Bradley Tusk has become known in recent years for being involved in what’s about to get hot, from his early days advising Uber, to writing one of the first checks to the insurance startup Lemonade, to pushing forward the idea that we should be using the smart devices in our pockets to vote.
Indeed, because he’s often at the vanguard, it wasn’t hugely surprising when Tusk, like a growing number of other investors, formed a $300 million SPAC or special acquisition company, one that he and a partner plan to use to target a business in the leisure, gaming, or hospitality industry, according to a regulatory filing.
Because Tusk — a former political operative who ran the successful third mayoral campaign for Mike Bloomberg — seems adept at seeing around corners, we called him up late last week to ask whether SPACs are here to stay, how a Biden administration might impact the startup investing landscape, and how worried (or not) big tech should be about this election. You can hear the full conversation here. Owing to length, we are featuring solely the part of our conversation that centered on SPACs.
BT: They are down today last I checked. When you only check once in a blue moon, you’re like, ‘Hey, look at how great this is,’ whereas if, like me, you check me every day, you’re like, ‘It lost 4%, where’s my money?’
We got really lucky; Lemonade was our second deal that we did out of our first fund, and the fact that it IPO’d within four years of the company’s founding is pretty amazing.
TC: Is it amazing? I wonder what it says about the common complaint that the traditional IPO process is bad — is it just an excuse?
BT: [CEO] Daniel Schrieber was very clear that he and [cofounder] Shai Wininger had a strategy from day one to go public as quickly as they possibly could, because in his view, an IPO is supposed to represent kind of the the beginning. It’s the ‘Okay, we’ve proven that there’s product market fit, we’ve proven that there’s customer demand; now let’s see what we can really do with this thing.’ And it’s supposed to be about hope and promise and future and excitement. And if you’ve been a private company for 10 years, and you’re worth tens of billions of dollars and your growth is already starting to flatten out a little bit, it’s just much less exciting for public investors.
The question now for everyone in our business is what happens with Airbnb in a few weeks or whenever they are [staging an IPO]. Will that pixie dust be there, or will they have been around so long that the market is kind of indifferent?
TC: Is that why we’re seeing so many SPACs? Some of that pixie dust is gone. No one knows when the IPO window might shut. Let’s get some of these companies out into the public market while we still can?
BT: No, I don’t I don’t think so. I think SPACs have become a way to raise a lot of money very quickly. It took me two years to raise $37 million for my first venture fund, and three months was the entire process for me to raise $300 million for my SPAC. So it’s a mechanism that is highly efficient and right now is so popular with public market investors that there is just a lot of opportunity, and people are grabbing it. In fact, now you’re hearing about people who are planning SPACs having to pull [them] back because there’s a ton of competition right now.
At the end of the day, the fundamentals still rule. If you take a really bad company public through a SPAC, maybe the excitement of the SPAC gets you an early pop. But if the company has neither good unit economics nor high growth, there’s no real reason to believe it will be successful. And especially for the people in the SPAC, where they have to hold on to it for a little while, by the time the lockup ends, the world has probably figured out that this is not the greatest IPO of all time. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.
TC: You say you raised the SPAC very quickly. How is the investor profile different than that of a typical venture fund investor?
BT: The investors for this SPAC — at least when I did the roadshow, and I think I did 28 meetings over a couple of days — is mainly hedge funds and people who don’t really invest in venture at all, so there was no overlap between my [venture fund] LP base and the people who invested in our SPAC that I’m aware of. These are public market investors who are used to moving very quickly. There’s a lot more liquidity in a SPAC. We have two years to acquire something, but ultimately, it’s a public property, so investors can come in and out as they see fit.
TC: So it’s mostly hedge funds that are getting paid management fees to deploy their capital in this comparatively safe way and that are getting interest on the money invested, too, while it’s sitting around in a trust while [the SPAC managers] look for a target company.
BT: Why it kind of does make sense for [them to back] VCs is they are basically making the bet to say: does this person running the SPAC have enough deal flow, enough of a public profile, enough going on that they are going to come across the right target? And venture investors in many ways fit that profile because we just look at so many companies before deploying capital.
TC: Do you have to demonstrate some kind of public markets expertise in order to convince some of these investors that you know what it takes to take a company public and grow it in the public markets?
BT: I guess. We raised the money, so I guess I passed the test. But I did spend a little under two years on Wall Street; I created the lottery privatization group of Lehman Brothers. And my partner [in the SPAC], Christian Goode, has a lot of experience with big gaming companies. But overall, I think that if you are a venture investor with a ton of deal flow and a good track record but very little or no public market experience, I don’t know that that would disqualify you from being able to rate a SPAC.
Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents
You might think that a new Netflix film called “Holidate” offers holiday-themed romance that’s perfect for a family watch party. You’d be wrong.
