Steve Lohr of the New York Times took an interesting look over the weekend at the unique role that start-ups can play in helping the economic recovery. While many people believe small businesses are the key to stabilizing the economy and creating jobs, new research indicates that the age of a business (rather than the size) may be a better indicator of creating jobs and strengthening the overall market. Therefore, many folks are arguing, to generate jobs we must put a focus on seeding new ventures.
The article took me back to a conversation I had with Michael Gaiss of Highland Capital Partners earlier this summer (embedded above). During the conversation we touched on the current state of entrepreneurship and innovation in the U.S. and he had some interesting insight into how we can create ecosystems and environments for start-ups to thrive.
Boston, for example, has been trending in a positive direction in terms of enhancing the environment for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive. Michael pointed to Mayor Menino’s creation of the Innovation District and the new incubators popping up around the greater Boston area with ties to angel and venture investors.
He also pointed to corporate efforts like PepsiCo10, which partnered his venture firm with PepsiCo and Mashable to form an innovation incubator that will offer free consulting, mentoring and digital opportunities to chosen start-ups.
Some folks I talk to still despise the “Silicon Alley” term to describe the New York technology scene. The connotation that New York City’s second fiddle, technology innovation only occurs in the “alleys” of the Flatiron District is outdated and inaccurate in their eyes. Others, obviously embrace what the Alley has become.
However, the question remains as we begin to come out of the downturn: Can New York City’s technology scene grow out from behind the “Valley’s” shadow? Could it even rival the the Valley’s leadership position as an innovation hub?
As others have mentioned – the Valley still appears to be shuttered, stuck in a cycle of hesitation, negativity and despair. There isn’t hard statistics to back this up, but everyone that has set foot in the Valley over the last several months seems to point out that the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. The gloom, contagious.
The mood on the East Coast, although not overly bullish, seems to be better. The door appears to be open for New York City’s technology entrepreneurs to take a leadership position, along with some of the glow, from the Valley.
As Chris Dixon, a long-time personal investor and current co-founder of Hunch.com, notes – the New York City investor ecosystem is alive and well:
Union Square Ventures is one of the best VC’s in the country, with early stage investments in companies like Twitter and Etsy (that were followed on by top West Coast VCs at significant markups). Bessemer is an old firm that has a managed to stay relevant with investments in Yelp, Skype, and LinkedIn among others. There is also a new wave of scrappy Boston firms spending a lot of time in New York City – specifically Spark, General Catalyst, Flybridge, and Bain Ventures. First Round Capital out of Philadelphia is extremely active in early stage investing in New York.
However, as Chris alludes to with Union Square’s investment in Twitter, these VC’s may spend a lot of time in New York, but that’s not necessarily where they are investing. In fact, according to ChubbyBrain (via SAI), which aggregates investor data, only 10% of the $2 billion invested by New York venture firms in the first half of 2009 went to New York City-based startups. Where did the majority of their money go to? You guessed it – The Valley.
Maybe they also believe, like Marc Andreessen, that startups outside the Valley are typically 3-9 months behind? Whatever the case may be, one could strongly argue that this will have to change if New York City is ever to challenge the Valley as the leading tech hub.
According to an industry report from a year ago the Alley currently surpasses the Valley in hi-tech jobs. This is pretty remarkable given the fall in these jobs after the Web bubble burst and 9/11. Now it’s time to attract the best talent in the business. As Chris also notes, and Fred Wilson of Union Square also references, the scaling back of hedge funds and Wall Street firms should make it easier for New York tech firms to attract the top talent.
With top talent streaming in and still-private startups like Etsy, Thumbplay, TheLadders, Vibrant Media and Meetup all growing within the Alley – there is some definite hope in NYC challenging the Valley as the hub for technology innovation. The VC’s and the $$$ will likely follow. They usually do.
Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of the newly formed VC house Andreessen Horowitz, was one of the highlights of day 1 at Brainstorm: TECH. The current Fortune cover subject, and former TIME cover boy, drew laughs from the audience for comparing the former IBM to the former Soviet Union. He also received some candid responses from the Twittershere in noting that start-ups based outside of “the Valley” are 3-9 months behind.
