The Power Of Diversification (Investing In Startups)

You need to make enough investments to be confident that you will get at least one big winner. And so that means making enough bets. By Fred Wilson (Managing Partner, Flatiron Partners & Union Square Ventures)

Investing in startups is risky. If you make just one investment, you are likely going to lose everything. If you make two, you are still likely to lose money. If you make five, you might get all your money back across all five investments. If you make ten, you might start making money on the aggregate set of investments.

The math behind this is pretty simple. If you assume that the average startup has a 33% chance of making money for the investors, a 33% chance of returning capital, and a 33% chance of losing everything and that only 10% will make a big return (>10x), then you can model this out.

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All the profit in that ten investment portfolio comes from the big winner. If you don't make that investment, you would have made nine investments for a total of $450,000 and you would have gotten back $450,000. You would have been better keeping the money in the bank.

So you need to make enough investments to be confident that you will get at least one big winner. And so that means making enough bets. There's another important aspect of this. You should invest roughly the same amount in every investment. Don't try to pick the winners at the time of investment by putting more in the ones that are "sure things" and less in the ones you are less sure about. The only sure thing about startup investing is that there are no "sure things."

» Read the full article at Fred Wilon's blog.