Friday, May 24, 2024

WeWork raised more than $11 billion in funding as a private company. Olive AI, a health care start-up, gathered $852 million. Convoy, a freight start-up, raised $900 million. And Veev, a home construction start-up, amassed $647 million.In the last six weeks, they all filed for bankruptcy or shut down. They are the most recent failures. It’s part of the tech start-up collapse that is only beginning.After staving off mass failure by cutting costs over the past two years, many once-promising tech companies are now facing a harsh reality. Investors are no longer interested in promises. Rather, venture capital firms are deciding which young companies are worth saving and urging others to shut down or sell.It has fueled an astonishing cash bonfire. In August, Hopin, a start-up that raised more than $1.6 billion and was once valued at $7.6 billion, sold its main business for just $15 million. Last month, Zeus Living, a real estate start-up that raised $150 million, said it was shutting down. Plastiq, a financial technology start-up that raised $226 million, went bankrupt in May. Bird, a scooter company that raised $776 million, was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because of its low stock price. Its $7 million market capitalization is less than the value of the $22 million Miami mansion that its founder, Travis VanderZanden, bought in 2021.
“As an industry we should all be braced to hear about a lot more failures,” said investor Jenny Lefcourt, “The more money people got before the party ended, the longer the hangover.”
Getting a full picture of the losses is difficult since private tech companies are not required to disclose when they go out of business or sell. The industry’s gloom has also been masked by a boom in companies focused on artificial intelligence, which has attracted hype and funding over the last year.
But approximately 3,200 private venture-backed U.S. companies have gone out of business this year, according to data compiled for The New York Times by PitchBook, which tracks start-ups. Those companies had raised $27.2 billion in venture funding. PitchBook said the data was not comprehensive and probably undercounts the total because many companies go out of business quietly. It also excluded many of the largest failures that went public, such as WeWork, or that found buyers, like Hopin.
Carta, a company that provides financial services for many Silicon Valley start-ups, said 87 of the start-ups on its platform that raised at least $10 million had shut down this year as of October, twice the number for all of 2022.
This year has been “the most difficult year for start-ups in at least a decade,” Peter Walker, Carta’s head of insights, wrote on LinkedIn.
Venture investors say that failure is normal and that for every company that goes out of business, there is an outsize success like Facebook or Google. But as many companies that have languished for years now show signs of collapse, investors expect the losses to be more drastic because of how much cash was invested over the last decade.
From 2012 to 2022, investment in private U.S. start-ups ballooned eightfold to $344 billion. The flood of money was driven by low interest rates and successes in social media and mobile apps, propelling venture capital from a cottage financial industry that operated largely on one road in a Silicon Valley town to a formidable global asset class akin to hedge funds or private equity.
During that period, venture capital investing became trendy — even 7-Eleven and “Sesame Street” launched venture funds — and the number of private “unicorn” companies worth $1 billion or more exploded from a few dozen to more than 1,000.

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