Are we in a tech bubble?
There debate is only growing, and while it may not really matter to most of us, there are ten particularly worrying signs for those who have expoure to companies that are running on VC fuel and may need to go public in the near future.
These signs are:
The consumer internet is hottest.
The most innovative scrapbook ever, a 50% off coupon at a local spa and the latest iPad app are grabbing most of the attention.
Make no mistake about it: lasting value is being created by innovative, young technology companies today, but those companies tend to get a lot less attention.
Big cracks are starting to show.
From the sale of once-hyped startups for far less than their prior valuations to the revelation that one of the fastest growing companies ever is losing boatloads of money, one thing is clear: all that glitters isn't 24 karat gold.
Growth is slowing, expenses are growing before IPOs.
Some of the companies planning to public in the near future (if the IPO window stays open), the relative maturity of these companies may complicate things. Take, for instance, social gaming giant Zynga.
Few would argue that it's been a cash cow, but its latest financials, which show slowing revenue growth and much higher expenses due to headcount, aren't exactly what you'd hope to find in a company on the brink of becoming a publicly traded issue.
Founders and early investors are cashing out -- big time.
Sure, taking some money off of the table is smart, but in many cases, we're talking significant cashouts, hinting that more than a few newly-minted millionaires believe the value of their equity has peaked or is close to peaking.
Some may even believe that they'll never get the chance to cash out if they don't sell now.
The products and strategies are starting to look eerily familiar.
Facebook is perhaps the best example of this. The world's largest social network increasingly seems to be taking cues from the playbooks of predecessors like AOL and Yahoo, which tried to be everything to everybody.
In the process, they eventually came to be less meaningful and less relevant, until they became largely meaningless and irrelevant.
The money is funny.
It isn't just massive funding rounds for the most hyped of startups. Outfits like DST are offering money to startups sight unseen simply because they come out of a particular startup program, while a new class of superangels are raising VC-like funds and lavishing money on entrepreneurs who often have no experience and little more than an idea.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and the tech industry feels fine.
The tech industry is connected to the global economy, even if some companies within it are insulated from the worst of its ills.
But you don't hear many tech entrepreneurs, investors or analysts talking about the crisis in the Eurozone and the possibility of a double-dip recession United States because...they don't have a care in the world!
Social media is too delicious.
Steve Chen and Chad Hurley made a fortune selling YouTube to Google in 2006 for $1.7bn. The young 30-somethings have the name recognition and financial resources to do just about anything, yet they chose to buy Yahoo's leftovers and try to make them tasty again.
Perhaps they'll be successful, but it's somewhat disappointing, if not disturbing, that two of the most successful entrepreneurs the consumer internet has created in the past decade are now focusing their energies and talents on a social bookmarking product that's seen better days.
Everybody's an 'entrepreneur'.
Call it Y Combinator culture: if you're a 20-something with no money in the bank, little to no previous work experience, the ability to hack together a Ruby on Rails application and an idea that could be the best thing since sliced bread (according to your roommates), becoming an 'entrepreneur' and heading to a tech mecca like Silicon Valley has become the tech industry's equivalent of the one-way ticket to Hollywood.
If you needed more proof that the world is about to end: Paul Carr, the blogger who left TechCrunch in a blaze of something other than glory and who takes pride in his ability to succeed at failing, is now at the helm of a funded startup. And apparently those who actually have an interest will be able to follow the 'action' via a column in The Guardian.
We're partying like it's 1999 -- literally.
Sean Parker's f8 Conference blowout may look like the type of party you'd expect a young billionaire to throw, but if you lived through the first bubble, you have a pretty good idea of what's coming sooner or later.