Payday startups are increasing access to wages, but is “make any day payday” the right choice?

Imagine you get a monthly paycheck on the 15th of the month but your bills come in on the 1st of the month.  Between the 15th and 1st you must set a portion of your check aside to pay bills.  This becomes a complicated budgeting equation. How much can I spend today vs how much do I need to set

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Getting personal: Funding rises for software-driven tastemakers

It has the feel of a science fiction plot. A young man heads online to look up deals on things he likes. Slowly, the tables turn. Now, it’s the computer that starts telling him what he wants. Buy these pants. Play this song. Eat this pizza. Date this girl. Read news with this political spin… OK, I lied. This isn’t sci-fi at all. It’s the current reality. And it’s the kind of thing venture capitalists seem keen on funding. An analysis of Crunchbase data shows that global venture funding for personalization and recommendation platforms has surged in recent quarters. Investors are pouring billions into the space, creating a string of newly minted unicorns relying on algorithms to customize music streams, news feeds and much
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Margin of safety in venture capital

As a former stock analyst turned VC, I still spend time thinking about public company investment opportunities. To that end, I recently read Seth Klarman’s Margin of Safety, a hard to find, but very insightful book about value investing. The book’s title, Margin of Safety, is a term borrowed from the godfather of value investing: Benjamin Graham. Warren Buffett’s investment philosophy is very much inspired by Graham; 85 percent as much, according to Buffett himself.

A margin of safety is room for error built into the price an investor pays for an asset to lower the risk that the investor might lose money. In other words, assets are usually quite difficult to

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Security tokens will be coming soon to an exchange near you

While cryptocurrencies have generated the lion’s share of investment and attention to date, I’m more excited about the potential for another blockchain-based digital asset: security tokens.

Security tokens are defined as “any blockchain-based representation of value that is subject to regulation under security laws.” In other words, they represent ownership in a real-world asset, whether that is equity, debt or even real estate. (They also encompass certain pre-launch utility tokens.)

With $256 trillion of real-world assets in the world, the opportunity for crypto-securities is truly massive, especially with regards to asset classes like real estate and fine art that have historically suffered from limited commerce and liquidity. As I’ve written previously, imagine if real estate was tokenized into security tokens

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Will big brands disrupt higher education?

In the years to come, who will hospitality hiring managers trust to credential students: Cornell University or the Four Seasons? Will it be Google or Penn State that sets the standards that determine who qualifies as a good computer programmer? Could GE define competency in aeronautic engineering rather than Vaughn College? Should employers place more value in a fashion credential backed by the editors of Vogue or the Pratt Institute?

Institutions of higher education are, of course, not unfamiliar with branding. The brands

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What I learned from Flipkart

Two weeks ago, Walmart concluded its investments to acquire a majority stake in Flipkart. This is one of the largest transactions in e-commerce and in the internet space globally, with Walmart deploying US$16 billion to obtain an approximate 77 percent shareholding at closing. As part of this transaction, my company, Naspers, exited fully, selling our 11.18 percent stake for $2.2 billion.

In addition to the obvious financial success — a 3.6x or $1.6 billion absolute return in six years — being part of one of the greatest success stories of the Indian and global e-commerce market led to countless insights for Naspers. Our journey with Flipkart will help us to further shape how we partner with entrepreneurs to build leading technology companies in the future. I was fortunate enough to have had a front-row seat at Flipkart for the past six years, leading our various investment

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The alumni of these universities raised the most VC in the past year

Whatever criteria we look at, whether it’s schools with the highest number of well-capitalized founders, highest funding totals or even where startup investors went to college, the same names top the list. The only surprise factor, it seems, is whether Harvard or Stanford will be in first place. It’s possible we’ll do a data-driven university- and startup-related ranking that doesn’t feature the same two schools in the top two positions. But that’s not happening today, as we look at universities with founder alumni who have raised the most venture funding.1

OK, so who else is on the list?

