Wall Street is counting its winnings from seven years of easy money.
The results represent a clear victory for Wall Street over Main Street, according to the team of Michael Hartnett, BofA’s chief investment strategist.
“Zero rates and asset purchases of central banks have, thus far, proved much more favorable to Wall Street, capitalists, shadow banks, ‘unicorns,’ and so on than it has for Main Street, workers, savers, banks and the jobs market,” the BofA team wrote.
Recently, Vanity Fair sat down with well known venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya to get his take on the state of affairs in unicorn land.
Here’s some of what he had to say:
Palihapitiya’s firm, Social Capital, has backed numerous tech companies with valuations in the billions, such as Slack, Box, and SurveyMonkey. But that doesn’t mean that he is bullish on unicorn culture. Here, Palihapitiya speaks about Mark Zuckerberg’s secret sauce, which start-ups are going to make it, and the saga between Apple and the F.B.I., among other topics.
Funding is slowing down, both in seed rounds and mega-rounds. There have been fewer tech I.P.O.s recently, more companies are raising down rounds. Are we in a downturn?
I think we’re in a phase where we’re realizing that the people who have been allocating capital thus far have done a horrendous job. Most people’s inherent reaction is to make sure they never lose their job, and so they become risk-averse. I think what we’ve had is a handful of investors who have extreme vision who make great investments in things that are amazing businesses: Facebook, Google, Uber.
And then everybody else reacts to that success by trying to do the thing that most approximates the thing that’s working. As a result, most of those businesses are fundamentally not good, they’re poorly run, and they never should have been invested in in the first place. But the capital came in because the person who had control of the capital was able to justify it intellectually to themselves versus something else that could have become the next Facebook or Google.
The reality is, great companies can go public in any market. When we talk about the I.P.O. slowdowns what we’re really saying is that there really just aren’t that many good companies being built. We need to divorce ourselves from venture capital as an occupation and focus on using capital as a way to take really big bets on things that just seem totally audacious. Right now we haven’t done enough of that, and the result is that most of the things we’ve funded are mostly crap and largely worthless.
What advice are you giving Social Capital’s portfolio companies in the event of a tech bubble burst or correction?
We’re trying to coach our C.E.O.s that the window dressing is both expensive from a cash perspective and tremendously expensive from a culture perspective. It distracts the team from building what they need to build. Don’t waste money on things that get away from your mission, which confuse employees about why they’re actually there. Meaning, the quality of the office and the quality of the food are all part and parcel of a lack of discipline, which speaks to the fact that the mission isn’t compelling enough. Because I can tell you what it was like at early Facebook: the food was terrible; we’d ship in lunch and probably two to three times a week the lunch had maggots in it. But we were there because we believed, and it didn’t matter.
A number of V.C.s have been calling on mature, late-stage companies to go public. There’s even been somewhat of a quiet rally in the public tech stocks recently. Is now the time for big, late-stage companies to go public, or does it make sense for companies to stay private longer?
Any company that is making its decision based on external timing is probably not in control of their own destiny and should probably not go public. Facebook could have gone public whenever it wanted. We decided the right time was 2012. It could have easily been 2010 or 2014. When you hear the call for these companies to go public and there’s pushback and they don’t, what’s really happening is the realization that the structural strength of their business is not yet in place. So they’re worried about how the public market will react once they have to transparently demonstrate what their business will look like. The great companies can always go public whenever they want; every other company is trying for some window of time where there’s essentially some combination of intellectual laziness and greed in the public markets that will allow them to exploit a window.
Not that any of this is particularly surprising, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. It’s also why…
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