Posts

140. Samuele Murtinu: How Low Time Preference Elevates the Investment Returns of Family Corporate Venture Capital

Family businesses play a major role in the US economy. According to the Conway Center, family businesses comprise 90% of the business ventures in the US, generate 62% of the employment in the nation, and deliver 64% of US GDP.

And, they’re good at venture capital. Samuele Murtinu, Professor of Law, Economics, and Governance at Utrecht University, visits the Economics For Business podcast to share the findings and insights from his very recent analysis of venture capital databases.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Corporate venture capital is a special animal.

There are many types of venture capital. Professor Murtinu focused first on the distinction between traditional or independent venture capital (IVC) and corporate venture capital (CVC). Independent venture capital funds are structured with a general partner in the operational, decision-making role, and investors in the role of limited partner.

Corporate venture capital funds are fully owned and managed by their parent corporation. The CEO or CFO of the corporation typically appoints a corporate venture capital manager, who selects targets, conducts due diligence and so on from a subordinate position in the corporate hierarchy.

The important difference between IVC and CVC lies in objectives and goals. IVC goals are purely financial — the highest capital gain in the shortest possible time. CVC funds often have strategic goals in addition to, or substituting for, financial goals. These strategic goals might include augmenting internal R&D capabilities and performance, and accessing new technologies and new innovations, or entering new markets.

Another form of CVC licenses patented technologies to startups in cases where the corporate firm does not have the capacity to exploit the IP, but can oversee the implementation at the startup with a view to further future investment or acquisition. This is the method of Microsoft’s IP Ventures arm, for example.

Typically, IVC investments are easy to measure against financial performance benchmarks or targets. CVC’s strategic investments are harder to measure. Goals such as technology integration are too non-specific to measure, and normal VC guardrails like specified duration of investments are not typically in place and so can’t be used as benchmarks. On the other hand, CVC investments often expand beyond the financial into strategic support via corporate assets such as brand, sales and distribution channels and systems.

Corporate venture capital out-performs traditional venture capital in overall economic performance.

Professor Murtinu’s performance metric in his data analysis was total factor productivity — performance over and above what’s attributable to the additions to capital and labor inputs. IVC’s performance for its investments was measured in the +40% range, and CVC’s was measured at roughly +50%. IVC performs better in the short term, while CVC performs better in the longer term. This difference reflects the lower time preference of CVC. It extends to IPO’s: corporate venture capital funds stay longer in the equity capital of their portfolio companies in comparison to independent venture capital.

Family CVC is another animal again — and even higher performing than non-family CVC.

Professor Murtinu separated out family-owned firms (based on a percentage of equity held) with corporate venture capital funds for analysis. Some of his findings include:

  • They prefer to maintain longer and more stable involvement in the companies in which they invest.
  • They prefer to maintain control over time (as opposed to exiting for financial gain).
  • They look to gains beyond purely financial returns, including technology acquisition / integration into the parent company and/or learning new processes.
  • They are more likely to syndicate with other investors, for purposes of portfolio risk mitigation.
  • They target venture investments that are “close to home” both in geographic terms and in terms of industries closely related to their core business.

The resultant outcomes are superior: a higher likelihood of successful exits (IPO or sale to another entity), and a greater long term value effect on the sold company after the IPO or exit. Further, there is evidence from the data of a higher innovation effect for Family CVC holdings, as measured by the post-exit value of the patent portfolio held by the ventures.

Family CVC is resilient in economic downturns. During the last economic downturn, family CVC invested at double the amount of corporate venture capital, reflecting family businesses’ preference for long-term investing and for control.

The lower time preference of family businesses and family CVC is crucial for the achievement of superior financial performance, especially in the longer term.

Family CVC’s lower time preference and longer investment time horizons result in beneficial effects. Ownership in the venture companies is more stable, and the value effect after IPO (when family CVC stability continues because these funds stay in the post-IPO company longer) is significant.

