Why the future of Chinese e-commerce is in its rural areas

China announced a mere 6.7 percent economic growth in July 2018, the lowest growth rate since 2016. Despite a slowdown in overall economic growth, Chinese e-commerce has only increased, accounting for 40 percent of all worldwide e-commerce today, compared to a mere 20 percent of the global retail market just three years ago.

The fast-paced growth of the e-commerce sector in China can be seen through rapidly expanding companies such as Pinduoduo, which went through a $1.5 billion U.S. IPO in mid-July. However, why has e-commerce continued to grow despite an overall economic slowdown in conjunction with urban market saturation? The answer to this question lies in

Continue reading "Why the future of Chinese e-commerce is in its rural areas"

In venture capital, it’s still the age of the unicorn

This month marks the 5-year anniversary of Aileen Lee’s landmark article, “Welcome To The Unicorn Club”.

At the time, the piece defined a new breed of startup — the $1 billion privately held company. When Lee did her first count, there were 39 “unicorns”; an improbable, but not impossible number.. Today, the once-scarce unicorn has become a global herd with 376 companies on the roster and counting.

But the proliferation of unicorns begs raises certain questions. Is this new breed of unicorn artificially created? Could these magical companies see their valuations slip and fall out of the herd? Does this indicate an irrational exuberance where investors

Continue reading "In venture capital, it’s still the age of the unicorn"

Placing bets beyond the venture hubs of New York and Silicon Valley

If geographies were companies, Silicon Valley and New York would be the incumbents — successful today and possibly impregnable — and, like all incumbents, their outsized advantages obscure significant vulnerabilities. Not least of these are high prices and entrenched thinking that can make adapting to new situations difficult.

A dozen venture capitalists spent three days in the South — Charlotte, Columbia, and Atlanta — to learn what it might take to begin investing in the region as an alternative. It
Continue reading "Placing bets beyond the venture hubs of New York and Silicon Valley"

The top 10 cities for $100M VC rounds in 2018 so far

Crunchbase News recently profiled a selection of U.S. companies’ largest VC raised in 2018, and no surprise here: the 10 largest rounds all topped out well north of $100 million.

A major driver of global venture dollar growth is the relatively recent phenomenon of companies raising $100 million or more in a single venture round. We’ve called these nine and 10-figure deals, which shine brightly in the media and are hefty enough to bend the curve of VC fund sizes upwards, “supergiants” after their stellar counterparts. And like stars, venture-backed companies tend to originate and co-exist in clusters, while the physical space between these
Continue reading "The top 10 cities for $100M VC rounds in 2018 so far"

Three challenges facing blockchain technology

Nearly five years ago, Overstock.com became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin as a form of payment. It now accepts many top cryptocurrencies. As a member of the senior executive team and board of directors at Overstock.com, I had a front-row seat to those decisions.

It didn’t take long for the Overstock team to realize that bitcoin’s underlying blockchain technology held great promise beyond cryptocurrencies. We also knew that for blockchain technology to reach its full potential, the startup companies advancing its use would need both financial and human capital support.

Overstock set up a venture capital blockchain incubator, Medici Ventures, to do just that.

We believe blockchain technology will eventually impact many industries. We are already involved in promising developments in areas like capital markets, money transmission and banking, voting, supply chain, property and self-sovereign identity.

Continue reading "Three challenges facing blockchain technology"

Three ways to avoid bias in machine learning

At this moment in history it’s impossible not to see the problems that arise from human bias. Now magnify that by compute and you start to get a sense for just how dangerous human bias via machine learning can be. The damage can be twofold:

  • Influence. If the AI said so it must be true… people trust outputs of AI, so if human bias is missed in the training it could compound the problem by infecting more people;
  • Automation. Sometimes AI models are plugged into a programmatic function, which could lead to the automation of bias. 
But there is potentially a silver machine-learned lining. Because AI can help expose truth inside messy data sets, it’s possible
Continue reading "Three ways to avoid bias in machine learning"

Africa Roundup: Local VC funds surge, Naspers ramps up and fintech diversifies

Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds headquartered on the continent and run by locals, according to Crunchbase data summarized in this TechCrunch feature.

