Is being ‘top quartile’ any good?

June 29, 2011, 5:05 PM UTC

What if we judged everything by venture capital standards?

By Larry Cheng, contributor

Historically, the measure of success in the venture capital business has been consistent top-quartile performance. Each firm generally compares their fund performance to funds that started the same year or vintage, and if they beat the top-quartile threshold put out by Cambridge Associates, they feel good about themselves. This got me thinking about whether being top-quartile in other avenues of life would even be considered as “good.” Here’s a little sampling:

From professional sports

  • Major League Baseball batting average: There are 750 MLB baseball players, making the top quartile threshold 188. That batter is Alfonso Soriano with the Chicago Cubs with an inconspicuous batting average of .270.
  • NBA Scoring: There are 452 NBA players, making the top-quartile threshold 113. That player is Jordan Crawford of the Washington Wizards who averaged a respectable 11.7 points per game.
From everyday life
  • Height of Male Adults: This CDC study says that the top-quartile threshold for height in adult US males over 20 years old is 71.5.” That translates to a healthy 5′ 11.5“.
  • U.S. Household Income: According to these statistics, the top-quartile threshold for US HH income is: ~$80,000.

From geography

  • U.S. State Populations: There are 50 U.S. states, with the top-quartile spot being Washington with 6.7 million people (with the top spot being California at 37 million).
  • Country Nominal GDP: There are 181 countries listed in Wikipedia with the top-quartile threshold occupied by Czech Republic with $192 billion (with the top spot being the US at $14 trillion).
It seems in some avenues of life, being top-quartile is positively nondescript. It’s another version of perceptually average (e.g., would any VC brag about being the Czech Republic of global economies?). But in some avenues of life, like height, being the top-quartile is more impressive than I would have thought (e.g., I would have never guess that 25% of adult males are nearly 6′ or taller). My guess is if I re-ran the numbers to find a percentile which is consistently viewed as excellent across all walks of life – that threshold would probably be the top 5% (or vigintile), not the top 25%.
Larry Cheng (@larryvc) is a partner with Boston-based VC firm Volition Capital. He blogs at Thinking About Thinking.

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