Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Investing In Innovation? All The VCs Are Looking For New Fees Rather Than New Startups

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 9, 2009

juergen-popp.jpg I recently caught up with Jurgen Popp, one of the top European angel investors. He was in town attending a VC conference and also tending to some of his US investments, including the rapidly growing Smart Health Buyer -- a US version of a very successful German startup.

From his perch in Zurich, Switzerland, Mr Popp gets to mix in European and US VC circles. And because he is an angel investor, he is often able to say things that others can't. Here are some notes from our meeting:

- I recently attended a large VC conference in San Francisco. The VCs all seemed interested in what types of new fees they could charge their investors rather than looking for new startup ideas.

- There were about five angel investors at the VC conference and it was easy to spot each other because we were the only ones asking questions about business rather than about fees. We all ended up sitting at the same table.

- The US VCs love to portray themselves as risk takers but they are not. It's the entrepreneurs that take the risks.

- There is very little VC activity in Europe right now, it seems to have virtually disappeared.

- There's a lot of activity among VC firms selling and buying portfolios, but a lot are being sold at 15% to 25% on the dollar.

- The way some of the US VCs behave they are killing innovation. They will join together to drive down valuations and take as much equity as they can from the founders.

- There are a lot of companies waiting in the wings to IPO. But I wonder if it is worth it for some of them. If they raise $50m on a $200m valuation much of that money will go in fees to bankers and lawyers.

- I believe there will be a rebound in VC investing in 2010 because by that time there will have been a rebound in stock markets -- maybe a doubling of where we stand today. That will free up money to be invested in startups.

- I'm already seeing a bit more activity. More people are calling, and there is a lot more interest in investing in small companies. That will grow over the next few months.

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