Luckily, there are more than two names on the list. In this survey, we looked at the top 15 schools ranked by alumni who
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The lobbying is fast and furious as gig companies seek relief from pro-labor Supreme Court ruling

For four years, Edhuar Arellano has left his house at 7 a.m. on weekdays to drive customers around the Bay Area for Lyft and Uber . Most days, he doesn’t get home to Santa Clara until 11 p.m. On weekends, he delivers pizzas to make ends meet. Like a lot of drivers plugging in to ride-hailing apps for work, he likes the flexibility the gig economy has offered. But given the choice, Arellano says he wishes he could just become an employee. That would get him paid vacation, benefits, overtime, his own health insurance and perhaps more say over his working conditions. “We need to accept whatever they want,” said the 55-year-old father of two grown children. “I can’t control anything.” That quandary is behind a ferocious battle quietly playing out in the Capitol in
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How corporations and startups can more effectively work with one another

Build versus buy? Potential partner or potential disruptor? The option set for corporations to collaborate with startups used to be simpler. Today, the options seem almost endless: build, partner, buy, integrate with their APIs, co-develop product together, white-label a part of their technology, share specific data sets, cross-sell each other’s products — and more. The notion of a straightforward “vendor” relationship doesn’t apply anymore. The landscape has also changed. If the corporate posture of the past around innovation could be described as “not invented here” with a strong bias toward building internally, today’s corporate posture leans in a much different direction, with many thinking about how to disrupt themselves before an external party beats them to it. Not surprisingly, this has created more corporate and startup partnerships. While getting this type of
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The consequences of indecency

I wrote the law that allows sites to be unfettered free speech marketplaces. I wrote that same law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, to provide vital protections to sites that didn’t want to host the most unsavory forms of expression. The goal was to protect the unique ability of the internet to be the proverbial marketplace of ideas while ensuring that mainstream sites could reflect the ethics of society as a whole.

In general, this has been a success — with one glaring exception. I never expected that internet CEOs would fail to understand one simple principle: that an individual endorsing (or denying) the extermination of millions of people, or attacking the victims of horrific crimes or the parents

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Thoughts on Xiaomi’s eighth anniversary and inaugural month as a public company

On August 16, Xiaomi celebrated the seventh anniversary of the release of its first phone, and the eighth anniversary of MIUI’s launch. As an early investor in Xiaomi in spring 2010 and a former board member of the company, I attended Xiaomi’s IPO in Hong Kong on July 9. I felt nostalgic and grateful, and marveled at how much Xiaomi — which seemed like a crazy idea to many back in January 2010 — has achieved over the past eight years. Xiaomi’s business model is not the easiest to appreciate if you have
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Why the next CryptoKitties mania won’t be about collectables

In recent months, the CryptoKitties fad that had users buying and selling tens of thousands of dollars of blockchain-based collectable cats has settled down considerably. That is not to say that CryptoKitties hasn’t spawned numerous copycats (see CryptoPuppies, CryptoCountries and many more). Unfortunately, the immense popularity of CryptoKitties is unlikely to be repeated, at least not by clones hoping to cash in on the novelty of blockchain-based crypto collectables.

The legacy of CryptoKitties is still in development, but most can agree that the project raised awareness (and attracted development talent) to new uses for blockchain tokens. In particular, CryptoKitties introduced many to the concept

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Keeping artificial intelligence accountable to humans

As a teenager in Nigeria, I tried to build an artificial intelligence system. I was inspired by the same dream that motivated the pioneers in the field: That we could create an intelligence of pure logic and objectivity that would free humanity from human error and human foibles.

I was working with weak computer systems and intermittent electricity, and needless to say my AI project failed. Eighteen years later—as an engineer researching artificial intelligence, privacy and machine-learning algorithms—I’m seeing that so far, the premise that AI can free us from subjectivity or bias is also disappointing. We are creating intelligence in our own image. And that’s not a compliment.

