By Keith Teare • Issue #326
Her full title reads
Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
She is no more. And much of what she stood for is also in decline
- Grapes, berries and robots: is Silicon Valley coming for farm workers jobs?
- Behind Binance’s Stablecoin Shuffle; Nasdaq CEO Talks Crypto
- VCs Step Back: Global Funding In August Hits Lowest Point In 2 Years
- New Unicorn Slowdown Extends Into August 2022
- FJ Labs’ Purpose
- Controversial Uber founder Travis Kalanick scores Microsoft investment for new startup
- Kapor Capital, under new leadership, closes its largest fund to date
- Web3 Infrastructure Startup Mysten Labs Hits $2B Valuation
- Muck Rack
- Ted Gioia
You might think that this technology, and investment-focused, weekly newsletter has no place to commemorate the life of a Monarch. But this week is an exception. The passing of Elizabeth II is worthy of attention for what it symbolizes, as well, as paying respects to a 20th-century icon and sending condolences to those in grief.
Her life carries many lessons for our lives.
She was thrust into her role at a strikingly young age, a child really. And from the first, she seemed to understand that she was not doing it for herself. Selflessness shone through her first utterances when she defined “service” as her raison d’etre.
Her life has mostly been a lifetime of work. Indeed, only a couple of days ago she was at work accepting the change of power at the top of the Tory Party in greeting the newcomer – Liz Truss, and seeing off the departing Boris Johnson. And in her 96 years on this earth, she has been a symbol of commitment to that work and service.
I, of course, am not a monarchist. But I am convinced that her belief in her role and in the good of the people she “ruled over” was deep and sincere and formed the key driver for her work.
This dedication to something outside of the self, and a belief in a purpose, are hard to find in 2022. Here in Silicon Valley, those traits are often scorned as “drinking the Koolaid” or obsession.
There are technology leaders who have the same focus, dedication, commitment and singular purpose of an Elizabeth. Elon Musk comes to mind. And this week, Steve Jobs also. Jeff Bezos certainly. Mark Benioff. And Larry & Sergey too. These people and many other committed leaders persist through good times as well as bad and carry an unwavering zeal in pursuing their goals. And their successes belay the many failures along the way. Failures that do not sidetrack or stop them.
Change requires persistence and commitment to a cause. All roads have to lead to Rome, or Rome will always be mythical. Because as they say, Rome was not built in a day.
Elizabeth II never wavered, and she saw many bad times. Wars, family tragedies, class-ridden discord, not to mention the drudgery of her role, day in and day out.
So this week, for one week, lets celebrate a believer, who saw it through, and died on the job. I suspect the next incumbent will not have these attributes. Raise a glass to Elizabeth II.
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Essays of the Week
The global ag-tech revolution has sped up in recent years, spurring a debate on how it will affect the workforce
The robots have arrived in California’s fields. This summer, a self-driving tractor was spotted working rows of vines in Napa valley. Described as resembling a “souped-up golf cart”, the tractor runs on an electric battery and can be operated remotely with an app.
Farther south, strawberry harvesting robots have been picking fruit. Complete with wheels, clipper-tipped arms and a catchment tray, its maker claims the machine can pick almost as many berries as a human with 95% accuracy.
Binance said on Monday that it will start automatically converting customer holdings of USD Coin, a stablecoin issued by crypto payment firm Circle, into its own stablecoin, Binance USD. (Binance will also do the same for two less widely used stablecoins.)
What does this abrupt change by the world’s biggest crypto exchange actually mean? Let’s unpack it.
News of the Week
Global venture funding reached $25.2 billion in August 2022, the lowest monthly funding amount recorded in the two years since August 2020, according to a Crunchbase News analysis.
This past month is down 52% year over year and down around 10% month over month.
Fewer startups are raising funding at every stage. And with that comes a slowdown in hiring, more layoffs and companies shutting down.
Companies with layoffs announced this past month include Snap which laid off 20% of its workforce—around 1,300 employees. And Robinhood laid off 23% of its workforce with about 800 team members losing their jobs. Shutdowns include two companies in real estate: home sale management company Reali, and community space for women The Wing.
And for companies that need to raise funding, extension rounds are on the rise as companies look to raise bridge financings to extend their runway.
The abrupt fall in new unicorns in July 2022 continued into August. The month saw 11 companies from around the world join The Crunchbase Unicorn Board, per a Crunchbase News analysis.
These newly minted unicorns raised a total of $3.2 billion over time, and added $18 billion in value to the board.
This signals a big change in the venture markets from August a year ago when 45 companies joined the board, adding $82 billion in value at that time.
New unicorn counts are also slightly down month over month from July when 14 newly valued unicorn companies joined the board.
Of the 11 new unicorns, six hail from the U.S., two from China, and one each from India, Indonesia and South Korea. Companies are from varied sectors, from real estate to car hailing, wallets to marketplaces, and electric vehicles to shipping.
Adam Neumann‘s Flow is one of the companies to join the board this past month with a $350 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz that valued the company north of $1 billion. It has yet to build a website, but plans to build a company that reinvents the rental market experience in a world of remote work.
The most highly valued unicorn from this past month is Shanghai-based Zhiji Auto, an electric vehicle company jointly created by SAIC Motor and Alibaba Group. Zhiji was valued at $4.4 billion in a Series A funding.
Funding in 2022
Unicorn startups have raised just over $102 billion this year as of the end of August. This contrasts with the peak in unicorn funding in 2021, where unicorn companies raised $305 billion in private financing, with 85% of that in late-stage and private equity rounds.
