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If we are in a tech bubble, how can I protect myself?
32 points by daragao on Feb 8, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 28 comments
So there has been some noise around if there is a tech bubble or not. I am not arguing if there is one or not, nor interested in that discussion anymore.

If there is a tech bubble, how can I protect myself? That is the question. I am developer who has worked mostly in small businesses and startups, with a master in computer engineering. I am not the best developer there is, but not a terrible one either. Should I move to a larger company? Start my own company away from investment? Just save money and hope for the best?


Save money. 6 months expenses is a good rule of thumb.

Network (which really means just keep in touch with folks you have worked with or met).

At your current employment situation, keep your ear to the ground. You don't need to move to a big company (they have layoffs too) but you want to be aware of what is happening.

Ask your boss questions about the business, and do your own research too. If your company is "default dead" then ask how you can help make it "default alive".

Cut your unneeded expenses.

Start a company if you have the drive to so, don't worry about the macroeconomic climate.

Source: reading, living through the 2000 and 2008 recessions as a developer.

Save money, pay off debt. I wouldn't advise starting a company until a last resort or you have a solid understanding of what's involved. Starting your own business isn't for everyone, could send you into further debt/trouble and it's very stressful.

Invest in yourself. Keep current and research what skill sets are in demand. Look at companies hiring even if you don't need to move. Don't wait until you find yourself with outdated skills knocking on people's doors.

Surviving through the 2000 one must have been a hard one, although it picked up fast ;) What were the signs? What could you see at the time that made sense to you that was something wrong? Or at the time you never felt anything was wrong, business was just really good. After the disaster happens everyone has good theories about the causes, but before no one really remembers to look to obvious signs which transcend how the economics are going, like why there is so much people getting so much money although their knowledge doesn't support their business. How can a tech business be built by someone that is non tech (or even averse to it), to make a business do you only need a good talk and gut, or do you actually need to know about the business.

Not the OP, but the big one for me was everybody's rush to IPO. You weren't a real tech company if you weren't publicly traded and offering your employees stock options. In 2000, I was working for a twenty year old, privately owned, profitable software company at the top of a growing vertical that decided they needed to rebrand as a dot-com, buy their next biggest competitor, and IPO. They got as far as the first two before the bubble burst completely.

Seeing infrastructure brands like Cisco, Java, and RedHat all over the mainstream financial press made me worry the tech would suffer for the sake of marketing. Indeed, I saw companies investing in tech from those brands before their use cases justified it, because they could show investors their name brand hardware in the data center and cash in on that brand recognition. But the cost doesn't matter because you'll get rich when you IPO next year, right?

Ha, hindsight is 20/20, as they say. I guess I would say that the voracious hiring, the dependency on other startups for revenue, the grand plans(an office in Londow and one in Singapore!), the hiring of high level executives that didn't seem to add value, the grand renovation (we had a custom built climbing wall in our building... was just got show), and later, the hamhandedness of the layoffs were all signs.

Of course it was a different world back then because the hardware and software were a much larger portion of spend for internet companies. Signs may be different now.

That said, "History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."


Exactly... I'm looking for the rhymes! :D

I knew it was a bubble when they where doing 2 week Flash bootcamps (the big front end tech at the time) and the people coming out of them where commanding 90-100k with no experience. I will say the latest front end coding boot camps are looking a lot like the late 90's to me. I protected myself by signing on with a profitable startup in a market that was slightly more rescission proof than other markets.

That's what I feel, the frontend development movement is a very weird place right now, I like it but also fear it.

Honestly, I started www.snow.ventures back in October to be an answer to this question.

You have to seek diversification, one way to do it is to short the system so that people can feel safe in their particular idiosyncratic exposure.

That's what we do.

That's a really cool idea. So you allow tech employees to hedge their career risk? Is that different than Lloyd's of London insuring Michael Flatley's dance legs ( http://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/financial-pl... )?

I visited your website but from a brief perusal it wasn't clear exactly what you can hedge, other than "particular systemic and market risks".

Well, you can think of your life portfolio being a combination of idiosyncratic risk (the particular business or unique exposures you have) and systemic risk (exposure to the broader system).

For example, way too many people were piling into SF real estate, right at the time when they felt the most rich from their employee stock options. http://www.snow.ventures/blog/2016/1/13/stopbuyingsfrealesta...

We have a systemic hedge product, and are working on building out the capabilities to create unique portfolios to hedge idiosyncratic risks.

