Venture capital for the rest of us

When you’re big, there’s always somebody ready to lend you money. Just ask WeWork.

In recent weeks, venture capital fund SoftBank has invested billions (with a b) in WeWork, which provides office space. CNN reports that the real-estate company is now “valued at $42 billion following the investment, according to a spokesperson for the company. It was valued at $20 billion when SoftBank invested $4.4 billion last year.

Now, keep in mind that venture capitalists aren’t like John D. Rockefeller walking around handing out dimes. They aren’t simply passing out bushels of cash. The money they give out gives them stock in the companies they invest in and, usually, a seat on the company’s board. If you have a million-dollar idea, such as “Uber for whatever,” venture capital can make it happen. It can make you rich, and make the investors richer. Big ideas get big funding.

But in the real world, small businesses are where the action is. A 2015 study showed that 99 percent of employer C corps had fewer than 500 workers. These small businesses make up almost half of private sector payrolls.

So: suppose you run a pizzeria in a small city. You wouldn’t be able to get Masayoshi Son of SoftBank out of his limo to have lunch with you, let along get him to pour money into your eatery. But that’s okay, because you’re doing fine. You’re not rich, but you’re making an honest living.

Until: your pizza oven breaks a few days before you’re going to host the Little League awards banquet. You probably don’t have enough cash on hand to buy a new one. No big institutional investor is going to show up to help you. And time isn’t on your side.

You can’t afford to give up the banquet, or the chance to win the kids and their parents as repeat customers. How can you get the oven working in time?

The answer may be a “merchant cash advance.”

This business model is venture capital on a small scale. The merchant cash advance provider comes up with the cash the small business needs, usually just a few thousand dollars, but sometimes even more than that. It’s not a loan in the traditional sense, with piles of paperwork. Instead, it’s more of a cash advance, with the business itself serving as collateral, just as a home serves as collateral in a HELOC.

The borrower pays the money back from future receipts. So when the Little League pays him, he begins to pay back the advance.

This type of exchange can create a win-win where everybody gets what they need. The restaurant gets cash to stay afloat, and the lender becomes heavily invested in seeing the restaurant succeed. After all, if the pizzeria goes bankrupt, the lender will never make its money back.

Of course, there’s a price to pay for such an emergency infusion of cash. Small-business owners understand this, and enter such agreements with cash advance providers with their eyes open. It’s more expensive than a traditional loan would be. But that’s because of the convenience and immediacy of the need for cash.

To stay with the example of the pizzeria, consider if the owner tried to get a traditional bank loan to fix the oven. Now, a bank might be willing to lend the money, or it might not. Getting the loan would require a lot of hassle and a lot of time, though. And now that all the banks in the country seem to be branches of a few national chains, the restaurant owner probably doesn’t know anyone at the bank who could speed the process. He could miss the big payoff of the banquet he’s been counting on, and end up with no bank loan and out of business entirely.

Merchant cash advances aren’t right for every business, just as SoftBank isn’t right for every business. However, both have important roles to play in financing our nation’s growth. Venture capital for small business must remain a key part of the American economy.

Mark Anthony is a former Silicon Valley Executive with Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Mark is now the host of the nationally syndicated radio show called The Patriot and The Preacher Show. Find out more at patriotandpreachershow.com.

When you’re big, there’s always somebody ready to lend you money. Just ask WeWork.

In recent weeks, venture capital fund SoftBank has invested billions (with a b) in WeWork, which provides office space. CNN reports that the real-estate company is now “valued at $42 billion following the investment, according to a spokesperson for the company. It was valued at $20 billion when SoftBank invested $4.4 billion last year.

Now, keep in mind that venture capitalists aren’t like John D. Rockefeller walking around handing out dimes. They aren’t simply passing out bushels of cash. The money they give out gives them stock in the companies they invest in and, usually, a seat on the company’s board. If you have a million-dollar idea, such as “Uber for whatever,” venture capital can make it happen. It can make you rich, and make the investors richer. Big ideas get big funding.

But in the real world, small businesses are where the action is. A 2015 study showed that 99 percent of employer C corps had fewer than 500 workers. These small businesses make up almost half of private sector payrolls.

So: suppose you run a pizzeria in a small city. You wouldn’t be able to get Masayoshi Son of SoftBank out of his limo to have lunch with you, let along get him to pour money into your eatery. But that’s okay, because you’re doing fine. You’re not rich, but you’re making an honest living.

Until: your pizza oven breaks a few days before you’re going to host the Little League awards banquet. You probably don’t have enough cash on hand to buy a new one. No big institutional investor is going to show up to help you. And time isn’t on your side.

You can’t afford to give up the banquet, or the chance to win the kids and their parents as repeat customers. How can you get the oven working in time?

The answer may be a “merchant cash advance.”

This business model is venture capital on a small scale. The merchant cash advance provider comes up with the cash the small business needs, usually just a few thousand dollars, but sometimes even more than that. It’s not a loan in the traditional sense, with piles of paperwork. Instead, it’s more of a cash advance, with the business itself serving as collateral, just as a home serves as collateral in a HELOC.

The borrower pays the money back from future receipts. So when the Little League pays him, he begins to pay back the advance.

This type of exchange can create a win-win where everybody gets what they need. The restaurant gets cash to stay afloat, and the lender becomes heavily invested in seeing the restaurant succeed. After all, if the pizzeria goes bankrupt, the lender will never make its money back.

Of course, there’s a price to pay for such an emergency infusion of cash. Small-business owners understand this, and enter such agreements with cash advance providers with their eyes open. It’s more expensive than a traditional loan would be. But that’s because of the convenience and immediacy of the need for cash.

To stay with the example of the pizzeria, consider if the owner tried to get a traditional bank loan to fix the oven. Now, a bank might be willing to lend the money, or it might not. Getting the loan would require a lot of hassle and a lot of time, though. And now that all the banks in the country seem to be branches of a few national chains, the restaurant owner probably doesn’t know anyone at the bank who could speed the process. He could miss the big payoff of the banquet he’s been counting on, and end up with no bank loan and out of business entirely.

Merchant cash advances aren’t right for every business, just as SoftBank isn’t right for every business. However, both have important roles to play in financing our nation’s growth. Venture capital for small business must remain a key part of the American economy.

Mark Anthony is a former Silicon Valley Executive with Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Mark is now the host of the nationally syndicated radio show called The Patriot and The Preacher Show. Find out more at patriotandpreachershow.com.