Is Venture Capital Pointing Entrepreneurs in a Socially Dangerous Direction?
“Bulk up really big and really fast” is a widely understood underlying objective of venture capital investing. VCs invest in lots of early stage businesses, but really they are after the handful (or even one or two) with the promise to magnetize enormous numbers of customers in the shortest possible time.
Wait, did I just say customers? Actually, in 2017, in VC parlance, customers has become synonymous with users. This equivalence (result of incorrect thinking) is the norm because most of the businesses capable of hitting the ultra difficult growth requirements of these VCs do businesses only online and, more often than not, in virtual/non physical products. So the method for the very few businesses capable of convincing VCs to invest, and to invest repeatedly, round after round, usually includes an important freemium phase of selling. Most people will buy something if it is free.
Selling? Sorry, I meant signing up. Signing up has become the preferred method of closing sales to these customers since a big section of these few businesses peddle subscription offers for something online: Streaming music, Office Productivity suites, etc.
Great for VCs. They plunk some money into a lot of early stage businesses (but don’t forget each of these is selected through a rigorous rejection process with maybe hundreds of other businesses left out). These businesses, in turn, hit their growth metrics and our world welcomes a few more very, very, wealthy people.
But what about all of us other folks left out in the cold? Since most of the products sold in this cycle are virtual, there is no need for natural materials to produce them, no need for delivery services to deliver them, no need for shelves to stock them. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the drift. With the exception of Alibaba/Amazon/Walmart-Jet/ the other really big hits — facebook, Twitter, Google, Office 365 (if you believe Microsoft’s claims) — are all about intellectual property, services and anything other than hard goods.
But, you may argue, what about Uber, Lyft and AirBnB? Their sharing services require cars and, in the case of AirBnB, homes. Sure, but the cars are already owned by drivers. Uber/Lyft/AirBnB are all simply booking and collection services. They aren’t adding to what Economists here in the US dreamed up a while ago as the Gross Domestic Product.
Facebook currently enjoys a market cap of in excess of $470 Bil. General Motors enjoys a market cap of $67 Bil (approx.). But I argue the network of manufacturers, producers, suppliers, delivery services, assembly services, and more circling GM does a million times better job of employing people across the entire social spectrum than Facebook, et al, will every do.
VCs plow money into the Facebooks of the world, while their colleagues on Wall Street diss GM, GE, and other “legacy busineses” and sell off their stocks, complaining about their paltry growth and growth potential. This phenomenon is definitely not positive one and must be closely monitored since it could prove lethal.