Discover more from Big Technology
The Over-Financialization Of Tech And The SVB Backlash
People don't see the tech industry as they once did. And it almost cost the sector a rescue.
In the early 2010s, hundreds of technologists would pack NYU’s Skirball Center for the monthly New York Tech Meetup. At the event, local developers would show off their latest products. And depending on the slate, you might see new dating websites, funny weather bots, or Foursquare plugins that made you look busy while you did nothing.
The meetup had just one rule: Show the tech. Anyone with a long preamble got “Get to the demo!” heckled at them. Founders who discussed their VC funding got booed. There was a feeling that tech was there to be useful, fun, and challenge the establishment. How you made money was secondary.
The obsession with demos was natural in the early 2010s, when the tech business was much smaller. Back then, people used desktops more than mobile devices. Business school students preferred to work at banks. And Google’s market cap was less than $200 billion. Hoodies, not suits, ran the industry.
As the economic opportunity in tech grew though, things changed. Bankers and finance professionals, looking to reinvent themselves after the financial crisis, found the tech sector. They became CEOs and COOs as the developers stood back. The New York Tech Meetup started putting more finance people on stage. They talked about their funding. They got booed.
After the government saved Silicon Valley Bank depositors last weekend, many within the industry were surprised at the public’s unenthusiastic reaction. Companies banking with SVB would use their funds to pay workers and contribute to economic growth, but a chunk of the public still opposed protecting them, seeing it as a billionaire bailout. “My main learning from the SVB take firehose,’ tweeted Anduril engineer Luke Metro, “is that very few ppl outside of tech view funded early stage founders as scrappy underdogs instead of the bourgeois.”
The perception change mattered — it almost stopped the administration from stepping in — and it’s at least somewhat related to the shift on display at that meetup.
The financialization of tech was necessary, in some ways. As computing grew ubiquitous, especially with the rise of the smartphone, the market opportunity for technology products exploded. The moment called for financial rigor, planning, and — yes — VC funding. And financially minded people soon pushed the tech industry into an exceptional economic position.
But the tech sector, or at least parts of it, then trended into over-financialization. Instead of thinking about what problems they could solve for people, some companies looked only at growth and margins. They acted extractive, not like the startups at demo day. Doordash, for instance, counted tips toward its minimum delivery worker payments, changing only after an uproar. And as this happened, VCs — not builders — became the tech industry’s most recognizable names.
Either by working for these companies, or knowing someone in their lives who did, many people felt the impact of this over-financialization. The companies’ quest to squeeze just a bit more money onto the balance sheet had a cost, albeit not an apparent one. When it came time to save tech companies, some preferred to burn down the system vs. keep it going. It made it difficult to find political consensus at a crucial time. As Founders Fund’s Mike Solana put it, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days it’s tech is no political party’s ‘darling.’”
Through a furious weekend, the tech sector won over the White House and got its rescue. The move was common sense. But the struggle was instructive. Through no fault of their own, tech startups were pushed to the brink. Now granted new life, it’s time to get back to the demos.
Outperform Apple stock by 2x? This platform helped investors do just that. (Sponsored)
In just 604 days, a $10,000 investment in a Cecily Brown offering from Masterworks would have secured an eye-popping $4,900 profit. In the same time period, a $10,000 investment in Apple stock would have realized an underwhelming $2,400 profit.
Although not all paintings see those gains, it's not the first time Masterworks has delivered impressive results for investors.
In fact, every single one of Masterworks’ 11 exits to date has returned a profit to their investors. The last 3 secured 13.9%, 35%, and 10.4% net annualized returns!
New offerings are launching every week, but due to high demand, there is a waitlist to join. Fortunately, Breaking Tech News readers can skip the waitlist with this exclusive link.
What Else I’m Reading, Etc.
OpenAI’s GPT-4 is here and it’s not so open [The Verge]
GPT-4 is coming to Microsoft Office [Bloomberg]
White House tells Bytedance to divest TikTok or face a potential ban [Washington Post]
Silicon Valley Bank lobbied for looser regulations before its collapse [The Hill]
Now, the global banking system is on edge [Axios]
A dispatch from inside the metaverse [New York]
Meta gives up on NFTs [The Verge]
Why people are rewatching Girls [New York Times]
A wild profile on a philosopher who lives with her husband and ex-huband [New Yorker]
Meet Big Technology’s Alex Kantrowitz and Pivot Podcast’s Scott Galloway at the Reworked CONNECT Conference this May [Reworked] (sponsored)
See a story you like? Tweet it with “tip @bigtechnology” for consideration in this section
Number Of The Week
Rise in crypto app downloads after Silicon Valley Bank’s failure, per Apptopia
Quote Of The Week
“We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that this new economic reality will continue for many years.”
Mark Zuckerberg, in a note to Meta employees, as he announced a second layoff of 10,000+ workers.
Advertise with Big Technology?
Advertising with Big Technology gets your product, service, or cause in front of the tech world’s top decision-makers. To reach 115,000+ plugged-in tech insiders, reply to this email or write email@example.com
This Week On Big Technology Podcast: The Fallout from Silicon Valley Bank's Failure — With Om Malik and Chris Tolles
Om Malik is a partner emeritus at True Ventures and a former tech journalist. Chris Tolles is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former CEO of Topix. The two longtime tech insiders join Big Technology Podcast to discuss the aftermath of Silicon Valley Bank's collapse. We cover not only what the bank meant to the tech industry — and how its failure will change the landscape — but why so many people were happy to see it fail, and sought to prevent a bailout. Join us for a nuanced discussion of Silicon Valley's place in society, and whether it can continue operating effectively with its favorite bank in shambles.
Thanks again for reading. Please share Big Technology if you like it!
And hit that Like Button
My book Always Day One digs into the tech giants’ inner workings, focusing on automation and culture. I’d be thrilled if you’d give it a read. You can find it here.
Questions? Email me by responding to this email, or by writing firstname.lastname@example.org
News tips? Find me on Signal at 516-695-8680
Thanks for reading Big Technology! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Masterworks disclosure: “Net Return" refers to the annualized internal rate of return net of all fees and costs, calculated from the offering closing date to the date the sale is consummated. IRR may not be indicative of Masterworks paintings not yet sold and past performance is not indicative of future results. See important Regulation A disclosures at masterworks.com/cd.