Like I told you last week, the first half of January lacked any exciting trailers, but that was about to change. And that’s exactly what happened. In a matter of days, we saw not one, but two Spider-Man: Far From Home trailers — yes, the international version does count. Moreover, John Wick fans will be excited to see the first footage for Chapter 3. And then there’s the new Ghostbusters to talk about.
However, when it comes to new movies, it’s going to be a rather boring week at the box office, with M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass being the only blockbuster-sized movie launching this week.
2018 felt like a turning point for this era of video games. We're undoubtedly closer to the next generation of video game consoles than we are to the last, and there's a chance that 2018 was the last year before the PS4 and Xbox One begin to wind down as developers ramp up for new platforms. But the good news is that, with over five years of experience under their belts, studios are able to push these consoles to their limits.
Back in 2013, when the PS4 and Xbox One launched, we could only dream of games like Spider-Man, God of War, and even Sea of Thieves existing. But this generation may very well have peeked in 2018, and since there's no telling what 2019 will look like, it's worth taking a step back and appreciating that.
You don’t need to head out to Starbucks and spend $5 a cup for good espresso. You also don’t need to be rich and buy a $2,000 espresso machine. Believe it or not, you can pick up a fantastic espresso maker on Amazon for just over $50. The Mr. Coffee BVMC-ECM180 Steam Espresso Machine with Starter Set is Amazon’s best-selling espresso machine right now and it’s on sale for just under $52. It makes delicious cappuccinos, lattes, and more, and it even has a built-in milk frother.
The showrunners and creative teams behind many of our favorite shows don't always get the luxury of an advance warning when the network decides to pull the plug on their series. Sometimes it's a sudden, surprise decision, forcing a creative shift that doesn't always work with an unexpected imposed deadline. The alternative, of course, is plenty of time to script a satisfying conclusion for a series that provides enough time to stick the landing before a sign-off for good, as is the case for the titles below. Many of the biggest franchises on TV -- like HBO's fantasy series about, you know, some warring kingdoms and an iron throne -- have had plenty of time to telegraph that the end is in store. For others, well, read on for a rundown of what's going to leave your TV for good this year, and when.
Sonos had a few solid sales available this past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they were nothing compared to the deals that the world's top smart speaker maker just let loose for Super Bowl 53. For a limited time beginning right now, you can save a whopping $200 on the Sonos PlayBar TV Sound Bar as well as the Sonos PlayBase. The more compact Sonos Beam Sound Bar with Alexa is also on sale, and you can save $50 on this awesome speaker. The Sonos SUB is a must-have with either of those speakers if you really want to feel each and every hit during the big game, and it's $100 off during the sale. Finally — and this isn't part of the official Sonos sale — Amazon's hidden deal still lets you snag two Sonos Play:1 speakers for just $298, and you get a free $30 Amazon gift card when you do.
Sonos PLAYBAR TV Soundbar
Complements HD television screens with crisp and powerful sound from nine Amplified speaker drivers. Wirelessly streams all your favorite music services too.
Connect your Playbar to any Amazon Echo or Alexa-enabled device, then just ask for the music you love.
Syncs wirelessly with other Sonos speakers so you can listen to TV or music in perfect sync, throughout your home.
Pair with two Ones and a Sub for a 5.1 surround system, the ultimate home theater experience.
Simple two-cord setup. One for power and one for the TV. Control from your existing TV remote, or wirelessly Connect on the Sonos app from your smart device.
Security researchers from Trend Micro recently unearthed a piece of Android malware known as Anibus that managed to sneak into the Google Play Store with a little bit of creativity. The malware in question was found on two separate apps, though neither of them were widely downloaded.
The way the apps managed to get on the Google Play Store is actually quite clever. In an effort to evade detection from emulators designed to detect behavior associated with malware, the malicious apps were uploaded to the Google Play Store but remained dormant unless motion was detected. Once motion was detected, the payload would spring into action.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed during a media event earlier this week that Microsoft will soon launch a Microsoft 365 subscription service for consumers, following reports that suggested such a move was in the making. Microsoft 365 isn’t exactly new, as it has been available to business users since 2017. However, the new product targets commercial consumers who presumably already have access to a computer of some sort.
To say that Tesla has been unprofitable for the majority of its existence may be truthful, but it isn't exactly fair. As a relatively new automotive upstart, Tesla for quite some time wasn't so much focused on profits as it was with spending boatloads of cash on growth, investing in itself, and boosting production. Wall Street, though, isn't inclined to give a company a seemingly endless amount of time to turn a profit, which is to say Tesla over the past few quarters has been under a lot of pressure to demonstrate that it can be profitable.
Lo and behold, Tesla during the 2018 September quarter did just that. When the dust settled, Tesla posted a quarterly net income of $312 million. It's not a staggering amount by any means, but it was nonetheless a symbolic victory for Tesla and proof that the mass market Model 3 was capable of helping the company turn a corner.
Independent software vendors, along with Internet of Things and cloud vendors, are involved in a market transformation that is making them look more alike. The similarities are evident in the way they approach software security initiatives, according to a report from Synopsys. Synopsys has released its ninth annual Building Security in Maturity Model, or BSIMM9. The BSIMM project provides a de facto standard for assessing and then improving software security initiatives, the company said.
