Why this isn’t another bubble

If you think we’re experiencing another technology bubble, I have some news for you: we’re not even close. How do I know? Well, I’m no economist, but I know because I was there during the first bubble. I worked at a quintessential .com startup in Dullas, Virginia between 1998 and 2002 while my wife was working at AOL, and believe me when I tell you that there’s no comparison between then and now. While my wife enjoyed all the benefits of working for a big company flush with cash and desperately trying to hold on to employees, I spent my days, nights, and weekends in a little office park wearing Birkenstocks, playing foosball and Quake 3, drinking free Mountain Dew, engaging in Nerf warfare, and working superhuman hours with people’s dogs wandering around the office. In fact, I’m sitting in an Aeron chair right now that used to belong one of the founders who was removed by the board in classic startup.com style. So like I said, I’m no economist, but I know.

Here are all the most common pro-bubble 2.0 arguments I hear:

This must be a bubble. Look at all the start-ups getting funding. Look at all the acquisitions.

I know people out there both looking for and getting funding, and once again, there’s no comparisons. The start-up I used to work for raised about $16.5 million over two rounds with little more than an idea. The guys I know getting funding now not only have great ideas, but they have products, customers, and in many cases, even revenue, believe it or not. The guys who I know looking for funding are being told that investors want proven leadership in a proven market and to come back when they actually have some traction. It’s not about business plans on cocktail napkins and vague notions of eyeballs inevitably leading to billion dollar markets anymore. And the companies I see getting purchased have real technology, real IP, real communities, and real momentum that can and probably will contribute to real businesses and revenue.

This must be a bubble. People are saying things like "they just don’t get it" and using lots of new jargon.

Ok, the amount of jargon we’re all throwing around right now may be a little excessive, and I’ve always hated the phrase "they just don’t get it." But I would argue that the terms we’re using now are much more meaningful. I see the explosion in new terms and acronyms as proof of a technology renaissance rather than an economic bubble. I believe that terms like Ajax, RIA and Web 2.0 actually mean something. Of course they are mis- and overused all the time, but I believe they represent a new and much higher standard in online experiences which, in turn, represents real value.

This must be a bubble. Look at Google’s stock.

True, but have you seen it today? According to my Dashboard widget, it’s down about 12% because they missed their numbers in the 4th quarter. I think that says a lot. Google’s revenue is up 86% from a year ago, but when they miss earnings expectations, they have to pay the price just like everyone else. Google’s stock is high because they’ve been delivering, and when they don’t deliver, the stock adjusts. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

This must be a bubble. Look how easy it is to get a job.

If you think it’s easy to get a job today, you must have been in prison in the late 90’s. I remember having open houses at my old start-up, handing out free beer, wine, hors d’oeuvres, and schwag in hopes of getting just one or two people interested in giving our company a chance. I remember getting more calls from recruiters than from my wife wondering when I was going to come home. I remember hiring designers, developers, and even CEOs with little or no experience. And I remember letting them all go. Yes, there are a lot of opportunities out there, but for the most part, the people I see getting hired today have real skills and real experience. In other words, things are as they should be. If you’re thinking about dropping out of school to put together a start-up in your garage, keep in mind what we all learned in the late 90’s about both web applications and companies: they are hard to build, hard to scale, and actually require you to know what you’re doing.

One more parting thought:

Web 2.0, if you’ll pardon the jargon, is about much more than gathering eyeballs, super bowl commercials, and enabling people to shop in their underwear. And it’s also about a lot more than tagging, Ajax, and social software. I’ve never heard it expressed like this, but if I had to summarize the spirit of Web 2.0 in one succinct statement, I would say it’s about doing more with less which I think we all can agree makes good sense in both technology and business.

3 thoughts on “Why this isn’t another bubble

  1. Wow, you completely nailed it. Your descriptions of the bubble were totally free of hyperbole and today’s reality is, well… real. It makes part of me miss those days but a larger part just glad I made it out alive. Thanks for the thoughts and the reality check.


  2. Finally! Someone speaks some sense. I swear, if I hear one more person tell me the economy has turned and we are in a tech bubble again I’m going to hard-wire them to a car battery. Yes the ecomony has turned a little and we are starting to see the tech job market come back to life but until I can go back to walking around the office in bunny slippers and challenging my cube mates to a Nerf battle to the death involving the resident VP I will not believe a ‘bubble’ had formed.
    Actually, thinking about it, I’m not sure that environment will ever return. Too many bridges were burned with VC’s and such for money to flow like water once again.
    Those wer the good ole days…


  3. Great post, Christian. I think what we’re seeing now is the result of all of the lesson’s learned during the bubble of the late 90’s. There were a lot of great ideas that were mismanaged during the bubble, now those same ideas are resurfacing in better ways that actually generate revenue. I also think executives and investors have more patience these days.


Comments are closed.