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"
Friday, September 21. 2012
In late 1999 you couldn't move in San Fancisco's South of Market St area (SoMA) without tripping over a dot-commer. By late 2001 you couldn't move without tripping over derelict cardboard boxes and winos (I was there both times....). Now the Bubbletime seems to be in full swing again - San Francisco magazine:
I'm sure I could probably find the same breathless-yet-anxious prose in Red Herring or similar in 1999. Now there is probably a long term restructuring going on, as for a variety of reasons the Smart Young Things are gravitating to cities rather than campus complexes, but not this fast. Next will come the sky high rentals and deteriorating services for families moving in*. Those who cannot remember the past etc....
(*Hint. Property prices collapse as well as rise....)
Sunday, September 2. 2012
Facebook 100 days after IPO. Zynga and Groupn have crashed too. Linked In is fine, as is Google and the overall NASDAQ (Data: Yahoo Finance)
100 days on, and Facebook share price has crashed c 40% from its IPO, It joins Zynga and Groupon in a downward plunge (see sheet above).
Nowadays of course everyone knew it was overvalued, but beforehands many were saying it was a snip at its IPO valuation. We were one of the few who didn't and were called "analyst heroes" because of it. But, as Henry Blodgett points out, all you pretty much needed to do was read the prospectus, and Mark Zuckerberg's letter, and it was easy to figure out.:
Didn't anyone even read Facebook's IPO prospectus? The answer, I can only assume, is "no." Because if anyone had read the Facebook IPO prospectus, they would have learned, among other things, the following:
I agree, most of what you needed to know was right there, it wasn't rocket science - but of course, in the Bubbletime the only way is up!
Which makes me wonder what all those analysts who were forecasting $100m valuations and up were doing, exactly. Or, whether the reforms since 2001, that were supposed to make analysts independent, have worked at all?
Thursday, June 7. 2012
Stock Prices of $FB, $GRPN, $LNKD, $ZNGA since Facebook IPO. Chart from Google
News today that NASDAQ is going to compensate traders for its system glitches during the Facebook IPO to the tune of $40m (Sharecast via Yahoo):
LONDON (ShareCast) - Nasdaq OMX Group has decided to return 40 million dollars to those brokers whose orders were mishandled in Facebook's initial public offering (IPO) due to technical errors. Specifically, the US stock exchange operator said it will pay $13.7m in cash and the remaining amount would be credited via lower trading fees for those brokers that were affected. A series of glitches when Facebook went public delayed the start of trade by half an hour and left many trades unexecuted.
The traders are still not happy though. But, given the drastic reduction in the Facebook share price (down 30% in a flat market over the period), and the Great Social Media Selloff overall (see chart above), you'd think that these pension funds etc would offer to pay NASDAQ in gratitude, for preventing them from buying even more of a tanking stock at even dumber prices.
Wednesday, June 6. 2012
Just when we were despairing that the Social Media bubble had fully deflated, thanks to Facebook, we find it may just have moved, to Crowdsourcing - Liz Gannes:
Kickstarter may be the best-known brand in crowdfunding, but Indiegogo now has the biggest war chest. In a new round announced today, Indiegogo now has the backing of Insight Venture Partners and Khosla Ventures. Along with previous investors, the firms provided $15 million in Series A funding for Indiegogo, adding to $1.5 million raised last year. (Kickstarter raised $10 million in 2011.)
The site levies a 4% fee for successful campaigns, for campaigns that fail to raise their target amount, users have the option of either refunding all money to their contributors at no charge or keeping all money raised but with a 9% fee. Assuming an average 5% fee, and say that it has 33% net margins ongoing, that means that just to get the $16.5m investment cash back assumes that it has to make nearly $1bn in total turnover, in the VC exit timescale of say c 5 years. No pressure there then*.....
That, and the low barriers to entry (think Incubator 2.0) plus (we will bet) other VC or offset-funded "me toos" coming in with lower fee % rakes, will make this an "interesting" sector going forward. To the winner the (increasing returns) spoils clearly, but what will the margins look like longer term?
Incidentally, take a look at this excellent satire on the current Bubbleicious Social IPO craze - Ponzify.com. Truly the "undertaking of great advantage; but nobody to know what it is" 2.0
*I agree that a breakeven analysis is not the best way to value a startup, but it is always a decent sanity check as to "what you have to believe"....
Tuesday, May 29. 2012
Has $FB (Facebook) single handely popped the Socia Meedja bubble behind it? Broadstuff Bubble-O-Meter shows it may have
Facebook went below $30 today, on its way to a 25% price drop from float price amidst lawsuits, disgruntled investors etc etc. But we are more interested in what this has done to the whole Social Media bubble we have been watching.
By re-pricing and increasing the number of shares floated to grab every penny that was ever going to be on the table, and then having such a fiasco of an IPO, it may be that Facebook has burst the whole Social Media bubble. Just as all boats rise in an incoming tide, all sink in the great sucking sound of a rapidly retreating one - Zynga et al have all fallen far farther, far faster than Facebook.
But, of far more selfish interest to us is the future of the Broadstuff Bubble-O-meter. Right now it looks like Facebook has also closed the market for future IPOs. In the beginning of May the Social Media space was hyped to the nines. At its height we saw stories of retail investors (aka "suckers") throwing 40-K, School Fee money and various other essential savings into the gamble (Bubble-O-Meter stage 9), but then - instead of a pop and a frothy rush to Stage 10 and a horde of wannabeee SocMed IPOs behind it, there was a slow hissing sound of a bursting bubble, and by end May the Bubble-O-Meter lies spent on the floor, like the previous nights' rubber johnny, leaving a stain of a high watermark that came - and went - in a matter of minutes. One thing is for certain, the bubble ain't going to re-inflate for quite a while (I'd bet a lot on not in 2012, and probably not 12 months) no mattre how hard the Silicon Valley PR machine huffs and puffs.
And so, we are left with large questions - Will Facebook do a Bubble-O-Meter Stage 10 and buy an Old Media darling with a $16 billion war chest? Or how far back has the Bubble-o-Meter fallen? Or maybe both are true, if Facebook took all the loot on the Social Meedja table so there ain't no more for anyone else? In either case, how long will it take to re-inflate the Social Media bubble? Will it ever inflate again - is this it? Will the Silicon Valley economy collapse again? How many of the Silicon Valley Cheerleader blogs will survive? What Phoenix 3.0's will emerge from the ashes? Has Facebook smartly engineered a Big Bubble Bang behind it to ensure no one can follow it out the gate? How much more can we flog the Bubble-o-meter now that the horse has bolted?
At least we can predict the floor for the stock - with $16bn in the kitty, we calculate Facebook shares are worth at least $6!
Postscript - last Friday I gave a talk on the role of hype in bubble formation - as Facebook was IPO'ng - and noted that once the hype peaks and the slide into the Slough of Despond starts, it is a quick fall for a long way, and an irreversible one at that. Lets see if Facebook follows form.
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