According to this article by Arlene Jacobius in Pension and Investments Online, 50% of all investment in venture capital is a loss. This article, which is based upon separate research projects by a Chicago Graduate School of Business professor and a former Chief Economist at the SEC, indicates that the actual return on venture capital investment is not much different from the average annualized returns on the smallest NASDAQ stocks. In particular, the return on venture capital investment from 1987 to 2001 in these smallest stocks was 62% as compared to the 59% mean return of venture capital funds. This 59% value certainly does not reflect the investing public’s general perception that venture capital return on investment markedly outweighs what one can obtain on the stock market. And, it is this apparently erroneous assumption of perceived higher return that presumably justifies the risks associated with venture capital investment by the public. Investor perception certainly does not match investment reality for venture capital.
Why this disconnect between perception and reality on venture capital returns? Professor Cochrane, the Chicago GSB professor, posits that, in effect, traditional methods of measuring venture capital return do not take into account the fact that ventures that are a total loss disappear and are not measured. Because these losing ventures are not around to be measured for calculation of rate of returns, Professor Cochrane states that this survivor bias significantly skews the rates of return on venture capital. His simple explanation of the effect of these missing numbers is telling (quoting from the Jacobius article): “They collect the returns for everybody that is around,” he said. “It is like collecting data from everyone still in the casino: They’re not asking the people on the bus … who are on their way home.”