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Accredited Investor Crowdfunding Platforms: A Brief History

By   /  March 25, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

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Editor’s Note: The following is the latest guest post from Thomas Vass, manager at The Private Capital Market. Vass shares an excerpt from his forthcoming book, “Accredited Investor Crowdfunding: A Practical Guide for Technology Executives and Entrepreneuers.” In this part, Vass explains the history of funding companies through relatively small investments, and introduces some of the key early players.

Raising small amounts of capital has been an enduring problem for America’s small businesses. The gap in the private capital markets is especially severe for operational high tech companies trying to raise between $150,000 and $5 million.

The problem has been widely recognized by economists and policy makers for at least 100 years, but little progress has been made to overcome the issues confronting this part of the private capital market. In its review of the problem, in 1919, the New York Times noted that larger institutions did not seem interested in providing small amounts of capital to small established firms.

Just like the current venture capital emphasis on startups and new ventures, many years ago, most investors were primarily interested in discovering very early stage companies that had great investment potential. Small companies that had been operational for several years and needed growth capital to grow were not a high priority for private investors 100 years ago.

“…More than ever before in financial history,” wrote the New York Times in 1919, “the small investor in the United States may be an important factor in financing business and building.” The Times was reporting on a news story about an idea to pool the capital of small investors into a type of “fund” that would have trustees that would direct the capital to small businesses.

Related:- The Origins of Southern Equity Crowdfunding [Part I]

They concluded their story by suggesting that a market mechanism needed to be created that allowed small companies to easily meet small investors. Citing the US Department of Labor, the article stated: “It is essential, in the opinion of the Department of Labor, to devise ways and means of availing of the small investors’ capital.”

As categorized by the global website Crowdsourcing.org, there are currently about 2500 internet websites that “avail” themselves to crowdfunding capital for small companies. The websites provide a new type of market mechanism that brings small companies together with investors, much like the suggestion made in 1919 by the New York Times.

The great majority of websites tracked by Crowdsourcing.org fall into a category for donor-based or charitable giving, like Indiegogo. In the charitable giving website model, the donor gives a gift to the company, or the social political cause, without any expectation of future return on the gift.

Another very large category of crowdfunding websites fall into the category of very early stage entrepreneurial companies. The early stage Crowdsourcing category of websites includes both the donor-based model, and the equity investment model, where the investor hopes to make large, fast capital gains from the investment.

A subcategory of equity crowdfunding websites are those that are oriented to very early stage companies, who seek to attract investments from non-accredited investors. In this model, the motivation for the websites and the investors is to provide an investment opportunity for non-accredited investors that was previously only available to venture capital firms and angel partnerships.

In other words, in the Crowdsourcing subcategory of websites that promote equity crowdfunding investments, most of the websites target very early, non-operational companies, and try to attract non-accredited investors to make investments in the entrepreneurial companies.

The diagram below is useful for describing the main categories of internet crowdfunding websites that are tracked and categorized by Crowdsourcing.org. In their use of terminology, the word “crowdsourcing” is a main category, while the word “crowdfunding” is used to describe a subset of all crowdsourcing.

Many of the early stage websites for entrepreneurial companies, both for accredited and non-accredited investors, are global in scope, and based in foreign countries. This book is not about those types of websites.

This book is about the 35 US websites that are categorized by Crowdsourcing.org as those targeting investments to operational, established companies that seek only accredited investors, under the rules established by Title II of the JOBS Act of 2012.

Ninety years after the New York Times lamented the lack of capital for small businesses, a new platform for communication developed in the private capital market. Beginning in the mid-1990s, angel capitalists created websites to match entrepreneurs and firms.

The business model of the early angel matching websites looked like the residential real estate marketing websites, where buyers can search for property in cities and regions. Like a real estate brokerage firm, the sites operated by angels were like a captive agency where buyers are directed to a closed and proprietary group of sellers who are listing with that agency.

