Salesforce CEO and billionaire philanthropist Marc Benioff isn't showing a lot of charity to privately funded startups valued at $1 billion or more before being taken public, a group colloquially named unicorns.
“The unicorn mania that’s going on, that’s dangerous for our Silicon Valley economy," Benioff said to Bloomberg TV. Instead, says Benioff, the model should incorporate a public that can "rationalize" these companies' values.
I know this is a bit of a hobby-horse, but that goddamn name — unicorns — is so non-ironically employed that it's become deeply ironic. Unicorns are either a) 100 percent mythical and zero percent real, or according to lore, b) doomed to extinction. Guess we'll have to wait and see, right Marc?
“I don’t think a day goes by today that I don’t get a call of a company raising money at a billion dollars or more," said Benioff, who probably does take a lot of calls. "And this is just, you know, unheard of... It’s become a self-esteem issue for these entrepreneurs.”
To wit, Techcrunch's handy, gamified Crunchbase Unicorn Leaderboard includes 156 companies. But in a perversion of nature, the more of these things there are, the more endangered they might actually be. They can't all be worth it, the logic goes, and their rarity and novelty are wearing thin as more appear.
The thrust, as it were, of Benioff's argument is this, as quoted in the Business Times: "There's no reason [for] these companies who claim to be worth billions of dollars and making billions of dollars to stay in the private markets."
Recently I heard Netflix CEO Reed Hastings voice a similar sentiment. Going public, he said, was like finally having sex. You're going to be bad — at sex I guess he meant, which maybe by his analogy is having a company that makes money — until you stop thinking about it and start doing it. It was actually a very funny, somewhat self-aware analogy, but yeah it was pretty bro-y in retrospect.
Famed VC Jon Doerr shared similar feelings to Benioff's with the Business Times earlier this month. “Google has acquired one company per week since 2010, but has only five times paid more than a billion dollars for a company,” Doerr said. “There are 150 companies considered unicorns, 93 are in the United States. How does that math work?” Twisting the knife, he channeled Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," quipping, "Unicorns may be more of an albatross."
Or wouldn't that be albatrosses?