The Decade of Digital Assets

Like many small businesses, Portico had a difficult year.

(It didn’t start off with the best of outlooks, tbh).

Covid shifted project timetables several months to the right, and it materially impacted our clients’ fundraising plans. Some projects we were working on just died on the vine.

As a result, Portico went ~6 months without a penny of cash flow, and some projects we invested scores of hours of energy in delivered $0 to the income statement.

We didn’t take out a PPP loan and dissaved from the company coffers. I think that was the right decision, but it leaves less room for maneuver and new initiatives.

One benefit of this stress test of the business was the affirmation of the need to pivot.

I’ve been testing market demand for a business in the secondary space, but a scalable business model for it remains elusive.

(Last year’s idea fell flat, even though 2020 has been a SPAC bonanza).

Candidly, I’ve been too focused on finding an incremental solution to a problem in a shrinking market, as opposed to starting from first principles and generating a novel idea in a growing market.

The upside is I’ve rectified this recently and unlocked an exciting idea that brings me energy.

One successful initiative for the year was the launch of the Portico Podcast (more below the fold). It’s been a fun experience so far, and I’ve received enthusiastic feedback, which has been nice. 

* * *

So, what next?

A few predictions for the decade ahead …

1. The Decade of Digital Assets

We are in the very early stages of migrating toward an entirely new internet — one that is open, decentralized, and contains extraordinary possibilities for the reconfiguration and exchange of value.

I mentioned Otis last year, but another example you may want to look at is the NBA’s Top Shot — an officially licensed marketplace that enables individuals to own highlight reels of their favorite players. It’s like trading baseball cards but with a globally active secondary market for cards and live transaction comps for pricing. Each asset’s fidelity, scarcity, and ownership are verified through registration on the blockchain.

There’s also bitcoin. I wrote about cryptocurrencies vs. the U.S. dollar last year. But now Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma has joined the fray. I think institutional adoption of bitcoin will happen at scale over the next 10 years. (Disclosure: long BTC).

These are just a few examples, but the digitization of assets is going to be enormous.

 * * *

2. Single-Asset, GP-led Secondaries

There is a crisis of illiquidity in EM private markets. 

I’ve been digging into this as part of my research into a scalable business model in the secondaries space, and I estimate that there are ~1,200 PE and VC fund managers sitting on ~7,000 un-exited investments across EM.

(These figures are for funds with vintage years 2008-14).

Distributions from EM funds have been poor, and they’ve undershot the global PE benchmark every year (see below).

There is a clear problem here that GP-led secondaries can help solve: identifying sub-scale assets that — once liberated from the confines of the PE fund model — can pursue long-term growth initiatives with a reasonable return profile.

With a different shareholder base and investment structure, companies can pursue a broader range of growth strategies, and investors’ returns may be less contingent on a liquidity event.

I think we’ll see more EM GPs use these vehicles in the decade ahead.

But, if you’re interested in EM direct secondaries in general, I’ve been doing research in this space and may be able to help you out.

Click here to send me a note.

* * *

3. New Financing Structures

DFIs are distancing themselves from the traditional fund model as a means for non-bank financial intermediation in EM. This is unfortunate for smaller fund managers that depend on DFI capital to get / stay in business, but it is what it is.

I’m cautiously optimistic that this will create space for new, creative forms of financing for un- and under-banked enterprises.

As one example, the team at CrossBoundary Group has open sourced their project financing model for mini-grids, and I think this collaborative approach to generating shared prosperity is a glimpse of the future.

 * * *

Most of us have been trapped inside and deprived of foreign travel for a calendar year.

I am very much looking for the explosion of energy and excitement that people will exhibit once this pandemic is behind us.

Until then, I have a gift for you.

Please don your favorite set of noise-cancelling headphones and prepare to immerse yourself in 4 minutes and 30 seconds of transcendent bliss. 

Don’t multitask.

Set a timer if you must.

Just click this link to escape to the Cañon del Sumidero in Chiapas, Mexico.

Glimpse majestic natural beauty. Listen to a magical tune. Ponder the possibilities of human ingenuity and creativity.

Health, wealth, and happiness to you and yours.

Abrazos,
Mike


Weijian Shan on Leverage and Turnarounds in Asia

In the latest episode of the Portico Podcast, I interviewed Weijian Shan, the Chairman and CEO of PAG — a leading Asia-focused alternative assets firm with ~$40B in AUM. 

It was a real honor to have Shan on the podcast, as his life story is remarkable.

If you haven’t read his memoir Out of the Gobi yet, I heartily encourage you to do so. It’s an extraordinary book that recounts Shan’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution — particularly the six years he spent doing hard labor in a re-education camp — and the transformative impact that the normalization of U.S.-China relations and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reformshad on China generally, and on Shan in particular.

