Has a tech entrepreneur come up with a product to replace our meals? ... Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me. ... What if he went straight to the raw chemical components? He took a break from experimenting with software and studied textbooks on nutritional biochemistry and the Web sites of the F.D.A., the U.S.D.A., and the Institute of Medicine. Eventually, Rhinehart compiled a list of thirty-five nutrients required for survival. Then, instead of heading to the grocery store, he ordered them off the Internet—mostly in powder or pill form—and poured everything into a blender, with some water. The result, a slurry of chemicals, looked like gooey lemonade. Then, he told me, “I started living on it.” ... One of Silicon Valley’s cultural exports in the past ten years has been the concept of “lifehacking”: devising tricks to streamline the obligations of daily life, thereby freeing yourself up for whatever you’d rather be doing. Rhinehart’s “future food” seemed a clever work-around. Lifehackers everywhere began to test it out, and then to make their own versions. Soon commenters on Reddit were sparring about the appropriate dose of calcium-magnesium powder. After three months, Rhinehart said, he realized that his mixture had the makings of a company: “It provided more value to my life than any app.” He and his roommates put aside their software ideas, and got into the synthetic-food business.
As a tech-obsessed child growing up in the nineties, Rob Rhinehart was always puzzled by food. Here he was, eagerly embracing the wonders of the information era, and he had to gnaw on seared chunks of meat and raw vegetables. “I remember when I was very young, eating lettuce and thinking it was very weird to be eating leaves, sitting in this nice house with all of these electronics around us,” he says now. … These days, Rhinehart doesn’t eat much lettuce or anything else recognizable as food. Instead, the 25-year-old gets most of his nutrition from a water bottle filled with a thick, light-brown slurry he invented. A cocktail of highly processed foodstuffs mixed with water—oat flour, tapioca maltodextrin, rice-protein powder, canola oil, and scores of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrient additives—it contains everything the human body needs, or so he claims. … After Rhinehart posted his recipe online in February, Soylent quickly became the first drinkable meme. … “For me cooking is like an art form,” says Zach Alexander, a 30-year-old software developer in San Francisco and DIY soylenter. “And it’s really frustrating how biology compels you to eat food three times a day even though you don’t want to.”
Altman, 30, had been a marginal figure in Silicon Valley until February 2014, when he was named president of YC and instantly became a tech celebrity. "There are these surreal moments when people come up to me and ask, ‘What’s it like to run the most powerful startup organization in the world?’ " says Altman, who now receives 400 meeting requests a week from founders and investors. What they want, mostly, is access—an introduction to a current YC–backed hotshot or a YC partner, or a chance to enter the program themselves. Founders who are accepted relocate to the Bay Area for three months, giving Altman’s firm 7% of their companies in exchange for $120,000 and the chance to be advised by a stable of tech bigwigs. The best graduates can expect to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital, to hire the best engineers, to get any meeting they ask for—in short, to be made men and women of Silicon Valley. ... There’s audacity here, and hubris too. Y Combinator was, for years, a one-man show, fueled by the charisma of its founder. Now Altman has to prove he can turn it into an institution.
- Also: Financial Times - Interview: Mike Judge < 5min
- Also: Forbes - How Super Angel Chris Sacca Made Billions, Burned Bridges And Crafted The Best Seed Portfolio Ever 5-15min
- Repeat: Business Insider - A 21-Year-Old Stanford Kid Got $30 Million, Then Everything Blew Up 5-15min
- Repeat: The New Yorker - Bay Watched 5-15min
Clinkle has been the talk of Silicon Valley for the past year, although few of the consumers who will make up its hoped-for user base have even heard of it. That is in part by design. A payment app co-created by Duplan, it has been in “stealth” mode for more than three years, its unique selling proposition a closely-held secret. … A few details have leaked, however. Those who have used Clinkle say it’s an exceptionally well-designed, simple-to-use mobile wallet app that utilizes a high-frequency sound to transmit money between users in close proximity — no phone-bumping, QR code-scanning, texting or dongle-swiping required. … Last June, Clinkle announced a $25 million round of seed financing from a dozen top venture capital firms and angel investors — the largest early investment raised in Silicon Valley history. A few months later, the company raised $5 million more from Stanford’s StartX fund as well as Virgin CEO Richard Branson. Duplan, a first-time founder who was barely of legal drinking age, seemed full of promise. … But nine months later — during which time several rounds of layoffs have been announced and rumors swirled of turmoil inside the company — the app still has yet to launch publicly.
