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A $69 million JPEG

Beeple NFT

Good morning! This Friday, inside the crazy ending to the Beeple auction, how Coupang isn't like Amazon, DeepMind is staffing up in NYC and Congress wants to overhaul U.S. broadband.

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The Big Story

Big bucks for Beeple

"An NFT just sold for 69 million dollars," Aaron Levie tweeted yesterday. "This will serve as confirmation that we are in fact in a simulation." That's about as good a summary as any, don't you think?

Three fun facts about yesterday's auction, in which Beeple's "Everydays: The First 5,000 Days" digital artwork sold for $69,346,250:

  • The price puts Beeple's piece third on the list of most-expensive works sold by a living artist, after Jeff Koons' "Rabbit" and David Hockney's "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)." And hey: Is buying a really expensive JPEG that much crazier than buying a really shiny model of an inflatable bunny? Or a painting of a guy next to some water?
  • There were only 33 bidders, Christie's said, most of them from the U.S. And the price jumped like crazy at the end; with an hour left the price was $14 million, and in just the final seconds jumped from $35 million to the final sale price.
  • The actual new owner of "Everydays" remains unknown. Though we know it isn't Justin Sun: He says was outbid at the last moment, and was unable to raise his bid in time to win the auction. (Sun made headlines a while back for paying $4.6 million to have lunch with Warren Buffett, and runs a crypto company of his own.)

This looks a lot like a bubble according to a lot of people I talk to, one that will make Beanie Baby collectors look sane by comparison. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a market growing faster right now:

  • A total of $416 million had been spent on NFTs before this auction, per NonFungible.
  • About half of that happened in the last month. And "Everydays" now accounts for about 15% of the entire, all-time NFT market.

Bubble or next big thing, yesterday was a moment for the tech history books. Christie's is already planning more NFT auctions, and Beeple is well on his way to getting into — and then kicked out of, as is his plan — the MoMA.

So far, Beeple hasn't said a great deal beyond a handful of tweets. But his initial reaction to the news, and I'm quoting the full tweet here, was: "holy fuck."

IPOs

Coupang isn't the Amazon of anything

Anna Kramer writes: South Korea's Amazon equivalent, Coupang, had its IPO debut yesterday, and it was a smashing success. (Because of course it was, it's 2021!). The company jumped 40% in its market debut, ending the day at $49.25 a share — it was priced at $35 before opening — making it the largest IPO debut in 2021 so far. But there's so much more to the Coupang story than a great IPO.

Coupang is a lot like Amazon, and also not at all. While they're both speedy delivery and logistics businesses at the end of the day, Coupang's success might have more to do with South Korean culture than anything else.

  • Coupang is beloved in South Korea largely for its branding. There are plenty of other great delivery companies in the tiny, densely-populated country — the culture there has long been more delivery-oriented than in the U.S. — so Coupang stands out by completely rejecting "strait-laced" business vibes. Delivery drivers wear bright, colorful uniforms and drive matching vans.
  • The company has so many logistics centers that Coupang estimates every single South Korean lives within seven miles of a warehouse. That's even better than Amazon, mostly because South Korea doesn't really have any vast stretches of rural land.
  • And the company is perhaps more creative than Amazon has ever been about its delivery methods. Members can have their packages delivered in a special Coupang box in front of their homes, and they can place returns outside their house without ever having to package them up.
  • All that convenience can come at a tragically huge cost: Eight Coupang workers have allegedly died as a result of overwork in the last year alone.

The most important difference may be this: Coupang has no equivalent of the highly-lucrative Amazon Web Services to fund its logistics services.

  • The company needed this IPO fundraising because it's still deeply in the red. Without additional business to offset delivery costs, Coupang's logistics investments weigh heavily on its budget. Warehouses and delivery drivers do not come cheap, and they don't pay off right away.

But that's not to say the company couldn't get there, and in an Amazon sort of way at that. Its revenue nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, hitting $12 billion last year. That's a highly attractive investment for basically anyone. And like Jeff Bezos, Coupang CEO Bom Kim loves to talk about playing the long game. He certainly has the cash to do it.

