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.
This summer, Jordan Elpern-Waxman had a revelation. He’d quit his job in order to start a company that markets craft beer, and, as most new entrepreneurs do, he’d been paying for the whole thing himself. “I had gone through my savings and put everything on my credit card, and I woke up one morning and looked at the balance and said, ‘Holy s**t, how am I ever going to pay this thing off?’ ” Elpern-Waxman told me. So he did something unusual: he sold off a share of his future. ... He went to a new site called Upstart. Founded last year by former Google employees, it’s a crowdfunding marketplace where people looking to start a business, say, or pursue more education can raise cash from investors. In exchange, they pay some of what they earn over the next five or ten years—what percentage you have to pay is determined by how much you want to raise and by the Upstart algorithm’s assessment of your earnings potential. For thirty thousand dollars today, you might end up paying out, say, two per cent of your income for the next five years.
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.”
With its volatile currency and dysfunctional banks, the country is the perfect place to experiment with a new digital currency. ... His occupation is one of the world’s oldest, but it remains a conspicuous part of modern life in Argentina: Calle Florida, one of the main streets in downtown Buenos Aires, is crowded day and night with men and women singing out “cambio, cambio, cambio, casa de cambio,” to serve local residents who want to trade volatile pesos for more stable and transportable currencies like the dollar. For Castiglione, however, money-changing means converting pesos and dollars into Bitcoin, a virtual currency, and vice versa. ... That afternoon, a plump 48-year-old musician was one of several customers to drop by the rented room. A German customer had paid the musician in Bitcoin for some freelance compositions, and the musician needed to turn them into dollars. Castiglione joked about the corruption of Argentine politics as he peeled off five $100 bills, which he was trading for a little more than 1.5 Bitcoins, and gave them to his client. The musician did not hand over anything in return; before showing up, he had transferred the Bitcoins — in essence, digital tokens that exist only as entries in a digital ledger — from his Bitcoin address to Castiglione’s. Had the German client instead sent euros to a bank in Argentina, the musician would have been required to fill out a form to receive payment and, as a result of the country’s currency controls, sacrificed roughly 30 percent of his earnings to change his euros into pesos. Bitcoin makes it easier to move money the other way too. The day before, the owner of a small manufacturing company bought $20,000 worth of Bitcoin from Castiglione in order to get his money to the United States, where he needed to pay a vendor, a transaction far easier and less expensive than moving funds through Argentine banks. ... Avalancha offers customers a 10 percent discount when they use the virtual currency, because accepting credit cards generally ends up costing Avalancha more than 10 percent as a result of the vagaries of the Argentine financial system.
Machine learning, artificial intelligence and other technological advances are transforming how pensions, endowments, sovereign funds and other institutions manage their assets. ... Will the financial services industry soon be challenged by technology entrepreneurs with little initial - or no exclusive - interest in the investment business? ... The hot technologies being developed today will offer unparalleled insight into the complex world around us, and the applications to the entire domain of finance and investing are countless. ... One example: The ascendance of nonbiological intelligence means computing systems will learn and process many types of inputs far faster than even the most-expert individuals. Once experts partner with the systems, these man-machine teams will become extremely competent at rules-based goal seeking. The days of using scarce computing resources to model complex systems - backcasting, calibrating, validating and eventually forecasting - are nearly over. ... a growing number of computing systems and technologies will empower people, organizations, networks and information in transformative ways. Service industries will be particularly affected, as they often require human, labor-intensive analytics and networking scale. But if technologies can help people network and analyze faster and better, some of the companies in the industries that provide these services will face an existential challenge. As with the rise of computing and the Internet, we expect new technologies in the coming decade to challenge service industries, such as finance, in ways that few people today appreciate.
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
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.”
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.
Good Eggs was founded in July 2011 in San Francisco. The two software developers behind it wanted to build an efficient way for small farmers and producers to reach consumers who were interested in fresh, beautiful ingredients but didn’t necessarily have the time to hunt them down at a farmers market or a grocery store (which probably wouldn’t carry them to begin with). It was a promising idea, well-positioned at the white-hot Venn-diagram center of some of the biggest themes in tech right now: tech-enabled on-demand delivery, food, eye-popping funding rounds. Good Eggs started operating on a limited basis in the Bay Area in 2012, and by the end of the following year, it had expanded to full service there, opened three additional hubs around the country, and was on its way to hiring hundreds of employees. To date, it has raised almost $53 million in venture capital. ... But by Good Eggs’ own admission — and as Stambler’s sudden email indicated — building the business was immensely, unexpectedly difficult. On-demand delivery, perishable inventory, strict regulations, fluctuating prices, and city-specific quirks added up to a host of logistical challenges that can’t always be neatly predicted or solved by software.
Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profitable high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe. ... That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confidence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. ... higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. ... Anyone with a promising idea and some experience can find money. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. ... Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.
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.