How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country. ... Hwin is twenty-eight, but could be younger. He has a blissed-out grin and an impish dusting of freckles. His hair is buzzed on the sides but topped with choppy bangs, a rocker coif that makes it look as if a wad of hair just landed on his head from a great height. He often wears a miniature harmonica around his neck, over a black T-shirt, to underscore his musical affinities. For several years now, he has been working as a musician, a tech entrepreneur, and an investor in other people’s startups. His two-person band, Cathedrals, just released a début single and is producing an album in the coming months. At the moment, he and a friend are managing investments of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in private companies. ... The Sub has no doorbell or real street address, and its space had been an auto-repair facility until some plywood walls made it a place where people—certain people, anyway—might spend their days. Hwin, who moved in four years and two business ventures ago, now has space in a structure that he calls “the doll house.”
Twenty years ago today, Netscape’s shares began trading. To many the initial public offering of Netscape marked the beginning of the Internet age. It was certainly the first event that signified to the world outside of Silicon Valley how big the Internet could be. Much has changed since then but much remains that same. Netscape has largely disappeared. But technology companies, after the boom and bust that followed Netscape’s deal, are hot once again. These days it’s more about apps and smart phones than the Internet that Netscape opened for so many users two decades ago. And, unlike then, many of the hottest companies of the current tech boom are opting to stay private, and put off an IPO for as long as possible, ironically following the advice of Marc Andreessen, one of Netscape’s founders. Ten years ago, Fortune compiled an oral history of Netscape and its IPO. Many of the people involved in the deal are once again key figures in the current tech boom.
Co-living is the logical next step in the race to monetize the wantrepreneur lifestyle. ... Over the past seven months or so, several sleek new real estate developments have been announced, a couple of them even venture-backed, that want to offer residents a customized version of this brand of co-living. They share some basic similarities with their Bay Area predecessors, from experimental Northern California communes to hacker hostels crammed with young software engineers who headed West because it looked exciting on HBO. All ask residents to trade personal space for the perks of group living, but the newer entrants have a different attitude toward the “communal” part of the proposition — here, the “co-” prefix is more a signifier of close quarters and plug-and-play co-habitation, rather than co-op–style shared duties, chore wheels, and elbow grease. Month-to-month rental agreements require little more than a signature and a credit card. Your chores are done for you, seamlessly, in the background. Rooms are cleaned weekly. Coordinated events make even the socializing aspect easier. ... It’s a simple and intoxicating proposition — one born of the same Silicon Valley belief system that has plowed billions of dollars into on-demand apps that do your laundry, cook your meals, chauffeur you around, and clean your house, and that has so thoroughly shifted personal fulfillment to work that it’s all but indistinguishable from life. The do-it-for-me rental agreement reflects an unwavering faith in better living through entrepreneurship that constantly coos: When acting in service of a Big Idea, your time is too valuable to waste.
- Also: The New York Times - The Millennial Commune < 5min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Surge in Commercial Real-Estate Prices Stirs Bubble Worries < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - In Busy Silicon Valley, Protein Powder Is in Demand < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Buttered Coffee Could Make You Invincible. And This Man Very Rich < 5min
The thing to do, Kalanick argued, was to make the service a low-cost accessible luxury. "If Uber is lower-priced, then more people will want it," he explains. "And if more people want it and can afford it, then you have more cars on the road. And if you have more cars on the road, then your pickup times are lower, your reliability is better. The lower-cost product ends up being more luxurious than the high-end one." Kalanick had been resisting Camp’s overtures to become CEO, but it was this insight that got him excited: Uber could be huge. ... All that struggle and setback from his first two startups set up Kalanick almost perfectly for what was to come. "If you looked at everything he’s done, I don’t think there was another human who was more destined to build Uber," says Angelo Sotira. "You had peer-to-peer networks, aggressive dealings, large lawsuits." ... This new, subdued Travis Kalanick who claims he’d never heard of a libertarian seemed to me a significant overcorrection from the badass antigovernment crusader he has played for the past few years—and also just one sliver of his actual personality. That in itself is telling. Kalanick is not the kind of person who clings to beliefs, or even a fixed sense of himself. ... Some Silicon Valley founders pride themselves on being visionaries; Kalanick exults in an ability to read the data, revise, and adapt, likening running Uber to driving a car without a clear destination in sight. ... As of this summer, Uber has cars on the road in 15 Chinese cities with plans to be in 50 next year. The results so far have been astonishing: In just nine months, three Chinese cities (Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou) have each already accounted for more rides than New York.