In other words, the early angel matching websites were attempting to attract companies who would exclusively use that particular angel website to raise capital. Even back in the early days of angel matching websites, the primary target companies for the angels were very early stage companies that could hit the investment homerun.

The typical scenario for the matching sites operated by angel investor groups would include having the entrepreneur or firm submit a document for review by the angel group administer, who screened and evaluated the deal. This process of online screening was just like the process that took place in person, when the entrepreneur presented a power point presentation to the angel group or venture capital group, at an event called a venture capital forum.

Statistics compiled by the University of New Hampshire indicated that in 2007, about 1 out of 10 deals submitted to an angel group were actually funded by the angel group.

The use of the internet tended to speed up the initial review process for the firm that was trying to raise capital. The value for the firm of submitting to one angel website was that most angel sites used the same standardized format for the initial submission. After the entrepreneur prepared one document, that same template could be used over and over again because the angel matching websites all accepted the standardized document.

For example, one early matching company, AngelSoft (now called Gust), created both document template software and web portals for the same form to be submitted by the entrepreneur to many different angel groups. At one time, AngelSoft was submitting the same proposal to an angel membership list of about 500 angel and venture capital firms.

As they noted on their website, “Since 2004, Angelsoft has been building tools to help Startups and Investors communicate more effectively. Today, 446 Angel Groups and VCs, 16,735 Angel Investors, and 3,500 new entrepreneurs a month use our tools to take the first step toward building the best new companies of the 21st Century.”

In contrast to the angel matching websites, an alternative internet website model to raise capital was an open platform, like GoBig. They stated on their website that, “The Go BIG Network is an on-line marketplace that connects the startup and small business community. The company allows startup companies, funding sources, advisors, and service providers to post requests for help on-line and have those requests routed to other members of the Network who can help them.”

The more open websites, like GoBig, were early internet private capital marketplaces. The early marketplaces were like a meeting place for the three parties to a capital exchange, but generally these sites do not offer much functionality for firms and investors to conduct a transaction. As stated on their website, “members of Go BIG can either search profiles of other members and contact them or they can post a Request (like a classified ad) and let other members see what they are looking for.”

To summarize, in the evolution of crowdfunding, the early investor matching websites looked and functioned like the early dating websites, like Match.com, where potential partners could search and sort profiles.

A more full service type of angel internet marketplace, with back end website transaction functionality, was NVST.com. NVST is the grand daddy of angel matching websites, and was way ahead of its time, beginning around 1996. As they note on their website, “NVST since 1996 has been the leading platform for private investment opportunities. The complete solution for the professional investor, advisor and entrepreneur, including market intelligence, deal flow, and intermediary services.”

The most important distinction between the earlier versions and the most recent versions of crowdfunding carried over from the traditional angel or venture capital model.

In the newer internet crowdfunding strategy, the company is controlling the terms and conditions of the entire private offering of securities. In the traditional model, the company goes to the capital source, asking for capital, and the angels or VCs control the terms and conditions of the securities that they will buy from the company.

Of the one out of 10 deals initially funded in the traditional model, about three out of 10 make profits for the angels, and only one out of 10 hit the “homerun.” The traditional model focused on very early stage companies that could hit the homerun, while the newer model is based upon companies that can share revenues and growth through consistent sales revenues.

Understanding the crucial distinction at the beginning of the capital raise between the traditional route and the newer internet crowdfunding model means that the company must prepare the entire private offering prior to making a public solicitation for investors.

In the older method, now designated Reg D Rule 506(b), the company usually would go to the angels or venture capital firms, who would set the terms and conditions, and prepare all the offering documents. Under the older method, there is no reason for the company to engage in sales and marketing to find investors, if the company can find them in the venture capital community.

All securities transactions, even accredited investor private exempt transactions, are subject to the antifraud provisions of the 1933 Securities Act and the myriad of other federal securities laws.

This anti-fraud provisions are the most important reason why any public statements or press releases, under Reg D Rule 506(c) must not contain any form of misleading statement. From the very first moment of the accredited investor private offering process, the company and the CEO is responsible for false or misleading statements, whether oral or written.

