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Politics

'Kick in the teeth': Startups pivoting again after warning on SBA loans

If businesses already applied for a loan through the PPP but believe they don't fit the bill anymore, they have until May 7 to return the money.

Steven Mnuchin

Steven Mnuchin's Treasury Department released stricter guidance for businesses seeking emergency loans.

Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Venture capital-backed startups are once again recalibrating their stances in applying for coronavirus stimulus loans after the Treasury Department sent out new guidance.

The guidance, released late Thursday, places stark parameters around how startups should assess whether they need loans from the Small Business Administration, putting the onus on individual companies and their lawyers to take a hard look at whether they could obtain money from investors rather than the government.

"It's important that startups show evidence that they did a thorough, good-faith evaluation of their access to other sources of liquidity before they apply," said Trevor Loy, an investor at FlyWheel VC. "Even if the answer is no, you need to show evidence that you asked the question and got the answer."

The Treasury Department also clarified that businesses must prove they need the money because of struggles related to COVID-19. And there's a warning: If you already applied for a loan through the PPP but feel like you don't fit the bill anymore, you have until May 7 to return the money.

Ed Zimmerman, a lawyer who specializes in venture capital and startups at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, called the new guidance a "kick in the teeth."

"We've previously begged @USTreasury @SBAgov for more guidance on what the certification of need means & Treasury has now given us RETROACTIVE GUIDANCE," Zimmerman tweeted. "The Goal Posts Have MOVED after the game was played!"

Cooley, a law firm that has been advising VC-backed firms on government aid, responded to the guidance with urgent advice: "To the extent that applicants did not specifically consider alternate sources of liquidity in connection with their initial application, it is clear from the FAQs that they should."

The new guidance could result in a slew of VC-backed startups retracting applications or even returning the money. One industry source told Protocol that it's not entirely clear what the guidance means in practice, but noted that many venture capital firms don't have money set aside to help out existing companies.

"A lot of times, when a venture fund raises money, it's not all for existing companies — it's for money in the future," the source said. "You can look at this and ask, 'Wow, your venture firm has a lot of money, why can't you get that?' But … that money may only be for growth milestones, that money may only be available for new companies. … All those factors can mean that the funds may not be available to the company to sustain ongoing operations."

The PPP ran out of money last week, but it is expected to begin accepting applications again on Monday after receiving a $310 billion infusion from Congress. President Trump signed a relief package freeing up $484 billion in additional funding, part of trillions in spending designed to rescue the battered economy.

"Consequences of new guidance seem clear," tweeted Mark Suster, the managing partner at Upfront Ventures. "If you believe you have other sources of capital not detrimental to your business, you should not accept PPP loan. … I believe founders should consider re-discussing with board calls to discuss whether the board still agrees [to] accepting PPP."

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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