While the rest of the country has spent the past year debating gay marriage, policing tactics, Obamacare, and Deflate-gate, the inescapable topic of discussion in Silicon Valley is whether we are in a technology bubble. Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of his eponymous venture firm, is perhaps the leading advocate against the bubble chatter. On his Twitter feed, he has referenced the word “bubble” more than 300 times, repeatedly mocking or refuting anyone on his radar who even hints at such a possibility. One of his arguments, as the slides in the Rosewood ballroom suggested, is the exponential growth of mobile phones, which have fundamentally changed the way we buy and sell virtually everything, from groceries to taxi-like services, and created unprecedented disruption. Also, in contrast to the days of the dot-com boom, many tech companies are creating revenue—in some instances, lots of it. ... there may be no greater monument to what’s going on in the Valley than the 1,070-foot edifice under construction at 415 Mission Street. The new, glassy Salesforce Tower is slated to soon become the tallest building in San Francisco, rising more than 200 feet above the Transamerica Pyramid. ... Snapchat has offered Stanford undergrads as much as $500,000 a year to work for the company. Jana Rich, founder of Rich Talent Group, a well-regarded tech recruiting firm, told me that she hasn’t seen such bidding wars since the late 90s. “I’ve seen two of these life cycles, where things are going fabulously well,” she said. “Then we have the bust. We are now, in my opinion, at the height of the demand curve.” ... “You know there’s a bubble,” the saying goes, “when the pretty people show up.” ... All across the Valley, the majority of big start-ups are actually glorified distribution companies that are trying, in some sense, to copy what Domino’s Pizza mastered in the 1980s when it delivered a hot pie to your door in 30 minutes or less. ... Or maybe it’s simpler than that. As one technologist overheard and posted on Twitter, “SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?” ... Either you can go public, which is inadvisable without a lot of revenue, or you can sell, which is difficult given the paucity of companies that can afford to make such an offer. So, for many, the choice becomes fairly simple. You continue to raise more and more money, or you die. ... countless people from all over want this to be a bubble and they want it to burst.
Information moves, or we move to it. Moving to it has rarely been popular and is growing unfashionable; nowadays we demand that the information come to us. This can be accomplished in three basic ways: moving physical media around, broadcasting radiation through space, and sending signals through wires. This article is about what will, for a short time anyway, be the biggest and best wire ever made. ... FLAG, a fiber-optic cable now being built from England to Japan, is a skinny little cuss (about an inch in diameter), but it is 28,000 kilometers long, which is long even compared to really big things like the planet Earth. When it is finished in September 1997, it arguably will be the longest engineering project in history. ... we all depend heavily on wires, but we hardly ever think about them. Before learning about FLAG, I knew that data packets could get from America to Asia or the Middle East, but I had no idea how. I knew that it had something to do with wires across the bottom of the ocean, but I didn't know how many of those wires existed, how they got there, who controlled them, or how many bits they could carry. ... it behooves wired people to know a few things about wires - how they work, where they lie, who owns them, and what sorts of business deals and political machinations bring them into being.
Breakfasts and dinners are a big part of Hoffman’s life. He recently published two books on how to be successful in business, and is finishing a third, whose working title is “Blitzscaling.” His business is based on the idea of managing your career through relentless networking, which is something he enjoys. ... Work is already becoming more temporary, sporadic, and informal, and this change should be embraced. Many more people will become entrepreneurial, if not entrepreneurs. The keeper of your career will be not your employer but your personal network—so you’d better put a lot of effort into making it as extensive and as vital as possible. ... Hoffman has an uncanny ability to move seamlessly among the worlds of technology, investing, and politics and the worlds of games, science fiction, and comics. “Business is the systematic playing of games,” he says. He seems to conceive of himself as a self-invented superhero: the Ubernode, the world’s most networked person. He isn’t just another conventional networker or another greedy Silicon Valley prick. His project is to build a better world, whose outlines are much clearer to him than to most people. ... All his activities are in the service of the same cause: to make it possible for more people to operate the way he does. ... At the age of twelve, Hoffman went to his first Grateful Dead concert with his father.
