Tag: VC

Depressed? Put on this headset, please

Monday, 29 January, 2018 0 Comments

David Foster Wallace: “The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness. Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his Notes from Underground. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.”

Could a brain stimulation headset offer humane treatment for the disease that led David Foster Wallace to kill himself? Might it, at least, be an alternative to the dreaded opioid medication? Flow Neuroscience from Sweden claims its headset can stimulate and change the brain’s neuronal activity using tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), and a related app that advises the user on eating, sleeping and exercising routines will provide holistic backup.

With 21 million people in Europe suffering from major depressive disorder, the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme is on board and Flow Neuroscience recently announced a funding round of $1.1 million from Khosla Ventures, SOSV and Daniel Andersson.

If the depression epidemic can be addressed with a solution that’s safe, effective, medication-free and designed for use at home, great benefits might flow to sufferers, who would experience a huge quality-of-life improvement as a result. And great benefits might flow, too, to those VCs who have placed their bets on Flow Neuroscience.

Flow

Sylvia Plath: “It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it.”


Whither work?

Thursday, 17 November, 2016 0 Comments

“It’s one of the dirty secrets of economics: technology progress does grow the economy and create wealth, but there is no economic law that says everyone will benefit.” — Erik Brynjolfsson

Who he? The Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and author of the best-selling The Second Machine Age, is he. Brynjolfsson maintains that in the race against the machine, some are likely to win while many are likely to lose. It’s a view that’s gaining traction as pessimism about the role of technology in a globalized economy increases, but Stephen DeWitt is more optimistic.

He’s held senior positions at HP, Cisco and Symantec, but instead of retiring, he became the CEO at Work Market, a rapidly-growing platform that’s reformulating the worker-employer equation. Backed by New York VC Fred Wilson, Work Market helps connect workers with companies that need to get stuff done.

The concept isn’t new. The “gig economy” of Uber and TaskRabbit is familiar to many, but DeWitt believes that this “on demand economy” will include all kinds of work eventually. Millions of people are stuck in jobs that are unnecessary and inefficient, he argues, and points out that by 2030 there will be 3.2 billion skilled workers on earth, all connected to the internet. Will a company filled with full time workers be the ideal model then? Or might the model be an agile core of managers assigning work to a network of workers competing for projects based on their skills, reputations and their ability to deliver results? That could spell the end of unnecessary and inefficient jobs. Or it might lead to a dystopia. We are approaching the crossroads and we’ll have to turn left or right.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” — Peter Drucker

The gig economy


The Robolution federator

Tuesday, 2 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s upgrading of English vocabulary is a regular theme here and the prospect of public presentations on the subject in October and November is concentrating the mind, to paraphrase Dr Johnson. We’ve had some gems recently and more are to come. Central to the revolutionary stuff going on right now is robotics.

Definition: “Robotics is the branch of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, as well as the computer systems for their control, feedback and data processing.”

If you create an €80 million private equity fund dedicated to robotics, you’re going to need a name for the venture; one that combines the essence of the business with its revolutionary role in 21st-century industry, ideally. Robolution The result is… Robolution. Or, more precisely, Robolution Capital. But there’s something slightly unmelodious about the word “Robolution,” with its hints of ablution and absolution. Sure, it’s an attempt to capture an element of “revolution,” but the “robo” bit at the front doesn’t quite make a harmonius unit, does it? Perhaps it sounds better in French because Robolution Capital is based in Paris.

Along with robotics, Robolution Capital is focussing on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), two very hot areas right now, and this is why it defines itself as a facilitator, an accelerator and “a federator at the heart of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs, corporates, public organizations, universities and research centers.” What’s a federator? The usually indefatigable Wiktionary does not have an entry for the word and Techopedia offers “Federation” from the world of enterprise architecture that allows interoperability. The word, however, is a version of fédérateur, the French noun that means “unifier.” And with its philosophy and its focus on robotics, AI and the IoT, Robolution is true federator.

News: 360 Capital Partners, an early-stage VC business based in Milan and Paris has just done a deal with Orkos Capital, also based in Paris, to manage Robolution Capital.


These eerily Madoffian times

Thursday, 21 April, 2016 0 Comments

To understand the magical world of the technology Unicorn (AirBNB, Slack, Snapchat, Uber), one has to speak the language of dizzying money. For example, Limited Partners (LPs) are large pools of capital, such as pension funds, endowments, foundations and high-net-worth individuals, that invest in Venture Capital (VC) firms, hedge funds and the like. And in these Unicorn times, LPs are increasingly being asked to participate in SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) especially created to feed the insatiable Unicorns. Well, that’s what Bill Gurley, a General Partner at Benchmark Capital, says.

