Cheerfully Noshing on Sushi at Silicon Valley Bank While The Tech World Is Supposed To Be Crumbling
Is this really what the tech apocalypse looks like?
I spent the day yesterday at a gathering for up-and-coming, striver venture capitalists organized by one such plucky principal — Slow Ventures’ Yoni Rechtman.
The intimate conference, held at Silicon Valley Bank’s Manhattan office, featured appearances from Union Square Ventures’ Rebecca Kaden, Founders Fund’s Everett Randle, Slow Ventures’ Will Quist, and Not Boring newsletter writer and investor Packy McCormick. Josh Wolfe, founder of Lux Capital, teleconferenced in.
I moderated a panel that asked “WTF Is Happening?”
The event was held under the Chatham House Rule, so I can’t tell you who said what. But I can relay the ideas that emerged, and, perhaps most tellingly, the mood.
It didn’t feel like the end times.
Do they cater sushi lunches in an apocalypse? Maybe so. I’ve never lived through one before.
Yes, there was plenty of talk about the pace of investing slowing. But, everyone agreed that money was still flowing into seed and Series A rounds.
True, new fund managers seemed more apprehensive than usual about whether they would get their funds over the finish line. But, limited partners were on hand to give tips and tricks.
Yes, I talked to someone who was leaving their job — but they had a better one lined up.
I didn’t see anyone handing out resumes or asking about job openings.
Just like in roaring 2021, a healthy amount of time was dedicated to worrying about whether ambitious venture capitalists needed to tweet more. It’s not exactly how I would imagine spending the days preceding a startup bloodbath of historic proportions.
I sincerely don’t know what to make of the vibe. People seemed to agree that we have bankruptcies ahead of us. But if they were truly afraid, they hid it well.
I want to be clear that I’m not tweaking anyone for serving conference sushi. It wasn’t exactly Nakazawa. I just always imagined doom and gloom would feel doomier and gloomier.
The warning signs seem to be piling up. Coinbase, a company that has gone to great lengths to reassure people that it’s not at risk of bankruptcy, announced Thursday that it was pausing hiring and rescinding job offers. Elon Musk seems to be begging employees to quit by forcing them to spend at least 40 hours a week in the office. (Indeed, Reuters reported that Tesla wants to cut 10% of jobs.) Sheryl Sandberg thought now was the right time to make her exit. Seven startups laid off workers Thursday; eight laid off employees Wednesday.
But the NASDAQ Composite was up 8% over the last five days. So why worry?
Maybe we’re living a moment out of Nietzsche. The Madman arrives to deliver his message to the people, but they can’t yet appreciate it.
“I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”
Sadly, a prophetic madman didn’t even make an appearance at the conference. Or maybe he arrived after I left.
If people were looking to me for soothsaying, I failed them. Honestly, I’m far more worried about making a bad prediction than I’m terrified by the prospect of the end of the startup world as we know it.
I entered college during the Great Recession, so I grew up with the financial crisis at the back of my mind. But I’ve built a career in the good times. This is my first real downturn — well — except the pandemic head-fake that taught us not to sweat a sudden stock market correction.
Did we learn the wrong lesson?
I’m not exactly running scared myself. I caught myself boasting to one attendee that I thought my newsletter business would prove countercyclical.
Isn’t that what we all want to believe?