Early-Stage VCs Need a Management Fee Alternative

I’ve had the privilege of chatting with many emerging VC fund managers this year. One thing I consistently hear about is a goal to raise continually larger funds. For example, a first fund might be $10 million. If it does well, they’re planning for fund two to be $50 million and fund three to exceed $100 million. They’re driven to do this to increase cash flow from management fees, which provide them with more resources.

Most of the emerging managers I’ve chatted with are investing very early. Most aim to invest as close to when the company is created as possible, even if there isn’t a product yet. These emerging managers have unique perspectives and networks they believe position them to find non-consensus and high-potential founders very early. I agree that they’re more likely to find and fund non-consensus founders or markets, and I view them as playing an important role in the early-stage start-up ecosystem. If things go well, these founders, fund managers, and fund limited partners will realize massive outcomes.

Raising larger funds will give emerging managers more resources, but it will also compel them to begin investing at a later stage. The challenge here is that the edge they have investing early might not carry over into a later stage.

The current VC fund fee structure—specifically, the traditional management fee, usually 2%—isn’t ideal for emerging VC fund managers. Successful emerging VC managers want more resources, and rightly so. But they don’t necessarily want bigger funds, because it’s harder to deploy a larger pool of capital. I see an opportunity to provide an alternate structure to emerging managers investing early-stage who exhibit early signs of success. I think this will not only solve the resource problem but also better align emerging managers, their limited partners, and founders. The early-stage startup ecosystem will be the better for it.