Researchers have known for awhile that purportedly neutral algorithms can mirror or

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Global unicorn exits hit multi-year high in 2018

Unicorn exits are taking flight. With the IPO window wide open, an apparent record number of venture-backed companies privately valued over $1 billion have launched public offerings this year. Crunchbase data shows 23 unicorn IPOs globally so far in 2018, well outpacing full-year totals for 2016 and 2017. Collectively, this year’s newly public unicorns are doing pretty well too. Most priced shares around or above expectations. We’re also seeing a lot of impressive aftermarket gains. At least six are currently valued at more than $10 billion. Meanwhile, unicorn M&A volumes are chugging along as well, with at least 11 deals so far this year. Big transactions like Walmart’s $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart and Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of GitHub have helped boost the
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A new foreign investment bill will impact venture capital and the U.S. startup ecosystem

President Trump’s time in office has been punctuated by rising tension with China on a host of economic issues. He’s received bipartisan criticism for the impact of tariffs on Chinese goods and the resulting retaliation against American exports.

Democrats and Republicans have also unified over concerns about how Chinese state-associated actors are using minority investments in critical technology companies to gain sensitive information — like IP and know-how — about startups, many of them VC-backed.  Policymakers are worried this technology is being used to propel Chinese advancement in emerging technology like artificial intelligence and robotics.

These

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What AR/VR/XR needs to go big

AR/VR/XR are going to be big, but not everyone will win. Today’s market is a collection of related point solutions to specific problems, but not a fully functioning ecosystem. Not yet. For the market to begin to challenge incumbent platforms (particularly mobile), great tech alone is not enough. AR/VR/XR needs its own Reality Ecosystem. And there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

Source: Digi-Capital


(Note: This discussion focuses on consumer, not enterprise, AR/VR/XR markets)

Active users

For platforms to be platforms, they need active users. Lots of them. Table stakes are tens of millions; hundreds of millions are better, but billions are the ultimate goal. Today we’re all active users of a platform with four and a half
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Facebook is going back to college

Kids these days take a greater interest in practical things than we give them credit for. For example, this summer my 12-year-old son Leo was at sleepaway camp in Canada. When we received his first letter home, among camp platitudes, the two notable items reported were that one of his counselors was discharged from the Israeli Army a week before camp, while another was recently “mugged by three guys (one had a gun!) and got stabbed in the arm.” Leo reported the cabin was mesmerized when, as a reward, the counselor showed campers his sweater with a knife hole in it.

America’s colleges and universities could learn a thing or two from Leo, because they continue to resist teaching students the

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Making way for new levels of American innovation

New fifth-generation “5G” network technology will equip the United States with a superior wireless platform, unlocking transformative economic potential. However, 5G’s success is contingent on modernizing outdated policy frameworks that dictate infrastructure overhauls and establishing the proper balance of public-private partnerships to encourage investment and deployment.

Most people have heard by now of the coming 5G revolution. Compared to 4G, this next-generation technology will deliver near-instantaneous connection speed, significantly lower latency — meaning near-zero buffer times — and increased connectivity capacity to allow billions of devices and applications to come online and communicate simultaneously

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Asian investors have plenty of cash, a hearty appetite for investments and a different approach to doing deals

The VC landscape has been shifting radically in the past few years as Asian investors pump cash into startups. Last year, Asian VCs invested 40 percent of the $154 billion in global venture financing, compared to a 44 percent stake for U.S. investors, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis.

Asian VCs largely fund companies close to home, but their portfolios are expanding to include U.S. businesses. That influx of capital can be a valuable lifeline for founders who need cash to fuel hiring, product development and growth.

Securing that money, however, demands cross-cultural sensitivities and negotiation skills more commonly exhibited by diplomats and ambassadors. American startup founders are often stunned to see how

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Finding the Goldilocks zone for applied AI

While Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg debate the dangers of artificial general intelligence, startups applying AI to more narrowly defined problems such as accelerating the performance of sales teams and improving the operating efficiency of manufacturing lines are building billion-dollar businesses. Narrowly defining a problem, however, is only the first step to finding valuable business applications of AI.

To find the right opportunity around which to build an AI business, startups must apply the “Goldilocks principle” in several different dimensions to find the sweet spot that is “just right” to begin — not too far in one dimension, not too far in another. Here are some ways for aspiring startup founders to

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