The Motorola Razr -- once the hottest flip phone available -- is being revived as a smartphone with a foldable screen, according to reports. It will be offered exclusively through Verizon in the United States, possibly in February, although the device is still being tested and the launch date is not firm. Its starting price reportedly will be $1,500. Unlike Apple and Samsung, Lenovo may not have the chops to push a $1,500 smartphone, suggested Ramon Llamas, a research director at IDC.
Authorities can't force people to unlock their biometrically secured phones or other devices, according to a federal judge. "The Government may not compel or otherwise utilize fingers, thumbs, facial recognition, optical/iris, or any other biometric feature to unlock electronic devices," Magistrate Judge Kandis A. Westmore wrote. An attempt by law enforcement authorities in Oakland, California, to force two suspected extortionists to unlock their mobile phones with biometrics violated Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
Over the past 10 years, I've been a part of at least that many startups. The tools of the trade have changed rapidly, but the core elements of successful entrepreneurship remain relatively unchanged. When I first started out, "social media marketing" was a brand new concept and existed almost entirely on Myspace. Now entrepreneurs have a slew of tools to amplify their brand and grow their e-commerce revenue, but it's easy to get lost in the noise. As a consultant and a company founder, I can tell you success isn't easy, but it is attainable.
Verizon has a new cloud-based gaming service that is in the alpha testing stage, based on recent reports. Verizon Gaming is being tested on Nvidia Shield set-top boxes. The Shield devices, which were unveiled in 2015, were updated two years ago when Nvidia rolled out its own streaming service. Verizon Gaming will give greater software support to the Nvidia Shield, but the service also will be opened to Android smartphones in the near future. Whether on the Shield or a smartphone, the games will be playable with a paired Xbox One controller.
NetSuite announced results of its sponsored study at this week's National Retail Federation show in New York, shedding light on technology adoption in a retail setting. The study suggests that merchants are not doing what customers would want and that they have a misguided perception of the situation. For example: Seventy-three percent of retail executives believed that the overall environment in retail stores had become more inviting in the past five years. Only 45 percent of consumers agreed.
Netflix has decided to hike prices by $1 to $2 for all 58 million of its subscribers in the U.S., as well as customers in about 40 Latin American countries who are billed in U.S currency. Customers in key international markets such as Mexico and Brazil reportedly will be exempt from the increases. Netflix had nearly 79 million subscribers overseas at the end of September. The basic plan will go from $9 to $10; standard plan from $11 to $13; and the premium plan from $14 to $16.
CES 2018 had more than its fair share of wacky items and compelling gadgets, but one of the biggest trends to emerge, once again, from the popular tech expo was voice-enabled devices. And, of course, it was all about Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Mobilizing 5G Millimeter Wave In this infographic, you’ll learn how the mmWave spectrum delivers huge bandwidth increases for mobile devices, what it took to get this breakthrough ready for consumers, and how it will unlock new experiences like extended realit
People have frequently used GoFundMe to lend a helping hand to others in need of some help, but the site itself is getting involved in light of the US government shutdown. The company has teamed up with Deepak Chopra to launch a donation campaign fo...
How will podcasters Desus and Mero handle a late-night talk show on Showtime? You now have a slightly better idea. Showtime has posted a teaser for Desus & Mero that has the duo shopping for set decorations ahead of their February 21st premiere...
If you're feeling nostalgic for the 90s, Prime Video may have something you can binge on. Amazon is adding Baywatch -- yes, the classic TV series and not Dwayne Johnson's flick -- to its lineup for US, Canada and Australia. You'll even be able to enj...
Do you deeply regret passing on the iPhone SE before Apple cut it out of the lineup? You now have another chance to get it. Apple has quietly resumed selling the iPhone SE as a clearance item in the US, starting at $249 for a 32GB model (down from th...
Stratolaunch is axing several projects in an effort to scale back its operations a few months after founder Paul Allen, who's more recognized for being Microsoft's co-founder, passed away. According to GeekWire, the company will continue developing t...
Internet giants like Google might breathe a little easier in Europe... at least, for now. The EU has called off January 21st negotiations for a final vote on the controversial Copyright Directive after 11 countries, including Germany, Italy and the...
Tesla's efforts to improve its bottom line go beyond layoffs and disappearing perks. Electrek has learned that Tesla is raising Supercharger rates around the world, with per kWh rates climbing about 33 percent in numerous markets. While it's still...
Fyre Fight: The inside story of how we got two warring Fyre Festival documentaries in the same week
We've known for a while now that Hulu and Netflix were both working on documentaries chronicling the ill-fated influencer...
Are You Ready For DNS Flag Day? Long-time Slashdot reader syn3rg quotes the DNS Flag Day page:
The current DNS is unnecessarily slow and suffers from inability to deploy new features. To remediate these problems, vendors of DNS software and also big public DN
Venezuela's Government Blocks Access To Wikipedia Haaretz (with contributions from Reuters and the Associated Press) reports:
According to NetBlocks, a digital rights group that tracks restrictions to the internet, as of 12 January, Venezuela largest telecommunications provider
'I Got Death Threats For Writing a Bad Review of Aquaman' The Huffington Post recently published a post by one of the 300 members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association -- and a contributing writer to Variety:
I saw "Aquaman" on a brisk Monday morning in December. Though I appreciate
GitHub Seeks Feedback on 'Open Source Sustainability' Devon Zuegel, "a developer with a passion for governance and economics," recently became GitHub's open source product manager to "support maintainers in cultivating vital, productive communities" -- specifically open source softwa
A funny thing happened in the second half of 2018. At some moment, all the people active in crypto looked around and realized there weren’t very many of us. The friends we’d convinced during the last holiday season were no longer speaking to us. They had stopped checking their Coinbase accounts. The tide had gone out from the beach. Tokens and blockchains were supposed to change the world; how come nobody was using them?