Professor Murtinu relates this phenomenon to Austrian economics. The longer time horizon permits a closer relationship between investor and entrepreneur — it develops over time — and their subjective judgment about the future state become more aligned. Frictions and information asymmetries are reduced, and a shared view of the future emerges. This stability can scale up to the industry level and national level when there are more family CVC funds at work. Instead of pursuing unicorns and gazelles, an environment more conducive to duration and resilience is created.

Additional Resources

“Types of Venture Capital” (PDF): Download PDF

“Families In Corporate Venture Capital” by Samuele Murtinu, Mario Daniele Amore, and Valerio Pelucco (PDF): Download Paper

138. Mark McGrath: The Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method: VUCA, OODA, IOT

Austrian economics is distinctive in its recognition and, indeed, embrace of continuous change: customer preferences change, competitors’ actions change, markets change, technology changes, prices change, business methods change. New knowledge is continuously created and accumulated. And Austrian economics equally recognizes that entrepreneurial businesses must change in response: capital combinations change, supplier and customer relationships change, organization structure changes, business portfolios and value propositions change. Continuous change is required — which is something business has not traditionally been designed for. How do businesses manage continuous change?

In the current digital age, the rate of change in the external business environment is accelerating, largely as a consequence of rapid technological evolution and the ways in which customer behavior and preferences change in response. We plan to cover the issue of continuous change from multiple angles in the coming weeks and months.

This week, Mark McGrath joins us to review a tool for value creation amidst continuous, roiling change. It has been around for a while and so is proven in multiple arenas and situations. It goes by the name of OODA.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

The OODA loop is a deeply sourced tool that draws on eastern philosophy, western science, and aligns with Austrian economics.

When a firm as a network of individuals, knowledge, ideas, tools, processes and resources works with clients and customers and their systems, all should be better off as a result of their co-ordinated action. The better the capacity to learn and make adjustments together, the better the capability to recognize and seize opportunities, and to act at co-ordinated speed. Those who can handle the rate of change fastest will be the most successful.

The originator of the OODA loop model, John Boyd, synthesized thinking from multiple sources about this problem. In business, we can call it the Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method.

The loop is triggered by uncertainty, or what is referred to in the model as VUCA:

Volatility — circumstances change abruptly and unpredictably;

Uncertainty — knowledge is incomplete and the future is indeterminate;

Complexity — we are individuals in a dynamic interconnected whole with emergent outcomes;

Ambiguity — multiple interpretations from multiple observers, and multiple conclusions.

VUCA enters the OODA loop as unfolding interaction with the ever-changing external environment or market, as information and data coming into the company, and as unfolding circumstances, whether these are the company’s own sales trends and customer relationships or the activities of competitors.

VUCA is the state of the universe. It’s the normal condition that entrepreneurs should assume as the basis for action. It also creates an exciting state of opportunity in which dynamically adaptive entrepreneurial businesses can thrive.

OODA is a feedback loop.

OODA stands for observing, orienting, deciding, acting — a continuous process.

The OODA Loop

Orientation is critical to successful operation of the model. For a firm or for an individual entrepreneur, orientation is a mélange of inputs: mindset, personality, our way of thinking and interpreting, previous experiences and how we’ve processed them, our ability to process new information, our ability to handle change, our ability to analyze and break things down while simultaneously piecing things together and synthesizing them into an insight or construct that never existed before.

Orientation houses all our biases, and all our cognitive models. It’s how we perceive and how we experience the world. It determines how we process all the information we observe.

Decisions are hypotheses.

From our orientation-determined analysis and synthesis of incoming data, we envision a future state: what could happen if we did something? In Misesian terms, we imagine what it would be like in the future if we were able to address our own uneasiness — if we were to change our current state and trade it for another one. Any action that follows must be preceded by a decision, a hypothesis of what we think might happen.

Action is an experiment to test the hypothesis.

