Venture capitalists invested more money in startup companies during the first quarter of 2014 than in any other since the dotcom boom went bust in 2001. They also spent more per deal than at any other time in the past 14 years, including a record nine rounds of more than $100 million each (for companies like Airbnb and Dropbox). And $1 billion-plus valuations for unprofitable private companies are now commonplace. This all comes courtesy of a voracious bull equity market that has welcomed most tech IPOs, similar to the last time around. Not wanting to be caught flatfooted again, many pundits are claiming we’re near the top of a new tech bubble — or perhaps just past the peak, in light of the Nasdaq’s shedding 6.49% of its value in the six weeks beginning March 3.
There is no doubt that if the music hasn’t already stopped, it will at some point. Perhaps tomorrow or a year from tomorrow. And when that time comes, what will happen to capital availability for startups? Will it be a repeat of 2001, when thousands of cash-starved companies collapsed under the collective weight of their foosball tables and hundreds of VC firms faded into the ether? Or is the “things are different this time” cliché actually true — not in terms of the cycle’s existence, but in the nature of its consequences? From my perspective, it’s the latter. No replay of 2001 here, thanks to at least three major differences: