Hard times for venture capitalists

Last Sunday’s Observer column.

Spare a thought for the poor venture capitalists of the world. Well, perhaps the word “poor” is not entirely appropriate, but there’s no doubt that they seem to be having a torrid time at the moment. Over the past decade they have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into start-up technology companies – and have emerged with an average figure for five-year returns that has oscillated around, er, zero.

This will come as a surprise to those who subscribe to the cartoon image of the venture capitalist as a hatchet-faced investor who invests in someone's dream in order to wind up effectively owning it – and then flogging it to anonymous shareholders by floating the company on the stock market…