"On the line is with Cris Fisher, General Partner at Something Ventures, who is here to tell us more about the Source Code Financial acquisition. Thanks for joining us, Cris."
Cris forced a smile at the Skype window. She had made a makeshift studio in her office to try and look better on the broadcast. Her standing desk was cranked to its highest setting to make a makeshift camera support, and even then, she'd had to balance her laptop on a pile of books to reach the right height. Every desk lamp she could find was pointed at her, and she'd pinned some startup materials to the back wall as a more interesting visual backdrop. Of course, the camera was her webcam, and this was a show on a webstream-only financial channel that might not have any audience at all, so maybe it didn't matter. "Great to be here."
"Cris, this is an exciting announcement. First, can you quickly explain what venture capital is, and how it's different to, say, private equity or an investment from an individual?"
"Sure. So, what makes venture capital different is risk. We're looking at technology businesses that are incredibly risky. That might be because they're super young and it's not obvious that they're going to work out, or because they're still growing and capturing their market. It's not businesses that are established and are sure fire bets. So we put money into a company at these risky stages, and get a piece of ownership of the company in return. The more money we put in, the more we own. And our bet is that some of these companies will grow incredibly quickly and return ten, twenty, thirty times our investment.
"We do all of this on behalf of other investors - what we call our Limited Partners, who might be pension funds or other institutions, which have some money set aside for riskier investments. They put money into what we call a fund, which is going to be a certain amount of Limited Partner money, and our aim is to return a multiple of that money in a fixed period of time. To be concrete about that, our last fund, Something Ventures Fund III, was a $330 million fund, so we're aiming to see almost a billion dollars returned to our Limited Partners after a decade or so. And we see a return that we can pass back to those LPs when startups experience something called an exit: they're either acquired by another company, or they launch an IPO on the public markets."
"Thank you. Can you tell us who these Limited Partners are?"
"Like I said, they're pension funds, university endowments, and that kind of thing. I can't tell you exactly who they are, because our agreements with them protect their anonymity. Any VC fund in the Valley will say the same thing."
"So tell us about the Source Code Financial announcement."
"Yeah, so, we're excited to be joining them. Source Code Financial is, of course, the biggest fund in Silicon Valley. Their flagship innovation fund is investing one hundred and thirty billion dollars in one hundred and twenty growth-stage startups. And we're coming on board to start a new fund with them for those very early stage companies that we think have promise in the long term."
"What kind of businesses are you looking to invest in?"
"Well, Source Code Financial's flagship fund looks for market leaders, and asks what they would do differently if money was no object. It's a strategy that was pioneered by SoftBank and others, but they've put some rocket fuel into it. We're going to be looking at companies that have the potential to lead new markets two to five years in the future - and particularly markets where data is core to how they establish a sustainable competitive advantage. Our sweet spot is companies that use data in new ways to infer new insights about the world around us, and transfer those insights into more optimized services that meaningfully transform industries."
"Data is the new oil, after all."
"That's what they say."
"Cris Fisher, thank you very much."
The Skype call ended, and Cris took a step back, alone in her office.
She hadn't expected to take the call and be on a web stream this morning; Brad, the Managing Partner, had called her from an Uber, panic-stricken, because the Source Code folks had called him in to a last minute meeting. Hopefully it wasn't something catastrophic.
The truth was that competition was hot: there were more venture capital firms in Silicon Valley than ever before. Finding the Limited Partners to put money into a fund wasn't necessarily difficult, but competing with the other funds to find the best startups to invest in was. Joining up with a larger firm was going to be a headache in lots of ways, but it was the best way to draw attention and have a chance of attracting the founders that everybody wanted a piece of.
Carefully, she removed her laptop from the pile of books and took them one by one back to the bookshelf in the corner of the room. There were five pitches to see today, and - hopefully, if he got back in time - a meeting with Brad. Maybe there was time for a coffee in between.
A notification popped up on her watch, and she swiped it away reflexively. "President Escalates Anti-Immigrant Attacks."
Alice took another look at her piece. Seven hundred and forty words about one venture capital firm acquiring another. It was mostly a puff piece; hardly the hard-hitting journalism she'd had in mind as an idealistic journalism student, but it's what the editors wanted. They were cheerleaders for innovation and technology, not skeptics. Their audience was excited about the technology industry, and they needed to help them find the breathless information they needed. The entire business stayed afloat through advertising impressions, so it was imperative that they wrote pieces that kept their readers coming back in numbers - all with a high ad to word count ratio. That meant yes to announcements and rumors about the next iPhone; no to long-form investigative journalism or unpopular opinions1.
Click. Off it went to the editor for final approval. The notification popped up in their automatic Slack channel. The audible knocking sound Slack made was like a weird insect language, and she could never quite bring herself to turn it off. She liked to think that somewhere inside her laptop was a tiny, friendly ant who just wanted to say hello.
She took out her earbuds and looked around the coffee shop. This time of day, it was an even split between laptop warriors on their MacBook Pros, churning out code or working on a deck, and elderly San Francisco veterans who had somehow managed to hang onto their homes either through rent control or because they'd bought them decades ago. The coffee was horribly burned and the tables were sticky, but the coffee shop was a throwback to when Folger's was considered a decent cup and everybody had time to sit down and talk politics for hours on end. These days, nobody had time, and the coffee shop had needed to install wifi to stay in business. For the laptop warriors, it was cheaper than a coworking space. For the veterans, it was one of the remnants of the San Francisco they had fallen in love with.
There wasn't much time to waste - Alice had to write a certain number of pieces a day if she was going to meet her quota - but she allowed herself a moment to order another coffee. It wasn't fancy; a brewed drip coffee in a white ceramic cup with round edges. The cup was probably older than she was. Potentially, the beans, too. But hey, refills were a dollar.
She opened Twitter to see if there was any breaking news she should know about. There was the President saying something racist (must be Tuesday); there was a tiny headline about famine in Yemen; and a Brady Bunch reunion. And something about employees at one of the big tech firms rebelling against a military contract. That was old news, but the story was ongoing. There had been a big splash about how the company was going to pull out of the contract after many of its employees objected to their work being used to kill people overseas; in all likelihood, they'd found a way to continue the contract by using a company to act as a middleman. They wouldn't be seen to be directly selling to the military, because the middleman company would handle the contracts. But they wouldn't lose out on the hundreds of millions of dollars the contract was worth.
Of course, she couldn't write about that.
Time to spend eight hundred words on the new Mac Mini instead.