FlyTitle: Anatomy of an investing bubble

The pandemic rams home what markets already felt: technology unicorns are headed for a fall. The consequences will not all be bad

大流行病凸显出市场本已感受到的变化:科技独角兽正走向衰落。但焉知非福【新冠报道】

经济学人双语版-大熊追来时,抛下独角兽 Exit unicorns, pursued by bears

FOR A SENSE of how covid-19 is affecting the world’s technology “unicorns”, as privately held firms worth $1bn or more have come to be known, consider two of them. Lime, a scooter-rental firm valued at $2.4bn, has halted its services in Europe and America, where most citizens have been told to stay off the streets. DoorDash, a $13bn food-delivery company, has suddenly found itself useful to a self-isolating society as a whole, not just couch potatoes; deliveries have surged.

要了解新冠肺炎对全球科技“独角兽”(估值10亿美元或以上的私营公司)的影响,可以看看其中两家的情况。估值24亿美元的电动滑板车租赁公司Lime已暂停在欧洲和美国的服务,那里的人大多被建议不要外出。估值130亿美元的外卖公司DoorDash突然发现整个自我隔离的社会都需要它,而不仅仅是死宅们。送餐量激增。

On the surface, DoorDash stands to benefit from the pandemic, and Lime to suffer. In fact, the coronavirus may prove more indiscriminate than that. It strikes at a time when many of the world’s 450-odd unicorns were looking ropy. Their perpetually loss-making business models—only a small proportion are in the black—were increasingly being questioned. So were their exuberant valuations, which added up to perhaps $1.3trn globally. A reckoning was afoot; some unicorns would “go under”, Dara Khosrowshahi, boss of Uber, a ride-hailing giant which relinquished its unicorn status by going public last year, told The Economist on March 2nd.

从表面上看,这场大流行病会让DoorDash受益,Lime受损。而实际上,新冠病毒可能不会这么厚此薄彼。疫情来袭之时,全球450多家独角兽有许多都状态不佳。它们长期亏损的商业模式(只有一小部分盈利)受到越来越多质疑。同样受质疑的还有它们全球总计1.3万亿美元的超高估值。一场清算正在到来,一些独角兽将“倒下”,网约车巨头优步的老板达拉·科斯罗萨西(Dara Khosrowshahi)3月2日对本刊表示。优步于去年上市,放弃了独角兽的身份。

Among investors, “fear of missing out” has been giving way to “fear of looking stupid”, says Alfred Lin, a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venerable Silicon Valley venture-capital (VC) firm. Plenty have given up trying to do new deals; instead they are trying to save old ones. One firm is telling its companies to expect 30% less revenue in the next two quarters and to cut costs accordingly. On March 5th Sequoia put out a memo entitled “Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020” warning that the outbreak will depress startups’ growth and calling on its portfolio firms (one of which is DoorDash) to rein in costs, conserve cash and brace for capital scarcity.

硅谷老牌风投公司红杉资本的合伙人林君睿说,在投资者中,“错失恐惧”已被“出丑恐惧”取代。很多已经放弃了做新投资的打算,而是努力挽救已有的投资。一家风投公司告诉它所投资的公司,要预见到在接下来的两个季度里收入将减少30%,并相应削减成本。3月5日,红杉资本发布了一份题为《冠状病毒:2020年的黑天鹅》(Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020)的备忘录,警告疫情将抑制创业公司的成长,并呼吁它投资的公司(DoorDash就是其中一家)控制成本,留存现金,为资金稀缺做好准备。

Most telling, the gospel of growth at all cost has gone out of the window. After years of initial public offerings (IPOs) being done without much focus on profits, “path to profitability” is the new watchword, says Ryan Dzierniejko of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a law firm. “The law of economic gravity has returned as it does every decade or so,” says Michael Moritz, another Sequoia partner. For some unicorns, dispensing with eight flavours of sparkling water and five selections of Thai curry may be a good start, he adds.

