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The Markup, a tech-focused investigative news site, raises $20 million from Craigslist founder

06:04 | 24 September

Celebrated former ProPublica investigative journalists Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson are launching their newest venture, the investigative nonprofit news organization called The Markup, with help from some big donors including Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark.

The Markup co-founders Angwin, Larson and executive director Sue Gardner (the former head of the Wikimedia Foundation), are backed by a $20 million donation from Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies; $2 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; and additional support from the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, according to a statement.

The project was incubated with an investment from the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative and news of the new media venture was first reported in The New York Times.

“In a healthy society, there’s an ongoing conversation about what’s in the public interest—a debate that includes legislators, regulators, the institutions of civil society, the private sector, and the general public,” said Gardner, in a statement. “We aren’t having that debate right now about new technologies because the level of understanding of their effects is too low. That’s the problem that The Markup aims to fix, and I am delighted to have Craig Newmark, and some of the United States’ most prominent private foundations, join us to do this.”

Newmark has been engaged in many philanthropic projects. He’s put $500,000 of his money toward reducing harassment on Wikipedia and has pledged $1 million to Angwin and Larson’s old bosses at ProPublica.

“I’m proud to back The Markup and support people whose work I’ve followed and admired for a long time,” Newmark said. “As a news consumer, I look for journalism that I can trust, and by producing data-driven, rigorously fact-checked reporting on the effects of technology on society, The Markup is helping to fill a largely unmet need.”

Gardner previously ran the CBC.CA, the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; Angwin is a Pulitzer Prize winner who p worked at The Wall Street Journal and ProPublica; and Larson, a data journalist, has won the prestigious Peabody Award and the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He used to work at The Nation.

At ProPublica the duo’s scoops included the revelation of discriminatory advertising practices at Facebook; algorithmic bias in criminal risk scores used in bail, sentencing and parole decisions; price discrimination toward minorities in car insurance rates; and cybersecurity holes in the President’s home-away-from-home, the Mar-A-Lago country club.

“I’m excited to build a team with deep expertise that can really scale up and advance the work Jeff and I began at ProPublica,” Angwin said, in a statement. “We see The Markup as a new kind of news organization, staffed with journalists who know how to investigate the uses of new technologies and make their effects understandable to non-experts.”

The Markup is looking to staff up with 24 journalists for its New York office and is hoping to launch in the early part of 2019.

 


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The New York Times sues the FCC to investigate Russian interference in Net Neutrality decision

22:22 | 23 September

The ongoing saga over the FCC’s handling of public comments to its net neutrality proposal continues after The New York Times sued the organization for withholding of information that it believes could prove there was Russian interference.

The Times has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for data on the comments since July 2017, and now, after reducing the scope of its requests significantly was rejected, it is taking the FCC to court in a bid to get the information.

The FCC’s comment system keeled over in May 2017 over during the public feedback period as more than 22 million comments were posted. Plenty of those were suspected of using repeated phrases, fake email addresses and even the names of deceased New Yorkers. The FCC initially falsely claimed the outage was because it was hacked — it wasn’t and it has only just made that clear — it seems instead that its system was unable to handle the volume of comments, with a John Oliver sketch thought to have accounted for a surge in interest.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has been looking into whether Russia was involved. An op-ed in the Washington Post from FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel published earlier this year suggested that as many as 500,000 comments came from Russian email addresses, with an estimated eight million comments sent by throw-away email accounts created via FakeMailGenerator.com. In addition, a report found links between emails mentioned in the Mueller Report and those used to provide comment on net neutrality.

Since the actual events are unclear — for more than a year the FCC allowed people to incorrectly believe it was hacked — an FOIA request could provide a clearer insight into whether there was overseas interference.

Problem: the FCC itself won’t budge, as the suit (which you can find here) explains:

The request at issue in this litigation involves records that will shed light on the extent to which Russian nationals and agents of the Russian government have interfered with the agency notice-and-comment process about a topic of extensive public interest: the government’s decision to abandon “net neutrality.” Release of these records will help broaden the public’s understanding of the scope of Russian interference in the American democratic system.

Despite the clear public importance of the requested records, the FCC has thrown up a series of roadblocks, preventing The Times from obtaining the documents.

Repeatedly, The Times has narrowed its request in the hopes of expediting release of the records so it could explore whether the FCC and the American public had been the victim of orchestrated campaign by the Russians to corrupt the notice-and-comment process and undermine an important step in the democratic process of rule-making.

The original FOIA request lodged in June 2017 from the Times requested “IP addresses, timestamps, and comments, among other data” which included web server data. The FCC initially bulked and declined on the basis that doing so would compromise its IT systems and security (that sounds familiar!), while it also cited privacy concerns for the commenters.

