When regulation presents a (rare) opportunity – Bradley Tusk, a political wizard, who secured Uber’s policy wins across the U.S. with masterful and aggressive campaigns has written a piece that’s quite disturbing. He calls for startups to take advantage of what I’ll call “pandemic capture.” Because of the current situation with COVID-19, he argues that policymakers can’t focus on “privacy, worker classification reform and fears of AI,” so startups should push for rapid change in policy that will allow them to operate that way they want. Yes, this is a time for urgency and moving the ball forward, but doing the right thing and should never take the back seat. What Tusk is arguing for isn’t it.
Black Caucus seeks to squash liberal insurgents – I look forward to a world where black politicians of varying viewpoints go at it in vying for legislative seats. Unfortunately, from the looks of this article, we have a lot of black legislators in Congress who can’t believe a challenger would stand up after how long they’ve been in their seats. We don’t move black people forward that way.
How Streamlytics is Innovating – I’ve been watching Angela Benton move the past several years and was excited when she announced that Streamlytics was in the works. We talk about how much value black people offer to corporations. She is developing a platform that can turn that value into actual dollars for black consumers. I look forward to seeing her win.
Investing in Tecton – Andreessen Horowitz announced their series A investment in Tecton, a start up led by three Uber alumni who have built a platform that enables data features to be easily plugged into systems that use the data for production. What’s really interesting to me about the potential positive effect of Tecton is it potentially making it providing more time for good decision making around machine learning systems and their potential unintended consequences. Now that so much time won’t be spent uploading data into different applications, organizations can make sure vulnerable folks don’t get hurt by their systems.
Low Covid-19 death toll raises hopes Africa may be spared worst – So far, African countries have avoided the devastation the US and Europe have experienced from Covid-19. The nervousness in my chest won’t leave for some time, and I pray that Africa countries continue to navigate this virus as best they can. It’s been encouraging to see several African leaders take aggressive measures to contain the virus. Hopefully, this amplifies the sense of urgency in developing infrastructure that furthers the resilience of Africa’s people. If Africa gets through this pandemic relatively safely, that doesn’t mean its countries will get through the next one in the same shape.
Ghana government to invest in healthcare infrastructure – President Akufo-Addo announced that the country will be building 88 100-bed hospitals across the country. This is good news, though you have to wonder where the money is coming from. China has put untold amounts of money into projects across Africa, and will leverage that diplomatically. As African countries make their way toward a post COVID-19 world, it’s imperative China isn’t able to make incursions on their independence because it has put billions of dollars into shaping their economies.
Covid-19 has blown apart the myth of Silicon Valley innovation – One of my favorite lines in scripture is “do not think too highly of yourself, but think with sober judgement.” I’m very curious to see how how Silicon valley culture evolves post COVID-19. Hopefully, it finds a path forward in it’s foundation in early Silicon Valley like Genentech that shifted science and life.
Why You’re Not One of the World’s Great Investors – There’s a great book on hedge fund manager Jim Simons called The Man Who Solved the Market. In it, you’ll see how this man used algorithms and math I’ll probably never understand to find trading opportunities. There’s a benefit to creating your own lane and not trying to find your fortune in someone else’s. Simons did that. He was a math professor before getting into the hedge fund world, and built a completely different way of approaching trading. As I continue this journey towards venture investing, reminders like these to keep doing me are helpful.
Antitrust After the Coronavirus – Matt Stoller put together an interesting piece here laying out the dangers potentially ahead of us in big corporations consolidating their industries with the help of the financial world. He calls for pause on merger activity and an act that would outline a path for breaking up companies that gain power due to pandemic. He also calls for a systematic process of working through that disappear due to pandemic situations situation. I’m with him. Corporations don’t have all the answers, just like governments don’t. They’ve got their own respective roles in making this thing work.
Perhaps a random aside, but has anyone heard from Haven? Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway made a big splash last year announcing this new business that was supposed to reimagine health care. Why have we heard nothing from them?
COVID-19 Edition: What is venture sentiment today? – First Republic Bank published interesting results from a survey they conducted of 427 venture capital firms. Over the past month or so, there have been a lot of VCs posting on Twitter that they’re open for business. The data here tell a different story.
Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal – The Arab Spring and the role technology played in helping folks connect over their desire to restructure their societies feels like ages ago. This piece feels like a complete 180-degree turn from the sentiment around technology as liberator during that time. Now, we live in a world where in the matter of a month or so, Apple and Google have partnered to roll out contact tracing capabilities. Daily, we walk through a web of data points technology companies gather on us. Following this COVID-19 situation, to what extent will we give companies more ability to keep tabs on us?
Martin, Malcolm and the Fight for Equality – The Sword and the Shield by Peniel Joseph is a fantastic read. The side-by-side treatment of their respective evolutions as readers was so illuminating. I highly recommend the book. This review does it justice as well.
On Fortnite’s Travis Scott Concert – My gaming days were pretty much over after I couldn’t get past the second stages of Sonic the Hedgehog or Shinobi. Gaming today is an entirely different experience I know next to nothing about. While I was in Ghana over the Christmas holiday, I walked up to a TV thinking I was joining cousins in watching a soccer match. It took me more than a few seconds to realize I was watching a video game, not real life. Anyway, over 12 million people watched this concert Travis Scott and Fortnite partnered on last Thursday. That’s wild. What’s even more incredible is that Matthew Ball argues in his analysis that this was part of Epic Games culture of testing to figure out new things the company can build. I’m very curious to see where tests like this lead them.
When Tailwinds Vanish – This is a very interesting piece by John Luttig. He argues that the opportunities for new internet startups to hit home runs is diminishing as the internet matures. As winning in the internet economy becomes a zero-sum game, he points to incumbents as the ones more likely to win what’s left of growth opportunities. Further, venture capital isn’t being used for research and development, but for expenses like sales. Considering this, he believes there needs to be another layer on top of the internet economy that enables companies to get the financing they need without tapping into venture capital – Sand Hill Sachs, as he calls it.
The piece is quite thought provoking, but I think John is looking at the internet too narrowly to say there’s a small window for anymore big wins. Look at areas like the transfer of food from the industrial portion of the supply chain to the consumer portion. This COVID-19 situation has put a big spotlight on the lack of dynamism in how that transfer works. New York City doesn’t know how many people in public housing have COVID-19. Stock exchange IEX has coiled up 38 miles of optic fiber to prevent high-frequency traders from having a leg up on their competitors. These all highlight problems that can be solved on the internet. There’s opportunity for companies to get big wins. Maybe Silicon Valley just isn’t the place for the fresh thinking needed to see them. Maybe there needs to be some more diversity of thought.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gets International appointment – I’m glad to see Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in this role. She should be IMF managing director, but that’s water under the bridge. More vim to her as she aims to get a bunch of different stakeholders to work together in putting out the resources we need to handle this virus.
State of the Cloud 2020 – Watching the rollout of Zoom at the office was fascinating. One day, I get a an email that we were testing Zoom. A month later, leadership started communicating that they prefer it to Skype. It wasn’t that long ago when someone from the IT team would have to take my laptop to install new software. None of that with this Zoom rollout. The automagic nature of the cloud is pretty incredible and the analysis Bessemer Ventures did here on where the cloud industry is now is quite fascinating. I mean, Slack went from $1M to $100M in revenue in two years! As cloud infrastructure continues to be part of all of our technology, it would probably be good for executives to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. Cloud technology will need to have ever stronger fail-safes as global conflict continues its shift to the internet. We saw the coordinated Zoom-bombing that took place in the early weeks of social distancing. We don’t want to see worse.
Cuomo Partners with Startup for NYCHA Coronavirus Testing Pilot – Governor Cuomo highlights concentrated populations being most susceptible to COVID-19 and that public housing is where New York has its highest concentrations of people. Yet, the state doesn’t know how many cases of COVID-19 there are in public housing. That tells me someone made the decision not to prioritize testing in public housing. Someone should ask Gregory Russ and Vito Mustaciuolo who made that decision once this is all over. I’m glad the state has found a partner to start testing now. It’s infuriating it’s just now starting.
WFP Chief warns of hunger pandemic as COVID-19 spreads – According to the head of the World Food Programme, well over 800 million people around the world are chronically hungry, dealing with starvation. He projects an additional 265 million people will face the same struggle by the end of the year. It’s hard to wrap my mind around that number. It shouldn’t be like this.
