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That Was The Week, #36

Editorial

It seems as if the kitchen is getting too hot for some of Apple's former friends, especially MG Siegler. While Fred Wilson, never really a friend, is pleading on behalf of his portfolio for Apple to stop being so....well, capitalist.

MG says, in his interview with Alex Kantrowitz:

That’s where I think this really irks me and a lot of people. I don’t think that Apple, while they might be explicitly following the letter of what Jobs said back then, I don’t think they’re following the intents of what was implied by what he was saying. If you go back and read those quotes, I think he’s basically saying, look, we’re launching this new in-app purchase service because we’re trying to make the best user experience for people to be able to transact within our apps and on our devices. And we think that we can create a better experience for those users using what at the time was the iTunes Rails to be able to pay for these subscription services, and now it’s obviously all run through the App Store. And if you feel like, if you’re a service that brings in your own users a different way and you can do that, that’s great, you get to keep all of that money. And if they choose to use our Rails to do it, then we’ll take that 30% cut.
And we can talk about the 30% cut itself in a second, but I just think that Apple has deviated from that mentality and now it’s all just like, how do we make sure that we are getting that 30% cut and they are signing up are via our mechanism. So it feels like they’re not so much competing on having the best experience or product necessarily anymore. They’re competing on obfuscation and trying to make it confusing and/or just like impossible to sign up.

And in his self-written piece "Compete!":

How stupid does Apple think we all are? I mean, seriously. The announced changes this past week to the App Store rules are maybe the most absurd attempt to placate bad PR that I’ve ever seen. Instead, they helped clarify something pretty fundamental: Apple no longer wishes to compete.
I feel as if I’ve been dancing around this realization for a few months now. But reading over Steve Jobs’ statements in the original press releases around in-app subscriptions and Marco Arment’s hilarious recent post on the matter, mixed with these changes, really drove it home. Again, Apple clearly — I mean this: clearly — does not want to have to compete with the best offering and experience any more. They want to leverage their user base to bend the will of developers.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, an investor in CoinBase and others says:

Coinbase, Epic, and Spotify are not alone in their struggles with Apple and Google. They are simply large enough and protected enough to go public with their struggles. The truth is every developer that distributes software through these two app stores struggles with them.
In what world does it makes sense for two large and powerful companies to completely control software distribution on mobile phones? In no world does it make sense. It must stop.

These are points of view widely held but they are wrong. I cannot think of a single iPhone native Apple app where there is a better competitor that isn't allowed full reign. Photos, iMessage, Facetime all have many excellent competitors and none are crippled. Mail, well it just is not any good, so GMail wins, on iOS. Office apps even beat Pages, Numbers. ketNote is better than Powerpoint but both co-exist.

As for the app store economics, Apple earned the right to charge 30% on sales when it built a global, free, distribution system for iOS software, and a global platform of iPhone and iPad users. It's fight with Epic is only about defending that, not any other agenda.

As for Fred Wilson's question, the world in which it makes sense for two large and powerful companies to control software distribution is a world in which Apple and Google built global hardware/software platfroms transforming the previous era where there was zero ability to distribute software efficiently or for free. This is a world in which successful investment leads to clear advantages to the investor - in this case Apple and Google. A venture capitalist, above all else, should recognise that. How would Fred feel if people were saying that it makes no sense that CoinBase owns a huge proportion of the US Crypto Wallet?

This week has a lot more on IPOs, SPACs and more. I could write a long essay on that alone. Dig deep and enjoy.

Best Keith.

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This week's video is here:

Topic of the Week: Apple and the World


Reads of the Week


Startup of the Week


Raising Cash and Going Public


Politics and Technology


Venture


Startups


Podcasts of the Week


Tweet of the Week



--Topic of the Week: Apple & The World


Apple at a Crossroads: An Interview With M.G. Siegler

Apple’s identity, the Epic Games beef, and brewing competition with Facebook

MG Siegler & Alex Kantrowitz

For years, Apple had a clear identity: It was the world’s best devices maker. Today, the company is trying to balance that identity with a new emphasis on software and services.

