Bill Gurley predicts ‘dead unicorns’ in startup-land this year
Bill Gurley, the prominent investor behind Uber and Snapchat, has been sounding the tech bubble alarm for months now. He’s preached about the dangerous appetite for risk in the market, the alarmingly high burn rates and the excess of capital sloshing around in Silicon Valley.
At the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, Gurley rang the alarm once again. We may not be in a tech bubble, the venture capitalist said, but we’re in a risk bubble.
“There is no fear in Silicon Valley right now,” he said. “A complete absence of fear.” He added that more people are employed by money-losing companies in Silicon Valley than ever before.
Will there be a crash? “I do think you’ll see some dead unicorns this year,” he said, using the term used to describe startups with valuations higher than $1 billion. (For more on startup unicorns and Bill Gurley, see Fortune’s February 2015 cover story, “The Age of Unicorns.”)
If the free flowing capital, which is driven by low interest rates, ever dries up, it will affect more than just money-losing startups. It will affect the San Francisco real estate market, Gurley noted. And more importantly, it will affect a number of companies whose revenue is increasingly reliant on spending by venture-backed startups.
Take Facebook, for example. A significant portion of its income now comes from venture-backed apps that are spending heavily to promote app downloads within Facebook, Gurley said. “As you get more of these dependancies, it increases the likelihood that if anything slows we’ll have [problems],” Gurley said.
Gurley said the best way to prepare for the worst is to have a back-up plan, so that if everything falls apart, the company can quickly change courses and get to profitability. “The best entrepreneurs already think that way,” he said. “The younger ones don’t.”
Nonetheless, when asked which companies Gurley wishes he had invested in, he immediately named two unicorns: Airbnb, which is rumored to be raising capital at a $20 billion valuation, and Slack, the youngest company to get to a $1 billion valuation.