Silicon Valley distrupters have an old story to sell


It seems that all you have to do in today’s market to raise billions is subsidize your product at a tremendous loss, then when buyers flock to your door, call this a disruptive force that will change an industry: Profitability is something that you can defer with a story.

So maybe it’s because I still remember the sting of the first Internet bubble, or the desperation in the auto industry during the crash of 2008-09, but the “story” of Silicon Valley “disrupter” companies seems to be now filling an almost identical mold. Whether it’s the auto industry, retail, manufacturing, real estate, etc., the script is almost the same, financed by almost the same people:

First, find a customer-focused need that is unfulfilled.

Second, fill this need, costs be damned.

Third, show a fantastic geometric growth curve, regardless of losses and realistic profitability projections — if it takes 10-plus years to be even remotely profitable, build that into your projections and ask for lots of money — the professional investors love that.

Finally, go through a series of sophisticated “smart money” venture capital investors to fund this growth curve, requiring successive rounds of cash, until you dump the whole thing on investors in an initial public offering. And definitely make sure you have some major analysts buy in to this future vision — again, sell the dream, not the reality.

If anyone ever questions you, respond in one of two ways: If you are not a charismatic “cult” leader, simply remind everyone that Amazon was unprofitable for many years. (And hope folks don’t remember that Amazon’s prolonged losses were due to developing and growing new and peripheral businesses; their core business wasn’t bleeding cash all that time.) On the other hand, if you are a messiah-type CEO, such as Elon Musk of Tesla or Adam Neumann of WeWork, all you really have to do is come out with some outlandish assertion and know that no one will really ever hold you accountable. In fact, you will engender even more commitment from funders.

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