Veteran venture capitalist Kevin Kinsella has a message for fast-growing startups: Take the money and run--far away from Uber.

Kinsella, founder of Avalon Ventures and an investor in tech and life sciences companies, has been sounding the alarm recently about the high valuations of tech companies. He's particularly concerned about the rise of so-called "unicorns," or private companies valued at more than $1 billion--though he says that as long as investors are showering some startups with cash, entrepreneurs should embrace unicorn status.

"If the bank window is open and they're giving away money on the cheap, I think entrepreneurs should be backing their trucks up," the La Jolla, California-based investor said in an interview last week. "From an entrepreneur's standpoint, it's a lovely day out there."

That's particularly true for Uber, the on-demand car service now reportedly valued at an incredible $50 billion--more than the market capitalization of many huge, public incumbents, including FedEx and Salesforce.com.

Kinsella calls himself a fan of Uber's service ("I use it; all my friends use it; it's providing a terrific experience"), but he worries that any problems with the company or a similar-size market leader could burst the tech bubble.

"If there was a serious hiccup in Uber's valuation, since it's the lead unicorn--if it got a cold, I think the rest of the unicorns would get pneumonia," he says. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

It's a familiar worry about the outsize influence that one dominant, successful company can have on its industry; if Uber were in banking, it might be deemed "too big to fail." And Kinsella doesn't see many obvious ways for the company to avoid eventually sparking a collapse in tech startup valuations, unless Uber can get similar buy-in from public investors in an IPO.

"Maybe one of these unicorns, maybe the leading one--maybe it should go public," he says. "If Uber or any other unicorn gets the public markets to agree that yeah, it's worth $50 billion, that could avoid" bursting the tech valuation bubble.

It's worth noting that a very small percentage of startups reach unicorn status, though their numbers are growing at an accelerated rate. There are 110 unicorns, worth a collective $402 billion, including 18 U.S. companies that have reached the $1 billion mark since the start of 2015, according to CB Insights.

That's far too many, according to Kinsella, whose most famous investments include the game maker Zynga and the Broadway musical Jersey Boys. He blames his fellow investors for not exercising more restraint when handing out those truckloads of money.

"There's a serious imbalance between capital available to invest and ideas that are worth investing in," he says.

But for entrepreneurs, "you should take the highest valuation you can," Kinsella says. "Your job is to conserve capital; you just need to do that very diligently and with a great deal of caution. Now that may lead to you not needing to raise equity at all. But if you have to raise money, take it at the highest valuation you can get."

 

Published on: Jun 9, 2015