No bubble here. Just efficiency.
Who said bubble? Nick Douglas has an interesting post on why he believes we aren't in a bubble. Ok ok, it's more of a rant on old timers(30yo and above according to Zuckerburg) that continually piss Chicken Little off by using his 'sky is falling' bit and not giving credit where credit is due. Nick may be right and I think he is. This isn't a bubble.
From one old timer(yes that would be me, 13 years ago in May I started my post educational career with NETCOM, who btw, was the very first pure play internet company to do an IPO) to another and to you non bubble veterans; this is different. Much different.
Why you ask? Here are a few important facts that come to mind:
- ubiquity in broadband access - access to a bb connection has grown exponentially. you don't even need a land line. wireless providers like sprint offer 700-800kbps connections that work. many consumers have a choice of which broadband provider they use. both of those issues were a pipe dream in web1.0 for lack of a better term. soon bb will be free. yes, i mean you will get a free broadband connection, likely wifi, wimax or some other wireless last mile so to speak. what am i talking about? see below
- a $15B a year advertising platform. huh? show me one F100 company with a marketing budget who doesn't buy online advertising. they aren't just experimenting people, they are budgeting a major piece if not the majority of their ad dollars in the online arena. why you ask? wake up!! it is the most efficient way to target their audience. example, if you use google mail or calendar or picasso or blogger or any other of their hosted apps, chances are pretty high that google knows much more about you than you think. don't believe it? next time you open your gmail account and open a msg in it, look at the ads. they are targeted by the words used in the text/body of your msg. what does this have to do with a bubble you ask? stay with me because it means everything. for example sake, we will assume i am a baseball card fanatic(no, I'm not but I'm too lame to think of something else and it doesn't really matter anyway) but not just any baseball card fanatic, I'm one who likes only the Fleer brand. Well now, google in this example(or whoever google shares info with) has knowledge based on my emails and blogging and searches that I like Fleer cards. so what. well for starters google can approach fleer and offer them a very targeted customer acquisition approach that is SUCCESS BASED. meaning fleer doesn't pay a dime unless they get a result. in the past fleer has advertised in trade rags and through partnerships, neither of which are cost effective or efficient. fleer is one example but now lets take a look at the local card dealer in my neighborhood. this card dealer now has the ability to target me too and it too can be success based. this guys advertising up until now has been on the back of the little league opening day pamphlet that gets tossed in the garbage or left in the bleachers to blow away and be lost until the mowers chop it to pieces. the only similarity to web1.0 is that there are still lawnmowers and the baseball card dealer is still in business(remember he wasn't supposed to be because the internet would replace him and all of the other realtors, car dealers, stockbrokers, grocery stores, etc).
if that isn't enough here is more;
- web1.0 ideas were great but ahead of their time. remember the asp/msp space? guys like nonstopnet, one secure, totality, exodus, etc. those companies are who paved the way for companies like salesforce.com, google(yes google), microsoft(yes microsoft) and apple(yes apple) to be doing what they're doing today. and that is selling software as a service. it's not like web1.0 where startups were selling services to other startups. this is the real deal. every enterprise today has email. where is it hosted? most of the time it is NOT hosted on the premises, it is outsourced to companies like Yahoo or Critical Path(old timers may get the irony on that one). this is startups selling to enterprises and enterprises are buying because it is the most efficient way for them to do business. it's all about efficiency and the current form of the internet offers an astronomically more efficient platform than we were graced with ten years ago.
- cost of bandwidth. a t1(that is a 1.54Mbps connection) cost over $1000 per month ten years ago for the access to the isp port, whose backbone was probably way oversold so you never stood a chance of getting that to the internet, plus the local transport fee(aka local loop) of approximately $500 a month to the local telco. That works out to $1000 per mbps. Today i get 8mbps for like $40 a month from my cable company. that would have cost me $8000 ten years ago and i would have had to purchase $10k + worth of hardware and know how to manage it. today my mom is online and she is the least common denominator when it comes to clue. that is just ten years. she btw, was a naysayer back in web1.0 but you won't hear her dissing internet companies now. lets examine the efficiency gain to the consumer. what used to cost $8k a month and be available only to consumers with a very specific technical skill is now available to every tom, dick and harry with no tech skills for $40 a month. That is a 500% gain in the utility of each dollar i spend for internet access and that doesn't touch the growth in the viable user population.
- storage - storage was expensive ten years ago and ten years from now we will think it was expensive today. cost is one piece of the storage puzzle but not all of it. we didn't have SOX, HIPPA and all of the other government regulations we do today. a couple things have fueled this besides uncle sam rearing his big head and they are, by virtue of the efficiency of the internet, more communication occurs and as such, the exponential demand placed on the ability access to the data of those communications. historically, if i had a conversation with my coworker, the employer never knew it even took place. today if i have a conversation(IM or email, or voip) the employer is required to record the digital content of such communications. what was an interaction that was available only to me and my coworker is now available to anyone with permission to view it. this is exponential growth in the population of demand creation as it pertains to the data that originated from an interaction amongst my coworker and me.