The film stars Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey as a pair of strangers who agree (in classic romantic comedy style) to keep each other company on holidays.
And while the movie can’t be completely pigeonholed as a raunchy comedy — it also includes a dash of metatextual commentary, with a healthy dose of undiluted romantic schmaltz — “Holidate” is certainly filled with sexually frank dialogue, and a couple of its biggest set pieces go all-in on gross-out humor. So, and as one of the hosts of the Original Content podcast discovered, watching it with your family can be extremely uncomfortable.
But, assuming you avoid that awkwardness, is it actually funny? Sometimes! A word that comes up repeatedly in our review is “adequate” — Darrell embraced the film’s surprisingly dirty humor, while Anthony and Jordan were at least mildly entertained.
In addition to reviewing “Holidate,” we also discussed the implications of Netflix’s decision to remove “Chappelle’s Show” at Dave Chappelle’s request.
You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)
If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
1:11 Dave Chappelle discussion
13:50 “Holidate” review
37:39 “Holidate” spoiler discussion
Black Friday on track for $8.9B+ in online sales as shoppers stay away from brick-and-mortar stores
Black Friday — the day that launched 1,000 other shopping holidays — may have lost its place as the “start” of the Christmas shopping season by now (it gets bigger and earlier with each passing year). But the day after Thanksgiving still pulls in a crowd of buyers looking for a bargain and remains a major bellwether for tracking how sales will progress in what is the most important period for the retail and commerce sector.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year was definitely slimmer when it came to actual, in-person crowds — kind of a refreshing break from those times when you feel like it’s the worst of humanity when people are breaking out into fights over TVs at a local Walmart — but online it seems that sales did not disappoint.
Figures from Adobe, which is following online sales in real-time at 80 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S., covering some 100 million SKUs, said that we are “on track” for a new sales record for the day, with between $8.9 billion and $9.6 billion expected in sales online for Black Friday, a jump of 20%-29% on last year.
For some context, in 2019, Adobe tracked $7.4 billion in online sales, and yesterday it said that shoppers spent $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving, with more than $3 billion spent online each day in the week leading up to Thursday.
Adobe was still tallying the final numbers for the day as of this morning European time, so we’ll update this post with the final numbers as and when we get them.
Its analysts say that the evening tends to be big for online shopping — which makes sense since people might have been either going out in person during the day, or just doing something else on a day off.
Not all are in agreement that night time is the right time, however. Figures from Shopify — which analyses activity from the 1 million-plus merchants that use its e-commerce platform — said that the peak shopping hour on its platform was actually 9am Eastern, when there were as many as $3 million in sales per minute. The average cart size for US shoppers was $95.60, it added.
Interestingly, Shopify’s per-minute sales number underscores how the long tail of merchants are still quite a ways behind the very biggest: Adobe noted that its figures, across the sites that it tracks (which have at least $1 billion in annual sales) tally to $6.2 million spent per minute on Black Friday.
In either case, smartphones continue to be a major driver of how sales get made. Adobe said that as of 4pm Eastern some 41.5% of all sales were on handsets, a bit lower than the day before but 7% higher than in 2019. And just as was the case yesterday, it seems that smaller retailers are attracting more shoppers on mobile: Shopify said that some 70% of its sales are being made via smartphones.
We’ll see how all of that plays out later today also with the initial figures from “Small Business Saturday”, which is the latest of the shopping designations added to the holiday weekend, this one trying to hone focus more squarely away from major chains and big box merchants.
One big takeaway from the bigger weekend figures will be that offering items — electronics, tech, toys and sports goods being the most popular categories — at the right price will help retailers continue to bring in sales, in what has proven to be an especially strong year for online shopping after many have opted to stay away from crowded places due to the pandemic, but also a critical year for retailers because of the drag that the pandemic has had on the wider economy.
Cyber Monday is likely to continue to be the biggest of them all, expected to bring in between $11.2 billion and $13 billion in e-commerce transactions, up 19%-38% year-on-year.
Perhaps because of the shift to more online shopping, and the concern over flagging sales, it’s interesting that “holiday season” has also been extended and now comes earlier. Adobe said a survey of consumers found that 41% said they would start shopping earlier this year than previous years due to much earlier discounts. Recall too that Amazon’s Prime Day was delayed to start in October this year, an ‘event’ that many treated as a moment to get a jump start on holiday shopping.
“Black Friday is headed for record-breaking levels as consumers flock online to shop for both holiday gifts and necessities,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights. “Concurrently, it’s also worth noting that this year, we’re seeing strong online sales momentum across not only the major shopping days like Thanksgiving weekend, but throughout the holiday season as consumers spread out their shopping across several weeks in reaction to continued, heavy discounting from retailers.”
