The Day the High Tech World Stood Still

This month is an anniversary of sorts. On October 8, 2008, the top Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia held an emergency meeting for the management of its portfolio companies. The meeting was held in what seemed to be a rapidly accelerating economic meltdown. Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy the previous month, and a little over a week before, the U.S. House of Representatives had rejected a historic $700 billion financial sector bailout. The purpose of the meeting was to prepare the Sequoia portfolio companies for the potential coming economic environment.

I first heard of this meeting by way of an email from a colleague shortly after its posting by VentureBeat. My company had been acquired the previous year, and I had fallen out of touch with the high tech startup market.  But within minutes of clicking through the email, I was paging through the Sequoia slide deck that even today remains hard to forget. Its opening slide was a gravestone with the words “R.I.P GOOD TIMES”; the third slide showed a picture of a knife in a slab of meat.  The subtlety... well, it was hard to miss.

According to VentureBeat, some of the comments from inside the meeting included:

  • “We’re talking survival. Get this point into your heads.”
  • “This could be at least a 15-year downward cycle...”
  • “Reduce expenses around products and boost sales; if product is ready, cut engineers.”

I'll always remember this moment as the low point of our current recession.

So what happened to Sequoia and its portfolio? Well, since October 2008 they have invested north of $750 million in startups, including over $120 million this last quarter alone. Some of their new 2010 investments include Acton Pharmaceuticals, Axtria, Druva Software, Inkling, and Nimbula. They also have continued to fund later stage rounds in their existing companies from October 2008. In short: not much changed in the Sequoia we knew before and after this meeting.

So when the stock market tumbles 200 points in a day, just remember... it could be worse: you could be invited by your VC to an emergency meeting that opens with a slide showing a knife in a slab of meat.

Happy anniversary.

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