In most cases, still, nobody is using them. In this respect, many crypto projects have succeeded admirably. Cryptocurrency’s appeal is understood by many as freedom from human fallibility. There is no central banker, playing politics with the money supply. There is no lawyer, overseeing the contract. Sometimes it feels like crypto developers adopted the defense mechanism of the skunk. It’s working: they are succeeding at keeping people away.
Some now acknowledge the need for human users, the so-called “social layer,” of Bitcoin and other crypto networks. That human component is still regarded as its weakest link. I’m writing to propose that crypto’s human component is its strongest link. For the builders of crypto networks, how to attract the right users is a question that should come before how to defend against attackers (aka, the wrong users). Contrary to what you might hear on Twitter, when evaluating a crypto network, the demographics and ideologies of its users do matter. They are the ultimate line of defense, and the ultimate decision-maker on direction and narrative.
What Ethereum got right
Since the collapse of The DAO, no one in crypto should be allowed to say “code is law” with a straight face. The DAO was a decentralized venture fund that boldly claimed pure governance through code, then imploded when someone found a loophole. Ethereum, a crypto protocol on which The DAO was built, erased this fiasco with a hard fork, walking back the ledger of transactions to the moment before disaster struck. Dissenters from this social-layer intervention kept going on Ethereum’s original, unforked protocol, calling it Ethereum Classic. To so-called “Bitcoin maximalists,” the DAO fork is emblematic of Ethereum’s trust-dependency, and therefore its weakness.
There’s irony, then, in maximalists’ current enthusiasm for narratives describing Bitcoin’s social-layer resiliency. The story goes: in the event of a security failure, Bitcoin’s community of developers, investors, miners and users are an ultimate layer of defense. We, Bitcoin’s community, have the option to fork the protocol—to port our investment of time, capital and computing power onto a new version of Bitcoin. It’s our collective commitment to a trust-minimized monetary system that makes Bitcoin strong. (Disclosure: I hold bitcoin and ether.)
Even this narrative implies trust—in the people who make up that crowd. Historically, Bitcoin Core developers, who maintain the Bitcoin network’s dominant client software, have also exerted influence, shaping Bitcoin’s road map and the story of its use cases. Ethereum’s flavor of minimal trust is different, having a public-facing leadership group whose word is widely imbibed. In either model, the social layer abides. When they forked away The DAO, Ethereum’s leaders had to convince a community to come along.
You can’t believe in the wisdom of the crowd and discount its ability to see through an illegitimate power grab, orchestrated from the outside. When people criticize Ethereum or Bitcoin, they are really criticizing this crowd, accusing it of a propensity to fall for false narratives.
How do you protect Bitcoin’s codebase?
In September, Bitcoin Core developers patched and disclosed a vulnerability that would have enabled an attacker to crash the Bitcoin network. That vulnerability originated in March, 2017, with Bitcoin Core 0.14. It sat there for 18 months until it was discovered.
There’s no doubt Bitcoin Core attracts some of the best and brightest developers in the world, but they are fallible and, importantly, some of them are pseudonymous. Could a state actor, working pseudonymously, produce code good enough to be accepted into Bitcoin’s protocol? Could he or she slip in another vulnerability, undetected, for later exploitation? The answer is undoubtedly yes, it is possible, and it would be naïve to believe otherwise. (I doubt Bitcoin Core developers themselves are so naïve.)
Why is it that no government has yet attempted to take down Bitcoin by exploiting such a weakness? Could it be that governments and other powerful potential attackers are, if not friendly, at least tolerant towards Bitcoin’s continued growth? There’s a strong narrative in Bitcoin culture of crypto persisting against hostility. Is that narrative even real?
The social layer is key to crypto success
Some argue that sexism and racism don’t matter to Bitcoin. They do. Bitcoin’s hodlers should think carefully about the books we recommend and the words we write and speak. If your social layer is full of assholes, your network is vulnerable. Not all hacks are technical. Societies can be hacked, too, with bad or unsecure ideas. (There are more and more numerous examples of this, outside of crypto.)
Not all white papers are as elegant as Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin white paper. Many run over 50 pages, dedicating lengthy sections to imagining various potential attacks and how the network’s internal “crypto-economic” system of incentives and penalties would render them bootless. They remind me of the vast digital fortresses my eight-year-old son constructs in Minecraft, bristling with trap doors and turrets.
I love my son (and his Minecraft creations), but the question both he and crypto developers may be forgetting to ask is, why would anyone want to enter this forbidding fortress—let alone attack it? Who will enter, bearing talents, ETH or gold? Focusing on the user isn’t yak shaving, when the user is the ultimate security defense. I’m not suggesting security should be an afterthought, but perhaps a network should be built to bring people in, rather than shut them out.
The author thanks Tadge Dryja and Emin Gün Sirer, who provided feedback that helped hone some of the ideas in this article.
Last April, Spotify surprised Wall Street bankers by choosing to go public through a direct listing process rather than through a traditional IPO. Instead of issuing new shares, the company simply sold existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors directly to the market – bypassing the roadshow process and avoiding at least some of Wall Street’s fees. That pattens is set to continue in 2019 as Silicon Valley darlings Slack and Airbnb take the direct listing approach.