During the Cold War, defense money funded much of Northern California’s nascent tech industry, and the military worked closely with universities and companies to develop electronics, microwave devices, semiconductors, and spy satellites. But the military did not stay connected to the venture capital–fueled tech industry that emerged in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Until recently, the Pentagon didn’t see this as a liability: The United States enjoyed unmatched technological superiority on the battlefield. That advantage, though, is now dissipating. China and Russia have invested heavily in new systems. ISIS is using hobby-style drones for reconnaissance. Rebels in Syria are using iPads to aim mortars. Equipment like this was once prohibitively expensive. Now you can get a lot of what you need off the shelf. ... As much as Defense Department officials say they want better access to commercial technology, the way the Pentagon functions often makes this impossible. The military has spent decades configuring itself to work with defense contractors to build complicated systems that take years to produce, like fighter jets and aircraft carriers. With its cumbersome rules and processes, the Department of Defense is not set up to race alongside small, agile companies. ... The Pentagon is beginning to realize it must operate differently. Some of the most advanced work in computing, big data, cybersecurity, energy, robotics, and space — all areas the military draws on — is being done by tech companies, not traditional defense contractors. Last year, the Pentagon kicked off a large-scale effort called the Defense Innovation Initiative.
He says it’s a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But when I turn up that morning, in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. “Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,” Hotz says. ... Hotz was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, allowing anyone—well, anyone with a soldering iron and some software smarts—to use the phone on networks other than AT&T’s. He later became the first person to run through a gantlet of hard-core defense systems in the Sony PlayStation 3 and crack that open, too. ... The technology he’s building represents an end run on much more expensive systems being designed by Google, Uber, the major automakers, and, if persistent rumors and numerous news reports are true, Apple. More short term, he thinks he can challenge Mobileye, the Israeli company that supplies Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford Motor, General Motors, and others with their current driver-assist technology. ... Hotz plans to best the Mobileye technology with off-the-shelf electronics. He’s building a kit consisting of six cameras—similar to the $13 ones found in smartphones—that would be placed around the car. ... The goal is to sell the camera and software package for $1,000 a pop either to automakers or, if need be, directly to consumers who would buy customized vehicles at a showroom run by Hotz. ... There are two breakthroughs that make Hotz’s system possible. The first comes from the rise in computing power since the days of the Grand Challenge. He uses graphics chips that normally power video game consoles to process images pulled in by the car’s camera and speedy Intel chips to run his AI calculations. ... The second advance is deep learning, an AI technology that has taken off over the past few years. It allows researchers to assign a task to computers and then sit back as the machines in essence teach themselves how to accomplish and finally master the job. ... Instead of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code found in other self-driving vehicles, Hotz’s software is based on about 2,000 lines.
- Also: BuzzFeed - Google's Cute Cars And The Ugly End Of Driving < 5min
- Also: MIT Technology Review - A Car That Knows What the Driver Will Do Next < 5min
- Also: The Atlantic - How Many Lives Will Driverless Cars Save? < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Can Detroit Beat Google to the Self-Driving Car? 5-15min
- Also: Marginal Revolution - Three counterintuitive scenarios for driverless vehicles < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - The Dream Life of Driverless Cars 5-15min
- Also: The Verge - Inside Faraday Future, the secretive car company chasing Tesla 5-15min
- Also: The Atlantic - The High-Stakes Race to Rid the World of Human Drivers 5-15min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Could Self-Driving Cars Spell the End of Ownership? < 5min
The DOD of course has a long history of jump-starting innovation. Historically, it has taken the megafunding and top-down control structures of the federal government to do the kind of investing required to create important technology for the military. Digital photography, GPS, the Internet itself—all were nourished by defense contracts before being opened up to the private sector, which then turned them into billion-dollar industries. ... Now the flow has reversed. Defense has been caught in the throes of the same upheaval that has disrupted legacy industries, unseated politicians, and upended global dynamics. In the digital age, innovation more often comes from smaller entrepreneurs than from the hierarchical structures that were the hallmark of 20th-century government and business. ... Defense contracting is notorious for bureaucratic lethargy and technological backwardness. And executives are leery of appearing to be too close to the US government while they seek to expand overseas. Put bluntly, they don’t want to alienate potential customers. ... The Valley is a place where brainpower is its own kind of currency, and Carter, who holds a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford, made an impression on the locals. ... somehow Carter must instill the seeds of a cultural and logistical overhaul that will make the modern military-industrial complex nimble enough to provide the kind of innovation and support its 21st-century fighting force needs.
