Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Best Buy's VC arm gets slammed

Eric Wieffering's column in the business section of the Star Tribune calls Best Buy to task for, as far as I can tell, having a VC arm at all. The criticism is oddly nonspecific: "The returns from investing directly in start-ups seem less tangible." "A less charitable take would be that it has all the makings of a vanity project."

Given that Best Buy Ventures dates from 2008, it is probably too soon to evaluate in terms of purely financial returns. But I think Wieffering just doesn't get the concept, as this paragraph demonstrates:

But Best Buy could achieve many of the same objectives by investing directly with a venture capital fund. The market for vetting business plans and sorting winners and losers is already highly efficient, while Best Buy's own track record in this regard is somewhat mixed. It would be hard to make the case that consumers were clamoring for another streaming music service in 2008, for example, when Best Buy paid $121 million for Napster, which is now for sale.

* Investing in a VC fund doesn't get you access to startup companies. (CalPERS doesn't come to Tintri board meetings.) In fact, investors in VC firms are probably the last to hear about the startups that get funding. Nor does having Best Buy as a one-level-removed investor help the startups, who might benefit from a retail partner.

* It takes a bizarre leap of faith to characterize the VC industry as "efficient." If anything, the opposite is true--- too much money pursuing a few key startups. (While promising non-Bay Area startups go begging...)

* The Napster acquisition was anything but a startup venture round. It was an acquisition--- just like Geek Squad. (Only dumber.)

BBUY is not unique in having a venture arm. A quick Google search would have turned up plenty of other references to corporate venture capital: in theory, it a good way to partner with potential suppliers, or lower the cost of future acquisition targets. That's not to say that the picture is rosy: as Fred Wilson points out, CVC usually makes little impact on a company's bottom line, has a hard time competing for talent with VC firms, and could produce poor alignment with startups and their founders. But a criticism of Best Buy Ventures should be based on more than just a vague sense that it's not a good use of stockholder's money.
Tags: article, finance, rant, startup
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