Over the proceeding months, which included dialogue between both parties, the Times pared back the scope of its request considerably. By 31 August 2018, it was only seeking a list of originating IP addresses and timestamps for comments, and a list of user-agent headers (which show a user’s browser type and other diagnostic details) and timestamps. The requested lists were separated to address security concerns.

However, the FCC declined again, and now the Times believes it has “exhausted all administrative remedies.”

“The FCC has no lawful basis for declining to release the records requested,” it added.

Not so, according to the FCC, which released a statement to Ars Technica.

“We are disappointed that The New York Times has filed suit to collect the Commission’s internal Web server logs, logs whose disclosure would put at jeopardy the Commission’s IT security practices for its Electronic Comment Filing System,” a spokesperson said.

The organization cited a District of Columbia case earlier this month which it claimed found that “the FCC need not turn over these same web server logs under the Freedom of Information Act.”

But that is a simplistic read on the case. While the judge did rule against turning over server logs, he ordered the FCC to provide email addresses for those that had provided comment via its .CSV file template, and the files themselves. That’s a decent precedent for the New York Times, which has a far narrow scope with its request.

 


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Beau Willimon shows us the path to Mars in ‘The First’

21:16 | 23 September

Beau Willimon, the screenwriter and playwright who created Netflix’s “House of Cards”, has turned his attention from Washington, D.C. to outer space in his latest series “The First”.

The shows have more in common than I expected. Sure, “The First” is about a future expedition to Mars, not present day political machinations. And instead of the fourth wall-breaking monologues that “House of Cards” was known for, the new series relies on long, nearly silent sequences where characters ponder their decisions and brood over the past.

But “The First” (which launched all eight episodes of its first season on September 14) isn’t an outer space adventure filled with special effects. In fact, most of the story takes place in New Orleans, focusing on the political, financial and technical challenges that the team (Tom Hagerty, the astronaut played by Sean Penn) faces it can even take off.

When I interviewed Willimon and executive producer Jordan Tappis, I suggested that the show seemed to be more about Earth than Mars — but Willimon didn’t quite agree.

“I actually think it’s completely about Mars,” he said. For one thing, he has a multi-season plan, which will presumably take us to the Red Planet eventually. And while Willimon acknowledged that it would have been “a lot safer of a narrative choice to leap straight into the mission,” he wanted to explore other angles, like the fact that “the reality of getting to a place like Mars is that it would incredibly difficult to even get to the starting line.”

The First

Part of that difficulty involves confronting space skeptics who wonder whether the mission is worth the cost and risk. In a traditional science fiction story, those opponents would probably be depicted as wrongheaded or even downright villainous, but in “The First”, they seem to have a real point.

“My own personal attitude is, I absolutely think we should go to Mars,” Willimon said. “The value of exploration in any form, in space or here on Earth, speaks to a long and deep desire in humanity to understand and confront the unknown” — and that’s on top of the material and scientific benefits.

Still, he said he wanted “The First” to “reflect the world in which we live and the world in which we’re likely to live 13 years from now,” which meant telling “the story of people who don’t share that same belief, who challenge it from a philosophical or emotional point of view. … Any astronaut going to Mars has to confront the fact that he or she may die. The question for any of them, or for any loved one, is: Is it worth it?”

Ultimately, Willimon said, “We didn’t want to create a fantasy here. We’re not interested in science fiction. We’re interested in science fact.”

That meant creating a plausible roadmap for how we might actually get to Mars. In “The First,” the mission is organized by a private company called Vista, but the funding comes the U.S. government, and Willimon suggested that this kind of public-private partnership will probably be necessary.

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Beau Willimon speaks onstage at Hulu’s “The First” Los Angeles Premiere on September 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Hulu)

With the current excitement around companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, he said “the private sector has a lot to offer in accelerating a mission like this and making it cost efficient.” But he doesn’t think the private sector is going to get us to Mars on its own.

“In reality, the cost of getting to Mars, no matter what version you speculate, is enormous,” Willimon said. “I don’t think it’s likely that a purely private sector venture is going raise that amount of capital … In our conception, the money is coming form NASA, which means it’s really coming from taxpayer and the U.S. government, while the actual execution, building the hardware and seeing the mission through, is contracted out to Vista.”

“The First” also depicts everyday life in 2031. Tappis explained that the production team “worked really closely with a handful of consultants and experts in the field” to develop its version of future technology — which looks a lot like the technology of 2018, but with a few key advancements in areas like self-driving cars, augmented reality and voice communication.

“When you think about 13 years ago, the world looked pretty similar to the way it looks today, but with a few grace notes that you would find that showcase the evolution between then and now,” Tappis said.

