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Quattrone: ‘LinkedIn is the Netscape of its era’

Jul 20, 2011

By Dan Primack, senior editor

FORTUNE -- When Frank Quattrone was a student at Stanford Business School, a classroom speech by fellow 25 year-old Steve Jobs sparked an interest in Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who want to change the world. Quattrone would go on to virtually underwrite the initial Internet boom, helping bring public companies like Amazon (amzn) and Netscape. Today he advises tech companies on M&A, including last week's $1.3 billion purchase of PopCap Games by Electronic Arts (erts).

So it was inevitable that he'd be asked about bubbles Wednesday at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen.

"It really feels to me more like 1995," Quattrone said. "When we took Netscape public, if people wanted to invest in the web, that was the only stock that they could do it by investing in.  So Netscape's market value was higher than it probably otherwise would have been, if there were lots of other ways to play that theme.... LinkedIn (lnkd) is sort of the Netscape of its era."

What's important, he said, are the underlying fundamentals. Today's hot Internet companies have more revenue than did their predecessors, with "business models that really make sense." At the same time, however, he acknowledged concern over some younger companies that are asking prospective investors to take their future growth projections on faith. For example, can a localized company that has succeeded in three markets necessarily scale into three hundred markets?

Quattrone also opined on the recent trend of company founders selling shares prior to a company IPO or sale. He said that each situation must be viewed individually, to see if founders really are looking for some basic family comforts ("paying the mortgage") or trying to prematurely cash out. In most cases, he said, he believes it is now the former, with management teams not viewing an early payday as a reason to stop coming into the office.

Read the full transcript here or watch the video of the interview here:

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