Oct 12, 2009
The rationale for naming this blog nicheVC is best summed up with a quick survey of my career. As several of my mentors have stated, you are what you do – as a VC, you are what you own. Over the last twenty-five years, I have passionately, persistently endeavored to learn from, serve, invest in and derive intellectual, social and financial returns from education. Albeit a broad one, education happens to be my niche.
As a VC, my thesis is that you ought to have something, anything that you know a great deal about, where you have a referenceable track record, a sector – or industry – or product typology where you have a pattern of success. In the mid-1980s, I chose education as my niche, which today, in the U.S., represents a trillion dollar industry screaming for innovation. I look for entrepreneurs who are solving huge problems in the K-12 and post-secondary sectors, know respective markets well, and have the necessary fire-in-the-belly to survive the bootstrapping phase and derive profitable unit or customer level economics. In turn, education entrepreneurs seem to want an investor who has backed industry predecessors and who knows the education markets, end users, business models that have worked (and NOT worked) and the path to liquidity.
I have spent two and a half decades working with and looking for pedagogues, administrators, entrepreneurs, investors and even parents who have helped and continue to help move the needle in education. I have made over 15 education investments, in great, now public companies such as American Public Education, Blackboard and Capella Education, in growth companies such as Overture Technologies, Questar Assessment andSpectrum K12, and in innovative emerging companies such as Flat World Knowledge, Moodlerooms and Starfish Retention Solutions. My blended returns in education are better than 3X cash-on-cash. K-12 has proven more challenging than post-secondary, but I see that changing.
Though there are a plethora of VCs who have been singed or worse by education investing and those who have been fearful to tread thereon, I remain glass half full and believe that if enough smart, patient people get out of bed every day with the intent of improving K-20 education, the world will be a better place and many will be rewarded along the way. While I exist in a diversified investment platform within my firm, my focus is on the education industry.
One thing is clear, as a venture investor, perhaps as in any profession, you should do what you know, what you love, what you think about when you go to bed and what gets you up early in the morning. You become expert in a field over time, develop a track record and a network to leverage situationally. For me, this niche is education.
So, what’s in a niche? EVERYTHING.