At a dinner tonight in Silicon Valley that featured LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Benchmark Capital’s newest general partner, Matt Cohler, the mood was surprisingly — but decidedly — upbeat.
“It’s a very good time to be an investor, and, if you can get the financing, it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur,” said Hoffman to a crowd of young enterpreneurs and technologists, who’d gathered as part of a monthly salon hosted by startup advisor and angel investor Dave McClure.
“I’ve written several different checks in the last couple of months, some to some of the people right here,” Hoffman said referring to the roughly 100 people gathered in a banquet room at the conventional Sheraton Palo Alto Hotel, where salmon and tiramisu were on the menu.
“People were saying the consumer Internet was over a few years ago. But even now, I think we’re just at its beginning stages. There’s a ton of stuff coming out of new platforms, but also new Websites.”
Hoffman acknowledged that in today’s economic climate, “fewer companies will get investment.” However, he added that startups that “play into [current] market dynamics” have a better shot than those that do not, and that any startup that manages to attract capital in these conditions is likely to enjoy a disproportionate edge, no matter what its business model. The reason? The market simply can’t afford copycats right now.
What budding entrepreneurs need to consider is whether their idea is truly “financeable. Will you have enough capital to start deploying the product?” If not, Hoffman suggested, wait.
Cohler was as sanguine, saying that startups shouldn’t be dependent on the “actualities” of the world, and pointing out that great companies have been born in both boom times and busts. Indeed, he said that Benchmark is “looking at companies every day, many of which are Series A.”
Further echoing Hoffman’s sentiments, Cohler observed that broadband penetration exceeded more than 50 percent of U.S. homes for the first time last year. “It’s the tip of the iceberg for what this means for the world,” he said.
One of the conversation’s most interesting moments arose when McClure asked Cohler – who worked for Hoffman at LinkedIn, then jumped to Facebook, where he stayed until joining Benchmark this summer – what LinkedIn could be doing differently. Treading lightly, Cohler offered that LinkedIn waited longer than it needed to introduce its own applications platform, which happened earlier this week. “It wanted to see what would happen with Facebook’s [developer platform], but it probably could have been faster,” he said.
When McClure asked Hoffman what mistakes Facebook has made, Hoffman was equally diplomatic. Alluding to Facebook’s strained relations with many third party developers, whose applications were whisked into obscurity in early summer, Hoffman said that “running fast and making mistakes along the way is healthy — as long as it’s egg-on-your-face risk and not mortal risk.”
(It’s worth noting that both Hoffman and Cohler own shares of both Facebook and LinkedIn.)