pipelinepipelineauthorBiz CarsonPipeline NewsletterDo you know what's going on in the venture capital and startup world? Get the Pipeline newsletter every Saturday.021fce003e
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Protocol Pipeline
The inside story of the venture capital and startup world by Tomio Geron.

What do you (VC) meme?

What do you (VC) meme?

Hello and welcome to Pipeline. This week: an IPO dump, the tech deal you need to pay attention to and how VC meme creators are turning jokes into deal flow.

Some housekeeping: Pipeline will be taking the week off next week for the holidays. I'll return on Jan. 2 with some exciting news about Pipeline in the new year. Until then, have a happy and healthy holiday season. Let's all ring in a better 2021.

Overheard

  • In this case, silence. After a noisy week of discussion around IPO pops and how pricing never works out, it was an "eerie silence" as a16z's Scott Kupor noted from the IPO pop Twitterati following Wish's debut on the market. The company priced at the top end of the range, but then fell in its market debut. "Markets tend to be volatile. We got to a great place," Wish's CFO, Rajat Bahri, told me.
  • "Congrats to this dumbass." Jason Calacanis may owe Defector's writers $500,000 after he said in a tweet that "If a couple of the @Deadspin writers got together and did 10 posts a day for 100 days, got 10,000 email subscribers, and 10,000 page views a day, I would back them with $500,000." They accomplished that with Defector, but it doesn't sound like Calacanis has any plans to pay out.
  • The deal to watch this week: Vise. There's lots of chatter about Sequoia tripling down on the wealth management startup (unusual even by 2020's standards). Sequoia led a seed extension last November, then its series A in May and series B this week — a big investment ramp up for a company with two 20-year-old founders.
  • What is "VC Twitter"? According to Stanford professor Adrian Daub, it's "people who just seem kind of lost, who feel like they need to be opining on something because they're rich as hell and kind of useless." Ouch. He's now confronting tech's billionaire philosophers.
  • The new status symbol: adding a scuba diver to your staff. Founders Fund's Keith Rabois moved to Miami and bought an aquarium (OK, technically, a $29 million mansion), which includes a fish tank so large that it can only be cleaned by a scuba diver. I guess being an early investor in DoorDash and Airbnb paid off.

Biz on Biz

The meme kings and queens

A lot of things happened in 2020 — Sequoia's Black Swan memo, solo capitalists, rolling funds, SPACs, a flurry of IPOs, Zoom clones, even edtech finally had its moment! — but I'll spare you another end of year roundup.

Instead, thinking about 2020, I wanted to close out the year by talking to the people who made me laugh this year: the VC meme creators who managed to inject humor into what was a difficult time for everyone. My favorite was a mockery of a VC's busy work day, but it's more than just jokes.

The VC meme creators are finding ways to stand out in the crowd of investor newsletters, thought leadership and podcasts — and the deal flow is following.

  • "If I were to be a VC and say I'm going to launch a podcast or I'm going to launch a newsletter, it's like 'Cool, the 1,000th VC newsletter,' right? It's not really that interesting. So I just always thought about what's something that no one else is doing," said Turner Novak, who has spent the past two years as an early-stage investor, first at Afore Capital, and then at Gelt VC, and has gained a following in 2020 for his memes.
  • Novak compared it to building a startup where you're trying to find a whitespace in the market and also reduce customer acquisition costs. He'd been contributing a couple of the anonymous VC accounts (not the controversial @VCBrags), when he decided he should be posting more of his work under his own name as a way to bring in deal flow.
  • Unlike a lot of VC blog posts, which now require a phalanx of comms teams, most of what Novak posts is on a whim with an occasional gut check from friends. "The TikTok pitch, which people thought was hilarious, I almost didn't do it," he said, about his pitch duet video that went viral. "I almost didn't think it was funny, but I showed a couple people who were like, 'You have to post, this is hilarious.'"

So far, it's worked. Novak ended up investing in a company that responded to his TikTok VC duet pitch video and also invested in a meme creation company.

  • Often, the memes also end up as an intro line in a lot of emails to people who saw a joke, found it hilarious and wanted to talk about their company. "There's so many conversations I have with founders where they're like, I want to reach out because you just seem like a nice person or you seem funny," Novak said.

The trick is making people feel like they're in on the joke — and sometimes the more niche it is the better, says Notation's Katherine Wu.

  • "You create what you know," Wu said. "Obviously when you work in tech, it takes over every aspect of your life. So the ones about crypto and bitcoin are just funny to me, but an outsider is like, wait this is so confusing."
  • Most of Wu's content is made for TikTok, where she had a video about talking like Gen Z in meetings go viral with over 1 million views. But her more specific posts, like one on crypto Twitter language, are the ones that generate the most emails to her (and that one did particularly well on VC Twitter).
  • "I remember I went to a Demo Day in Toronto and people came up to me and were like, 'I've seen you on TikTok' or 'You're the girl who did the bitcoin thing' and then they'll introduce me to a crypto founder," she said.

The other trick? Not taking yourself too seriously and bringing more of who you are to work.

