Venture Summit Silicon Valley 8/9 December 2009

There are three kinds of people who come to the AlwaysOn Venture Summit:

  • investors
  • startups looking for investors
  • people looking to provide services to investors and startups

Of the people I talked to, there seemed to be about an even balance of numbers between the three groups. Not very many corporate venture people; most of the investors were from firms whose primary business is running funds. The startup people came in for the demonstration sessions on Tuesday. There were a significant number of people from banks and law firms.

Even more than most events, the presentation content was less than half the reason for attending - the main benefit was the hallway conversations. The day and a half was a comparatively relaxed speed networking event - everyone was there to describe what they were doing and to understand what the others were doing, in short bursts of one-on-one conversation. I'd gone thinking that the major market for Cunning Systems' technical advice was the investors - in addition, a number of the startups expressed interest in getting insight into how we'd describe them to an prospective investor. Platform choices, scaling, and 'cloud' operations all seemed to be areas where they could acknowledge that external help might be worthwhile. Since the growth of Facebook and Twitter, with their well publicized scaling problems, people have a ready reference for understanding that good ideas, implemented as prototypes, need carefull platform choices and some care in systems architecture if they are to be grown from supporting a few thousand to several million users.

Bill Gurley (Benchmark) had perhaps the most interesting content. He reviewed the slow, but likely to be long term, changes in the requirements of the foundations, pension funds and University endowments who are the main sources for venture funds. David Swensen's 'Yale model' while very sucessful in normal times caused hugh and self reinforcing losses when the credit crisis created an urgent requirement for liquidity - consequently it is likely that the proportion of their assets being invested in private equity, of which venture is a small part, is likely to diminish. New funds for venture are likely to come from Middle and Far East sovereign wealth funds looking for higher returns (with commensurate risk) than are obtainable from US Treasuries.
Like Paul Kwan from Morgan Stanley, he is optimistic about the prospects for IPOs and increased numbers of successful exits in 2010.

The Rosewood at Sandhill was a great location for the event, although there had been significant underestimation of the number of attendees for the first day.

Summit agenda
Other commentary via Twitter hashtag #vssv09