Venture Capital in Africa is Hard

Let's face it, Venture Capitalists (VC) don’t invest in products or jockeys.

Venture Capitalists invest in exits.

That said, the only way to justify the high investment failure rate that a venture capitalist experiences is to have regular exits at valuations much greater than 10x.

When taking into account the time value of money, dividends don’t cut it. Only selling the business can realize sufficient return for a VC to compensate for all its failed investments and still provide a healthy return to investors.

Some Mathematics

Here is some mathematics to explain what I am talking about:

Venture  Capital Investments

As illustrated above, if you invest ZAR500,000 each in 10 startups (A 1 in 10 success rate is pushing the envelope, its more likely to be 1 in 30), all of which fail except one, then you need to realize a 1,400% profit on that successful startup in order to generate a 29% return on your overall fund.

As you can see, slow and steady dividend payouts will never equate to a 1,400% return on investment. Only an exit (at a price/earnings multiple far in excess of the average private company PE of 5) will create the necessary returns for a VC to make money.

So, if its all about the exit, then the number of startups in your pipeline is far less relevant than the number of potential exits.

Silicon Valley Wins

This is the part where Silicon Valley crushes the competition.

There are a plethora of exit opportunities in the Valley.

  • Angels exit to early stage VC.

  • Early stage VC’s exit to late stage VC’s.

  • Late stage VC’s exit to private equity, or list on the Nasdaq, or sell to a multitude of cash-flush tech giants that are not afraid of infinite PE multiples, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay, PayPal, Netflix, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many more.

Using South Africa (SA) as an example, where are the exits in SA?

Let's be honest, there is no investor food-chain to speak of. You come in as an Angel Investor/VC and you stay in until the business flips.

Also, if you look at the 20 year history of tech in SA, the exits are limited to Naspers, MTN or Vodacom (with the occasional miracle of exiting to foreign firms like VeriSign, Oracle or MasterCard).

Regardless of the appetite of local companies for high multiple valuations (an appetite which is comparable to my 3-year old’s appetite for broccoli), having only three potential buyers doesn’t make for wildly optimistic odds of an exit.

The situation is not that much more different in the rest of the continent.

That’s why venture capital in South Africa (and Africa at large) is difficult. Its not that the money or startups aren’t available, its that the exits are not.

Cover Image Credit: Geriant Rowland