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Why Waymo raised $2 billion
Good morning! This Tuesday, Waymo gets billions of dollars to win the self-driving race, a close look at Nokia's new CEO, and everybody keeps on canceling their conferences.
And don't forget: Source Code Happy Hour is this Thursday! A few of us from Protocol will be at Bartlett Hall in San Francisco starting about 5PM, and we'd love it if you'd drop by for a drink. We can try our CDC-approved greetings on each other.
People Are Talking
Did Steve Wozniak bring coronavirus to the U.S.? He thinks he might have:
- "Checking out Janet's bad cough. Started Jan. 4. We had just returned from China and may have both been patient zero in U.S."
- (Semi-related: It's also possible Woz might be the world's last user of Foursquare's Swarm app.)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi might quit social media. Here's what the world's second-most-followed politician tweeted:
- "Thinking of giving up my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube. Will keep you all posted."
- Most people, though, think this is a teaser for something else: a new strategy, a gimmicky plan, even a new social platform.
Elon Musk wants to keep Jack Dorsey running Twitter:
- "Just want say that I support @Jack as Twitter CEO. He has a good ❤️."
- Twitter employees also started the #WeBackJack hashtag to support their boss.
The Big Story
Waymo gets paid mo' (sorry)
For the first time ever, Alphabet's self-driving arm is taking on outside investment. It raised $2.25 billion from Silver Lake, Andreessen Horowitz and a handful of other investors, including Alphabet.
- Protocol's Levi Sumagaysay says there might be more to come. She was on a conference call with John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, who said that the $2.25 billion was part of the initial close, and that the company is evaluating other potential investors for the first round.
Why raise all this money? Krafcik said bringing in external expertise and funding could eventually lead to Waymo leaving the Alphabet umbrella and becoming an independent company. "This has always been the evolutionary path," he said.
- Waymo framed the investment as much in terms of partnerships as cold hard cash. That tracks with what Waymo's said all along: Krafcik has always viewed the company as part of an ecosystem, rather than attempting to have the company solve the entire self-driving infrastructure problem.
- AutoNation is a particularly good example here: By taking investment and partnership, Waymo gives itself a way to service vehicles in the future without having to spin up its own dealer network.
- And Magna International, another new investor, could be hugely helpful in getting Waymo tech into cars beyond the white minivans currently prowling the streets of Mountain View.
A shakeup in the 5G infrastructure game
Most consumers last thought about Nokia in the Snake era. (They definitely didn't think about it while Microsoft was buying, failing and ditching its mobile business.)
But it's a crucially important company to the world's internet infrastructure — and to the bizarre politics of said internet infrastructure.
Nokia now has a new CEO: Pekka Lundmark, who takes over from Rajeev Suri starting in September. He has his work cut out for him:
- One analyst told Protocol's Andrea Peterson that "Nokia is really playing from behind right now," but 5G is so new and so enormous that the company has a chance.
- He joins alongside Sari Baldauf, the company's incoming chairwoman and longtime networks chief. Together, they amount to something like a full reboot at the top of the company.
One strength for Lundmark: Lots of experience working with complicated, confusing bureaucracies from his time at Fortum, an energy company owned by the Finnish government. He'll need it.
- Lundmark will have to figure out how to operate in the middle of the Huawei-U.S. fight over 5G infrastructure. William Barr wants to invest in Nokia! Mike Pence says no thanks! Everybody's worried about 5G privacy! Nobody really knows how big an issue it is!
- Lundmark has to turn around a struggling business, in the midst of all this chaos.
The good news for Nokia is that there aren't many real competitors in 5G outside of Huawei and Ericsson — and few companies or countries have the resources to get into the infrastructure game in a meaningful way. The bad news is, the moment to win in 5G is now, and Nokia's so far been slow to join the fight.
Who do you think is going to win the 5G race? Does Nokia have a shot? Let me know what you think: email@example.com.
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This definitely isn't Netflix For Podcasts
The podcast industry continues to grow, and continues to heat up. Spotify keeps buying podcast production companies, Apple is rumored to be getting into original content, and you can't turn around without bumping into someone who wants to be the HBO for Podcasts.
