Silicon Valley startup guru Eric Ries is building a new US stock exchange meant to stop “self-destructive behaviour
” tied to public markets.
Ries is an entrepreneur most famous for his wildly popular book “The Lean Startup,” which serves as a guide for startup founders trying to survive while boosting innovation. It promotes ideas like getting out a “minimum viable product” to solicit feedback.
Ries explored the idea of a new stock exchange that would focus more on long-term results in that 2011 book, but no one took up his call to create one. Now he has decided to do it himself, and has raised a seed round of funding from 30 investors including Marc Andreessen, he told Bloomberg.
So what exactly does Ries hate about the public markets?
His biggest gripe is that they encourage short-term thinking, he explained.
“[Employees] are on Yahoo Finance every day, and it’s palpable how much that is affecting the decision-making of ordinary managers,” he said to Bloomberg. He particularly dislikes CEO incentives that are tied to factors like earnings per share, which he thinks lead to manipulation of those numbers, as well as cuts to innovative programs when there is a temporary downturn.
Ries thinks he can limit this short-term thinking with rules his new exchange, dubbed the “Long-Term Stock Exchange” (LTSE), will employ.
Here are the main three:
- LTSE companies will have to pick from a list of approved types of compensation plans, and won’t be able to tie bonuses to things like stock short-term stock performance. The focus will be on the long haul.
- The LTSE will have “tenured shareholder voting power,” which means that “a shareholder’s votes would be proportionately weighted by the length of time the shares have been held,” according to Quartz.
- The LTSE will have disclosure requirements designed to help investors understand what companies are spending on in areas like R&D, and to let companies know who their investors are.
To make the exchange a reality, in addition to the seed round, Ries has put together a team of around 20 people, spanning from engineers to advisors.
But the road won’t be easy. Ries said he’s already in discussions with the SEC, but the approval process could take years (Ries says he will file an application later this year). And then there’s the question of whether Ries’ rules will actually have the effect he wants. Bloomberg points out specifically that giving stronger rights to long-term shareholders could work against takeovers, and potentially encourage “complacent” managers (according to USC business school professor Larry Harris).
The easy criticism is that the LTSE is just another Silicon Valley utopian pipe dream that won’t actually work. And when Ries initially began shopping around the idea, he said he was treated like a “barbarian” by people ranging from bankers to regulators. But there’s another group that might be more important to a Ries’ initial success: startup founders. They are the ones who need to buy into Ries vision enough to list their companies on the exchange (and many have followed him once with “The Lean Startup”).
Right now he’s trying to sell mid-sized startup founders on the idea, cultivating what he hopes will be his first crop of IPO candidates, he told Bloomberg. The pitch: IPO without losing your ability to innovate.