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The inside story of the venture capital and startup world by Biz Carson.
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The fight over Miami

The fight over Miami

Hello and welcome to Pipeline. This week: why pregnancy is not a PR crisis, a fee to be "founder-friendly" and a fight over Miami Tech Week.

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Overheard

  • "Since @a16z implemented the $5 fine for each minute that a GP is late to meet a founder, I've hardly ever had another instance of a partner at any VC firm being late to a meeting with me," tweeted Belong founder Ale Resnik. "That's, precisely, what competition does to markets."
  • "I put on a Handmaid's costume and flew to surprise my pregnant founder with a crazy question. 'Can I step in for two months & help out at your startup so you can take a parental leave?'" tweeted Magma Partners's Claire Díaz-Ortiz. What followed is a wonderful thread of founders speaking out about why pregnancy is not a PR crisis.
  • "Shame on @Inc $1500 'application fee' trying to get investors to buy a 'founder friendly' investor badge & list inclusion," tweeted Homebrew's Hunter Walk after Inc. asked him to pay to nominate himself as a founder-friendly investor. Paul Graham thinks the list will serve a new purpose now: "This list is going to end up being a list of something else: investors who were so desperate for dealflow that they were willing to pay to get on it."
  • The strangest announcement for confidentially filing an S-1 goes to Expensify for its video, which will give me nightmares for a long time.

Biz on Biz

The fight over Miami Tech Week

Miami Tech Week had managed to meme its way into existence.

Silicon Valley and NYC folks traveled to the city to check out what the tech scene was about, attending Founders Fund hosted parties and striking handshake deals for investment. The startup Eight Sleep hastily bought a floating billboard to advertise the new Miami Tech Week. It even had its own hype video.

The only problem? It wasn't the inaugural Miami Tech Week by any means, as local entrepreneur and previous organizer Auston Bunsen pointed out.

  • Bunsen was the owner of @MiamiTechWeek and co-organizer of MiamiTechWeek.com and had been organizing events around the Miami tech scene for nearly a decade. So he was naturally confused when a new "Miami Tech Week" started popping up.
  • The unoffficial ringleader for much of the week had been Delian Asparouhov from Founders Fund. What started as inviting some friends from NYC and SF to Miami became a week of parties and sold out flights, and Asparouhov declared it the "inaugural Miami Tech Week."
  • Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has helped grow the tech community with his now-famous "how can I help?" tweet, even held a meetup at City Hall to celebrate the week.

Bunsen then wrote a blog post that was a play-by-play about his confusion between different tech weeks, how the locals had tried to organize a response and what he viewed as the lack of collaboration between the communities.

  • "I think if this sort of thing continues, Miami Tech will not be the united community it is today, but a fragmented set of tribes working against each other for power, locking people out of real opportunity, and being douches to each other," he wrote.
  • The post sparked quite the response after Asparouhov said Bunsen had "beta energy," 776 Fund's Alexis Ohanian told Asparouhov to shut the [expletive] up and then the two attacked each other's work. As in every Twitter fight, everyone lost.

But the fight over Miami Tech Week raised some bigger questions about how to build the next tech hub. Can you just move in a bunch of SF and NYC VCs and call it a tech scene? Does it need to come from the ground up with locals leading the charge? Or is it supposed to meet somewhere in the middle?

  • "It's not miami tech week if a bunch of friends from california meet up in miami. It's SF tech week in miami," tweeted Jesse Scheff. "I came down and had a blast but organized my own events when it became clear most things were behind a velvet rope."
  • Another local disagreed with Bunsen and argued that Miami should have as many tech weeks as it wants and be positive about them if it's going to become a tech hub: "It's a good sign that there are many people who are willing to make things happen without seeking permission to do so. It means they care: although one shouldn't be a dick about it, the good news is, with a large enough community ecosystem: you can pick and choose who you vibe with," he wrote.
  • Others argued that the influx of newcomers may be what's needed to actually create the next startup city. "New guard can't just plug into the old guard's program. That's not how startup hubs break out," tweeted former Indie.VC founder Bryce Roberts.