In applying the OODA loop, entrepreneurs demonstrate a bias for learning and a bias for action. We learn by testing what happens when we act and making new observations of the outcomes of the action. These outcomes will give us new signals to employ in re-orienting to ensure that our decisions and actions are well-aligned with reality.

The OODA loop model is consistent with the Explore and Expand approach to business strategy.

At Economics For Business, we have frequently urged entrepreneurial firms to abandon business school strategic thinking and replace it with an Explore-And-Expand approach, running many fast, low-cost exploratory experiments and quickly expanding investment in those that work, discarding others. In OODA loop, experiments are decisions and actions, and re-orientation results in expanding application of the successful ones.

In OODA, we continuously build and re-build our perception of the VUCA world and attempt to match our perception with reality through exploration and expansion. We aim to ensure our orientation is attuned to the way the world is and not to the way we want it to be or imagine it to be.

The more we learn, the more we build and re-build, the faster we can advance. Speed of learning is important, so long as it is based on well-processed information.

Guidance and control.

In the OODA loop graphic, there are two areas designated “implicit guidance and control”: our actions and our observations. Our orientation implicitly guides and controls both. Our orientation as entrepreneurs or as economists will always affect how we perceive things. Where some might see an obstacle, others see an opportunity. That’s orientation at work. On the action side, orientation implicitly guides and controls our actions. There are some things we can do automatically, employing heuristics or procedures that we don’t stop to think about. This also is orientation at work — and at speed.

Continuous testing.

The OODA loop, processing VUCA information into decisions and action via continuous reorientation, is a test. An entrepreneur is always being tested. As time moves unstoppably forward, new challenges continuously emerge. It’s the ceaseless flux of human affairs, as Mises put it in Human Action.

If we maintain an open and flexible or agile approach or orientation to this continuous testing, we’ll avoid failure.

Focusing on a well-understood purpose will eliminate wasted time and wasted action.

The Adaptive Entrepreneurial Model has three major elements: VUCA, the way the world is; OODA, as described above; and IOT. IOT stands for In Order To: the purpose or mission. As we deal with VUCA, and continuously change our orientation as we learn from our decisions and experiments, quickly finding out what works and what doesn’t, we must never lose sight of our purpose and our intent. What are we trying to accomplish?

Everyone in our firm, or on our team, must share the same purpose and be able to articulate it in the same way. When that’s the case, creative and co-ordinating action can move forward without instruction: we don’t have to tell people what to do when they’re in the middle of VUCA so long as they have the same shared purpose in mind. Everyone focuses on what needs to happen and why. There’s never action for action’s sake; it’s always with a shared purpose. If team members do not share the same understanding of purpose, then they’re creating more VUCA. If they do share understanding, the orchestration of their individual efforts produces harmony.

People, ideas, things — in that order.

All action is human action, all decisions are human decisions, all teams are human teams. When orientations are aligned, harmonious co-ordinated action is possible. There’s a high priority on relationships — with teammates, colleagues, customers, vendors, partners.

In a business utilizing the OODA model, people always come first because they are the ones who act. Ideas follow, judged through the lens of helping people to decide and act. Things — technology, property, money — are at the third priority level to ensure they support people and enable their ideas.

“A sound understanding in application of these comments will yield geometric results.”

Improved results are the repayment for the effort expended to study the Adaptive Entrepreneurial Method.

Additional Resources

“The Adaptive Entrepreneurial Model — Core Thesis” (PDF): Download PDF

John Boyd’s “OODA Loop Graphic” (PPT): Download PPT

“The Epistemology of the OODA Loop” (PDF): Download PDF

“Destruction And Creation” by John R. Boyd (PDF): Download PDF

The Theory Of Dynamic Efficiency by Jesús Huerta De Soto: Download PDF

The Ultimate Foundation Of Economic Science by Ludwig von Mises: Read it on Mises.org

136. Max Hillebrand on Free Software Entrepreneurship with Bitcoin

Entrepreneurs are developing a new world of innovative business models far from regulated markets, crony capitalism, and corporate control. It’s a new world of cyber security, free software, value-for-value exchange, integrated with bitcoin. Max Hillebrand operates in this new world, and he shares both his vision and his expertise on the Economics For Business podcast.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

The praxeology of cyberspace.

