Posts Tagged ‘Marc andreessen’

The technology industry is clearly prospering, but has it entered a period of irrational exuberance? There are good reasons to worry that it has and that the bursting of this bubble could be painful, to investors in and employees of tech firms as well as to the broader economy.

By several measures — stock prices, multibillion-dollar acquisitions, the compensation of employees, the money being spent by start-ups that have little revenue or profits — the technology industry is in a period that is starting to feel like the late 1990s. Even some industry elders who lived through the previous boom and bust, including the venture capitalists Marc Andreessen and Bill Gurley, are warning that Silicon Valley might be overheating.

There are, of course, differences between the current boom and the earlier one. Most tech companies that have gone public in recent years, like Facebook and Twitter, are more mature than companies that created a frenzy on the stock market some 15 years ago before fizzling out, like Pets.com and Webvan. Tech companies that go public these days are more likely to be profitable or at least have been in business long enough to have some kind of track record.

Stock market valuations, measured by long-term corporate earnings, are high by historical standards but much lower than they were in early 2000, according to data collected by Robert Shiller, the Yale economist. That should provide some comfort to investors, though not much. At the end of trading on Friday, the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index was down 7 percent from its recent high last month.

The problems are not limited to publicly traded companies. Many privately held tech companies have such easy access to venture capital that they are spending lavishly and burning through cash without a clear plan for turning a profit. Office rents in San Francisco jumped 10 percent in the first nine months of this year, according to the CBRE Group, which estimates that rents in that city could be higher than rents in Manhattan by the end of 2015. In a series of tweets, Mr. Andreessen recently said that many tech start-ups would probably fail and have to fire employees. He ended by telling his followers, “Worry.”

Much more of the current tech boom is concentrated in Silicon Valley than it was in the late 1990s. About half of the $22.7 billion that venture capital firms invested in start-ups in the first six months of this year went to businesses located there. By contrast, Silicon Valley’s share of venture capital investments was less than 35 percent during the late 1990s, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. This suggests that a tech downturn could be particularly bad for the economy of Northern California.

It’s impossible to predict with precision when business cycles will turn. But as many investors learned more than a decade ago, the valuations of companies can outstrip their ability to make money for only so long.

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Marc Andreessen Sounds Warning on Start-Ups Burning Cash


Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist.
Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist.Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Fretting over a possible downturn in Silicon Valley is now a mainstream pursuit.

Marc Andreessen, the prominent venture capitalist, took to Twitter on Thursday to warn against excessive spending by start-ups that have attracted capital from investors. Companies that spend money on fancy offices or too many employees, he said, could be in trouble when the market turns.

Mr. Andreessen is one of several technology insiders to recently raise such concerns. DealBook reported in August that, with capital flowing freely and start-up valuations soaring, some start-ups were raising cash as an insurance policy against leaner times. Bill Gurley, a partner at the venture capital firm Benchmark, warned in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that “no one’s fearful, everyone’s greedy, and it will eventually end.” Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square Ventures, later wrote a blog post about excessive “burn rates.”

But Mr. Andreessen’s Twitter lecture was notable because he has been one of the most vocal opponents of the idea that Silicon Valley is currently in a bubblelike environment.

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Here is an article from SF Gate.

“Ning Inc., the social-networking site co-founded by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, did what many young Web companies only dream of: It got customers weaned on free services to start paying.

Since telling users in April that it would stop offering the means to build and operate social networks for free, Ning’s paid user base tripled to 45,000, with memberships starting at $2.95 a month. The privately held Palo Alto company is adding paying subscribers at the rate of 5,000 a month, three times what it was before.

“A very large percentage of economic activity is shifting online, and it makes sense that there are more services that are going to charge,” said Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape Communications Corp., who serves as Ning’s chairman. “It also means there are going to be more people willing to pay.”

Few are charging

Ning is one of the few social-media sites charging users, following a path cut by media and entertainment providers, which have experimented with fee-based services. Founded in 2004, the same year as Facebook Inc., Ning failed to turn a profit with its original strategy: offering most services for free and charging a monthly fee for extra features. Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Gina Bianchini resigned in March, and 42 percent of the staff was laid off in April.

Social-networking tools on the Web are widely available for free. Facebook, which has more than 500 million users, is expected to generate at least $1.4 billion this year, mostly from the sale of ads, two people familiar with the matter said last month. Twitter, with more than 100 million users, began running ads on its site this year.

With a large population of Web users relying on Facebook for basic social services, like keeping track of close friends, there’s an opportunity for other sites to charge for more unique services, said Lou Kerner, a social-media analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc. in New York.

