In The News
"YOUNG GUN", Private Placement News, Nov 10, 2000
The direction and dramatic growth of private equity venture capital markets in Southern California can, to some extent, be traced through the rapid career rise of Lorne Goldberg, hot shot founder of West Coast Capital in Beverly Hills, a merchant-investment banking boutique.
The young Goldberg – he’s just 32 – arrived in Los Angeles fresh from Temple University in 1991, to take a job with Heitman Financial, the big real estate shop (since acquired by JMB Corp.). Of course, real estate finance had been huge in Los Angeles for generations, and that seemed like the right career choice.
Goldberg worked on acquiring and financing shopping centers, office buildings and industrial parks. But the Montreal native couldn’t help noticing some tenants that were growth firms, full of highly motivated individuals. Fortunes could be made backing those companies.
Fortunes could be made in real estate as well, of course, but a lot more slowly, not least because in 1995 Southern California real estate was still in a lengthy recession. Moreover, a Heitman employee couldn’t really take an equity stake on an office building deal that he brokered. A career change was in order.
“My instincts told me corporate finance and venture capital was the place to be,” says Goldberg. “And I wanted to [take equity] in companies, not just finance them. Plus, I wanted to be my own guy.”
Though he was not well connected in Southern California corporate finance circles, Goldberg decided to hang out his own shingle. At first, not yet 30, Goldberg behaved more like a sourcer than a CEO. He made endless phone calls, and worked long hours “14 hour days” to get clients and raise money for them. “At the end of our first full year of business (1996), we had closed five transactions,” recalls Goldberg.
In the last three years, like many others in Los Angeles’ cottage of private equity financiers, he has hit paydirt, primarily in high-tech companies. As a boutique firm, Goldberg gets involved with smaller companies, which need $5 million to $30 million, though he will look at smaller deals if the promise is there.
Goldberg says the fact that he plumbs the microcaps actually bodes well for him and allied investors. This year, he will close more than $70 million in transactions – good business for a boutique, but small volume for a VC fund.
“Some of the big VC funds, they are under pressure to invest. We have no pressure. We can sit on our money if we don’t like anything we see. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” says Goldberg. So what does Goldberg and the people he raises money from like in today’s market? “Ideally, you look for patented technology, or at least proprietary, in a company with a sustainable advantage, preferably in an industry or niche with high barriers to entry. Of course, you look for good management too,” says Goldberg.
A recent investment made by Goldberg seems to meet a lot of the above criteria Los Angeles-based ClearView Networks has patented a patented web camera system that promises to alter workplace and daycare supervision in America, and maybe even the world.
ClearView’s hardware and software inexpensively converts security cameras into web-cams, and also the ability to place low cost web-cam systems into enterprises. “The ClearView cameras have the server built right into them,” says Goldberg, explaining one reason why the costs of ClearView system are relatively low.
The potential uses of web-cams are legion. “Using a password, parents could sign on the Web, and view their children in a day care center,” says Goldberg. Factory supervisors could check on workers, or even review “tapes” (which are now, of course, digitally stored images) of what workers did on the late night shift, or in early morning hours.
Worker productivity could be monitored, or chain store chieftains could review many locations at once, to make sure new displays are up, or check foot traffic following an ad blitz. Having raised $3 million for ClearView, Goldberg is “extremely confident” that he can raise an additional $20 million in a second-round of financing.
Goldberg is also high on Los Angeles-based JAX Holdings, which owns patented technology for placing “one-way” images on glass. That means people on one side can look through the glass and see clearly, while others on the outside can see the image.
“This has tremendous applications, for example, on the windows of skyboxes in hockey arenas, or in football stadiums. Jax Holdings has signed deals with the NFL and Major League Baseball,” says Goldberg. Over time, virtually anywhere there is glass, an image can be placed, even on the sides of office buildings if zoning regulations permit.
But sports seems to be the big venue. “Drivers at NASCAR events (automobile racing) could have images on the windshield that’s important because the cameras follow the cars,” notes Goldberg.
Even sunglasses can be treated, which might prompt a fad or two, but has serious applications, again in the sports industry. Team logos can be emblazoned on glasses, or, of course, the ubiquitous ads, to be seen by the hordes watching sports on television.
But just to prove he is not a finance snob, Goldberg recently took on the assignment of selling Thrifty Lavanderia, the largest chain of coin operated Laundromats in Southern California.
By Goldberg’s reckoning, the small company side of the private equity market is the place to be. “When we make an investment, we are hoping for a 50-to-1 return. Of course, we know we won’t always get that. But if we get five-to-one, we will take that.”
What about the 30 percent annually compounded target returns, so often spoke of by large venture capitalists? “No, I am not investing, looking for 30 percent. I am looking for home runs.”