Meet Jasper, Jahangir Mohammed's fast-growing yet near-invisible company helping to power the internet of things. ... Jasper likes to call itself "the 'on switch' for the internet of things," the increasingly vast body of devices that now speak to one another over the internet. And that's a pretty apt description. With the cost of computing power and internet connectivity falling fast, networked intelligence is turning up just about everywhere these days: the moisture sensor on an apple tree, an assembly line full of industrial robots, the watch on your wrist, or the Ford you drive home every night. And Jasper, valued at $1.4 billion and widely expected to go public soon, is the reptilian brain for much of that network, ensuring that the nodes are on and aware and functioning as they should be. ... Since co-founding Jasper in 2004, he has been building out a global footprint that now comprises a partner network of more than 100 wireless carriers on the one hand, and more than 2,700 of their customers on the other: Amazon, GE, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and nearly every automaker--they all rely on Jasper's software platform ... The dashboard allows each company to monitor its entire universe of devices remotely ... Jasper gets paid by the carriers but works closely with their customers, managing not only the internet connections of their "things," wherever they may be, but also performing core services such as making sure the things are working properly, turning them on or off, updating software, and tracking data use. ... put the company at the center of the next big technological phase change: In the same way Dell and Microsoft profited from the move from mainframes to desktops and laptops, and Apple from the rise of cell phones, Jasper stands to ride the next wave of miniaturization--the penetration of computing power and connectivity into the tiniest artifacts of daily life.
All told, the company spent more than $600 million. In its brief time in operation, it generated $2.3 million in revenue; when it filed for bankruptcy it listed assets of $58.3 million. ... The next generation of biofuels, made from plants and biowaste (so-called cellulosic materials), which have lower carbon emissions than oil, were a particular passion. Khosla invested hundreds of millions of dollars in about a dozen biofuel and biochemical companies. ... His ambitions were audacious. Khosla declared “a war on oil.” As he wrote in 2006, “I believe we can replace most of our gasoline needs in 25 years with biomass.” He dismissed incumbent energy companies in a 2007 interview as not investing heavily in biofuels because they weren’t “used to innovation and the rate of innovation we are likely to see in this business.” ... Unlike most failed startups, KiOR hasn’t just shut its doors and disappeared into oblivion. Today recriminations, investigations, and litigation continue to surround it. The Securities and Exchange Commission has been examining whether the company made false statements, including on a critical point: the yield of its biofuel (the amount that can be made per ton of wood chips). Two KiOR executives and Khosla himself are also facing a class action suit alleging that company executives misled investors about production volumes and yield. ... The state of Mississippi is also suing Khosla and key KiOR executives on similar grounds, claiming they hoodwinked the state to obtain a $75 million loan.