One thing that has changed dramatically in the past decade is the television landscape, and I suggested that by creating and showrunning “House of Cards,” Willimon essentially kicked off the shift to streaming content.

“To be honest, I think that would have happened regardless of ‘House of Cards’,” Willimon replied. “We were the first show to go do that, because we were in the right place at the right time and were smart enough to say yes. But I think the trend was underway and was going to happen one way or another.”

As for the future of television, he said, “If this much change happened in less than a decade, who knows what might happen 15 years form now. Maybe … the audience isn’t going to be watching shows on handheld devices, but instead watching it floating before them on AR glasses.”

Near-future speculation is fun, and it’s a task that Willimon and Tappis seem to have taken very seriously. Still, if “The First” ends up running for several years, there seems to be a real risk that it could be overtaken or contradicted by how space travel plays out in the real world, or how consumer technologies evolve.

“While we think our speculation is an informed one and certainly plausible in terms of what it could look like, the time will come when we do make our first mission to Mars and it will either be very accurate or it won’t be,” Willimon said. And yet, just as we still watch the ostensibly outdated “2001: A Space Odyssey”, he argued, “There’s a deeper story there, which is the human story of people with messy lives trying to accomplish something great. There’s an essential truth to that, which we hope is timeless.”

 


0

Comcast outbids Fox in $40B battle for Sky

21:33 | 22 September

Comcast has outbid Twenty-First Cenutry Fox for the UK’s Sky, a final step in what’s been a years-long takeover battle between the two media conglomerates.

Comcast’s final offer gives Sky a roughly $40 billion price tag.

Both companies upped their offers for Sky at the settlement auction Saturday, with Comcast offering £17.28 per Sky ordinary share and Fox offering £15.67 per share. Comcast initially offered £14.75. Fox’s original offer was £14.

Both companies will reveal their revised bids on Monday. Sky’s board will make it’s official recommendation by October 11.

 


0

Corporate venture investment climbs higher throughout 2018

21:00 | 22 September

Jason Rowley Contributor
Jason Rowley is a venture capital and technology reporter for Crunchbase News.

Many corporations are pinning their futures on their venture investment portfolios. If you can’t beat startups at the innovation game, go into business with them as financial partners.

Though many technology companies have robust venture investment initiatives—Alphabet’s venture funding universe and Intel Capital’s prolific approach to startup investment come to mind—other corporations are just now doubling down on venture investments.

Over the past several months, several big corporations committed additional capital to corporate investments. For example, defense firm Lockheed Martin added an additional $200 million to its in-house venture group back in June. Duck-represented insurance firm Aflac just bumped its corporate venture fund from $100 million to $250 million, and Cigna lust launched a $250 million fund of its own. This is to say nothing of financial vehicles like SoftBank’s truly enormous Vision Fund, into which the Japanese telecom giant invested $28 billion of its own capital.

And 2018 is on track to set a record for U.S. corporate involvement in venture deals. We come to this conclusion after analyzing corporate venture investment patterns of the top 100 publicly traded, U.S.-based companies (as ranked by market capitalizations at time of writing). The chart below shows that investing activity, broken out by stage, for each year since 2007.

A few things stick out in this chart.

The number of rounds these big corporations invest in is on track to set a new record in 2018. Keep in mind that there’s a little over one full quarter left in the year. And although the holidays tend to bring a modest slowdown in venture activity over time, there’s probably sufficient momentum to break prior records.

The other thing to note is that our subset of corporate investors have, over time, made more investments in seed and early-stage companies. In 2018 to date, seed and early-stage rounds account for over 60 percent of corporate venture deal flow, which may creep up as more rounds get reported. (There’s a documented reporting lag in angel, seed, and Series A deals in particular.) This is in line with the past couple of years.

Finally, we can view this chart as a kind of microcosm for blue-chip corporate risk attitudes over the past decade. It’s possible to see the fear and uncertainty of the 2008 financial crisis causing a pullback in risk capital investment.

Even though the crisis started in 2008, the stock market didn’t bottom out until 2009. You can see that bottom reflected in the low point of corporate venture investment activity. The economic recovery that followed, bolstered by cheap interest rates that ultimately yielded the slightly bloated and strung-out market for both public and private investors? We’re in the thick of it now.

Whereas most traditional venture firms are beholden to their limited partners, that investor base is often spread rather thinly between different pension funds, endowments, funds-of-funds, and high-net-worth family offices. With rare exception, corporate venture firms have just one investor: the corporation itself.

More often than not, that results in corporate venture investments being directionally aligned with corporate strategy. But corporations also invest in startups for the same reason garden-variety venture capitalists and angels do: to own a piece of the future.