So if he doesn’t want to work with start-ups outside the Valley, why does he want to be a VC?
“I think there are going to be a ton of important companies created in the next 20 years and a lot of very smart, new entrepreneurs are coming on the scene,” Andreessen told Lashinsky.
In other words it’s time to monetize the relationships he’s built with investors and entrepreneurs across the Valley.
Rupert Murdoch’s Dow Jones digital unit (AKA: Kara Swisher, Walt Mossberg & All Things Digital) got their New York beachhead in prying away Peter Kafka from the Silicon Alley Insider and Henry Blodget yesterday afternoon. Blodget broke the news with a post yesterday evening which tongue-in-cheek’ly implied that Walt and Kara had stolen his former managing editor.
Kara, in a post a few hours later, confirmed his story by noting that Peter has always been her and Walt’s top choice for a new East Coast voice. Kafka will leverage his relationships in the advertising and media world, which he built during his ten years at Forbes, to pen a ”Yet to be Named” media column for the online publication.
The move by Kara and Walt is very similar to the move Michael Arrington made last September in naming Erick Schonfeld the Co-Editor of TechCrunch. Schonfeld was hired with the intention of him staying in New York and building out the blog’s national appeal by adding an East Coast voice. Look for Kafka to do much of the same for All Things Digital, which is a good thing for East Coast companies looking to get on their radar screen.
New York City has become a vibrant scene for technology start-ups; especially for those in the media, marketing and advertising industries. Although Wall Street may be imploding, it doesn’t mean that the financial backers for these companies are going anywhere. One can look no further then Fred Wilson and Union Square Ventures to know that this start-up scene will continue to thrive; which is a nice consolation prize for Henry in loosing Peter - and more good news for Kara and Walt.
Goodbye DKNY: In my interview with David Kirkpatrick (or DKNY as some of his Fortune colleagues call him), leading up to Brainstorm:TECH, we touched on the leave he’s going on for his upcoming book The Facebook Effect. Last Friday Kirkpatrick published his final Fast Forward column, ending its 6 and a half year run. In talking with David, he will be back at Fortune in a year or so (He’s aiming for September of next year with his book). However, he’ll be more of a “free agent” as he says, or editor-at-large. He’ll also have his byline on a new column – which is yet to be decided.
If it’s goodbye to David, then who are we saying hello to at Fortune? Who should we look to – to take the baton and lead the Fortune brand in its technology and business coverage?
Hello Michael V. Copeland: Although he doesn’t have the influence or clout of DKNY in the mainstream media - Michael V. Copeland, a senior editor-at-large at Fortune, is the best bet to really anchor the feature technology coverage. He penned the cover story on Tesla in the most recent Fortune (technology special for Brainstorm:TECH) and has taken over Josh Quittner’s former role by penning tech columns for each issue of the magazine.
Hello Adam Lashinsky: As far as stepping into David’s shoes as the next big Fortune “Brand,” one should look no further then Adam Lashinsky. Lashinsky proved that he’s seasoned speaker and moderator at Brainstorm:TECH.
He hosted one of the most talked about panels of the event in moderating the blogger showdown between Kara Swisher, Robert Scoble and Om Malik. While moderating, Lashinsky managed to steal the show at times (not an easy chore with this group), and even got the last laugh when responding to Scoble’s assertion that the reader participation in fact-checking his blog makes sure that his stories are told accurately:
“In the old school, we like to get it right the first time,” quipped Lashinsky.
Even Om Malik noticed that Lashinksy had a true stage presence:
“Fortune senior writer Adam Lashinsky, who is missing his calling as a television anchor by being just a scribe, was a witty host, also trying to press our buttons.”
Lashinsky already makes regular appearances on Fox News and the Fox Business Network and one would expect more of the same in the future – along with more work on video segments for CNNMoney.com. In addition, Lashinsky’s focus on the finance behind technology – especially on the West Coast, make him a natural to cover the big financial stories (Ala the WSJ) on Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Apple without DKNY around.