FJ Labs’ purpose is to improve the human condition through technology.
Technology led growth
Technology has been the primary driver of the extraordinary transformation in quality of life over the past 200 years. Until 200 years ago, the history of the human condition was one of struggle and stagnation. Most people were farmers working over 60 hours a week to barely make ends meet, going hungry multiple times per year.
Starting with the first industrial revolution, we saw an explosion in technology-led human productivity fundamentally changing quality of life for the better. For each key invention like the steam engine, the light bulb, cars, planes, instant photography, or the transistor, entrepreneurs like Cornelius Vanderbilt, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Herb Kelleher, Edwin Land, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs commercialized it transforming human life as we know it. As a result, GDP per capita exploded.
In 1820, 89% of the world lived in extreme poverty. Today it’s 10%. Over a billion people came out of poverty in China and India alone in the last 40 years. Most people now live in democracy.
In 1820, live expectancy was 29, today it is 72. In 1820, the world literacy rate was at 12%, today it is 86%.
Microsoft believes in second chances — at least for Travis Kalanick.
Less than five years after he stepped down as CEO of Uber amid a string of scandals, Kalanick has reportedly scored an investment from Microsoft for his new company.
The tech giant invested in a November 2021 fundraising round that valued Kalanick’s startup, CloudKitchens, at a whopping $15 billion, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
CloudKitchens reportedly raised a total of $850 million in debt and equity financing from multiple backers in the round, though its unclear exactly how much Microsoft invested.
Microsoft reportedly participated in a $850 million CloudKitchens fundraising round.
CloudKitchens did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Microsoft declined to comment.
CloudKitchens’ business model centers around converting warehouse space into so-called “dark kitchens,” which it then rents out to restaurants. The restaurants save on overhead costs by not offering in-person dining and instead sell their food through delivery apps like Uber Eats and Seamless.
The company reportedly has more than 4,000 employees in the US, UK, Latin America and the Middle East.
“I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors’ request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” Kalanick said at the time.
Kalanick then sold off his stake in Uber and reinvested much of the cash into CloudKitchens. New York Post
Kapor Capital has closed its largest fund to date, a $126 million investment vehicle set to back early-stage founders of color and social impact ventures. The new fund, which has been in the works since February 2021, was raised by managing partners Uriridiakoghene “Ulili” Onovakpuri and Brian Dixon, who succeeded the firm’s co-founders Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein earlier this year.
Dixon and Onovakpuri have been busy investing out of the fund, which previously closed a $97.5 million tranche earlier this year. The firm says that the new fund already backs 15 companies, including Daylight, a digital banking platform for the LGBT+ community and TomoCredit, a credit card trying to disrupt the credit score last valued at $222 million.
Both investors have a long history of making venture capital more inclusive and accessible. Dixon, for example, was the first participant in Kapor Capital’s summer associate program. The fintech and edtech investor then became one of the first and youngest African-American partners at any Silicon Valley venture capital firm, including Kapor Capital, the firm says. Onovakpuri, meanwhile, founded Kapor’s Capital Fellows program and has worked at firms including Village Capital and Fresco Capital. Both have spent the past year with the managing partner role on their resume, but with the Kapors formally stepping back, the investors could see their influence grow when it comes to firm strategy, LP concentration and new investments.
Mysten Labs, the developer of the Sui Layer 1 blockchain, has closed a $300 million Series B at a more than $2 billion valuation.
The new round was led by FTX Ventures. Mysten raised a $36 million Series A led by a16z last December.Palo Alto, California-based Mysten is building out the infrastructure of its own blockchain—Sui—which Web3 applications can be built upon.
Web3 funding pours in
The round comes just about six weeks after Palo Alto-based Layer 1 startup Aptos Labsclosed a $150 million Series A, also led by FTX Ventures, along with Jump Crypto. The round valued the company at $2 billion. Aptos also closed a $200 million round in March.
The funding once again shows investors’ strong appetite for all things Web3. That is especially true for those building at the very top of the chain. Layer 1 system blockchain build their own blockchain—meaning it will not sit on Ethereum or another network, but be its own decentralized network.
According to Crunchbase data, VC-backed blockchain startups have raised nearly $12.8 billion this year. That puts it on a similar pace to last year when more than $18.5 billion poured into the space.
Startup of the Week
For any journalist who has ever googled their name, or for anyone else who has ever googled a journalist’s name, there is a good chance that one of the top hits will be for Muck Rack, a database that trawls social media, online publications and other expanses of the internet to compile lists of people, and what they cover and where, a tool used by public relations pros, marketers and others who want to find and connect with them. Today, Muck Rack is making another kind of connection, with investors: It’s raised $180 million in what it’s describing as its first outside funding, having been bootstrapped since being founded back in 2009.
The money is coming from a single, big-name investor, Susquehanna Growth Equity, which is taking a minority stake in the company as a result. Founders Gregory Galant (the CEO) and Lee Semel (the CTO) will continue to control the company.
The company, based out of Miami, also provides a range of other tools for the media professional — including media monitoring, reporting and analytics and collaboration and pitching tools that it introduced in 2011, after running for two years solely as a journalist database — and as such is more generally part of the world of business intelligence, specifically in the media category, and competes with the likes of Cision, Meltwater, Brandwatch and perhaps to some extent more targeted services like TechMeme.
Tweet of The Week
I am now hearing every day from established writers who want my advice on how to set up on Substack. These are skilled journalists with reputations and a proven track record.
Legacy media is about to experience a ‘brain drain’—and I don’t think they have a plan to deal with it.