Luiz Ribeiro (General Atlantic) on the origins of GA, manoeuvring bear markets, macro outlook &…

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Luiz Ribeiro I General Atlantic

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Key Takeaways

Short in time? Here’s what this episode is about:

  • Investing in Growth: General Atlantic is a leading global equity firm providing capital and strategic support for growth companies. Established in 1980, General Atlantic combines a collaborative global approach, sector-specific expertise, a long-term investment horizon, and a deep understanding of growth drivers to partner with experienced entrepreneurs and management teams to build businesses worldwide.
  • Knowledge lowers risk: In volatile markets, most investors focus on sectors and companies they are familiar with to lower investment risk. However, investors should not shut their eyes to opportunities that might arise from exactly that uncertainty in the market; some of the best companies are born in these times.
  • Knowing when to defend & when to go on the offensive: In volatile times, entrepreneurs should strive for a good cash position that would allow for a fully-funded plan or aim for 24 months of runway.
  • Adding value through asking questions: Successful boards know which questions to ask the entrepreneur in order to give new ideas and start a discussion, instead of simply giving advice.
  • IPOs are marathons: To successfully bring a company to the public markets, the company needs to know its story, how to communicate it, and, most importantly, have the right team with sufficient capacity to endure and execute the run.

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Focusing on Growth

Right after finishing college in Brazil, Luiz Ribeiro, currently Managing Director & Co-Head of General Atlantic’s Brazil Office, started working in private equity by joining Advent, a leading global private equity firm focused on buyouts. In his 9 years as a member of the firm, not only did he have the opportunity to work in Brazil and Columbia, but also to serve as CFO of one of their portfolio companies for 18 months — at the young age of 26.

Looking back, this was a rewarding experience and helped him to become a better investor. Luiz first got in touch with General Atlantic at the end of 2015, when he met Martin Escobari, currently co-president and head of LatAm at General Atlantic, and also a role model to Luiz at the time. Luiz joined General Atlantic in 2016 and moved back to Sao Paulo.

He started working for General Atlantic focusing on growth investing, the firm’s bread and butter, mainly within the tech and fintech sectors. Luiz is energized by being exposed to numerous high-quality entrepreneurs of the region and from backing these leaders through hands-on support via board positions at companies such as Quinto Andar, Gympass, and Bold. He also is credited with playing an instrumental role in paving the way for dLocal to go public.

A Culture of Giving-Back

General Atlantic’s history is rooted in philanthropy. It all started back in the 80s, when Chuck Feeney, a prominent American entrepreneur and philanthropist, decided to build a family office with the goal of supporting other entrepreneurs like himself, help grow disruptive businesses and support global charitable pursuits, to which Chuck has donated virtually all of his wealth — totaling US$8B over the course of his lifetime. For many years, he was the only investor at General Atlantic before the company decided to open to other investors and support its mission to invest in high-quality entrepreneurs around the globe.

“Chuck Feeney’s idea of supporting entrepreneurs, growth and disruption in combination with giving back still defines our core culture.”

Translated into numbers, the company today counts 15 offices around the world, has more than US$80B in AUM, and holds a track-record of investments in more than 400 different growth companies.

All-in-One

General Atlantic operates an evergreen fund structure, enabling the firm to make long-term investments and back entrepreneurs and innovation over time. The firm operates from one pool of capital across sectors and geographies, as well as one global investment committee.

General Atlantic has been investing in LatAm for more than 20 years. The firm knows the region well and therefore acknowledges, that at times, the emerging market has the potential to be more volatile than other parts of the world, making it a longer-term commitment requiring close support for businesses. Looking ahead, General Atlantic plans to continue backing innovative founders in the region.

When to Defend and When to Attack

Luiz reveals that within General Atlantic there is also a lot of discussion about how significant the market correction to last year’s bull market will be.

“Especially in emerging markets, where macro fundamentals are not as strong, we see a stronger volatility in the markets.”

However, the biggest difference between venture and growth firms is that most growth firms make investments in business models that are already proven and have strong unit economics. At GA, a core focus is on the digitalization of the economy, a long-term secular trend. That is why the firm can drive growth and overcome barriers in times of volatility and market corrections.

“In order for a firm to be successful in those times, they need to keep doing what they know by heart.”

For General Atlantic specifically, this means that while the economic environment is challenging for many businesses and markets, the firm keeps working with established entrepreneurs that it already knows well and who have the potential to emerge even stronger from these difficult moments.

“You need to be smart and know when to attack and when to defend in this environment.”

