Not that anyone was in doubt, but The New York Times is reporting that venture capitalists are struggling to sell their start-ups. With technology entrepreneurs having little prospect of a big exit through the IPO or M&A markets, is the bi-weekly paycheck the new god of Silicon Valley?
Maybe, maybe not. Silicon Valley culture is heavily entrepreneurial and that's unlikely to change anytime soon. However, I suspect that the rank and file at companies like Digg are going to be much more concerned with their paychecks than their underwater stock options for the next year. Cash is king in a recession, both for companies and for their employees.
Declining valuations are throwing a wrench into the gears of Silicon Valley's wealth machine. In the worst cases, the money dries up and startups are shut down. But even for fortunate companies such as Digg that can still raise money, complications abound. Falling prices can make it harder to attract the best and brightest. Morale can suffer, and workers with stock options underwater may be less likely to stick around. Such pressures can force companies to grant new options at lower prices or reprice existing options, which can infuriate venture capitalists backing the company.
On the other hand, the recession is doing one thing that nothing else seemed capable of doing: getting, rather than eyeballs and downloads. From Digg to Sun to Google, the focus on actually making money will have long-term, positive implications for Silicon Valley.
Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest that this recession will be the making of the next Microsoft (or IBM, if you'd prefer), but one born and raised on the Web. It will start with the employees that make up this and other technology companies, employees who now have the most serious incentive of all to help their companies figure out how to make money from an open Web and open source: their paycheck.