2022 definitely felt like the end of an era. A decade-long party for US tech, fueled by low-interest rates -> increased availability of risk capital -> price inflation across asset classes.
The last chapter of this post-GFC era was perhaps the craziest – an unprecedented pandemic -> widespread lockdowns -> more fiscal stimulus -> injecting more air into already inflated asset bubbles.
With inflation crossing 7%, the Fed finally started increasing interest rates last year and is expected to continue quantitative tightening over the next few quarters. Public market valuations expectedly turned south (valuations are based on DCF, so as discount rates go up, valuations go down), with tech growth stocks correcting by as much as 80-90%.
The following dynamics are currently at play:
- Large tech: shrinking macro-demand + adverse public markets -> pressure on companies to reduce costs to bring them in line with lower growth projections -> drastic cost-cutting measures, including major layoffs.
- Venture Investors: public market corrections -> LPs cut back on venture allocations + downward revision of expected returns on exit -> venture activity slows down + any deals that happen, happen at much lower valuations given new public market comps.
- Startups: less capital available + higher bar in private markets -> startups need to cut costs to survive -> layoffs in high-cost/ non-core functions + pause hiring unless absolutely essential.
2023 appears to be the “year of transition”, as both the overall macroeconomic cycle, as well as the technology sector within it, move into a new paradigm. I see the following ten big ideas for 2023:
- Leaner-and-meaner big tech
For anyone working in tech over the last decade, we have witnessed first-hand the level of entitlement & cultural complacency that has grown within large tech companies like Google & Meta. With more challenging times ahead, I expect large tech companies to take drastic steps towards re-wiring their cultures & operating models. Layoffs are just one piece of the puzzle – expect significant changes to compensation policies, KPI/ OKR philosophies, org. structures, functional locations, work-from-home policies, contractor hiring, operating routines etc., all with the aim to make execution more efficient.
Founder-led companies (eg. Meta, Salesforce, Shopify, Coinbase etc.) will take quicker & braver calls to re-invent themselves, compared to those run by professional management teams (eg. Google). In the latter case, I expect shareholders to put considerable pressure on these professional CEOs to take corrective measures. In fact, I won’t be surprised if some of the big tech CEOs get unexpectedly replaced as many of them come across as peacetime CEOs who will struggle in wartime.
2. Capital efficiency over growth for startups
The last decade in tech startups was all about growth. This year, expect investing thesis & operating models to decisively shift towards capital efficiency. Mirroring the demands for margin improvement by public markets, I expect private market investors to significantly raise their expectations on operating efficiency.
Founders will have to react fast and in several cases, give a 1800 turn to their culture & business models. A silver lining – founders who were heads-down amidst the craziness of 2020-21, building their companies in a capital-efficient way, will have an enviable opportunity (& deservedly so!) to play offense both with customers & investors.
3. Bay Area bounces back
Remote work boomed during the pandemic, as tech companies grew at unprecedented rates. However, we saw signs of a comeback-to-office across both big companies & startups last year. With current headwinds, I expect factors like teams getting together to drive execution & in-person networking to become increasingly important.
With rampant layoffs, tech professionals will also feel more insecure & would need more access & optionality to get their careers back on track. All this bodes well for the Bay Area – I expect significant migration to the region, especially for people in their 20s to mid-30s. In terms of the sheer depth of the tech ecosystem, the Bay Area remains unparalleled. As emerging areas like AI, health-tech & EVs gain strength, they will provide even more reasons for talent to be physically here.
4. “De-angelification” of the startup ecosystem
Amidst the post-pandemic investing frenzy, liquidity-rich, over-optimistic, FOMO-driven tech professionals started dabbling in angel investing. Becoming an angel in a “hot deal” became a status symbol, & rapid paper-markups made everyone feel like a winner.
A majority of newbie angels from this vintage neither understand the nuances of this asset class nor have the depth of resources to play the game effectively over the long term.
As more startups start shutting down this year, combined with layoffs & decreasing compensations courtesy dwindling value of RSUs, I expect a massive churn in 2020-21 vintage angels. In my experience, tourist angels typically drop out of the game around the 4-6 deals/ 24 months mark, as they see portfolio companies starting to shut down & their hard-earned money vaporizing into thin air.
5. More pain in Crypto
If you thought 2022 was brutal for Crypto, brace yourself! FTX implosion is only the beginning of a much-needed cleanup in the space. I expect many more tokens to go to zero, projects to shut down & low-conviction talent to move out. Given the scale of the FTX fraud, am expecting even more regulatory oversight & ramifications for the overall sector this year.