Praxeology is timeless, with equal application in this era of cyberspace and the internet as in any other era. Individuals are in a state of unease, and they can perceive a better future in which their unease is relieved. They allocate resources to achieve that end.

Those resources can be scarce or non-scarce. Non-scarce goods are non-rivalrous; I can share them with you and not give them up for myself. Information goods are non-scarce. They are patterns of words and symbols that can be shared. This is the world of free software.

It’s also the world of cyber security. Cryptography is just a math formula. If I wish to express myself freely to one other person or a small group of people, I can enable my non-scarce expression for only that small group, giving them the private key to decrypt the message.

The value of free software: scratch your own itch.

A growing cadre and movement of internet entrepreneurs is engaged in the preparation and distribution of free software. Free doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. New technologies and new free software are created to solve customer problems more efficiently and more effectively. One of the beautiful attributes of free software is that it is open to user contribution — anyone who can read the software can change the software and publish those changes, so that future users can enjoy an even better experience. Everyone in the free software community — producers and consumers — is incentivized to ensure that the tools that they all use are running at their best.

This is sometimes referred to as the “scratch your own itch” ethos. The creators of the software are also the users of the software. Customers know the problems that they want to have solved, and give the ultimate feedback of fixing it themselves.

Free software in business.

Producers of free software create the highest quality technology tools. Entrepreneurs looking for the best technology have an incentive to seek out these producers and their products. There is no lack of demand. How do the producers get paid for their development efforts?

One way is via a service exchange. Users of free software often like to add customization, personalization and locally specific integration features to free software that they use. Producers can be contracted and compensated for these customization services. Red Hat followed this business model of servicing Linux users all the way to a $US34 billion valuation in an acquisition transaction with IBM.

Value-for-value exchange: a new business model?

The second way to get revenue from free software production is via donations — users recognize the value of the experience of using the product and voluntarily send payment to the producer, even though no “price” was asked.

This emergent concept of voluntary payments made for freely distributed valuable content and products is beginning to bloom into a new form of exchange, which has been given the name of the value-for-value (VFV) model. It’s especially prevalent on the blockchain and on bitcoin networks.

Take a freely distributed podcast as an example. The producer can put a Bitcoin lightning network public key in the RSS feed and listeners can voluntarily send any amount of bitcoin back for every minute they are listening to the podcast. This happens automatically in the background when the listener hits Play and stops when he or she hits Pause or Stop. One-time payments can be made as well, if preferred. Payment can be boosted if the listener here’s something they deem especially valuable to them and wish to extend an extra reward. It’s the ultimate market feedback mechanism.

Bitcoin as free software

Bitcoin is another tool of cyberspace, engineered and designed to solve the problem of money. Many innovators over time have made attempts to create digital money to make internet transactions fast, infinitely cheap, stable and private. But none of the attempt, until bitcoin, were able to solve the problem of verification of transactions and enforcement of rules without a trusted third party. Bitcoin solves the important problems, not just of verification but of “who verifies?”

Verification is always and ultimately human. Bitcoin entrains entrepreneurs who download the bitcoin software and confirm they are running the agreed monetary rules on their own hardware. When another entrepreneur connects and asks for rules-based verifications of valid transactions, bitcoin merchants on the network are running the software and checking the transactions of others. They are entrepreneurs producing verification according to established and agreed rules. It’s an entrepreneurial merchant network.

Get paid in bitcoin, hold bitcoin, invest with bitcoin.

Max emphasizes 3 aspects of the bitcoin enabled life that can insulate and protect entrepreneurs from the inflationary fiat future.

Get paid in bitcoin

To get paid in bitcoin means to have a “censorship resistant” method of receiving payment from customers. People who do not have access to a bank account can become entrepreneurs. People whose bank accounts might get shut down can remain entrepreneurs. Anyone who fears for the future of the fiat system can insulate themselves against future payment system uncertainty.