Gurly has been keeping a close eye on the money flow and he’s noticed something disturbing: “investors have also broadened their SPV marketing to family offices and other pools of capital. The pitches typically involve phrases such as ‘you are invited to’ or ‘we will provide access to’ an opportunity to invest. This ‘you are so lucky to have this opportunity’ pitch is eerily Madoffian.”

That excellent coinage, Madoffian, is a play on the name of the fraudster Bernard Madoff, who scammed investors in a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that was exposed in 2008. The use of his name should alarm everyone and that’s what Bill Gurley seeks to do in a brilliant analysis titled Why The Unicorn Financing Market Became Dangerous… For All Involved. Snippet:

The main message for investors who are just now being approached is the following: it’s not the second inning or even the sixth, it’s the fourteenth inning in a five hour baseball game. You are not being invited to a special dance, you are being approached because you are the lender of last resort. And because of how we meandered to this place in time, parting with your dollars now would be an extremely risky move. Caveat emptor.

To avert disaster, Gurley is calling for “a dramatic increase in the real cost of capital and a return to an appreciation for sound business execution.” Note: What makes his analysis particularly valuable is that he singles out John Carreyrou’s October investigation of Theranos in the Wall Street Journal as “the seminal bubble-popping event.” A month prior to that, Fortune Magazine ran a fawning Theranos article titled “How Playing the Long Game Made Elizabeth Holmes a Billionaire.” That game is up.

The Unicorn


TAG Heuer + Xiaomi

Wednesday, 7 January, 2015 0 Comments

Silke Koltrowitz, reporting for Reuters: “TAG Heuer is pushing ahead with plans for a smartwatch to more directly compete with the likes of the Apple Watch and may make acquisitions to help drive the strategy, its head said on Tuesday.”

Matt Richman, an up-and-coming tech blogger, is not buying it: “TAG Heuer’s smartwatch won’t sell. There’s no market for it,” he wrote. His reasoning: “In order to have even a chance of being as feature-rich as Apple Watch, then, TAG’s smartwatch will have to pair with an Android phone. However, TAG wearers aren’t Android users. Rich people buy TAG watches, but rich people don’t buy Android phones.”

But what if rich people were to buy those “Apple of China” phones? In his predictions for 2015, Fred Wilson noted: “Xiaomi will spend some of the $1.1bn they just raised coming to the US. This will bring a strong player in the non-google android sector into the US market and legitimize a ‘third mobile OS’ in the western world. The good news for developers is developing for non-google android is not much different than developing for google android.”

TAG Heuer and Xiaomi? Matt Richman points out that Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, said, “Switzerland is fucked,” but China and Switzerland might not be so easy to dismiss.

Xiaomi


Marc Andreessen, with footnotes

Monday, 20 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s a nice bit of footnote CSS behind this New York interview with Marc Andreessen, “The tall, bald, spring-loaded venture capitalist, who invented the first mainstream internet browser, co-founded Netscape, then made a fortune as an early investor in Twitter and Facebook…”

Mouse over “Foxconn 15” and out at the side pops “In January, Foxconn was reportedly in talks with several states about building a plant in the United States.” Behind the scenes, the magic is created by the following:

CSS NY

And the result is:

CSS

Andreessen comes across as a hard-headed libertarian, very much in synch with the Valley ethos, but critical enough and informed enough to know how the world works. Typical of the Q&A exchanges with Kevin Roose:

And yet we have more internal inequality in San Francisco than we do in Rwanda.

So then move to Rwanda and see how that works out for you. I think you just answered your own question.


Exit Tumblr followed by $1.1 billion

Monday, 20 May, 2013 0 Comments

“The exit, one of the biggest New York has seen shows that with content becoming important, New York is finding its footing on the startup stage.” That’s Om Malik writing about “What Tumblr’s sale means for New York startup ecosystem.” Later, he adds: “It would be one of the biggest exits for a New York-based startup. Sure there have been other exits — Google paid $3.1 billion for DoubleClick, but that was a company that belonged to a different Internet era.” Those not used to seeing “exit” used in this context need to brush up on their venture capitalist (VC) vocabulary because the “exit strategy” is how a VC intends to get out of an investment, profitably. The exit is a way of “cashing out” an investment via an initial public offering (IPO) or being bought out by a bigger player, such as Yahoo. It’s also referred to as a “harvest strategy” or a “liquidity event”.

One of the early investors in Tumblr was Union Square Ventures of which Fred Wilson is a managing partner. Along with being a famous VC, Fred is a famous Bob Dylan fan and those in the know knew that a deal was almost done when he posted “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” by Dylan on his Tumblr blog yesterday. And it didn’t.

So why is Fred Wilson cashing out and David Karp cashing in so handsomely? “The world is atwitter about Tumblr’s big exit to Yahoo!” says John Battelle, who claims it’s all about advertising, especially “native” advertising and the “activity stream”.