Luiz believes that the current challenges will continue to create opportunities for many of GA’s portfolio companies, especially those that are already high performers and have sizeable, scalable business models.

Lowering Risks Through Knowledge

When asked for recommendations on how investors ought to react in these moments, Luiz highlights the importance of strong market trends analysis.

“Knowing the companies and knowing the environment lowers the risk of investing in those times.”

There is often a time delay between movements in the public and private markets: in public markets, the correction has been occurring for months, bringing about a loss of confidence; however, Luiz feels that the private markets are now starting to face similar challenges.

At General Atlantic, investors are generally focused on putting money into well-established sectors, themes, and even teams as they also have a disciplined approach to risk-taking. This is why 25 percent of the firm’s investments are follow-on investments into portfolio companies. In general, the firm prefers companies to have comprehensive business plans. This means that Luiz and his team before investing, think about different scenarios to make sure that even in those downturns, these companies have enough cash to play offence — not to simply survive or break-even.

“You need to be humble when you face stormy waters — but at the same time, you need to be with your eyes open. Some of the best deals might happen in uncertainty.”

Luiz narrates that companies are more conscious about when to raise given the environment. For investors, this also means that it is now the time for them to also understand opportunities that are arising just in this moment of uncertainty.

Looking at the future of LatAm, Luiz sees an opportunity for General Atlantic. With the firm’s experience in the region for over 20 years, it has been through the different cycles of the market already and is familiar with cycles and patterns associated with the region.

Not Everything Changes

Switching to an entrepreneurial point of view, Luiz points out that there is no “one size fits all” approach to tackle the current scenario. However, he would recommend having a good cash position that would allow for a fully-funded plan, or ideally having 24 months of runway. It might be easier to focus on obtaining funds from the current investor base, as it does not require time intensive due diligence, therefore accelerating the investment process. Yet, he stresses that while familiar faces often provide a sense of comfort, it is crucial that investors still remain focused on exploring innovative companies tackling global issues from a new angle, like General Atlantic does through its Emerging Growth investment strategy.

“Investors will continue being open towards entrepreneurs because in the end they rely on them to produce returns of their capital”

The appetite might not be the same, but the fundamentals that investors seek to find remain unchanged: a combination of large markets, high potential teams, and innovative ideas.

Shifting Strategy

General Atlantic has also broadened its focus to extend to earlier, hyper-growth stage investments. Luiz explains that while General Atlantic focuses on later-stage growth at the core of its strategy, the firm started investing in more early-stage series from Series-B and, in a few cases, even during Series-A. While the sweet spot cheque size is typically US$75M and above, GA launched an initiative called Emerging Growth in 2021, which offers tickets starting as low as US$25M. This approach enables the firm to back earlier-stage companies as they continue to grow and scale.

Adding Non-Financial Value

When asking Luiz about the value of cross-over funds and public market investing to LPs, for Luiz the answer is clear: there is a value-add. Whenever General Atlantic invests in a company, it not only takes a relevant position in it but, most importantly, the firm spends a huge amount of time supporting the company in all different aspects.

“Sometimes you add more value by asking a question that the management team has not thought of than to give advice”

To support GA portfolio companies through board membership roles, Luiz’s formula for successful boards is to focus the discussion on key strategic topics, ensuring that there is the proper audience with the right background that makes the best questions. At General Atlantic, the firm is intent on remaining open-minded and inclusive with regard to curating a board to make sure that each business gets the right profile and support in its decision-making. Normally, the partner involved in the deal is the suitable person for that role, but sometimes GA brings expert advisors from its global network to support the board and management team with relevant knowledge.

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Luiz sees several positive aspects of a company going public. It does not only improve liquidity, but also attracts stronger talent, adds new layers of governance and regulatory oversight that improve the processes inside the company, and sets a clear currency for M&A.

“Investors are laser focused on what a company says and promises.”

He recommends companies pursuing an IPO to focus on the following fundamentals:

  • Know your timing when to tap into capital markets: A clear story around the business model and the future strategy that resonates with investors is an absolute imperative.
  • Have a strong team to shape and share the business’ narrative
  • Have established processes in finance and compliance in place — going public is a lot of work
  • Select investors with a long-term focus
  • Set your price accordingly

And, ultimately, don’t forget that in growth equity, it’s a marathon — not a sprint.If you want to learn more about GA’s strategy, Luiz’s take on the current macro environment and how to maximise value to add to portfolio companies in growth stage, then listen to the podcast….

Dive into the full episode below:

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