Which is why Pocket Casts is such an interesting company. It's owned by a group of public radio companies, including NPR, and announced new funding from those partners, as well as BBC Studios, on Monday. Pocket Casts CEO Owen Grover told me he's trying to build a different kind of podcast ecosystem: one that's based on being open and useful, not a walled garden.
- He said he wants to make sure the podcasting world doesn't get its equivalent of Facebook, with one company shaping the industry in its own image.
- Podcasting was built on the back of RSS, he reminded me, an open and durable standard. "I just feel like, why would you turn your back on the thing that makes the medium itself so special and differentiated? Let's let this thing grow wild and free and thorny and thickets," he said.
Pocket Casts sees potential in premium podcast feeds, Grover said, as well as Patreon-like ways for people to support their favorite shows. It's also investing heavily in curation.
Grover did acknowledge that Pocket Casts will have trouble competing with Spotify and Apple to be the place people discover podcasts exist. He didn't want to tell me how many users the app has, because it would pale in comparison. Still, he said since the company switched to a subscription model, Pocket Casts is growing faster than ever.
- And the best way to grow, Grover said? Get Ira Glass to say he likes your app
Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg is stepping down for health-related reasons. She wrote in Fast Company about her experience dealing with — and talking about — those challenges at work.
More WeWork executive changes! Kimberly Ross is the company's new CFO. She was previously the CFO at Baker Hughes.
Michelle Mendelovitz is leaving Apple for 20th Century Fox. She was one of the creative executives behind the first slate of Apple TV+ shows, and will run the drama development team at 20th Century Fox.
Cyan Banister left Founders Fund for a new company called Long Journey Ventures, though the two firms plan to work together.
In Other News
- Today in Coronavirus: Google canceled its Google Cloud Next conference. Microsoft canceled its MVP Summit. Google asked its 8,000-plus Dublin, Ireland, employees to work from home. Twitter "strongly encouraged" all employees to work from home. SXSW is still on, but Facebook isn't going. Nvidia decided its GTC conference will be online-only. Adobe did the same for its Summit 2020. And Sharp turned a TV plant into a face-mask factory. Whew. (And I'm sure I missed some.)
- The stock-trading app Robinhood was down most of Monday. That means users missed one of the largest rallies in stock market history. One popular theory is that Robinhood forgot about the leap year — Robinhood said that's not it, but wouldn't name the actual issue.
- Facebook built the new Messenger in a new way: natively. Historically the company has always loved to ship heavy web apps inside mobile-app wrappers, so its explanation of the new process may be dense, but is also fascinating.
- From POLITICO: William Barr is increasingly taking over the DOJ's antitrust work, sidelining Makan Delrahim and others who have been investigating companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.
- A new Chinese law went into effect that says people can only post positive content about China. No sensationalized headlines, no destroying national unity, and plenty of leeway for the government to interpret all those things.
- Apple will pay as much as $500 million to settle a longstanding lawsuit that alleged it was quietly slowing down old iPhones to force users to upgrade. Apple still denies the claim and said it settled to avoid long litigation.
- From Protocol: With the unveiling of a super PAC aimed at getting like-minded candidates elected to Congress in 2020, the pro-Trump conspiracy theorists of QAnon have made another move into the offline world.
- ViacomCBS is upping its bet on PlutoTV (also known as the most popular streaming service nobody ever talks about), by redesigning the platform and starting a huge marketing campaign. The company's hoping to get 30 million users on the free service by the end of 2020.
One More Thing
Gaming's next big hit arrives this summer
I was too late to Halo. And Fortnite. By the time I showed up, all the world's 13-year-olds were experts, ruthlessly crushing me every time I booted the game. Next in line: Valorant, the first game in years from Riot, the studio that made League of Legends. It's a team-based first-person shooter that people are comparing to esports giant Overwatch, and has some elements of both Fortnite and Apex Legends. Basically, it could be all the games teenagers kill me in, rolled into one. Time to start stretching my thumbs before the game drops this summer.
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