A note on data

Our goal here was to develop as full a picture as possible of a corporation’s investing activity, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

We started with a somewhat constrained dataset: the top 100 U.S.-based publicly traded companies, ranked by market capitalization at time of writing. We then traversed through each corporation’s network of sub-organizations as represented in Crunchbase data. This allowed us to collect not just the direct investments made by a given corporation, but investments made by its in-house venture funds and other subsidiaries as well.

It’s a similar method to what we did when investigating Alphabet’s investing universe. Using Alphabet as an example, we were able to capture its direct investments, plus the investments associated with its sub-organizations, and their sub-organizations in turn. Except instead of doing that for just one company, we did it for a list of 100.

This is by no means a perfect approach. It’s possible that corporations have venture arms listed in Crunchbase, but for one reason or another, the venture arm isn’t listed as a sub-organization of its corporate parent. Additionally, since most of the corporations on this list have a global presence despite being based in the United States, it’s likely that some of them make investments in foreign markets that don’t get reported.

 


0

Mithril Capital Management, cofounded by Ajay Royan and Peter Thiel, is leaving the Bay Area

00:04 | 22 September

From its glass-lined offices in San Francisco’s leafy Presidio national park, six-year-old Mithril Capital Management has happily flown under the radar. Now it’s leaving altogether and relocating its team to Austin, a spot that has “enough critical mass of a technical culture, an artisanal culture, an artistic culture, and [is] not necessarily looking to Silicon Valley for validation,” says firm cofounder Ajay Royan.

The move isn’t a complete surprise. Royan, who cofounded the growth-stage investment firm in 2012 with renowned investor Peter Thiel, hasn’t done much in the way of public relations outside of announcing MIthril’s existence. Thiel and Royan — who’d previously been a managing director at Clarium Capital Management, Thiel’s hedge fund — largely travel in social circles outside of Silicon Valley. More important, the firm has always prided itself on finding startups that don’t fit the typical ideal of a Silicon Valley startup, too.

One of its newest bets, for example, is a nine-year-old dental robotics company in Miami, Fla. that says it performs implant surgery faster and more effectively, which is a surprisingly big market. More than 500,000 now receive implants each year.  “It was a hidden team, because it’s in Miami, and it was a field that was under invested in,” says Royan, noting that one of the few breakthrough companies in the dental world in recent years, Invisalign, which makes an alternative to braces, caters to a much younger demographic.

Even still, Mithril’s departure is interesting taken as a data point in a series of them that suggest that Silicon Valley may be losing some of its appeal for a variety of reasons. One of these is so-called groupthink, which had already driven Thiel to make Los Angeles his primary home. An even bigger factor: the unprecedentedly high cost of living. As The Economist reportedly in a recent story about the Bay Area’s narrowing lead over other tech hubs,  a median-priced home in the region costs $940,000, which is four-and-a-half times the American average. “It’s hard to imagine doing another startup in Silicon Valley; I don’t think I would,” said Jeremy Stoppelman, who cofounded the search and reviews site Yelp, took it public in 2012, and continues to lead the San Francisco-based company, to The Economist. Bay Area venture capitalists at TechCrunch’s recent Disrupt event also underscored the possibility that a shift is afoot.

Late last week, to learn more about Mithril’s move out of California and to get a general sense of how the firm is faring, we sat down with Royan at the space the firm will formally vacate next year, when its lease expires. We talked for several hours; some outtakes from that conversation, lightly edited for length, follow.

TC: You and I haven’t sat down together in years. When did you start thinking about re-locating the firm?

AR: In 2016. I started seeing a lot more correlation in the companies that we were seeing; they were looking more similar to each other than before, and the volume was going up as well. So to put that in context, 2017 was our largest volume in the pipeline, meaning the number of companies coming through the system. And it was also the year that we did the least number of investments. We made one investment, in Neocis [the aforementioned dental robotics company].

TC: You don’t think this owes to a lack of imagination by founders but rather serious flaws in the overarching way that startups get funded. 

AR: The problem is what I call time horizon compression. So a pension fund is supposed to invest on a 30-year time horizon, but if you look at the internal incentives, the bonuses are paid on an annual basis [and the investors making investing decisions on behalf of that pension] are evaluated every six months or every quarter. So you shouldn’t be surprised when people do really short-term things.

There are very short-term versions of investing in the private markets, as well. It’s the 15th AI company, or the 23rd big data company, or the 256th online-to-offline services company. A lot of the people making these investments are very smart. The question is: why are they funding these companies? And why are people starting them? I would suggest it’s because both are under tremendous time pressure, and pressure not to take real risk. If you’re really smart, and you’re told that you’ve got to make returns tomorrow and you can’t take a lot of risk, then you do a me-too company and you look for momentum funding and you try to get out as quickly as possible. It’s a perfectly rational response to bad incentives, and that’s part of what we started to see a lot of in Silicon Valley. I think you have a lot of it going on right now.