Thomas Vass is a regional economist with a research interest in the relationship between regional technological innovation, regional capital markets and regional economic growth. He is the author of Predicting Technology: Identifying Future Market Opportunities and Disruptive Technologies (Wingspan Press, 2007). He is the holder of a patent on technology stock selection. (Vass 7,251,627 July 31, 2007, Method of identifying a universe of stocks for inclusion into an investment portfolio), and the manager of a subscription based equity crowdfunding website, The Private Capital Market. He graduated with a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has a Masters of Regional Planning, also from UNC-CH. He is located in Calabash, North Carolina. View his economic articles on Social Science Research Network.

Tags: crowd-funding, crowdfunding, equity-crowdfunding, tom-vass

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In 18K Schools And Counting, Clever Confirms $10.3M Raise From Sequoia, Paul Graham, As It Looks To Build The Next Big Learning Platform

By   /  March 25, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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Clever launched out of Y Combinator in 2012 on a mission to help K-12 schools unlock student data, keep it up to date and safely share that data with developers. In other words, Clever’s technology enables schools to make student data more accessible and, in turn, help developers reduce the amount of work they have to do to build killer applications from that data and deliver it back to… Read More

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Vicarious Grabs A Huge, New $40M Growth Round To Advance Artificial Intelligence

By   /  March 22, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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Vicarious, a San Francisco-based company that developed technology to solve Captcha queries last fall, just raised a big new $40 million round from investors including Joe Lonsdale’s Formation 8, Mark Zuckerberg, Vinod Khosla and Peter Thiel. Zuckerberg invested personally while others like Dustin Moskovitz and Ashton Kutcher invested through their funds. Aydin Senkut’s Felicis… Read More

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HackerEarth Raises $500K To Help Startups Find Great Programmers

By   /  February 24, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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HackerEarth, a Bangalore-based startup that helps other startups hire programmers through technical challenges, has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Angelprime incubator.

Launched in late 2012 by former Google engineer Sachin Gupta and his IIT batch mate Vivek Prakash, HackerEarth helps India’s growth-stage startups find technical talent they so desperately need. Unlike in the Silicon Valley, where many engineers still find it more lucrative to work for a hot startup than an IBM, or even a Microsoft, Indian startups have to fight perception battles and work harder to attract engineers who mostly prefer to work with more stable, bigger tech companies.

HackerEarth is like a GItHub, except that it’s not only about the Open Source projects.

“For developers, LinkedIn profiles does not matter as much as a platform where they can showcase their work, and GitHub is mostly about Open Source projects,” Gupta told TechCrunch.

Recently, one of the fastest growing Indian startups, InMobi, was looking to hire a Python and Ruby programmer urgently. HackerEarth helped it find one programmer in Taiwan. The startup now wants to tap into Eastern Europe and other Asian markets. 

“Back in 2008, Java was hot around here. But now, many newer startups are looking to hire programmers who know Ruby, Python and even HTML in Javascript for front-end applications,” said Gupta.

With almost three million engineers currently employed in India’s over $100 billion technology sector, around one million software coders and programmers are added every year. Clearly, the supply is not the challenge, at least not for the country’s biggest software outsourcing powerhouses such as Infosys and TCS who still hire thousands of engineers and non-engineers every year to perform commoditized application development.

And it’s not just the startups looking to hire programmers who are not just Java developers. Many bigger companies scrambling to get high-paying software projects from WalMart and Citi are beginning to hunt for such talent.

Startups such as Practo, which develops online clinic management software, find it even more tough to hire programmers they really want.

“Finding a good developer is like looking for a needle in a haystack”, Sri Karthik Sayana, hiring manager at Practo said in a statement. “By using HackerEarth, we have experienced greater than 80% fit between the candidates identified by the platform and the ones we offered a role at our company”.

As we wrote in April last year, HackerEarth is able to help startups do real-time evaluation through its online engine.

