Several days ago, Paul Graham, co-founder of noted Silicon Valley accelerator Y-Combinator (YC), wrote an exceptional post, “Black Swan Farming,” observing how crazy difficult it is to predict success in the startup space, and noting that just two companies – Airbnb and Dropbox – account for about 75% of the total value created by all YC-associated companies.
Yesterday, Dave McClure (the white-hot seed-stage Silicon Valley investor, familiar to readers of this column – see this discussion of his small bets style in connection with digital health) responded in a post titled (what else?) “Screw the Black Swans” that his investment model (at 500 Startups) is slightly different.
While most VCs are looking for the big score, McClure said, he’s deliberately seeking singles and doubles, which he basically expects will result in a similar expected value for his portfolio but reduce the chances of getting shut-out. He anticipates and is hoping for a greater number of successes (albeit more modest ones) than achieved by other VCs.
This will be a familiar dialog not only to investors but also to those in biopharma (who perhaps should be thought of as investors as well), as they continuously need to decide whether to go for a risky potential blockbuster or more of a sure-thing that ostensibly may be associated with a smaller market.
I’ve been fascinated with this exact question for a while (see here and here), and I’ve always looked at the problem a bit differently than McClure – which, if I’m right, may actually be good news for him.