Of the 100 largest VC-backed tech exits since 2009, Sequoia Capital invested in a remarkable 22 of them. Benchmark Capital invested in the highest percentage at the early stage.

Venture capital returns are often said to follow a power law.  Simplistically, the best investment returns more money than the rest of the investments combined.  We analyzed the largest 100 U.S.-based tech M&A or IPO exits since 2009 to see whether the power law actually holds and who the most frequent investors in those companies are.

The data below.

Top 100 VC-Backed U.S. Exits Since 2009 – Valuation Distribution Curve

The chart below highlights the distribution of top U.S.-based exits since 2009 by valuation at the day of IPO or M&A exit. The largest, by far, was Facebook’s IPO in May 2012 initially valuing the company at $104 billion. In power law fashion, the dropoff after Facebook is significant with a handful of exits in the $10B to $20B range – think Groupon, WhatsApp, etc.

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Top 100 VC-Backed U.S. Exits Since 2009 – Top Investors

Sequoia Capital’s exit of WhatsApp was just 1 of 7 exits out of the 100 that counted just a single institutional investor. But whether going it alone or with others, being part of large exits is old hat for Sequoia.  In fact, Sequoia Capital portfolio companies made up a remarkable 22 of the top 100 tech exits. NEA and Accel Partners, respectively, participated in 13 of the exits each, while late-stage VC Meritech Capital Partners counted 12. The chart below highlights the 15 investors who invested in 7 or more of the top 100 U.S. tech exits since 2009. (Note: Investments by way of secondary transactions were not included in the chart below.)

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Top 100 VC-Backed U.S. Exits Since 2009 – Top Investors By Stage of First Investment

Of course, simply “getting in” on a big exit does not guarantee strong investment returns as the nature of VC is such that those investors who jumped in earliest are most richly rewarded. So to assess a venture capital’s investment selection aptitude, it is important to look at what stage they made their first investment in a company.

The next chart breaks down the top 15 investors based on the stage they invested in the companies. Benchmark Capital backed the highest percentage of its exits at the early-stage (Series B or earlier), followed by Accel and Norwest Venture Partners. Conversely, Technology Crossover Ventures and Meritech Capital Partners saw under 10% of their first investments at the Series B stage or earlier, which is unsurprising given their late-stage focus.

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Methodology/Notes

For companies that exited via M&A, the valuation is simply the amount that the company got acquired for. For a company that went public, the exit valuation was that on the day of the IPO. Tech sectors include internet, mobile, software, computer hardware and electronics (chips & semis).

The time period covered ranges from January 1, 2009 to February 24, 2014.

All of the underlying exit and investor data used in this research brief is from the CB Insights Venture Capital Database. Sign up for free below or click here to learn more about Investor Mosaic.