1. “We're in the top quartile.”
quartile, and this may be because getting there can be accomplished through statistical sleights of hand, such as excluding deals done by a departed partner, or tailoring the statistical sample to maximise relative performance (i.e., the top quartile for sub-$200 million growth equity funds based in Arkansas).
2. “We add value.”
The only thing rarer than a bottom-quartile private equity fund is a GP which claims to only pursue returns through financial engineering. A GP which thinks that the attempt to add value is some sort of differentiating factor has clearly not spent any time with other GPs.
3. “We have sector expertise.”
Guys – you're supposed to have sector expertise. This is a prerequisite, not a badge of distinction. Should I be impressed that you don't buy companies in industries you've never heard of? And by the way, having done one deal in the pipeline services space isn't sector expertise. It's on-the-job training paid for by the partnership.
4. “We have proprietary deal flow.”
Why am I suppressing the urge to make the four-finger “air quote” when you say “proprietary”? Do you buy companies from entrepreneurs who would prefer not to prioritise value? Do you define “limited auctions” as proprietary? Does anyone actually participate in auctions?
5. “We're not smart enough to time the market.”
Finally – some humility. And yet this raises some important issues. You're not smart enough to time the market, but have you been lucky enough? Your last investment cycle benefited from a massive swell in the stock market and an historic orgy of debt issuance. Please remind me again how you've added value? I also take it that any suggestion that it's not the right time for a massive new fundraising will be quashed.
6. “We've sized the fund to match the opportunity.”
That's interesting – the size of the market opportunity seems to match exactly the soft-circled investor demand you measured during fund pre-marketing. It's also notable that the investment opportunity has seemed to increase by 75 percent with each successive fundraising.
7.“There's less competition at our end of the market.”
You either mean you're so small that you pay lower multiples for your portfolio companies, or you're so large that very few other players can write the kinds of cheques you do, or you're so in the middle that the giants and Lilliputians never tread in your space. Whatever it is, may I ask: if your space is so great, why are you the only one in it?
8. “Unlike others, we avoided the excesses of the last bubble.”
Okay fine – you didn't back Pets.com, start a CLEC or bundle Alt-A mortgages. But let's go further. Did you do a dividend recap? Did you cease deal-making when purchase multiples rose above 7 times EBITDA? Did you turn away capital from LPs because you thought it would place you outside the space in which you built your track record? Did you not make hay when the sun shone?
9. “We're targeting a paradigm shift.”
Should you be charging a management fee, since the paradigm shift is going to be doing all the work for you? Are you going to tell the seller about the coming paradigm shift or would that ruin the deal?
10.“We have a stable of operating partners.”
If I come to your office at 9am on a Monday, will the 70-year old retired CEO of ABC Industrial Corporation be at his desk banging through a P&L spreadsheet and then off to an afternoon flight to Kalamazoo, Michigan to recruit a regional sales manager? Or is this a guy with an excellent golf game who convinces his buddy at DEF Industrial Corporation to sell his ball-bearings division to you?