Who will be the next Google?
Silicon Valley is buzzing. Deal flow is up. Seasoned entrepreneurs are giving it a go again. Startups abound with new ideas, from the truly innovative to the boringly mundane. The energy is back, and those who predicted Silicon Valley's decline as a center of tech activity and innovation may want to take a second look.
Although my evidence is still anecdotal, it doesn't take many conversations with venture capitalists (VCs), nor meetings with entrepreneurs, to impart a sense the environment has changed significantly over the past 12 months.
A recent holiday party for a leading Sand Hill Road VC firm was packed to the point where moving was difficult. Champagne greeted guests at the door. An abundance of sushi, mushroom risotto, entrec,te and chocolate pôt de crème followed. Wines at the bar were not bottom-shelf.
Nobody was talking about the dot-com bubble or bust, a distant memory. The VCs (quite a few of them), angel investors, lawyers, Stanford professors, friends of the firm, consultants, a few large-company executives, portfolio company CEOs and founders, and entrepreneurs; everyone's looking to the future. "The next Google" is the topic du jour. Who will be the next Google?
Will one of the big guys stumble, creating an opportunity for hoards of small companies waiting in the wings to rush in and gain a foothold with new innovations? Maybe they can even take a market lead. The answer is presumptively, yes. The problem, of course, is no one can predict who will stumble or when chinks will appear in the armor.
With little certainty about which established organizations and markets are vulnerable, you might think there's hand-wringing going on. That's not how it works in Silicon Valley. Either the spigots are on and the funding climate is good, or they're off and the climate's bad. At the moment, the spigots are on. Still, there are always favorites: favorite entrepreneurs, markets, and deal types. Some favorites this time around may surprise, especially as they look a lot like the ones that left huge craters behind just a few years ago.
Here are a few:
Champagne and risotto at a VC holiday party are hardly an indicator innovation and entrepreneurial gusto are back, but it sure tasted good to those of us who took a break from the real work -- trying to create the next new thing.
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Hans Peter BrØndmo has spent his career at the intersection of technological innovation and consumer empowerment. He is a successful serial entrepreneur and a recognized thought leader. His latest company, Plum, is a consumer service with big plans to make the Web easier to use. In 1996, he founded pioneering e-mail marketing company Post Communications. His recent book, "The Engaged Customer," is a national bestseller and widely recognized as the bible of e-mail relationship marketing. As a sought-after keynote speaker, he has addressed more than 50 conferences in the past three years, is often featured in national media, and has been invited to testify at two U.S. Senate hearings and an FCC hearing on Internet privacy and spam. Hans Peter is on the board of the online privacy certification and seal program of TRUSTe and several companies. He performed his undergraduate and graduate studies at MIT.
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