Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The "Everyone I know shopped at whole foods" Effect and the Wonderful World of Next-big-thingism

This has a familiar ring to it.

Scooter startup Bird is seeking a $2 billion valuation

E-scooter company Bird is seeking to raise around $200 million in new funding at a $2 billion valuation, according to multiple sources.

Big picture: This would be just weeks after it raised $150 million at a $1 billion valuation, and only three months after raising at a $300 million valuation. Venture capitalists have never before participated in such a rapid and rocketing price spike.

GV to lead $250 million round in scooter startup Lime

Lime, a San Francisco-based bike and scooter-sharing startup, is raising around $250 million in new funding led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), Axios has learned.

Why it matters: E-scooter competition keeps heating up, with rivals like Lime and Bird believing that cash-grabs will translate into land-grabs.

The deal is not yet closed, which means the final size could change a bit. Existing backers like Coatue Management and Andreessen Horowitz are expected to participate.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, these numbers are ridiculous. While not necessarily a bad idea, the dockless electric scooter is a narrow niche product. Only usable on smooth surfaces in reasonably pleasant weather. Not that much faster than walking and probably slower than biking. Worse than both for carrying bags. Only suitable for dense upscale areas. Requiring an extensive support network practical over fairly limited geographic areas. Strictlyly an option for people who can walk in situations where walking is viable.

There's no rational way to justify the amount of money that is being poured into these businesses, but as we've mentioned before, this is not a rational process; it is one of hype, magical heuristics, and tragic provincialism.

A central tenet of those who invest in and cover technology and business is that the next thing is lurking out there ready to disrupt the world of the nonbelievers and reward the faithful. The fear of being left behind (insert Kirk Cameron joke here) can be overwhelming, particularly when reinforced by thee provincialism that permeates the culture.

Economically, racially, educationally, and geographically, the people who shape the technology narrative either through what they say or where they spend their money are dangerously homogenous. They have an extremely limited and largely unquestioned worldview, and when something is highly visible in their little corner of the world, they assume it plays a proportionately large role for everyone else.

This bias was shown in high relief when Amazon acquired Whole Foods. As we pointed out at the time, the high end grocery chain was a relatively small player with virtually no footprint in most of the country, but it was a prominent part of the lives of those setting the narrative, therefore it was seen as a huge deal.

If you live in San Francisco or if your encounters with Los Angeles never go east of the 405 or south of the 105, these electric scooters are a familiar sight, and if you're the kind of person who does not think about how other people live, it's easy to imagine that the next big thing in their neighborhood is the next big thing.

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