Goodbye to the Joe Nocera and Steve Jobs on-the-record Debate: After I wrote about it last week, Joe took time out of his vacation to clear it up on his blog. Hope to hear more from him now that he is “officially” back from vacation.
Goodbye and Hello to Claire Cain Miller: Claire Miller became the second high-profile exit from the Bulingame office of Forbes over the last month, when word broke last week that she has officially joined the New York Times San Francisco bureau as a VC reporter. Earlier this month Erika Brown, who also covered San Francisco based VC’s and tech companies out of the Burlingame office, left Forbes to join VC firm Matrix Patrners as Director of Marketing and Business Development. Forbes takes a lot of heat from the VC’s and start-ups that I talk to regularly – for not devoting enough coverage to technology companies on the rise, as well as a lack of feature stories on trends happening in the tech space. These two latest exits are not going to help them increase coverage there. On the bright side, Miller has a pretty good introduction into the VC social circle with Brown.
While technology start-ups still point to the general weakness of financial markets as the reasoning behind not going public; new findings by the National Venture Capital Association may indicate a larger trend in where VC’s are allocating their investors’ dollars.
“In the second quarter of this year not a single company backed by venture capitalists has gone public. It is the first time that has happened since 1978, according to a venture capital industry group.”
According to Nancy Pfund, a VC at DBL Investors in San Francisco, the economic slump is playing the biggest role in drying up public offerings:
“Wall Street is being very selective in taking companies public, and blessing only those with particularly high revenue and growth projections. And venture capitalists are wary because they worry that their returns will be limited in a depressed market.”
Today’s Wall Street Journal story by Lynn Cowan echoes the decline in IPO’s and illustrates that industry experts don’t expect the rest of the summer to be any different:
“The Outlook for the rest of the summer is similarly grim. Major stock indexes around the world fell this month, and bankers believe worries about rising energy prices and inflation, as well as banks needing capital, will continue to spook investors, who tend to avoid new stocks during times of uncertainty.”
While the broad overlook for the IPO market may be grim there are signs that investments in “green” start-ups are growing. In fact the money now being allocated towards “GreenTech” or “CleanTech” companies may be one of the key contributing factors in drying up the current IPO market – as Richtel notes in his piece and Katie Fehrenbacher expands upon for her piece on earth2tech:
“The pipeline for public offerings has dried up in part because of the considerable shift in the industry’s interest in the last three years into “green” technologies, which was taking time to bear fruit.”
While some of us were enjoying a nice little Saturday (A trip to Home Depot to get some wall paper, maybe a stop at Bed Bath & Beyond), Steve Ballmer and Jerry Yang were working OT to get the Microsoft and Yahoo! deal done. However, a funny thing occurred sometime in-between them sitting down early Saturday in Seattle and Yang landing back in Silicon Valley on Saturday afternoon – The deal completely collapsed.
The story (in-short) played out because Ballmer led off the meeting (turns out they had been talking in somewhat secret all week) by offering Yang $33 a share. Yang countered that by saying $37 a share was the lowest offer they would accept and by all accounts the room went silent after that. Yang who was accompanied by co-founder David Filo at the meeting returned to The Valley shortly after and once again got on the phone with Ballmer. At that time Ballmer officially withdrew Microsoft’s offer for Yahoo!. According to the New York Times, this news was met with high-fives between Jerry and the rest of Yahoo!’s board. Goes to show you the disdain the Yahoo! board room still held for Ballmer and company regardless of what the deal would have met for stock holders.
Both sides have officially stated their thoughts on the end of the acquisition talks with releases here and here. Ballmer sent this backhanded thank you to Yang for his consideration and sent this note to his employees.
Yang brought forth his additional thoughts on the last three months with this post on Yahoo!’s weblog Yodel Anecdotal. In which he clearly stated his displeasure with the spin Microsoft put on the acquisition process and its collapse.