最能说明问题的是,把不惜一切代价寻求扩张当圣经的时代已经过去。律师事务所Skadden、Arps、Slate、Meagher&Flom的瑞安·德兹涅科(Ryan Dzierniejko)说,多年来IPO一直对利润关注不足,如今“盈利之路”成了新的口号。红杉资本的另一位合伙人迈克尔·莫里茨(Michael Moritz)说:“经济周期规律是十年左右一个轮回,新的轮回已经开始。”他补充说,有些独角兽公司里供应八种气泡苏打水和五种泰国咖喱,省掉这些可能是一个不错的开始。

The unicorn reality check was under way before America declared a national state of emergency over covid-19 on March 13th. Venture capitalists reckoned that a third of American unicorns would thrive, a third would disappoint and a third would be taken over or die. As investors the world over scurry to safe assets amid a market meltdown, Mr Khosrowshahi’s prediction may come true faster than he thought. Some discern an echo of the dotcom bubble, which burst 20 years ago. Others are more sanguine. Whoever is right, startup pastures that emerge in the aftermath will look very different to today’s.

美国在3月13日宣布为应对新冠肺炎而进入国家紧急状态,在此之前独角兽公司就已经开始被迫面对现实了。风险投资家认为,美国的独角兽有三分之一将蓬勃发展,三分之一将令人失望,三分之一将被收购或倒闭。在市场崩溃之中,全球投资者急于转向安全资产避险,科斯罗萨西的预测可能会比他所想的更快发生。一些人认为这是20年前互联网泡沫破灭的重现,其他人更乐观些。不论谁对谁错,余波过后,创业公司的放牧场看起来将与今天的大不相同。

Unicorns have come a long way since Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, a VC firm, coined the term in 2013, to convey wonder and rarity. Nowadays every startup wants to be one, for bragging rights and to hire the cleverest coders. “For millennials and Gen Zs being a unicorn became a filter,” says Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, a unicorn that offers online learning courses and university degree programmes. A small Austin-based scooter startup called itself, simply, Unicorn; the attempt to leverage nominative determinism failed when the firm went bust in December after spending all its cash on Google and Facebook ads.

风投公司Cowboy Ventures的创始人艾琳·李(Aileen Lee)在2013年提出了独角兽这个称法,表示惊叹和珍稀之意。此后独角兽已经走过了很长一段路。如今,每家创业公司都希望成为独角兽,以获得吹嘘的资本并吸引顶尖的程序员。“对千禧一代和Z世代而言,独角兽已经成了一个筛选条件。”Coursera的CEO杰夫·马金卡尔达(Jeff Maggioncalda)说。Coursera是一家提供在线学习和大学学位课程的独角兽。一家总部位于得州奥斯汀的小型电动滑板车创业公司干脆就给自己取名独角兽。这家希望靠名字决定命运的公司把所有现金都拿来在谷歌和Facebook上打广告之后,于去年12月破产。

For the past decade huge sums from sovereign-wealth funds, mutual funds and hedge funds poured, directly or via VC firms, into startups that were unicorns or, their backers believed, might be one soon. Total annual VC investment in America leapt from $32bn in 2009 to $121bn in 2018. Some $822bn has flowed into American startups since 2010. About as much has gone to those in the rest of the world. Fat cheques allowed cash-burning firms to put off facing the scrutiny of public markets, with their pesky insistence on earnings.

过去十年中,来自主权财富基金、共同基金和对冲基金的巨额资金直接或通过风投公司涌入独角兽或其支持者认为可能很快会成为独角兽的创业公司。美国的年风投总额从2009年的320亿美元跃升至2018年的1210亿美元。2010年以来,约有8220亿美元流入了美国的创业公司。世界其他地方的创业公司总共也得到了差不多金额的投资。有了巨额支票,这些烧钱的公司就可以推迟面对公开市场紧盯盈利的恼人审视。

The euphoria began to ebb last year. First, in May, Uber’s blockbuster IPO priced at a 30% discount to what the company’s investment bankers had promised. Today its market capitalisation is $43bn, more than a third below what it was on its first day of trading. Unicorn IPOs of Lyft, Uber’s main rival, and of Slack, a corporate-messaging service, disappointed. Then, in October, WeWork, a supposedly “techie” office-rental group, scrapped its IPO after it became clear that investors had no appetite for shares in a firm that lost as much money as it generated in revenues. Its valuation was cut from $47bn to less than $8bn.