TC: It feels like the “getting out” part has become a problem. The IPO market has picked up, but it’s not exactly vibrant. Do you buy the argument that going public limits what a team can do because of public shareholder expectations?

AR: I think that’s fake. Private investors are maybe even more demanding than public investors, because we have material amounts invested generally. Certainly, we do at Mithril. When it comes to governance at our companies, it’s pretty tough, and we get a lot of insight into their activities. It’s not like a public board, where you get a quarterly meeting and a pretty presentation and then people go home.

I do think it’s risk budget and time horizon, bottom line. So the ability to take risks in ways that are not supported by historical models would be: if it goes well, people are happy; if it goes south, the public markets I don’t think will forgive you.

TC: What about Amazon, which went out early, lost money for years, was hammered by analysts, yet is now flirting with a $1 trillion market cap? 

AR: Amazon is like the sovereign exception that proves the rule. It’s like [Jeff Bezos] was structured to basically not care both in terms of governance, or he cared in the way that was actually constructive to building Amazon, which is, ‘I’m just going to keep reinvesting all my profits into things that I think are important, and you all can just wait,’ right? And not a lot of people have the intestinal fortitude to do that or the governance structure to sustain it.

TC: You’ve made some big bets on companies that have been around a while, including the surveillance technology company Palantir, which I recall is one of your biggest bets. How patient are your own investors?

AR: Palantir is still doing extremely well as a company. What’s interesting is 80 percent of our capital in [our first of three funds] is concentrated in, like, 10 companies. Our two biggest investments were Palantir and [the antibody discovery platform] Adimab [in New Hampshire], and I’d argue that Adamab is even bigger than Palantir. We actually helped them not go public in 2014 when they were thinking about it.

TC: How, and why was it better for the company to stay private? 

AR: Adimab was founded in 2007, so it was already seven years old when we encountered them. And I was looking for a company that would be not a drug company but instead [akin to] a technology company in biotech, and Adimab is that. The’ve built a custom-designed yeast whose DNA was redesigned based on the inputs from a multi-year study of about 120 human beings, I think at Harvard, where they assessed the immune responses of the humans to various diseases, then encoded what they understood about the human immune system into the yeast. So the yeast essentially are humanized proxies for the immune system.

TC: Which means . . . .

AR: You can attack the yeast with disease, and the antibodies the yeast produces are essentially human antibodies. Think of it as a biological computer that responds to disease vectors. We now have a database of 10 billion antibodies that we can use to figure out how best to interrogate the yeast for the next generation of diseases that needed an immunotherapy solution.

TC: Is the company profitable?

AR: It is. They don’t need any new money. We’ve just begun a program to help them restructure their cap table so they can take out early investors.

TC: An 11-year-old company. What about employees who are waiting to cash out?

AR: They want more stock, so we’ve created the equivalent of stock options that are tied to value creation.

A lot of biotech companies go public very early on. If Adimab had, they would have been under tremendous pressure to actually build a drug company. People would have said, ‘Hey, if you’re discovering all these antibodies and they’re empowering other people’s drugs, why don’t you just make your own drug?” But the founder, Tillman Gerngross, who’s also the head of bioengineering at Dartmouth, he doesn’t want to be in the position of having to sell or be under tremendous pressure [to create a drug company] when he thinks the full impact of what Adimab is building won’t be realized for another decade.

TC: In Austin, you’ll be closer to this company and some of your other portfolio companies. But are you really certain you want to leave sunny California?

AR: The cost of trying is what I’m worried about [here]. It’s that simple. That applies to people who are starting jobs in someone’s company, or trying to start a company themselves. If it’s expensive for the company to take risk, it’s going be expensive for you to take risk inside the company, which means your career will take a different path than than otherwise

After [I was an] undergrad at Yale, New York was a natural place to go, but I never worked there. It just felt like a place that was externally very pressurized. You had to conform to the external pressures that dictated your daily life. Your rent was $4,000 to $6,000 a month for craziness for like a walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen. Social structures were fairly set, like, you had to go to the Hamptons in the summer or something. There were these weird things that felt very dictated and you had to fit and you had to climb the pyramid schemes that people had established for you. Otherwise, you were out.

What made [Silicon Valley] really attractive was it was a one giant incubator as a society, with a lot of pay-it-forward forward culture and a low cost of trying. Now I’m worried about all three of those.