“Facebook has won the free social media race,” said Kerner. “What you’re seeing in the marketplace is folks who are trying to find out business models that are more niche-oriented.”

For Jive Software Inc., that niche is business. The startup, also based in Palo Alto, sells social-networking and online collaboration tools to corporations, including Nike Inc., Intel Corp. and Charles Schwab Corp. Jive’s services start at $100 per user per year, and many customers pay for at least 10,000 users to start.

“The use of social software in the consumer world has no doubt fueled the interest level” among business users, said Tony Zingale, Jive’s CEO. The company, which received a $30 million investment last month led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, expects bookings of as much as $25 million in the last three months of the year, he said.

Paying subscribers are an attractive asset to venture capitalists, who are often asked for money from Internet startups planning to cash in on advertising.

“Ad-driven is a lazy model,” said Dave McClure, a startup adviser and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. “If there is value, then there probably is a paid relationship that works there at some point,” he said.

Business networking site LinkedIn Corp. generates some revenue by selling professional services, like tools for finding and recruiting job candidates. Meetup Inc., a service for coordinating social events, charges organizers a fee.

The “freemium” model of charging a portion of users is nothing new. One of the earliest examples is PayPal Inc., founded in 1998, which made its payment service free to buyers of products and services so that many people would use it.

“You need free users to enhance the overall value for the product,” said David Sacks, one of the founders of PayPal, who now runs enterprise social-media startup Yammer.”

Read more here.

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Here is a good Techcrunch article about Foursquare.

“A months long fundraising process for Foursquare is in its last stages, we’ve heard from multiple sources, and Andreessen Horowitz looks to be preparing to check-in to Foursquare to take an investor badge.

The company has delayed committing to new venture capital as they considered buyout offers – negotiations went deep with both Yahoo and Facebook, and possibly Microsoft. The Yahoo discussions ended weeks ago, and Facebook passed on an acquisition earlier this week, we’ve heard.

That means the company is raising that big new round of financing. And a slew of venture capitalists, including Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Spark Capital and First Round Capital were all rumored to competing heavily for inclusion despite the $80 million or so valuation, say our sources.

Andreessen Horowitz, despite rumors that they were pulling out of discussions with the company weeks ago over concerns that too much information was leaking to the press, is the last venture capitalist standing. The fact that founding partner Marc Andreessen is on the board of directors of Facebook, a key partner or competitor of Foursquare, may be the factor that put them over the top.

Existing investors OATV and Union Square Ventures will also participate heavily in the new round, we’ve heard. In the meantime they’ve likely already loaned additional capital to the company.”

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Here is a good VC article from Alibaba.

“BURLINGAME, Calif. — Marc Andreessen, in a recent Forbes interview, noted there are hundreds of venture-capital outfits slogging it out right now, trying desperately to squeeze profits out of a terrible investing environment–but only a handful worth their salt.

He’s right. And this week’s news that Amazon.com ( AMZN – news – people ) would buy online-shoe retailer Zappos for $807 million in Amazon stock, plus some cash, highlights the staying power of one of those perennial Sand Hill Road stars, Sequoia Capital.

Sequoia is the notoriously tough firm that backed winners like Google ( GOOG – news – people ), Apple ( AAPL – news – people ), Cisco ( CSCO – news – people ), YouTube and PayPal. (I could go on.) It also owned a big chunk of Zappos, a company with a somewhat unlikely business model that excelled by providing unparalleled customer service and shoe selection on the Web. Sequoia recently told its investors it put about $48 million into Zappos and will get just over $169 million from the Amazon transaction. That’s not a “home run” in VC parlance. But it’s a very respectable return of about three-and-a-half times Sequoia’s original investment, particularly in these depressed times.

In the first six months of this year, there were only four tech-related M&A deals of over $100 million involving companies that took venture capital, according to Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association. (There were a few VC-backed IPOs in the first half, too, but no blockbusters.) The biggest of the tech M&A deals, Cisco Systems‘ $590 million purchase of camcorder maker Pure Digital Technologies, also involved Sequoia, which owned a small stake.

Sequoia’s profits from that deal were very small, but it still made a nice return: Sequoia told its investors in March that it invested just over $1.4 million in Pure Digital and would receive $13 million in Cisco shares and $1 million in cash after the acquisition. (The biggest VC-related deal in the first half of this year was Medtronic’s ( MDT – news – people ) $700 million purchase of CoreValve, a company with a new catheter technology to improve heart-valve replacements. Sequoia doesn’t do health care investing.) Plenty of other VCs have sold companies in fire sales this year for less than what investors put into them.”

Read the whole article here.

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