“By the way, I’m sure you’ve all read or watched the news about this. Frankly, there’s a lot of nonsense and misinformation in what’s being reported. Just so we are all clear, here’s what happened. The board took its mission very seriously. We clearly indicated to Microsoft that we were open to a transaction but only if it were on terms that fully recognized the value of Yahoo! and was in the best interests of our stockholders.
No one is celebrating about the outcome of these past three months… and no one should. We live and work in a competitive world and the Web is only going to get more competitive. Executing on our strategic plan is what matters most.”
Yang also states “With Microsoft’s withdrawal, we’ll be better able to focus our energy on growing our industry leadership and maximizing value for stockholders.” Clearly an attempt to reassure investors set to nosedive the stock this morning.
Which has happened, although the fall has not been as great as some predicted. Yahoo! opened at $23.02 a share this morning as pre market traders dumped the stock after closing at $28.67 a share Friday evening. However, it has rebounded to around $24 a share at 11:30 a.m. ET, which is still far above the $19 a share it was trading at before Microsoft made its offer public three months ago.
Fortunately for Yang it appears his move to test an advertising deal with Google has some investors pricing-in what a full time ad partnership with Google would mean to the business. A deal that Yang must make sooner then later. Still, many investors and Yahoo! employees are voicing their displeasure with Yang and the board after passing up the $33 a share and watching the stock plunge for the 16 percent:
o “There is going to be a lot of pressure on Yahoo’s management to deliver in the next year or two.” ~ Bill Miller, a portfolio manager for Legg Mason (Yahoo!’s second largest shareholder), in the New York Times
o “I am in shock.”
o “I don’t know if we won or we lost. I think we lost.”
o “I don’t love that it was Microsoft, but I think everyone thought $33 was a pretty good offer from a pretty good tech company.”
o “Having to face my staff tomorrow will not be so much fun and I need some Prozac, since I don’t know what I can say to them about how our leadership is going to get our company going again.”
o “Where’s the Jelly memo when you need it?”
o “I can’t really talk to Jerry, since it is difficult to tell a founder tough things he probably needs to hear.”
It certainly will be an interesting couple of weeks and months at Yahoo! as they try to doge loosing crucial members of their team and investor lawsuits. Rest assured (or uneasy) Jerry, you’ll still be in the spotlight.
In closing, It has been a wacky three months and I don’t think too many people foresaw it ending this way.
On a side note: The weekend collapse of the deal was a “victory” for bloggers and the digital media who were able to break the news and post follow-ups ahead of much of the mainstream media. Swisher and Michael Arrington were neck-and-neck in breaking the news as they both posted off of information gathered from anonymous Microsoft/Yahoo! sources before official comment came in the form of the press release from Microsoft. Just another illustration of the great contacts Swisher and Arrington have at Yahoo! and Microsoft along with the clout they carry in the industry.
The economy and the “idea” of being in a recession are on everyone’s mind. You don’t have to flip past page one in any major daily or the cover of any business publication to be reminded by it.
Although I recognize that the current economic situation is sub-par I do somewhat believe that we are talking and writing ourselves into a recession. I’m obviously not the only person that believes this. In a quick Google search I found three articles from the last two months titled or closely titled “Talking Ourselves into a Recession.” – Newsweek,BusinessWeekand Huffington Post.
At least these journalists are raising the question. Everyone else seems happy to hop on the bandwagon by finding a new negative economic story to write about every day. Yes, I realize journalists aren’t the only ones to blame. We’re all to blame. Especially us PR folk who are hoping on any angle we can spin into a recession story – sorry that’s just our jobs.
Suddenly we’ve become so glass-half-empty that I feel like I’m living a Ken Burns film on the great depression. Honestly, I’m nauseated with hearing what dire conditions we’re in. I’m tired of being told on a daily basis that I can’t afford to blow some disposable income on a weekend in Vegas or even a Sunday afternoon matinee.
I own a miniscule amount of stock (none of the company’s listed in this story) and yet I’m constantly thinking more about the stock market’s collapse then the Celtic’s first round playoff match-up. So much so that I had yesterday – April 17th circled on my calendar. No it wasn’t my Mom’s birthday or even another Red Sox vs. Yankees series. It was Google’s Q1 earnings call.
