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The existential cost of decelerated growth

What happens to technology companies with slowing growth and a rising focus on profitability before they reach behemoth scale? How much does the market value hypergrowth?

Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.

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But what every investor hopes for is the hot company that can keep growth alive even after reaching material scale, running through walls, competitors, economic headwinds and anything else that comes its way. Those companies don’t end up worth a few hundred million, or a billion, but can end up valued in the dozens of billions or more.

In reverse, tech companies — even those with strong gross margins — with slipping growth can see their multiples compress rapidly. Then, the vultures circle.

Which explains some of the news we’ve seen recently in the market. As Dropbox comes under fresh pressure from external parties, joining its erstwhile rival Box in the public-market growth penalty box, we’re seeing companies like Braze, Gong, Shippo and others rip ahead with rapid-fire funding rounds or public brags about their growth.

While the differential between the two groups is clear, it’s still worth exploring in more detail. Let’s talk about the growth dividend. Or, if you’d prefer, the existential cost of growth deceleration.

Grow or die

The news this week that Dropbox has attracted an activist shareholder should not have been a surprise. Its former rival Box is in the midst of a long-running struggle with an activist investor of its own. (More here.)

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