Personally, I do believe there is a kernel of truth in the Web3 opportunity. The faster this cleanup happens, the sooner the next chapter can begin & we can make tangible progress towards discovering its real-world use cases.
On BTC and ETH, I expect both to remain flat at best, & significantly down from current levels in the bear case.
6. The FOMO shifts to AI
Whenever there is too much consensus around a trend or an asset class, I get worried! It was clean-tech pre-GFC, then Blockchain & Crypto pre-pandemic, moving to Web3 & future-of-work post-pandemic. Based on my Twitter feed, I can safely say that with the rise of OpenAI & launch of ChatGPT, the FOMO has now shifted from Web3 to AI. I am expecting the space to see a lot of hype, investor interest & startups being launched in 2023.
Studying how the previous FOMO waves evolved gives a fair understanding of what to expect – those without first-principles conviction & a long-term strategy are more likely to get their hands burned. Those who were anyway committed to the space & were quietly building behind the scenes over the last few years stand to disproportionately benefit from the increased availability of risk capital & talent.
7. The return of “moats” (& rise of deeptech)
As the perpetual-growth era of software ends, I expect the question around “moats” to re-appear in the diligence checklist of investors. The lifecycle of companies like Netflix & Robinhood has clearly shown how hard it is to have a sustainable competitive advantage in tech (one reason why Warren Buffet stays away from investing in it!).
As the likelihood of purely growth-driven exits goes down, I expect venture investors to start looking at deeptech verticals with inherent moats much more seriously. These include space-tech, health-tech (including lifesciences), energy, climate etc.
Each of the above markets seems to be getting unlocked in its own unique way & while these companies can be more capital-intensive & have higher technical risk compared to say SaaS or Social, the resulting market leaders have much more defensible competitive positions & hence command healthy valuation multiples.
8. EVs taking over the transportation stack
EVs are seeing major progress on both the supply & demand side. On the supply side, most major auto companies have an EV product in the market, with use cases evolving from urban sedans to SUVs, pickup trucks & now, even semi-trucks.
On the demand side, record-high gasoline prices have acted as a key unlock. This is visible in the rising hybridization of the latest gasoline car models. With non-Tesla EV products rapidly expanding, consumers have more choices across use cases & price points. I wrote a post a few months back on how I warmed up to EVs & Tesla, in particular. I expect EV penetration to have significant growth momentum this year.
9. Digitization of mainstream healthcare
A positive side-effect of the pandemic has been consumers getting increasingly comfortable with digitally-delivered healthcare services. In my case, interacting with healthcare providers over Zoom and accessing services such as Carbon Health & One Medical via their apps (including getting advice via chat) has really opened my eyes to its value. Even beyond that, I work-out with my trainer via video & our family nutritionist is in India with all interactions happening via Whatsapp.
I expect the overall healthcare stack, including mainstream services, to digitize at an even faster rate in the coming year. These tech platforms will also open up opportunities for niche services to exist eg. virtual monitoring & consultations for chronic patients, pre & post-natal advice, nutrition guidance etc.
10. India as a global greenshoot
Amidst an unstable China, weakening EU, war-torn Russia, one-dimensional Middle East, fiscally-unstable LatAm & fragmented Africa, India appears to be a solid greenshoot both geo-politically & economically. A stable & reformist govt. has worked hard to put together core growth pillars over the last 8 years – from building physical infrastructure & a national digital payments network to ensuring economic development at the grassroots & supporting tech startup activity in the country. India is poised to now reap the dividends of all this hard work, and similar to China, grow its per-capita income from ~$2k at present to ~$10k over the next 20 years, all in a democratic environment.
India’s tech ecosystem has also come of age in the last 5 years. The mega question of “can exits of venture-backed companies happen in India?” has been progressively answered, beginning with the acquisition of Flipkart by Walmart, followed by IPOs of consumer companies like Paytm, Nykaa & Zomato in domestic public markets, & the IPO of Freshworks in the from-India SaaS space on Nasdaq. There is a growing pool of startup talent, courtesy of a decade-long Mobile & software wave, which will fuel the country’s tech ecosystem over the next decade.
The above ideas are making me super-excited for 2023, both as an angel investor & operator. After a 2.5-year hiatus, I returned to angel investing in 2022, doing 3 deals in Q4. With the turning cycle & above ideas as a backdrop, my goal is to make 2023 my most active year yet as an angel, while also keeping a high bar on quality. Excited to collaborate with all founders, angels, VCs & operators out there 👊🏽
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