(Image courtesy carterse @ flickr)
There’s been a lot of navel gazing lately about whether or not we’re in a bubble. Based on valuations and hype, we might be, but there are a few areas where this bubble is seriously lacking. What’s different this time? Well, at least here in SoCal, we’re missing:
1. Free concerts, by top name (not second rate) artists and bands, for startup launch events
There has been a serious lack of free, invite-only concerts by startups in this latest surge of funding. A hallmark of the first Internet bubble, I recall at times getting two or three invitations a week from random startups featuring well known, very pricey bands for their launch events. In some cases, it seemed that a huge chunk of every new startup’s budget was for their million dollar launch event.
2. Free T-shirts, mugs, and other swag.
At one point during the Internet bubble, our mailbox was overflowing with free T-shirts and other assorted startup swag. I even, at one point, considered collecting those free T-shirts to document the rise (and fall) of the billions of dot coms. Topping that, do you remember FreePC.com? That was an Idealab startup which thought it could give away PCs and make up the cost by presenting users with advertising. People were giving all sorts of free stuff away, fueling that giveaway with venture money.
3. Random references to startups in comic strips.
You knew it was a bubble (back when there were newspapers which actually carried comic strips) when startups–and even unreserved, random humorous domain names–started showing up in comic strips. I suppose domain names are passe now, or all those cartoonists are out of work, but it doesn’t seem like it happens anymore (name dropping Twitter handles just doesn’t seem to have the same effect…) I knew some domain speculators who kept on snapping up those random PC comic strip references hoping they’d turn into real businesses.
4. Expensive, no-expense-spared, open bar parties (usually at the Playboy mansion)
Along with the theme of #1, it seemed like there was a booze heavy, lingerie model-packed party for some company or another here every week, usually at the Playboy mansion. Not that it’s my scene (helps to be single and without school age children you are trying to provide a good example to!) but there’s maybe been one of these this year.
5. Random, massive hiring
Notably missing in this latest expansion, is the random, massive hiring that happened with the original Internet bubble. It was not uncommon to talk to companies who had just hired 150 employees, and who–if you queried those employees–they’d tell you, honestly, that they had no idea what the company needed them for, why they were hired, and who they reported to. Companies were so desperate for talent they were hiring first, figuring out all of that later. Given the unemployment numbers now (still high), what better cure than random, massive hiring?
6. Startups with millions of dollars, recent public listing, and no clue how to make money
I recall freshly minted startups, who, having just pocketed millions in venture cash, promptly filed and went IPO with outstanding response–who had not yet figured out how to make money. In one notable example, I remember Mark Goldston of United Online (then, NetZero) talking at local events about how the firm just got lucky with its IPO, because at the time it had no idea how it would actually make money and what its business was. You just aren’t seeing that as much anymore… Then again, if you’ve read the Groupon S-1 lately…
7. Sock puppets and Superbowl commercials
Admit it–the world of TV commercials just isn’t the same without sock puppets and the like. The massive influx of money into the Internet bubble last time was a boom time for the creative types and advertising agencies, and resulted in a heck of a lot of entertaining campaigns and commercials. It’s just not the same thing now.