No. 80: AI Drives News and Music | Alibaba’s Global Ambitions | 2019 Fundraising Environment

TikTok Is the New Music Kingmaker, and Labels Want to Get Paid (Bloomberg)

I wonder what it is about the music industry that has it looking at itself on the wrong side of a deal once again. Decades ago, Napster and file sharing put a massive dent in the industry, then Apple came along and dictated the price it was going to pay for music. Now, it finds itself trying to figure out how to get value out of the virality that TikTok is driving among artists.

What’s more interesting to me is the engine behind TikTok. The app is one of the products of Bytedance, the most valuable startup in the world at $75B. Bytedance owns a number of mobile-first products that are all powered by machine learning. There’s a news app Toutiao that is powered by artificial intelligence technology that can write 400 words in a couple seconds. There are 140 million monthly users spending around an hour a day on that app in China. Incredible.

I wonder what the quality is of the news the app is developing. To what extent is Bytedance in coordination with the Chinese government? What sort of unintended insights is the company getting as a result of having its finger on the pulse of people’s music and news consumption? How much more room for growth is there in its valuation before it goes public?

Breaking down Alibaba’s global ambitions (Digiday)

I’m yet to buy anything through Alibaba, but it seems like those days are more and more numbered as the company expands its footprint globally. The amount of handholding that its various subsidiaries engage in to ensure the success of brands is pretty remarkable.

The Fundraising Environment in 2019 – Three Major Shifts (Tomasz Tunguz)

Tom Tonguz argues that the fundraising environment for startups is very sophisticated in three ways – the types of funding founders can pursue, the sophistication of the pricing, and the speed with which money can be raised.

I agree with his takes on the first and third point, but wonder whether the pricing is really all that sophisticated. Investors are using enterprise value to forward revenue to value companies. Are startups hitting their forward revenue targets? If they aren’t, what adjustments are investors making to their valuations? How are late stage investors remaining disciplined in the face of Softbank dropping $1B in a startup’s bank account?

No. 59: 3 Thoughts – Heartland Visa | GDP-B |Top VCs

From Managing Decline to Building the Future

What would it look like for there to be a visa program that matched skilled immigrants with communities that are especially hard-hit by population decline in the U.S.? The Economic Innovation Group, a think tank founded by Sean Parker of Facebook fame, just published a report outlining this idea. I think the idea is compelling, but there are a few questions that come to mind:

  1. What steps will these communities need to take to make themselves as appealing as possible for immigrants to stay? I wonder how welcoming these communities will be to a new wave of folks coming in. Will they perceive the pie as fixed and these new entrants as eating their share of it?
  2. What role do folks who left these struggling communities have in trying to revive it? Marc Andreessen is from Iowa. Jack Dorsey is from Missouri. Can struggling communities partner with these sorts of folks to help cast vision for a new future and attract talent?

How to redesign GDP for the 21st century

Lots of countries, particularly developing ones, hang their hat on the size of their GDP (gross domestic product) which measures the value of the things we pay for in a year. A lot has changed since the measure was developed in the 1930s and the measure doesn’t quite capture all the value being created in an economy.

There are plenty things we don’t pay for up front – Facebook, the music you streamed on Spotify, etc. GDP measures what you paid for your phone, your laptop, your internet connection. MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson claims to have developed an alternative GDP measure that captures the benefits we receive from the things we don’t pay for – GDP-B.

If this catches on, I’m really interested to see the impact it could have on policymaking. For example, Ghana rebased its GDP last year using a new set of more recent data that included more factors in its economy like oil and technology. On paper, the country’s GDP was $52 billion, about 25% bigger than originally believed. A number of governments in Africa turn off the internet around election time to stave off protests and organizing while they conduct funny business. Imagine getting a better measure of that impact. These past couple years in the U.S., I’ve often wondered what has been the impact on productivity of this president tweeting so much. Perhaps GDP-B could provide an answer.

The Midas List

Forbes puts this list out on the top 100 venture capitalists based on the the following methodology:

To make the list, investors are ranked by their portfolio companies that have gone public or been acquired for at least $200 million over the past five years, or that have raised additional funding at a valuation of $400 million or more. Forbes and TrueBridge put a premium on newer exits, as well as early-stage returns. 


This list needs to look a lot different 10 years from now. More melanin would be nice. Lo Toney closed his Plexo Capital I fund at $35.1M last month. Charles Hudson closed his second Precursor Ventures fund at $31m last month as well. Education seems to be getting hot in the startup world, hopefully Shantel Garvey notches a win. Perhaps Ken Chenault will notch a big win at General Catalyst. The list needs more black folks.

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.

How Does Africa’s Innovation Economy Tap Into Africa’s Wealth?

