Image: Hans Eiskonen / Protocol
March 1, 2021
Good morning! This Monday: why so many companies with no revenue are going public at huge valuations, what to make of the NFT craze and what Biden had to say about the Amazon union vote in Alabama.
The Big Story
The $0 unicorns
Who says you need to make money to be a great business? Well, not the tech industry, like, ever.
It's easier than ever to make a fortune without making a nickel, thanks to the SPAC boom, generally frothy IPO markets and a seemingly endless flow both of venture capital and investors looking to cash in.
- There have been at least 15 zero-revenue unicorns going public via SPACs in 2021 alone, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. That's already more than the highest annual number during the late-90s dot-com bubble … and it's March 1.
- That makes some investors nervous: Companies that go public with little to no revenue have historically performed poorly compared to the market.
SPACs look set to keep coming, too. More than $130 billion has been put into blank check companies since last year, the Journal found. If things keep going like this, according to one estimate we could see more than 1,000 SPACs raise more than $300 billion this year.
- As The New York Times put it this weekend, "anyone who's anyone has a SPAC right now." Nobody's in the game quite like Chamath Palihapitiya, but from Jay-Z to Steph Curry and Serena Williams to Paul Ryan, the cool new thing to do if you have a few nickels to rub together is to start a SPAC.
But some people are calling the top of the SPAC market. Orso Partners' Nate Koppikar told Institutional Investor that, "If this continues for another week or two, the SPAC market is dead." And a lot of folks are pointing to the overhyped and under-delivering Lucid Motors SPAC (which was one of those zero-revenue unicorns) as a sign of things to come.
Of course, in the time it took me to write this newsletter I'm sure another dozen SPACs hit the market. So who knows when we'll actually hit the top?
The art and science of NFTs
Anna Kramer writes: Just days after Beeple's "Everydays: The First 5,000 Days" NFT went up for auction at Christie's, the price surpassed $3 million. And there are still 10 days to go before the auction closes!
The crypto-art market is very frothy and unstable, is the short version. (Lotta froth generally right now, it seems.) Many of the recent big-ticket art buys might not be worth all that cash. But in the long-term, NFTs might revolutionize how we buy, sell, and verify all sorts of products in the art, music, and sports industries. So I talked to Vlad Ginzburg, the CEO of digital-asset marketplace Blockparty, about what's hype, what's here to stay, and why you should care.
Why would people pay for a digital thing, when it's just pixels they could copy and reproduce without ownership?
- Ginzburg's answer boils down to a philosophical point: Why would you want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a Warhol print that you couldn't authenticate? Why is one version of a poster worth more than another? We as a society at some point collectively decide what has value for mere cultural reasons, and the more popular and more widely shared something physical becomes, the more the "original" is worth.
- Digital art is much the same: It's not that the art is actually different, it's just that you get to say that you own the "original" thing that carries all of that social capital.
- "It's the originality and the ownership that is going to drive value. When millions of people share something, there is usually a lot of money associated with it," he said.
Before we can really think about what else NFTs will do, we need to accept that blockchain is just not the answer to all the world's problems, Ginzburg said:
- "We kind of think of it as the genie in 'Aladdin.' This industry is so excited to come out of the lamp and solve all of your wishes and do a big dance number, but at the end of the day, we're just talking about technology."
And then there's the environmental impact. As crypto of all kinds continues to grow, so does its energy use. That includes NFTs, and the problem is quickly becoming unsustainable.
And the award goes to … Netflix!
Ted Lasso won a Golden Globe! Big day for Apple, bigger day for literally everyone in tech whose favorite show of 2020 just got a nice boost.
Streaming services dominated this year's Golden Globes in general, in a year where going to see a movie meant turning on your TV and the awards show red carpet was just people being really really dressed up on a Zoom call:
- Netflix cleaned up, to nobody's surprise, with "The Crown," "The Trial of the Chicago 7," "The Queen's Gambit" and "I Care a Lot" all winning big-ticket awards.
