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If This is a Bubble, Why Does It Feel So Damn Hard?
Are we in a Bubble? Maybe, maybe not. We are certainly closer to a peak than we are to a trough. You read about it, people talk about it, and it’s reflected in financings left and right.
Sure, companies are imploding or having troubles too. Newly public companies have big first-day jumps, and equally big first-earnings-call collapses. Overfunded startups fail to achieve their promise and people jump ship. But then, you hear about another unicorn, and other mega round, another company that seems to be getting traction when the underlying business seems to be a total head scratcher.
In the midst of all this, you are building your own company, and it’s hard as hell. It seems like there is a bubble, but then, why does it seem so damn hard?
It turns out, outside of a very small minority of companies, what you feel is probably more like what most founders feel. It’s tough out there, and actually that toughness is made worse because of the perceived frothiness of the market. What’s going on? Couple thoughts.
First, if there is a bubble, the frenzy tends to be concentrated in narrow segments. A few years ago, it was largely around seed and early stage financings. Today, it’s concentrated in mega rounds of a relatively small number of companies. If you are in the right place at the right time, the wind is at your back big time. But it’s not the experience for everyone, nor is it the experience of most founders.
Second, the winds seem to be changing very quickly. It’s kind of like startups are all ships sailing in the ocean. There are heavy winds that can propel you extraordinarily fast. But those winds are shifting really quickly. It’s not a strong steady breeze. Conditions are choppy (apologies, I don’t sail so this metaphor may be really off).
Third, valuation is just a number, and a theoretical one. Fred Wilson said it really well in this post. I’d suggest not getting too hung up on the hyper-growth rounds. Look at the companies going public. The public markets are actually pretty rational, and are rewarding good companies and punishing bad ones. A lot of the unicorns think they will be great, independent public companies, and most of them honestly are not going to get there. But great companies are being built, and the public companies are what great companies look like. An old boss of mine put it well – “You’re not as good as you think you are on your best day. But you’re not as bad as you seem to be on your worst day”.
Fourth, keep fighting, and don’t be discouraged or panic. It doesn’t pay to try to time the market. I have no idea if it’s really a bubble, and if so, whether it’s going to end or accelerate. And great companies are built in good or bad times.