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The Male Mona Lisa

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In 2005, two American art dealers bought a painting titled After Leonardo at auction for $1,125. In an effort to clean up the painting, the men brought it to an art restorer, who, upon removing some of the overpainting, saw distinct techniques used by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Let me fast forward through the next decade, as exposed in the excellent documentary, The Lost Leonardo:

  • The claim that the painting is a lost Leonardo original is met with international contention. Many art historians say it is not true.
  • It controversially ends up in an exhibit at The National Gallery in London, because supposedly being by Leonardo has given it credibility.
  • It is bought at a huge markup by a Russian billionaire looking to diversify his fortune.
  • Eventually, he commissions the legendary auction house Christie’s to sell the painting for him.
  • They brand the painting The Male Mona Lisa and go on a global hype tour of unprecedented proportions.
  • It works; the painting is purchased for a record $400 million by Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and now allegedly sits on his super yacht.
  • No one still knows whether the painting is really worth $1,125 or $400 million.

This is a wild story. I bring it up because it is not an uncommon one in the venture tech world.

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Over the last 10 years, many companies raised ridiculous amounts of funding, were over-hyped, took a growth-at-any-cost mentality and chased vanity metrics.

We’re seeing a correction of this right now:

In the end, you can only play that game so long. Reality will catch up to you. You’re either a da Vinci original or you’re a fake.

At York IE, we feel particularly bullish about the current climate, because we have always backed companies that prioritize efficient, responsible growth — the artists with their heads down, trying to create a beautiful masterpiece.

No matter the twists and turns, there will always be a market for that type of work.

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