I’m not saying that just by moving, that gets fixed. That’s facile. But if you conclude that this is an issue that you need to think through, and try to find thoughtful ways to get around, you have to enlist every ally you can. And one of those allies might be reducing unidirectional environmental noise, and having more voices that you can listen to and being exposed to more lived experiences that are varied. . . It builds your capacity for empathy, and I think that’s important for good investing and being a good founder.

TC: What are your early impressions of Austin?

AJ: It’s a great town. Everyone’s been super friendly. I get to wear my cowboy boots. You can actually do a four-hour tour of food trucks without running out of food trucks. Also, most of the people I’ve met are registered Democrats and like, half of them own really nice guns. And these are not considered contradictory at all.

 


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VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

00:01 | 22 September

In the days leading up to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, The Economist published the cover story, ‘Why Startups Are Leaving Silicon Valley.’

The author outlined reasons why the Valley has “peaked.” Venture capital investors are deploying capital outside the Bay Area more than ever before. High-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, for example, have left. Rising rents are making it impossible for new blood to make a living, let alone build businesses. And according to a recent survey, 46 percent of Bay Area residents want to get the hell out, an increase from 34 percent two years ago.

Needless to say, the future of Silicon Valley was top of mind on stage at Disrupt.

“It’s hard to make a difference in San Francisco as a single entrepreneur,” said J.D. Vance, the author of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and a managing partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund, which backs seed-stage companies based outside Silicon Valley. “It’s not as a hard to make a difference as a successful entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio.”

In conversation with Vance, Revolution CEO Steve Case said he’s noticed a “mega-trend” emerging. Founders from cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Portland are opting to stay in their hometowns instead of moving to U.S. innovation hubs like San Francisco.

“The sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

“We are seeing the beginnings of a slowing of what has been a brain drain the last 20 years,” Case said. “It’s not just watching where the capital flows, it’s watching where the talent flows. And the sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

J.D. Vance says that most entrepreneurs don't need to move to Silicon Valley.

Here's why.

pic.twitter.com/0mFPeTuHLe

— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch)

Farewell, San Francisco

“It’s too expensive to live here,” said Aileen Lee, the founder of seed-stage VC firm Cowboy Ventures, amid a conversation with leading venture capitalists Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn and Benchmark general partner Sarah Tavel .

“I know that there are a lot of people in the Bay Area that are trying to work on that problem and I hope that they are successful,” Lee added. “It’s an amazing place to live and we’ve made it really challenging for people to live here and not worry about making ends meet.”

One of Cowboy’s portfolio companies opted to relocate from Silicon Valley to Colorado when it came time to scale their business. That kind of move would’ve historically been seen as a failure. Today, it may be a sign of strong business acumen.

Quinn said that of all 28 of Spark’s growth-stage portfolio companies, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Pendo has the easiest time recruiting folks locally and from the Bay Area.

She advises her Bay Area-based late-stage companies to open a second office outside of the Valley where lower-cost talent is available.

“We often say go to [flySFO.com], draw a three-hour circle around San Francisco where they have direct flights, find a city that has a university and open up a second office as quickly as possible,” Quinn said.

Still, all three firms invest in a lot of companies based in San Francisco. Of Benchmark’s 10 most recent investments, for example, eight were based in SF, according to Crunchbase.

“I used to believe really strongly if you wanted to build a multi-billion dollar company you had to be based here,” Tavel said. “I’ve stopped giving that soap speech.”

Aileen Lee (Cowboy Ventures), Megan Quinn (Spark Capital), and Sarah Tavel (Benchmark Capital) on whether or not Silicon Valley is on the wane for investors

pic.twitter.com/SOpn7p0eNQ

— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch)

Underestimated talent

A lot of Bay Area VCs have been blind to the droves of tech talent located outside the region. Believe it or not, there are great engineers in America’s small- and medium-sized markets too.

At Disrupt, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton announced the firm would launch an accelerator to further amplify companies led by underestimated founders. The program will have cohorts based in four cities; San Francisco was noticeably absent from that list.

Instead, the firm, which invests in underrepresented founders and recently raised a $36 million fund, will work with companies in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and one more city, which will be determined by a public vote. Aniyia Williams, the founder of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders, will spearhead the Philadelphia effort.

“For us, it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech,” Williams said. “There needs to be more active participation from everyone.”

Hamilton added that for her, the tech talent in LA and London is undeniable.

“There is a lot of money and a lot of investors … it reminds me of three years ago in Silicon Valley,” Hamilton said.

Silicon Valley vs. China

Silicon Valley’s demise may not be just as a result of increased costs of living or investors overlooking talent in other geographies. It may be because of heightened competition abroad.

Doug Leone, an early- and growth-stage investor at Sequoia Capital, said at Disrupt that he’s noticed a very different work ethic in China.