If you made a movie about a laid-off, sad-sack, fiftysomething guy who is given one big chance to start his career over, the opening scene might begin like this: a Monday morning in April, sunny and cool, with a brisk wind blowing off the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass. The man—gray hair, unstylishly cut; horn-rimmed glasses; button-down shirt—pulls his Subaru Outback into a parking garage and, palms a little sweaty, grabs his sensible laptop backpack and heads to the front door of a gleaming, renovated historic redbrick building. It is April 15, 2013, and that man is me. I’m heading for my first day of work at HubSpot, the first job I’ve ever had that wasn’t in a newsroom. ... Arriving here feels like landing on some remote island where a bunch of people have been living for years, in isolation, making up their own rules and rituals and religion and language—even, to some extent, inventing their own reality. This happens at all organizations, but for some reason tech startups seem to be especially prone to groupthink. Every tech startup seems to be like this. Believing that your company is not just about making money, that there is a meaning and a purpose to what you do, that your company has a mission, and that you want to be part of that mission—that is a big prerequisite for working at one of these places. ... Another thing I’m learning in my new job is that while people still refer to this business as the “tech industry,” in truth it is no longer really about technology at all. “You don’t get rewarded for creating great technology, not anymore,” says a friend of mine who has worked in tech since the 1980s, a former investment banker who now advises startups. “It’s all about the business model. The market pays you to have a company that scales quickly. It’s all about getting big fast. Don’t be profitable, just get big.”
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
There are a lot of directions in which to point fingers. There is Holmes, of course, who seemed to have repeatedly misrepresented her company. There are also the people who funded her, those who praised her, and the largely older, all-white, and entirely male board of directors, few of whom have any real experience in the medical field, that supposedly oversaw her. ... But if you peel back all of the layers of this tale, at the center you will find one of the more insidious culprits: the Silicon Valley tech press. They embraced Holmes and her start-up with a surprising paucity of questions about the technology she had supposedly developed. They praised her as “the next Steve Jobs,” over and over (the black turtleneck didn’t hurt), until it was no longer a question, but seemingly a fact. ... The system here has been molded to effectively prevent reporters from asking tough questions. It’s a game of access, and if you don’t play it carefully, you may pay sorely. Outlets that write negatively about gadgets often don’t get pre-release versions of the next gadget.
Much has been made of Israel’s status as “Startup Nation.” Not even the size of New Jersey, with a population smaller than New York City’s, Israel is home to more Nasdaq-listed companies than any country except the U.S. and China. On a per capita basis Israel boasts more venture capital, more startups and more scientists and tech professionals than any other country in the world. ... To understand these dizzying numbers, you need to understand the mysterious Unit 8200. While no one has ever disclosed how large it is, FORBES estimates the unit has, at any given time, 5,000 people assigned to it, all mandated to deploy the latest technology, often in life-or-death situations, with surprisingly little guidance. ... what’s in 8200′s special sauce? After speaking with more than two dozen 8200 veterans, we narrowed it down to five things that, taken together, provide a pretty good blueprint for Startup Nation–and a pretty powerful cheat sheet on how to launch a successful tech startup. ... Unit 8200 predates Israel’s war of independence in 1948. Starting in the British Mandate period of the 1930s, what was then known as Shin Mem 2 (an acronym of the Hebrew phrase for information service) bugged phone lines of Arab tribes to learn about planned riots. In 1948 it was renamed 515–a random number so that it could be discussed without using words. In 1956, the year of the second war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the name was changed again, to 848. ... Unit 8200′s turning point came when Israel’s did, in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War ... That moment, which led to national soul-searching, resulted in a reboot. The unit would then be known as another random number, 8200. And it would become completely departmentalized, so that various teams in the unit wouldn’t know what other teams were doing. Each squad, like a startup, was pretty much on its own.
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.
Wu believes Opendoor can buy and sell homes, in quantity, by employing the type of data analysis that has powered so many Silicon Valley companies and by targeting the broad middle of the market. It deals in single-family homes built after 1960, priced between $125,000 and $500,000. It has no interest in distressed properties, which require too much work, or in luxury properties, which are harder to value. ... Of course, buying up houses to make a market is capital-intensive, and the risks are great. Opendoor has raised $110 million in equity from Khosla Ventures, GGV Capital and Access Industries, among others, most recently at a valuation of $580 million earlier this year. And it has also raised more than $400 million in debt to buy the homes. To succeed, it has to price the homes it buys accurately, without seeing them, and it has to sell them quickly to minimize the costs of carrying them. ... Opendoor is a big, bold play in a market with $1.4 trillion in annual transaction volume that’s been largely undisturbed for decades. ... the model has yet to be tested by a recession or a market crash, which can catch even the smartest players by surprise. Wu says he modeled the business through the 2008 subprime crisis to understand the risk.
Then, last June, the renovation team discovered Ketra, an LED lighting startup from Austin that promised some pretty big things. ... The first was what Ketra calls “natural light”: white light sources that imperceptibly change their color and intensity throughout the day to mimic the lighting conditions outside. The second was an extreme degree of control. Ketra lights could be wirelessly grouped into zones of any number of lights that could all be separately adjusted via custom software on a wall panel, computer, or phone. The third was precision. Each Ketra bulb contained a patented sensor that measured its own color 360 times a minute to make sure the light being produced was the light being requested. Ketra was selling precisely measured, nature-approximating light, accessible throughout the massive office at the press of a button. ... who really needs them? Being all things to all people doesn’t come cheap. A single Ketra bulb costs about $100. ... before you can sell millions of dollars of high-tech lighting to some of the world’s biggest companies, you have to convince them that there is a very big problem with their light. ... At the heart of Ketra’s tech is an LED chip capable of temperature-optical feedback, which senses heat and color output in real time and adjusts itself according to that data.