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December 03, 2015

Why do Bill Gurley & Jason Fried Hate Unicorns?

Silicon Valley VC and Benchmark Capital partner Bill Gurley has been calling a bubble for a couple of years now. Gurley explains why he is so concerned with bubbles in his latest interview to Technology Review magazine:
Great entrepreneurs are relatively disadvantaged in these markets where so much capital is available. In a market where capital is hard to come by, they can still raise money. In this market, they can raise a ton of money, but so can a lot of [less capable] competitors that wouldn’t be in business otherwise. 
...Imagine two companies. One is told, “I want you to get to $100 million in revenue and you have to be profitable when you get there.” The other is told, “I want you to get to $100 million in revenue and I don’t care if you lose $40 million getting there.” Which of those two exercises is harder, and by how much? I would argue it’s at least 10 times harder to do the first. Until you can prove that you can generate cash flow, you don’t have a sustainable business. No matter which of these unicorn boardrooms you walk into, everybody thinks it’s perfectly okay to burn tons of money
The fact that some Unicorns just refuse to die seems to have also pissed entrepreneur Jason Fried, Founder of proudly bootstrapped software firm 37Signals (a story much like India's Zoho). So much so that he has dusted up and re-released his 2009 vintage The Onion like Press Release titled "37signals valuation tops $100 Billion after bold VC investment". The deal terms (in case you - like me - do not remember the 2009 original)? 0.000000001% of the company in exchange for $1!

Extracts (emphasis mine):
In order to increase the value of the company, 37signals has decided to stop generating revenues. “When it comes to valuation, making money is a real obstacle. Our profitability has been a real drag on our valuation,” said Mr. Fried. “Once you have profits, it’s impossible to just make stuff up. That’s why we’re switching to a ‘freeconomics’ model. We’ll give away everything for free and let the market speculate about how much money we could make if we wanted to make money. That way, the sky’s the limit!” 
A $100 billion value for 37signals is “not outlandish,” says Aanandamayee Bhatnagar, a finance professor and valuation guru at Grenada State’s Schnook School of Business. Bhatnagar points to a leaked, confidential corporate strategy plan that projects 37signals will attract twelve billion users by the end of 2013. How will the company overcome the fact that there are only 6.8 billion people alive today? “Why limit users to people?” said Bhatnagar. In order to determine the valuation of companies, Bhatnagar typically applies the following formula: [(Twitter followers x Facebook fans) + (# of employees x 1000)] x (RSS subscribers + daily page views) + (monthly burn rate x Google’s stock price)2 and then doubles if it they use Ruby on Rails or if the CEO has run a business into the ground before. Bhatnagar admits the math is mostly a guess but points out that “the press eats it up.”
Since the founding team (obviously?) can't manage a company that has suddenly become this valuable, 37Signals has hired a former YouTube executive Mr. Mirage as COO. His comment:
“37signals will lead the new global movement filled with imaginary assumptions on growth and monetization potential,” he continued. “We’re excited to roll out a list of unconfirmed revenue possibilities that involve crowdsourcing, a robust set of widget creation tools, 3G, augmented reality, social stuff, and an app store. Also, everything we make will include a compass.” 
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