There's also the question of whether all the VCs have to invest in entrepreneurs in Miami to call it a startup hub, or whether they will just have Miami addresses and still invest in traditional Silicon Valley companies. Founders Fund's Keith Rabois tweeted Friday that he had already signed two new term sheets for Miami companies with Asparouhov.

  • "I'm of the opinion that people can do whatever they want with their time, money, etc. Nobody is obligated to work with anyone here," Bunsen told Protocol. "If they don't invest in local entrepreneurs at least some of the time, that's not an ideal outcome, and I reserve the right to share my opinion publicly. Ideally social interaction is desirable, because that tends to lead for mutually beneficial opportunities in my experience. My company has been able to make something of the VC interest in Miami (SoftBank invested in us)." (Bunsen is a co-founder of blockchain company QuikNode.)

The fight over Miami Tech Week may have exposed different approaches to building the next tech hub, but in the end people pulled together for another event next year, this time with everyone's versions of Miami Tech Week onboard.

  • To Balaji Srinivisan, the event was a proof point that Miami is just the first locale in a "new set of international cloud capitals and startup cities." He credits its success to Mayor Suarez acting like a CEO, Miami being chosen by tech leaders like Rabois and the ethos of Silicon Valley no longer being tied to a location but as "part of the cloud".
    • Bunsen's post is a reminder though that some locals would prefer to be part of that equation too: "Speak to us first, we are not hard to find. We want to welcome you into the fold and help you understand who we are before you decide when Tech Week is. We want you to understand how we've identified bad actors that you can avoid. We want you to be successful here, just be friendly too. We want you to be a part of the community before you lead it!"

    A MESSAGE FROM MASTERWORKS

    When it comes to sources we trust, the masterminds at Harvard are certainly up there… so when they say that at least 20% of your portfolio should be invested in a mix of alternative assets, we're inclined to listen. Meet Masterworks, your passport to the contemporary art market, where prices crushed S&P returns by 174% from 1995–2020. Protocol Pipeline Subscribers can skip their 20,000 person waitlist with the special link below. *See important information.

    Learn more

    Inside Track

    • The next six to 12 months may be the best time to hire, says Homebrew's Hunter Walk.
    • Everyone's freaked out about the capital gains tax, but venture capital lawyer Chris Harvey points out that QSBS is a great loophole for early-stage venture capital.
    • What happens after a startup fails? Founder Lauren Kay shares the shame she's been hiding ever since her YC-backed company didn't make it.
    • Go direct may be the favorite chant of some VCs, but TCV's Katja Gagen shared why the industry shouldn't write off the media yet.
    • All-female teams raised 70% less than all-male teams, according to DocSend's latest report on how gender and diversity affects funding. The good news is that teams with a minority member raised 42% more than teams without.

    Need to Know

    • Remembering David Swensen. The chief of Yale's endowment changed the game for institutional investing.
    • Tiger Global goes after a $10 billion fund. The Financial Times reported that Tiger is raising another megafund, and has already done 100 deals in just 120 days.
    • On trial: Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes wanted to argue that startup founders often exaggerate to get funding, but the judge shot her down.
    • Don't take LSD before board meetings, especially if you've never done it before. Iterable's former CEO Justin Zhu has quite the story about what led to his ousting at the $2 billion startup he co-founded.
    • Inside rounds are on the rise, but historically these kinds of investments have underperformed, according to The Information.
    • From Protocol: Buy Nothing blew up on Facebook. Can it keep growing without it?
    • Also on Protocol: The plot to kill .com. How one domain ending has dominated the internet for decades, and why everyone else would like to change that.
    • And another: In tech's billionaire boys' club, Melinda Gates staked her claim by standing up for women. A look at her investing history with Pivotal Ventures.
    • This week in VC history: MySpace acquired Photobucket in 2007 in what was, at the time, a merger of the web's biggest social network with the No. 1 photo service.
    • Your weekend reading: Bloomberg's Brad Stone has a deep dive into how Jeff Bezos survived his sexting scandal, a moment in tech history that led to my favorite headline ever published: "Bezos exposes Pecker."