Hold cash reserves in bitcoin

Saving should mean holding an asset without counterparty risk. Bitcoin serves that purpose — it’s counterparty risk-free money. Holding a reserve without counterparty risk frees the individual to make a trade with an entrepreneur at any time in the future. There I no risk of inflation. Your saving can’t be diluted.

Denominate your contracts in bitcoin

When more and more entrepreneurs denominate their contracts in bitcoin, a stable monetary asset that cannot be inflated, the detrimental cycles identified by Austrian Business Cycle Theory can be eliminated. This is the exciting long term prospect of bitcoin.

It may be a long path, and it will take time and courage to complete the journey, but it is possible. There are entrepreneurs today (Max is one) who get paid exclusively in bitcoin and hold their cash reserve in bitcoin.

Additional Resources

Max’s website: TowardsLiberty.com

Some examples of free software tools:

Professor Mohammad Keyhani’s Entrepreneur ToolsVisit The Site

Cryptoeconomics: Fundamental Principles of Bitcoin by Eric Voskuil: Buy It On Amazon

134. Per Bylund: The Unrealized

Understanding The Unrealized requires us as entrepreneurial businesspeople to think better, and to resist settling for what is merely feasible in a regulated, risk-mitigated world. We must ask what could be possible in a different world, and act on that basis. Sound economics supports such action. Per Bylund takes us through his thinking about The Unrealized.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

First, see beyond what’s there.

From Bastiat’s famous parable about the broken window comes the economist’s instinct to think about 2nd, 3rd, and Nth order consequences of actions. These are typically unseen by those who don’t think like economists, and never even considered by politicians.

Entrepreneurs always have 2nd or 3rd alternative actions in mind if the consequences of their first choice are unexpected, and they will always adjust further if required by customer feedback, with the constant aim of producing high customer value and satisfaction. They see beyond what’s there.

Government regulators and legislators make promises on the basis of forecast 1st order consequences only.

Regulators promise that the consequences of their actions will be beneficial, at least to some groups. For example, in minimum wage legislation, they promise a pay raise for the lowest paid workers. What is not seen are all the jobs that disappear — are never offered — as a 2nd order consequence of making minimum wage labor unaffordable to the profit seeking entrepreneurs, the ones who create jobs.

Beyond the unseen is The Unrealized.

In reality, regulations are not what politicians promise. They are not actions to help people. They are restrictions on entrepreneurs’ economic behavior. Entrepreneurs are aiming at satisfying customer wants as much as possible. Regulations aim to restrict this customer-satisfying action by forbidding certain innovations, or declaring that they must be designed and implemented in ways that have value for the regulator and not for the customer or entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs are forced to abandon some of their efforts to generate new value by satisfying customers, or to redirect their efforts into less value-producing channels. The potential output of their creativity goes Unrealized.

Society accumulates and compounds losses when entrepreneurial creativity is curtailed.

What could have been the case if entrepreneurs were unbound, if the regulatory chains were cast off? We can’t know. But we can know that The Unrealized is a cost to society.

And the cost is cumulative. Technology and innovation thrive and grow in response to observations of how customers experience value from it. Entrepreneurs introduce a new application of technology by building on what’s available today and adding to the value experience that they observe customers enjoying today. If innovation is restricted by regulation (or any other barrier), these observations can’t take place. The next big thing that builds on today’s big thing won’t happen. We keep falling behind what is possible because of these regulatory restraints. Consumers become cumulatively worse off. Society is permanently and increasingly damaged.

We are placed on a different value trajectory — one that limits our options.

What if Henry Ford had been restricted from introducing assembly line manufacturing of automobiles? It’s not hard to imagine such a case in the OSHA environment of today. What if the innovation cloud of new roads, better engines, gas stations with coffee and hot dogs, and all the other ancillary results of assembly line manufacturing had not been allowed to form?