This new approach has helped Apple surge to a $2 trillion valuation — investors now value it as a software versus hardware company — and caused considerable drama over recent weeks.

The company is currently fighting hard with Fortnite-maker Epic Games to keep the 30% cut of revenue it gets from purchases inside its App Store. Fees from customers and developers are now core to Apple’s business, so it can’t let up easy — even if it risks losing some of its brand luster.

To discuss this shift and what it means for Apple’s future, I sat down with my favorite Apple writer, GV Partner M.G. Siegler, who once covered the company for TechCrunch and continues to write about it here on Medium while still working his day job.


Compete!

500ish - Medium

  • Again, Apple clearly — I mean this: clearly  — does not want to have to compete with the best offering and experience any more.
  • Make everyone want to use the in-app purchasing system across the board because it’s the best.

Mobile App Stores and Crypto

Union Square Ventures

I am rooting for Epic/Fortnite in their battle with Apple over the 30% tax that Apple charges developers for distribution in their app store. But more than the tax, what bothers me about these monopolies is the innovation tax they impose on the broad tech sector with their terms of service/rules.
  • The truth is every developer that distributes software through these two app stores struggles with them.
  • In what world does it makes sense for two large and powerful companies to completely control software distribution on mobile phones?‌

Apple Updates App Store Review Guidelines to Allow Streaming Game Services That Submit Each Game to the App Store

MacRumors

  • Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines -- for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc.
  • According to Apple's updated guidelines, streaming game services like Microsoft's xCloud are allowed, but all of the games included in a streaming game subscription service need to be downloaded directly from the App Store .

--Reads of the Week


A Playbook for Fundraising

Lenny's Newsletter - Marc McCabe

This guide is for founders of technology businesses who have raised their seed round, and are thinking forward to their next fundraise. It’s most relevant for Series A, but a lot of the same concepts apply for seed rounds, Series B and to a certain extent Series C. While most tech businesses can benefit from this guide, there are plenty of exceptions, especially companies with products which take a long time to get to market, and companies raising capital outside the US. Consider yourself caveated.

Ultimately we’re all human, and strong narratives that help explain the world around us are more compelling than a selection of disparate, albeit impressive, data points.

“If you can’t tell a credible and compelling story about your vision and how your plans will capitalize on broader societal, market, cultural, economic or other trends, you’re dead in the water. I believe my own secret to fundraising success was that I always spoke to the broader changes I saw happening in the world and my conviction about the opportunities they presented.”
Eoghan McCabe, co-founder Intercom

As an early investor in Intercom, it always impressed me how consistent the narrative stayed from when the company started up until today.


A Tale of Two Squirrels: The Not So Simple Math on Venture Portfolio Size

Matt H Lerner - Medium

By now most VCs are familiar with Dave McClure’s large portfolio theory. In short, he believes that at seed stage, it doesn’t make sense to have a portfolio with fewer than 50–100 companies, because venture returns depend on outliers and you need a big enough portfolio to consistently capture them.

In the post, he outlines a range of typical outcomes for a large batch of seed-stage investments. You can see some variation of this trend in most published venture returns data such as Crunchbase or PitchBook.

Fig. 1: Range of Potential Venture Outcomes from Dave McClure’s “99 Problems” blog post (May 2015)

These are large ranges (because there’s a lot of randomness in startups), and depending on where you end up in these ranges, you could make or lose a lot of money. Most investors prefer a bit more certainty.

Thankfully, statisticians have invented something called a Monte Carlo analysis, popularized by Nate Silver of 538 fame, to simulate the impact of this randomness by simulating a large range of possible outcomes.

My friend Yannick Roux (@yanroux, Blog), a London-based VC, kindly built a Monte Carlo simulation in Excel to help me model the range of possible outcomes for venture portfolios.