Once Bankrupt, a Tiny Broadband Company Thrives in the Trump Era – My first thought when I saw that Ligado Networks finally secured approval to build its wireless network was, “Got to play the long game.” For nearly a decade this company has been trying to build a wireless network. At first it was to be a 4G network. Now, it’s 5G and billed as a buttress against China’s advances in the space. The rapid reversal the FCC did to approve this doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to go toe-to-toe with China in 5G development. They’ve got a strategy they’re executing on. Ours is coming together, I think.
Facebook Invests $5.7 billion in India’s Jio Platforms – Several years ago, Facebook launched its Internet.org initiatives to try and connect more of the world to the internet. Some of these efforts morphed into Free Basics, an effort to provide limited Facebook in developing countries. Both efforts got a lot of pushback from developing countries because it felt paternalistic and countries were concerned about Facebook determining the amount of access poor folks got to the internet. India went so far as to ban Free Basics. To see Facebook come back and put $5.7B into Jio, owned by the richest man in India, is something else. I think it says something about India knowing its worth. Similar to the Ligado story, it also says something about Facebook playing the long game to build the world it wants to see.
Nigerian media startup, Stears raises $600k seed to build Africa’s Bloomberg – Kudos to the Stears team on their raise. I’ve enjoyed reading their content over the past few years. More broadly, it’s nice to see more and more firms focused on leveraging data to move Africa forward. Off the top, firms like Fraym, Paga, Ajua, 54gene, and Cellulant come to mind. I’ve got a blindspot for who is doing similar work in southern Africa. Will work on that.
Know Your Price: Black Property Devaluation In A Nation Built With Our Hands And On Our Backs – I recently shared with a friend why I believed diversity and inclusion efforts at corporations were bullshit. I already belong here. I’m not interested in incremental efforts to try and make me more comfortable. I want to be CEO. I want to build a massive company that competes with yours and keeps you up at night. I want to fund the ventures of entrepreneurs I believe will build a better future than the entrepreneurs you fund are capable of. Black folks getting a better position in this society is a power game, a big reason why I’m excited about reading Andre Perry’s first book. Based on the work he’s published over the past several years, I look forward to learning more about the policies black folks have had to navigate in areas like housing and education. Further, I look forward to getting more clarity on how to navigate the path forward.
The Pandemic Isn’t a Black Swan but a Portent of a More Fragile Global System– I had to unfollow Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Twitter a few years back because the man is saltier than the saltiest person you know. His favorite exercise is deadlifting, something we share, and I would love to grab a drink with him, but I’m almost positive we’d end up arguing. I tend to assume things will go well, something that has hurt me a good few times over my life. Taleb, on the other hand, is ardent about doing all you can to prepare for the events that are extremely unlikely to happen, but could turn everything upside down, if they do. This piece does a nice job shedding light on his world view and his frustration with global leaders who weren’t willing to do the work to mitigate a situation that several had predicted.
In the Coronavirus Era, the Force is Still with Jack Dorsey – I don’t understand why Twitter doesn’t have a paid feature. I’d pay without question. Thanks to that platform, complete strangers have become longtime friends and mentors. I’m able to expand and contract my exposure to different types of people – investors, historians, journalists, and more. These emails I write typically start from pieces I’ve stumbled across on the platform. Yet, Twitter hasn’t tapped into all the value it creates. The product feels stagnant, which is pretty frustrating to see. I can understand why Elliott Management would swoop in to try and shake things up. This next year will be quite interesting to see how Dorsey fares.
COVID-19 in Africa: Outcomes and Scenarios – Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk put together a nice analysis of the potential economic impact of COVID-19 on African markets. The central conclusion is that the path out of this situation is going to take years, something that is true for countries around the world. It’s frustrating to have this be the reality for African countries trying to navigate the path to sustainable economic growth and better lives for the people. Here’s to African countries figuring out that path and marching forward aggressively. Gradatim ferociter.
COVID and forced experiments – This is a good reminder from Benedict Evans that while most of the world is online, a significant number of people are not. eCommerce isn’t the answer for everyone. Telehealth doesn’t work if the patient pretty much has dial-up speeds at home. So, how do you move forward in pushing new technologies while ensuring everyone gets the services they need?
This is where the trope of “let the market handle that” sounds ridiculous. A number of companies will say that ensuring a potential customer in the middle of nowhere gets access to a product or service isn’t profitable enough to make the effort. From experience, I’ve seen them also complain about government trying to step in to fill those gaps. I’d love to see more situations where the private and public sector team up on this sort of thing more, but we’re not there yet.