Such a thought experiment demonstrates how regulation places society on a different trajectory than what is possible from unlimited entrepreneurial innovation. Will Uber’s technology launch us on a trajectory of ever-more-ingenious applications of on-demand service, stimulated by consumers’ unlimited imagination of greater and greater convenience? Or will taxi medallion regulation permanently limit that imagination to keep it within the boundaries of bureaucratic compliance and control?

Per Bylund’s term for the effects of bureaucratic control is limited optionality. Quality of life is elevated when we have greater optionality. Regulators don’t want us to have that experience. Less optionality means less value.

Continuous reinvention can’t be planned.

The second and third and Nth order consequences of unrestricted entrepreneurial creativity and consumer imagination are not subject to planning. Emergent new inventions and innovations are not predictable. The probability of positive outcomes from the creative process can be enhanced by entrepreneurial intent and aspiration and effort. But on the other hand, the range of positive probabilities is greatly reduced by restrictions on that intent and aspiration. What could be is bounded by what is attempted, and regulations narrow the field in which attempts are made.

Make sure you do not restrict your own creativity with self-imposed regulation-like limitations.

Regulation limits innovative possibilities. What if the same is true of your own entrepreneurial practice? What if The Unrealized is concealing itself in your own business? Are you sure that your imagination about possible futures based on your understanding of customer wants is expansive enough? Are you sure that you have considered all possible approaches to satisfying those wants, even the ones that are most unlikely? Have you examined every possible pathway to a unique position in the marketplace? Have you found every possible way to cut out cost and time from your production process? Are all your processes designed and engineered to remove all barriers to successful outcomes?

If you are inside a corporation, are there corporate restrictions that act like regulations, channeling your creativity into pre-ordained pathways and towards pre-selected attractors? Are there unnecessary constraints on emergence?

The Unrealized lurks everywhere. The entrepreneurial task is to root it out.

Additional Resources

Per Bylund’s book, The Seen, The Unseen, And The UnrealizedMises.org/E4B_134_Book

Mises U 2021 presentation, “The Seen, The Unseen And The Unrealized”: Mises.org/E4B_134_Lecture

“The Broken Window Fallacy” by Robert P. Murphy: Mises.org/E4B_134_Article1

“Compounding Shortfalls in Innovation” by Hunter Hastings: Mises.org/E4B_134_Article2

“Mark Spitznagel: At What Price Safety?” — another take on The Unrealized from an investing perspective: Mises.org/E4B_134_Article3

Economics In The Digital Age Is Different.

Steve Denning is one of our most important and insightful writers at the intersection of economics, business, and management. He has been in the lead in alerting the business world to the imperative of new thinking about organization, embracing agility and the end of hierarchy, agile processes, and digital transformation. His message: management must change to keep up with technology.

Recently, he turned his attention to economics. His conclusion: economics must change to keep up with technology. Mainstream economics that is; we Austrians may claim a special position, as I’ll argue below.

A school or tradition of economics (such as “mainstream economics”) tends to be defined by stacking dead economists and their theories one on top of another and calling the resulting intellectual edifice a definitive body of work for the filling of textbooks. Later arrivals to the school limit themselves to publishing marginal elucidations. Keynesian economics continues as a set of theories derived from the conditions between the first and second world wars in socialist Britain. Keynesian economists in 2021 continue to insist that these theories still hold, and, in fact, they are the backbone of US Government economic policy today, and the reason it is so disastrous.

In his article Why Mainstream Economists Miss Digital Innovation, Denning drives home just exactly why this backward-looking process of economic theorizing takes us so far off base. Mainstream economists (he quotes Nobel prizewinner Robert Solow) had a very difficult time even recognizing the contribution of digital services to economic value. The “real economy”, Solow opined, was about physical products. Now the largest firms in the world are those delivering primarily digital services. So much for the validity of Nobel rise recognition.