Drawing on its database and primary source research, Crunchbase identified 51 “viable” Africa-focused VC funds globally—defining viable as formally established entities with 7-10 investments or more in African startups, from seed to series stage.

Of the 51 funds investing in African startups, 22 (or 43 percent) were headquartered in Africa and managed by Africans.

Of the 22 African managed and located funds, 9 (or 41 percent) were formed since

Continue reading "Africa Roundup: Local VC funds surge, Naspers ramps up and fintech diversifies"

Bots Distorted the 2016 Election. Will the Midterms Be a Sequel?

The fact that Russian-linked bots penetrated social media to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been well documented and the details of the deception are still trickling out.

In fact, on Oct. 17 Twitter disclosed that foreign interference dating back to 2016 involved 4,611 accounts — most affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm. There were more than 10 million suspicious tweets and more than 2 million GIFs, videos and Periscope broadcasts.

In this season of another landmark election — a recent poll showed that about 62 percent of Americans believe the 2018 midterm elections are the most important midterms in their lifetime – it is

Continue reading "Bots Distorted the 2016 Election. Will the Midterms Be a Sequel?"

Make people valuable again

There is a disconnection between the pace and progress of the technical achievements made by innovators and entrepreneurs and the ways in which those technologies have added to human happiness.

We have increased our technological powers many times and still
Continue reading "Make people valuable again"

A long and winding road to new copyright legislation

Back in May, as part of a settlement, Spotify agreed to pay more than $112 million to clean up some copyright problems. Even for a service with millions of users, that had to leave a mark. No one wants to be dragged into court all the time, not even bold, disruptive technology start-ups.

On October 11th, the President signed the Hatch-Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (the “Act”, or “MMA”). The MMA goes back, legislatively, to at least 2013, when Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) announced that, as Chairman of the House Judiciary

Continue reading "A long and winding road to new copyright legislation"

Agrifood — the $8 trillion industry that’s worth your salt

Cannabis-infused drinks. Burgers grown in laboratories. Entire meals in bottles. Consumers, retailers and farmers alike are hungry for the next generation of food, and investors are beginning to acquire the taste, too. Early-stage investment in agrifood tech startups reached $10.1 billion in 2017, a 29 percent increase on the previous year.

Agrifood can be split into two parts. “Agritech” refers to technologies that target farmers. “Foodtech,” by contrast, targets manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and consumers. Jointly, the two have enough reach to impact every part of the production line, from farm to fork.

Recently, foodtech investments have led the charge, with Delivery Hero’s IPO and multi-million rounds in ele.me and Instacart. However, agritech deals are catching up: Indigo Agriculture and Ginkgo Bioworks raised $203 million

Continue reading "Agrifood — the $8 trillion industry that’s worth your salt"

“Grit” author Angela Duckworth on working smart versus working too hard, when it’s okay to pivot, and the impact of tech on grit

Today, in San Francisco, at an inspriring gathering of roughly 400 women investors and founders organized by the months-old nonprofit AllRaise — a large and growing group of female funders and founders who aim to accelerate the success of their peers —  we had the opportunity to interview Angela Duckworth. If her name sounds familiar, that’s because Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has gained game in recent years though a TED talk about grit that has now been viewed more than 15 million times, and a follow-up best-selling book titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Her biggest finding is that success has many features, including raw intelligence and adaptability, but the most
Continue reading "“Grit” author Angela Duckworth on working smart versus working too hard, when it’s okay to pivot, and the impact of tech on grit"

Thomas Reardon and CTRL-Labs are building an API for the brain

From Elon’s Neuralink to Bryan Johnson’s Kernel, a new wave of businesses are specifically focusing on ways to access, read and write from the brain.