Due to uncle sam's regulations, companies must hold on to copies of that communication for a period of time. these companies aren't cutting down trees and printing this stuff on reams and reams of paper. they're putting it on disk. proctor and gamble's internal communications for a single month probably used to kill an entire forest and cost millions of dollars to store in a secure facility and take thousands of man hours and thousand of dollars in gas and diesel to transport now can be done virtually and put on a small piece of plastic(sorry, i know it's deeper than just being plastic but i'm trying to prove a point) and accessed by anyone anywhere. that is a far cry from the IT guy having to call up iron mountain and have them fedex the tape from june of 1999 to the office. we've become accustomed to accessing our own personal data be it photos, music, writings, news, live video of your dog napping all day, whatever floats your boat, it all requires storage and we all have access to it. we didn't ten years ago.
as Nick Douglas points out, it seems like a fair amount of this naysaying is coming from old schoolers players who alarmed the masses with web2. over and out comments and Mark "only a moron would buy youtube" Cuban. if i'm sitting on the sidelines and i hear a billionaire and his compadre trying to scare people away from investing in the exact sectors they do, I think one thing and it's sales 101, FUD - Fear Uncertainty and Doubt only they using it inversely. most sales people use it to bring you in, they use it to scare you away. gotta love the effort, scare the competition away and there are less $ in the investment funds which means the cost of capital goes up which means Mark(he's an investor) and VCs get better returns and lessen their own risk. the fact of the matter is if you're in the internet space today, you chose to be. that wasn't the case 14 years ago. back then if you were a realtor you weren't part of the internet. today if you're a realtor you don't have to be a member of the internet community at large but chances are it's not even a decision you conscientiously make, you just are because it makes your job more efficient. If an investor really believed that there was no opportunity to get a high rate of return on investments which, at their core, are bringing efficiency to an already established market(something a certain someone refers to as being a copycat) then we would all be driving Fords and flying on PanAm, PSA and TWA. But we aren't because investors provided the capital to young upstarts whose sole intent it was to be a copycat, just a more efficient cat than the copied cat.
I don't know this as a fact but I would find it hard to believe that the aggregate success rate on VC investments as defined by an exit which produces a return of at least the initial investment and the cost of that money over that period has gone up or down much from 1997 to 2007. The supply of $ to invest has probably increased which logically means the actual invested $ is greater now than it was ten years ago which implies that more money will be lost next year than it was in 1998. You don't need to be able to explain the Black-Scholes option pricing model to pick that up. It's common sense, right? It's cyclical, right? Yes to both but go back and look at history and tie successful investments, as defined above, in both peaks and valleys and you will probably see those investments were made in copycat companies. Does Google ring a bell? Does Salesforce.com ring a bell? Does Apple ring a bell? Does Oracle ring a bell? Does Siebel ring a bell? Does etrade ring a bell? Does Schwab ring a bell? Does Ticketmaster ring a bell? They should, they're all copying someone before them only doing it in a more efficient manner.
Point is if you define a bubble as a period of time in which many companies fail then we have never not been in a bubble. If it is defined as a period in which there exist a larger supply of $ to invest than in the past then you skipped the macro econ class that explained supply and demand, velocity of money and trickle down effects of the survival of the fittest, or in this case most efficient, attributes of free market capitalism. You see, we don't need anyone to tell us we're in a bubble, if we were the market would be telling us and the dollars would be shifting towards greater efficiencies in financial investing and resource allocation... ie, advertising $$.
I'm a big believer in Marshall McCluhan's theory on the global village and how it has the ability to transform what are/were isolated micro economies into a more grand macro economy while providing a platform for their seemless interoperability, aka trade, amongst themselves. If you have even an inkling of that notion then you have to recognize the irony of it all (third paragraph from the bottom). If people believe what was supposed to be possible isn't possible then the opportunity for VCs or other suppliers of money to exploit that gap between the possible and reality is nil.
Bubble it is not. Easier access to money it is. Easier access to money means greater competition to sell your money to buyers(entrepreneurs). Greater competition means the odds of any one investment being the home run you need go down. The easiest way to make the competition go away? FEAR, UNCERTAINTY and DOUBT.
Chicken Little can sleep well tonight. He will find the sky is still there, above him, when he wakes up in the morning.
When the online advertising market stops growing or shows signs of shrinkage when compared to the actual dollars spent the period before, then you should worry that what is possible and what is real are too far apart to be the same and recognize it for what it is and know that naturally, just like a sonet ring, there are self healing attributes which will prevail and the market will retrace to a state of equilibrium. If that happens, it won't take long for the hyping of the 'what is possible' to start all over again.