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NEW YORK -- I was at a party in Northern California over the weekend. It was a very good party. These folks are expert drinkers. They bend to the task year in, year out, weekend after weekend, regardless of the season. Fortunately, they're merry drunks and like each other's company.They've gone through it all together. Marriages. Divorces. Triumphs and troubles with kids. And most of all, the inflations and explosions of the various tech bubbles that have swept their world over the last 20 years or so. Although you wouldn't know it from all the good-natured laughter and noise, on Saturday night, at least 25% of the room is now unemployed. Some are journalists who have been laid off from their newspapers or magazines. Others were technology officers of companies that have expired in the current red tide. A pretty fair number were entrepreneurs who have been crunched by the temporary fall of venture capitalism. Which brings me to a conclusion I've reached in this post-MySpace, post-YouTube, pre-Facebook and Twitter transactional universe. Forget the occasional Ponzi scheme. Venture capitalism may be the greatest scam going. Not long ago I asked an investment banking friend of mine how many VC deals he knew of in the tech sector over the last 10 years or so. A thousand, he said. And how many are still around and doing business? I inquired. Three? he replied. This may be just Darwin at work. But I don't think so.
It's something baked into the DNA of the venture capitalism game. Look at the model:
- I have money, which I give to you to pursue your little idea. You develop your idea to the point where it can be sold to somebody who has none. During that time, I can do whatever I want with you to grow your bulb into a tulip I can sell. I then sell your pretty flower, take all my money back and then some. The guys who grew the thing get a little taste, but are for the most part left holding the bag. The tiny, wafer-thin notion wilts inside the big hothouse that acquired it, generating the requirement for a massive writedown. I'm still rich even though nobody else involved in this is.