Denning also calls out Robert J Gordon, who asserts that the great innovations occurred before 1970  – innovations such as electricity, household appliances that reduce work, air conditioning that increases comfort and productivity, flushing toilets that improve sanitation and health. Gordon dismisses innovation after 1970 as narrowly focused on entertainment, communication, and information technology. He referred to the arrival of the iPhone as a minor event in entertainment and communications. He failed to realize how a handheld computer in the hands of billions of people radically increases productivity and economic growth, which has been associated with the eradication of poverty, as well as changing how people are educated, given access to healthcare, and put on a pathway to higher aspirations and better lives.

Denning uses this example as an illustration for his conclusion that mainstream economics misses “that digital innovation has changed almost every aspect of human life”. Of what relevance is a field of study that is so oblivious to real life?

Fortunately, there’s a school of economics that understands the dominant role of digital innovation: Austrian economics. There are several points of difference with mainstream economics. One is the understanding that Austrians have of the market as a process and the economy as a constantly changing capital structure. Mainstream economists’ main tool is the study of equilibrium: under what conditions would the economy be perfectly balanced with no more change? Austrians understand that there is no equilibrium, and equilibrium is not a state we desire. The market is a flow of continuous, often dramatic and always accelerating change. Technologies build on technologies and change becomes exponential in terms of impact on growth and improvement. More and more customer value is generated, without limit.

Austrian capital theory recognizes capital in the economy as a flowing river of technology enabling more and more customer value, and constantly changing and improving in response to customers’ never-ending demand for betterment – faster, cheaper, more efficient, more convenient, more comfortable, more productive. Customers demand this continuous change, and technology helps to deliver it.

Another tool in the Austrian economists’ toolbox is the understanding of the role of the entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, and the entrepreneurial method. The entrepreneur has no role in mainstream economics. No one has figured out a mathematical equation to represent this most human of innovative influence. Entrepreneurs are those who look at the world and ask themselves how they can make it better than it is. That’s why Steve Denning can quote an entrepreneur like Marc Andreessen who wrote  “Why Software Is Eating The World” but can’t find any economists to quote.

He could have referred to W. Brian Arthur’s paper, Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In By Historical Events, where he anticipated exponential growth and the rise of the tech titans. Brian Arthur calls his brand of economics “complexity economics”, which is a strand of Austrian economics. Denning might also have quoted Todd H. Chiles on Organizational Emergence, his theory about how firms and markets advance rapidly through stages of dramatic change and increasing value generation as a result of both technology and changing consumer preferences.

Steve Denning is right to say that it’s imperative that mainstream economics catches up with technology. He should go further and call for the widespread recognition of Austrian economics as the economics of radical economic change. It’s already the go-to theory to explain bitcoin, free software, and the economics of video games. Mainstream will never catch up.

129. Samuele Murtinu on How and Why Governments Fail in Venture Capital

Governments would like to take credit for the level of entrepreneurship in their countries. Entrepreneurship leads to value creation (happier voters) and economic growth (more to tax). But, as Per Bylund points out in the Seen, The Unseen And The Unrealized, governments’ actions restrain entrepreneurship.

Dr. Samuele Murtinu joins the Economics For Business podcast to explain both how and why governments fail in their best efforts to help entrepreneurial businesses succeed.

Key Takeaways And Actionable Insights

Europe has an entrepreneurship problem.

European economies exhibit lower growth rates than the US. At the firm level, there are fewer unicorns, and fewer new technology-based firms or innovative startups and innovative ventures in general. Venture capital markets are very thin, and most venture financing is debt, which is (as Sergio Alberich described in Episode #123: Mises.org/E4B_123), a poorer choice for startups and young firms than equity.

Consequently, European countries see a lower level of innovative startup behavior. Existing firms have low levels of R&D spending. And, generally, there is an inability to turn the innovative inputs that are available into innovative outputs — new markets and industries tend not to emerge in Europe first.

And the European mindset tends to favor the idea of the entrepreneurial state — the state is thought to be where good ideas and good initiatives come from.

