Larger VC Funds Can Complicate Life for Limited Partners Too

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an example of an emerging VC fund manager’s success creating a problem because his fund size increased. I’ve heard this multiple times from both emerging fund managers who’ve raised larger funds and established fund managers who started with small-fund investing at the earliest stages. I recently had a chat with someone from a family office that’s a limited partner in venture capital funds (i.e., it invests in them).

He shared a few interesting things. The first is that they want to invest in great companies as early as possible (i.e., a few hundred thousand dollars at the pre-seed level). They don’t have the ability to source them internally, so they try to find fund managers who focus on this segment and invest in their funds. They believe that emerging managers with micro funds perform best at the pre-seed stage (more on this in another post). Finding and evaluating these emerging managers is difficult. It can be just as hard to find a promising emerging fund manager as it is to find a promising early-stage founder (they’re both early-stage founders in my mind), and this family office isn’t staffed to do that kind of outbound sourcing.

The second challenge was around stage creep. If they find an emerging manager to invest in whose pre-seed investments perform well, that manager usually raises a larger fund. The larger fund likely causes the manager to start investing at a later stage than the family office’s target (e.g., a few million dollars at seed+ instead of pre-seed). And this causes another problem: the family office has deployed capital with another manager at the later stage (that is, it already has a seed+ fund manager), so it now has overlap.

The family office now must start the cycle all over again. It needs to find another emerging manager who focuses on pre-seed or go with an established manager focused on pre-seed-stage investing whose larger fund will negatively affect returns.

There are lots of variables and things to consider that I didn’t get into to keep this simple, but that’s the gist of our conversation.

Of course, all family offices aren’t created equal, and family offices aren’t the only type of limited partner. Different classes of limited partners have different risk appetites for pre-seed investments, and even within those classes, each organization is motivated by different things. This is an anecdotal story, but one I've heard from more than one family office.

It’s interesting that there’s a desire for certain types of limited partners and emerging managers for investment at the earliest stages of a company’s life cycle, but the current VC construct isn’t working efficiently for emerging managers, limited partners, or start-up founders.