Ah. At what level is the broader economic system that your systemic hedge helps? A city? A county? Anywhere within a reasonable car commute? The state? The country (which, for some Europeans, is all within a reasonable car commute)?

From your website, looks like the systemic hedge is focused on SV right now, which makes total sense. Bet once you get it nailed there, there's plenty of blue ocean in the other tech hubs.

Also, I bet you've seen this, but this book really opened my eyes to the fact that your expected lifetime income was another asset to think about diversifying: http://www.amazon.ca/Are-You-Stock-Bond-Financial/dp/0133115...

wow! still haven't understood how your business works, but really going to read up the blog. you seem to be getting ready for winter alright! :)

Make yourself a rainy day fund, 6-12 months of living expenses. Make sacrafices to make that happen. This puts you in a position of power when you do have to look for a new job, you don't have to be desperate to take the first crappy low-paying thing that comes along.

Never consider equity 'compensation' at non-public companies. If the job didn't include the equity would you accept? If not, pass or negotiate more cash. In good times, only one out of 10 of those stock option agreements will be anything more than birdcage liners.

And, as a developer, there are parts of the codebase that are unglamorous but crutial to the company. Adopt those parts that others don't want to work on. Be the go-to (crutial) guy for those parts of the code. When the time comes for cuts you'll be indispensable.

Source: went traveling the world on my rainy day fund in the 2000 crash.

traveling during the bad times seems like the perfect plan

Probably by getting out of the silicon valley bubble. Work for 'normal' companies that are actually trying to make the world better instead of building the millionth useless social media platform. Choose companies that aren't overvalued 100 times their actual worth (so don't work for Uber, Snapchat or any of those companies with valuations in the higher Billions range, without actually making any substantial profit).

Well, Uber in particular has a huge profit. But other than that, I agree.

Uber has huge revenue. They have failed to generate a single cent of profit though.

Ah, yes, sorry. Still, nearly $2B revenue and funneling most of it into trying to break into the Chinese market; I don't think they're doing badly at all.

One of the things about the last bubble was that revenue without profits did not save anybody. That's not to say Uber will do poorly if there is some sort of bubble pop, but profits and revenue are not at all the same thing, and bubbles bursting have a habit of reminding us of that.

and shady business tactics on top of that

Where is that huge "profit" exactly?

Saving money is never a bad thing and is solid advice. But honestly I think it is a little basic for what you are asking.

Having lived through the dot come bust and other economic failures I have found that making sure you stay valuable and relevant are the most important factors. Someone pointed out making sure you are valuable to your current employer by taking on the parts of code that everyone dreads. That is good, so is just making sure you are a team player and are pulling your weight and pitching in wherever you can to make sure things stay on track. In the past, I jumped on a support desk, or stayed late to stuff mailings with sales staff etc. When people see you are willing to help make the team successful even outside your defined role and that you are showing loyalty most good people will return the favor. BTW -- all the things I did when times were less then ideal was what made being an entrepreneur easier, because sometimes you just have to suck it up and clean the bathroom before a client visit, or after depending on the situation.

If you have interest in starting your own thing, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Minimize current expenses, pay off as much of your debt possible while you are a FTE and save some cash up. While you are still working start your side business and take some time to get it right. Starting a business in a downturn is many times quite successful because many businesses look to outsource projects, minimize new head count etc.

One last point, many times enterprises use downturns in the startup sector to snap up talent that they have been squeezed out of getting. So usually enterprise hiring remains pretty robust for the first 12-18 months that I have seen. And this time around if there is a bubble in the startup side, enterprises are sitting on some of the largest cash reserves that I can remember seeing, so who knows how that will work out.

> If there is a tech bubble, how can I protect myself?

Get some solid sales & business development experience. Can you figure out new ways to generate revenue, win new clients?

Someone with a solid tech background and true sales ability can create his own deal anywhere. Incidentally, some of the most compelling salesman in this industry were one-time engineers.

It's almost always too late to protect yourself when the bubble has popped. So prepare for the next pop. The only way to protect yourself is to build your own business. But not just any kind of business; a business that can absorb the chocks of cyclical troughs in an economy.

What do people always need?

* Drinking water

* Food

* Health

* Shelter

Pick one or two.

We're talking about a tech bubble here, not the apocalypse!

The listing is not what one should stock up on in their underground bunker. But rather things you can build a business around so you're OK no matter what the economy's doing.

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