All the talk about companies being sold, founders getting ousted, and ventures failing or being killed by VCs. This seems to be the trend in Silicon Valley and around the world. The captial markets are a mess. The Wall Street Journal has a story on it today in a post called “Who’s going to fund the next Steve Jobs?”. James Freeman really nails this story and highlights very accurately the ugly trend being witnessed by many entrepreneurs out there right now. This is a big problem with serious economic implications.
This post hits home with me because I’m an entrepreneur living in this market with four kids and it ain’t pretty. The capital markets are in the tiolet and founders around the world are working hard to find no buyers of their ideas or products. It’s a bootstrapping market. The entreprenerial market isn’t broken or starved for good ideas and needed innovation. Instead the ecosystem is stuck in the sand. Incubators are clearly seeing the action and see the need for innovation. Some bright lights are shining out there like Y Combinator among others, but overall it’s pretty dark.
What does this mean?
Bad news for entrepreneurs short term and bad news for innovation long term. M&A doesn’t yield innovation. Passionate and skilled entrepreneurs need the runway to make their visions happen. Lack of exit stunts the available growth capital needed for those next big ‘Apples and Googles”. Big ventures take 3-5 years to develop. Problem today is that capital isn’t founder friendly. Founders getting ousted after one year doesn’t make innovation happen. I’m seeing more founders on the street then ever before. There needs to be a new financial model or new incubator model (or halfway house) for founders and entrepreneurs. Y Combinator calls it a startup for startups.
Big problem is that initial public offerings of young companies had become rare. Venture-backed IPOs in 2005 and 2006 were far below the levels of the early 1990s, never mind the boom years that followed. A recovery in the early months of 2007 still didn’t push IPO numbers anywhere close to the number of young companies being acquired by bigger, more established firms.
Love this passage from James Freeman of the WSJ. “This is bad news for the U.S. economy. Does anyone think that we would be better off if Bill Gates and Michael Dell had sold out to corporate behemoths early in their careers, instead of leading their firms for years as public companies? Would consumers enjoy the same vibrant market in Web services if Yahoo had gobbled up a nascent Google? How powerful would our computers be if Intel had become an IBM subsidiary, instead of going public in 1971?”
“Of course we can’t run these experiments. What we do know is that entrepreneurial drive, combined with venture investors’ money and experience, plus access to the public markets, equaled a tech revolution and an industry that is the envy of the world. That model may be collapsing.”
“True, investment in U.S. venture funds is holding up well despite the market downturn, with investors pouring $9 billion into this asset class in the second quarter. But over the long term, venture investments have to result in a healthy number of home-run IPOs to justify the risks and offset the inevitable failures. The industry cannot continue raising the money to fund American innovation if its returns trail the stock market indexes, as they did for the five-year period through 2007.”
“Some have ascribed the broken venture model to the “cheap revolution,” meaning that, thanks to earlier innovations, the tools to create new tech products are so cheap that entrepreneurs don’t even need funding from venture capitalists. That’s great, but we’re not seeing a flood of IPOs of young companies built without venture money, nor the creation of lots of privately held global powerhouses. By and large, founders of Internet startups are not creating companies with the dream of conquering the world, but rather with the intention of selling to Google, eBay, Yahoo or Microsoft.”
“Our society should be encouraging these entrepreneurs to dream big. Instead, they’re looking for the exit before they have to deal with the burdens of our public markets.”
“An acquisition generally means that the founders move on, see projects they championed get axed, and watch old colleagues get fired. How many company founders would aspire to conduct a sale of the business instead of a public offering, absent some bizarre and unnatural conditions in the market?”
Of course I’m biased but founders and entrepreneurs need to be in charge. Never fire the founder in a changing market.
Note: Steve Jobs was ousted by his investors (Venrock Associates) only to come back and change the world a second time. Can you imagine August Capital firing Bill Gates. Good venture capitalists understand the long term value of entrepreneurship not just the quick flip.