By Heather Clancy
April 5, 2016

Your regular host, Adam Lashinsky, is on assignment. Erin Griffith is a writer at Fortune.

Just over a year ago, Mark Cuban declared in a not-at-all hyperbolic blog post that we’re in a tech bubble worse than the dotcom bubble of 2000 because poor angel investors (who are still required to be accredited investors with $1 million in the bank) don’t know what they’re in for when they buy illiquid startup stock.

Now he’s worried about the exact opposite: Poor startups will have their creativity and growth stifled if the SEC starts messing with their valuations. SEC chair Mary Jo White recently expressed concern over inflated private company valuations and their lack of transparency, a concern that Cuban dismisses. “They’re private companies,” he told CNBC. “What do they need to be more transparent about?” I dunno, maybe telling those poor angel investors what they’re in for?

Cuban, of course, is a thought leader, a distinction that the Ellen Pao trial taught us is required for success in venture capital. I’ve noticed lately that many venture capitalists have realized that if they can’t star in a reality TV show, they can thought lead by making up a new animal metaphor. It worked for Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee, who came up with the original “unicorn” term, though I’d argue “unicorn” never would have caught on if she hadn’t published it alongside a seminal market analysis full of data.

Every week there’s a new animal: The latest is the cockroach, a startup that can survive a nuclear war. But there are also black swans, centaurs, and ponies. Someone is trying to make dragons happen. They’re torturing the metaphor to death. We’re even at the point of having actual debates over whether Fitbit is a unicorn or a dragon.

Of course, Silicon Valley has always been a place of mysticism. Recall that when Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky first arrived, he thought everyone believed in angels.

I should be clear: I fully embrace this silliness. In fact, I’d argue the best thing to come from the Age of Unicorns is that we’re now using animals to talk about business instead of clichéd war and sports analogies. So block and tackle away in the trenches. Feel free to hit singles and doubles instead of home runs. To the angels among us in Silicon Valley, you’re either a unicorn or a cockroach.

Erin Griffith

This essay is part of Griffith’s ongoing series about startups, “A Boom with a View.”



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