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May 20, 2020
Good morning! This Wednesday, VC Dr. Robert Mittendorff explains what he wants to see from entrepreneurs, Shopify makes a Facebook gamble, and what happens when Zoom meets the death penalty. Want Index in your inbox each morning? Subscribe here.
What Matters Today
- 5 a.m. PDT: Analog Devices will publish earnings for its February-May quarter. Expect the chipmaker to discuss last week's restrictions on supplying to Huawei, which accounts for around 3% of its revenue, according to Deutsche Bank. Look for any indication of whether COVID-19 has affected 5G rollouts, too.
A MESSAGE FROM NASDAQ
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As of 4:40 a.m. PDT: Nasdaq Futures: 1.03% | Euro 600: 0.13% | Nikkei: 0.79% | Hang Seng: 0.05%
- Google launched YouTube Select, which lets advertisers target audiences on smart TVs.
- Microsoft launched its first industry-specific cloud, focused on health care. On Protocol, Tom Krazit also has the scoop on its new Azure supercomputer.
- Apple is reportedly buying old shows and movies in an effort to build up its Apple TV+ library.
- Apple will reportedly make its new over-ear headphones in Vietnam, as part of an effort to diversify its supply chain.
- Lenovo beat profit estimates, with Chairman Yang Yuanqing saying the company expects year-on-year revenue growth in some divisions this quarter thanks to work-from-home purchases.
- Google said it would no longer build custom AI algorithms for oil and gas extraction.
- Facebook's offices will reportedly reopen at just 25% capacity, with the company requiring temperature checks.
- Sony said it has 2.2 million subscribers for its PlayStation Now streaming service, well below the 10 million subscribed to Microsoft's newer Xbox Game Pass.
- Zoom has reportedly stopped letting individuals sign up in China.
- Short-seller TCI filed a criminal complaint in Munich against Wirecard's executives.
- Microsoft confirmed that it acquired Softomotive, the robotic process automation startup.
- Keep, a Chinese fitness app, raised $80 million at a $1 billion valuation.
- Alibaba said it would invest $1.4 billion in building AI for its smart speaker, Tmall Genie.
- Spotify signed an exclusive deal for the Joe Rogan podcast, reportedly paying more than $100 million for it.
How to pitch in COVID times
You'd think that every startup looking for funding would address the giant, virus-shaped elephant in the room, right? Apparently not. "I still see some pitch decks that don't even mention COVID-19," Dr. Robert Mittendorff, a partner at Norwest Ventures, recently told me. "I think that speaks a bit to the acumen of the entrepreneur."
- Founders need to think about "the two-headed monster," Mittendorff said. "The goal is to articulate a business plan and model that works in what we hope will be the post-COVID world, but also one that is sustainable in the COVID-19 world of the next year to three years."
There are some real opportunities out there. "We clearly see during economic downturns this long tail of mental, behavioral and often medical challenges," Mittendorff said, with that providing an opportunity for behavioral health products.
- "It's an incredibly important time for telemedicine to prove its mettle," he thinks, with his portfolio company Talkspace one of those trying to capitalize on that.
- Telehealth is taking off across the board, actually. "What can be virtualized during the pandemic will be virtualized," Mittendorff said. "I don't believe we'll fully go back to our pre-COVID-19 office appointment mentality in health care."
One thing he wants to see less of? False experts. "We sometimes see from all kinds of leaders, not just tech leaders … people touting opinions that are not based on facts, or touting opinions that are based on a loose association of facts," Mittendorff said.
- Elon Musk, for instance. "I have the highest respect for him as an entrepreneur," Mittendorff said, but "I don't believe he's fully in the flow of information needed to understand that exceptions for some will create pretty substantial health issues."
- "That being said, the debate that he is creating — around economic pain versus public health pain — is an important one. But I think both sides need to be informed by real data."
We talked about much more, including health tech valuations and the naivete of some health tech entrepreneurs: Check out our full conversation on Protocol.
- "What we see in the industry and what will continue in the industry is a great consolidation." — Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua thinks self-driving car companies are going to have to combine.
- "We have serious questions as to how this project takes into consideration national security requirements." — A group of senators, including Chuck Shumer, want the administration to give details on TSMC's Arizona project.
- "There is a huge amount of nervousness that this . . . is turning into a technological cold war." — CCS Insight's Geoff Blaber is worried about U.S./China tensions.
- "The bottom line is it's just going to hurt everybody." — Postmates board member and Spark Capital investor Nabeel Hyatt told Protocol's Biz Carson that delivery commission caps are a bad idea.
- "The reason for failure lies not outside, but with me. There is no moving forward without admitting that." — SoftBank's Masayoshi Son became more humble, a day after reportedly comparing himself to Jesus.
Everyone's Thinking About
Shopify's Facebook gamble
Shopify's stock had a pretty wild 30 minutes yesterday. At 10:05 a.m. PDT, it plunged on the news that Facebook was launching an ecommerce platform called Facebook Shops. Ten minutes later, Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke appeared alongside Mark Zuckerberg to discuss their partnership on the product — sending the stock skyrocketing even higher than its starting point.
- The dramatic moves illustrate how important this Facebook announcement is. Facebook now lets businesses create online stores that work across Facebook and Instagram — letting users browse and, in some cases, pay for products without leaving the apps.
- Facebook was always going to get into ecommerce, for three simple reasons. It gets a cut if you use Instagram Checkout. It wants to keep you in its apps. And it wants your data to help boost its ad prices.
What's interesting is that it's decided not to go it alone. It's working with numerous ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, to display their merchants' stores in Facebook's apps — essentially letting them add another sales channel while keeping all the backend stuff the same.
- This obviously reduces Facebook's margins, but delivers the new platform a huge boost. Over a million merchants use Shopify, and the integration means many of those will soon sell on Facebook, too.
But does Facebook plan to keep these partnerships going? As analyst Beth Kindig pointed out, "this is the move Facebook pulled on news publishers."
- "They invited them in and promised more business," she wrote. "Once the users were hooked on using Facebook, they were locked into the wall garden."
- Here's a feasible scenario. Facebook lures merchants to its platform, touting its massive audience and how it's super-easy to set up a Facebook Shop. Facebook, with Shopify's help, then ends up becoming a major sales-driver for that merchant. A year from now, Facebook approaches the merchant, offering a similar featureset to Shopify for less money. Would the merchant say no?
Shopify is making a risky gamble here. It could have refused to work with Facebook, eschewing the promise of increased volume in the hopes of killing Facebook Shops before it even starts.
- But killing a Facebook product is … hard. So instead Shopify has gotten into bed with what could end up being a huge competitor. The question is whether this will come back to bite it.
Based on Shopify's surging stock price, investors think this is the right move. In the years to come, we'll see if that's true.
Zoom gets bleak
Singapore, which has the death penalty, is currently conducting court proceedings over Zoom. You can see where this is going. Last week, Punithan Genasan was found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to death by hanging — in a court proceeding that took place over Zoom. It's the most shocking thing I've read in a long time — and a reminder that tech tools can be used for outcomes that the creators would never have envisioned.