Social Capital Hedosophia is Going to Change the VC Game, But Will It Really?

Several weeks ago, Chamath Palihapitiya did an interview with Kara Swisher on Recode/Decode that really got my attention. He was talking about how the venture capital industry was overdue for a shakeup to meet the needs of technology startups. He talked about using data science to identify investment opportunities and scale companies, similar to what he did while he was at Facebook to provide in depth services to these startups.

Further, rather than there being a ton of pressure for these companies to go scale quickly, they would have an investor that would be with them for the long term from the beginning. This sounded really interesting, particularly when he posited that this new iteration of Social Capital was going to surface founders who would typically be overlooked because of the way in which they will be looking at data.

One question that comes to mind is how would they overlooked founders get on his radar. What’s his plan to get data across a wide enough geography in order to capture these overlooked startups?

Admittedly, during Chamath’s conversation with Kara, I was unsure of what this new iteration of Social Capital would look like. Well, I got my answer a few weeks ago when Social Capital partnered up with Hedosophia to list on the New York Stock Exchange, forming Social Capital Hedosophia.

What is Social Capital Hedosophia? This is a publicly traded holding company that is designed to take unicorns public without them having to go through the traditional process of going public – roadshows, lockup period, etc.

Initially, I thought that this new model Chamath was talking about could be a game changer for startups run by black people. Perhaps, this new iteration of Social Capital could do like Chamath said and reduce the exclusion of underrepresented groups from taking the next step in building technology companies. But, I’m not sure that Hedosophia has the people it takes to address the pipeline issue.

Beyond using data science, Chamath cannot cut out the human component of how he builds out this new company. He’s got to build a team that has a global worldview that can see into the worldview of folks in Jamaica Queens, Kansas, Lagos, and Bogota. Layer the machine learning on top of that and you’re cooking with grease.

If Social Capital Hedosophia (I’m going to get carpal tunnel if they don’t come up with shorthand for this.) doesn’t do this important work, the company will just do what the rest of Silicon Valley has done, just more elegantly. Removing bias doesn’t matter if you’re pulling from the same pool of folks.

No. 52 – 3AMReads: So. Tired. Need. Sleep.

Ecobank Research: Barclays brand’s exit from Africa could trigger loyalty separation

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TechCabal’s African Tech Roundup: Africa-Focused Insights From IoT World Forum 2017

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IMF: Tayo Oviosu: Technology Draws More Nigerians Into Banking Fold

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No. 51 – 3AMReads: Mozambique and Ivory Persist and Attract Capital | African Development Bank Makes Case for Investing in Africa

Bloomberg: Traders Snap Up Assets of Nation Where Default Is New Normal

I’m not really sure what to make of this article. I wrote a several weeks ago about how I was nervous about hedge funds investing in countries like Mozambique. While the independent audit of the country’s finances seems to have given investors increased confidence in the country, are we certain Mozambique is rounding the corner in being able to make it’s debt payments? I’d hate to see this turn into a situation where investors just have more assets to play with in order to get their money.

Reuters: Ivory Coast says long dated Eurobond raised $1.25 bln, 625 mln euros

Despite the tensions with its military, Ivory Coast continues to attract capital. Good stuff.

African Development Bank: Adesina – Its time to reboot and boost US-Africa Commerce and Investments

The Corporate Council on Africa is hosting is US-Africa Business Summit this week. Is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaking at the Summit a signal that we’re a few inches closer to seeing the US start to roll out bits of an Africa policy?

 

No. 50 – 3AMReads: Moody’s Downgrades Eskom | DRC Asks for Joint Bid | Ghana President Wants More Parliament

Moody’s downgrades South Africa’s power utility Eskom

South Africa continues to face challenges as bad news continues to emerge from week to week. On Monday, Eskom’s chairman resigned. On Tuesday, Moody’s downgrades the power utility’s credit rating.

The question in my mind is what is the path forward for South Africa. President Zuma, who has played a central role much of these recent issues, will be stepping down as leader of the ANC next year, hopefully. He is then to step down as President in 2019. Who will fill that void?

The ANC is still pretty firmly in Zuma’s control, evinced by the ANC voting not to remove him from the presidency a few weeks ago. Who within the ANC could step up? The party’s Youth League has put its weight behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, but she is also backed by President Zuma. Who outside the ANC could step up? One of the most high profile political leaders in the country, Helen Zille, just apologized for a problematic tweet about colonialism being good for Africa. I think it’s pretty safe to bet she won’t be getting a ton of votes.

South Africa needs leadership to right the ship over the next several years and it’s not apparent that folks are in position to take on that mantle. Hopefully, someone emerges over these next couple years.

Congo tells consortia to form joint bid for Inga 3 hydro project

The Inga 3 dam has been under development for what seems like forever, something like 14 or 15 years. The Democratic Republic of Congo just asked two massive companies from China and Spain to work together on a joint bid, and it seems like a pretty strange request. Let’s see what more information comes out about this.

