December 4, 2021
Photoillustration: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images; Protocol
Hello and welcome to Pipeline. Anyone else confused about how it’s already December? Or why it feels like this month only has 10 days in it? You’re not alone. This week: Elizabeth Holmes’ outlandish schedule, Sequoia’s NFT experiment and the SoftBank exec asking for a $2 billion pay package.
Parker Conrad’s relationship with PowerPoint is best described as “deeply” loathing. Having raised money for three startups now, he’s assembled more than a few, but they’ve always felt like only half the story, he told me.
“It’s like sending someone a song and some of the tracks of music are missing. Any slide that you put together is meant to be accompanied by your voice track. And so if you’re sending slides without that, it’s a terrible way to convey information,” he said.
Founders are turning to other tools like Loom to record their pitches and demos instead.
The point is to save both investor and founder time, which Conrad views as the most limiting part of the fundraising process.
It also kills the game of telephone that normally happens inside a venture firm, and lets founders take charge of their own story.
“Go direct” may be a slogan deployed by VCs to talk about bypassing the press, but for founders, being in control of your own pitch while also having an easy way to disseminate it to a larger investor audience has changed the fundraising game, too.
“4:00am rise & thank God. Most things are not logical” Of all the things to come out of the Theranos trial so far, Elizabeth Holmes’ daily schedule and list of mantras is one of the most mind-blowing.
What kind of investor are you? Kendall Hope Tucker’s viral TikTok wants you to choose your VC character.
This week in 2010 vs 2020 startups: “Prediction: average venture returns for investments made in the 2020s are going to be much worse than those from the 2010s” tweeted Sam Altman, who says he’s heard VCs being willing to openly accept lower return targets. Meanwhile, the “biggest differences between building a company in the early 2010's vs early 2020's is that raising money is way easier but getting anyone other than investors (potential employees, customers, etc) to give a shit about what [you're] building is way harder,” said Joe Fernandez, who had founded Klout and is now working on something new.
The only thing worse than a corporate headshot? When it’s applied to a block. Square (now Block) board members Roelof Botha, Anna Patterson and Mary Meeker look like Minecraft characters.
The global nature of business makes tracking your company's operations trickier than ever before. Overseeing supply chains and an international, dispersed workforce is tough. Maintaining visibility over all aspects of your operations is even tougher. The changing norms of business make location services no longer a "nice to have" but a "need to have" — and at the forefront of the geospatial intelligence revolution is Esri.
IPOs aren’t the only way out. A16z’s Blake Kim and Quinten Burgunder wrote a guide to exit options for companies.
This is technically based off a 10-year-old blog post, but this Twitter thread from Gumroad’s Alex Garcia resurfaced old emails between YC’s Paul Graham and USV’s Fred Wilson about investing in Airbnb. It’s worth a trip down memory lane, particularly when the “old guys” didn’t get Airbnb’s vision — a mistake potentially worth billions.
Money Grab. Southeast Asia’s Grab had a giant SPAC deal with a $4 billion PIPE deal and a nearly $40 billion valuation to start, but it slumped more than 20% on its debut.
Sequoia is auctioning off an NFT. The firm’s YouTube investment memo is up for sale, with proceeds benefiting the crypto community.
I would also like to be paid $2 billion. SoftBank’s Marcelo Claure reportedly wants to be paid $2 billion for his role as “Mr. Fix-It” at SoftBank. Too bad Masa Son doesn’t agree.
Forbes named its 30 Under 30 for venture capital, a.k.a. the next 30 partners of a16z.
SPAC investors got spooked. The WSJ reported that investors are withdrawing money ahead of BuzzFeed's SPAC deal.
Giving up Giphy. The U.K. ordered Meta to unwind its Giphy acquisition over antitrust concerns.
Making moves: Ryan Orbuch joined Lowercarbon Capital from Stripe to lead a potential new carbon removal fund.
On Protocol: Better.com fired 900 employees in a three-minute webinar after getting $750 million from SoftBank.
Also on Protocol: Jack Dorsey and breaking up the cult of the founder.
Your weekend reading: Founders often break up. They don’t often file competing lawsuits or an SEC whistleblower complaint in the carnage. The Information has the wild story of Modern Health’s “scorched-earth breakup between two founder friends.”
As the CEO and founding partner of 500 Global, Christine Tsai oversees a venture portfolio that includes 33 unicorns like Canva, Grab and Shippo, and more than 120 companies valued at over $100 million.
What’s one of your predictions for the startup and venture industry in 2022?
This past year has been a blockbuster year for global venture funding. Looking to next year, despite macroeconomic risks such as inflation, supply chain issues and of course COVID, I expect startup funding to continue at an accelerated pace. There are some global trends that I’m watching that I think will be important for VCs in 2022, such as the rapid rise of decentralization and Web3, capital flows to unobvious founders and investors and diminishing borders for VCs across all stages.
Aliens visit Earth and you can only show them one movie. What would it be?
“Frozen” or “Frozen 2.” The soundtrack will mesmerize them and “Let It Go” or “Into The Unknown” will become an intergalactic phenomenon.
What’s a mistake you think founders make when starting a company?
Oftentimes, founders don’t have a crystal-clear understanding of their vision for their company. It seems straightforward, but founders often get caught up in doing so many different things that they lose sight of what they are trying to accomplish. Another common mistake I see is losing focus on important milestones, which sometimes is due to the lack of vision or inability to execute quickly.
What product or service are you totally, even irrationally, loyal to?
Boba Guys! Admittedly, I didn’t want to like it because I thought it was “hipster boba” and not true to real Taiwanese boba tea. Once they opened up a location near my house, I began frequenting it and now I’m a regular. I’ve also admired how they have built a unique brand (and proudly wear their merch) and how authentic and committed the founders are. They’ve set a great example as Asian American founders and leaders.
As we approach the holiday season, what's your favorite holiday gift you've ever received, and why?
The gift that immediately comes to mind is a clock that my dad made for me. He made the entire thing from scratch, starting with the wood which he varnished, and then added clock arms and engraved our name, Tsai, on it. He also added a wood pug – since that was the dog we had at the time. To this day, it is still one of the most personalized gifts I’ve ever received, and it was truly a labor of love.
Thanks for reading this week’s Protocol Pipeline. Last week, I *did* make a typo on Grammarly’s valuation. It was $13 billion. I apologize for the error. Send story tips and newsletter feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.