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who is raising a fund for her Lagos-based startup. At one point in our conversation, she shared the effort she has had to go through to get people she has met with in Silicon Valley up to speed on what is happening in Nigeria’s tech space.

This has been a refrain from a number of entrepreneurs and investors who are already tuned in on what is happening in Africa’s innovation economy. Fortunately, the tide seems to be trending towards Silicon Valley getting more hip to what is happening in Nigeria, Kenya, and to a lesser extent South Africa (Cape Town-based Naspers has led some massive investments that I am sure Silicon Valley investors have noticed.)

While we chatted, my mind went to some research I saw this weekend on Africa’s high net worth individuals. Capgemini’s annual World Wealth Report pegs the wealth of the 150,000 high net worth individuals across Africa at $1.4 trillion for 2016. These are people who have at least $1 million in investable assets, excluding primary residence, collectibles, non-durable goods like sweet potato pie, and durable goods like automobiles.

This is serious capital. I wonder what percentage of this wealth has gone into Africa’s innovation economy since 2009. The Capgemini report highlights three industries that are going to drive wealth accumulation globally through 2025 – financial services, technology, and healthcare. There are startups across Africa doing interesting things in all three of these areas, yet the challenges of getting Africa’s wealthy to invest in the continent’s startups has been a conversation for several years now. I think we’re trending to those conversations being fewer and fewer.

There are several people working to build a critical mass of wealthy investors across Africa committed to investing in Africa’s innovation economy, and these initiatives are gaining real traction. Further, some African governments have developed initiatives to support innovation economies within their borders. Two years ago, I watched Something Ventured, and it really got me thinking about how African governments could level up their involvement in Africa’s innovation economy. I’ll share where I’m at on that at some point.

In the meantime, what is your assessment of Africa’s wealthy investing in Africa’s innovation economy?

Eric Osiakwan Pushing the Growth of Africa’s VC Space

I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Eric Osiakwan about his experience building internet infrastructure in its early days in African countries, and the transition to investing in African startups. On top of that, he is pushing to get more Africans in the investing game to support the growth of the technology industry across the continent. Here’s the transcript of our conversation.

New VC Firm To Fund Women-Led Startups

I was glad to see the news about the launch of Valor Ventures, a VC firm led by women and focused on finding women founders. 

Another firm that excites me is the Impact America Fund. Here’s a good interview it’s founder, Kesha Cash, did with the Andreesen Horowitz team. 

Some time ago, I posted First Round Capital’s findings from its 10 years investing in startups. One of its findings was that women-led startups outperformed those led by men. You wouldn’t guess that by the looks of all the startups getting funding for their ideas. 

The VC landscape is dominated by white men, leading to white men getting the lion’s share of funding. As the debate on diversity in the technology industry continues to heat up, firms like Valor and Impact America getting traction is huge.

I was disappointed to see that Valor’s team was all white women. That’s another ongoing debate as the tech industry tries to figure out its diversity problem. 

Nonetheless, this is exciting news and I look forward to seeing what companies Valor funds.   

Marc Andreessen and Jean-Yves Ollivier Could Have a Lot in Common

Marc Andreessen’s frenetic pace on Twitter has fascinated me for the past year. He seems to devour a ton of information and makes nice connections between the current technology landscape and the history and theory that got us to this point. The New Yorker did a helpful profile on him – the kind that makes more human a titan some may worship.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is a new name to me, but one that I will be keeping track of after reading this Bloomberg piece on his energy sector dealmaking in the Republic of Congo. Apparently, he is trying to shape his brand through the media. Perhaps he should get on Twitter and fire off some Tweetstorms like Mr. Andreessen.

There’s a BBC piece on a lake in Mongolia made up of extremely toxic waste from rare earth minerals largely used in our smartphones and renewable energy sources like wind turbine engines and electric vehicle batteries. While the majority of these minerals are mined in Asia, some African countries like Malawi are exploring their potential to produce these minerals. South Africa was a leading producer half a century ago.

The unicorns (companies with $1 billion valuations) for which Marc Andreessen spends his time looking, largely rely on the smartphone. In defending against concerns that we are in a bubble due to the massive amount of money going into funding startups, he points out that the technology sector of 2000 did not have a conductor like the smart phone to enable the growth of the industry, hence the bust. We have the smartphone now and he believes that the software on those phones is eating the world, and the technology industry’s growth is here to stay for quite some time.

The robots that Mr. Andreessen envisions taking over menial jobs, freeing us up to do what we want, will most likely need parts from minerals in parts of the world like Mongolia and Malawi. Unless we come up with clean ways to source these materials, we could see lakes like the one in Baotou pop up in southern Malawi. Brokers like Mr. Ollivier are helping make these deals happen, enabling the creation of the smartphones, robots, and other tools that people like Mr. Andreessen believe will drive our future world. Two men. Two different worlds. Perhaps.