Chinese entrepreneurs, he explained, are more ruthless than their American counterparts and they’re putting in a whole lot more hours.

Doug Leone of Sequoia Capital says founders in the US and China both want to change the world, but Chinese founders are a little more desperate (and you see it in the crazy work ethic they have).

pic.twitter.com/dPxsRTbJoq

— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch)

“I’ve had dinner in China until after 10 p.m. and people go to work after 10 p.m.,” Leone recalled.

“We don’t see that in the U.S. I’m not saying the U.S. founders oughta do that but those are the differences. They are similar in character. They are similar in dreams. They are similar in how they want to change the world. They are ultra-driven … The Chinese founders have a half other gear because I think they are a little more desperate.”

Much of this, however, has been said before and still, somehow, Silicon Valley remained the place to be for investors and startup entrepreneurs.

The reality is, those engaged in tech culture are always anxiously awaiting for the bubble to pop, the market to crash and for “peak Valley” to finally arrive.

Maybe, just maybe, Silicon Valley is forever.

Here’s more of our coverage of Disrupt 2018.

 


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Instagram denies it’s building Regramming. Here’s why it’d be a disaster

21:05 | 21 September

Instagram tells me Regramming, or the ability to instantly repost someone else’s feed post to your followers like a retweet, is “not happening”, not being built, and not being tested. And that’s good news for all Instagrammers. The denial comes after it initially issued a “no comment” to The Verge’s Casey Newton, who published that he’d seen screenshots of a native Instagram resharing sent to him by a source.

Regramming would be a fundamental shift in how Instagram works, not necessarily in terms of functionality, but in terms of the accepted norms of what and how to post. You could always screenshot, cite the original creator, and post. But the Instagram has always about sharing your window to the world — what you’ve lived and seen. Regramming would legitimize suddenly assuming someone else’s eyes.

And the result would be that users couldn’t trust that when they follow someone, that’s whose vision would appear in their feed. Instagram would feel a lot more random and unpredictable. And it’d become more like its big brother Facebook whose News Feed has waned in popularity – Susceptible to viral clickbait bullshit, vulnerable to foreign misinformation campaigns, and worst of all, impersonal.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Newton’s report suggested a Instagram reposts would appear under the profile picture of the original sharer, and could regrams could be regrammed once more in turn, showing a stack of both profile thumbnails of who previously shared it. That would at least prevent massive chains of reposts turning posts into all-consuming feed bombs. It could certainly widen what appears in your feed, which some might consider more interesting. It could spur growth by creating a much easier way for users to share in feed, especially if they don’t live a glamorous life themself. And Instagram’s algorithm could hide the least engaging regrams.

These benefits are why Instagram has internally considered building regramming for years. CEO Kevin Systrom told Wired last year “We debate the re-share thing a lot . . . But really that decision is about keeping your feed focused on the people you know rather than the people you know finding other stuff for you to see. And I think that is more of a testament of our focus on authenticity”.

See, right now, Instagram profiles are cohesive. You can easily get a feel for what someone posts and make an educated decision about whether to follow them from a quick glance at their grid. What they share reflects on them, so they’re cautious and deliberate. Everyone is putting on a show for Likes, so maybe it’s not quite ‘authentic’, but at least the content is personal. Regramming would make it impossible to tell what someone would post next, and put your feed at the mercy of their impulses without the requisite accountability. If they regram something lame, ugly, or annoying, it’s the original author who’d be blamed.

Instagram already offers a demand release valve in the form of re-sharing posts to your Story as stickers

Instagram already has a release valve for demand for regramming in the form of the ability to turn people’s public feed posts into Stickers you can paste into your Story. Launched in May, you can add your commentary, complimenting on dunking on the author. There, regrams are ephemeral, and your followers have to pull them out of their Stories tray rather than having them force fed to them via the feed. Effectively, you can reshare others’ content, but not make it a central facet of Instagram or emblem of your identity. And if you want to just make sure a few friends see something awesome you’ve discovered, you can send them people’s feed posts as Direct messages.

Making it much easier to repost to feed instead of sharing something original could turn Instagram into an echo chamber. It’d turn Instagram even more into a popularity contest, with users jockeying for viral distribution and a chance to plug their SoundCloud mixtapes like on Twitter. Personal self-expression would be overshadowed even further by people playing to the peanut gallery. If you want to discover something new and unexpected, there’s a whole Explore page full of it.

Newton is a great reporter, and I suspect the screenshots he saw were real, but I think Instagram should have given him the firm denial right away. My guess is that it wanted to give its standard no comment because if it always outright denies inaccurate rumors and speculation, that means journalists can assume they’re right when it does ‘no comment’.

