We have enjoyed an amazing run in the web startup and investing space over the past five or six years. In this sector of startupland, company creation is up, investment is up, there are plenty of success stories, and not all of them are based on quick flips and takeouts. There is real revenue flowing through web companies and many web startups formed in the last five or six years are operating profitably. It has been good to be a web entrepreneur and a web VC, and I think it will continue to be for quite some time.
However, there are a few storm coulds out there that we need to be watching. In particular, I think the competition for “hot” deals is making people crazy and I am seeing many more unnatural acts from investors happening. If it were just valuations rising quickly, I’d be a bit less concerned. But we are also seeing large deals ($5mm to $15mm) getting done in a few days with little or no due diligence. Investors are showing up at the first meeting with term sheets. I have never seen phases like this end nicely.
We are also seeing a massive talent war for software engineers going on in Silicon Valley and it is spilling over into other regions. The story by Mike Arrington this morning about a Google engineer is just one example. There are many more examples of poaching by companies driving up salaries, equity packages, and stay and join bonuses.
You might say, “this is good for entrepreneurs and software engineers, they are finally being valued what they are worth.” Maybe. But I think both of these situations are unsustainable. And anything that is unsustainable will eventually stop happening. And when it stops happening, there will be a dislocation event that will cause people to change their behaviour.
Of course if you are a VC or a HR person in a web company, you don’t know when that event will happen and you have to operate your business until then. So we will see this behaviour and other troubling things continue to happen for some time to come. When will it stop? Who knows? But be prepared for it to end. And when it does, things will be different. And we should all be prepared for that time.