As self-help workshops go, Applied Rationality’s is not especially accessible. The center’s three founders — Julia Galef, Anna Salamon and Smith — all have backgrounds in science or math or both, and their curriculum draws heavily from behavioral economics. Over the course of the weekend, I heard instructors invoke both hyperbolic discounting (a mathematical model of how people undervalue long-term rewards) and prospect theory (developed by the behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky to capture how people inaccurately weigh risky probabilities). But the premise of the workshop is simple: Our minds, cobbled together over millenniums by that lazy craftsman, evolution, are riddled with bad mental habits. ... Some of these problems are byproducts of our brain’s reward system. ... logical errors may be easy to spot in others, the group says, they’re often harder to see in ourselves. The workshop promised to give participants the tools to address these flaws, which, it hinted, are almost certainly worse than we realize. ... Most self-help appeals to us because it promises real change without much real effort, a sort of fad diet for the psyche. ... CFAR’s focus on science and on tiresome levels of practice can seem almost radical. It has also generated a rare level of interest among data-driven tech people and entrepreneurs who see personal development as just another optimization problem, if a uniquely central one. Yet, while CFAR’s methods are unusual, its aspirational promise — that a better version of ourselves is within reach — is distinctly familiar. The center may emphasize the benefits that will come to those who master the techniques of rational thought, like improved motivation and a more organized inbox, but it also suggests that the real reward will be far greater, enabling users to be more intellectually dynamic and nimble. ... CFAR’s original mandate was to give researchers the mental tools to overcome their unconscious assumptions. ... What makes CFAR novel is its effort to use those same principles to fix personal problems: to break frustrating habits, recognize self-defeating cycles and relentlessly interrogate our own wishful inclinations and avoidant instincts.
Meditation and mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley. And it’s not just about inner peace—it’s about getting ahead. … Across the Valley, quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become staples at many of the region’s most prominent companies. There’s a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute now teaching the Google meditation method to whoever wants it. The cofounders of Twitter and Facebook have made contemplative practices key features of their new enterprises, holding regular in-office meditation sessions and arranging for work routines that maximize mindfulness. Some 1,700 people showed up at a Wisdom 2.0 conference held in San Francisco this winter, with top executives from LinkedIn, Cisco, and Ford featured among the headliners. … These companies are doing more than simply seizing on Buddhist practices. Entrepreneurs and engineers are taking millennia-old traditions and reshaping them to fit the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, largely atheistic culture. Forget past lives; never mind nirvana. The technology community of Northern California wants return on its investment in meditation. … It can be tempting to dismiss the interest in these ancient practices as just another neo-spiritual fad from a part of the country that’s cycled through one New Age after another. But it’s worth noting that the prophets of this new gospel are in the tech companies that already underpin so much of our lives.
The Airbnb headquarters takes up three floors of a former battery factory in San Francisco’s SoMA neighborhood and houses roughly 1,100 employees, but its secondary function hits you as soon as you walk in: The place is a museum. Chesky, an art school graduate, designed the conference rooms as exact replicas of more than a dozen of the most significant Airbnb listings, including the nearby apartment where he and his cofounder Joe Gebbia were living when they rented out three air mattresses during a design conference to help pay the rent. (Chesky still lives there, periodically offering the couch to travelers for $40 a night.) Dollhouse-like dioramas of well-known listings greet guests near the lobby, and framed artwork lines the walls throughout, accompanied by museum-style didactic panels that offer an interpretation. An entire wall is dedicated to exploring the creative origins of Airbnb’s new logo, and another exhibit attempts to imagine what Airbnb’s flag might look like if the company were a country. One possibility: AIRBNB IS THE NEXT STAGE OF HUMAN EVOLUTION, overlaid on a scientific illustration that shows our progression from apes to cavemen to humans. None of this is done with much of a sense of humor, and as I mull the March of Progress, I wonder if there has ever been a company with such an expansive sense of its own importance. ... This is no exaggeration: During Airbnb’s first year in business, every venture capitalist Chesky pitched turned him down, and few guests were willing to risk staying with people they’d never met. Chesky and his cofounders relied on storytelling to make the idea seem friendly and, crucially, safe. It was a tall order, but Chesky is a gifted storyteller.
Welcome to the world of zombie tech stocks—once-highflying IPOs wandering aimlessly in the wasteland of the public equity markets and understandably unloved by investors. ... To be fair, some major tech IPOs have soared in recent years ... The detritus far outnumber the success stories, raising the question, Is the method by which companies go public as broken and inequitable as it ever was? That would certainly seem to be the case. And the problem is especially acute when it comes to tech companies for which relentless forward momentum is key not only to pleasing investors but also to attracting talent and keeping their competitive edge. ... a tremendous backlog of potential technology IPOs is building up just as the stock market is beginning to look very wobbly after its nearly seven-year bull run. ... It appears that a reckoning is coming in the tech world. The combined value ascribed to the 173 unicorns by their investors is a stunning $585 billion—an especially astonishing figure given that so many of them aren’t even close to profitable. Sky-high valuations—driven in part by unicorn mania and an influx of money from nontraditional (and less disciplined) venture investors—have limited the number of potential acquirers for a lot of the buzziest companies.
