This makes me wonder whether “venture” companies are going to be a driving force for raising the standard of living for the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” in the developing world. My venture capital colleagues regularly explain that there are two types of businesses. Some businesses are poised for slow but regular growth. Those businesses might not be rapidly scalable without increasing human capital investment, but often create great wealth and benefit for entrepreneurs and employees.
The other type of business is the type venture capitalists are seeking. Venture capitalists require a very high (sometimes 10x) return over a short period of time and a likely potential exit. To achieve this level of growth, businesses must be able to scale rapidly with minimal human capital. The result is that venture-type businesses are often technology businesses that don’t require large, well-trained workforces. Venture investors and founders typically capture the vast majority of the financial upside, and job creation isn’t a focus of these types of businesses.
This leads me to question whether venture-type financing is the best way to support businesses that are intended to create “social change”. My empirical experience indicates that many companies that are receiving “impact capital” are not poised for 10x growth or a large exit. They are more like the first type of business, poised for solid but measured growth. It is nearly universally accepted that the micro-finance industry has had an incredibly positive impact on business development, successful entrepreneurship and personal autonomy in the developing world. However, this success cannot necessarily be scaled just by investing more capital.
I would posit that too much capital poses significant risks to the viability of businesses that aren’t prepared for rapid scaling, and that venture-type companies that can scale rapidly to an exit are not likely the types of companies that will create the jobs and dispersed wealth that will created lasting social change. Ms. Freeland notes that Carlos Slim (a Mexican Mega-Billionaire) is now the wealthiest man who has ever lived (in real dollars). Impact investors must be careful to not just fund a new generation of “wealthy few” in the developing world.