What is the problem of racism has no solution?– I look forward to reading Afropessimism by Frank Wilderson. I struggle with the world view of folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates who don’t see a world in which black folks get a W. I think the world has been around for too long and civilizations have changed place for top dog position too many times for this to be true.
At the same time, my own pessimism comes out in my belief that centuries from now, if black people (If that’s even a thing at that point in time) have the capacity to be just as cruel as white folks have been in the time they’ve been dominant globally. Hopefully, folks like my cousin Kobe speak enough truth and beauty to keep us from acting on that capacity.
Our World in Flow Change – David Galbraith lays out the design of systems and what needs to happen to ensure whatever new system we have coming out of COVID-19 is a balanced one.
XTREME: A Massively Multilingual Multi-task Benchmark for Evaluating Cross-lingual Generalization – Google is working on expanding the number of languages for which natural language processing works well. Natural language processing is basically what’s happening when you are talking to Siri or your Google Assistant. Currently, English is the main language this works in bit that will change as Google makes more progress on this project. I’m getting a kick out of my Nigerian friends insulting their Google Home device in Yoruba and it giving them pepper back.
Where to invest in Africa in the face of COVID-19 – The good sister Akinyi highlights three tech sectors that could be resilient in African markets as the continent goes through its turn dealing with COVID-19 – fintech, edtech, and digital health. I think this is right, though I am concerned about the long term resilience of the tech sector across Africa.
I worry African countries’ tech sectors won’t be as resilient in the long term if they don’t figure out how to capture different parts of the chain that enable apps to show up on our devices – server technology, chip development, data warehousing, and more. If this COVID-19 situation leads to more balkanization between countries around the world, it wouldn’t be a good look for African countries to be stuck with only a couple options for sourcing infrastructure for their tech industries.
I’d argue for more investment in more R&D at the research institution level to build a pipeline of researchers working on core technology that could position African countries for long-term resilience.
Amazon scientist Dr. Nashlie Sephus focuses on ensuring accuracy in machine learning – It’s real encouraging to that a black woman is on the Amazon Rekognition team. This particular product is being used by an increasing number of police departments to apprehend suspects. There have been lots of questions about the extent to which the technology could further the injustices in our criminal justice system. Let’s hope Dr. Sephus moves the need in preventing that.
China must pay reparations to Africa for its coronavirus failures – Dr. Oby Ezekwesili makes a strong argument here. On one hand, African nations definitely need help if they’re going to claw out of the economic hole this situation is likely to out them in. But, what’s the cost? China has fingerprints all over the continent that could put African countries in even worse position should they not be able to pay for them. If these countries are also getting money from China as so-called reparations, I worry it would actually turn out to be a vicious cycle of indebtedness.
Stacey Abrams on Voting Rights, COVID-19, and Being Vice President – “I feel beautiful when young black girls come up to me. They are not just excited to see me, but to see themselves in me. When little girls point to the gaps between their teeth because they haven’t had braces. They may come from families that will never be able to afford them, like mine couldn’t. I keep my gap. I could do Invisalign, but my gap is my mother’s gap. It’s my grandmother’s gap. This doesn’t make me less, because my parents didn’t have the money to have my teeth fixed with braces. And it doesn’t make me less when I stand before a nation and deliver the State of the Union response.”
Black Like Who? – “But what really saddened me was that black Americans thought that Afro Caribbeans and Africans worked the hardest, too. [As individuals], they felt they worked hard, but there’s a stereotype about the [larger] group not being hardworking. It’s, in a lot of ways, patently false when we think about how black Americans have built this nation and kept it democratic for centuries. Stereotypes of black Americans are permeating into black Americans’ own perceptions of themselves, which I thought was probably the most damaging finding that I discovered in my quantitative data.”
The Devastating Decline of a Brilliant Young Coder – “The neurologists delivered their verdict: He appeared to have a textbook case of frontotemporal dementia—known by the shorthand FTD—specifically, the behavioral variant of that disease. It targets a network of brain regions sometimes described as underpinning one’s sense of self. As the pathological process advanced, it was carving a different person out of Lee’s raw substance.”
The Art of an Oil Deal– “So credit to Mr. Trump for using U.S. global influence to mitigate the mayhem. Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed to take on the bulk of the cuts. After Mexico balked at an order to cut its production by 400,000 barrels a day, President Trump volunteered the U.S. to cover 300,000 barrels of its share.”