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How long will the “seed stage bubble” last?


2012 has been good to startups.
It’s never been easier to raise seed funding, and there’s warnings that we’re in the midst of a “seed stage bubble.” Whether you think it’s a bubble or a boom things are good- you have to ask, how long will the party go on?

My theory is, we’re currently in a golden age for early stage startups, and the early stage market will stay hot for at least the next 3-5 years.

Here’s why the good times will continue
My reasoning looks something like this:

  1. Right now, startups with strong teams can easily raise seed funding ($200-$1.5M or so)
  2. They can easily raise seed money because there’s a lot of willing investors in the ecosystem. VCs are seeding deals without any price sensitivity, and a lot of angels seeing exits even when the teams fail
  3. Angels are willing to invest because they have downside protection due to acquihires. They can invest $50-200k per deal and in the event of a startup failure, they get their money back (and sometimes even get marked up to a profit!). If the startups succeed, they have tremendous upside.
  4. The downside protection is driven by acquihires from companies like Twitter, Facebook, Groupon, and others which are paying $1M-$3M per engineer. This makes sense to them because there are multiple billion-dollar markets at play.
  5. And ironically, because this whole system exists, the engineers at great startups feel like they can splinter off and start their own thing, which feeds into the whole thing

Given that team acquisitions provide downside protection while the hits drive the real returns, it’s hard for investors behind top teams to lose money. So the question is, when will the downside protection, in the form of acquihires, disappear?

Mobile as the driver
IMHO, the answer to that key question is, I think we’re another 3-5 years because of one key thing that’s driving all of it: iPhone. (And Android, and the rest of the smartphone industry).

It’s going to take 3-5 years for the mobile market to sort itself out. As long as smartphones are still progressing from their current 100s of millions to the final 3B active users number, every company will be investing in this new platform, and they’ll keep buying as to not get left behind. Otherwise, they’ll be left on a previous platform as a new competitor emerges that’s mobile centric, and smokes them.

There’s a whole host of companies in the Bay Area, in Asia, and around the world that are investing heavily on mobile. They’ll buy any team they can get their hands on.

So they’ll keep acquihiring talent, supporting the whole thing, until the mobile market is set.

Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, IMHO the mobile wave is so huge that it has the ability to power the early stage investing marketplace for years. Agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments.

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