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Looking into Fred Wilson's Crystal Ball

The co-founder of Union Square Ventures explains why some of the biggest private tech companies are struggling to IPO. Plus: The most powerful companies in 2020.

You can't tell the future, but Fred Wilson can.

The co-founder of Union Square Ventures, who is known for his investments in Twitter, SoundCloud, Foursquare, and Kickstarter, said Monday that one of the biggest consumer-facing tech companies in 2020 will be a company you've never heard of. 

In eight years time, the largest companies in terms of market value will be "Google, Facebook, and one that we've never heard of," Wilson says.

Missing from the list? Apple, which is currently the world's biggest company, as measured by market capitalization. "It's too rooted in hardware," Wilson says. Why else might Apple not still have one of the highest market caps, eight years out? It is "not doing enough in the cloud," he adds. "I don't think they think about data and the cloud in the way you need to think about things."

The investor, who at TechCrunch Disrupt Monday was referred to as the "Godfather of New York tech," is still bullish on the startup space in Manhattan, but he's cooled on the IPO market, and seemed to agree with interviewer Michael Arrington that valuations of large tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are "a little fluffy."

That doesn't mean that the later-stage startups, such as Box and Square, are necessarily in trouble, though, Wilson says. "But they might need to go through another round of funding," he says.

How'd things get so frothy? Wilson: "In general, public market valuations got too high, and that went down to the private markets...and now there are a bunch of companies in the private markets that are going to have to deal with that."

Of his investments in New York tech, Wilson nodded to two companies he could see going public in the next few years, whenever the IPO market looks sunnier: Etsy and MongoDB, the SaaS company co-founded by Gilt Group co-founder Kevin Ryan.

One Wilson investment that looks like it won't go public? Kickstarter.

"The Kickstarter management team has said they have no interest in going public," Wilson says. By contrast, the crowdfunding site, based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, wants to build to a large private, long-lasting, corporation--not dissimilar from the business media juggernaut Bloomberg L.P.

Last updated: May 5, 2014

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.

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