Last April I reported on venture valuations going into Wascally Wabid land: insanely great levels from very small beginnings. Today the WSJ headlined the phenomenon as Web Start-Up Values Soar, with some examples:
- Quora raised $14m at $88m post value before it even launched its service
- Blippy raised $11m at a $46m post value
- Foursquare raised $20m at $95m post value, up from a mere $1.35m at $6m value less than a year earlier
For those not familiar with venture funding, these are very big jumps, and very rapid. There have been more like this, although the whole group of wascally wabid companies is still relatively few (under 20).
What it has done is spawn a Cambrian Explosion of new ventures, increasingly funded by a new class of venture investors, the so-called SuperAngels. When this emergent phenomenon is combined with the global rush for smartphones and connected devices, it suggests that a new tech boom is coming.
This is how it felt around 1978, when a plethora of new PC companies got started, some with wascally widiculous names like Kentucky Fried Computers, or the dot-com bubble, with all of those pets.com’s. Reading economic history, this must but what it felt like in the early days of autos, with over 300 car companies started. There have been false starts before, such as pen-based computing in the late 1980s, but they never got this far.
Tech booms follow a different timetable than credit bubbles, and are not driven by cheap money but by fundamental breakthroughs. The main driver of the other tech bubbles has been Moore’s Law, the inexorable improvement in processing power at the chip level. The PC bubble came from the microprocessor. The dot-com bubble came from breakthroughs in modems. This proto-bubble is coming from the culmination of Moore’s Law, where all the infrastructure to build a consumer web app is available for dirt cheap. Moore’s Law has made computers, software, networks and data centers so cheap that value is being created at the top of the stack. The Era of Cheap is drving the explosion of new consumer Internet ventures.
It may seem challenging for a new tech boom to emerge inside of the New Normal economic environment. Yet the PC bubble grew large during the last double-dip, in 1980-82, and faded when the broader market took off. In the New Normal, there is a Global Scramble for Yield: with rates low everywhere, capital rushes into areas that can deliver. And when tech booms run, they deliver remarkable returns, at least to the winners. And they can run even when the other indexes stutter-step.