- Also: Gartner - 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - Protections for Late Investors Can Inflate Start-Up Valuations < 5min
- Also: Business Insider - Evernote, the first dead unicorn < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - The Man Who Taught Mutual Funds How to Invest in Startups < 5min
Most start-up offices look the same — faux midcentury furniture, brick walls, snack bar, bar cart. Interior designers in Silicon Valley are either brand-conscious or very literal. When tech products are projected into the physical world they become aesthetics unto themselves, as if to insist on their own reality: the office belonging to a home-sharing website is decorated like rooms in its customers’ pool houses and pieds-à-terre; the foyer of a hotel-booking start-up has a concierge desk replete with bell (no concierge); the headquarters of a ride-sharing app gleams in the same colors as the app itself, down to the sleek elevator bank. A book-related start-up holds a small and sad library, the shelves half-empty, paperbacks and object-oriented-programming manuals sloping against one another. ... My guide leads me through the communal kitchen, which has the trappings of every other start-up pantry: plastic bins of trail mix and Goldfish, bowls of Popchips and miniature candy bars. There’s the requisite wholesale box of assorted Clif Bars, and in the fridge are flavored water, string cheese, and single-serving cartons of chocolate milk. It can be hard to tell whether a company is training for a marathon or eating an after-school snack. Once I walked into our kitchen and found two Account Managers pounding Shot Bloks, chewy cubes of glucose marketed to endurance athletes. ... “Just add logic!” I advise cheerfully. This means nothing to me but generally resonates with engineers. It shocks me every time someone nods along. ... Around here, we nonengineers are pressed to prove our value. The hierarchy is pervasive, ingrained in the industry’s dismissal of marketing and its insistence that a good product sells itself; evident in the few “office hours” established for engineers (our scheduled opportunity to approach with questions and bugs); reflected in our salaries and equity allotment, even though it’s harder to find a good copywriter than a liberal-arts graduate with a degree in history and twelve weeks’ training from an uncredentialed coding dojo. ... Half of the conversations I overhear these days are about money, but nobody likes to get specific. It behooves everyone to stay theoretical.
- Also: Wall Street Journal - This Tech Bubble Is Bursting < 5min
- Also: Fortune - How Reddit Plans To Become a 'Real' Business 5-15min
- Also: BuzzFeed - Inside Palantir, Silicon Valley’s Most Secretive Company 5-15min
- Also: Quartz - Bill Gurley says Silicon Valley's unicorn fantasy is collapsing in on itself < 5min
- Also: McKinsey - The ‘tech bubble’ puzzle < 5min
- Also: Gawker - I Have No Idea What This Startup Does and Nobody Will Tell Me < 5min
- Also: Financial Times - China tech: Renminbi to burn < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - For Sale! Vintage Internet Company 5-15min
In a searing investigation into the once lauded biotech start-up Theranos, Nick Bilton discovers that its precocious founder defied medical experts—even her own chief scientist—about the veracity of its now discredited blood-testing technology. She built a corporation based on secrecy in the hope that she could still pull it off. Then, it all fell apart. ... At Theranos, Holmes preferred that the temperature be maintained in the mid-60s, which facilitated her preferred daily uniform of a black turtleneck with a puffy black vest—a homogeneity that she had borrowed from her idol, the late Steve Jobs. ... Holmes had learned a lot from Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk. ... And like Jobs, crucially, Holmes also paid indefatigable attention to her company’s story, its “narrative.” ... In a technology sector populated by innumerable food-delivery apps, her quixotic ambition was applauded. ... she is often surrounded by her security detail, which sometimes numbers as many as four men, who (for safety reasons) refer to the young C.E.O. as “Eagle 1”—and headed to the airport. (She has been known to fly alone on a $6.5 million Gulfstream G150.) ... it is impossible to get a precise result from the tip of a finger for most of the tests that Theranos would claim to conduct accurately. When a finger is pricked, the probe breaks up cells, allowing debris, among other things, to escape into the interstitial fluid. While it is feasible to test for pathogens this way, a pinprick is too unreliable for obtaining more nuanced readings. Furthermore, there isn’t that much reliable data that you can reap from such a small amount of blood.