Ghana Leader Favors Constitutional Change to Boost Finances

President Nana Akufo-Addo wants parliament to have more oversight of the country’s public finances, which would require constitutional changes. Ghana already has a central audit agency structure. I think a nice addition would be to create an agency similar to the Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that works for Congress and investigates how the government spends public dollars. GAO has already done with staff at Ghana Internal Audit Agency, and I’m sure would be more than happy to help establish a similar organization that works for Ghana’s parliamentary structure.

No. 49 – 3AMReads: Kenya Finds Trump Connect | Trump’s OPIC Pick… | Nigerian Oil Company Wins Oil Block

Politico: SPG Signs Kenya

Trump-connected Stanton Park Group signed a $1.2M contract to represent the country’s interests in the US. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish.

White House: Seventeen Nominations Sent to the Senate Today

President Trump has nominated Texas real estate tycoon Ray Washburne to be President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. After digging into his background I’m curious to find out which emerging markets he has traveled to, if at all.

It is encouraging to know that he is influential in President Trump’s circle, considering that he was part of President Trump’s transition team. The signs have been pointing to OPIC shutting down, but perhaps he can be influential in making a case for the agency to remain operational.

Fortunately, the nominee for Executive Vice President of the Corporation is David Bohigian who has significant experience negotiating trade agreements for the US. While looking into him, I found this interesting Cordell Hull quote he shared during a 2005 testimony he gave while being vetted for a position at the Department of Commerce:

I have never faltered, and I will never falter, in my belief that enduring peace and the welfare of nations are indissolubly connected with friendships, fairness, equality and the maximum practicable degree of freedom in international trade.

Todd Moss and Jared Kalow at the Center for Global Development provide some helpful recommendations to the two nominees here.

Forbes: Nigerian Energy Group Taleveras And ExxonMobil Win Oil Blocks In Equatorial Guinea

This article caught my eye because I couldn’t recall hearing of many African-owned oil company winning oil blocks, so I checked with a friend who confirmed that only a few firms have won oil blocks like this. I look forward to seeing more of this. It would definitely help to have African-owned oil companies exploring these blocks to have more data to draw from for the R&D labs they will be investing. (Remember my saying I’m going to keep bringing up these R&D labs?)

No. 48 – 3AMReads: $1B Cobalt project | South Africa’s Radical Economic Transformation | What is US-Africa Policy?

Bloomberg: Owner of $1 Billion Cobalt Project Says Rally Is Far From Over

Eurasian Resources Group has a pretty massive cobalt mining project in the works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company stands to realize a nice return on investment at the rate cobalt prices are skyrocketing. They jumped 71% last year and are expected to increase by 60% this year. Rising demand for electric vehicles and limited cobalt supply is driving these prices.

What concerns me about this project is the supply chain.  Cobalt mining has come under scrutiny due to the health hazards associated with extracting the mineral. Even more concerning is the reality that evidence has been found of children participating in cobalt mining in DRC. Take a look through ERG’s website, and you’ll see it is fairly light on sustainable development and occupational safety.

Chinese cobalt miners have caught the spotlight in terms of not managing their cobalt sourcing well. ERG should get the same level of attention to be sure it keeps things on the up and up.

Fin24: Recession shock knocks volatile rand

Radical economic transformation. Debate over what this means for South Africa reached fever pitch after President Zuma sacked Pravin Gordhan, probably the most respected high-ranking government official at the time. The midnight firing led to two credit agencies giving South Africa junk bond status. Yesterday, the country went into recession. Radical economic transformation. SMH.

Video: Senator Chris Coons Speaks at Council on Foreign Relations

Senator Chris Coons spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, discussing US policy in Africa. Best line from the conversation, “On some level, I don’t want it to be a higher priority for the Trump administration.” Agreed.

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No. 47 – 3AMReads: Akon Going Public | Robots Mess Up Development Formula | Don’t Sleep on Halal Tourism

Bloomberg: Star Rapper Akon Mulls IPO of Chinese-Funded African Solar Unit

I was surprised to see this news. Akon’s Lighting Africa project has gotten a good bit of media attention over the past several years. Perhaps, as time goes by, more information about the company’s financials will come out. I think a lot of people are curious to see them.

Axios: Robots could hobble developing countries

I’ve mentioned a few times my nervousness about the technological advancements society is making right now. I fear a sort of point-of-no-return where artificial intelligence, in particular, puts a wide gap between the developed and developing world. So, when I see pieces like this, my chest gets tight.

Perhaps alternatives to low-cost manufacturing serving as the path to development will emerge. The work startups like Andela are doing, for example, is quite interesting – developing technical talent and prepping them to work for global companies. The cost of hiring software engineers trained by Andela is much lower than hiring one in Silicon Valley. The problem is that as technology continues to advance, you need fewer and fewer engineers to reach scale with products. Andela just launched in its second country, Uganda, a few weeks ago. So, they are very much a wait and see case study.

How do you think African countries should navigate technological advancements like robots and artificial intelligence?

Quartz: The new growth industry in Africa is Muslim tourism

Several years ago, I traveled to a number of African countries with a group of Muslim entrepreneurs. It was a fascinating experience. The level of attention they paid to whether things were halal, making time for prayer, and other considerations was informative to be part of, and I could see how the tourism industry catering to Muslims could be lucrative.