…now, if that did not grab your attention, I dont know what will!
I chanced upon this great post by friend and fellow VC-blogger Shin on Japanese VCs and the entrepreneurial/VC environment in Japan. The post was prompted by an event organised by The Pink Cow (a cuter version of Open CoffeeClub – check it out!).
Shin included some Q&A from the event in his post – which I think are very interesting and worth reproducing here for anyone who is interested in Venture Capital in Japan and the general VC ecosystem:
Q: What is the difference between the Japanese and US VC models?
[Ans: If you look at the history of the Japanese VC model and the background of the major VC players, you soon realise that the traditional Japanese VC is something quite different from the US (SV) VC model. But things are changing as business practices and competition become more global. Japanese VC is changing, or at least diversifying, in the business models it employs.]
Q: There seems to be a lack of Japanese VCs who really understand technology?
[Ans: Again, traditionally, that was indeed the case, with most of the major VC firms being affiliates (to one degree or another) of stock brokerages, commercial banks and goverment agencies, and the human resources at their disposal were limited, given the traditional lack of liquidity in the human resources market. But again this is changing, with VCs recruiting from industry (people like me), and with boutique VCs also springing up. Most of the top Japanese VC firms are large organisations, and as with any organisation, there are many different types of professionals within the organisation. The key is to find the right person to take your idea to. Stop thinking about the VC firm, and think about the individual VC.] [I thought about this question a bit more afterwards, and I think that the questioner may have some misconceptions about how we evaluate businesses. I wouldn’t say technology is not important, but I think many entrepreneurs overestimate the importance and superiority of their technology or technological skills, and the correlation between focus on technology and business success. I know that some entrepreneurs complain about the fact that VCs focus on issues which they feel to be peripheral, but we do that with justification. Our experience tells us, especially in Japan, that many businesses fail due to issues other than technology. Lack of financial planning, lack of sales/marketing ability, lack of corporate discipline in other areas, etc. It is our duty to point those out and inject some reality into many a technological daydream. The aim of a VC is to invest in a COMPANY, and help make that company successful so we can cash out and return money to our investors. I certainly only invest in businesses where their goals are aligned with ours.]
Q: Don’t VCs stack the odds in their favour with preferred stock structures?
[Ans: That is indeed the US VC model, and although it does happen in Japan too, the reality of the Japanese VC model is that currently the vast majority are common stock investments. (certain investment heavy sectors are more likely to feature preferred structures) There are signs that preferred structures are on the increase, but it is still a small minority of deals which see such structures in place. I personally think that barring a severe downturn, there will be VCs willing to continue using an ordinary stock model, and it is up to the entrepreneur to decide which set of terms and which VCs they want to work with. After all, no one is forcing them to take our money. But this ordinary vs preferred issue has to be understood in context, such as the fact that historically structuring preferred stock was subject to various limitations which made it difficult in practice to use the structure effectively. The small average size of investments is also probably a factor which has prevented VCs pushing for preferred stock and the associated liquidation preference, as is the lack of much M&A activity.]
Shin also mentions in his post that he has been thinking “seriously about…creating a venue for entrepreneurs to meet with each other and with investment professionals in a casual environment“. Perhaps Tokyo is ready for an Open Coffee Club?!
…which reminds me that I finally managed to cross an important “To-Do” off my list last week: went to the Open CoffeeClub meeting at Waterstones (24th)…more on that later.