Leverage and Venture Capital Funds

Yesterday I shared definitions of three kinds of leverage from Joel Greenblatt, founder of Gotham Asset Management. One of them was investment leverage by borrowing. This involves using debt or borrowed capital to increase an investor’s capital base, which allows them to deploy more capital into an investment. If an investor were limited to investing using only personal capital, they’d likely be using a materially smaller capital base to make investments (if they were investing at all).

Venture capital funds are examples of investment leverage by borrowing. General partners (GPs) raise a fund from limited partners (LPs). Essentially, the GP borrows capital from LPs with the goal of repaying it, plus a share of the profits, in the future. Fund GPs will usually contribute personal capital that amounts to around 1% to 2% of the total fund. This is called the GP commitment.

So, if a $25 million fund is raised, the GPs will commit $500k (assuming a 2% GP commitment). The other $24.5 million is essentially borrowed from LPs.

Investing $500k of your personal money is quite different from investing $25 million of your and other people’s money. The deals you evaluate and can participate in look drastically dissimilar.

There are other aspects of GP and LP economics and relationship that I won’t get into here. But this demonstrates how a venture capital fund is essentially a vehicle that allows a venture capital investor to use investment leverage by borrowing to increase their capital. If the fund is successful and generates returns, the GP will personally receive significantly bigger returns from their investments that they would if they used only their personal capital. That’s leverage at work.