HackerEarth competes with YC alum InterviewStreet, apart from several others in the recruitment space. But the startup says its obsessive focus on finding the right technical talent is a differentiator.

“We will be spending more on sales and big data matching engine,” said Gupta. HackerEarth was part of the GSF Accelerator’s first batch. GSF SuperAngels has also participated in the latest funding round.

Unlike traditional recruiters, the startup evaluates programmers on some of the very basic parameters including the computing memory footprint and quality of code. All this is achieved by holding programming challenges. In one such recent challenge, HackerEarth heaped InMobi hire around half a dozen programmers in one day, a process that could have taken at least a week.

With the latest seed round, HackerEarth joins a small, but growing alumni of startups incubated by Angelprime. Backed by Mayfield, Jerry Yang and Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social+Capital Partnership among several Silicon Valley investors, Angelprime was launched in June 2011.

As I wrote recently, India’s accelerator ecosystem is facing some harsh realities, and many of them are beginning to work with late-stage startups without Y Combinator-like batches. For its part, Angelprime has always been focused on investing in fewer, but focused startups that have the potential to scale and become $10 million companies in three years. Since it was launched three years ago, Angelprime has incubated four companies — ZipDial, Ezetap, SmartOwner, and now HackerEarth.

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Navigator Campus Hopes To Put Russian Hardware Startups On The Map

By   /  February 21, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

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With hardware suddenly all the rage, accelerators devoted entirely to the genre are popping up all over the place. And that includes the far-flung regions of Russia.

The Navigator Campus will be the first private hardware technology park in Russia’s Kazan region. If you’re unsure where that is, well, it’s at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers in European Russia. Ok, nevermind. Suffice to say that the Navigator project will focus on consumer robotics, 3D-printing, smart electronics for “smart home” systems and wearables. And we are talking hard-core Russian tech expertise here.

Navigator is launching with $4 million in backing by founders Ramil Ibragimov (Runa Capital) and Vasil Zakyev (shtrafy-gibdd.ru, Ohmymentor.ru). It may not sound like much, but you can do quite a lot with $4 million in Russia. And they are not stopping there. The GRAVIZapp angel fund, specializing in hardware startups, will co-locate there. And they plan to build a network of hardware hackspaces and accelerators in the region, hoping to raise that funding to top $30 million spread across the region. Thus, neighboring cities like Ufa and Perm will get their own Navigator spaces.

Serguei Beloussov, Runa Capital senior partner and Acronis CEO, believes that access to scientific and business experts, VC mentors and hardware industry players like Dell, Samsung, IBM, Cisco, Intel and Foxconn will mean “we will soon see more venture-backed hardware deals in Russia.”

Some 93 out of 120 spots have already been taken by startups, covering various fields including 3D printing, robots, healthcare hardware, and consumer electronics.

A few hardware projects located there have already raised early money:

• iBlazr – a crowdfunding startup from Kiev (with $150K+ raised on Kickstarter previously) is building a ‘smart’ LED-flashlight for smartphones and tablets.
• Krisaf – robotized gym equipment for accelerated rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy.
• ENNOVA – a startup manufacturing NOVA 3D printers.

“Our ambitious aim for the next 5-10 years is to launch this kind of projects in each and every Russian city with up to 1 million citizens in order to create a powerful hardware-community based on the Russian engineering history,” says Ibragimov, of Navigator.

It sounds like they might just do it. The Russians are coming…

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Strevus Raises $6.5 Million For Financial Compliance Software

By   /  February 20, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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With new compliance requirements looming for already jumpy banks, startup software developer Strevus has raised $6.5 million for its risk and compliance service.

The company raised its first institutional round from lead investor Blumberg Capital and U.S. Venture Partners after picking up seed investments from a who’s who of the technology community, including BlackBerry CEO John ChenKen Goldman, the Yahoo CFO; and former Oracle COO Terry Garnett.

“The world has changed quite a bit with the financial service meltdown, and regulatory compliance is the resulting fact in today’s world,” said Strevus Chief Executive Ken Hoang in an interview.

