"There is also one important consequence of rising CO2 levels that isn’t tied directly to warming:..."
- Gambling with Civilization
This movie is even better than I remembered.
Aileen Lee wrote a very interesting piece on Techcrunch where she lays bare some of the analysis she has done on “Unicorns” - or startups that have entered the $1b club.
It’s a rarified club, to be sure. In fact, it’s enough of a rarified club that I would call into question any conclusions one would assume by Aileen’s analysis. The long version of why this is not a good idea was the subject of my last post, but the short version is this: 39.
I have a different take on Aileen’s post. There is a lot of myth making that goes on around Silicon Valley and the startup world, a lot of it on based more on intuition than actual data. Let;s face it, we make decisions and come to conclusions on a daily basis, whether insignificant or important, on nothing more than a whim.
That is especially true of venture investing and startups. Anyone in the space will talk a good deal about data, but there is scarcely any proof points to go back to. Did anyone think Airbnb was really going to make it when they were occupying their time making Obama cereal? Did Facebook seem like a good bet when MySpace dominated social media? While we are Monday morning quarterbacking, how could Webvan not have been an enormous success? How could Color or Airtime possibly fail to catch fire? While we are mentioning Tumblr, did that really make a ton of sense as an investment?
Back to the post though, it is an interesting, albeit small, data set. You can easily dismiss it as statistically irrelevant. Even the number is up for debate (there was a NY Times article back in February which speculated between 25 to over 40). However, that is not what matters. What it should open everyone’s eyes to is the fact that any company that reaches a $1 billion valuation is total anomaly.
That is what the venture world is built upon, 40 companies (or more according to this hackpad). The economics are such that you are damned if you are a large fund. If a large fund does not get into a couple of those billion dollar companies, they will be toast. It seems like a rather specious model by which to create an entire industry around, but LPs continue to be generous in the face of overwhelming odds and horrible track records.
Which is why I am quite enjoying many of the reactions to this piece. There are going to be plenty of folks that will take this data set and the accompanying results as some level of proof. They are going to use this as a new model or most likely confirmation of existing biases, And they are all going to be crushed because you cannot predict Black Swans.
The lemmings and the social proofers and the quants and pattern recognition crowd are being laid to waste. Evidence-based venture investing makes no sense when it is a grand slam contest. The only way to be successful is to either go against the playbook or to position oneself to profit comfortably off of many smaller exits. Even the last option is really nothing more than a hunch, based more on a review of the YC and 500 Startups approach at has invested in a wide-portfolio.
So what to make of the unicorn analysis? It is historically interesting. In a sense it goes against the grain of some of the startup lore about the “ideal startup” model while agreeing with other beliefs. But it is also stuck in time. What the billion dollar club looks like in five years will be radically different. There are more minorities and women founding companies now. Entrepreneurs are starting younger. New models and concepts are just starting to bear fruit (it should be noted that Bitcoin was only conceived of five years ago). Even the goal of a billion dollars may not mean as much because we are only at the being of the Internet age. Other industries had decades, if not centuries, to build their pillars and stalwarts.
As an entrepreneur, this discussion may sound like a lot to do about nothing. Yet it is important to understand that given the economics of the venture model, if you are not on a billion dollar track, most VC’s are simply not interested. If you do not fit easily into a preconceived bucket of existing ideas (meaning you are novel or different), then you will get passed over by all but the few VC’s that actually do invest in outliers. It is no coincidence then that the VC’s that are doing well are also those that seem less prone to snap categorizations and more willing to invest time in all their portfolio, not just the select few. Those are the firms willing to invest and support the mad ones, because it is the mad ones that are truly changing the world.
The unicorn article was hella interesting - perhaps the best thing on TechCrunch in a long, long time. I’ve been trying to work out the same data set for a while, and it’s monstrously time consuming, so I am thankful for that.
But Mark is right here. And more simply, correlation is not causation. It’s amazing how few people have mentioned that. It also failed to do any serious statistical analysis to normalize against the profound biases in investing. I worry greatly that it will prove to be self-fulfilling, with so far zero evidence that the correlations are causal and not just a circumstance of the biases inherent in funding these days.
if it looks like LOW, sounds like LOW, smells like LOW…it probably is. LOW. (ok, maybe w/ just a dash of trentemoller thrown in for good measure.)
New Mogwai album January 14.
Mogwai - Remurdered (not the video) (by subpoprecords)
The cult-hit web comic is smarter than everything on television, so why can’t it get a show? (via Here comes a special boy: ‘Achewood’ is back, but TV isn’t ready | The Verge)
This is the guy and the girl (with the black coat walking outside) who stole my Macbook Air on Friday October 25th in Williamsburg at Brickhouse Pizzeria. I walked out for about 4 min, realized I’d left it and these people hijacked a bag that didn’t belong to them. I’m a native New Yorker and I’ve returned wallets, bags, and seen other people’s stuff returned. What kind of person doesn’t yell down the street “Hey, you left your bag!”…these kind.
Brickhouse is providing me and the police video as well so I’ll be posting that too. Please share.
I spend my time working on helping networks and communities function more effectively to get meaningful stuff done, so I feel pretty certain that we can find these two friends of friends of friends (I can’t be more than 3 degrees removed if they use the internet and live in NYC) and get them to give back the bag they “accidentally” picked up. The bag has loads of stickers in it with my company logo so that’s why I attached a photo of that too.