Saturday, 17 September 2011

On Creativity

Do you have any artistic friends that you see far too seldom and you wonder what they get up to because they don't often show you stuff? There's murmurings amongst your friends about whether they actually do anything? And then, pop, they appear with something beautiful, right there in a one-liner?

I do, and the product is overwhelming. It helps me remember that creativity is a complex process that works different for everybody and sometimes takes long, arduous, and twisty roads to get somewhere. Sometimes it stays hidden, but that's not to say it isn't there. Its wonderful, surprising and helps me keep my spark. And, it's always unique.

Anyway, before I ramble on:

Made of Sand from Bison Moon Project on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Where's all the money going?

Lots of time to think in Sri Lanka's tea plantations. Mostly... Has the "where's all the money going" story been fully told?

Basically, there's a lot of money coming into SSA private equity (and public ones too, I imagine, but there's some fact checking to be done there). It's coming from established forces that are raising larger commitments (Helios, EMP), big funds new to the market (Carlyle amongst others), local funders (PIC) and increasingly also private sources (Allen Gray is rumored to be starting something). This means a) that there's a lot more cash and b) it's coming from new sources.

But I'm beginning to doubt if they can spend it. Yes, some democratization is driving business climate improvement and yes, some valuations may be on the low side. But continued structural issues (strife, infrastructure and corruption) remain largely unchanged. Even if there are young hopefuls such as FHN or IHS they are still a) facing the same barriers as before (I'm sure Will can name one or two examples to add to the ones that spring to mind) and are b) still few and far between. Just look at Anders, who went from looking for pipeline to making it.

Can this change? Yes, of course. But it's likely to take far longer than a PE fund and its investors have the stomach for. Don't get me wrong - these investments can still do an immense amount of good. However, they're likely to have far more VC characteristics than investors seem to think, with all the risk, timeline, work, cost, and other challenges that go with them. Hopefully more money will bring a) (short term) valuation inflation that will benefit a few golden nuggets b) enforcement of higher management and corp gov standards c) give rise to a new entrepreneurial gold rush that can really help foster a deeper pipeline. But all that might not necessarily translate into profits now.

I hate to tell a bearish tale, especially in a bullish time for Africa during which international investors have little else to be bullish about. However, I've seen first hand how too much enthusiasm can backfire (haven't wee all in some way or another). Microfinance for instance was for a long time (over)-heralded as a saving force only to fall flat on it's face when empirical studies showed that it's output didnt match those lofty expectations. That's not to say that it does not do any good at all though that's another discussion. Fortunately the sector is still largely backed by public institutionals who move slowly and have longer term/non-financial objectives. The sector therefore has time to build a new brand or prove it's critics wrong. Given the 'new' funding base of African PE it's questionable whether the sector will have that luxury.