Internet, Startups

How I Learned to Love the Bubble

There is no better proof that San Francisco and Silicon Valley are a big echo chamber than the nonsense being written about the new “bubble” and related discussions about the need for startups to “bulk up” (from Om Malik no less, a man full of good sense usually) and palpitations about being five months from a bust.

Are we in a bubble? Most likely.

Are there too many startups with too much money? Yes and Yes!

Should we care? No, not really.

The bubble talk has been going on at least two years, since the 2005 Web 2.0 conference (noted before here, here, and here). For some reason, I almost always find MBAs and trade journalists most obsessed with its eventual bursting (skip a couple of paragraphs to learn why).

At the surface, the bubble talk is always about the anecdotes and atmospherics. More companies being started. More money flowing. More competition. More parties. More difficulty hiring great engineers. More difficulty breaking through the clutter. More Brits (and now French) moving to San Francisco to start up companies.

Interesting cocktail chatter — perhaps. But that’s not driving force of all this bubble-mania.

What is? The notable thing that occurs during a bubble is that some people get far richer than they deserve (exhibit a, Mark Cuban selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo! for $5B). That drives the obsession. Entrepreneurs in it just for the flip worry the bubble will pop soon and that they’re going to miss out. “What if the enormous pile of dough is gone by the time it’s my turn?” For journalists, the anticipation of it bursting and its resulting carnage is perhaps the most exquisite form of schadenfreude in this age.

But really, whether we’re in a bubble, or where we are in the “cycle” matter not at all if you are an entrepreneur. Starting a business is always a long-shot. If you are an entrepreneur, the immutable odds are that you will fail. This was true for startups in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007. The even years, too. Where we are in the cycle, or whether or not we’re in a bubble, it just doesn’t matter that much.

One’s success is more likely to be determined by luck (incredibly important, often overlooked); whether you’ve got a good idea and a clear vision; how well you can execute and adapt; whether you have enough money and are stingy with the money you have; how quickly you can make enough money from your product or service to cover your costs; and how relentlessly you focus on making your users and customers really happy and building something useful or cool or both.

Of course, it is a crowded market, so I’m quite happy for my peers to obsess about the bubble and the cycle, and to worry about whether they’ve “timed it just right.” Keep it up!

Bonus for you outside our little cul-de-sac here in the Bay Area: see how it’s all 1999 again.

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