Why was it so important? Well for one there was a lot of stock in that call and I’m not just talking about Google’s stock. If there is one company that has become a measuring stick for where the economy is right now - it is Google. When comScore made numbers public in early Q1 that advised that Google’s paid clicks, which measures how often Internet users click on its text ads, were essentially flat – Wall Street nearly threw in the towel. If Google can’t continue to stay strong in the current economic conditions, then nobody can they said. (Translation = We are all in a damn recession).
So yesterday was a big day, not only for Google to fire back at comScore (A Red Sox vs. Yankees type rivalry is brewing there) but also for those of us who would like to avoid the negative talk for once and point to some positive numbers. Google wasted no time addressing “their” updated numbers on paid clicks to open up the call. Google’s paid clicks were up 20% from a year ago. That was a far cry from the 1.8% growth rate for the first quarter that research firm comScore had reported. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt took even less time to summarize those numbers:
“It’s clear to us that we’re well-positioned in 2008 regardless of the business environment,” Schmidt said. “Paid click growth has been higher than speculated by third parties.”
Yi-Wyn Yen at Fortune runs through the rest of the numbers here:
“Google regained investors’ confidence after it reported profits that rose 30% to $1.31 billion, or $4.12 per share. Its total revenues of $5.2 billion, which includes ad sales it shares with partners, grew 42% from the same period a year ago. The stock shot up 17% in after-hours trading Thursday and rose above $500 mark for the first time since Feb. 22.”
I for one will take the positive news in stride. In addition to Google: eBay, Intel and IBM all posted positive earnings this week. Yes, I understand a lot of this is being accredited to each of their strong presences in international markets (Skype unit in eBay’s case), but I’ll take it as a glass-half-full nonetheless.
So this weekend spend less time counting your pennies and a bit more time enjoying the nice weather (nice for once on the East Coast, which I assume means it’s nice everywhere else).
Google is “Google” once again and all is well in the world.
There was some great debate in the blogosphere last week on how a lack of exit strategies for start-ups, that need to return on venture money, is killing innovation. The debate was spawned by a post from Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. In his post Wilson opinions that the IPO market is currently closed, leaving only mergers and acquisitions as viable ways out. While this option is making Fred, a lot of other VC’s and entrepreneurs rich; it’s also a killer of innovation.
As Fred notes:
“We’ve sold three in the past couple years out of our Union Square Ventures portfolio, delicious, FeedBurner, and TACODA, to Yahoo!, Google, and AOL, respectively. Were we happy to take their money? Yes. Were we happy with the outcome? Yes. Were they good buys for their new owners? On the face of it, yes.
But if you look deeper, I wonder. Delicious grew nicely for a while under Yahoo!’s ownership but recently the user base has fallen off pretty dramatically. I double checked this chart in compete and alexa and they all show the dropoff. Well, what about FeedBurner? Clearly Google has done a good job with that acquisition. Well I am not sure. I don’t see any integration between Adwords and FeedBurner yet. I can’t buy FeedBurner inventory through Google’s text ad interface. I honestly don’t see any additional money flowing to me, the publisher of the feed, since the Google acquisition. There’s no way to know what the rate of signup by publishers has been since the acquisition, but I wonder if it’s increased much.
And TACODA? I know that TACODA had an incredible fourth quarter post the acquisition by AOL, blowing way past the numbers we were projecting in our annual budget. But in the first quarter, AOL fired Curt Viebranz, TACODA’s CEO, and many of the top members of the TACODA team are now gone from AOL. Another acquisition messed up.”
His basic point being that start-up services never reach their true potential once they are acquired. Umair Haque at Harvard Business Online added to these thoughts with his post later last week:
“Let’s revisit the spectre haunting venture capital. Why aren’t there more Googles? The answer’s very simple. Because every company that had the potential to be economically revolutionary over the last five years sold out long before it ever had the chance to revolutionize anything economically.
