Will Gornall | Assistant Professor of Finance
PhD (Stanford), BS MS (Waterloo)

William Gornall High Resolution Photo

Sauder School of Business
University of British Columbia
2053 Main Mall, Vancouver
BC V6T 1Z2, Canada
(604) 827-4372



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“Squaring Venture Capital Valuations with Reality” 2018 (with Ilya Strebulaev; forthcoming at Journal of Financial Economics)
We develop a valuation model for venture capital--backed companies and apply it to 135 US unicorns, that is, private companies with reported valuations above $1 billion. We value unicorns using financial terms from legal filings and find that reported unicorn post--money valuations average 48% above fair value, with 14 being more than 100% above. Reported valuations assume that all shares are as valuable as the most recently issued preferred shares. We calculate values for each share class, which yields lower valuations because most unicorns gave recent investors major protections such as initial public offering (IPO) return guarantees (15%), vetoes over down-IPOs (24%), or seniority to all other investors (30%). Common shares lack all such protections and are 56% overvalued. After adjusting for these valuation-inflating terms, almost one-half (65 out of 135) of unicorns lose their unicorn status.

Mentioned in Barrons 1, 2, BC Business, BIV, BJ, Bloomberg, Bloomberg, TV, Business Insider, CNBC, Economist 1, 2, El Economista, Entreprenuer 1, 2, Forbes, Fortune 1, 2, G&M, Inc., Institutional Investor, JDSupra, 36kr 1, 2, Les Echos, MSN, NBER, NY Mag, NYT, Pitchbook 1, 2, 3, Stanford, Tech Crunch, TechVibes, The Real Deal, Wired, WSJ 1, 2, 3

“How Do Venture Capitalists Make Decisions?” 2017 (with Paul Gompers, Steven Kaplan, and Ilya Strebulaev; forthcoming at Journal of Financial Economics)
We survey 885 institutional venture capitalists (VCs) at 681 firms to learn how they make decisions across eight areas: deal sourcing; investment decisions; valuation; deal structure; post-investment value-added; exits; internal organization of firms; and relationships with limited partners. In selecting investments, VCs see the management team as more important than business related characteristics such as product or technology. They also attribute more of the likelihood of ultimate investment success or failure to the team than to the business. While deal sourcing, deal selection, and post-investment value-added all contribute to value creation, the VCs rate deal selection as the most important of the three. We also explore (and find) differences in practices across industry, stage, geography and past success. We compare our results to those for CFOs (Graham and Harvey 2001) and private equity investors (Gompers, Kaplan and Mukharlyamov forthcoming).

Mentioned in Bizztor, Chicago, Stanford, VentureBeat

“Financing as a Supply Chain: The Capital Structure of Banks and Borrowers,” 2018, Journal of Financial Economics 129(3), 510-530 (with Ilya A. Strebulaev)
We develop a model of the joint capital structure decisions of banks and their borrowers. Strikingly high bank leverage emerges naturally from the interplay between two sets of forces. First, seniority and diversification reduce bank asset volatility by an order of magnitude relative to that of their borrowers. Second, previously unstudied supply chain effects mean that highly levered financial intermediaries can offer the lowest interest rates. Low asset volatility enables banks to take on high leverage safely; supply chain effects compel them to do so. Firms with low leverage also arise naturally, as borrowers internalize the systematic risk costs they impose on their lenders. Because risk assessment techniques from the Basel framework underlie our model, we can quantify the impact capital regulation and other government interventions have on leverage and fragility. Deposit insurance and the expectation of government bailouts increase not only bank risk taking, but also borrower risk taking. Capital regulation lowers bank leverage but can lead to compensating increases in the leverage of borrowers, which can paradoxically lead to riskier banks. Doubling current capital requirements would reduce the default risk of banks exposed to moral hazard by up to 90%, with only a small increase in bank interest rates.

Mentioned in Fortune

“Locally-Capped Investment Products and the Retail Investor,” 2011, Journal of Derivatives 18.4, 72-88 (with Carole Bernard and Phelim Boyle)
Locally-capped products are a popular but poorly understood type of structured financial product. These contracts combine a guaranteed payoff with a bonus based on the capped periodic returns of a reference portfolio. We show that in the USA these products often contain unreasonably optimistic hypothetical scenarios in their prospectuses,and conjecture that these unrealistic scenarios may contribute to their popularity with uninformed investors. We also explain why locally-capped products perform badly in turbulent markets and confirm this with evidence from the 2008 financial crisis.

Working Papers

“Gender, Race, and Entrepreneurship: A Randomized Field Experiment on Venture Capitalists and Angels,” 2018 (with Ilya Strebulaev)
We study gender and race in high-impact entrepreneurship within a tightly controlled random field experiment. We sent out 80,000 pitch emails introducing promising but fictitious start-ups to 28,000 venture capitalists and business angels. Each email was sent by a fictitious entrepreneur with a randomly selected gender (male or female) and race (Asian or White). Female entrepreneurs received an 8% higher rate of interested replies than male entrepreneurs pitching identical projects. Asian entrepreneurs received a 6% higher rate than White entrepreneurs. Our results are not consistent with discrimination against females or Asians at the initial contact stage of the investment process.

Mentioned in BJ, Guardian, MarketWatch

“Safe Assets and Dangerous Liabilities: How Bank-Level Frictions Explain Bank Seniority,” 2017
This paper uses bank fragility to explain why bank loans are senior in firm capital structure. High leverage makes banks more vulnerable to financial distress than the typical bond investor, and thus makes banks willing to pay for seniority. Bank seniority emerges even when banks need skin in the game, as bank effort has more impact on a large senior loan than on a smaller junior claim with the same systematic risk. Adding deposit insurance or bailouts adds a subsidy to tail risk, which makes large senior claims even more attractive to banks. Empirically, this model explains why procyclical firms avoid bank loans and provides a host of debt structure predictions.

“The Economic Impact of Venture Capital,” 2015 (with Ilya A. Strebulaev)
Over the past 30 years, venture capital has become a dominant force in the financing of innovative American companies. From Google to Intel to FedEx, companies supported by venture capital have profoundly changed the U.S. economy. Despite the young age of the venture capital industry, public companies with venture capital backing employ four million people and account for one-fifth of the market capitalization and 44% of the research and development spending of U.S. public companies. From research and development to employment to simple revenue, the companies funded by venture capital are a major part of the U.S. economy.

Mentioned in National Review, Tech Republic