Governments see launching their own venture capital funds as a new means.

The key idea of the entrepreneurial state is deep involvement in economic affairs, including funding basic research, financing, shaping and directing R&D investments, and thereby creating new markets. The centrally coordinated state is seen as the driving force for the development of innovation and technological progress. For this mindset, government venture capital seems to be an available means. So governments start and implement venture capital funds — the terminology is Public Venture Capital.

These are companies and funds that are fully owned, fully funded (no limited partner structure) and fully managed by government bureaucrats, with the purpose of investing in innovative startups.

Firstly, Governments get the concept wrong at a fundamental level: they have the wrong goals.

Private venture capital funds and even hybrids like sovereign wealth funds have clear goals: rapid, high-level capital appreciation by investing in startups at an early stage and exiting as quickly as possible in a liquidity event such as a commercial sale or an IPO.

Government venture capital may have “social” goals such as encouraging industry sectors, favoring regional technological development, boosting economic growth, and providing jobs. These are vague and unclear, and may contradict individual company business plans (such as automation and minimization of labor costs). With the wrong goals, it’s impossible to succeed.

For example, the selection process for private VCs choosing firms for fund portfolios is rigorously goal-directed and VC firms have honed their candidate identification and due diligence processes in order to maximize their chances of winning from the very first steps in the investment process. Government funds lack this clarity and therefore can’t develop the requisite expertise.

Governments have difficulty letting go of control.

Private VC’s have also honed the role of the contract between them and the firms in which they invest, and with the limited partners who provide the investment capital. The contract with the startup firms is as “hands-off” as possible (see, for example, the SAFE contract — Simple Agreement For Future Equity — available for free download and free use from the Y-Combinator website: YCombinator.com/Documents) and the contract with Limited Partners gives them no role in the management of the fund. Private VC’s understand that high levels of control are not appropriate to the adaptive management of immature firms in rapidly changing environments.

Government bureaucrats directing investments in startups are averse to this kind of hands-off management.

Governments can’t get incentives right, and consequently can’t hire the best executives.

Private VC managers are highly incentivized. In the largest and most successful funds, they receive high salaries and a 20% participation in fund appreciation. The best individuals from the most prestigious business schools are hired to compete with their peers for promotions and partnerships. The most successful funds attract the most capital from the deepest pocketed sources, and the cycle of success rolls on.

Public VCs can’t attract the same quality of human capital. Typically, managers are paid a fixed salary, which can’t be seen as out-of-bounds from the perspective of bureaucratic rules and standards. If there are bonuses, they are calculated in what Professor Murtinu called a “gloomy” way. No-one is going to break any income-equity norms.

Professor Murtinu’s rigorous data-rich analysis proves beyond any doubt the failure of Public Venture Capital.

In order to analyze Public Venture Capital performance, Professor Murtinu utilized the VICO database, a comprehensive data set about venture capital backed companies in high tech industries in seven European countries. He reinforced it with additional data sources, and was able to run a comparison of the performance of firms that received public venture capital backing and those that received no venture capital. The data sets covered 25 years.

The result: no statistical difference between the performance of the two sets of firms. Public Venture Capital had no effect. It was a waste. This was true across all possible variables: productivity, whether total factor productivity or partial factor productivity like labor or capital, sales growth, employment growth, innovation outcomes, exits.

The opposite is the case for private venture capital backed firms. In the same kind of analysis, private venture backed firms are statistically superior on every dimension. The overall impact of private venture capital is very clear and highly positive.

There is one possible step in the right direction: government becomes a limited investor.

Public venture capital can syndicate with private venture capital, and so long as the investment is less than 50% of the fund total, and has no say on selection of investments, on due diligence, on governance, on monitoring, and on timing or type of exits, it is possible that the investment outcome can be positive. The European Commission is currently considering this role for Public Venture Capital.

Additional Resource

“Public vs. Private Venture Capital” (PDF): Download PDF