    Five Questions With...

    Acme Capital's Aike Ho

    Aike Ho is a principal at Acme Capital, which focuses on seed to series B investments. She invests in fintech, consumer and digital health and has invested in Curology, Pill Club, Savage X Fenty and Tia. A serial entrepreneur, she worked in several roles at J.P. Morgan, in 2014 helping launch the bank's electronic trading desk.

    What area are you most excited about?

    The area I'm most excited about that's also underrated is compliance. Every financial institution has to comply with laws and regulations in whatever country they're operating in. Compliance is a portion of running your business that's nonnegotiable. If you're not compliant, you can't operate. There's some severe consequences that come from that. If you're a new institution getting into crypto or also some areas of payments, then laws, rules and interpretations are changing each year. The way most companies do it now is they literally Google search what laws and regulations are, and probably keep track of it in Excel. I'm really excited by companies tackling that problem.

    What area is most underrated now?

    Online gambling. It's only going to get bigger. You're seeing consumers really accelerate this trend. If you think about it, it's not too different from the stock market. In the last year, consumers are a lot more proactive and more willing to try new ways to generate alpha for themselves. One is playing the online gambling of public equities. The other is just more traditional online gambling of sports or election outcomes. I think you'll see that becoming a more prominent aspect of day to day consumer life. It's a form of generating yield and also a form of entertainment. That cross section of investment and entertainment: we're really in the early days of it.

    What's the trend that's worrying you?

    The same thing. Investing as entertainment. It's amazing if retail traders can get access in a way that didn't really exist five years ago. But also part of it is, what are the responsibilities of these financial institutions and regulators to ensure that the retail traders are educated on what the risks are? That's a really big tension we'll see coming up this year. You could see a lot of people losing money. Now everything's going up, but what happens when the market corrects and people lose money? I feel like we're punting the question a little because the market's been rallying so long. At some point, the music stops, and what does that mean from a consumer protection perspective in terms of laws and regulations?

    What's your favorite pandemic meal?

    This place, Zuni Cafe in San Francisco: They do a roast chicken bread salad. The pan has the drippings from the chicken and they toss the bread in it with the salad and Champagne vinaigrette dressing and gravy. It's so good. With our neighbors we re-created it. I don't care about the chicken. The bread is really good.

    What's an obsession of yours that people may not know?

    I've always been obsessed with figuring out the real nature of reality. I've been meditating a long time. In Silicon Valley, you hear people have a theory that we're in a simulation like "The Matrix" or a game. I don't necessarily subscribe to that theory. But scientifically speaking we're already in a simulation. All of our senses — sight, hearing, touch — only pick up a small gradient of data. Sight is a lot more color spectrum than what our eyes are able to pick up. We have limited perceptive data and our brain takes it and creates a model of what it thinks is happening in the real world. I find that really heartening in a way. Once you understand that, whatever experience or reality you think can happen, now you can change it.

    A MESSAGE FROM MASTERWORKS

    When it comes to sources we trust, the masterminds at Harvard are certainly up there… so when they say that at least 20% of your portfolio should be invested in a mix of alternative assets, we're inclined to listen. Meet Masterworks, your passport to the contemporary art market, where prices crushed S&P returns by 174% from 1995–2020. Protocol Pipeline Subscribers can skip their 20,000 person waitlist with the special link below. *See important information.

    Learn more

    Thanks for reading this week's Protocol Pipeline. If you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it in your inbox. Send story tips and newsletter feedback to biz@protocol.com.

    Correction: An earlier version of the DocSend report said teams with a minority member raised 30% more. The company later updated it to be 42%. Pipeline was updated 5/10/21 to the corrected number.
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