There was no Internet, no
and no Twitter.
If your parents bought into the Apple or Microsoft IPOs, they were likely part of the 1% who worked on Wall Street back then.
Also, neither Apple nor Microsoft was funded by a venture capitalist.
Do you know how they were able to get off the ground?
Although some misinformed politicians have said these tech companies got bank loans (they didn't because, no loan officer would have deemed either company a good risk), they got started by selling something to a customer for money.
That customer's money helped them to pay their staffs and reinvest in their businesses.Fast forward to today. Any new company has to be judged hot. It's got to generate buzz on Twitter. It's got to get "users" on its cheap Web site. That proves to some tired venture capitalist somewhere that there's a real business here.
However, many VCs now encourage their portfolio companies to delay profit-generation. "All in good time," seems to be the thinking.
So, VCs have taken on the attitude of many American parents these days, as described in the Tiger Mom book: Everyone's a winner. All the kids should get a trophy. Kids should experiment. They should go off to back-pack through Europe to find themselves. It will all work out in the end. Follow your bliss.
And now, with Mark Zuckerberg, we have the first real Generation Y guy manning the ship of a big-time IPO. It's interesting to think about how a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer would have run
(FB) differently over the last few years.
A Gen Xer (and I'm one) likely would have sold Facebook to
for $900 million or to
for $2 billion or whatever it was. Hey, $1 billion is awesome. You don't need more to live on for the rest of your life. Take the money and run.
A Gen Xer likely would have bowed to pressure from the "smart money" VCs who told Zuck to step aside as CEO. It was "common knowledge" that computer lab rats step aside. Jerry and David did it at Yahoo! Sergey and Larry did it at Google. It's not even something that would have been contested by a Gen Xer.
A Gen Xer would have gone public long ago. I was always puzzled why Zuck would constantly push back on doing an IPO. To me, an IPO is a privilege, not a burden. Is it so hard to be on quarterly conference calls with analysts? Is it difficult to answer questions? Does it really change the internal culture that much?
An IPO is a step in the road. It's like moving out of your parents' basement. You don't have to, but why wouldn't you want to? You can't stay in college forever. And again, the smart VCs would be breathing down the Gen Xer CEO's neck for liquidity. Most of us Gen Xers would have dutifully nodded our heads, "Yup. Anything you ask for, Mr. Kleiner Perkins, sir."
Lastly, a Baby Boomer like Jobs or Gates would be horrified at the idea that you don't try to make money right away. "This is a business, right? So, why wouldn't you make money right away?" Maybe a Gen Xer could have been talked into it by the VCs.
I am not saying that Zuck was wrong for any of these choices. Hey, at the end of the day, we're all born, we work, and we're going to die. In between, it's up to you how you live. I'm just pointing out that the choices would have certainly been different along the way.
I have to say, I have most respect for the Baby Boomers who've always had the market discipline of having to make money to control their own destiny. These days, if you're considered one of the cool kids with ties to Silicon Valley, there are endless pots of money from Chinese and Russian billionaires, as well as sovereign wealth funds, who will let you figure it out.
I'm sure Larry Page has been envious of the choices Zuckerberg has made to retain power at Facebook to this point. However, I'm also convinced that Zuckerberg is going to find it much more difficult to go from $4 billion to $30 billion in annual revenues than it was for Page.
At some point, we all have to move out of Mom's basement.
At the time of publication, Jackson was long Apple and Yahoo!
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Eric Jackson is founder and president of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson