Monday, March 3. 2014
In the 90's and 'Noughties I made many trips to San Francisco/ the Valley, and as the 90's dotcom bubble built up on I noticed two "non-stock" signals of its frothiness - house prices and occupation of the SoMa (South of Market) area by trendy bars and techie startups:
- House prices rose to the point that educated non techies couldn't afford them, so people like teachers were priced out. This is starting to happen again. (By the way, my "top of market" indicator was when teachers in SF/SV decided to sell and go and teach elsewhere/semi retire based on the huge house price gains)
So, another sign of the BubbleTime.
Of course, this time it Will Be Different....
Of course it will....
Incidentally, I recall going back in c 2003 after a 2 year absence and there was a house price tumble almost back to Palo Alto, plus SoMa was full of winos and old newspapers again....
Tuesday, February 18. 2014
A Salutary Lesson - Zynga Shares (Source: Yahoo Finance)
News out today that King, manufacturers of the current hot mobile game Candy Crush, have filed for a $5.5bn IPO. We were asked what do we think?
- Based on a growth from a few $100m revenue in 2012 to $1.9bn in 2013, and real profits of c $570bn, a valuation of $5.5bn is tame by Dot Com 2.0 standards, but....
They may be able to replace Candy Crush with a "next hit" but the Gaming ecosystem is littered with the bones of companies that didn't The music industry's stage is littered with the bones of 1 hit wonderbands. The movie industry...well, lets see what Candy Crush 2 looks like.
Friday, December 27. 2013
NASDAQ Composite Index - price since inception (Yahoo Finance)
We have watched the rise and rise (and slight wobble post Facebook IPO) of the Next Tech Bubble for the last few years (see our BubbleWatch series), and as you can see teh NASDAQ Indez (abobve) tells you fairly clearly what is going on. As the NYT reported about a month ago:
Yet interestingly, there are still Bubble Deniers - NYT again!
At about the same time, an article in Forbes argued that there were 3 reasons we are not about to witness another equity-led bubble bursting:
See the NASDAQ chart above for an alternative viewpoint to this - and would it surprise you that trading volumes are rising to near-2000 levels too? Forbes notes in the same article that more money has poured into equity mutual funds in the first 10 months of 2013 than it has since 2000, although most is washing round in international funds at the moment (as it was in the late 90's until Tech really got sexy).
And you know its on its way when the Tech Fan-Press argues that This Time its Different - as Wired did in December:
...exuberance isn’t always irrational. It seems that the kinds of companies now being backed by investors — not to mention the way that they’re run and the way the market responds to them — are far different from what we saw at the turn of the millennium.
Re Talent and so on, I recall that it's about what everyone said in 1998/9 too, but by 2000 it was all about pumping money from Wall Street to Madison Avenue and throwing money at rare skills.
And yes, I know that some giant companies were formed in the DotCom era, and we understand the function of bubbles in facilitating creative destruction - but I also know there was a huge amount of money lost by innocent people. To me its clear that we are in a run up, we haven't quite hit irrational exuberance but when you look at that NASDAQ graph it won't be long in coming unless some other investment area gets major returns.
To me though, as ValleyWag notes, you just know that if something like Kozmo.com is relaunching, the blue touchpaper has been lit. I now await WebVan to stir, and we know we're off. Get your telescopes out, 2014 watching is going to get interesting.
Saturday, September 14. 2013
From Broadstuff's Bubblewatch Dept:
Dominic Rushe over at the Grauniad asks for our thoughts on the Twitter IPO. which he summmarised in this article. To give a bit more background, we think that:
1. Twitter is far more sensibly priced than Facebook and other "Social Media darlings" like Zynga and Groupon were at float
- Twitter valuation in price per user terms is $14bn/c 240m users (assumed at IPO) = $58/user, i.e. about 50% of FB ratio at flotation
2. Compared to Google's IPO, it is very similarly valued.
- GOOG was $23bn valuation on (est) 500m users and $970m revenues,
3. It has higher future growth potential that Facebook
- 240m users to FB c 1 billion at time of IPO
4. It is more reasonably priced within its own fundamentals and lifestage than Facebook was
- (Assumed) c $0.5bn revenues, 240m users = c $2 per user, 50% of Facebook's IPO, but at 15% of valuation.
