Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The Great Stagnation and the Ventureconomy
To follow on from recent post about a failing global economic report card--a nice demonstration of yet another broken capital market.
Click the chart to biggie size it--and note the peak's in '96, well before the peak of the dot com bubble in terms of equity market indices. What does that suggest?
Perhaps that the real bubble was in venture finance--and that it's been bursting for quite a while. And, more deeply, that capital markets today are more systemically, chronically broken than is often suspected: they're shuffling the same old assets around, extracting the last meagre bits of value from yesterday--instead of investing in tomorrow.
While IPO was once the great victory march for any entrepreneur (and the VC's who backed them), it has become much easier to sell a company early in its life cycle to a juggernaut.
Flash-in-the-pan internet technologies are wise to cash in through acquisition while overvalued in the heat of rapid growth rather than stick out the long haul of enduring value creation -- the kind you can take public. Not only that, but once public you're legally enslaved to maximize short-term shareholder value over enduring long-term social benefit. Umair, you've illuminated that downward spiral quite clearly. It's an increasingly unpopular position among the ambitious visionaries growing businesses today.
Maybe the IPO slump has as much to do with uninterested entrepreneurs as it does anemic capital markets.
In fairness, IPOs are not a stellar metric to track when looking at the health of the "ventureconomy."
Out in the Valley things shifted to an almost entirely acquisition-based model years ago. Startups are funded with an explicit exit strategy of getting bought by someone larger after two to four years of running.
If you could get numbers on VC firms, total funds under management and returns that would be better. Anecdotally I hear that a lot of funds are looking pretty poor over a five-to-seven year timeframe.
There's also been an explosion in micro-vc and super-angel investment in the past four years, as more and more investors combine and acquisation-based exit strategy with the "lean startup" management philosophy. Less capital required per venture means funds can diversify their holdings further.