Have we reached a new normal where tech companies choose to test their own fate and disrupt the traditional capital markets process?This week, we asked a panel of six experts on IPOs and direct listings: “What are the implications of direct listing tech IPOs for financial services, regulation, venture capital, and capital markets activity?”
This week’s participants include: IPO researcher Jay R. Ritter (University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business), Spotify’s CFO Barry McCarthy, fintech venture capitalist Josh Kuzon (Reciprocal Ventures), IPO attorney Eric Jensen (Cooley LLP), research analyst Barbara Gray, CFA (Brady Capital Research), and capital markets advisor Graham A. Powis (Brookline Capital Markets).
TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. Consider this a recurring venue for debate, where leading experts – with a diverse range of vantage points and opinions – provide us with thoughts on some of the biggest issues currently in tech, startups and venture. If you have any feedback, please reach out: Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.
Thoughts & Responses:
Jay R. Ritter
Jay Ritter is the Cordell Eminent Scholar at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. He is the world’s most-cited academic expert on IPOs. His analysis of the Google IPO is available here.
In April last year, Spotify stock started to trade without a formal IPO, in what is known as a direct listing. The direct listing provided liquidity for shareholders, but unlike most traditional IPOs, did not raise any money for the company. [According to recent reports], Slack [is considering] a direct listing, and it is rumored that some of the other prominent unicorns are considering doing the same.
Although no equity capital is raised by the company in a direct listing, after trading is established the company could do a follow-on offering to raise money. The big advantage of a direct listing is that it reduces the two big costs of an IPO—the direct cost of the fees paid to investment bankers, which are typically 7% of the proceeds for IPOs raising less than $150 million, and the indirect cost of selling shares at an offer price less than what the stocks subsequently trades at, which adds on another 18%, on average. For a unicorn in which the company and existing shareholders sell $1 billion in a traditional IPO using bookbuilding, the strategy of a direct listing and subsequent follow-on offering could net the company and selling shareholders an extra $200 million.
Direct listings are not the only way to reduce the direct and indirect costs of going public. Starting twenty years ago, when Ravenswood Winery went public in 1999, some companies have gone public using an auction rather than bookbuilding. Prominent companies that have used an auction include Google, Morningstar, and Interactive Brokers Group. Auctions, however, have not taken off, in spite of lower fees and less underpricing. The last few years no U.S. IPO has used one.
Traditional investment banks view direct listings and auction IPOs as a threat. Not only are the fees that they receive lower, but the investment bankers can no longer promise underpriced shares to their hedge fund clients. Issuing firms and their shareholders are the beneficiaries when direct listings are used.
If auctions and direct listings are so great, why haven’t more issuers used them? One important reason is that investment banks typically bundle analyst coverage with other business. If a small company hires a top investment bank such as Credit Suisse to take them public with a traditional IPO, Credit Suisse is almost certainly going to have its analyst that covers the industry follow the stock, at least for a while. Many companies have discovered, however, that if the company doesn’t live up to expectations, the major investment banks are only too happy to drop coverage a few years later. In contrast, an analyst at a second-tier investment bank, such as William Blair, Raymond James, Jefferies, Stephens, or Stifel, is much more likely to continue to follow the company for many years if the investment bank had been hired for the IPO. In my opinion, the pursuit of coverage from analysts at the top investment banks has discouraged many companies from bucking the system. The prominent unicorns, however, will get analyst coverage no matter what method they use or which investment banks they hire.
Barry McCarthy is the Chief Financial Officer of Spotify. Prior to joining Spotify, Mr. McCarthy was a private investor and served as a board member for several major public and private companies, including Spotify, Pandora and Chegg. McCarthy also serves as an Executive Adviser to Technology Crossover Ventures and previously served as the Chief Financial Officer and Principal Accounting Officer of Netflix.
If we take a leap of faith and imagine that direct listings become an established alternative to the traditional IPO process, then we can expect:
Financing costs to come down – The overall “cost” of the traditional IPO process will come down, in order to compete with the lower cost alternative (lower underwriting fees and no IPO discount) of a direct listing.
The regulatory framework to remain unchanged – No change was / is required in federal securities laws, which already enable the direct listing process. With the SEC’s guidance and regulatory oversight, Spotify repurposed an existing process for direct listings – we didn’t invent a new one.
A level playing field for exits – Spotify listed without the traditional 180 day lock-up. In order to compete with direct listings, traditional IPOs may eliminate the lock-up (and the short selling hedge funds do into the lock-up expiry).
Financing frequency; right church, wrong pew – Regardless of what people tell you, an IPO is just another financing event. But you don’t need to complete a traditional IPO anymore if you want to sell equity. Conventional wisdom says you do, but I think conventional wisdom is evolving with the realities of the marketplace. Here’s how we’d do it at Spotify if we needed to raise additional equity capital. We’d execute a secondary or follow-on transaction, pay a 1% transaction fee and price our shares at about a 4% discount to the closing price on the day we priced our secondary offering. This is much less expensive “financing” than a traditional IPO with underwriter fees ranging from 3-7% (larger deals mean smaller fees) and the underwriter’s discount of ~36% to the full conviction price for the offering. You simply uncouple the going public event from the money raising event.
Josh Kuzon is a Partner at Reciprocal Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm based in NYC focused on FinTech and blockchain. An expert in payments and banking systems, Josh is focused on backing the next generation of FinTech companies across payments, credit, financial infrastructure, and financial management software.
