The technology business has much in common with the fashion industry. Both follow fads and have a gaggle of posers who flitter from seasonal event to seasonal event. They're hype driven businesses and just like failed attempts at creating fashion trends the idea that the failure of a batch of companies in any segment of tech is a warning for all of tech is incorrect. Far from being an industry wide cautionary tale the write off of the $280M invested into the now defunct startup, MapR, represents nothing.
In 2016 MapR was valued at $1B. Today it is worth nothing or close to nothing. The public cloud providers forced MapR's largest rivals to consolidate in order to cut costs and gain scale. It is incredibly difficult to compete against hyper-scale companies with near infinite resources so Hortonworks and Cloudera decided it was better to travel together than to travel alone.
MapR, with no allies and no path forward, succumbed to the inevitable when its funding was cut. I've seen arguments made online that the Big Data segment was nothing but hype and this is a warning about hype powered investments into other tech segments. Yes, there was a lot of hype but there is always a lot of hype.
Big data, analytics and AI workload deployments are increasing but they are doing so while not being enabled by MapR. This was MapR's problem. Technology is like the fashion industry in the sense it has seasons, fads and assorted posers who jump from one fad to another each season. Following the hype, finding the fads, ignoring the posers and trying to pick a big winner from amongst many contenders has been the tech investment strategy for decades.
Y Combinator, the famed startup accelerator, has a vigorous vetting process and has invested in more than 700 startups. If you want to see the future you start with Y Combinator. Out of those 700+ startup investments the number of breakthrough companies Y Combinator has invested in that have hit it big? Three.
The majority of investments failed, some are profitable and making money, but the ludicrously successful investments are in the low single digits. It's true for Y Combinator and it's true for the big VC firms.
Go from Y Combinator to the heavy hitters of VC finance and you find VC firms doing their best to identify as many unique companies as they can in a fashionable segment of tech. The hope is that one of them will be the massive success, the next market dominating force in its category. Everything else they invest in will be seen as garbage even if it's a nice little business. No VC wants a piece of a little business. If you can get to profitability without VC money you can be as little a business as you want.
VCs invest in companies they think have a shot at massive returns. When it becomes clear there is no shot they stop investing and move on. MapR's failure is the realisation that against the public cloud providers, and the scaled up Cloudera, MapR had no shot.
There is always a new season and new fad to invest in. With diligence and a bit of luck one of those investments will hit it big and we can then start complaining about how overvalued it is or how high its prices are.