The spectre of a second dot-com bubble emerged as new figures suggested venture capitalists invested more money in tech start-ups in 2014 than in any year since 2000.
According to data from the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers, venture capitalists pumped US$43.3bn into US start-ups in 2014, the most since investors piled US$105bn into dot-com companies in 2000.
This was up 61pc from the US$30bn invested in 2013 and more than double the US$20.4bn that was invested in 2009.
Internet-specific companies captured US$11.9bn in 2014, marking the highest level of internet-specific investments since 2000. Additionally, annual investments into the software industry also reached the highest level since 2000, with US$19.8bn flowing into 1,799 deals in 2014.
Dollars going into software companies accounted for 41pc of total venture-capital investments in 2014, the highest percentage since the inception of the MoneyTree Report – a quarterly study of venture-capital investment activity in the US – in 1995.
The scale of investments is off the page. For example, taxi app Uber reached a valuation of US$40bn after two funding rounds of US$1bn this year.
Seasoned Silicon Valley investors, such as Marc Andreessen, have been warning for some time that change is coming.
“When the market turns, and it will turn, we will find out who has been swimming without trunks on. Many high burn rate companies will VAPORIZE,” he said in a tweet last September.
The core difference between the tech boom of today and of the bubble that burst almost 15 years ago in March 2000 is how considerably fewer tech start-ups have pursued IPOs. The current bubble is a private investor affair, and possibly all the more dangerous for that reason.
However, unlike 2000, the tech economy is very much now part the real economy as e-commerce has become a mainstream activity. Smartphones represent an economic touchpoint in almost every hand and fewer homes are going without high-speed broadband connectivity.
Technology aids and abets the real economy in ways it wasn’t possible to in 2000.
But ultimately all of these investments by venture-capital companies are predicated on one thing: return on investment.
How many of these highly valued start-ups will go the distance?
How much cash are they burning through?
Will these investments yield a return?
Are there too many copycat start-up plays out there?
And when will the first clump of investors lose their nerve?
Tech bubble image via Shutterstock