Sure, we're likely in a tech bubble. But hey, that's only because wannabe tech players and foreigners are dumping "dumb money" into the startup sphere, and not because the intellectual powerhouses that are Silicon Valley's venture capitalists have made bad decisions. Or so is the view of Silicon Valley's venture capitalists, anyway. As chronicled by The New York Times Magazine, we learn in a piece published earlier today that many of the VCs populating the Valley are more than willing to concede we're in some sort of bubble, just so long as they can lay the blame for said bubble at the feet of outsiders desperately trying to get a piece of that sweet unicorn pie.
"[Most] of the things we've funded are mostly crap and largely worthless," observed Chamath Palihapitiya, an investor in both Slack and Box, this past March in Vanity Fair. Instead of being rejected by the Sand Hill Road VCs the Times spoke with, this assertion, that the $238 billion raised over the last five years (as the Times pegs it) has gone to "largely worthless" companies, was mostly met with agreement.
"Of course they believed private valuations had become preposterous," the author of the piece recounts VCs as admitting to him. "[Of] course the run in private tech stocks couldn’t possibly last; and of course, many start-ups, especially those of the 'Uber for garden-gnome rearrangement' variety, are in fact largely worthless." So what, if not the billions of dollars investors throw at the Uber-for-garden-gnome-rearrangement companies of the world, could possibly be to blame?
The answer to that would be "dumb money," and, as related by the Times, VC's were all too happy to explain just what exactly that means.
Dumb money is a hedge-funder who’s jealous of a VC Dumb money is sovereign wealth. Dumb money is an Emirati home office. Dumb money is a Facebook millionaire in a Maserati who wants to look like a player. Dumb money wants to get in on tech because it’s a box to check off. Dumb money isn’t in it for the long run. Dumb money doesn’t actually care about the technology.
In other words, dumb money is a catch-all for any investor that isn't a Valley venture capitalist.
The Times piece, which mainly relies on unnamed sources, is not the first to give voice to the suspicion that we're in a rather large bubble. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick spoke of the same issue in March, noting that he intends to "make sure [an Uber IPO] happens as late as possible" as he views the current market as "irrational."
"What I like to say when you get into something that feels like a bubble or, at least, feels irrational is that you still want to build a company that has a strong discipline business building culture," Kalanick told CNBC at the time.
If only all that darned dumb money hadn't come in and made the market so irrational, right guys?
“Loose capital allows the less qualified to participate in each market," Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital wrote in April, echoing the dumb-money sentiments. "This less qualified player brings more reckless execution, which drags even the best entrepreneur onto an especially sloppy playing field. This threatens returns for all involved."
And so where does that leave us? With enough dumb money mixed in with the supposedly smart, we may start to see a situation where with each passing day it gets just a little bit harder to disentangle the two. And so if and when that pop finally does come, the dumb might just take the smart with it.