独角兽热在去年开始降温。5月,先是优步备受关注的IPO发行价比其投资银行的承诺低了30%。现在优步的市值为430亿美元,比上市首日跌去了三分之一还多。优步的主要竞争对手Lyft和企业通讯服务Slack这两家独角兽的IPO同样令人失望。接着在10月,号称“高科技”的办公室租赁公司WeWork取消了IPO,因为在那时已经很明显,投资者对这家亏掉了全部收入的公司的股票没有兴趣。它的估值从470亿美元跌至不到80亿美元。

经济学人双语版-大熊追来时,抛下独角兽 Exit unicorns, pursued by bears

Other debacles followed. Brandless, an online retailer that sold unbranded products for a fixed $3, folded in February. Zume, a firm selling robot-made pizzas, shut its main business in January. Both, as well as WeWork, were backed by the $100bn Vision Fund, the opaque VC vehicle of SoftBank, a Japanese tech conglomerate, and its boss, Son Masayoshi. OneWeb, a British satellite-internet startup formerly valued at $3.3bn and also backed by Mr Son, has filed for bankruptcy.

其他惨败案例相继而来。在线零售商Brandless在2月倒闭,该公司以3美元的固定价格出售无品牌产品。Zume销售由机器人烤制的披萨,它在1月关闭了主要业务。这两家公司和WeWork过去都得到日本科技企业集团软银的老板孙正义以及旗下不透明的风投部门、规模1000亿美元的愿景基金(Vision Fund)的支持。英国卫星互联网创业公司OneWeb曾估值33亿美元,此前也拿到了孙正义的投资,现已申请破产。

After the WeWork fiasco smart VC money turned more cautious, particularly with regard to Vision Fund firms: they went from garnering praise to seeming problematic. Now investors, customers and suppliers “think you must be a crappy company” if you were backed by the fund, says the boss of one, who keeps assuring them “we are not the next WeWork”. A Vision Fund spokesperson says: “We’re sorry to hear it. That has not been our experience with our other founders.”

WeWork惨败之后,精明的风投基金变得更加谨慎,尤其是对愿景基金投资的公司:它们曾广获赞誉,现在却成了人们眼里的问题企业。其中一家公司的老板说,现在,如果你的公司获得过愿景基金的支持,那投资者、客户和供应商就会“认为你一定是一家很烂的公司”,他不停地向他们保证“我们不是下一个WeWork”。愿景基金的发言人说:“我们很遗憾听到这种说法。我们投资的其他公司的创始人没有遇到这种情况。”

In fact the malaise extends well beyond Mr Son’s empire. In the last quarter of 2019 American venture-backed firms raised 16% less capital than in the previous quarter and big funding rounds—over $100m—fell by a third. Last year China, home to four of the world’s ten most richly valued unicorns, entered a “capital winter”, as investors turned against firms handing out huge subsidies to consumers in a reckless pursuit of customers. Some Chinese unicorns went bust, including Tuandaiwang, a peer-to-peer lender once valued at $1.4bn.

实际上,问题远不止于孙正义的帝国。在2019年最后一个季度,受美国风险资本支持的公司募集的资金比上一季度减少了16%,超过一亿美元的大型融资轮减少了三分之一。全球估值前十的独角兽公司有四家在中国。去年,投资者对为了扩大用户基数而不顾一切向消费者提供巨额补贴的公司变了脸,中国进入“资本寒冬”。一些中国独角兽破产,包括曾经估值14亿美元的P2P借贷平台团贷网。

The coronavirus shock comes at a time when most tech unicorns were already exhibiting underlying health problems. Some, most notoriously WeWork, never really deserved the label in the first place. Their businesses had at best a tenuous claim to techiness—and so to the “flywheel” effect behind the likes of Amazon or Facebook, in which a large user base makes them more attractive to more users, and so on. Other companies are bona fide technology firms but, like Uber or Lyft, find that digital flywheels gum up. And too many unicorns rest on shaky and opaque financial structures that may exaggerate their lofty valuations.

