Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's 1999 Again: The Bubble 2.0 And Talent Wars Of The Silicon Valley

I have been living in the Silicon Valley for a while, and sure enough I haven't forgotten the dot com days. A few days back, on my way to the San Francisco airport, I saw a billboard by aol advertising that they are cool (again!). I also observed that parking lots alongside 101 weren't that empty. I told myself "man! this does feel like 1999".

The smart people - entrepreneurs, VCs, and analysts - that I talk to, tell me that we're in a bubble. They call it Bubble 2.0. Perhaps, they're right. The company valuations are through the roof. Facebook is valued around $75 billion and Color, on the launch day, had $40 million in the bank. The angel, super angel, and incubator investment deal flow is bringing all the talent to the Valley and all these young smart entrepreneurs are working on some of the coolest things that I have ever seen. But, there's a talent side that I am worried about. What this influx of easy venture capital has ensued is companies waging talent wars. For companies such as Google, attracting and retaining talent has become very difficult. Facebook and Twitter are new Google and Quora is new Facebook. The talent acquisitions that worked in the past, such as Facebook acquiring Friendfeed, have started to fall apart since the founders realized that serial entrepreneurship is a much better option that allows them to control their destiny against trusting someone else's innovation engine.

I like the creative ways in which the start-ups try to attract the talent. When Google launched a sting operation against bing, they took the honeypot keyword "hiybbprqag" used in the sting operation to register the domain and redirected it to the Google Jobs page. They received a few thousand resumes that week. I am seeing more and more creative techniques that the companies use to attract talent. The value proposition for a killer designer or a super-geek programmer to work for you has to extend beyond the basics in the valley. This is especially true under current circumstances where there is a stunningly short supply of designers and developers in the Valley.

The talent war is for real. It's easy to get money and get started on an idea, but a real success requires a great team composition that is not easy to achieve. But, that's the reality of the start-up world and we should recognize that the people are even more important than ever before. If you think retaining talent was hard, gaining talent is much harder. I also foresee that these new millionaires will most likely angel invest their money into new start-ups. This floodgate will result into more start-ups competing for talent and possibly with the marketing budget of the incumbents. But, then, if we believe, it's a bubble, it gotta burst one day, and when that happens, it won't be pretty.

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