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Three Signs the Optimism is (Slowly) Ending

Something changed this week. 

Last week, after on-demand cleaning company Homejoy announced it was shutting down, my phone was going off with emails and texts predicting more failures on the horizon. “This is only the beginning,” one VC told me. 

Concern about unsustainable expectations—and margins—is nothing new in Silicon Valley. But Homejoy, held up as poster-child of the on-demand era, hit a nerve because it reminded us we have clear casualties: GigaOm, Circa, Homejoy, Fab. All shut down or were sold for pieces for different reasons. But they all found a rude awakening when the safety nets they and their investors banked on didn’t materialize. (Our Incredible Journey is a blog that tracks company shutdowns and acqui-hires, for those deeply interested in this topic.) 

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Over the past year, investors have been warning that rising burn rates and unrealistic valuation expectations will cripple some well-known companies. They’ve even coined the trend with a term: “Unicorpses.” It’s long seemed inevitable to me that many companies won’t make it; that’s always been true. What now seems real, however, is that people are changing their behavior in response.

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