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The inside story of the venture capital and startup world by Tomio Geron.
June 20, 2020
Hello and welcome to Pipeline. This week: An email rebellion, SoftBank actually makes a seed investment, and the VCs who love to podcast.
If you were forwarded this email, be sure to sign up here.
- Jon Stewart and Peter Dinklage co-founded a media company, but didn't know it. Susa Ventures' Chad Byers shared the amazing backstory of the time he "co-founded" a nerdy media company, Nerdglaze, following a visit to "The Daily Show."
- What valuation correction? The talk of plunging valuations hasn't really panned out like people thought. One investor told me the public market's performance is making it really hard to price things, especially with tech outperforming. Data from Fenwick & West shows that up-rounds have only declined a smidge, from 72% in March to 70% in April. And deal volume? Actually up. Maybe investors are right to call it "business as usual."
- "I think it's the most despicable thing I've frankly ever heard in an industry that is full of despicable ideas and despicable actors," wrote Jeff Cherry, managing partner at the Conscious Venture Fund. He was one of several Pipeline readers who emailed over the last week to say they didn't support the idea of paying for a pitch in venture capital.
Biz on Biz
The chattiest VCs of them all
Full disclosure: I am not a podcast person. I get annoyed when they're posted without transcripts to skim, which my colleague (and podcast aficionado) David Pierce reminds me "is not the point of a podcast." Fair enough.
- I'm firmly in the minority. According to Statista, 55% of Americans have listened to podcasts and 49% of 12- to 34-year-olds listen to podcasts monthly.
There's a huge audience, and that's why venture capitalists have flocked to podcasts — both producing their own and joining others as guests. My question is: Which investors are the biggest podcast patrons?
- I turned to Breaker's Erik Berlin to help pull some data for Pipeline. (Thank you to Homebrew's Hunter Walk for the intro.) Breaker is a social podcast listening app that's particularly loved in tech circles because it lets people follow what their friends are listening to.
- Episodes featuring VCs are some of the hottest podcasts on Breaker. In 2019, Joe Rogan's interview with Naval Ravikant was the most-liked podcast episode on the platform, followed by a compendium of Ravikant's own podcast, "How to get rich," episodes. Other top performers: a Bill Gurley interview and a rare Peter Thiel podcast appearance on "The Portal."
But which VCs make the most appearances as podcast guests? Berlin helped me here by digging into Breaker's data for mentions of venture capitalists in podcast titles. (I gave him a list of investors: a mashup of the Midas List, CB Insights' top investors, and some other high-profile VCs I thought should be included.) He then narrowed it down to podcasts within the last year that had at least one listen on Breaker to clean up the data.
- The most active guests included: Mark Cuban, Reid Hoffman, Ben Horowitz, Balaji Srinivasan, Jason Calacanis, Keith Rabois, Arlan Hamilton, Semil Shah, Chamath Palihapitiya and Ravikant.
- "If you took a list of top VCs then weighted it by self-promotion, that's definitely what this looks like to me," Berlin said of the results. A good example: Horowitz had a spike after going on a tour to promote his book in 2019. Cuban is more of a celebrity investor, so he appears frequently but often in the context of sports or his desire to become president.
- Thiel was frequently mentioned, but a rare appearance. His name makes the titles of podcasts, but often because a lot of things he says generate news that others love to comment on.
Many of the podcast favorites also have their own shows as more venture capitalists or their firms launch podcasts.
- Take Hoffman, who has a lot of appearances as a special guest of his own show, "Masters of Scale," or on his firm Greylock's "Greymatter" podcast.
- Calacanis is another legend in venture podcasting, but he also makes a lot of appearances on other programs like "The Full Ratchet" and "Acquired." He's also now co-hosting a show with another podcast favorite, Palihapitiya.
- And Ravikant stands out, at least to Berlin. Ravikant has appeared as a guest in a lot of programs, but he's also been innovating in podcasting. "He has basically taken tweets and expanded them into relatively short, four- or five-minute podcast episodes, and he's had a lot of success, having short, shareable, almost tweet-length podcasts," Berlin said.
The rising stars in VC podcasts? Berlin points to Srinivasan, who rose quickly to appear on over a dozen podcasts in the last year, and Hamilton, who hosts her own show but has also gone on others to talk about everything from sobriety and equity to breaking the VC glass ceiling.
- "It's the same reason why VCs are on Twitter or why VCs blog," Berlin said. "Anywhere that entrepreneurs are, VCs want to be in those spaces, and so far as VCs have sort of advice or interesting things to say, they want to say those things in spaces where entrepreneurs are listening."
- Just, please: Post more transcripts, at least for me? Thanks.