People Are Talking

China is cracking down on its tech industry, ShellPay's Jane Zhang said, and Elon Musk has become a rule-breaking hero:

  • "He can fight the establishment and become the richest man on earth — and avoid getting beaten down in the process. He's everybody's hope."

Sen. Marco Rubio sided with Amazon workers voting to unionize:

  • "The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over."
  • Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders invited a union-supporting worker and Jeff Bezos to testify before the Senate Budget Committee next week.

Google's ethical AI team was doing good work, but Timnit Gebru said it didn't feel like that internally:

  • "The outside world sees us much more as experts, really respects us a lot more than anyone at Google. It was such a shock when I arrived there to see that."

Alibaba employees are calling Jack Ma "the biggest source of instability" at the company, and Ma tried to calm the worries:

  • "At this time, there's no shortage of emotions and accusations, but there's a lack of calm, rationality and objectivity."

We have a responsibility to make the internet better and more accessible for the next generation, Tim Berners-Lee said:

  • "How many brilliant young minds fall on the wrong side of the digital divide? How many voices of would-be leaders are being silenced by a toxic internet? Every young person who can't connect represents a lost opportunity for new ideas and innovations that could serve humanity."

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Making Moves

Ant CEO Simon Hu Xiaoming has resigned. He will be replaced by company chairman Eric Jing Xiandong.

Tracey Trewin is the new chief product officer at Magic Leap. She joins from Microsoft, where she'd been for more than two decades.

Frank Slootman is joining Instacart's board. Slootman, remember, has quite the reputation for helping companies go public. Just sayin'.

Colin Davis is the latest part of Quibi to join Roku. His first job is to help integrate the Quibi shows, but it's also another sign Roku is serious about original content.

DeepMind is staffing up in New York. It already has 10 to 15 people on staff, CNBC reported, and the company is planning to grow.

Tata's officially buying Big Basket. In the latest escalation of India's ecommerce wars, Tata filed to buy a 64% stake in the Alibaba-backed company, reportedly valuing it at around $2 billion.

Jack Ma is all over the place — literally. His flight records show him regularly moving around China, suggesting he's not under arrest. His activity has dramatically dropped in recent months, though.

In Other News

  • Chinese regulators are considering an over $975 million fine on Alibaba for anticompetitive practices, The Wall Street Journal reported. It would be China's biggest antitrust fine ever. Meanwhile, regulators issued $77,000 fines to Baidu, Tencent, Didi Chuxing and SoftBank for violating anti-monopoly rules, and Tencent is reportedly in the firing line for more aggressive regulatory action.
  • Facebook told a Black job applicant "you wouldn't like this job," the applicant alleged in a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The woman, who had a Ph.D., says she was also told "there's no doubt you can do the job, but we're really looking for a culture fit."
  • Netflix is cracking down on password sharing. Some users are being asked to verify their account with a text or email code … which is a tough thing to get from whatever old roommate/Airbnb guest/ex-lover they're grifting their Netflix from.
  • Apple is punishing an alleged leaker. The company sued Simon Lancaster, its former materials lead, for taking info from high-level meetings and documents and providing them to an "outside media correspondent."
  • Amazon will stop selling books that frame LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses, it told Republican senators. The writer and publisher of one now-banned book said "Amazon is using its massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas." It banned Nazi books last year.
  • Democrats unveiled a $94 billion broadband proposal. Led by Rep. James Clyburn and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the bill is focused on making internet more accessible and affordable.
  • Microsoft issued new patches for the Exchange breaches. If you haven't updated yet, you really, really need to: Researchers have found hackers are targeting companies without the updates.

One More Thing

CryptoPunk #7804

NFT of the day

Well, it can't be "Everydays." So how about CryptoPunk 7804? The pipe-smoking, hat-wearing character was one of the 10,000 collectibles among the earliest NFTs. It sold for 4200 ETH, which translates to about $7.6 million. The seller of this one? Dylan Field, the CEO of Figma, who said it was the first NFT he ever bought. And he has 11 more left in his collection.

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RSVP for this event.

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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

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