Tony Hsieh, iconic Las Vegas tech entrepreneur, dies aged 46
Tony Hsieh, the former head of Zappos who catapulted the shoe company into the big leagues with a sale to Amazon and then used the proceeds of his success in a huge project kickstarting regeneration of a run-down part of Las Vegas, Nevada, with tech and wider business investments, has died at the age of 46.
The cause was injuries he sustained from a house fire, a spokesperson for Hsieh confirmed to TechCrunch. He was with his brother in Connecticut at the time of the fire. It’s not clear if anyone else was injured.
The ultimate cause of Hsieh’s death is still under investigation. We will update this as and if we learn more. The full statement from DTP Companies, which ran the Downtown Project (Hsieh’s mammoth initiative to regenerate the very run-down, older part of Las Vegas) is below.
The news has sent shock waves in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and through a community in a city — heavily dependent on tourism — that has been hit extraordinarily hard by the Covid-19 global health pandemic.
Hsieh was a brilliant, offbeat, and — to many people, often very directly — kind-hearted person who was regularly described as a visionary.
That was not an overstatement. Growing up in the Bay Area, he sold his first company — a marketing tech firm called LinkExchange — to Microsoft when he was just 24, in 1998.
Using some of the proceeds from that, he formed a venture capital firm called Venture Frog. One of his early investments there was ShoeSite.com, founded in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn at a time when the latter could see a shift happening in how people were shopping for footwear, doing a lot more of it online.
Hsieh was entrepreneurial in his investing instincts and subsequently took a more hands-on role in the startup, which eventually rebranded to Zappos. As Zappos’ CEO, Hsieh moved the company from the Bay Area to the outskirts of Vegas in 2004 to build out a bigger customer service operation, run under a particularly strong ethos of flat management aimed at empowering and inspiring employees. His leadership helped catapult it to huge growth: by 2009 he had sold Zappos to Amazon for around $1.2 billion (a truly giant sum for an e-commerce startup at the time).
He then continued to run the company, and used the proceeds of that work to focus on his next big project: urban regeneration.
Las Vegas is a city that leaves little to sentimentality. Situated in the middle of the desert, the city’s relentless focus has long been on growth, breaking new, seemingly limitless, ground to do so. For years, that meant huge swathes of “older” Vegas enterprises, in the Downtown region, simply sat empty, leading to the larger area eventually becoming a hotbed of crime and poverty. As with many other urban centers, it has been a vicious cycle: people focus on building newer homes and businesses elsewhere, and that makes the older areas even more neglected and vulnerable.
Hsieh saw the charm of Downtown, full of 20th-century modernist flourishes underneath its more obvious signs of decline, and proceeded to buy up huge chunks of the area: apartment buildings, houses, small business structures, old casinos and hotels, and empty lots.
His vision was not just to be a real estate magnate — although that is clearly something that interested him, too — but to regenerate Vegas in the mold of what he knew best: tech.
He proceeded to invest in a huge run of startups, provided they move to Vegas to build their businesses Downtown, to bring entrepreneurs and jobs to the area.
There were lots of quirky elements to the effort: it was not all about hard-nosed business, and some of it was just about trying to have fun on a grand scale. Inspired by Burning Man, for example, Hsieh paid to have several of the structures built for the festival in the desert to be transported and installed permanently in the Downtown area.
A couple of memorable evenings I spent with him in Vegas really underscored to me his profile in the city.
Hopping from casino to bar to restaurant, one night we ended up in an excellent piano karaoke dive where his best friend from childhood and I sang Duran Duran duets and he knocked back Frenet Brancas. People flocked around him wherever he went (so many breathless “Hi, Tony”‘s from many women we walked past). I remember wondering if this was what being a mafia boss (with friend playing the role of a consigliere, or me a guest for the night) was like back in the day.
Of course, the Downtown Project, as it came to be called, was a grand vision, and like many grand visions, it has had its ups and downs.
Some of that is unsurprising: Simply willing something to exist isn’t always enough, and the strike rate for success in tech is, in reality, very low. And the offbeat approach didn’t always play in the best way, and sometimes obscured what might actually be going on. Case in point: Hsieh abruptly stepped down as CEO of Zappos earlier this year, with no explanation provided for the move, after being in the role for 21 years.
Still, between Zappos and what Hsieh built in the city, his work and bigger ideas were and are an important testament to the impact that the tech industry can have with a little imagination and a lot of hard work and persistence.
Our condolences go out to his family and his many friends, and also those in the slice of the tech and business world he helped to create.
Statement from DTP below:
Good Afternoon, my name is Megan Fazio and I handle public relations for DTP Companies, formerly known as Downtown Project, which Tony Hsieh serves as the visionary of. With a heavy and devastated heart, we regret to inform you that Tony Hsieh passed away peacefully on November 27, 2020 surrounded by his beloved family.
Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world. Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.