And he’s just written a new book called Money Games, which details the rescue of one of Korea’s largest banks on the heels of the Asian Financial Crisis.

In addition to his books, Shan and I discuss the importance of stakeholder analysis when structuring private equity investments; whether there is a problem of too much debt in the Chinese economy; SOE reform, and the prospects for China’s economic rebalancing toward domestic consumption; the institutionalization of private equity in Asia; and, his advice for younger people who wish to pursue a career in private equity, among other topics.

If you need to catch up on past episodes on your new device over the holidays, we’ve got you covered:


Grab Bag

  • Has persistence persisted in private equity? Evidence from buyout and venture capital funds (link)
     
  • Do private equity investors create value? Evidence from the hotel industry (link)
     
  • The failure of the standard model of institutional investment (link)
     
  • Special deals from special investors: the rise of state-connected private owners in China (link)
     
  • Ben Thompson on Stripe and financial infrastructure (link)
     
  • France broadens retail investor access to private equity (link)
     
  • RBI toying with idea to allow industrial houses into banking (link)
     
  • Are venture capitalists deforming capitalism? (link)

From the Bookshelf

This age of globalization has made it easy to imagine that the decades ahead will bring more convergence and more sameness. Even our everyday language suggests we believe in a kind of technological end of history: the division of the world into the so-called developed and developing nations implies that the “developed” world has already achieved the achievable, and that poorer nations just need to catch up. But I don’t think that’s true. My own answer to the contrarian question is that most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more.

— Peter Thiel, Zero to One (Currency: 2014)

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The information presented in this newsletter is for informational purposes only. Portico Advisers does not undertake to update this material and the opinions and conclusions contained herein may change without notice. Portico Advisers does not make any warranty that the information in this newsletter is error-free, omission-free, complete, accurate, or reliable. Nothing contained in this newsletter should be construed as legal, tax, securities, or investment advice.

Copyright © by Portico Advisers, LLC 2020, all rights reserved.

Ep. 3: Fintech & Financial Inclusion



In the third episode of The Portico Podcast I speak with Monica Brand Engel — a co-founding Partner at Quona Capital, a venture capital firm focused on fintech for inclusion in emerging markets.

If you’ve looked into EM fintech, you’ve probably come across Quona and their portfolio companies.

For example:

  • Sokowatch in East Africa, a working capital provider and last-mile distributor of fast-moving consumer goods to informal retailers;
  • Coins in the Philippines, a mobile, branchless, blockchain-based platform that provides unbanked and underbanked customers with direct access to basic financial services (and which was acquired by Go-Jek in 2019);
  • Or Konfio, a digital banking and software platform for SMEs in Mexico, which received a $100m investment from Softbank as well as a $100m secured credit facility from Goldman Sachs last year.

I was excited to get Monica on the podcast because she has built a career in two of the most compelling themes around: financial inclusion and financial technology.

Our discussion opens with her walking us through her career trajectory. We then talk about the convergence between philanthropic and commercial investment across emerging markets; the commonalities and idiosyncrasies across the markets in which Quona invests; the quality of fintech entrepreneurship in EM; the prospects for technological and business model innovation to migrate from emerging markets to the United States and Western Europe; and the biggest obstacles fintech startups encounter as they attempt to scale, among other topics.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.


This podcast was recorded in October 2020.

Ep. 1: Early-stage VC in Africa



I’m delighted to kick off the podcast with Aniko Szigetvari and Ik Kanu.

Aniko and Ik are the founding partners of Atlantica Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on six of the largest markets in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Aniko has over 20 years of experience investing in emerging markets, of which over 17 have been focused on the technology, media and telecom vertical.

Aniko has been investing in Africa for the past 15 years and she has built up a wide range of contacts across the continent and other emerging markets. Prior to starting Atlantica Ventures (‘AV’) Aniko was the Global Head of the TMT group at the International Finance Corporation, where she managed a team of ~50 professionals who sat in eight regional hubs from Colombia to Singapore.


Ik has over 10 years of African private equity experience, with an additional nine years working in technology and consulting in the United States.

Prior to starting AV, Ik was a principal at Convergence Partners — an Africa-focused TMT fund — and before that he spent five years with Helios Investment Partners. At both PE funds, Ik was seconded to portfolio companies into temporary operational management positions where he troubleshot issues across different stages — from growth to turnaround. Ik is a Class 23 Kauffman Fellow, one of the world’s premier innovation, leadership, and venture capital-focused programs.


In our discussion, we talk about why Aniko and Ik decided to team up to found a venture capital firm, whether the continent is ready for institutional VC investments, how Africa compares to other emerging markets, and how Covid-19 is impacting the startup landscape in their target markets.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

This podcast was recorded in April 2020.