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Your SPAC crash course

Image: Pete Baker and Protocol
Your SPAC crash course

Good morning! This Sunday, your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from how postal voting tech companies are coping with the election to everything you need to read about the future of going public.

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As always, let us know what you think, and what you'd like to see more of in our weekend edition. I'm shakeel@protocol.com, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks! Onto the good stuff.

Best of Protocol

The Small Business Recovery, by the Protocol team

People want to vote by mail. The tech they need to do it can't keep up, by Issie Lapowsky

  • Have you ever thought about the companies that make mail-in ballot opening machines, or the ones that scan signatures for verification? Postal voting tech companies are facing a gigantic surge in demand this year — and in some cases, they simply can't make enough hardware to match it.

Rwanda embraced tech in recent years. Did it help it deal with COVID-19?, by Kevin McAllister

  • Rwanda is a fascinating country for many reasons, including its digital strategy. In this Q&A, Paula Ingabire, the country's minister of ICT and innovation, explains how the pandemic provided an opportunity to stress-test the country's infrastructure, and how Rwanda is thinking about rectifying the country's inequity of tech adoption.

Tech companies normally rally behind social and political causes. Now one CEO is pushing back, by Biz Carson

  • Last weekend, Coinbase's CEO Brian Armstrong published a blog post that the tech world has been talking about all week, explaining how his company will no longer take activist stances on anything outside a narrowly defined mission of advancing cryptocurrency. But there's evidence that Armstrong might not be alone in his view: Maybe other CEOs also think that workplace activism might be too big a distraction to leave totally unfettered?

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

Best of Everything Else

Hype man of the century — The Verge

  • In 2018, Justin Sun bought BitTorrent. This incredible report is based on what followed: alleged violence, a lax approach to the law and a whole lot of hype. The story touches on just about everything that matters in the tech industry today, most intriguingly the relationship of Chinese companies to the Chinese government.

Elon Musk: "A.I. doesn't need to hate us to destroy us" — The New York Times

  • In this podcast with Kara Swisher, Elon Musk discussed all his favorite things: climate change, brain implants, rockets. But that's all mixed in with some real vulnerability, most evident when Musk discusses his controversial take on the pandemic. No matter your opinion on Musk, it's worth listening to.

HOTorNOT shaped the social web as we know it — Mashable

  • I'd never thought too much about HOTorNOT. But on its 20th anniversary, Mashable's Jess Joho explained how the site influenced everything from Facebook to Tinder, potentially changing our entire sense of self worth in the process. It was also built with much more care than I'd imagined: Its moderation policy is arguably still the gold-standard.

How Russia's everything company works with the Kremlin — MIT Technology Review

  • Russia might not be the first country you think of when it comes to business model innovation in Big Tech, but it maybe should be. As Evan Gershkovich explains on this podcast, Yandex is far more dominant in Russia than any Western tech giant — and that's tested its relationships with authorities as Russia tries to figure out its internet strategy. You should be paying attention to Russia, by the way: Last week alone, Yandex bought a bank and Russia's biggest bank launched an app store.

Meet the customer service reps for Disney and Airbnb who have to pay to talk to you — ProPublica and Planet Money

  • You've probably never heard of Arise, and that's just the way it wants it. Its business model is to quietly link up companies, including Airbnb, Apple, AT&T, eBay and Intuit, to gig-worker customer service agents. Those agents often have to pay to be certified to work for one of the companies, and after platform fee deductions, they may make almost no money. One non-tech company "paused" its relationship with Arise after this story was published; expect pressure for others to do the same.

Crash course

The future of IPOs, direct listings and SPACs

The NYSE had more public listings in September than in any other month in history. And there was more experimentation, too: Palantir and Asana went public via a direct listing; Unity used a pseudo-auction method; and good lord were there a lot of SPACs. So it's a great time to take a step back and brush up on everything that's going on in IPO world.

We polled some of our favorite listing experts, and with their help, we put together a list of what you need to get up to speed.

  • First off, an explanation of direct listings, the option Palantir and Asana used this week. This Q&A with Stanford law professor Joe Grundfest is a good place to start.
  • For arguments in favor of direct listings, Bill Gurley reigns supreme. Citi's co-head of North America equity capital markets, Paul Abrahimzadeh, said that Gurley's a must-follow on Twitter. And his podcast appearances are worth keeping up with, too; Patrick O'Shaughnessy's podcast episode with Gurley is particularly good.
  • To understand some of the pushback against traditional IPOs, Jay Ritter, a University of Florida professor known as "Mr. IPO," is worthy of your time. He was too modest to recommend his own work, but he gave a great presentation last year filled with data to explain why some of the issues that IPO critics talk about actually happen. (If that's isn't enough data for you, Ritter has much more here.)
  • For arguments in support of IPOs, Abrahimzadeh recommends following a16z's Scott Kupor. Kupor and Alex Rampell recently wrote a great article defending IPOs, which also offers a few suggestions on how they could be improved.
  • Speaking of modifications to the existing IPO process, CNBC has a great history of Google's Dutch auction, which was partly architected by Lise Buyer (who helped Unity pull off something similar the other week).
  • Then there are SPACs. Gurley recommends this short Bloomberg video and this deep dive from TechCrunch. He's also written his own blog post, outlining when a company might want to use one. And I like this article from Founders Fund's John Luttig, which features a wonderful table comparing all the exit options. For some push back on SPACs, Matt Levine has you covered.
  • Oh, and don't forget Primary Direct Floor Listings, which could allow companies to raise money through a direct listing — but not just yet. The SEC, having previously approved the NYSE's proposal for them, backtracked over the summer after opposition. Cooley PubCo has a good explanation of why, and I spoke to the lawyer behind the objection to dive even deeper and find out how his concerns could be addressed.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to shakeel@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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