I think the implications of direct listing tech IPOs are positive for venture capitalists, as it creates a channel for efficient exits. However, the threat of low liquidity from a direct listing is significant and may ultimately outweigh the benefits for the listing company.
Direct listing tech IPOs offers a compelling model for company employees and existing investors in pursuit of a liquidity event. The model features a non-dilutive, no lock-up period, and underwriting fee-less transaction, which is a short-term benefit of the strategy. Additionally, as a publicly traded company, there are longer-term benefits in being able to access public markets for financing, using company stock to pay for acquisitions, and potentially broaden global awareness of an organization. However, these benefits come with tradeoffs that should not be overlooked.
One concern is the circular problem of liquidity. Without a defined supply of stock, it can be difficult to generate meaningful buyside demand. A floating price and indeterminate quantity will dampen institutional interest, no matter how great the listing company may be. Institutions require size and certainty; not only do they desire to build large positions, but they need to know they can exit them if needed. Without consistent institutional bids, sellers are less motivated to unwind their stakes, for fear of volatility and soft prices.
I believe institutional investors and their brokers are crucial ingredients for a properly functioning public equities market structure. They help make markets more liquid and efficient and serve as a check on companies to drive better business outcomes for their shareholders. A lack of institutional investors could be a very expensive long-term tradeoff for a short-term gain.
For companies that have significant brand awareness, don’t need to raise additional capital, or already have a diverse institutional investor base, the direct listing model may work out well for them. Few companies, however, fit this profile. Many more will likely have to work a lot harder to persuade the capital markets to participate in a direct listing and even if successful, may ultimately come back to bite them as they evolve and require additional capital markets cooperation.
Eric Jensen is a partner at Cooley LLP. He advises leading technology entrepreneurs, venture funds and investment banks in formation, financing, capital market and M&A transactions, and in in the past seven years was involved in over 55 offerings, raising over $21 billion, for companies such as Appian, Atlassian, Alteryx, Avalara, DocuSign, FireEye, Forty Seven, LinkedIn, MongoDB, NVIDIA, Redfin, SendGrid, ServiceNow, Tenable, Zendesk, Zulilly and Zynga.
It is challenging to draw market lessons from a single completed “direct listing.” The degree of interest I am seeing, often without folks knowing what it means, shows that the IPO model has issues. So first I describe to a client what it means – an IPO without the “I” and the “O”, meaning you are not selling any stock and therefore you don’t have a set initial stock price. These factors mean that a direct listing is relevant only for a small subset of private companies – those that:
Sold stock to a number of institutional buyers that are likely to hold or increase their interest once trading begins;
Are large enough (and didn’t restrict transfers) such that an active trading market developed as a private company, to be used as a proxy for the public trading price;
Don’t need to raise primary capital, and
Want to make their mark by doing something different, at the expense of placing IPO stock in the hands of new investors they have selected.
There is no evidence to indicate that it accelerates public market access, any company that can do a direct listing could do an IPO. The SEC doesn’t go away, and compared to the highly tuned IPO process, SEC scrutiny is actually higher. As least based on Spotify, it doesn’t put investment bankers out of a job, nor does it dramatically reduce total transactions costs. Spotify had no lock-up agreement, so the VCs I know love this feature, but it is not inherent in a direct listing, and IPOs don’t require lock-ups.
In my book, too soon to tell if it is the reverse Dutch Auction of its day.
Barbara Gray, CFA is a former top-ranked sell-side Equity Analyst and the Founder of Brady Capital Research Inc., a leading-edge investment research firm focused on structural disruption. She is also the author of the books Secrets of the Amazon 2.0, Secrets of the Amazon and Ubernomics.
Although Spotify successfully broke free of its reins last April and entered the public arena unescorted, I expect most unicorns will still choose to pay the fat underwriting fees to be paraded around by investment bankers.
Realistically, the direct listing route is most suitable for companies meeting the following three criteria: 1) consumer-facing with strong brand equity; 2) easy-to-understand business model; and 3) no need to raise capital. Even if a company meets this criteria, the “escorted” IPO route could provide a positive return on investment as the IPO roadshow is designed to provide a valuation uptick through building awareness and preference versus competitive offerings by enabling a company to: a) reach and engage a larger investment pool; b) optimally position its story; and c) showcase its skilled management team.
Although the concept of democratizing capital markets by providing equal access to all investors is appealing, if a large institution isn’t able to get an IPO allocation, they may be less willing to build up a meaningful position in the aftermarket. The direct listings option also introduces a higher level of pricing risk and volatility as the opening price and vulnerable early trading days of the stock are left to the whims of the market. Unlike with an IPO, with benefits of stabilizing bids and 90 to 180 days lock-up agreements prohibiting existing investors from selling their shares, a flood of sellers could hit the market.
Graham A. Powis is Senior Capital Markets Advisor at Brookline Capital Markets, a division of CIM Securities, LLC. Brookline is a boutique investment bank that provides a comprehensive suite of capital markets and advisory services to the healthcare industry. Mr. Powis previously held senior investment banking positions at BTIG, Lazard and Cowen.
While Spotify’s direct listing in 2018 and recent reports that Slack is considering a direct listing in 2019 have heightened curiosity around this approach to “going public,” we expect that most issuers in the near-to medium-term will continue to pursue a traditional IPO path. Potential benefits of a direct listing include the avoidance of further dilution to existing holders and underwriter fees. However, large, high-profile and well-financed corporations, most often in the technology and consumer sectors, are the companies typically best-suited to pursue these direct listings. By contrast, smaller companies seeking to raise capital alongside an exchange listing, and with an eye on overcoming challenges in attracting interest from the investing public, will continue to follow a well-established IPO process.
