Pivots are gut wrenching. The more eyes there are on the company, the tougher they are. Therefore, public-company pivots are usually the most gut wrenching. Many public companies of the past ceased to stay public because their leaders couldn't face the pivot (change is a bitch - who moved my cheese?!), their business radically declined, and they eventually got delisted from NASDAQ or the NYSE.
My good friend and the founder of Capital Factory, Josh Baer, wrote a post last year saying that he will invest in your B2C startup. Well, so will we. We wrote the first check for ROIKOI, which went on to raise well over $1 million, and also made investments in Bigwig Games, Blue Avocado, Deep Eddy Vodka, Dropoff, and Threadover the past two years. We were also one of the first checks for Wisecrack, but that is based in Los Angeles, and invested in the Series A for talklocal, based in DC. And we are investors in several venture capital funds, including Lead Edge Capital, which holds early positions in Alibaba Group, BlaBlaCar, and other large-outcome B2C companies but these are not in Austin so I guess I'm diverging from my point of this post. In any case, that is a total of eight B2C company investments (if you include Wisecrack and talklocal) out of a total of 33 startups we are involved with, representing 24% of our portfolio (and 18% if you exclude Wisecrack and talklocal).Real Massive also has a kind of B2C dynamic, even though it is B2B, so maybe I should count them too as they are Austin-based. But our primary focus is SaaS, for which we have holdings in 19 startups (57% of our portfolio). Both Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics were/are SaaS businesses and we have the most experience to bring to that category. SaaS is also far less risky than B2C, and that brings me to the real point of this post.
This is part one of a three-part series on entrepreneurship. The parts:
- 'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions
- Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech (Lucky7 post)
- How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world (Lucky7 post)
It's March of 2013 and I'm at Wharton serving as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence when I get a question that baffles me. I'm speaking at the Penn Founders' Club, where all University of Pennsylvania students are welcome as long as they are fervently working on a real business while they are in school. I've just wrapped up my opening comments and it is time for Q&A. The baffling question: "Have all of the really big ideas already been thought of?". I couldn't believe it when I could see the student was being serious and not just pulling my leg, and I was fired up. I passionately describe how the world always needs entrepreneurs to drive it forward, and there are always ideas - everywhere - if you just look hard to find them. I talk about how I just read the book Abundance, wrote the longest book review of my life on it at Lucky7, and there are thousands of great ideas in the book for entrepreneurs to solve the world's biggest problems. A few months later, Waze gets bought for $966 million by Google. A few months after that, Snapchat gets a rumored $3 billion offer from Facebook, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post on valuations. And then almost a year after receiving that question at Penn, WhatsApp gets a firm acquisition offer of $19 billion from Facebook, one month after Google buys Nest for $3.2 billion.
We live in very interesting times. It's 2010 and I'm at a family reunion. We've just barely survived the most cataclysmic global financial crisis in the modern history and one of my cousins asks me, "How can tech be doing so well while the rest of the economy is doing so poorly?". I did my best to answer but the question kept eating at me. I remembered Michael Porter's Harvard Business Review article about the Internet being the sixth force - and how it would disrupt all of the previous five forces cited in his famous strategic model.
Fast forward just four years later and a five-year old company, WhatsApp, is bought for $19 billion by Facebook, a company that itself is only ten-years old at the time but worth a mighty $170 billion. Just two years earlier, when Facebook went public, the media was asking for Morgan Stanley's head - and sometimes Mark Zuckerberg's or David Ebersman's (CFO of Facebook) head - for what was perceived at that time as an overpriced IPO. Except that it wasn't... and any investors that held on to their IPO stock should now be very happy campers.
Are we back in the tulip days of the Internet? I lived through it in Silicon Valley from the years 2000-2003 (the best years for humility-inducing training for a tech entrepreneur and investor, in my opinion). Facebook at a $113.5 billion market cap (well above their IPO price, BTW)? Twitter at a $22.3 billion market cap as a newly public company? Snapchat at a $3 billion private valuation with only around 30 employees? There is no doubt that we have had major valuation movements recently, including Google now being worth $344.7 billion - to put that in context, Walmart is ranked #1 on the Fortune 500 and is worth $259.9 billion. Apple remains the world's most valuable company at $467.7 billion, with Exxon Mobil in second position at $415 billion and ranked #2 on the Fortune 500. Tech is clearly beating the old world as the world's most valuable companies. But Snapchat, a company with no revenue, at a $3 billion private valuation? When valuations soar like this, I think it is time to pause and ask some questions.
This just cannot be good for Microsoft. I don't see how this turns around. Windows 8 and the Surface are just not getting the traction expected to maintain their monopoly. For entrepreneurs, though, this creates a lot of opportunity. It also does for Apple, Amazon, and Google, of course.
One of my favorite books is The Innovator's Dilemma and here it is in action again. I consider this a must read for entrepreneurs. It will give you the confidence to go from a perspective of "that's already been done before" to "that's already been done before and can be disrupted because of the dependency on the old order" (Who Moved My Cheese?).
Here is the full article.