Think of Strevus as a monitored and managed networking tool to ensure compliance with new regulations for financial services firms that are going to start taking effect this year.

“Compliance is not a competitive advantage today. The government is picking off [financial services firms] institution by institution,” Hoang said.

The first market that Stevrus is looking to address within the alphabet soup of new and updated compliance requirements being issued by the federal government is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

FATCA targets tax evaders in the U.S. who aren’t properly reporting overseas financial accounts, and foreign financial institutions who bank for U.S. taxpayers or foreign entities in which U.S. taxpayers hold a majority stake, according to the IRS’s website.

San Francisco-based Strevus is currently working with a handful of banks on its managed platform, which operates as a networking tool and an industry Rolodex — as well as a compliance offering. “It’s similar to Box with a LinkedIn functionality,” said Hoang. “We’re enabling customers to reach out to others and bring their data in.”

Strevus will sell its service to both buy-side and sell-side firms. On the buy side, the company is targeting banks and financial services firms with assets ranging from $250 million to $1 billion. On the sell side the customer base is the top 20 banks, said Hoang.

A subscription to the Strevus service costs a sell-side customer between $100,000 and $200,000, according to Hoang.

Photo via Flickr user Bloomsberries.

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Varsity News Network Closes $3M Series A To Expand Its High School Athletic Platform Nationwide

By   /  February 17, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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High school sports is big business, but few schools can afford to support a robust athletic website with complete player stats, dynamic schedules and rich media. That’s where Varsity News Network comes in. VNN is today announcing an additional $3 million in funding to scale nationwide and launch its first app.

The Series A was led by Arsenal Venture Partners, with participation including, but not limited to, North Coast Technology Ventures, RSL Venture Partners, Start Garden, Grand Angels, Northern Michigan Angels, First Step Fund, Muskegon Angels and the Michigan Angel Fund.

Started just over two years ago, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company boasts 250 schools in 14 states currently using the VNN platform.

Essentially, VNN provides turnkey websites for high school athletic departments that work alongside existing programs and pulls in media from social channels. The result is a professional-looking website that is rich in data that most schools can afford and easily manage. Moreover, while local media often covers high school sports, they tend to focus on superstars. VNN gives all players an opportunity for fame.

The resulting website doesn’t seem like much more than a simple WordPress theme, but the schools are apparently loving it. The company’s current customer counts were acquired on just $552K from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund and a partial close of $1.09 million last February. The new round of financing will go towards scaling operations to get more schools signed up.

“In just over two years we’ve grown the VNN platform to include more than 250 schools in 14 states, supporting hundreds of thousands of students and their families,” said Ryan Vaughn, co- founder and CEO of VNN, in a released statement today. “With this capital, we are poised to grow even faster and reach the 40 million students and family members who are left out of traditional sports media coverage.”

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Alternate Options to Raising Venture Capital: Alternate Funding Round Table

By   /  February 17, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

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CrowdFunding: Alternate Options to Raising Venture Capital on Silicon Valley Smart Money
with Sydney Armani , Danae Ringelmann , Robert Mitchel Nancy Hayes

Tags: indiegogo-crowdfundbeat-crowdfunding

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PeoplesVC partners with MIT Enterprise Forum to bring early stage high technology deals to all Americans

By   /  February 16, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

Through a sponsorship with the MIT Enterprise Forum, PeoplesVC seeks to identify promising emerging high technology startups and help these startups raise capital from the general public.

“I am excited about the prospect of opening up investment opportunities in promising high technology companies to all Americans,” commented Akhil Garland, CEO of PeoplesVC, Inc, “a new wave of capital formation is coming, and it is thrilling to help create new, meaningful jobs in our country,” Garland added.