- "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" won two big awards for Amazon, beating out "Hamilton" in both categories, which I'm going to guess surprised a few people at Disney.
There were some awkward Zoom moments during the ceremony, and lots of long-overdue calls for more equity and diversity in Hollywood. And Amy Poehler answered a question I've had for 12 months now: When everything's in my living room, what's a TV show and what's a movie?
- "TV is the one that I watch five hours straight," she said, "but a movie is the one that I don't turn on because it's two hours. I don't want to be in front of my TV for two hours. I want to be in front of the TV for one hour, five times." Simple enough!
A MESSAGE FROM INTEL
In an interview with Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., Lantzach shares his take on edge computing: There are more innovations to come — and technology leaders should think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.
People Are Talking
Warren Buffett dropped his annual letter on Saturday, and said that even though there's more innovation than ever around the world, he's still pro-America:
- "We retain our constitutional aspiration of becoming 'a more perfect union.' Progress on that front has been slow, uneven and often discouraging. We have, however, moved forward and will continue to do so. Our unwavering conclusion: Never bet against America."
President Biden supported the Amazon union vote in Alabama:
- "There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda … you know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union."
Donald Trump, meanwhile, picked up his old narrative about Big Tech:
- "If the federal government refuses to act then every state in the union where we have the votes — which is a lot of them — big tech giants like Twitter, Google and Facebook should be punished with major sanctions whenever they silence conservative voices."
The era of mass appeal is giving way to the mini-community, said Andreessen Horowitz's Chris Dixon:
- "Social platforms will continue to be useful for building audiences (although these too should probably be replaced with superior decentralized alternatives), but creators can increasingly rely on other methods including NFTs and crypto-enabled economies to make money."
Tech-government antagonism is a mistake, General Catalyst's Katherine Boyle said:
- "We have the greatest technologists in the world in Silicon Valley. We really need to have Silicon Valley working with Washington."
Coming This Week
Microsoft Ignite runs Tuesday through Thursday, and should include plenty of new stuff for developers everywhere.
Is Robinhood planning to go public? Bloomberg said yes, and that it could file at any time.
A few more earnings results this week, including from Zoom, Snowflake and HPE.
In Other News
- Facebook paid $650 million to settle a privacy lawsuit. The Illinois class-action suit accused Facebook of using facial recognition for photo tagging without users' permission.
- Biden will move forward with a rule letting the Commerce Department ban transactions with China if it thinks they pose a national security threat, The Wall Street Journal reported. But the administration has reportedly told businesses that it won't strictly enforce the rule, initially proposed by Trump. Meanwhile, Chinese chip companies are reportedly hoarding used chipmaking machines to avoid U.S. sanctions.
- Reliance is working with Facebook and Google to set up a payments network in India, The Economic Times reported. The three are reportedly putting together a proposal to the Reserve Bank of India. Separate proposals are reportedly being worked on by Amazon, Paytm and Tata, but only two licenses are expected to be given.
- Walmart hired the head of Goldman Sachs' Marcus to run its new fintech business, Bloomberg reported. Omer Ismail will reportedly bring fellow Goldman exec David Stark with him, too.
- Black Amazon employees said the company has a race problem. Black people are reportedly promoted less frequently and rated more harshly.
- SolarWinds' CEO blamed an intern for the "'solarwinds123" password. Rep. Katie Porter said her kids' iPad had a stronger password.
- ByteDance is hiring 13,000 new people for its education business. That business already has more than 10,000 employees.
- Nikola admitted that Trevor Milton made "inaccurate" statements about the company. An investigation is ongoing as to whether the company did anything illegal.
One More Thing
Everyone in tech spent their weekend goofing around with MyHeritage's Deep Nostalgia feature, which lets you upload your old photos and turn them into AI-generated moving pictures. It matches old still photos with modern videos of people moving their head, and deepfakes your great-grandmother into something kind of like a GIF. It's cool, slightly unnerving and totally worth checking out.
A MESSAGE FROM INTEL
In an interview with Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., Lantzach shares his take on edge computing: There are more innovations to come – and technology leaders should think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.