Between them, they employ hundreds of engineers and have raised millions in venture capital. They have met with world leaders, signed deals with sovereign nations and partnered with global engineering firms. Earlier this year, WIRED set about to document their progress. ... Newspapers quickly proclaimed that the hyperloop would heal regional divides. Others argued that the hyperloop would transform the economy, moving packages across continents in hours. Others were more sceptical. ... HTT now boasts more than 400 volunteers, including engineers from Nasa, SpaceX and Boeing. Unlike most startups, its employees are not paid, instead dedicating at least ten hours a week contributing to the project remotely – suggesting materials, building simulations, designing marketing materials – in exchange for stock options. ... One cost proved too high: both companies have abandoned the idea of a hyperloop from LA to San Francisco. The land is simply too expensive – and even Musk couldn’t work out a way to build stations close enough to the cities’ centres. Hyperloop One is instead exploring an LA-Vegas route, but more likely the first hyperloop will be outside America, in emerging markets, or somewhere with a long stretch of privately held land.
Hampton Creek never publicly admitted its numbers were wrong. It scrubbed its site of sustainability claims, and the Cookie Calculator vanished. Such quiet backpedaling might be forgivable at many young companies—overeager math isn’t unheard of in Silicon Valley. But at Hampton Creek, it fits a pattern of mistaken or exaggerated claims that may prove to be deliberately deceptive. ... the company deployed a national network of contractors to secretly buy back Just Mayo from grocery store shelves. ... Tetrick used supermarket sales figures much as he used the environmental claims—to raise venture capital ... His pitch: He would liberate billions of hens from the fetid misery of overstuffed cages—and in the process save water and grain and cut carbon pollution. Profane, charismatic, and built like the linebacker he once was, Tetrick became a tenacious evangelist for eliminating animal protein from the world’s diet. ... Tetrick contends that the mayo buyback program was primarily for quality-control purposes and cost just $77,000. ... A former accounting employee who worked with the company’s profit and loss statements says costs for the buybacks were included in several expense categories on the P&L, including one line item called “Inventory Consumed for Samples and Internal Testing.” As buybacks surged in 2014, Hampton Creek expensed about $1.4 million under this unusual category over five months, compared with $1.9 million of net sales in the period.
It’s been six years since we first wrote about the coming G-Zero world—a world with no global leader. The underlying shifts in the geopolitical environment have been clear: a US with less interest in assuming leadership responsibilities; US allies, particularly in Europe, that are weaker and looking to hedge bets on US intentions; and two frenemies, Russia and China, seeking to assert themselves as (limited) alternatives to the US—Russia primarily on the security front in its extended backyard, and China primarily on the economic front regionally, and, increasingly, globally. ... These trends have accelerated with the populist revolt against “globalism”—first in the Middle East, then in Europe, and now in the US. Through 2016, you could see the G-Zero picking up speed ... with the shock election of Donald Trump as president of the US, the G-Zero world is now fully upon us.
1. Independent America: Trump rejects the comparative weakness of the presidency, and he wants to more directly project American power in service of US national interests
2. China overreacts: Xi will be extremely sensitive to external challenges to his country’s interests at a time when all eyes are on his leadership
3. A weaker Merkel: Could the Europeans have resolved their financial crises without the Germans forcing a solution?
4. No reform: The reform needle won’t move in 2017. Save for a few bright spots, money won’t know where to flow
5. Technology and the Middle East: Technology, a force for economic growth and efficiency, also exacerbates political instability
6. Central banks get political: In the US, there’s risk of an open conflict between the Federal Reserve and the White House
7. The White House versus Silicon Valley: Technology leaders from California, the major state that voted in largest numbers against Trump in the election, have a bone to pick with the new president
8. Turkey: Ever-fewer checks on executive power will leave the private sector vulnerable to political whims
9. North Korea: It’s making consistent progress on an intercontinental ballistic missile capability that would allow it to hit the West Coast of the US with a nuclear weapon
10. South Africa: South Africa’s political infighting will undermine the country’s traditional role as a force for regional security
Red Herrings: US domestic policy, India versus Pakistan, Brazil