Since the post-Enron regulation that doubled the time needed for startups to go public, VCs have been thirsty for liquidity. The recent pullback in funding from LPs has left the VC community even more parched.
With fewer exit possibilities and less money to keep late-stage companies afloat, the venture capital ecosystem is in for a serious overhaul. But VCs are no strangers to rapid adaptation. The thirst for liquidity has driven an increase in second-market stock trading, most notoriously in the case of Facebook, whose stockholders have been busy trading shares on the not-so down-low.
Some VCs see opportunity in the current cash-flow crunch. Tim Draper, whose various funds invest in over 500 startups, unveiled one of his latest investments, XChange, at Venture Summit East in late May. XChange is a trading platform for private-company stock where VCs, equity holders, and qualified buyers can trade restricted assets based on a tightly-controlled system for sharing private company information. I caught up with Draper and CEO Thomas Foley at Venture Summit East--the embedded video has a 4-minute story XChange’s birth.
In the East Coast, a similar company called SecondMarket has been trading restricted assets for several years, and has seen an uptick in private-company stock trades over the last year and a half. CEO Barry Silbert told me he anticipates the liquidity crisis will give rise to a new collaborative approach to VC funding. “Over the past year alone, we’ve done about a billion dollars [in transactions], we have about 3,000 buyers signed up to SecondMarket and that number’s growing very very fast, and we’re at that inflection point in our business where liquidity begets liquidity.”
So far, these secondary market platforms have earned a nod of approval from executives at big exchanges. Carolyn Saacke, Managing Director of NYSE, capital markets told me the NYSE thinks "that the secondary markets are a fantastic entry into the financial and liquidity space.”
One big question is whether these secondary markets are a short-term patch for a temporary IPO drought, or a more permanent fixture in the VC ecosystem. Increased regulation, long-term unpredictability, and, perhaps, the entrance of the more collaboratively minded We Generation into the VC world all bode well for the longevity of secondary-market platforms.