A case in point is the healthcare segment of the US IPO market, which has accounted for one-third of all US IPO activity over the last five years. The healthcare vertical tilts toward small unprofitable companies with significant capital needs and, as a result, direct listings aren’t likely to become a popular choice in that industry. Since 2014, unprofitable companies have accounted for more than 90% of all healthcare IPOs completed. Furthermore, the biotechnology subsector has been by far the most active corner of the healthcare IPO market, and biotechnology companies are voracious consumers of capital. Finally, healthcare IPOs tend to be relatively small: since 2014, healthcare IPO issuers have raised, on average, only 47% of the amount raised by non-healthcare issuers, and more than half have already returned to the market at least once for additional capital.
Illinois’s startup market in 2018 was very strong, and it’s not slowing down as we settle into 2019. There’s already almost $100 million in new VC funding announced, so let’s take a quick look at the state of venture in the Land of Lincoln (with a specific focus on Chicago).
In the chart below, we’ve plotted venture capital deal and dollar volume for Illinois as a whole. Reported funding data in Crunchbase shows a general upward trend in dollar volume, culminating in nearly $2 billion worth of VC deals in 2018; however, deal volume has declined since peaking in 2014.1
Chicago accounts for 97 percent of the dollar volume and 90.7 percent of total deal volume in the state. We included the rest of Illinois to avoid adjudicating which towns should be included in the greater Chicago area.
In addition to all the investment in 2018, a number of venture-backed companies from Chicago exited last year. Here’s a selection of the bigger deals from the year:
Crain’s Chicago Business reports that 2018 was the best year for venture-backed startup acquisitions in Chicago “in recent memory.” Crunchbase News has previously shown that the Midwest (which is anchored by Chicago) may have fewer startup exits, but the exits that do happen often result in better multiples on invested capital (calculated by dividing the amount of money a company was sold for by the amount of funding it raised from investors).
2018 was a strong year for Chicago startups, and 2019 is shaping up to bring more of the same. Just a couple weeks into the new year, a number of companies have already announced big funding rounds.
Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more notable deals struck so far this year:
Learning management system company BenchPrep announced $20 million in a Series C round co-led by Chicago-based Jump Capital and Bay Area-based Owl Ventures, LP. Part of that capital reportedly comes in the form of debt. The SEC filing for the round, dated December 2018, discloses that $14.53 million was raised in an equity offering, of which $2,999,999 was used to buy shares from “certain executive officers” at the company.
Besides these, a number of seed deals have been announced. These include relatively large rounds raised by 3D modeling technology company ThreeKit, upstart futures exchange Small Exchange and 24/7 telemedicine service First Stop Health.
Globally, and in North America, venture deal and dollar volume hit new records in 2018. However, it’s unclear what 2019 will bring. What’s true at a macro level is also true at the metro level. Don’t discount the City of the Big Shoulders, though.
Note that many seed and early-stage deals are reported several months or quarters after a transaction is complete. As those historical deals get added to Crunchbase over time, we’d expect to see deal and dollar volume from recent years rise slightly.
Behold, the LEGO Chevrolet Silverado. The full-size truck is basically a giant ad for Chevy and the new LEGO Movie, which is due out in February. Apparently they have to fight Duplo blocks from outer space. No, seriously, that’s the plot.
Anyway, the 2019 Silverado is six-feet tall, weighs 3,307 pounds and took 18 builders 2,000 hours to assemble the 334,544 pieces at a LEGO Master Builders shop in Connecticut. Chevy says it’s the first of its vehicles to be built full-scale in this manner.
The video is just over half-a-minute, but offers some interesting insight into how a team of people who get paid to build stuff with LEGO utilize computer models to complete the task.
We’re three weeks into January. We’ve recovered from our CES hangover and, hopefully, from the CES flu. We’ve started writing the correct year, 2019, not 2018.
Venture capitalists have gone full steam ahead with fundraising efforts, several startups have closed multi-hundred million dollar rounds, a virtual influencer raised equity funding and yet, all anyone wants to talk about is Slack’s new logo… As part of its public listing prep, Slack announced some changes to its branding this week, including a vaguely different looking logo. Considering the flack the $7 billion startup received instantaneously and accusations that the negative space in the logo resembled a swastika — Slack would’ve been better off leaving its original logo alone; alas…
The data management startup raised a $261 million Series E funding at a $3.3 billion valuation, an increase from the $1.3 billion valuation it garnered with a previous round. In true unicorn form, Rubrik’s CEO told TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden it’s intentionally unprofitable: “Our goal is to build a long-term, iconic company, and so we want to become profitable but not at the cost of growth,” he said. “We are leading this market transformation while it continues to grow.”
Will 2019 be a banner year for real estate tech investment? As $4.65 billion was funneled into the space in 2018 across more than 350 deals and with high-flying startups attracting investors (Compass, Opendoor, Knock), the excitement is poised to continue. This week, Knock brought in $400 million at an undisclosed valuation to accelerate its national expansion. “We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Knock CEO Sean Black told me.
Outdoorsy, which connects customers with underused RVs, raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from Aviva Ventures, Altos Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and Tandem Capital.
Ciitizen, a developer of tools to help cancer patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Footwear startup Birdies — no, I don’t mean Allbirds or Rothy’s — brought in an $8 million Series A led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from Slow Ventures and earlier investor Forerunner Ventures.
