Many of the promising marketing and media innovations of the past six years, daily deals, subscription ecommerce, social gaming and social media, have been struggling. This trend is plain to see from IPO performance and negative press cycles.
I’ve been asked a few times whether there is consumer investment fatigue as a result. Fatigue is too strong a characterization. It would be foolish for any investor to write off consumer investing as a category because of the massive opportunity consumer internet companies offer. The fastest growing and often the largest Internet businesses are consumer businesses: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, to name a few.
Instead, investors are faced with a choice between two strategies.
Option 1: pursue a contrarian growth strategy investing in a few consumer Internet companies at similar prices to the previous several years. Implicitly, these investment are bets that new, more lucrative and sustainable revenue streams or more cost effective distribution channels will develop in the next 1 to 3 years that will enable these startups to grow into their valuations with time.
Option 2: pursue a value strategy, valuing new consumer companies as traditional ecommerce businesses or internet media businesses rather than conferring the large strategic multiples afforded these businesses over the past 24 months. Invest much earlier and much more broadly, expecting a lower average outcome.
It’s too early to tell which strategy is better. It depends on the incumbents successfully developing new revenue models that can be either syndicated to or replicated by new startups. Perhaps new mobile ad technology will enable social networks to flourish. Or changes in app distribution will suddenly render social gaming unit economics much more profitable. Who knows? But consumer investment will continue.