Fred Wilson is a star venture capitalist, one of those check-cutting white men whose blog posts are read like tea leaves by his peers (Think Marc Andreessen with less skull and more brain). But complaining about wasteful startups wasting the excessive cash you dumped on them is a dumb look.
In a blog post that's partially a response to Bill Gurley's welcome worrying, Wilson shakes his head about "burn rates," the velocity at which startups are spending money, hurdling towards the monetary abyss:
But burn rates are exactly that. Burning cash. Losing money. Emphasis on the losing.
And they are indeed sky high all over the US startup sector right now. And our portfolio is not immune to it. We have multiple portfolio companies burning multiple millions of dollars a month. Thankfully its not our entire portfolio. But it is more than I'd like and more than I'm personally comfortable with.
I've been grumpy for months, possibly for longer than that, about this. I've pushed back on long term leases that I thought were outrageous, I've pushed back on spending plans that I thought were too aggressive and too risky, I've made myself a pain in the ass to more than a few CEOs
Why are the venomous ants I poured down my shirt biting me?
The techie fundraising ethos has been, for at least a year or so now, "accept as much money as possible from investors." The culture of sky-high investment rounds sky-er high-er valuations put a premium on hand-wavy "metrics" like "growth" instead of old-fashioned criteria like "making money." One of Wilson's flagship investments was Tumblr, which has not only struggled to become a money-generating operation, but has a CEO with an open disdain for revenue.
So if it's true that startups are burning money like crazy, it's largely because Fred Wilsons are giving them money to burn, sans oversight or discipline. Why wouldn't they sign crazy, ten-year leases with millions of dollars they don't need? You can only buy so many custom t-shirts with your B round. If you were worried about all this money being spent, Fred, why'd you hand it out in such volumes for the spending? And if you're worried about it happening within your own investment portfolio, why aren't you on the phone instead of writing this blog post?
Wilson admits that "At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor's capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way." The fact that this observation—obvious to most children after reading a single "Busytown" book—required an "insightful VC blog post" says a lot. And it's dismal.