One Investor’s Attempt to Revolutionize Private Equity

A recent article in Institutional Investor profiles San Francisco investor Ryan Caldbeck and his firm CircleUp, which plans to establish a quant fund for the private equity market.

“While hedge funds have long used quant strategies in public markets, cracking private markets is tough as they’re less transparent,” the article reports, adding, “CircleUp, in seeking to figure it out first, could emerge at the center of disruption in private capital.”

The idea first occurred to Caldbeck in the early 2000’s at TSG Consumer Partners when, fresh from earning a Stanford MBA, he was sifting through lists of consumer companies to find potential deals. He resorted to Googling company names to find any information that might shed light on opportunities. “I began to think a monkey could do this,” he said, adding, “‘A monkey could do this job’ turned into ‘a computer could do this job.’ “

The article reports that CircleUp expects to raise about $375 million for a systematic fund that will buy minority stakes in about 150 companies— “a much larger portfolio than is typically seen in private equity.”

Research Affiliates founder Rob Arnott, who is skeptical about the idea, said, “The big challenge with applying quantitative methods in any domain is data. In the case of private equity, there’s not a lot of data that’s available.”

While Caldbeck says that the data is indeed difficult to gather, he argues that once his firm’s engineers and data scientists clean it up and put algorithms in place, they can reduce the effects of biases that often weave their way into investing decisions. And the firm’s work in doing so sets it apart: “The thing that allows us to sleep really well at night is knowing that pulling this data together over years is, we think, a very big barrier to entry.