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Betting on a Long Shot

Ghia Griarte ’93 took a chance when she joined Saints Capital, a once-unknown investment firm that’s since grown to $1.3 billion

When Ghia Griarte joined Saints Capital, a San Francisco-based direct secondary firm, as a managing director in 2002, few thought the move was a sound investment.

“Nobody knew or understood what ‘direct secondary’ was,” she says. “Back then, people were saying, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

Saints Capital’s bet paid off. Saints Capital, which buys ownership stakes in privately held and often private equity-backed companies, has grown from $20 million to more than $1.3 billion in 10 years. An because the firm’s assets are often purchased late stage at a discount, they tend to become liquid faster and achieve higher returns.

Now the oldest and largest direct secondary investment firm in the nation, Saints Capital is very attractive to investors, Griarte says. “Our investors don’t pay us to invest in somebody selling their A, B or C shares,” she says. “They’re investing in us to buy somebody else’s assets.”

Griarte transitioned into the venture capital field back in the late ’90s, when “this thing called the Internet was taking off on the West Coast,” she says. She spent a few years at Centennial Venture before her husband was transferred to San Francisco. She landed a job at Saints Capital as one of its earliest staff.

At first, Griarte’s plan was to diversify her experience into software, semiconductor, mobile and storage, building on an already loaded resume that included dual master’s degrees from the MMM Program and a decade in telecommunications consulting.

But then the direct secondary market took off, and Saints Capital bought up every cash-strapped venture fund it could find. When the recession hit, Saints gorged on startups looking for liquidity, with Griarte having a hand in nearly all of the firm’s portfolios and investments to date.

“It’s really unprecedented,” Griarte says, “It’s hard to scale that fast in this business.” As the company grew, Griarte focused on scaling. She shored up the firm’s people processes, which include developing training procedures, incentive systems and criteria for promotions. And while she enjoys the networking, it’s the training that’s proved the most challenging. She has two, maybe three weeks to bring new hires up to speed, and there are startups in need of cash. “We can’t afford any downtime,” she says.

With those balances in place, Griarte says she could get back to what she loves: investing in technology companies.


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