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Video: How Startups Can Take Advantage of The Bubble

When it comes to the much talked about technology bubble, Chris Dixon, Dave Winer and The New York Times are all making good solid arguments —  it is and it is not a bubble.

Steve Blank, a well-known and well-regarded entrepreneur/guide to the start-ups is of the opinion that we’ve been in a valuation inflationary environment for nearly six months.

Blank measures the bubble by three metrics: valuation expansion of very-early-stage companies, very-late-stage companies and when the time it takes to drive across Palo Alto, Calif. via University Avenue doubles. “In last six months, we have seen that happen,” he laughs.

Currently a professor at the Stanford University, Blank was the co-founder of E.piphany. Prior to E.piphany, he was involved in chipmakers — Zilog and MIPS Computers — and a long list of companies since forgotten. He has tasted success, but more importantly, he has tasted failure.  He has seen bubbles and he has seen busts.

The trick for entrepreneurs is to take advantage of this ongoing bubble, says Blank, who is the author of The Four Steps to Epiphany, a must-read book for all entrepreneurs. “If you are an entrepreneur in 2011, would you do things differently that you have would have done in 2008?” he asks. “[The a]nswer is yes.” The same goes for venture capital investors as well.

In a video conversation, Blank outlined how this bubble might actually be different from the Internet bubble of the 1990s. He points out that for first 25 years, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs focused on building revenues and profits, and when things went right, they all went public. VCs of that era, he says were company builders. However, in 1995, things changed with the Netscape initial public offering, when the public markets started accepting vision and Internet as ways to value companies.

What happened later is all very well-known. Ten years later, Blank says we’ve gotten rid of the rubble of the past bubble, and now we have a much bigger platform, which includes new Internet economies (Brazil, China and India), new devices (smartphones and tablets) and new tools of development and measurement, which makes this a more egalitarian phenomenon. “The first bubble was the elite bubble for the industrialized societies,” Blank adds. In his opinion, we could be in an up cycle for at least five years.

Blank, who has been preaching to startups to focus more on building products and less on hyping themselves up, feels that now, the time has come for startups to stand up and shout for attention, because if they don’t, their competitors will get that vital attention.

I urge you to sit back and watch this most thoughtful commentary from one of the true entrepreneurial sages of our time.

10 Responses to “Video: How Startups Can Take Advantage of The Bubble”

  1. Great interview and very insightful, Steve Blank is awesome. Few differences between the earlier bust bubble and the current one –

    – more smaller bets vs less larger bets (I think former is better)
    – money being bet is by rich individuals/institutions vs IPO (average investors in stock market) – again former is a little better

    p.s – loved the format of the interview – Om was there and yet wasn’t. Keep it up Om.

  2. Very interesting interview and it’s quite in line with Steve’s book. I have one issue though. As I am working on a prototype, I am pitching my idea to a few people, building an image of what I see in my head – how this seemingly simple product is going to grow to Xmm users, how it is going to be used by every mom and pop out there … etc. I know it’s true because I close my eyes and I see it being true, and I know I am young and naive enough to make it true. But, the responses I get are along the lines of: “show me the metrics, prove to me you’re right …”. This is a chicken and egg problem – until I get a 100,000 users, no one would see what I see, but w/out proper user acquisition (like Steve suggested) I won’t get the users. What is the best way to “sell on promise”, is that just a matter of finding an investor who could relate to the issue I am trying to solve?

  3. Awesome interview, keep up the great work Om. A few comments:

    a.) Steve did briefly note that entrepreneurship is spread far and wide and not only concentrated in Silicon Valley though understandably there is a great concentration of it in the Valley (case in point: let the world not forget that GroupOn is based out of Chicago — which is a city not often thought of for challenging the Valley like, say, Boston or Austin when it comes to startups — the VCs who have invested in GroupOn have put themselves in planes to fly *to* Chicago)!

    b.) in the context of a new bubble, Steve is mostly focusing on entrepreneurship in terms of ones that have the ability to massively scale, but Steve has also wrote in his blog that not all entrepreneurs need to start businesses that scale massively (in other words, its quite possible to build a great business that might have tens or hundreds of thousands of customers, Internet-based or not, and they don’t all have to scale to tens or hundreds of millions)! This is important to keep in mind as budding entrepreneurs should be encouraged to go for it regardless of the scale potential! What made me think of this was Steve’s comments about the recent conference in Austin in which he said only 2 of the 500 entrepreneurs will make a hundred million dollars and the rest may as well work at Walmart. That comment should have been contextualized further with regard to this notion of “scale” because it strikes me as somewhat ludicrous to suggest that the chips will fall whereby 498 of those attendees will do no better for themselves in their lifetime than a Walmart salary.

    c.) Steve mentioned, very briefly, that some of the best entrepreneurs are not only passionate but also with domain experience and expertise. That is a subtle but important point because while it is true that the costs to starting up a startup with open source software can be done without the CAPEX heavy costs of the past (Web 1.0 “elite” bubble days of over a decade ago) and can be done essentially now with a credit card as Steve suggests, not all startups are “Webby” (web) or tablet “Appy” (apps) and do in fact require some true domain expertise. For example, financial services – you better have domain understanding of the rules that govern finance for example the complexities of financial trading exchanges or quantitative finance. Besides, having domain knowledge and first-hand experience is also likely to lead to knowledge of new problems that need to be solved (as Steve said: focus on the customer, what are the problems that the need solved).

  4. Very inspiring interview. At some point I was telling myself watching it “yep, I’ll make it to the Valley”… Perhaps I’ll stop by and say hello to you OM ;-)

  5. Unlike the bubble of 2000, there’s actual value to be had in some of these properties, they have business plans, and there’s some revenue being generated. However, the way these VCs are acting, they seem to think that every start-up with a half-decent idea is going to be as lucrative and profitable as Apple, and at some point they WILL be disappointed.

    From my perspective, most of these companies won’t explode violently, just putter on quietly like I think they should. The question this time isn’t “Does X company have any value, but how much real-world value does company X have?”

    Simply put, no one here thinks that Facebook is worth $0, but it is worth $100 billion? $200 billion? $300 billion? Keep in mind that if you had said that Facebook was going to have a $50 billion valuation 3-5 years ago, most people would have slapped your face. Now while it’s business plan is sound, the promises I think most VCs are asking of start-ups is a bit silly, as all rollercoaster growth must end eventually.

  6. C.J.McEleavy

    Coruscating interview with some rich nuggets of knowledge and insightfulness. Like a big bright pulsar,Steve Blank certainly knows his subject matter, and more imporantly how to inspire and. motivate.

    Now, how do I get enrolled in his classes living on the otherside of the Atlantic. Maybe that’s something he might be working on!

    I really should be livng in “Bubble City,” Palo Alto, right!