The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

Visual Capitalist

  • This voronoi-style visualization from HowMuch relies on gross domestic product (GDP) data from the World Bank to paint a picture of the global economy—which crested $87.8 trillion in 2019.
  • Editor’s note: Annual data on economic output is a lagging indicator, and is released the following year by organizations such as the World Bank.

Analysis | SoftBank Doesn't Have an Identity Crisis. Much

Washington Post

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp., speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. In a sign of continuing struggles with its startup investments, SoftBank lost money again in its Vision Fund, one quarter after the Japanese company posted a record quarterly loss driven by the meltdown at WeWork. (Bloomberg)
  • After a long dry spell, Masayoshi Son is finally catching a break: The listing of Uber Technologies Inc. made his Vision Fund one of the rare investors to book a capital gain from its stake.”
  • SoftBank has already ridden the Nvidia wave once, netting $2.8 billion from buying its stock in 2017, and this looks like another show of support.

Building a quality engine for journalism

Monday Note - Medium, by Girish Gupta, Deepnews’s Chief Technology Officer

  • An algorithm would learn precisely what it was that made good quality journalism given, of course, the opinions of those labeling the original articles.
  • Building a “quality engine” for journalism by Girish Gupta , Deepnews’s Chief Technology Officer A programmer-turned-reporter on building a machine learning algorithm and search engine to help people seek out top-quality journalism.

Nvidia’s Integration Dreams

Stratechery by Ben Thompson

  • I thought of this meme, which pops up every time Apple’s stock hits a new all-time high, while considering the price Apple paid for P.A. Semi back in 2008 ; for a mere $278 million the company acquired the talent and IP foundation that would undergird its A-series of chips, which have powered every iPad and every iPhone since 2010, and, before the end of the year, at least one Mac (the rest of the line will follow within two years).
  • Start with Nvidia: the company is perhaps the shining example of the industry transformation wrought by TSMC ; freed of the need to manufacture its own chips, Nvidia was focused from the beginning on graphics.



Virtual Events and Why I Am Never Going Back

Jessica E. Lessin - The Information

A week ago, I spent a Friday evening quite nervous that our second The Information WTF conference—virtual, of course—would fall flat. Yes, we had a great lineup. But would our nearly 500 attendees want to stare at their computers for two days straight? How would the interviews go over? Would people pay $1,000 for a ticket with no food? No cocktails?

Well, a day after wrapping this year’s event, a weight has been lifted. And I’m compelled to share what I’ve learned, because honestly I don’t think we’re ever going back to the way events were.


--Startup of the Week


Sequoia, Redpoint-led $12M Series A Will Help Airmeet Expand Globally

Crunchbase News

  • Airmeet has raised approximately $15 million since the company was founded last year, including a $3 million seed round last year, co-founder Lalit Mangal told Crunchbase News.
  • Airmeet , a 1-year-old virtual events platform based in Bengaluru, India, raised $12 million in Series A funding.

--Raising Cash and Going Public


Can’t stop, won’t stop: Social Capital Hedosophia just filed for its fourth SPAC, says new report

TechCrunch

According to a new report in Bloomberg, Social Capital Hedosophia has filed plans confidentially with the SEC to raise $500 million for its newest blank-check company.

It will be the fourth special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, to be raised by the outfit, which is headed up by Chamath Palihapitiya and his longtime investment partner, Ian Osborne.

Astonishingly, dozens more may be in the works. On the “All-In Podcast,” co-hosted by Palihapitiya, he revealed recently that has reserved the symbols from “IPOA” to “IPOZ” on the New York Stock Exchange. He also said he has $100 million of his own involved in each deal to demonstrate his alignment with potential investors.


