Wasn't Internet Capital Group
Founded in 1996, ICG was one of the first Internet incubators. That is, it provided seed funding to companies and then mentored them through to an IPO or acquisition.
Yesterday, ICG showed that it can deliver on its business model when it sold one of its portfolio companies, LinkShare, to Rakuten. The price tag was a mouth-watering $425 million in cash. Given ICG's 40% ownership of LinkShare, ICG snagged roughly $150 million, with 10% of that purchase price to be held in escrow for one year.
LinkShare was benefiting from the surge in online advertising. Basically, it develops tools that track, manage, and analyze online affiliate marketing programs. Affiliate marketing allows merchants to sell their goods on partnering websites. The pioneer in this area is Amazon.com, which developed an affiliate program to sell its books on other sites. Clients include such giants as J.C. Penney
Rakuten provides the services most portals do -- email, community, e-commerce, and so on. But the company recognizes that affiliate marketing appears to be poised for strong growth in foreign markets and, as such, has its sights on Japan.
Before the sale of LinkShare, ICG had $83 million in cash and liquid assets, which provides some cushion against otherwise unforeseen events and a bit of liquidity. What's more, ICG has eight core portfolio companies left. (On average, it owns more than 50% of the equity.) These companies include CreditTrade, which is a trading platform for the credit markets, and StarCite, a software supplier for the travel industry.
But we'd do well to take a look at the nitty-gritty. Some part of recognized revenue (or losses, as it may be) derives from companies the parent (ICG) has invested in, because of accounting conventions. Because of its operating structure (the company is effectively a venture capital firm), this revenue is not likely being recognized from a cash standpoint. This setup creates murky waters from an analytical standpoint, considering that we're hard-pressed to determine what actually accrues to the company.
In a way, ICG is a public venture capital firm. And for the most part, such investments are not available for individual investors because of the high risks. But given ICG's experience and hefty cash position, the company is certainly a viable option for investors looking for some exposure to venture capital returns.
The question, therefore, is whether the management team is strong enough to merit any credibility. Because it's not much different from any other VC in that the underlying strength of the company/projects is, in effect, tied to the manager's prowess. Good managers generally choose strong concepts, and bad managers ... well, you know the drill.
Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares mentioned in this article.