WSJ: Spectrum Equity Defies Fundraising Slowdown to Amass a $2.2 Billion Pool

Fund X WSJ

Spectrum Equity Management, a growth-investment firm that was an early backer of companies such as Inc. and Grubhub Holdings Inc., has raised a total of $2.2 billion for growth investments in internet software and data services companies.

The Boston-based firm closed Spectrum Equity X LP with $2 billion and collected $200 million separately for follow-on investments or for deals that it deems too large to back solely out of the main fund. The firm raised the vehicles at a time when overall capital flowing into private- equity and venture funds is slowing in the face of volatile market conditions and investor concerns about a potential recession.

“Our timing on closing with macro-[economic] health isn’t great,” said Chris Mitchell, a managing director at the firm, noting that Spectrum Equity raised its previous fund family as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading around the world. That pool closed in the spring of 2020 with nearly $1.7 billion in commitments.

But this time around may offer even better opportunities, he said.

“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that an improved valuation environment leads to a better period for deploying new capital,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Higher growth companies will always demand a premium, but if share prices are disconnected from performance it can be a difficult environment to manage.”

As market values for internet and software companies have fallen from the lofty levels of 2021, both the managers of such companies and the investors that back them have focused more on managing the rate at which they spend invested capital, often referred to as the burn rate. Mr. Mitchell noted that recent months have upended an ebullience in the market that predates the pandemic.

“In 2017 and ’18, there was really a ‘grow it [at] all cost’ mentality where operators and investors were pretty unconcerned with cash flow burn if a company was exhibiting strong growth. Cash was really plentiful and that focus was being rewarded in every way,” Mr. Mitchell said. “But now with cash a lot less plentiful, it’s amazing how quickly that mentality has shifted.”

Mr. Mitchell said that Spectrum Equity’s focus on backing cash-flow-efficient companies in the lower midmarket gives him and his colleagues optimism that the firm’s portfolio will remain durable even in more turbulent economic and market conditions.

“Not getting swept up in the unicorn style of investing that became so prevalent over the last five years has been one of the better decisions we made,” he said, referring to private companies valued at more than $1 billion.

Spectrum Equity navigated challenging fundraising conditions thanks partly to strong support from loyal investors, many of which have participated in multiple fundraising cycles by the firm, according to Managing Director Vic Parker, who is one of four principal Spectrum Equity owners along with Mr. Mitchell and Managing Directors Ben Spero and Steve LeSieur.

One longtime backer of the firm’s funds said that Spectrum Equity’s consistently strong performance has made it among the top performers in its private-equity portfolio. As of March 31, the firm’s eighth fund, which closed in 2017, had produced a net return of 2.3 times its invested capital, while the firm’s seventh fund, which closed in 2014, had generated a 4.7-times net multiple of invested capital over the same period, according to this investor. The firm’s ninth fund is still too early in its investment cycle to produce meaningful returns, he added.

“There aren’t really any stones to throw at this firm,” he said. “There’s lots of depth on the team and the performance is incredibly consistent.”

Through its newest fund, Spectrum Equity plans to invest $25 million to $200 million or more at a time in internet-enabled software and data services providers, Mr. Parker said. The firm, which he said still has room in its previous fund for several more deals, has stayed busy over the past 12 months.

In June, Spectrum Equity backed a $45 million growth investment in WIN Reality LLC, which provides virtual-reality training and assessment technology for elite athletes. Earlier this year, meanwhile, the firm co-led a $200 million investment in RapidRatings International Inc., a risk analytics software provider focused on supply chains, customers and other counterparties.

Spectrum Equity was formed in 1993 and raised its first fund in 1994, according to the firm’s registered investment adviser filing. As of Dec. 31, it managed around $8.19 billion in discretionary assets, according to the filing.

This article was orignally published in the Wall Street Journal.

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