  • Neither Novak nor Wu were worried that people would take them as a joke just because they've made jokes. If anything, people read Novak's more insightful posts even more now that he's built up his social following, and he thinks it generally reflects that he's always been a bit of a class clown, he said.
  • Wu sees it, too, as part of the evolution of the industry where you'll see people bring more of themselves to work. "I think if I was an investment banker or a lawyer at a buttoned-up firm, I wouldn't be posting that to my professional network," she said. "But I think people who work in tech are a little different and they generally understand the difference between an online identity and content vs. a real life presence."

If you're looking to add more humor to your social media for 2021, some accounts recommended by Wu and Novak include: @VCstarterkit, Ramp Capital, Redpoint's Logan Bartlett, Benchmark's Chetan Puttagunta, General Catalyst's Zak Kukoff and Sequoia's Andrew Reed.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

At Micron, we see an opportunity to establish memory and storage platform capabilities that will unleash software developers to deliver solutions that speed insight and ultimately support emerging customer requirements. The data-centric era has ushered in a new opportunity to tap data for business growth, but many companies continue to struggle to transform mounting data stores into competitive advantage.

Learn how here.

Need to Know

  • The end-of-year IPO dump. Coinbase and UiPath both announced confidential filings this week. Opendoor and BarkBox make their SPAC takeovers official. Poshmark flipped its S-1. And that was all on Thursday. On Friday, Bumble reportedly confidentially filed its S-1 en route to a February IPO.
  • Meghan Markle is now a startup investor. The duchess announced an investment in Clevr Blends, an instant oat milk latte company that Oprah wishes she'd added to her favorite things list.
  • Double-clicking on DoubleClick. Google is facing more antitrust lawsuits after dozens of attorneys general filed suit against the company. The Texas-led case traced a lot of its allegations back to the 2008 acquisition of DoubleClick, and what's happened to Google's ad market dominance since. At least it's at the bottom of Protocol's list of Big Tech's antitrust lawsuits likely to succeed.
  • Can Substack re-create Google Reader? Seven years later, tech is still mourning the loss of Google Reader. Now Substack is testing its own RSS reader to help people consolidate their newsletter subscriptions, but it will also allow outside feeds.
  • Robinhood has to pay $65 million, after the SEC charged the stock trading app with deceiving customers about how it makes money. It ended up agreeing to the fine, without admitting or denying the findings.
  • From Protocol: TikTok may keep U.S. user data out of China, but other ByteDance apps downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in the U.S. play by a different set of rules.
  • This week in VC history: Google was in advanced talks to acquire Yelp in 2009 for half a billion.
  • Your weekend reading: Take time to peruse Bloomberg's Jealousy List, my favorite compilation of stories their journalists wished they'd done this year.

Five Questions With ...

XYZ's Ross Fubini

Ross Fubini had been quietly investing under the radar in startups like Anduril, Verkada and Bond Technologies. This week, he went public with his fund XYZ, started with former First Round partner operations manager Chauncey Hamilton, after they closed their second $80 million fund.

What's a secret obsession of yours that most people don't know about?

I'm obsessed with going zero to 100 in weird new hobbies. There is something special about how your brain feels, the discomfort of it when you learn something new. Especially something with muscle memory developing. Right now it's pencil drawing (going pretty well actually!), boxing (going OK) and learning piano (terrible).

What's one way you changed working in 2020 that you plan to keep going forward?

Funding companies we never meet in person, might never meet. Also unclear if I'll ever wear jeans again. Personally, I've also found an amazing way to eat dinner outside when it's cold. The trick is to get a table with a large table cloth that goes to the ground. Put a heater under the table, in the sheet like a tent. Sit with legs under the table cloth. Joyful, warm and safe outdoor eating.

What's the craziest thing you've seen in a pitch — and did it work?

It didn't happen to me, but I have to share the most amazing pitch ever done. The Demo God award even back when the Demo Conference was the biggest deal in tech. What happened was this big setup to show you the future of enterprise software. The demo starts on stage. Then as the presenter talks, the computer blue screens. The presenter looks uncertain. Then says "Hm, let's do that again," double clicks, shrinking the blue screen to a window and showing that the blue screen, the crash is a virtual machine. <mic drop>

What company, outside of your portfolio, have you been most impressed to watch this year?

Gainsight. Every year. Gainsight. It's led by the best human, Nick Mehta. He is humble and says the only reason the business works is because others constantly underestimated the category. It's transformative as he's made Gainsight the center of every story on customer successes. Notable this year because the day his [over $1 billion] exit was announced, he was on regular Zooms with small customers doing webinars, because that was just what needed to be done.

MainStreet. I love the founder, Doug, and his team. He was so quick to realize how to help companies that were just getting off the ground during COVID-19: giving free money back. The U.S. government earmarks $100 billion for startups, but only 4% of founders claim their share. MainStreet hacked a way of doing this at a make-or-break time for companies with minimal time spent for their customers. They're on track to claim $100 million for startups this year — our kind of fintech.

What's your favorite holiday gift you've ever received, and why?

I got an electric toothbrush, which is really good. Everyone should get one, and I don't know why it took me so long. I like the pink one.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

At Micron, we see an opportunity to establish memory and storage platform capabilities that will unleash software developers to deliver solutions that speed insight and ultimately support emerging customer requirements. The data-centric era has ushered in a new opportunity to tap data for business growth, but many companies continue to struggle to transform mounting data stores into competitive advantage.

Learn how here.

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 this story misspelled Clevr Blends. This story was updated on Dec. 21, 2020.

Recent Issues

VC for the masses