Snowflake Stock More Than Doubles in IPO Debut

The New York Times

  • Snowflake, a data storage provider, kicked off a frenzied phase of technology initial public offerings on Wednesday when its stock immediately more than doubled in its market debut, in a sign of Wall Street’s appetite for fast-growing companies.
  • The listing, which valued Snowflake at more than $68 billion, was the largest so far this year and the largest ever for a software maker, according to Renaissance Capital, which tracks I.P.O.s. It was also a major payday for Snowflake’s venture capital investors, who had valued the start-up at $12.4 billion just seven months ago.


From The Editor’s Desk: All Eyes On The Coming IPO Rush

Crunchbase News

  • This week, four unicorn startups are making their public-market debuts, to be followed shortly thereafter by several more of the most highly valued U.S. private companies.
  • Snowflake, the San Mateo-based data warehouse unicorn, is set to be the biggest of the bunch going public this week, with an initial valuation out the gate of around $22 billion .

--Politics and Technology


Sweeping internal Facebook memo: “I have blood on my hands”

Ars Technica

  • BuzzFeed News points to Zhang's example: in February 2019, a NATO researcher tipped Facebook off about apparent Russian interference with US politics, which Zhang resolved before the whistleblower followed through on a promise to report it to US Congress.
  • BuzzFeed News compared the political forces and government employees in Zhang's memo to the Internet Research Agency , a Russian misinformation group that dominated infosec headlines in 2017.

No TikTok For You

On my Om

  • In an earlier post, I had raised the question about why the US Government was pushing Microsoft to be the company to buy TikTok’s operations in the US and some other parts of the world.
  • “We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas,” Microsoft said in a tersely worded blog post .

How China’s ByteDance Avoided Worst-Case Scenario for TikTok

The Information

Two weeks ago, Microsoft told bankers it was confident it was the frontrunner in a bid to acquire TikTok’s operations in the U.S. against competing bidders such as Oracle. In one discussion with banks about potentially financing the deal for the ascendant viral video app, a Microsoft executive said the company was well-positioned to win the backing of the Trump White House, which had set the auction process in motion in July alleging the app posed a threat to national security, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting.Oracle will partner with TikTok. Will this satisfy Trump?


Oracle will Partner with TikTok - Will This Satisfy Trump?

Los Angeles Times

  • Some analysts questioned whether the potential Oracle deal would satisfy the Trump administration because it may not involve a sale of TikTok’s operations to a U.S. company.
  • Analysts said they were uncertain whether a technology partnership with Oracle would be enough to meet a separate executive order signed by Trump that requires ByteDance to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations by Nov. 12.

--Venture


My thoughts on Rolling Funds

Stories by samir kaji on Medium

Having covered emerging venture for the past ten years (and venture as a whole for 20+), I think this is an enormous innovation for the industry. And while I believe there are some “bugs” that give credence to some very well placed concerns relating to potential GP/LP areas of economic misalignment, many of these (and others) are also present in traditional venture capital. I’m personally excited to see how this product evolves over time.

Rolling Funds - Welcome to the Uncommitted LP

Substack - Winter Mead

  • In the current market, VCs raise traditional funds about every 2 years, so LPs are already making decisions to invest on a short-term basis (even if their capital gets committed for a long-term duration).
  • Why I find the rolling funds concept problematic and wanting: Makes VCs and LPs measure performance on a quarterly basis, which is at odds with the reality of how long it takes to build a great company .

Greylock Partners: $1 Billion Raised For Sixteenth Fund

Pulse 2.0

  • Greylock Partners, a Menlo Park, California-based venture capital firm known for making early investments in Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and Sumo Logic, has raised $1 billion for its sixteenth fund.
  • Menlo Park, California-based venture capital firm Greylock Partners has raised $1 billion for its sixteenth fund.

Sequoia Capital sets up hedge fund for China tech investment - Funds Global Asia

Funds Global Asia

Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital, is reportedly set to establish three new hedge funds for its China arm designed to invest in Chinese tech companies. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sequoia China’s new unit will be led by founder and managing partner, Neil Shen, and will have at least US$300 million in initial capital.