If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I marveled at the dollars going into scooter startups, discussed Slack’s upcoming direct listing and debated how the government shutdown might impact the IPO market.
Something odd is in motion in Los Angeles. On a recent day at the office, colleagues debated the merits of the Boring Company’s proposal to alleviate Dodger traffic via levitating tunnel pods. I stepped out for coffee in the afternoon and was almost run over by an elderly man on a dozen scooters, balanced precariously as he rebalanced dockless inventory. And that night, I sat in traffic on the 10 Freeway listening to commentators discuss Uber’s ostensibly imminent eVTOL aircraft, while a venture capitalist friend rested his head in the sleeping compartment of a Cabin bus, carrying him back to Silicon Valley from Santa Monica.
Welcome to the abnormalization of transportation.
Even without hover-sleds and flying cars, the Los Angeles megalopolis is in the midst of a transformation in mobility. Neighborhoods from downtown to Silicon Beach have been carpeted in scooters and bikes. The Uber and Lyft revolution faces competition from the various dockless two wheelers and Via’s ridesharing as a service, launching in Los Angeles soon. Flixbus, looking to expand out of European dominance, targeted LA as its hub for inter-city private bus service. And Cabin’s luxury sleeper bus has been offering a premium alternative to Megabus to and from the Bay Area for months.
If even a fraction of the promise of this technology comes to pass, the movement of things and people in cities will be both bizarre and beautiful process in the near future.
Yet we fear that this future may not be realized if start-ups are given the red light by well-meaning regulators. As the cities of the world experience a shakeup they haven’t seen since the subway, we have three ideas to help policymakers bring about more equitable, efficient, and environmentally friendly transportation systems, and answer a fundamental question: how on earth do you plan for a future this wild?
Rule 1: Play in the sand before you carve in stone.
It’s far from clear how these transformative, and multi-modal, technologies will fit together. Equally uncertain is the right framework to govern this puzzle. Proscriptive solutions risk killing innovation in its infancy. The solution is to encourage regulatory sandboxing. Regulatory sandboxes are mechanisms to allow emerging technologies to operate outside the constraints of normal regulations and to inform the development of future rules. These protected spaces, increasingly common in areas like fintech or crypto, allow the evolution of what Adam Thierer calls “soft law” before policymakers make hard decisions.
The federal Department of Transportation has recognized the value of such ecosystems and the lessons they bring. Last year, the DOT created the drone Integration Pilot Program which allows a number of state, local, and tribal governments to work with companies to test advanced drone operations, including the right balance of rules to govern such operations. Recognizing the early success of the IPP, DOT recently announced they would be creating a similar program for autonomous vehicles. These flexible environments promote critical collaboration between the companies building cutting-edge technologies and the regulator. New regulations are constructed on real-world experience, rather than hypotheses developed behind closed doors.
Rule 2: Don’t pick winners and losers.
Regulators tend to be cautious folks, so more often than not, they favor incumbents. And even when they embrace innovation, too often, authorities takes sides and decide which companies, or even which technologies, are allowed to operate.
For example, some cities are writing off the scooter sector entirely, just as they did a few years ago with ridesharing. Beverly Hills has banned dockless scooters and impounded more a thousand, in an effort to send a message to Bird. Bird responded by suing the city, stating that the scooter ban violates several California laws.
Other cities haven’t gone so far as to ban scooters outright, but are nonetheless falling into the trap of replacing old cartels with new technocumbents. Santa Monica came very close to banning Lime and Bird, the two most popular scooter companies among locals, in favor of Uber and Lyft, who had never deployed scooters in the city before. Only after outcry from ordinary beach dwellers did the city council allow all four companies to operate. Still, no other scooter companies are allowed to operation within city limits.
We should let the market determine whether these technologies will succeed and which companies should deploy them. Cities should play an orchestration role, instead of adjudicator, facilitating connections between new technologies and the existing transit infrastructure. The alternative is to kill innovation in the crib.
Remember PickupPal? They were around well before Uber or Lyft, but you can’t call a PickupPal today. A Canadian pioneer in ridesharing in the early days of smartphones, the company was thwarted by incumbents raising a law banning pickups for profit. Rather than recognize the benefits of ridesharing, authorities crushed it (along with another popular ridesharing company Allo Stop). A technology-enabled last mile solution was regulated out of existence.
By contrast, Uber was able combat efforts to thwart its access to markets. They did so, in many cases, by taking an adversarial approach and changing the law to ensure ridesharing could continue. While this preserved ridesharing as an industry, it delayed the opportunity to connect ridesharing to existing transit networks. Regulators and ridesharing companies remain more at odds than not continuing to delay solutions to the systemic transportation challenges cities face.
Rule 3: Embrace the challenge and the tools that will help you address it.
Transportation is inherently local, and the future of of mobility innovation will be as well. Even aviation, an industry that long soared above concerns of the urban environment, is being forced to rethink its relationship with the metropolis. EVTOL aircraft are revisiting the lessons helicopters learned in the 1970s and drone companies face the hyperlocal concerns that arise when your neighbor decides 3am is the ideal time for his Eaze order to be facilitated by a flying lawnmower.
Ultimately, solutions, not sanctions, will allow cities to welcome this weird new transportation future and realize it’s transformative potential. The abnormalization of transportation presents a tremendous challenge for city officials, planners, and legislators. It’s a road worth traveling.
