Startups Anonymous: "We're in a bubble"
[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we'll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]
Look, kids, listen to grandpa here. I’m old enough to know people who lost huge amounts of money in 1999-2001, and know a few people now in retirement age who ended up semi-retired on account of the last tech bubble.
We’re in a bubble and the market is overheated. That’s not disputable. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a few good years left before lean times set in. Fools tend to call peaks early and often.
There are three factors at play, at least.
First, there’s this thing called the “magazine indicator” from back when people used to print stuff on paper, Barbaric, am I right?
Anyway the magazine indicator was Wall Street jargon that said if a major publication ran a cover story about how “Market to soar indefinitely” or “stocks never to recover” it usually meant the opposite would happen. Talk of a bubble right now means we’re probably just starting to enter the overheating phase. Fools call bubbles and busts early and often–saavy players don’t call either, they just adopt an appropriate strategy. You can still go broke doing that, too.
Second, like it or not, we live in a capitalist economy subject to periodic business cycle downturns in all industries. Profit maximization runs headlong into profitability, or vice versa, at some point. This can’t be escaped until a damn world-historical change in economic structures. The last time that happened was when European and Asian feudalism went out of style so don’t hold your breath. Who knows though, maybe global warming makes the next 20 years look like Zardoz.
Lastly, and more practical, the money that’s in tech now is almost entirely the pocket change of large capital management firms. Tech is where smart money went after houses went out of style a few years ago. The economics of startups are pretty simple: make small (to a capital mgmt company) investments on long-shot odds -- in other words, high-risk acceptable-losses money. This class of capital will always be available, it just might be harder to get. Every day people moan about how some “risk averse” guy decided that a cockamamie business model was too risky even for his mad money. Right now, there are plenty of insane ideas still getting funded.
Investors and even larger conglomerate companies like startups because it lets them effectively outsource cost centers like R&D. I think that trend will continue. It doesn’t mean it won’t get a bubble-popping, just that this is a basic model: Big Money gives some dollars to a bunch of 25-year-olds who only have Macbooks and a prayer.
[Photo by Nicki Varkevisser]