The Transformation of Work Summit
Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit
How can tech help identify and match in-demand skills with job opportunity? Hear from the Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI), followed by our expert panel with CEO of Jobs for the Future Maria Flynn, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Colorado State University Global Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker, and Chief People Officer of Aon Lisa Stevens. Presented by Workday.
- Ex-Twitter VP Sriram Krishnan launched a new publication called The Observer Effect. His first interview: a fascinating (and comprehensive) conversation with Marc Andreessen that touches on his calendar scheduling, how he reads so many books, and the four rage-fueled hours it took to write the "BUILD" essay.
- "Right now, in June, it feels like February," says Haystack and Lightspeed partner Semil Shah. He explains why in "'Risk-on' and digital antibodies."
- If the venture industry is going to change, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures' Charlie O'Donnell argues we should focus on the LPs and the ways they can demand change from firms.
- In order to not repeat the mistakes of the past, Spero Ventures founder Shripriya Mahesh says we need to learn from the first women in tech.
- There's a gap that exists between being a product manager and a product leader. Eventbrite's CPO Casey Winters and former Slack product director Fareed Mosavat break down how to cross the canyon.
Need to Know
- The big App Store fight: The new email app Hey was supposed to start a revolution. It did! Just … not over email. Instead, it's in a tussle with Apple after the App Store review board mistakenly approved Hey's app, then demanded that the app be tweaked to allow people to sign in with other existing email accounts — or else hand over 30% of in-app revenue as commission. It's a very technical distinction by Apple, based on what kind of app Hey is (an email client) and who it's targeting (consumers) that means it won't be treated like Netflix or even Salesforce. For anyone building an app, this is a fight to keep an eye on.
- A 20-year-old trader committed suicide after seeing a negative $730,000 balance on Robinhood. The company now says it's committed to making changes and donated $250,000 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.)
- New fund watch: Sam Altman and his brothers have a new fund focused on moonshots called Apollo. And Chris Sacca is back from his early retirement with a new fund called Lowercarbon focused on "planet-healing" technologies — since "clean energy" is still a taboo investing word.
- "You don't have to say thank you. They're going to make us a lot of money," said SoftBank's Rajeev Misra. On Thursday, Misra committed to invest in every company from SoftBank's Emerge accelerator, focused on startups created by underrepresented groups. It's the latest example in funds that are doing more than offering mentorship to minorities, but actually making the investment.
- From Protocol: How do you make VC more diverse? Maybe start with the training schemes.
- This week in VC history: Sunday marks three years since Travis Kalanick resigned as Uber's CEO after he was pushed out by investors.
- And your weekend reading: For Black tech CEOs, the job is an experience filled with humiliation and bad advice — like hiring a white wingman. This is a must-read from Bloomberg.
Five Questions for …
Atomic's Chester Ng
What's one of your new quarantine habits?
Sourcing seafood direct from fisherpeople and wholesalers. I'm cherishing the nightly family dinners, and we've become obsessed with sourcing high-quality ingredients for home-cooked meals. The fishing industry and seafood supply chain has been crushed and has had to pivot to direct-to-consumer to keep their businesses afloat. Some of our favorites to support are Water2Table and ABS Seafood and thanks to them, my 5- and 3-year-old daughters have learned to savor all types of seafood ranging from raw oysters to salmon eggs to spot prawns!
What's one piece of advice you received that you're glad you ignored?
Get a real job. When I graduated from college in 2001 and the dot-com bubble had completely burst, my close friends and family strongly advised me to get a real job e.g. big company, consulting or banking, rather than keep pursuing this crazy startup thing that was almost certainly doomed. I stubbornly ignored that and decided to join a startup with exactly $0 in revenue and who had just laid off half of its staff. Five years later and I got to help build it into a nine-figure revenue business, take it public, and learn a ton. Glad I didn't get a "real" job.
What's a secret obsession of yours that most people don't know about?
Rap. I love listening to freestyle battles, dissecting complex bars and verses from talented lyricists, and harken back to what I consider the golden age of hip-hop: the '90s. In fact, I recorded an eight-track album in college (that will hopefully never find its way onto Soundcloud) and even won a talent competition in high school.
What was your first check?
Lazy Bear. Yes, the underground dinner party turned Michelin  star restaurant a decade ago. Restaurants are notoriously bad investments, but the pop-up concept had amassed over 20,000 eager customers on an email waitlist, so I figured that at the minimum, they'd be sold out the first several years, and I'd get a front-row seat to learn everything about the industry. It's certainly taught me how challenging it is to build and sustain a local business, compared to the "1% problems" that venture-backed startups face.
What's one of the worst predictions you've ever made?
Dropbox would exit at $250 million. It's valued north of $9 billion today. Oops. In the early days, the company reached out about their first senior business role given my relevant previous experience, and I chose not to pursue it based on my assumption about the terminal value of the company. I was so wrong. They were so right. And I'm a huge fan of the company, product and Drew.
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