GV’s M.G. Siegler on portfolio management, crisis fundraising and his latest investment

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed entrepreneurs and investors into unknown territory.

Google’s GV just led a $10 million investment in Universe, a low-friction website builder that’s venturing into the world of commerce.

The investment was in the works before COVID-19 hit America in force, but things were finalized for the Brooklyn startup in late March. I chatted with M.G. Siegler, the general partner at GV (and former TechCrunch writer) who led the deal, about how the crisis was affecting his investment work and how he was balancing portfolio work with sourcing new deals.

This interview has edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: This deal sounds like it was in the works before pandemic concerns really hit America, but when you saw this situation arise, did it change your thinking about this deal at all?

M.G. Siegler: The reality is we’re still going to be continuing to look for interesting opportunities to invest in. History has shown that even during great financial turmoil, many companies are still being built, although it’s certainly not easy for anyone, given that we’re all stuck inside and trying to make things work. I think Universe is in an interesting spot; they have a tool that can potentially help some of these struggling businesses move online quicker and create commerce opportunities that they really need to think about given the current realities.

So there’s no thought that we shouldn’t do something just because of the current macro environment if we’re really passionate about it to begin with. Obviously, there’s varying degrees of that for different sectors, but I do think that Universe had been in a great position before this situation, and it seems like they have different opportunities now.

How is this changing your daily routine?

Frankly, there’s a lot more portfolio work with everyone needing to make sure that the companies are in a good position to be able to weather this situation. I do think there are opportunities on top of that, and I do believe that we will still be active in pursuing new opportunities that are in play.

I think that’s a natural outcome; we have to be mindful about what’s going on in the world and we’re trying to help out the portfolio companies to navigate some of situations as best we can. But the reality is that it always sort of ebbs and flows. This is a very, very extreme example, and I don’t want to downplay it, of course, but it does ebb and flow with how much portfolio work there is versus how much new deal work there is. I think it’s obviously the prudent thing to make sure that we’re doing a lot of work within the portfolio to ensure that these companies are able to weather this all as best they can.

Are portfolio companies coming to you with concerns about fundraising right now?

I think it’s an ongoing discussion, I do think that the timetables are significantly shifted, both up and back. For certain companies that were thinking about fundraising but are in a fine cash position this year, I think that there’s discussions to be had about how to extend runway and potentially ship those out a bit.

It’s not that people aren’t out there looking for interesting companies to invest in. The reality is that a lot of people and funds are doing just what we were talking about, having these internal discussions and making sure that the companies within their portfolios are good, or at least in a position to be able to weather these storms. And so I think it’s natural that that’s going to take a ton of their time so there’s not going to be as much time, essentially, to meet with new companies and get to know new companies and spend all the time that’s required to do those new deals. So yeah, we have to think about that.

In some cases, the opposite is true that it might make sense to raise now, whereas they may have thought about raising toward the end of the year or even next year, and maybe now it makes sense and there’s interest to do that.

How do you balance keeping an eye out for hot opportunities with ensuring you’re not too reactionary when the state of the market is a little uncertain?

Yeah, I mean, it’s a good question, because obviously it’s top of mind for investors looking at all the different opportunities and things that are bubbling up. Of course, Zoom is at the forefront of all of this, but like there’s a bunch of other stuff. We’re looking at entertainment-based services, learning-based services — all remote of course — so I do think that there are a ton of things coming into focus rapidly because of this current environment.

I am still interested in the broader spaces I was interested in before this all started, but I think that some of them especially play into the world of everyone being stuck at home. I’ve long been interested in the voice space. Obviously, that somewhat led to our Anchor investment, as mentioned before, but, I’m interested in mobile computing in general with Google Home and Alexa in the home. Now that we’re all home all the time, we’ll see how that usage ends up going and what those types of opportunities might look like.

What’s the opportunity for a company like Universe that did just finish a raise?

Yeah I mean, hopefully, it’ll take some weight off their shoulders that may have been there otherwise, with regard to focusing on new initiatives versus just making sure that the company was sustainable. And I think that that’s obviously still important, but I do think that it can take a little bit of a longer view to be able to work on the new initiatives, like what they’re doing to push commerce forward right now.

You can also potentially hire in an environment where a lot of people aren’t right now, but you have to be very cautious about that — even for companies with a good amount of capital on the balance sheet — because no one knows, frankly, how long this is going to last. There are opportunities to make strategic decisions for hiring for the right kind of people that they would need to get on the team to make this a long-term success.