Volatility and Venture Capital

Ryan Peters, Tulane University

Abstract: The performance of venture capital (VC) investments load positively on shocks to aggregate return volatility. I document this novel source of risk at the asset-class, fund, and portfolio-company levels. The positive relation between VC performance and volatility is driven by the option-like structure of VC investments, especially by VCs’ contractual option to invest in subsequent (follow-on) rounds. At the asset-class level, shocks to aggregate volatility explain a substantial fraction of VC returns. At the fund level, consistent with the follow-on investment channel, this exposure is concentrated in years two through four of fund life and in early-stage VC funds, which have more embedded follow-on investment options. For VC-backed portfolio companies, volatility shocks correlate with faster and more frequent follow-on investment. The level of volatility at the time of initial investment has no relation with future performance, consistent with competitive markets. Overall, my results imply that the option-like features of VC investments are first-order determinants of risk in VC.

Read the full working paper here.