Venture Capitalists Ask: What Tech Bubble?

Of course, they're the ones who profit if the "bubble" doesn't burst

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At this point, pretty much everyone and all their Twitter followers have speculated about a new tech bubble. Every time a new social media company's valuation or acquisition is announced--as Skype's was yesterday--the blogosphere erupts with posts about how the recent influx of capital into start ups and their respective lack of revenue models resembles the tech bubble of the early 2000s. Then others deny such a comparison, insisting that the country is better prepared, the companies are different and everyone will make oodles money this time.

However, it's worth pointing out that most of those bubble deniers are the same people that will make oodles of money if in fact the bubble accusers are wrong: venture capitalists. Informed by years of experience and millions lost when the last bubble burst, some of the biggest VC names like Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon and Peter Thiel are becoming more and more vocal in asserting how the two dot-com booms are inherently different. The reasons are all about the same: we learned our lesson in the last time around; the American economy is better prepared for new web-driven business model; for the most part, the way that everyone's coming up with these so-called valuations is baseless anyways, so how could anyone say they're overblown.

Fred Wilson, Founder of Union Square Ventures who "really screwed up a bunch of things" in the last bubble, keeps changing his mind. Wilson told CNN how "ridiculous" the process for assigning current $7 billion valuation for Twitter, a company in which Wilson himself has invested. After CNN published its piece on "The Twitter Bubble" today, Wilson immediately clarified in the comments that he wasn't saying at all that Twitter was overvalued and sounded more like Gilt Groupe Founder Kevin Ryan who called the idea of a new bubble "ridiculous" in the same article. Gilt Group just raised $138 million at a $1 billion valuation and an initial public offering is expected next.

Chris Dixon, Founder of Hunch and active angel investor at the Founders Collective, is a bit more coy about his denial. In a March 27 blog post, he pointed out how everyone is talking about a tech bubble but says he would stop short of taking a stance. Then he basically takes a stance in opposition to the new bubble theories pointing out how "the forces that drive the internet economy are strong" and the dangerous speculation is being taken on by institutions and rich people, unlike the last one when lots of Average Joes invested in tech companies via public markets and lost their kids' college funds when it popped.

Then of course there's Peter Thiel, the famous starched-shirt man-with-lots-of-money depicted in The Social Network. He denied the existence of a new tech bubble last month and instead claimed that the real bubble is this craze over getting a college education. And it's worth clicking through that link just to read how angry the commenters were about that one.

It's actually an about-face from the VC community. In October 2008, Sequoia Capital, "the best venture capital firm on the planet" according to Dixon, released a much talked about "slideshow of doom" that signalled an end to easy money in tech investments. Even though ups and downs were inherent to all industries, especially tech, this economic downturn would prove different than all the rest, and like the American economy, the tech community would take much longer to recover. Around the same time, Fred Wilson wrote a really gloomy blog post about the looming tech bubble, and everybody freaked out. But as Dixon pointed out with Sequoia's rash of spending in 2010, "The good times appear to be back."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.