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This VC Says We Have Entered Tech Bubble

By
  • Serena Saitto
Published
  • March 05 2015, 11:07am EST

(Bloomberg) -- Technology startups are raising money as if there’s no tomorrow -- or as if it’s 2000.

Todd Dagres, a founding partner at venture capital firm Spark Capital in Boston, is bucking the current rhetoric in Silicon Valley, saying there are comparisons to be drawn.

“We are definitely in a bubble. This one is not as bad as 2000,” Dagres said. “If you wake up in a room full of unicorns, you are dreaming and you can’t expect the dream to continue.”

 More than 50 U.S. venture-backed tech startups reached a valuation of $1 billion or more in the past two years, according to CB Insights, a research firm in New York. The list of companies doubling their valuation is growing and includes room-sharing service Airbnb Inc., which is raising $1 billion at a valuation of $20 billion or more. Snapchat Inc., which makes a mobile app for sending photos, and Pinterest Inc., an online scrapbooking site, are both in talks to raise financing at valuations of $19 billion and $11 billion, respectively.

“These large, high-priced private financings are the defining characteristic of this particular technology cycle,” Bill Gurley, a partner at Benchmark in Menlo Park, California, said in a Feb. 25 blog post.

Uber Technologies Inc., the mobile car-booking network, set the current trend, raising about $4 billion in equity and debt in the past year for a valuation of $40 billion, the highest for a private U.S. company.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who made his fortune founding and then selling Broadcast.com, also thinks the bubble has returned.

“If we thought it was stupid to invest in public internet websites that had no chance of succeeding back then, it’s worse today,” he wrote in a blog post Wednesday evening.

‘Risk Bubble’

Gurley said these financing rounds differ from well-audited initial public offerings and suggested investors are paying a “net revenue multiple for a gross revenue disclosure.”

Still, he concluded that “we are not in a valuation bubble, as the mainstream media seems to think. We are in a risk bubble.” Gurley didn’t answer a request for comment to explain the difference.

Some who say there is no bubble point to data. According to a Feb. 17 survey by Fenwick & West LLP, the dollar amount venture capitalists invested in tech startups reached its highest level since 2000 last year, at about $50 billion.

Yet, that figure, and the number of companies that got financing, are still about half of what they were in 2000, said Barry Kramer, a partner at the Mountain View, California-based law firm that handled five of the top tech deals last year, including LendingClub Corp.’s IPO and Facebook Inc.’s $22 billion purchase of WhatsApp.

‘Selective Exuberance’

We are in a “period of selective exuberance, with the winners taking all,” Kramer said, comparing the cycle with the Alan Greenspan-coined “irrational exuberance” of the late 1990s.

Wall Street is providing a reality check with some tech IPOs, such as cloud-storage provider Box Inc., which debuted at a valuation inferior to its last round of financing.

With the Nasdaq now approaching its March 2000 high, Dagres at Spark Capital said that “the probability that we are at the peak of a cycle exceeds the probability that we are halfway through.”

The ultimate catalyst for a break from surging tech valuations may come with a stock market correction, said Mark Cannice, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of San Francisco.

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