But once Newton published his report, backlash quickly mounted about how regramming could ruin Instagram. Rather than leaving users worried, confused, and constantly asking when the feature would launch and how it would work, the company decided to issue firm denials after the fact. It became worth diverging from its PR playbook. Maybe it had already chosen to scrap its regramming prototype, maybe the screenshots were just of an early mock-up never meant to be seriously considered, or maybe it hadn’t actually finalized that decision to abort until the public weighed in against the feature yesterday.

In any case, introducing regramming would risk an unforced error. The elemental switch from chronological to the algorithmic feed, while criticized, was critical to Instagram being able to show the best of the massive influx of content. Instagram would eventually break without it. There’s no corresponding urgency fix what ain’t broke when it comes to not allowing regramming.

Instagram is already growing like crazy. It just hit a billion monthly users. Stories now has 400 million daily users and that feature is growing six times faster than Snapchat as a whole. The app is utterly dominant in the photo and short video sharing world. Regramming would be an unnecessary gamble.

 


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Early-bird tickets close today, 9/21

19:30 | 21 September

TC Sessions: AR/VR on October 18 at UCLA is gearing up to be a great show.
Early-bird sales end after today, September 21. Don’t miss out on the biggest savings for this event — book your $99 tickets here before prices go up by $100.

The stage will feature some of the industry’s most groundbreaking companies and thought leaders from Oculus, Emmy-winning Baobab Studios, Facebook, Survios and more.


Why attend TC Sessions: AR/VR?

Big Conversations
Hear today’s innovators, leaders and experts share their experiences and insights

Exclusive Demos
Get a first-look at several never-before-seen augmented and virtual technology demos

Community Building
Meet the key players and contributors in AR/VR throughout the day and expand your network


Agenda Highlights:

Ditching Headsets for Holograms with Ashley Crowder (VNTANA), Shawn Frayne (Looking Glass Factory) and Brett Jones (Lightform)
Augmented reality may be a powerful sight, but it requires participants to own expensive hardware. Is there a workaround? Startups are working to centralize the experience but it’s going to look a lot different.

Building Inclusive Worlds with Cyan Banister (Founders Fund)
/> If you had the chance to redesign society, where would you even start? As game developers continue designing massive online virtual worlds where we will spend more and more time, how should we look to correct issues we encounter and how can we build a better future?

Kickstarting an Industry with Yelena Rachitzky (Oculus)
Oculus has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into funding VR content, and while the headset market is still small, developers have built plenty of games and experiences. Facebook’s VR future rests on people finding new worlds that they want to step into; how will Oculus make this happen?

See the full agenda here.


Don’t forget to book your early-bird tickets here before end of day today. Students, you can book tickets for just $45 here.

P.S. When you tweet your attendance through our ticketing platform, you’ll save an additional 25 percent (for Early Bird) and 15 percent (for student tickets).

 


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Interiors startup Clippings raises $15.4M Series B with Advance Venture Partners

19:22 | 21 September

Back in April we saw that eporta, a London-based B2B interiors marketplace startup, had raised $8 million in a Series A funding round led by US investor Canvas Ventures. Eport has digitized the catalogues of furnishing manufacturers and allowed businesses to order direct, cutting out the middle-men.

Now London is continuing its obsession with interior decoration startups with the news that Clippings has raised a Series B round of funding, raising $15.4 million. Advance Venture Partners (AVP ) lead the round and existing investor C4Ventures also participated.

Founded in 2014 by architecture-trained entrepreneurs Adel Zakout and Tom Mallory, Clippings now plans to grow in the US.

Currently, the furniture industry is worth €9.6 billion in Europe, and around $120 billion in the US, but only 6% of this spend is online.

Clippings aggregates data on over 7 million products from over a thousand brands to simplify discovery and combines that with interactive mood boards that replace Pinterest to identify and buy a product. Then it throws in collaboration tools for teams, multiple quote requests, orders, invoices and timelines into one place.

It now claims to have about 50,000 people – including teams designing for WeWork, Citroën and British Land – using Clippings.

Adel Zakout, co-founder and CEO of Clippings told me “We’ve built software that enables full management of an interior project, offer a layer of service and logistics so that when you do buy, we manage it all for you vs Eporta where it’s fully self-serve. This doesn’t fix major pain point of customer.”

He also says they have full pricing control, meaning “we can take a view of a whole project value / customer spend and offer optimal prices vs Eporta who can’t do that as the seller controls price.”

He says a typical large co-working space project may have a budget in the £100k range and will have products from 40-50 different vendors, “so you need to be able to consolidate pricing, service, logistics and offer tech to manage it all.”

Other players in the industry (but not competitors) include Houzz and made.com.

 


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