新冠病毒来袭时,大多数科技独角兽已经显露出潜在的健康问题。有些公司从一开始就不配独角兽的称号,最声名狼藉的就是WeWork。它们的业务充其量也就是勉强和技术挂钩,跟亚马逊或Facebook等公司背后的“飞轮”效应也没有太大关系(飞轮效应是指一家公司庞大的用户基数会让它吸引到更多用户,并且越来越多)。其他一些独角兽是货真价实的科技公司,但像优步或Lyft一样,它们发现数字飞轮失灵了。此外,有太多独角兽依赖不可靠且不透明的融资结构,这可能夸大了它们的高估值。

Start with “fake tech”. These include capital-intensive firms such as WeWork (where accommodating more customers means leasing more office space) and direct-to-consumer retailers such as Casper, which sells snazzy bedding. “We consider ourselves a tech company first,” declared its co-founder, Neil Parikh, in 2016. Stockmarket investors considered it a mattress retailer. In February it listed at $575m, less than half its $1.1bn private valuation.

先说说“冒牌科技公司”。其中包括WeWork(吸引更多客户就意味着租赁更多办公空间)这样的资本密集型公司,以及直接面向消费者的零售商,例如销售时髦床上用品的Casper。Casper的联合创始人尼尔·帕里克(Neil Parikh)在2016年宣称:“我们首先把自己看作一家科技公司。”股市投资者认为它就是一家床垫零售商。今年2月,它上市时市值为5.75亿美元,还不及其私募融资时11亿美元估值的一半。

Pie in the sky

天上的馅饼

Zume, recounts a VC investor close to it, “only used to talk about the robots, never about the pizza”. When its lorries rounded corners, melted mozzarella ran everywhere. “When we ordered a margherita,” the investor remembers, “it tasted bad.”

一位熟悉Zume的风险投资人说,Zume“以前只谈机器人,从没提过披萨”。送餐车拐弯时,融掉的奶酪洒得到处都是。“我们订过一次玛格丽特披萨,”这位投资者回忆说,“很难吃。”

Some proper tech unicorns nevertheless discovered that in the physical world, where many at least partially reside, flywheels encounter friction. In theory their markets are almost limitless, with nearly half of humanity carrying a smartphone. Their business models, like Uber’s, enjoy certain network effects: demand from more riders in a given city lures more drivers to the platform; more drivers in turn attract more riders by making rides easier and cheaper to hail. And they can lower upfront costs by outsourcing things like accounting and data storage to the cloud.

但一些真正的科技独角兽发现,在物理世界中(很多公司至少部分存在于物理世界)飞轮会遇到摩擦。从理论上讲,鉴于现在地球上接近一半的人口拥有智能手机,它们的市场几乎是无限的。它们的业务模式具有一定的网络效应,比如优步:在一个城市中乘客需求越多,就会吸引更多司机使用该平台;司机越多,叫车又会更容易也更便宜,因而又会吸引到更多乘客。而且这些公司可以通过把会计和数据存储之类的工作外包到云端来降低前期成本。

经济学人双语版-大熊追来时,抛下独角兽 Exit unicorns, pursued by bears

The trouble is that, in practice, variable costs—subsidies paid to drivers to generate business, say—rise with every new customer. People “thought software changes everything”, says Aaron Levie, co-founder of Box, a listed enterprise cloud firm. But in many cases the digital platform is only a small part of the cost structure: “The physical assets stay expensive.”

问题在于,实际上,每增加一位新客户,可变成本(如为催生业务量而支付给司机的补贴)都会增加。已上市的企业云存储公司Box的联合创始人亚伦·列维(Aaron Levie)说,人们“过去以为是软件改变了一切”。但在许多情况下,数字平台只占成本结构的一小部分,“实物资产的成本一直很高”。

No network effects means lower barriers to entry for rivals. The flywheel breaks down because riders have no reason to favour an Uber over a Lyft. Most will go for whichever is cheaper—which leads both firms to fight for customers with cut-price rides subsidised by their VC backers’ cash. In the words of Marco Zappacosta, co-founder of Thumbtack, a local-services marketplace, “Some companies ended up selling $1 for 80 cents.”

