Investing in private markets has long been reserved for the ultra-rich. Thanks to tech startups, though, the process is becoming much more accessible for those who aren't members of the "one percent" of wealthiest Americans.
Fundrise, a company that allows anyone to invest in real estate with a minimum investment of just $10, is making a splashy entry into the venture capital market with the goal of raising a new $1 billion growth equity fund to invest in late-stage tech startups, it announced today. The new fund will be evergreen, meaning it will have an indefinite life, a structure that unlike the traditional VC model provides investors with the ability to come and go as they please.
Ben Miller founded Fundrise in 2012 to give retail investors access to the private real estate market, and the company has since become one of the top 20 investors by size in that space, Miller, who serves as CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview.
"When I started Fundrise, all the big real estate players told us we couldn't do it, that it's laughable [and we] shouldn't do it," Miller said.
Miller's strategy of using tech to drive down the costs associated with real estate investing seems to have paid off despite the initial pushback. Fundrise manages more than $2.8 billion worth of real estate equity on behalf of the 300,000 active investors on its platform today, and Miller says the company is growing fast enough that he expects it to climb to a top-10 spot by size in private real estate within the next two years.
If all goes according to plan, the new growth equity fund will mirror Fundrise's current real estate offering in its structure, allowing any investor to put in as little as $10 each. There are a few other players that also seek to help individuals gain VC exposure in their portfolios, including Sweater Ventures and Allocate, but Fundrise's offering is more widely accessible as the former has a higher investment minimum at $500 and the latter is only available to accredited investors.
All investment decisions for the fund will go through approval by a three-person investment committee comprised of Miller as well as Fundrise's chief strategy officer and chief operating officer. The company will aim to raise its $1 billion target from customers already on its platform as well as new users, Miller added.
The fund will cost investors a 1.85% flat management fee, significantly lower than the standard "2 and 20" fee structure most traditional VCs use (a 2% management fee plus a 20% performance fee on profits generated), Miller said.
The low cost of Fundrise's offerings stems from the company's use of technology to streamline and automate processes such as shareholder record-keeping, according to Miller. Now that Fundrise has proven it can execute on the low-cost model for real estate investing while delivering strong returns (its real estate fund is up 5% this year while the S&P 500 is down over 20%), only time will tell if it can do the same for venture capital more broadly.
"The approach we're going to try to take is basically not to do what the traditional venture industry does, which is [to] hire a bunch of salespeople and analysts that really spend their time doing sales and meeting and trying to convince people to take their money. That's the old-fashioned way to do business. That's how IBM used to do business 50 years ago, but that's not how any SaaS company does business anymore," Miller said.
As for Fundrise's ability to source lucrative deals, Miller is confident launching the fund now is ideal timing because many startups are desperately in need of capital as venture capital dealmaking has slowed significantly amid fears of an economic downturn.
"I do feel fortunate that the lapse in the tech market is going to create a better starting place for us. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to come in ... if we had been trying to do this in 2021, we couldn't have broken in [to the venture ecosystem]," Miller said.