Mark Cuban knows a thing or two about bubbles, having profited handsomely from an earlier Internet boom. But ask him if we’re seeing Bubble 2.0 and he’ll give you a different theory.
“It’s almost the 2011 version of a private equity chain letter,” said Cuban, who sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo in 1999 for $5.7 billion and went on to buy the the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
“Remember the old chain letter, where you put up some money, then you got other people to put up some money, and you gave it to the people who were in the deal before you? That’s what’s happening today,” said Cuban. “The early (VCs) are getting the new (VCs) to invest enough money at high enough valuations that they get most, if not all of their money back. Then the next round (sees) someone else invest more money at a higher valuation, returning cash to the last two rounds of investors. By the time you get to the last (VC) standing, those last few rounds hope they can get a return from the public markets. That may be very tough. But the only players really on the hook are the guys from the last rounds. Just like in a chain letter.”
It’s a valid point. As certain Internet company valuations reach astronomic new heights, it’s easy to conclude that Silicon Valley has spawned another giant bubble–one that will eventually bounce its way onto the public market and soak investors. But unlike the dot.com mania of a decade ago, today’s soaring valuations don’t involve hundreds of companies and thousands of retail investors. They center on a select group of wealthy VCs chasing after a comparatively small number of very richly valued tech companies–most of which are in Silicon Valley.