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Weekend Briefing No. 216
Welcome to the weekend and Happy Easter. I’ve got some travel coming up. Next week I’ll be in Lisbon and the week after that in London / Oxford. Shoot me a note if you’ll be around or if there’s somebody I should meet up with in my travels. Cheers!
3,000,000,000 – This week DocuSign filed for an IPO. The last funding round was in 2015 when it raised $233 million at a $3 billion valuation. Their revenues for the year ending January 31, 2017 totaled $381.5 million, which is up 52% from the year before. However, it also reported a net loss of $115.4 million in that same period. The company has not yet turned a profit.
87,000 – The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is growing, 87,000 tons of plastic and counting.
89 – Mobile data usage in Zimbabwe increased by 89% in 2017, and the country has 50% internet penetration.
There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people’s judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced. We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated, and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. Aeon (8 minutes)
Tennessee & Blockchain
Last week my friend, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, signed into law a bill that creates legal footing for blockchain technology and "smart contracts" (more accurately called executable distributed code contracts). According to the new law, a blockchain-based signature is legally considered an electronic signature. Additionally, a smart contract is legally considered an electronic record. With the new law, Tennessee joins Wyoming in accepting blockchain-based electronic records for legal purposes. In New York a similar measure is stalled in committee. It’s great to see my home state of Tennessee taking the lead in this way. ETH News (4 minutes)
Bootstrapping > Hockey Stick
The typical Silicon Valley approach to growth – emphasizing growth over profitability - is not the right fit for most businesses. Self-financing or “bootstrapping” is better for most companies for these reasons: 1) Focusing on profits creates freedom. Freedom doesn’t come only when you finally make that exit and sell your startup. Spend less than you earn, and you can grow at your own pace — without burning out. 2) Sane Culture. Though many bootstrapped businesses don’t offer ping pong and beer. They do offer sane hours, however. Feeling responsible for those you hire shows integrity and the headcount is often a vanity metric. 3) Purpose. What’s better than an exit strategy? A mission that the people at your company care about - building a company that can outlast you and creating something of true value. Slow growth is the new hockey stick. It’s sustainable. It’s smart. The Startup (7 minutes)
Impact Investing & Empowerment
Impact should be evaluated by how the business model provides opportunity for empowerment. Not only by which consumer segment is served – by how the consumer segment is empowered. Not only by uniqueness of a product – by how the production, distribution and use of the product empowers the local community. A profitable company selling an improved cookstove to an impoverished woman could have minimal impact. Sure, the company is sustainable and the woman is marginally happier and healthier, but how is the business model shifting the locus of power to the local community to lift the community out of poverty? What if the Congolese mother said: “Give me the dirty old cookstove for half the price and give me the other half to do with what I want?” All of this is to say: If given the opportunity of financial freedom or having cleaner air in her home – what would the mother choose? This is not just a theoretical question – it is a question marginalized groups have answered many times. They have answered how every human does: “Empower us.” NextBillion (7 minutes)
SoftBank and Saudi Arabia aim to build a mind-bogglingly huge solar power system. Costing $200 billion, the facility would generate 200 gigawatts of power—about 100 times more than any other planned solar plant. Currently, the biggest planned solar facilities promise to generate up to two gigawatts of power. 200 gigawatts is huge. It would also create 100,000 jobs and would more than triple the nation’s existing energy generation capacity of 77 gigawatts. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday to build the huge new solar plant. It would, in theory, be fully built by 2030. Saudi Arabia currently generates power almost exclusively from oil and gas, so the shift is required. A project of this scale is laudable, given our desperate need to do more to cut emissions. Bloomberg (5 minutes)
I focused exclusively on Neuralink (Elon Musk’s new brain machine interface company) in Weekend Briefing 168. (If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and check it out. It was my favorite WB to date.) Anyhow, they’ve gone silent, but apparently they’ve been getting to work. One of the startup’s first endeavors, according to public records, was taking the necessary first steps to transform its San Francisco headquarters into an animal testing laboratory and machine shop. Musk’s relative silence about Neuralink—and Mark Zuckerberg’s near-silence about Facebook’s brain-computer interface project, for that matter—may have something to do with the fact that an important part of developing neural implants is testing them on animals. In the image-conscious tech industry, the necessity of animal testing isn’t at the forefront of companies’ pitches for brain-computer interfaces. The industry wants its innovation to feel like a magic trick rather than a rigorous and potentially painful scientific process. Gizmodo (9 minutes)
Masculinity & Loneliness
When Paul Kugelman was a kid, he had no shortage of friends. But as he grew older and entered middle age, his social world narrowed. "It was a very lonely time. I did go to work and I did have interactions at work, and I cherished those," he says. "But you know, at the end of the day it was just me." Kugelman's story isn't unusual: researchers say it can be difficult for men to hold on to friendships as they age. And the problem may begin in adolescence. Boys get the cultural messages early on that to be strong is to not need others. Boys have unbelievable emotional and social capacity. And we as a culture just completely try to rip it out of them. So, what happens when half the population gets the message that needing others is a sign of weakness and that being vulnerable is unmanly. Hidden Brain Podcast (48 minutes)
From The Community
“I wouldn’t be in this situation.” – Tim Cook when asked what he would do if he were Mark Zuckerberg dealing with the uproar over the misuse of user’s data.