The $1 billion purchase by Facebook of Instagram, a startup with a hot mobile photo app, was played up by the New York Times as a way for Facebook to stave off competition–“eat the new start-up before it eats you, or before a competitor grabs it.”
However, there’s another way to think about the Instagram purchase. Facebook just sent a strong signal to potential entrepreneurs and venture capitalists: If you have a good idea for an app, or can find someone with a good idea for an, you can get very rich very quickly by being acquired by a Facebook, or a Google, or a Microsoft. All of a sudden starting or financing a new company, with plenty of new employees, looks a lot more appealing.
In effect, an acquisition such as this one will likely stimulate competition, investment and job growth in the App Economy. Nothing spurs business creation and job growth like the prospect of making money fast. And the existence of deep-pocketed acquirers who are willing to spend heavily accelerates entrepreneurship. One startup today (Instagram) may be replaced by five tomorrow. (This argument was made at length in a paper I wrote last fall with Diana Carew “Innovation by Acquisition: The New Dynamics of High-Tech Competition.” )
What about the argument that purchases like this one are just fueling a new bubble? My answer: Having lived through the boom and bust of the 2000s, I’d be very happy to get a repeat of the boom and bubble of the 1990s. At least the dot.com boom one left us with the Internet and a full cabinet of new capabilities, rather than a bunch of empty houses and bankrupt countries. A technology bubble beats a financial bubble, any day of the week.