没有网络效应意味着竞争对手进入市场的门槛降低了。飞轮失灵是因为乘客没有理由厚优步而薄Lyft。大多数人是哪家便宜选哪家,这就导致两家公司用风投的资金补贴车费来争取客户。用本地服务交易平台Thumbtack的联合创始人马考·扎伯考斯塔(Marco Zappacosta)的话说,就是“有些公司最后是把1块钱的东西8毛钱卖出。”

Randy Komisar of Kleiner Perkins, a big VC firm, offers an alternative rule of thumb. For a unicorn to count as genuinely “tech”—and therefore profitably scalable—its actual product must be technology, he says; “it can’t just be using technology.” Businesses selling physical goods or services often don’t make the cut. Those providing cloud-based services, especially to corporations—like Snowflake (which helps firms warehouse data in the cloud) or PagerDuty (which assists companies’ digital operations)—do. It helps that, like Slack and Zoom, a video-conferencing firm that also went public last year, they are coronavirus-proof. Indeed, lockdowns are boosting their business by pushing firms to move more functions online.

大型风投公司Kleiner Perkins的兰迪·科米萨(Randy Komisar)提出了另一种经验法则。他说,独角兽要真正算得上“科技公司”,并因此可以实现盈利性成长,它的实际产品必须是技术。“不能只是利用技术。”销售实体商品或服务的企业通常都算不上是科技公司。提供基于云的服务的公司可以算,尤其是那些为企业提供云服务的公司,例如Snowflake(帮助企业将数据存储在云端)或PagerDuty(辅助公司的数字化运营)。如果公司能不受新冠疫情的影响就更好了,比如Slack以及同样在去年上市的视频会议公司Zoom。实际上,在因疫情而封城期间,很多公司不得不将更多职能转移到线上,这推动了它们的发展。

That is not to say that the consumer internet is dead. Airbnb, a home-sharing website, has seen bookings fall by 40% in big European cities as the pandemic halted trips. It may delay its IPO, which was expected to be this year’s biggest. But despite racking up losses of late, it is well-managed, cash-rich and, thanks to an unmatched global reach that puts up a high barrier to entry, likely to make money again once people get back to travelling.

这并不是说消费互联网已死。疫病大流行期间,人们暂时取消了出行,住房共享网站爱彼迎在欧洲大城市的预订量下降了40%。它可能会推迟上市——这原本预期是今年规模最大的IPO。但是,尽管爱彼迎最近损失增大,但它管理完善,现金充裕,而且它无与伦比的全球网络竖起了很高的市场准入门槛。一旦人们恢复出行,它很可能又可以开始赚钱。

Neil Shen of Sequoia Capital China says that investors still believe in the ability of some Chinese firms, especially $10bn-plus “super-unicorns”, to dominate their giant home market. Meituan-Dianping, a food-delivery firm, and Pinduoduo, an e-commerce site, were criticised for losing money ahead of their IPOs in 2018. Both ex-unicorns have since taken off. On March 30th Meituan even reported a quarterly profit (though it warned of a coronavirus hit in the coming months). One promising candidate to follow in their footsteps is ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, a hit video-sharing app—and, with a valuation of $75bn, the world’s biggest unicorn (in which the Vision Fund also has a stake).

美国红杉资本中国公司的沈南鹏说,投资者仍然相信一些中国公司——尤其是估值超过百亿美元的“超级独角兽”——能够主导其庞大的本土市场。外卖公司美团点评和电商网站拼多多在2018年IPO之前曾因亏损而受批评。自那时起,这两家前独角兽公司均已有了长足发展。美团在3月30日甚至公布去年第四季度实现盈利(尽管它警告称未来数月的业绩可能因疫情受损)。一家很可能追随它们脚步的独角兽公司是火爆的短视频分享平台TikTok的母公司字节跳动,其估值达到750亿美元,是世界上最大的独角兽(愿景基金也有持股)。

经济学人双语版-大熊追来时,抛下独角兽 Exit unicorns, pursued by bears

The complex and opaque financial practices behind the calculation of unicorns’ valuations are the third pre-existing condition that afflicts most of them—including those which pass Mr Komisar’s test, boast solid business models and hold enough cash to tide them over a rough few months or more. These conditions lead firms to overstate their value in two main ways.