The holy grail lies in how to do that without invasive implants, and how to do it for a mass market. One company aiming to do just that is New York-based CTRL-labs, who recently closed a $28 million Series B. The team, comprising over 12 PHDs, is decoding individual neurons and developing an electromyography-based armband that reads the nervous signals travelling from the brain to the fingers. These signals are then translated into desired
Continue reading "Thomas Reardon and CTRL-Labs are building an API for the brain"

To actually change the world, Big Tech needs to grow up

“Fierce competitor” is one of the biggest, and most culturally ingrained, compliments that exists in sports. The same is true in the technology world. However, as competitors originating from outside of Silicon Valley rise, so do the stakes for previously unchallenged tech firms, like Uber, Facebook and Google, to enter new markets responsibly. Companies that were once earnest startups helmed by say-anything, hoodie-wearing twenty-somethings are now big corporations with boards, stakeholders and tremendous impacts on society.

They need to start acting like it.

Amid mounting government and public pressures, tech firms famous for pushing far beyond boundaries now need to play by the rules when they enter new cities and towns. They now have to embrace more humble methods of conducting business and admit defeat when younger upstarts create better, faster innovations. Freshly

Continue reading "To actually change the world, Big Tech needs to grow up"

Naspers announces $300 million initiative to support startups and tech in South Africa

Naspers announced a $100 million Naspers Foundry fund to support South African tech startups. This is part of a $300 million (1.4 billion rand) commitment by the South African media and investment company to support South Africa’s tech sector overall. Naspers Foundry will launch in 2019.

The initiatives lend more weight to Naspers’ venture activities in Africa as the company has received greater attention for investments off the continent (namely Europe, India and China).

“Naspers Foundry will help talented and ambitious South African technology entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses,” said a company release.

“Technology innovation is

Continue reading "Naspers announces $300 million initiative to support startups and tech in South Africa"

Silicon Valley’s sovereign wealth problem

It’s time to bring the conversation about where Silicon Valley gets its money from out into the open. Following recent revelations into Saudi Arabia’s extensive reach and influence in the US technology sector, the willful ignorance that has defined the relationship between venture capital firms and the limited partnerships (LPs) that fund them for years now isn’t going to cut it anymore.

According to the latest reports from the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia is now the single-largest source of funding for US-based tech companies. Since 2016, the Saudi royal family has invested at least $11 billion into US startups directly, and in August, the Saudi Arabian government committed $45 billion to Softbank’s $92 billion Vision Fund. To put that into context, the total amount of funding deployed across all VC deals so far in

Continue reading "Silicon Valley’s sovereign wealth problem"

Translating startup-speak for the corporate buyer

Startups salivate at the prospect of entering the enterprise – and for good reason. The enterprise is rife with legacy systems and circuitous processes that frustrate employees and hinder results — and the startup has just the perfect product to fix the problem.

Too often though, the pitch to the enterprise falls flat or a promising pilot gets sidelined. Sometimes there’s a clear obstacle, like a mismatch between product and problem to be solved, an inability to scale, or the loss of an internal sponsor. But more often than one would expect, the startup’s value is simply getting lost in translation. Even the most forward-looking enterprise leaders are operating in an environment what I like to call “GAAP-based digital strategy.” The budgeting process supports only certain kinds of purchases, like renewable
Continue reading "Translating startup-speak for the corporate buyer"

The SaaS VC gap: China & other markets trail the US

Chinese startups rule the roost when it comes to total reported venture dollars raised so far in 2018. That is, mostly. In one key category at least — software-as-a-service, better known as SaaS — they do not.

Ant Financial raised the largest-ever VC round in June, a mind-boggling $14 billion in Series C funding. And nearly a dozen privately held Chinese companies, including SenseTimeDu Xiaoman FinancialJD Finance and ELEME, raised $1 billion (yes, with a “b”) or more in single venture rounds thus far in 2018. But if there’s one thing to note from that shortlist of 2018’s largest China venture rounds, it’s this:
Continue reading "The SaaS VC gap: China & other markets trail the US"

We’re addressing gender disparity in engineering way too late

STEM innovations, especially those in engineering, are an essential part of our modern-day lives. These innovations impact us all, and cut across social, economic and geographical boundaries. Yet, at a time when engineers must meet the needs of a vast population of users with diverse opinions and backgrounds, the engineering workforce continues to suffer from gender disparity.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that women accounted for 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015. However, women only account for 24 percent of STEM jobs. And the percentage of women in

Continue reading "We’re addressing gender disparity in engineering way too late"