5. Twitter probably has a longer life than Facebook post IPO - there are so many directions it can still grow in, whereas you exactly knew what FB was at IPO, and you even could see the competition emerging. That is not so clear with Twitter.
6. As always though, realizing potential comes down to execution.
- The FB team are very focussed, Twitter is harder to judge - lots of change at the top over the years, we wouldn't be at all surprised if they bring in an "Eric Schmidt" figure.
7. Facebook took a year to find its IPO price, so that pricing debacle is also unlikely to be repeated with Twitter.....we hope. (Hype springs eternal, as you all know....)
In other words, by the standards of stupidly overhyped and overpriced Social Media floats so far (excepting Linked In) it is almost rational - its lower priced, with more future potential, than the most recent ones. With Twitter you only have to believe it has a similar future potential to Google at IPO, not 4x the potential of Google as as you do with FB.
Monday, May 20. 2013
Hot on the heels of the wisdom (or not) of acquiring Summly, Yahoo has now apparently also acquired Tumblr for $1.1bn. Tumblr, for those of you who don't know, is somewhere between a a blog and a microblog (a Mediblog), has revenues of $13m. So why pay $1.1 bn? The argument is the user numbers - Next Web:
With more than 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 signups every day, Tumblr is one of the fastest-growing media networks in the world. Tumblr sees 900 posts per second (!) and 24 billion minutes spent on site each month.
So lets value it the old, boring way:
300 million x 12 = 3.6 billion unique visits (not necessarily different visitors of course) and 120,000 new ones a day x 360 days = c 43m new users per annum, the hope no doubt being that this will continue to grow like topsy. Lets assume that this growth gives c 1 billion users in 5 years, so we get a 50% increase PA on 50m new users, and assume we lose none, and that gives a Net Present Value of about $ 0.33 margin (at 15% IRR) to get to c $1.1 bn fully discounted free cash flow.
Or thereabouts.....we can also do it another way - by comparison:
Another Mediblog, Facebook, has an Average Revenue per user is about $1.25, and it's user base is about 1.1 billion and slowing. It is valued at $60bn in an open market. Applying Facebook's valuation to Tumblr today, with c 1/2 the user base gives us $60 bn x 1/2 user base x (0.03/1.25) ARPU = $0.75bn. Throw in a 33% uplift fir future optimism, and there's your $1.1bn
So you can believe on of two things:
(i) The Bubbletime will continue after Yahoo's acquisition, and the business will stay as good as Facebook is now, or
But of course you can - or Yahoo thinks so anyway, heck they even paid with cash, not shares!
Alternatively, one could take the opening line from Cockney Rebel's "Tumbling Down" anthem.
The refrain of which is Oh dear, look what they've done to the blues, blues, blues.....
Tuesday, March 26. 2013
It would seem the Next Bubbletime is here, just unevenly distributed - Business Insider:
Yesterday, Yahoo announced it bought a startup called Summly. Summly made a news aggregation app. According to All Things D, Yahoo paid $30 million – 90% cash. $30 million isn't much for Yahoo, which has more than $4 billion in cash (and access to much more). But there are some elements to this deal that make even that small price seem strange:Summly never really set the world on fire. It had fewer than one million downloads. Yahoo is shutting Summly down. So basically, Yahoo is acquiring Summly's talent. Summly's talent is founder Nick D'Aloisio and two other people. Yahoo is saying D'Aloisio's is to lead Yahoo more boldly into the world of mobile
As well as all this, Summly is "pre-revenue". Not only that, but it appears even the underlying aggregation technology is not all theirs but partly SRI's (and thus unlikely to be patentable in any valuable way)
So - small userbase, fairly easy to replicate (or licence) technology. Fairly easy to do it in Yahoo for a few $ million absolute tops, and Yahoo owns the IP - and quite a few other people have already done something like this on PCs and Apps, its no great biggie to build such an App. Also, if Summly falls into someone else's hands it hardly leaves Yahoo without options, so there's no "only pebble on the beach" valuation kicker. It's thus fairly clear to me that Yahoo way overpaid for just the technology, user base and staff - you would probably get to tops about $5m for all that, at absolute best. So why pay $30m, of which 90% is cash, and then shut it down - thats 5x Goodwill over asset value - it beggars belief, unless there is some bigger fish to fry here.
