Does Facebook's Revenue Matter?
The first morning panel focused on innovation in New England, and was moderated by Chris Gabrieli of Bessemer Venture Partners and the Massachusetts 20/20 Foundation. Panelists included Bob Buderi from Xconomy, Doug Banks from Mass High Tech, Bob Krim from the Boston History and Innovation Collaborative, and me.
Krim said that Boston has a good track record of gravitating to new ideas once old ones lose steam. (For a long time we fished for cod... then we focused on the telegraph and telephone... later, we invented minicomputers and e-mail.) Krim also has a nice term for the interactions that happen here between investors, entrepreneurs, tech users, and academic researchers. He calls it the "bump and connect."
Doug Banks had a nice turn of phrase when he said that developing technologies that produce cleaner power is "the noble pursuit of the day." I agree, even if some worry about it becoming a bubble.
We bashed Harvard a bit, which Gabrieli suggested looks down upon the process of commercializing new ideas. I mentioned Facebook at one point ... if Harvard had more VCs prowling the hall, or had more of an entrepreneurship infrastructure forging connections with the local innovation economy, would more than one local investor have seen the Facebook deal before the founder moved to California?
Banks said that Facebook doesn't have impressive revenues, and is probably overvalued. He mentioned that the #2 e-commerce vendor, after Amazon, is Staples.com, headquartered right here in Massachusetts. I said to Doug afterwards, that's great, but how many smart young people are moving from Kansas to Massachusetts because they want a job with Staples.com? And how many smart young people are moving from Kansas to California because they want a job with Facebook, or one of the zillions of Facebook app developers out there?
Someone in the audience complained that as venture firms raise larger funds, they tend to be less interested in backing early-stage companies started by wet-behind-the-ears founders. I mentioned some of the new early-stage, smaller venture funds that have started up in the last year or two.
The opening keynote speaker was John Kao, author of 'Innovation Nation.' He offered a picture of what other countries, like Singapore and Finland, are doing to try to build hubs of innovation.
I see countries like those, and states like North Carolina and Michigan, playing offense: trying to attract smart people and fast-growing companies. Our job here (in the US, and in Massachusetts) is to play both offense and defense.