A Growth Story

Yesterday I saw (and twittered) a comScore report on online spending this holiday season. So far this holiday season (comScore calls Nov & Dec the holiday shopping season), $8.2bn has been spent online which is down 4% versus the same time period last year. The report goes on to say:

comScore’s forecast is that holiday online retail spending for the November – December period will be flat versus year ago, significantly lower than last year’s growth rate of 19 per cent and below the retail e-commerce growth rate of 9 per cent that has been observed for 2008 year-to-date.

That got me thinking. Flat year over year growth is pretty bad news for an industry that has been growing at 20% per year. But at least it’s not negative. Flat is the new up 20% I guess.

But on a more serious note, I’ve been meaning to post some data that I am privy to by virtue of our role as board members on a bunch of privately held companies. Not all of our companies are generating revenue but quite a few are at this point and the numbers we are seeing out of them are actually pretty promising.

I am not going to cite any confidential information and I am not going to identify any companies by name in this post. But I’ll give you all some anecdotal evidence that things may not be as bad as everyone thinks.

We have two companies in our portfolio that are setting record revenues every day or two. We have a company that is having it’s best booking quarter ever. We have an advertising based company that is having its best ad sales season ever. We are also seeing search advertising holding up remarkably well in the face of this downturn.

The fact is that we are not really seeing any signs of major meltdown in any of our portfolio companies yet. Its important to recognise we are only a month or two into this mess and that we won’t see the real impact of the downturn until we hit 2009 spending budgets.

It’s also important to note that these are all small companies by any measure and they are selling new things in new ways. They are probably less economically sensitive than big established companies. It’s hard to imagine companies like Cisco and IBM being as immune to the downturn as small startups.

But amidst all the doom and gloom, I want to be sure to point out that disaster hasn’t struck everywhere just yet. If comScore is right that e-commerce this holiday season will be flat, that’s not a total disaster either. With the best tech/online/e-commerce stocks trading at values that expect declining profits and cash flow year over year, I think it’s worth noting that this could turn out differently than conventional wisdom. In fact, it always does.

Fred Wilson is a partner at Union Square Ventures. He writes the influential

, where this post was originally published.



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