A few days ago, I shared an interview of First Round Capital Board Partner Chris Fralic regarding the firm’s thinking when it made an early-stage investment in Roblox, an online gaming and game-creation platform. Fralic mentioned that Roblox was one of the firm’s best investments ever. That caught my attention and made me wonder just how good of an investment it was. So, I did a little digging.
Roblox went public via direct listing in March 2021. Its market capitalization (i.e., valuation) was ~$35.5 billion when it began trading on the first day and ~$38 billion when trading closed for the day. According to Roblox’s S-1 filing (page 172), First Round owned 6.8% of Roblox when the company filed to go public. The S-1 filing also shows that First Round registered zero Class A common shares in the direct listing (page 172), which I assume means that it planned to sell its entire position. Assuming that First Round sold at or around the $35.5 billion market cap at which shares began trading on the first day, its position was worth approximately $2.41 billion.
The S-1 filing also shows that First Round made the Roblox investment via a single entity, “First Round Capital II, L.P.” (page 172), which likely means the firm invested into Roblox out of its Fund II. Note: When companies go public, you often see venture capital firms have spread investments across several entities, which makes it harder, if not impossible, to calculate the firm’s return. For example, the S-1 lists Altos Ventures as an investor owning 23.6%, but according to a footnote, its ownership is spread across numerous entities (page 172).
I did some digging on First Round’s Fund II. It was reportedly of 2008 vintage (i.e., that was the year it was raised) and totaled $125 million raised from limited partners (LPs).
When VC firms pitch LPs to invest in a fund, they usually communicate a 10-year life cycle to the LPs. This means that VC firm general partners plan to deploy the capital raised from LPs into start-ups, exit those investments, and return proceeds to LPs all within a 10-year period. That’s the plan, but things don’t always go as planned.
At the time of Roblox’s direct listing in March 2021, First Round’s Fund II may have been three or so years past the 10-year fund life cycle. It makes sense that the firm would liquidate the entire position when Roblox went public so it could realize and distribute the gains from the Roblox investment to LPs and start winding down the Fund II entity (assuming that no other active investments remained).
It’s hard to know the exact return on this investment, but I made some guesses at the fund level. If this direct listing resulted in about $2.41 billion being returned to the fund, that means the direct listing alone returned about 19.2x the entire $125 million fund. That’s astonishing when you consider that a stellar return for a seed fund is in the 3x–5x range. It’s even more astonishing when you consider that this estimated 19.2x return doesn’t include cash received from selling Roblox shares in the years leading up to the direct listing (which Fralic confirmed the firm also did) or returns from other companies that Fund II invested in (Uber appears to also have been a Fund II investment (page 266)).
It’s easy to see why Fralic says Roblox was one of First Round’s best investments.