On behalf of all DTP Companies employees and staff, we would like to express our deepest condolences to Tony’s family and friends who have all lost Tony as a cherished loved one, visionary and friend. Tony was highly regarded by all of his fellow friends and colleagues in the tight-knit family at DTP Companies, so this heartbreaking tragedy is one that affects many involved.
We ask that you continue to respect the family’s privacy during this most difficult and challenging time.
Facebook’s Libra could launch in January
According to a report from the Financial Times, Facebook-backed cryptocurrency Libra could launch in January. More interestingly, the Libra Association, the consortium created by Facebook, could scale back its ambitions once again.
When it was first unveiled, the Libra cryptocurrency was supposed to be a brand new currency tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities. Originally, it wouldn’t be based on a single real world currency, but on a mix of multiple currencies.
Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that don’t fluctuate in value against a specific fiat currency. For instance, one unit of a USD-backed stablecoin is always worth one dollar. Libra mentioned USD, EUR, GBP or SGD as base currencies for its various stablecoins.
According to the Financial Times, the Libra Association now plans to launch a single dollar-backed coin. It’ll compete directly with other stablecoins, such as USDC, PAX and Tether (USDT). The Libra Association still plans to roll out other currencies, but it’ll happen at a later time.
Facebook will most likely launch its own Libra wallet at the same time. Originally called Calibra, the Facebook subsidiary has been rebranded to Novi back in May.
In addition to a standalone app that will let you send and receive Libra tokens, you’ll be able to manage your Novi account from Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook expects people to start using Novi for remittance purposes and peer-to-peer payments.
It’s unclear whether other members of the Libra Association also plan to launch their own Libra-based service at the same time. Members include Farfetch, Lyft, Shopify, Spotify and Uber.
Simple & Intuitive Ensemble Learning in R
Otto Aviation selects VOLTA as its collaborative MDO framework
Harnessing innovation crucial to UK aerospace and defence future
Payment Service Provider PingPong Payments Secures E-Money License in Luxembourg
NoSQL for Beginners
Solaris Offworld Combat’s Squad Update Allows Friends to Teamup
RPA in Banking and Finance Industry: The Use Cases and Benefits
Messaging Software Startup Aampe Raises Rs 13 Crore From Sequoia India Surge
Tata inches closer to make foray into Online Grocery Biz
Droning the drove: Israeli cow-herders turn to flying tech
UK watchdog studies ‘range anxiety’ in electric vehicle charging
Salesforce to buy workplace app Slack in $27.7 billion deal
Valuechain’s MES solution now integrates PrintSyst’s AI Engine
Do China tech giants pose a risk for European banks?
Paragraf drives electric transport revolution with graphene sensors
Genesis Therapeutics raises $52M A round for its AI-focused drug discovery mission
Active Bitcoin Addresses Hit Third-Highest Level in November
Major US Airlines Pause Nonstop Flights To Shanghai
Facial recognition tech: risks, regulations and future startup opportunities in the EU
HOP’s Embraer Fleet To Be Rebranded As Air France
KDnuggets™ News 20:n45, Dec 2: TabPy: Combining Python and Tableau; Learn Deep Learning with this Free Course from Yann LeCun
UK approves Australia-purchased vaccine
Valencia-based Jeff raises €17.4 million and confirms launch in the US
OKEx Announces Support for Spark (FLR) Airdrop as XRP Holders Prepare for Token Distribution
Stockholm-based Voi Technology lands more than €132 million to boost its geographic and fleet expansion
Nordigen launches first-ever free open banking platform to challenge Tink and Plaid
Ontic acquires instruments product line from Flightline Electronics
NYDIG raises $100 million from a single investor for its new crypto fund
FAA Issues First Boeing 737 MAX Airworthiness Certificate Since 2019
SushiSwap (SUSHI) Token Price Surges Over 15% After Merger with Yearn.finance
Energy1 week ago
ADAMA Mourns Death of Joe Krkoska, Executive Vice President of Global Operations
Blockchain1 week ago
Bitcoin Breaks Out but Is Stopped Short of New All-Time High
Blockchain1 week ago
Ethereum Becomes One of the Largest Proof of Stake Chains Even Before Launch
Energy1 week ago
Firmy Shanghai Electric a Siemens Energy založí Centrum na podporu rozvoje chytré energetiky (Smart Energy Empowerment Center)
Energy1 week ago
Trina Solar Purchases 1.2 Billion units of 210mm Monocrystal Silicon Wafers in Cooperation with Zhonghuan
Start Ups1 week ago
8 Best Options of Altimeter Smartwatches in 2020
Blockchain4 days ago
Whales Flood Exchanges With Bitcoin, Take Over $15 Billion In Profits
Esports6 days ago
Super Smash Bros. Melee Slippi mod launches broadcast feature early in response to #FreeMelee