独角兽估值计算背后复杂而又不透明的财务操作是第三个困扰大多数独角兽的先天问题,包括那些符合科米萨提出的标准、自诩有稳健的商业模式、并拥有足够现金在未来几个月甚至更长时间里渡过难关的公司。这些操作导致独角兽们以两种主要方式夸大了估值。

The first has to do with ownership structure. A private firm’s headline valuation is the product of the number of shares and the price per share at the last funding round. But shares issued in later rounds often have downside protections such as seniority over other investors and IPO return guarantees. These lower the value of common equity issued in previous rounds. In 2018 Ilya Strebulaev of the Stanford Graduate School of Business examined the legal terms of 135 unicorns’ various share classes and found that firms were overstating their valuations by 48% on average.

第一种方式与所有权结构有关。私营公司的整体估值是股票数量与上一轮融资时每股价格的乘积。但是,在随后的融资轮中发行的股票通常会有下行保护方案,例如股票等级高于早期投资者以及享有IPO回报担保。这些措施降低了前几轮发行的普通股的价值。斯坦福大学商学院的伊利亚·斯德布拉耶夫(Ilya Strebulaev)在2018年研究了135家独角兽不同股票级别的法律条款,发现这些公司的估值平均夸大了48%。

The second issue is one of governance. Recent years have seen frequent use of “inside rounds”, in which existing backers stump up more money. These can be a vote of confidence from people who know a business well. But they are also a way for VC firms to mark up their portfolios, generating higher internal rates of return that are more attractive to institutional investors (and form the basis on which many partners get paid). According to Mike Cagney, co-founder of three fintech unicorns, SoFi, Provenance and Figure, an unwritten VC rule advises against a firm which led one investment round in a startup leading the next. That inside rounds have become more common in recent years creates a credibility issue for Silicon Valley, he says.

第二种方式与治理有关。近年来“内部融资轮”被频繁使用,让既有投资者拿出更多的钱。了解公司的投资者以这种形式追加投资可以视作对公司投了一张信任票。但是,这也是风投公司抬高投资组合价值,借此产生更高内部收益率从而更加吸引机构投资者的一种方式(同时也是许多风投公司合伙人薪酬的依据)。根据SoFi、Provenance和Figure这三家金融科技独角兽的联合创始人迈克·卡格尼(Mike Cagney)的说法,风投界有一条不成文的规矩,即在一家创业公司领投了一轮投资的公司不应继续领投下一轮。他说,内部融资轮近年变得更普遍,给硅谷带来了可信度问题。

As a result of such finagling, of the roughly 200 American unicorns probably only half merit the moniker, reckons one veteran founder. Although the frequency of “down rounds”, in which valuations fall rather than rise, does not yet appear to have increased, activity in the opaque secondary market for unicorn shares suggests that a repricing is under way.

一位资深创始人认为,由于存在这样的花招,在大约200家美国独角兽中,可能只有一半名副其实。尽管估值不升反降的“减值融资轮”的频率似乎尚未增加,但在不透明的二级市场上,针对独角兽股票的活动表明这些股票正在被重新估值。

Sellers in such marketplaces (chiefly company insiders and VC firms seeking an early exit) appear to outnumber buyers in transactions involving such darlings as Grab, a $14bn Singaporean ride-hailing group, and Didi Chuxing, a Chinese rival. Phil Haslett of EquityZen, one such marketplace in New York, revealed in March that shares in many big private startups were changing hands at roughly 25% below their most recent funding round, in part as rank-and-file employees lined up to cash in. The trend has intensified as virus-linked uncertainty pummels risky assets.

