The rapid internationalization of markets for venture capital is expanding the funding alternatives available to entrepreneurs. For venture capital firms, this trend spells intensified competition in markets already at or past saturation. At issue for both entrepreneurs and venture capital firms is how and when venture capitalists (VCs) can provide meaningful oversight and add value to their portfolio companies beyond the provision of capital. An important way VCs add value beyond the money they provide is through their close relationships with the managers of their portfolio companies. Whereas some VCs take a very hands-off approach to oversight, others become deeply involved in the development of their portfolio companies.
Utilizing surveys of VCs in the United States and the three largest markets in Europe (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France), we examined the determinants of interaction between VCs and CEOs, the roles VCs assume, and VCs’ perceptions of how much value they add through these roles. We examined the strategic, interpersonal, and networking roles through which VCs are involved in their portfolio companies, and we analyzed how successful such efforts were. By so doing we were able to shed light on how and when VCs in four major markets expend their greatest effort to provide oversight and value-added assistance to their investment companies.
Consistent with prior empirical work, we found that VCs saw strategic involvement as their most important role, i.e., providing financial and business advice and functioning as a sounding board. They rated their interpersonal roles (as mentor and confidant to CEOs) as next in value.
Finally, they rated their networking roles (i.e., as contacts to other firms and professionals) as third most important. These ratings were consistent across all four markets. VCs in the United States and the United Kingdom were the most involved in their ventures, and they added the most value. VCs in France were the least involved and added the least value; VCs in France appeared to be least like others in terms of what factors drove their efforts. Our theoretical models explained a greater proportion of variance in governance and value added in the United States than elsewhere. Clear patterns of behavior emerged that reflect the manner in which different markets operate. Among the European markets, practices in the United Kingdom appear to be most like that in the United States.
Determinants of Governance (Face-to-Face Interaction)
We operationalized VC governance or monitoring of ventures as the amount of face-to-face interaction VCs had with venture CEOs. We found some evidence that VCs increase monitoring in response to agency risks, but the results were mixed. Lack of experience on the part of CEOs did not prompt significant additional monitoring as had been predicted. A more potent determinant was how long the VC-CEO pairs worked together; longer relationships mitigated agency concerns and reduced monitoring. Contrary to expectations, perceived business risk in the form of VCs’ satisfaction with recent venture performance had little impact on face-to-face interaction. Monitoring was greatest in early stage ventures, indicating that VCs respond to high uncertainty by increased information exchange with CEOs. We measured two types of VC experience and found different patterns for the two. Generally speaking, VCs with greater experience in the venture capital industry required less interaction with CEOs, whereas VCs with greater experience in the portfolio company’s industry interacted more frequently with CEOs than did VCs without such experience.
Determinants of Value Added
We argued that VCs would most add value to ventures when the venture lacked resources or faced perceived business risks, when the task environment was highly uncertain, and when VCs had great investing and operating experience. Contrary to expectations, VCs added most value to those ventures already performing well. As we had predicted, VCs did add relatively more value when uncertainty was high: e.g., for ventures in the earliest stages and for ventures pursuing innovation strategies. Finally, we found that VCs with operating experience in the venture’s focal industry added significantly more value than those with less industry-specific experience. These results are consistent with anecdotal evidence that entrepreneurs have a strong preference for VCs with similar backgrounds as their own. We found no evidence that experience in the venture capital industry contributed significantly to value added. Together, these results suggest that investigations of the social as well as economic dimensions of venture building may prove a fruitful avenue for future study. Overall, the results showed that value-added is strongly related to the amount of face-to-face interaction between VC-CEO pairs and to the number of hours VCs put in on each individual venture.
Implications for Venture Capitalists
The competition for attractive investments is heating up as economies become more globalized. Thus, the pressure on venture capital firms to operate both efficiently and effectively is also likely to build. It is as yet unclear whether the recent trend toward later stage, safer investments will continue, and how those venture capital firms following this path can differentiate themselves from other sources of capital. Venture capital firms that are able to choose the appropriate bases for determining governance effort and the appropriate roles for delivering added value to their portfolio companies will be those most likely to survive.
In the largest, most robust markets (i.e., the United States and the United Kingdom), more effort is expended by venture capitalists to deliver something of value beyond the money. This suggests that the tradeoff preferred by those succeeding is to be more rather than less involved in their investments. Our results indicate that VCs clearly economize on the time they devote to involvement in their portfolio companies. However, our results also indicate that they do this at the great peril of producing value insufficient to justify the cost of their product.
Implications for Entrepreneurs
Our findings provide two important insights for entrepreneurs. First, they show that where and when they obtain venture capital is likely to have an impact on the extent and nature of effort delivered by their venture capital investors. It appears that on average entrepreneurs receiving venture capital in the United States and the United Kingdom will be more closely monitored and will receive more value-adding effort from their VCs than will those in France or the Netherlands. Needless to say, entrepreneurs should consider their preferences for level and type of involvement from their investors as they consider their choice of partners. In France, for example, VCs put great emphasis on their financial role in comparison with other roles, but they contribute much less than VCs elswhere via other strategic, interpersonal, and networking roles.
The second key implication of our findings is that entrepreneurs may be able to gauge what roles VCs will see as most important, when VCs are more or less apt to become involved in their companies, and when they believe they can most add value. Such knowledge may help CEOs anticipate VC activity, be aware of the parameters of VCs’ preferences, communicate their own preferences, and negotiate the timing and extent of interaction. For example, although our results indicate that geographic distance significantly limits face-to-face interaction, it appears to have less impact on the amount of value added.
Implications for Researchers
Much more can be learned about the relative efficiency and effectiveness of alternative governance arrangements. Little is known about how formal structures such as contract covenants and board control work in conjunction with informal oversight and interaction. Even less is known about how value is added and how it is best measured. Although this study took a step toward developing a model of the circumstances under which value is added, the theory and its operationalization await further development.