Screengrab of attacking unicorn: The Cabin In The Woods
Less than two weeks after investor Mark Cuban warned us all that the Silicon Valley sky is getting ready to fall, another VC is making similar predictions: that the Bay Area is in a “risk bubble” and, when it pops, tech companies, companies that do business with those tech joints, and area real estate are all going to suffer.
This time the doomsayer is investor Bill Gurley, who has money in Uber, DropBox, SnapChat and co-working real-estate play WeWork, among others. Gurley, who’s described with superlatives like “tech’s most prominent investor” by various tech pubs, was speaking at SXSW when he made his predictions, and they aren’t all that rosy. Some quotes:
“I don’t know that we are in a valuation bubble,” Gurley said. “We are taking on, in these startups, especially these so-called unicorns, a level of risk that we haven’t seen since 1999.” [Siliconhills]
There is no fear in Silicon Valley right now,” he said. “A complete absence of fear.” He added that more people are employed by money-losing companies in Silicon Valley than ever before. [Fortune]
Silicon Valley’s optimism could lead to the death of so-called “unicorn” companies — startups that reach a $1 billion valuation before their IPO. Those companies could face a turn in the market in the near future. “I do think you’ll see some dead unicorns this year,” Gurley said. [Business Insider]
By some accounts, there are more than 50 of these billion-plus companies in the Valley at the moment, with more added seemingly every other week. [New York Times]
The number of tech unicorns is thought to have doubled in the past 12 months, with data from Digi-Capital showing that there are now more than ever before. In 2014 there were 68 unicorns in mobile internet companies alone, with a total value of around $261 billion. [Business Insider]
Burn rates, the amount of cash companies are losing every month to operate, are higher than they have ever been, Gurley said. [Siliconhills]
If the free flowing capital, which is driven by low interest rates, ever dries up, it will affect more than just money-losing startups… it will affect a number of companies whose revenue is increasingly reliant on spending by venture-backed startups. Take Facebook, for example. A significant portion of their income now comes from venture-backed apps that are spending heavily to promote app downloads within Facebook, Gurley said. “As you get more of these dependancies, it increases the likelihood that if anything slows we’ll have [problems],” Gurley said. [Fortune]
If there is indeed a collapse, Mr. Gurley says, it will not just be the tech industry that feels the pain. Real estate, for example, could take a hit. Home prices in the San Francisco Bay area have appreciated by 97 percent since January 2000, according to a study published by the Paragon Real Estate group. If the influx of tech industry wealth begins to dry up, Bay-area property owners will have to deal with the potential drop in prices. [New York Times]
This isn’t the first time Gurley’s pulled the bubble alarm: in a January Fortune report entitled “The Age of Unicorns,” he said that “many” of these so-called unicorns were going to flame out this year, warning that “I think you’re going to see a lot of failure in 2015.”
Some of these unicorns (I wish we could find a better term that “unicorn,” any ideas?) will collapse under “their own overvalued weight,” Gurley predicts, and others will die after the failure of one leads to a trickle-down financial pullback. Those of you who were around in 2000 might recall that era’s collapsing companies and the resulting pullback panic, as VCs got scared and stopped handing out money to any fool who asked for it.
So is this a situation of those who don’t recall history being doomed to repeat it? According to Gurley, yeah. Per Siliconhills, Gurley said that, “A number of entrepreneurs today don’t even remember the Dot Com bust of 2000.”
“They were in 9th grade when that happened and the further they get away from that event, the more risk they are willing to take on.”