A very comprehensive overview of one of the largest newsmakers this year. SoftBank is a telco, a venture fund, and owns huge swaths of the infrastructure companies that make smartphones work. So its actions and strategy this year are critical to understand for Silicon Valley. Some great news around their assets like ARM, but a tough debt situation is going to make 2019 a tough year with stocks looking primed to go down.
GPS is a crucial technology for smartphones, but the United States has had a practical de-facto monopoly over the technology. Now, a bunch of countries including China, India, Japan, and the UK are exploring building out their own competitors. That puts smartphone designers like Apple in a bind — does it create separate units for each of these markets, or does it fall behind local players on one of the smartphone’s most valuable features.
This was my most in-depth, thoughtful article the past two weeks. It’s maybe a little heady, but essentially, the internet is creating the context for a new form of the nation-state. That discussion was in the context of Imagined Communities, a book that is one of most cited of all time in the social sciences and discusses how the printing press was the enabling technology for the first nation-states to form. May try to follow up on this in the coming weeks.
I wrote a series of analyses of Nvidia and some of the challenges it is facing. It’s stock is down nearly 50% in the past two months (!), and it is facing challenges from its own customers, from the crypto crash, and from China. It’s still a unique company, but its massive growth over the past three years looks like it is going to be receding a lot.
Three newsletters about the challenges in US/China relations, plus some other topics. I think the trade conflict will continue pretty much unabated. As I wrote:
Let’s be clear on my position: I expect the trade conflict to get worse, not better. There is not a single issue for Trump that has better optics, political positioning, and broad support than improving the status quo around China trade.
An argumentative essay that largely agrees with Amazon’s process for selecting its HQ2. Such location decisions are almost always the exclusive province of boards of directors, but Amazon did open it up a bit to offer politicians an opportunity to make their pitch. Maybe people didn’t like the process, or thought it was sickening how much cities were willing to fight for jobs (I don’t understand that personally). In the end though, it is great that cities had any input at all on a private corporate matter.
Two final pieces in an experimental column I worked on this month. One of my new goals (pre New Years!) is to do more open-source journalism/analysis, where we do analysis publicly and put our editorial calendar in front of readers for feedback. My hope is to continue experimenting in that vein in the coming months.
Damn good writing productivity this week if I do say so myself. A set of five articles packaged as part of a new content experiment at TechCrunch, a book review, and two more editions of TechCrunch’s Equity podcast.
A set of five columns focused on SoftBank’s financial performance and Form Ds, which are the filings that startups typically submit to the SEC when they take venture capital. SoftBank loves debt, but yet has managed to continue to outperform on operating income growth, while startups have been avoiding filing Form Ds in order to prevent journalists from scooping their funding rounds.
This is a new experimental column where I focus on one to two topics for an extended period of time, while also building on feedback from readers. The idea is to get “obsessed” with a topic and do a little bit of open-source journalism, so that readers (who almost certainly know more about these topics than I do) can disseminate their knowledge and help all of us learn more.
The format so far has been focused on the main column, and then a reading docket and some notes on readings to keep readers up-to-speed on my reading. Expect the format to change, but happy to get this first week done.
A book review of Elephant in the Brain, a book that argues that we use self-deception to hide our true motivations — even from ourselves — in order to build social advantages against other people. For instance, when we donate to charities, we
Malka Older’s science fiction novel State Tectonics is an incredible romp through the future of democracy and politics. It’s filled with great vignettes, and has a thriller plot line as well. The characters are perhaps a bit underdeveloped, but in the end, people read speculative fiction for the speculation, and State Tectonics offers it in spades.
Major news story from MIT, which is going to put a serious amount of money behind artificial intelligence. This isn’t a crazy extension of MIT’s current capabilities, but I do think it is interesting to see how the Institute’s focus is coalescing around one field.
A major funding announcement for Ribbon, which netted a large slug of equity and debt from investors to try to rebuild the home buying process. The model gets a lot of things right compared to competitors like Opendoor, and now they have the money to go out and prove it.
A deep dive into New York City’s new cybersecurity ecosystem initiatives. The city wants to be one of the global hubs for the industry, since most of the major customers that use this software are based locally. These sorts of initiatives are tricky to get right, but the hope here is that the combination of an incubator, education initiatives, sales accelerators and co-working/community space can catalyze the industry against other leading cities like Boston, Washington DC, and Tel Aviv.
Two more editions of the TechCrunch Equity podcast, with discussions on crazy valuations, Softbank (it’s always about Softbank), as well as the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ethics of taking capital from one of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers.
This was an in-depth look at the failures of four well-known VC firms in Silicon Valley. All four were widely popular with the press, and all four have all but ceased to exist just a couple of years later. What happened? The essential story here is that there really aren't all that many similarities. Much as the families of Anna Karenina are each unhappy in their own ways, each of these funds faced different issues which caused their undoing. Crazily enough, some of these funds may still turn out to have blockbuster returns.
One challenge that is not widely understood remains the on-going bifurcation of the internet, with U.S.-based companies like Google and Facebook running one side of it, and China-based companies like Tencent and Alibaba (and other lesser-known companies) running the other half. This was something of a revision of an article I wrote four years ago, which said that the internet was fragmenting. It is indeed fragmenting, but not into dozens of separate units, but essentially two.
A book review of one of the most widely-discussed books published on Silicon Valley in some time. The story of Theranos is now widely known due to the work of John Carreyrou at the Wall Street Journal, and this is the complete story with a bunch of details filled in. For such an important book on business ethics though, I found the book to be a bit pedestrian — for all of the fraud (and there are heaps of it), it’s hard to really feel that anyone individually was the victim from this terrible story. A lot of rich people lost a lot of money though, so maybe they should do more than one phone call to write a $125 million check. Maybe.
A bit of a deeper dive on what is going on at Techstars, which has now expanded to 44 different programs on six continents. It really is interesting to see a startup accelerator expand so rapidly to so many different verticals, and grow at times just as fast as the startups it is backing.
This is a quick news story, but one that has deeper significance. Google is pulling back from unilateral control over the Accelerator Mobile Pages (AMP) project, which I think is the right move, but one that comes so late in this project’s life cycle that I wonder if it can rebuild the bridges with the web development community.