing data and run algorithms over these streams of data to deliver better and more targeted advertising, personalized recommendations and search, and better overall services for end-users.

One of the next phases of growth and large revenue opportunities will be driven by what is captured every time you click on a page and move from site to site. How companies use this data to improve a user’s online experience is the next game changer. What I love about these kinds of opportunities is that algorithms scale, have high gross margins, and are highly defensible. With our computing world living in the cloud, there will be a whole new generation of mobile applications that leverage the increased computing power and faster broadband speeds that are offered today.

Mobile carrier voice revenue is declining, and data revenue is the next huge growth area for carriers. However, data revenue cannot increase without applications that drive usage. Obviously, there are concerns about carriers’ “walled gardens”, but I see a future where carriers increasingly provide open access to allow innovative apps to drive data growth. In addition, as mobile devices become better, cheaper and faster, we will see an increase in the number of users accessing the web from their wireless devices, as often as they do from their home PCs.

Capitalizing on Disruptive Market Forces
Dawntreader Ventures will capitalize on these disruptions by investing in the entire food chain, from infrastructure layer to the apps and services that touch the end-user. This includes investments in companies like Greenplum, which is powering the back-end data warehousing for a number of high profile Internet companies for targeted advertising; and Peer39, which provides semantic advertising solutions by using natural language processing and machine learning. This technology enables the company to go beyond keywords to understand page meaning and sentiment, to deliver the most effective display and text advertising to end-users.

Exit Strategy

Unfortunately, the market for IPOs is currently “dead”, but it may reopen in 2009. M&A continues to be strong for the right companies that fit a strategic hole in an acquirer’s portfolio. In the end, I continue to tell my portfolio companies that if you focus on what you can control (growing and managing your business), then the external factors (exit strategy) will take care of themselves. However, if you try to force the issue and shop your company, that shows a sign of weakness and more often than not will result in a fire sale. Companies are bought and not sold. For strong, well managed companies, opportunities will always present themselves, as long as you can avoid making desperate decisions.

To read some other VC responses and to get an update on the state of Interactive M&A, I suggest getting the JEGI briefing here.

Data wars heating up – Microsoft buys DATAllegro

As I have written in previous posts, what you do with data will be one of the next battlegrounds on the web.  Knowing that they had some limitations with SQL Server, Microsoft announced its acquisition of DATAllegro (full disclosure: my fund is an investor in competitor Greenplum) to enter the data warehousing market.  Enterprise volumes across the board are ramping up quickly and this clearly gives Microsoft an opportunity to capture that market.  Being an investor in Greenplum, I always like to see healthy exits of competitors as many believe it will trigger further consolidation.  When a competitor is acquired, the first reaction from many is often asking themselves why it wasn’t them and fear about competing with a juggernaut, but my perspective is quite different as it usually opens new opportunities.  As I have written before, many acquisitions fail and companies are usually so distracted for the first 6-12 months trying to integrate operationally and technically, that this gives others in the market a nice window to continue executing on their business plan.  So I tip my hat to DATAllegro and look forward to an exciting 12-18 months ahead as the data wars are clearly heating up now.