The answer is apparently (reading the news reports) any or all of:
- The "Cool" factor of getting a smart, personable 17 year old (D'Aloisio is still at school) to be the "face of Yahoo's mobile mojo". Now there is nothing wrong with teenage kids, especialy smart ones who are very technologically literate as they are hip and younger than Yahoo itself is, but can this gambit...
Now, in a Wildean sense, the only thing worse that being talked about is not being talked about, all publicity is good publicity etc, and this is certainly being talked about*. So if some of the above come to pass this may be a great idea. If.
- Everyone believes that $25m is a decent price to pay for such PR fireworks, and focusses on the Human Interest spin rather than the "You paid What???" Bubbletime bid, and
Now don't get me wrong - I'm all in favour of young entrepreneurs selling their inventions for oodles of cash (or old ones for that matter). Especially British kids, British Tech needs all the encouragement it can get. And I'm in awe of anyone who gets the likes of Wendi Murdoch, Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono and Li Ka-shing as investors, (Ka-Shing before it was even called Summly apparently). It's teriiffic news for Summly, but right now this seems to be a very dumb buy from a Yahoo, unless more information comes to light.
(Update - so far, the stuff coming to light is pointing the other way - look at the justification here for eg)
*Fwiw Twitter is ticking over like a Geiger counter on this, but sentiment is running about 50/50 on this deal right now by our measure, and much of the smart press is more or less incredulous or playing a very straight bat - that certainly is not worth $25m yet, its going to want a blizzard of puff pieces to get off the ground (I predict a snow-storm in the coming months )
PS - Slashdot are also calling the bubble
Update 2 - d'you know, the more I think about the price, the product, the investors, the people at Summly, the comments by the real technorati, the lack of actual users, the more I go "hmmmm". And realise the MSM and Tech Gushblogs have been bamboozled, yet again.
Thursday, December 20. 2012
Seed Funding Strangulation Waterfall diagram courtesy CBInsight
The size of the rise in the burgeoning Startup Seeding and Incubation industry (lets not call it a bubble) is well explained in the above waterfall chart (courtest CBInsight, as seen on TechCrunch) of the US funding market. The evolution of the problem is that, since 2009 when startup companies getting seed funding in the US, and companies getting the next stage, Series A funding were both at about 100 per quarter.
(Seed funding is in the tens to a few hundreds of thousand dollars range, Series A typically in the low millions of dollars range)
Roll forward to mid 2012 and it was about 500 startups seeded per quarter, compared to only c 200 Series A rounds, a 5-fold rise in seedings vs a 2 - fold rise in Series A funding. By Q4 2012 it had droppped to c 350 Seedings to c130 series A - if not the sound of a bubble deflating rapidly, certainly one of animal spirits evaporating.
The downside will be the culling of a 1000+ only recently seeded startups - the red bar in the waterfall above (thinning out seedlings, I believe gardeners call it). Some believe this adds up to a writeoff of up to $1bn but that seems to be a high estimate, I'd suspect its more like about half that (a quick calculation will tell you that 1000 startups funded at way less than $1m each will not reach $1bn of losses). Now, seed funders may do some form of additional funding rescues, but that is by and large not in their business models (and not always in their piggy banks either) so one suspects it will be unlikely. Now this is US specific, but you can bet that a similar story will soon start to play in Europe, though I'm not sure that the startup bubble was quite as frothy here (in dollar terms,that is - in hype terms its cup ranneth over).
The ubiquitous Startup industry drinkups will thus probably shift from living it up to drowning sorrows in 2013.
As usual, at the peak of a bub....sorry, exuberant financing phase, there is always some method that gets invented to allow more and more people to put in smaller and smaller amounts of money, hence the move by AngelList and SecondMarket to open a service for investments of as low as $1000. (Actually, I think more being able to trade shares in startups will be a useful thing, but the timing is unfortunate)
The good news, also as always, is for those who get funded just before the gates snapped shut, as they know that they won't have to look over their shoulders for other startups on their tail for some time, and people ahead of them with less cash left probably won't get more either - and last man standing is always a good place to be. Now they probably will raise a glass or two of bubbly next year....
