Institutional LPs and the Early Stage

When early-stage founders building high-growth companies think of raising their first bit of capital, they think find a venture capitalist. What they don’t think about is where the venture capitalist gets the money. The people who invest in a venture capital fund are limited partners (LPs). VCs have a responsibility to be good stewards of LPs’ capital—and if they aren’t, they won’t get any more of that capital.

I had breakfast with an out-of-town venture capitalist raising a $100+ million fund that invests in seed-stage (product built, but no product–market fit) companies. They’re not investing at the idea stage, but still early. He worked at a notable fund for years, but this is the first time he’s raised his own fund. We discussed his fundraise and the LP environment. He’s been focused on institutional investors (endowments, pensions, foundations, etc.), given his relationships and experience. He’s gotten good traction with his fundraise, but he’s hearing that many institutions prefer to back a manager at fund three and beyond. They want to get to know you during fund one and two. They want to see the company’s track record and performance and build a relationship with the manager over the first two funds. Once they get comfortable with a manager, they’ll back them over a few funds.

My conversation with this manager reinforced my view that early-stage investing can present a dilemma for LPs because what they’re comfortable with doesn’t align with the flux and transient nature of the early stage.

I walked away from this conversation, and others, feeling like there’s ample capital available from folks who want to invest in early-stage companies. But the current venture capital construct isn’t ideal when it comes to matching capital to founders. I’m wondering, is this an opportunity for an alternative that institutional LPs would like, or will LPs backing early-stage companies forever not be institutions (individuals, family offices, etc.)?