It’s anecdotal evidence, but it’s everywhere in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. A neighbor was cooling her heels by the curb, suitcase next to her. She’s going to Europe on a “vacation-thing,” organized and paid for by her company, she told me. A team-building perk. She’s a coder at a startup, her first job out of college. When she moved in less than two years ago, trucks kept pulling up to deliver her latest acquisitions. One day, she gingerly parked a new BMW in the garage. As we were chatting about her trip to Europe, a limo pulled up for her ride to the airport. That too was part of the perk. No expenses will be spared.
This startup occupies super-expensive San Francisco office space that’s way too big for the number of employees. It’s embellished with designer furniture. Free lunches are de rigueur. All paid for with the boundless money it is getting from investors.
But who cares, except for a few wayward souls in the VC community who lament those sizzling burn rates. Bill Gurley, partner at Benchmark, had stepped to the forefront a few weeks ago to warn that “the average burn rate at the average venture-backed company” is at an “all-time high since ‘99 and maybe in many industries higher than in ‘99” [“Excessive Amounts of Risk” Doom Startup Bubble].
Marc Andreessen, founder of long-forgotten Netscape, then warned in a series oftweets: “When the market turns, and it will turn, we will find out who has been swimming without trunks on. Many high burn rate companies will VAPORIZE.” His final and most eloquent tweet: “Worry.”
Some other VCs chimed in when they had a minute, in between throwing even more cash at these companies to drive their valuations ever deeper into the stratosphere: in the first half, they’d thrown $15.6 billion at them in later-stage financing rounds, theWall Street Journal reported, on track to break the record of $28.4 billion set in 2000, the year of peak craziness as the whole scheme was already collapsing.
So now, 49 US startups that have not yet gone public and have not yet been acquired have valuations of over $1 billion, with five of them in, or nearly in, the $10 billion club. Uber tops the list with a valuation of $18 billion. And Snapchat, one of these $10-billion outfits, doesn’t even have revenues yet though it might eventually by selling ads via its disappearing messages.
Never before have there been that many startups with $1 billion valuations. The prior record was set last year when 28 companies achieved that milestone. In 2000, before it all collapsed, 10 startups had valuations over one billion. A parabolic rise of mega-valuation startups:
The overall IPO market has been whipped into a frenzy this year, with the most startups going public in the first half since 2000. But not the $1-billion-and-over kind; only 7 of them have gone public, including Alibaba that decided to sell its shares to US investors rather than to investors in China where it belongs. By contrast, in 2000, 38 companies with valuations of $1 billion or more were pushed out the IPO window.