Update - thoughts from Broadsight's Andy Wise:
- Surprising statistic that “startup companies getting seed funding in the US, and companies getting the next stage, Series A funding were both at about 100 per quarter”. Suggests that the natural process of thinning out was happening before the seed funding stage. No other similar process has a 1 to 1 ratio – it’s far more usual to back 10 horses for every winner. (My comment - I think that's the seeding bubble effect)
- It would also be interesting to know what happens to those that don’t go on to Series A funding – what percentage fold with a zero return to the investors and what percentage stumble on with organic growth or get bought out or in some other way eventually return something to the investors. (My comment - in my day the rule was for every 1 hit, there were 3 trade sales, 3 "zombies" and 3 deadpools. I suspect the deadpool ratio has rocketed, looking at these numbers)
Tuesday, December 11. 2012
Evidence that the Incubator/Accelerator bubble is close to bursting - Forbes:
Nike is the latest to jump into tech incubation with its Nike+ Accelerator, for helping the latest health-related startups. The program, organized by TechStars, focuses on startups in areas such as training, coaching, gaming, data visualization and the quantified self.
When companies that know next to nothing of technology jump into it, while people who know a lot are scaling back (eg Y Combinator) or pulling their money out at the same time, you know you are getting close to the "pop" moment.
"Just do it" is one saying, but "look before you leap" is another.....
Update - my friend James Cooper totally disagrees with me in the comments.
Tuesday, November 20. 2012
News today that HP is asserting Autonomy had dodgy finances - FT articles the travails:
The struggling US technology conglomerate has alleged that “serious” accounting improprieties at the British software company were responsible for more than $5bn of the writedown.
Whether there was dodgy dealing or not, all you need to know about the Autonomy/HP Brouhaha is contained in these 2 paragraphs from Jonathan Weil at Bloomberg:
HP said in its 2011 annual report that it paid $11 billion for Autonomy, a software company based in Cambridge, England. In connection with the acquisition, HP initially recorded $6.6 billion of goodwill and $4.6 billion of other intangible assets. HP later revised the goodwill to $6.9 billion and reduced other intangibles by about $300 million, according to its most recent quarterly report.
When you are valuing your $11 bilion purchase at 2/3 Goodwill and your market cap is only c $28bn, you have not just overpaid, you have overpaid ludicrously on a big bet, and it will really hurt if things go wrong...I didn't write about this deal at the time, I saw it as yet another typical Bubbletime deal, and I felt I'd been writing a continual litany on large desperate corporates overpaying for less-than-meets-the-eye-but very-cool small companies (that they believe they can add value to, despite all the historical evidence) for the past year or so.
It would appear that all the HP Board bar one were in situ at the time. Be interesting to see which heads roll.....
Friday, September 28. 2012
With Candide, Voltaire trook several hundred pages to satirise the silliness of unthinking optimism. Gillian Tett took a few hundred words in the FT. She was a young and enthusiastic Euro-optimist, her father was a grizzled Euro-cynic. Here is her apology:
...what is also clear is that my father was entirely correct to be cynical in the face of my optimism. So the question I keep asking myself today is, why did so many people (like me) get swept along by the hype – while others (like my Dad) did not? Why was his cynicism a minority view, in a sea of hope?
This sort of explains my complaint from 2006/7, when it was plain that there was a huge problem coming, and nary a peep from the Financial journalism community. I thought they were in the pocket of the Financial industry (as the regulators were), but being mainly "teenage scribblers" (as an earlier Chancellor asserted) who had never seen anything like it is alao a reasonable analysis. But teh real question is "what are the lessons" to avoid unwarranted optimism?
So what are the lessons? One is that it shows the value of retaining older people – or at least, a diversity of life experience – in the workforce. If nothing else, a range of ages helps guard against group-think. Another moral is that it shows the value of having some people from “real” businesses sitting in the corridors of power: handling widgets or running small companies is a good reality check. But perhaps the biggest lesson of all, which journalists, financiers and politicians should all have posted up on their desks, is how wrong we can sometimes be, especially when we are excited by a “cause”.
These lessons are as valid for Technology as Finance, of course - which is why I wrote about it. So if I may abstract, here are...
The 5 Lessons to Guard Against Irrational Optimism.
Run for the hills if:
1. If the issue is a "cause" with a "belief system" rather than based on any hard data
Otherwise, your only hope is to pray "Apres Moi le Deluge"
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