Tech winter maybe coming: Here is what it means for your startup

Bill Gurley, an investor at Benchmark, is one of the most well known and respected Venture Capitalist in the word. He recently posted a series of tweets about upcoming tech downturn that triggered this Business Insider post and this post by re/code.

The Problem

In a nutshell, the problem is that currently private markets are valuing companies at what appears to be higher valuation than possible to achieve in public markets. For example, if private investors are valuing Uber at $50BN this implies the expectation that public markets, when Uber does IPO will value it at a meaningful multiple.

Now the issue is, that it is not likely to happen.

That is, Uber certainly has a ton of value, but the public markets may not be willing, at least at IPO time, more than private markets have paid. Bill Gurley points out that this is going to be the case, because in public markets tech stocks are shedding market caps.

This means that the gap between the private valuations for the unicorns, and what public market will pay is now even wider.

The Implications

When / if Uber and other IPO candidates decide to pull the trigger the prices may not be high enough. This would imply either slowdown of IPOs or actual IPOs where public market prices are lower than last or even several last rounds of private valuation. That is, the last few rounds of private money into Unicorns may end up loosing money on IPOs.

In general this OK, and is just a consequence of startups / early stage investments being risky. There is no such thing as a guaranteed return for investors in any round, much like there is no guarantee that a founder who grinded for 10 years will make a penny.

And importantly, unlike the first dot com bubble, this coming downturn may impact private capital but not likely to impact public one. Remember what happened in the dot com, is general public rushed to buy tech stocks only to then see them crash and burn. The public lost their money post tech IPOs in dot com era. This is not likely going to happen today.

So macro economically and more importantly psychologically, your next door neighbors aren’t going to pull their hair out. Instead, this coming downturn will directly impact later stage venture firms and private wealthy individuals who bought into the Unicorn stocks at high prices.

The Domino Effect

But this not the whole story. The money comes in chunks and is all part of an intricate interdependent macro economy. Without a doubt, if the most valuable companies in tech space will be hurt, that hurt will trigger more hurt through entire tech ecosystem.

In short, there will be less capital available to startups of all sorts and it will be available at a significantly lower valuations. VCs will have harder time raising capital as well.

There will be less capital available in the system overall, and it will be more costly to obtain it.

What to do about this

There are a bunch of tangible things that your company can do to be more prepared.

1. Don’t panic. It is sort of an obvious advice, but things like this have happened before. Up and down cycles are normal part of any economic system. Whatever is coming will not likely be worse than dot com bust because public money has not been invested at absurd multiples.

2. Drink while served. I’ve heard Mark Solon, partner at Techstars say this to many founders, and it is a great lesson. Raise capital when you can. Raise a little more capital, if offered. We consistently see how difficult it is to get from series seed to series A. Having a little more capital at your disposal, even at the expense of some incremental dilution might be prudent, especially in the upcoming cycle.

3. Spend less. Get stingy and frugal, it is a wonderful thing. Review what you are spending money on, and cut the expenses that aren’t necessary. Frugality was and still is one of the core values at Amazon. You make money by not spending money on things you don’t need is one of the great secrets of a lot of wealthy people. I encourage you to read this great post by Joe Fasone, CEO of Pilot, There is always a deal.

4. Think revenues. Sometimes in early stage startups, revenue and growth are at odds. Asking customers to pay creates ultimate friction, and slows down growth. But revenue is a wonderful and liberating thing. Not having revenue and not knowing how you will make money is scary. Especially in the downturn cycle companies that have no clear way to make money are in danger. It does not mean you have to be profitable and self-sustaining (although this is also a wonderful thing), but having revenue and understanding how to grow and scale it becomes more important.

5. Discuss and Get Help. No single startup is ever the same. What remains constant is patterns across startups. Your investors, your advisors, your peers have seen this or something like this before. Engage in the internal conversation of what this upcoming cycle mean to your company. Get feedback and advice. Get more data. Use people around you to make decisions that make sense for your company.

And now I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think about this situation? What is your plan for coming year or two?

Startup Advice Trends Venture Capital

10 Comments Leave a comment

  1. While the move from Seed to Series A will be more difficult, do you think one of the potential outcomes will be for young companies to go from Seed I to Seed II instead as an alternative?


  2. Amado,

    Yes, and we are already seeing it. Seed extensions are becoming common. Alternatively, folks will re-define back series A as what we call now large seed.



  3. I remember what Bijan Sabet from Spark Capital said at Techstars– because funding rounds have gotten so large, at the series C+ level there are only a few VCs left who can put capital in.

    My extension of that thought– The VCs that got squeezed out have been replaced by private equity, which is a very scary thought that will make this winter worse since private equity works on completely different risk / return mechanics.

    They will bail out of tech very quickly at the first sign of trouble leaving many to dry.


    • Hey Ali,

      VC and private equity play very different game. Private equity isn’t coming in to pick up those later rounds. I know this is confusing, but private capital in my post private equity, those are very different things.

      Private equity typically buys later stage distressed companies or healthy ones that it can re-organize and optimize see here:


      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Alex,

      Ah, my mistake, thank you for explaining. By saying private equity, I meant to lump together all non-traditional VCs who are putting their money into where there were only VCs before.

      Not sure if that is right, but here is an article that does a better job of explaining: Have you read it, Alex? Would love your thoughts.

      Here’s a quote:
      “The cash that’s now being called “venture capital” isn’t truly venture capital. Instead, the mystery money is coming from asset classes such as mutual funds, hedge funds, private equity funds and corporate venture capital that have started actively investing in venture-backed technology companies. That money explains the rapid rise in investments into venture-backed companies during the past two years.”

      The article author was assuming that unicorn valuations are nearing what the public market would value them. Bill Gurley assumed that IPOs might price unicorns lower than their huge valuations.


  4. Hey Ali,

    Thats what VC capital is and has been. Larger fund have LPs that are mutual funds, universities, hedge funds, etc. i.e. larger pools of capital diversify portion of their portfolio into venture. In addition their are wealthy individuals/family offices who maybe deploying large chunks of their capital into VC. As well as foreign investors.



  5. the mentality changes in bear markets. people tend to sit on their hands. if we enter a bear market, it won’t only squeeze tech valuations, but seed rounds are going to be tougher to raise


  6. I started a Fintech Business Finance platform in the UK May 2014 when we started there were around 3 in the market one is in receivership and the other is the lead and they have always supported us as they only do Finance which is Pension led. There are now 36 and growing we have been advised by a major potential investor in Singapore as I am keen on smart VC investment that I need to change my Business Model ready for the Winter and we are doing just that concentrating on other streams of income and looking at mean with budgets so you seem to saying what the Investor advised us. I always felt that there would be another crash and in the last one my other business went from a 3.4m profit to having to sell it on at virtually a song and I thought that on this one I would be out within the next 4 years to avoid this can you advise thank you

    Liked by 1 person