SOURCE:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/peoplesvc-partners-with-mit-enterprise-forum-to-bring-early-stage-high-technology-deals-to-all-americans-245185701.html

Tags: crowd-funding, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, mit-enterprise-forum, peoplesvc, technology

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Marc Andreessen: Tech Is Still Recovering From A Depression

By   /  February 13, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale and Goldman Sachs COO Gary Cohn sat down today at the Goldman Sachs conference in San Francisco, to talk about the thing investors always talk about: Tech.

The Netscape founder, taking the same stance he’s had for years, was ever the ebullient optimist. (Because what else are VCs paid to do?)

He argued that advances in mobile and chip-making technology signaled exponential expansion of the market. He said tech isn’t overhyped and could have “decades” of growth ahead of it. Echoing economist Carlota Perez’s research, he said world-changing technologies like the web usually settle into a more mature deployment phase after an initial period of hype and investor frenzy.

Andreessen was hopeful about how the Internet of Things could transform the way people live, and credited Moore’s law with the potential to put a chip in everything: “What if we chipped every kid? What if we chipped every dog?”

Both Andreessen and Lonsdale said this Cambrian explosion of software and hardware companies like Anki and Oculus VR (both A16z investments) is a boon for big data and security startups.

Andreessen was basically repeating his famous argument that “software is eating the world.” So Cohn took a moment to remind him that the financial-services industry was the only thing that Andreessen said software couldn’t eat.

Cohn asked if Andreessen has reevaluated his stance, because the investor’s new pet technology is Bitcoin. Cohn said the crypto-currency was like “a pure attempt for software to eat the financial-services industry.”

Andreessen is famously bullish on Bitcoin.

“I would not encourage your grandmother to put her life savings in it,” he said. “[But] every single smart computer science person I’ve had look into it has reached the same conclusion — it’s a fundamental breakthrough in technology.”

He gushed: “For the first 20 years of the Internet, you couldn’t do this … Bitcoin is the first Internet-native approach of dealing with money. He said that corrupt governments and flimsy central banking systems would be Bitcoin’s true test.

“The prospect of a new technology is a big deal once you get out of the West,” he said.

Lonsdale used Bitcoin as an example of “how industries work” and “how they should work” and views healthcare and education as some of the biggest targets for reform.

“It’s very clear that all these systems were built back in the 70s and 80s. You’re seeing these giant gaps that are being filled in.” He was also weary of social media investments in 2014, because he wants entrepreneurs to make bigger bets.

“Is this something that’s pushing the world towards the way it should be?” he asked.

Andreessen said our current moment in time fits right into Perez’s model of technological and societal change. (She wrote a pretty influential book in the investor community called “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital.”)

Andreessen said we’re in the “deployment” phase. He brought up Perez’s cycle of new fundamental technologies: At first they’re not taken seriously, then way too seriously, then there’s a financial crash and then the same amount of seriousness.

“Tech is recovering from the depression,” Andreessen said, referring to the 2008 financial crash, and insinuating that we are now in a sweet spot. “The ratio of public tech PEs [price-to-earnings ratios] versus public industrial PEs, tech is undervalued. Relatively, tech PE ratios are really low. I know a tech company with a PE of six. We’re so far away from bubble territory that it’s unfair to compare this to the late 90s.”

Andreessen touched briefly upon recent strife between the tech industry and longtime San Francisco residents. He called recent protests “misguided,” but he seemed sympathetic.

“They are attacking the demand for housing [whereas the discussion should be] around the supply of housing,” Andreessen said. “Market forces want the Valley to expand; if our politicians show leadership, we have decades of growth ahead of us.”

When asked by Cohn the loaded question: “When does a venture fund know when it’s gotten too big?” Andreessen again referred to the broad potential of venture investing.

“For top tiers, the investable universe is only 100-200 companies,” he said, emphasizing that only about 15 of those are hits. “Perhaps that’s the rate in which the economy can support new ideas. Right now we’ve got 15 good ones, but that number could double and VC would need to increase to support it. I can’t wait to see what the answer is,” he said. 

Neither can we, Marc. Neither can we.

Image by Flickr user JD Lasica under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license by permission

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