Our Investment in Bonfire Ventures II

Foundry Group

  • Founded in 2017 by Jim Andelman and Mark Mullen, Bonfire is a seed-stage fund that focuses on B2B software companies.
  • Jim, Mark, and Brett make a great team and they will continue to invest in the firm with another generation of talent being built around them.

Spain's banking giant Santander spins out its fintech VC firm while doubling allocated funds to $400 million

EU-Startups

  • Banco Santander, one of Europe’s biggest banks, today announced the launch of Mouro Capital , a new, autonomously managed venture capital fund focused on fintechs and adjacent businesses linked with the financial services industry.
  • Mouro Capital succeeds Santander Innoventures and will have $400 million in allocated funds after the bank doubled its current commitment.

--Startups


From Idea to IPO

Stories by Greylock on Medium

  • At the SaaStr Annual event (held virtually this year) Greylock general partners David Wadhwani and Sarah Guo discussed the key elements to successfully navigating operational phase shifts, which David has experienced numerous times over the course of his two-decade career as a software executive at companies such as AppDynamics and Adobe.
  • While we primarily invest in enterprise and consumer software at Seed and Series A, the size of our fund gives us the flexibility to make new company investments in Series B and beyond including growth stages.

From Seed to Series A

Reid Hoffman

  • On the latest episode of Greymatter, Greylock partners Reid Hoffman and Sarah Guo discussed this process in detail, with a special focus on startups operating in fast-growing sectors like productivity tools and cloud SaaS platforms that power the modern working world.
  • As the Greylock team has learned after decades of partnering with early-stage founders, the best approach is establishing a core set of fundamental questions that can be tailored to each individual company, rather than looking at a rigid set of metrics.

Myths About Failure

Reid Hoffman

  • Once a founder starts acting like they don’t need to learn anymore, more often than not, that’s the beginning of the end or even very close to the end.
  • Max, Peter Thiel, and the PayPal team didn’t need to run an experiment to realize that the PalmPilot approach wasn’t going to work, and to switch to a different thesis (email payments) in which they had much greater confidence.

Which 5 cloud startup categories are the hottest?

Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

  • It’s a grouping of private cloud and SaaS companies, giving us a good look into valuation trends over time and also where the most valuable startups are focusing their efforts.
  • The data show a changing focus from the biggest and most impressive private SaaS and cloud companies.

Airtable Lands $185M Series D

Crunchbase News

  • Project management software company Airtable has landed $185 million in a new round of funding, bringing its valuation to $2.5 billion.
  • “The biggest shift that’s happening today with our fundraise and our launch announcement is we’re going from being a no-code product … to now being a low-code solution,” Liu said in the Disrupt interview.

A $200 Million Seed Valuation for Roam Shows Investor Frenzy for Note-Taking Apps

The Information

The shift to remote work has buoyed the valuations of several startups making productivity tools. The latest is Roam Research, which has raised $9 million at a valuation of $200 million, or about 25 times higher than the median valuation for seed rounds.


What’s a Big Check for an Investor?

SaaStr

  • 2% is a pretty standard target for most core VC investments, and then more than that starts to become risky.
  • A rough answer is more than 1.5%-2% of their investable capital is a “lot of money” for most professional investors .

--Podcast of the Week


Announcing Playing with Unicorns

Fabrice Grinda

  • Playing with unicorns is a new weekly live streaming show on startups, entrepreneurship, and venture capital.
  • I will post the video to YouTube after each episode and the audio to the podcast section of Spotify and iTunes.

a16z Podcast: Heroes & Myths in Entrepreneurship — with Guy Raz

Andreessen Horowitz

Storytelling IS business — whether it’s a company or a community or a product or a movement. So what’s the difference between “building buzz” and “engineering word of mouth”? And how do the stories we tell ourselves, and others, actually move things?


--Tweet of the Week


I don't think we've ever invested in a company that included an "Exit" slide in their seed deck