在此类市场中,当涉及诸如估值140亿美元的新加坡网约车公司Grab和其中国竞争对手滴滴出行等资本宠儿的交易时,卖家(主要是公司内部人士和寻求早日退出的风投公司)似乎比买家多。纽约其中一个这类交易平台EquityZen的菲尔·哈斯莱特(Phil Haslett)3月透露,许多大型私营创业公司的股票在转手时股价比上一轮融资低约25%,部分原因是普通员工在排队兑现。随着病毒带来的不确定性冲击风险资产,这一趋势愈演愈烈。

These ructions point to one certainty: a shake-out looms. Firms that have most to lose from virus-related measures are shedding workers. Even before covid-19, Lime laid off 14% of its staff and exited a dozen cities. On March 27th Bird, a rival, announced that it was sacking a third of its workers to conserve cash. In all, unicorns have trimmed their payrolls by several thousand people. That is probably not the end of retrenchment. Workers who remain are seeing the value of their shares dwindle and prospects of an IPO windfall recede. Even viable listings are on ice until the markets’ pandemic fever breaks.

这些纷乱指向一个确定的前景——一场大洗牌逼近。受抗疫措施影响最大的公司正在裁员。甚至在疫情爆发之前,Lime就解雇了14%的员工并退出了十几个城市。3月27日,其竞争对手Bird宣布将裁员三分之一以保存现金。独角兽公司已总计裁员数千人,而且可能还没有结束。留下来的员工眼看着股票价值缩水,通过IPO一夜致富的希望越来越渺茫。疫情不退,则股市波动不止,即使是可行的上市计划也要暂时搁置。

经济学人双语版-大熊追来时,抛下独角兽 Exit unicorns, pursued by bears

In the meantime, the unicorn world is astir with talk of consolidation. SoftBank has reportedly long wanted DoorDash and Uber Eats to merge. A tie-up now looks appetising. The Japanese firm may once again try to combine Grab and Gojek, a rival in Indonesia, where a price war is leading both to lose perhaps $200m a month. In America Uber may try to woo Lyft, whose share price has fallen faster than its own.

与此同时,合并的话题在独角兽世界激起一片骚动。据说软银一直希望DoorDash和优食(Uber Eats)合并。现在这看起来很诱人。软银可能会再次尝试将Grab和它在印度尼西亚的竞争对手Gojek合并,两家公司在印尼的价格战导致双方每月各损失约2亿美元。在美国,优步可能会试图向比自己股价跌得更快的Lyft提出合并。

Selling to strategic buyers offers another way out. In February Intuit, a financial-software giant, bought Credit Karma, a personal-finance portal, for $7bn. Many potential acquirers are, however, hoarding cash until the pandemic passes.

向战略买家出售企业是另一条出路。2月,金融软件巨头Intuit以70亿美元的价格收购了个人金融门户网站Credit Karma。不过,许多有收购意向的公司目前都在囤积现金直至疫情结束。

The uglies are coming

丑八怪来啦

If all else fails, “sell it to one of the big uglies”, says one VC chief. The “uglies” in question—Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook—are collectively sitting on more than $570bn of gross cash. In normal times regulators would balk at a takeover by one of the tech giants. But these are not normal times. As a painful recession looms, preserving jobs—including not just those of well-paid coders but of the much larger army of gig-economy workers—may override antitrust concerns.

一位风投公司主管说,如果其他路都走不通,“就从那些大‘丑八怪’里找一个,把公司卖给它”。这里说的“丑八怪”是指苹果、微软、Alphabet、亚马逊和Facebook,它们总共坐拥约5700多亿美元的现金。通常情况下,监管机构不大会批准这其中任何一家科技巨头的收购。但现在是非常时期。令人痛苦的衰退迫在眉睫,保证就业(不仅包括高薪的程序员,还包括人数多得多的零工经济大军)可能比担心垄断更重要。

Even if some unicorns are spared—through mergers, acquisitions or just good fortune—the coronavirus is certain to ravage the herd. It will probably put the term itself, which has come to denote excess and broken promises, out to pasture. A new word may be needed, says Mr Khosrowshahi, to describe what is left. ■

即使一些独角兽能幸存下来,无论是通过合并、收购还是单单靠运气,新冠病毒必将重创独角兽群。它可能把这个称谓本身也放逐草场——“独角兽”已成了夸张挥霍和违背承诺的代名词。可能需要一个新名字,科斯罗萨西说,来称呼活下来的那一群。