The Death Of Hopium

Tech Bubble 3.0 is in the process of bursting.

As many readers know, I spent 13 years living and working in Silicon Valley before partnering up with Chris to start Peak Prosperity.

I got my MBA at Stanford in 1999 when the dot-com bubble was at its zenith, and worked for both a VC-funded start-up as well as one of the biggest Internet juggernauts (Yahoo!). I lived in Palo Alto, the central core of the tech scene.

As a result, I have a pretty good read on how Silicon Valley works. Many of the folks I worked and went to school with are now in leadership positions at the big operating companies, VC firms and hedge funds in that ecosystem — so I have personal knowledge of who’s making the decisions.

And it’s no secret that I think things have degenerated into a steaming pile of hucksterism.

The “engine of our economy”, the “cradle of innovation”, the “land of tomorrow” — whatever breathless hyperbole the fawning media is using this week — is a sham. Silicon Valley has become a factory of hype, funneling gobs of early-stage capital into whatever half-credible concepts it can think of, and then pimping the artificially-inflated initial results of those tarted-up ventures to whichever “greater fool” is willing to acquire it or buy its IPO. Let that idiot figure out if it will ever turn a profit…

Like the too-cozy relationship between DC and Wall Street, I see a similar one between Wall Street and the Tech sector. They collude to pump out as many opportunities as they can — private placements, acquisitions, IPOs, secondary offerings — to cash out the insiders and foist the long-term financial risk onto the “dumb money” (pension funds, foreign capital, retail investors, corporations desperate to enter the “digital age”). The dreams of ‘changing the world’ or revolutionizing lives by making great products have taken a distant back seat to the drive to have as lucrative an “exit” as possible. If that exit requires selling junk to unassuming buyers, so be it.

As with Wall Street in general, the Tech story has been driven by ferocious and cheap liquidity. The Fed and the other major world central banks pumped trillions and trillions of freshly-printed money into the system starting in 2008, and it largely went into the hands of the major financial institutions and the top 1%. All that money has to go somewhere, and the high-potential rewards offered by tech ventures is a really attractive magnet for it. Coupling that with the administration’s “Don’t worry, technology will save us!” meme to calm market jitters, and the media’s amplification of that message in desperate hopes it will come true, it should come as little surprise that money has been lining up to enter Silicon Valley over the past 6 years. There literally have not been enough ventures to invest in to soak up the supply of capital sloshing around Silicon Valley.

This, of course, has led to the stupidly fast pace at which we’ve entered Tech Bubble 3.0. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc went public several years back to astronomical valuations given their (lack of) profits. Since then, a herd of “unicorns” — start-up companies with no profits but $multi-billion valuations — stampeded onto the scene. A new mythos of all-knowing visionaries (Musk, Kalanick, Dorsey, etc) emerged to replace the previous generation of “god like” sages (like Jobs, Schmidt, Bezos). A sense of hubris and entitlement returned to the rank-and-file employees working within the over-designed and over-perked corporate HQ-plexes that pepper the 101 corridor. Real estate prices in San Francisco and surrounding counties blew through the previous heightsset in 2007, and housing affordability there is now at a record low. And a new dynamic this time, capital flooding in from Asia (mostly China and India), has provided the rocket fuel at the margin for prices of both homes and companies to soar.

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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