Days after Snap announced the departure of its CFO, reports have emerged that the company’s HR chief was asked to leave following an internal investigation late last year that had led to the firing of its global security head.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Snap fired global security head Francis Racioppi late last year after an investigation uncovered that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with an outside contractor he had hired. After the relationship ended, Racioppi terminated the woman’s contract, the report says.
Racioppi denied any wrongdoing in a comment to the Journal. A report from Cheddar also adds that a security manager of Racioppi’s was fired for aiding in an attempt to cover up the scandal.
The investigation’s findings reportedly contributed to CEO Evan Spiegel asking the company’s HR head Jason Halbert to step down. Halbert announced his plans to leave the company this week.
While today’s news pins two high-profile executive departures to a single incident, Snap’s executive team has seemed to be losing talent from its ranks at a quickening pace.
Reports emerged today that the FTC is considering a fine against Facebook that would be the largest ever from the agency. Even if it were 10 times the size of the largest, a $22.5 million bill sent to Google in 2012, the company would basically laugh it off. Facebook is made of money. But the FTC may make it provide something it has precious little of these days: accountability.
A Washington Post report cites sources inside the agency (currently on hiatus due to the shutdown) saying that regulators have “met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine.” We may as well say here that this must be taken with a grain of salt at the outset; that Facebook is non-compliant with terms set previously by the FTC is an established fact, so how much they should be made to pay is the natural next topic of discussion.
But how much would it be? The scale of the violation is hugely negotiable. Our summary of the FTC’s settlement requirements for Facebook indicate that it was:
barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information;
required to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences;
required to prevent anyone from accessing a user’s material more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account;
required to establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program designed to address privacy risks associated with the development and management of new and existing products and services, and to protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumers’ information; and
required, within 180 days, and every two years after that for the next 20 years, to obtain independent, third-party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the requirements of the FTC order, and to ensure that the privacy of consumers’ information is protected.
How many of those did it break, and how many times? Is it per user? Per account? Per post? Per offense? What is “accessing” under such and such a circumstance? The FTC is no doubt deliberating these things.
Yet it is hard to imagine them coming up with a number that really scares Facebook. A hundred million dollars is a lot of money, for instance. But Facebook took in more than $13 billion in revenue last quarter. Double that fine, triple it, and Facebook bounces back.
If even a fine 10 times the size of the largest it ever threw can’t faze the target, what can the FTC do to scare Facebook into playing by the book? Make it do what it’s already supposed to be doing, but publicly.
How many ad campaigns is a user’s data being used for? How many internal and external research projects? How many copies are there? What data specifically and exactly is it collecting on any given user, how is that data stored, who has access to it, to whom is it sold or for whom is it aggregated or summarized? What is the exact nature of the privacy program it has in place, who works for it, who do they report to and what are their monthly findings?
These and dozens of other questions come immediately to mind as things Facebook should be disclosing publicly in some way or another, either directly to users in the case of how one’s data is being used, or in a more general report, such as what concrete measures are being taken to prevent exfiltration of profile data by bad actors, or how user behavior and psychology is being estimated and tracked.
Not easy or convenient questions to answer at all, let alone publicly and regularly. But if the FTC wants the company to behave, it has to impose this level of responsibility and disclosure. Because, as Facebook has already shown, it cannot be trusted to disclose it otherwise. Light touch regulation is all well and good… until it isn’t.
This may in fact be such a major threat to Facebook’s business — imagine having to publicly state metrics that are clearly at odds with what you tell advertisers and users — that it might attempt to negotiate a larger initial fine in order to avoid punitive measures such as those outlined here. Volkswagen spent billions not on fines, but in sort of punitive community service to mitigate the effects of its emissions cheating. Facebook too could be made to shell out in this indirect way.
What the FTC is capable of requiring from Facebook is an open question, since the scale and nature of these violations are unprecedented. But whatever they come up with, the part with a dollar sign in front of it — however many places it goes to — will be the least of Facebook’s worries.
The flurry of anti-dockless electric scooter headlines reached critical mass last summer. “This town seriously hates electric scooters,” screamed the link to a story focused on Santa Monica, Calif. “San Francisco Is Fighting the Scooter Trend With Poop and Vandalism,” blared another. There’s even an Instagram account devoted to images of destroyed rideshare scooters. And, of course, “bike share” bashing is old news by now. Chalk it up to predictable, initial backlash to disruptive technologies. The ironic truth is that these nontraditional two-wheeled machines are redefining urban transportation and – along with ongoing innovations in autonomous vehicles and evolving connected-city technologies…
In early December, Facebook’s developer team declared the discovery of a security bug that gave developers access to photos users hadn’t shared on their timeline, including photos they had posted in Facebook Marketplace or Stories. More worryingly, apps could find access to images users might have uploaded to Facebook but didn’t post anywhere. For example, this could be pictures you uploaded to a profile update you abandoned and did not complete. These are pictures that users haven’t shared with anyone. According to Facebook, up to 1,500 might have made use of the bug and up to 6.8 million users might have been…
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Facebook hasn’t given up on attracting teens. After numerous failed products aimed at teens — including LOL, Facebook Watch, and IGTV — the company is now hard at work on LOL, a meme hub of sorts meant to win the hearts and minds of teens fleeing for greener pastures at TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. First reported by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, LOL would bridge the gap of a traditional News Feed with meme-focused content that Facebook hopes will attract teen attention. For the 100 or so high schoolers currently testing it (each bound by NDA with parental consent), the feed replaces…