Think about that for a second. Every single one: Myspace, Skype, Last.fm, del.icio.us, Right Media, the works. All sold out to behemoths who are destroying, with Kafkaesque precision, every ounce of radical innovation within them. Let’s replay the Google story. Google, despite serious interest from Microsoft and Yahoo – what must have seemed like lucrative interest at the time – didn’t sell out. Google might simply have been nothing but Yahoo’s or MSN’s search box.
Why isn’t it? Because Google had a deeply felt sense of purpose: a conviction to change the world for the better. Because it did, it held on and revolutionized the advertising value chain – and, in turn, capital markets gave Google an exuberant welcome.See the point? If all Larry, Sergey, and Google’s investors had wanted to do was to sell out fast to the highest bidder, they could have done so at any time. But they didn’t: they chose to revolutionize something that sucked – and so a tsunami of new value was unlocked. That’s how Google was made.”
So what current start-up(s) have the resolve to pass on a billion dollar short term exit strategy and the conviction to keep a close hold to the company mission statement(s) that they want to implore? I could probably count them with one hand. Entrepreneurs may fault impatient investors (But Wilson and other’s I’ve heard chat about the topic say that’s just a myth). The truth may be a more somber tale.
Whether it’s lack of faith in turning out consistent and predictable growth and earnings quarter over quarter (for years), that rightly shies then away from public markets, or a lack of a sense of business purpose to change the world that creates the itch to sell – today’s entrepreneur seems happy to “settle” for a quick payday, even if that means signing off on the slow death of the enterprise that they have shed blood, sweat and tears on.
That may make a lot of “us” rich but it doesn’t create game changing businesses. Further more when we turn to put on our consumer shoes we’re left with seeing our favorite applications and platforms slowly evolving into unrecognizable and disinteresting shells of their former selves under their new leadership. Or worse, we’re greeted with a combination of our favorite applications becoming a corporate mega-merger-smorgasbord.
NewsMicroHoo!OogleBook anyone? May the force be with you Mr. Zuckerberg.
Los Angeles is newly becoming a technology hot spot.Led by the digital entertainment revolution, it has become one of the next big markets lauded by venture capitalists eyeing the next JibJab or Flux. I’m starting to wonder when they are going to launch the Silicon Hills Insider?
Laura Holson has the latest chapter in the digital entertainment industry’s attempt to bridge the gap between The Valley and The Hills in today’s New York Times.
According the Laura:
“On Monday, the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent shop, will announce that it is teaming up with the Silicon Valley venture capital firms Accel Partners and Venrock to invest in digital media start-up companies based in Southern California.”
Dan Primack at the peHUB actually had some general musings about a potential William Sonoma and Accel Partners seed-stage digital media/entertainment fund last week.
The interesting part of Laura’s story is that she highlights AT&T’s role in the fund, that hadn’t been previously noted.
AT&T will be a limited partner and according to Laura and is specifically interested in investing in mobile technologies that will assist their overall mobile strategy:
“AT&T is not looking exclusively for content; the likes of CBS, ESPN and NBC already provide much of that for cellphones. Instead, it is hoping to invest in technologies that will make it easier to run ads on cellphones, as well as to nurture social networks like Facebook and MySpace, online hits that have migrated to hand-held devices. AT&T has spread money around Hollywood before — it invested in the film producer Media Rights Capital — but those investments were largely passive.”
Laura reports that the fund will be in the tens of millions of dollars, but Dan at peHUB believes it to be as high as $50 million dollars.This would price it as a good deal smaller then rival Creative Artists Agency (CAA) venture fund with Draper Fisher Jurvetson that is believed to be around $150 million-$200 million.
AT&T’s investment into the Los Angeles technology scene makes perfect sense as it aims to take advantage of the entertainment advantage the iPhone has given it over the rest of the mobile market.It also has a strong hold on the IPTV market in the US, which it could address through this investment as well.It has already invested in technologies on that front including Akimbo, a white label video service provider and ChoiceStream, a personalization provider.
Disclosure: ChoiceStream is a client of the Racepoint Group