COVID-19 Racial Disparities in U.S. Counties – The way COVID-19 is a perfect storm for the systemic issues that make it harder for black people to keep healthy is disturbing. A group of researchers who are in the process of publishing a paper looking at the impact of COVID-19 put out some frustrating data. They weren’t able to get granular data because the race of 78% of individuals with cases of COVID-19 are unknown, as of April 15. Is that normal? To get around that, the researchers looked at COVID-19 cases by county. Essentially, nearly 22 percent of the counties in the US are disproportionally black. Yet, nearly half of COVID-19 cases and 58% of deaths across the country are in these counties. There cannot be a return to normal as we emerge from this. We have to reimagine this society we live in.
U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, March 2020 – The extent to which trade put on the brakes in March is pretty stark. Exports fell $20B and imports $15.4B. Around $20.7B of the total drop in exports and imports came from travel and transport slowing to a trickle. That’s over half of the decline in exports and imports. This brings more color to why Warren Buffett decided to shed all his airline holdings. It’s going to be really interesting to see what travel looks like coming out of this pandemic. People aren’t going to be traveling for quite some time, and when we do start moving around again, how much of these losses will be reversed?
A Message from Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky – This letter from Airbnb’s CEO to employees explaining the company’s pending layoffs is very thoughtful and one to file away in case you may have to layoff employees soon. Notable parts of the letter include his outlining the framework the company used to determine who to layoff, the explanation of the 14-week severance, and the elimination of the one-year to make everyone leaving the company a shareholder for whenever Airbnb goes public. These are hard times that are amplifying who people and what companies really are, sometimes in disappointing ways. It’s nice to see people and companies show what good leadership looks like.
One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – It was incredibly hot in Accra during the Christmas holiday, something I completed underestimated. Fortunately, my lady packed some extra handkerchiefs for me. According to a set of researchers, parts of the world are going to be experiencing increasingly Sahara-like weather over the next several decades. What impact will this have on migration? Will coastal cities like Lagos and Accra see big influxes of people from the northern parts of their countries? How will they ensure everyone has space to live and get along? Considering how dense these cities are and the rates at which they are already growing, urban planners and policymakers have their work cut out for them in finding new design technologies to create space for folks in such a way that keeps them as cool as possible.
Malaria ‘completely stopped’ by microbe – Researchers in Kenya and the UK have found a microbe that prevents mosquitoes from carrying malaria. This could be a real boon for malaria eradication across Africa if the researchers are able to understand the microbe better and figure out how to propagate it across other parts of the continent. They may find themselves in a race with Alphabet’s Verily which has found its own microbe that sterilizes male mosquitoes and causes pretty rapid mosquito population declines. I guess the question for both of these research teams is, what are we trading for eradicating malaria? It’s definitely exciting to be finding a path forward on ridding ourselves of malaria. We just don’t want to find another disease blocking the way.
Let Africa into the market for COVID-19 diagnostics – John Nkegasong, the head of Africa CDC, outlined a plan of action here for African countries increase their levels of coordination and production to get the diagnostics they need to the ramp-up testing to 10 million in the next four months. Earlier in the piece, he addressed how African countries were getting boxed out of securing the testing materials they need, something I shared concern about a few weeks ago. Dr. Nkegasong’s focus on African countries coordinating their procurement and production of diagnostics is so key to ensuring Africa doesn’t find itself on an island dealing with COVID-19.
It’s Time to Help Africa Fight the Virus – This article shows why it’s so important that African folks control the narrative around Africa. In sharp contrast with Dr. Nkegasong’s piece, this one signs Africa’s death knell as a guaranteed catastrophe.
If the United States, Europe, and others succeed in containing the virus in the coming months, there is no way contagion throughout Africa could be contained there.
It’s not until the second half of the piece where the authors acknowledges that African leaders have moved quickly to address the COVID-19 pandemic. You see how differently this piece reads from the first one above? It hits different when the lion tells its own story. That said, the U.S. and other global powers do have a role to play and supporting African countries efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 across the continent. That starts with not being an obstacle to African countries navigating this pandemic.
Why IROKO furloughed 28% of our Nigeria team – I always appreciate reading Jason Njoku’s posts because he’s so open about what he’s gone through building IROKO into the on-demand video beast its become over the past decade. To have to furlough well over a quarter of your team while staring down the COVID-19 situation with no sense of when things will improve has to be tough. To hear that you’ve been furloughed is even more tough. More vim to Jason and the folks who got furloughed.
No sunshine — DFC limits transparency when it is needed most – Stephanie Amoako highlights how the U.S.’s new International Development Finance Corporation secured exclusion from sunshine legislation that would require it to maintain a certain level of transparency and the deals it puts together. I’m really hopeful for the impact that the DFC could have in reshaping the USS economic relationship with African countries, prioritizing economic development and adding value to African countries pastoral significant economic growth. It’s concerning that the DFC put Shield itself from the public being able to see what it’s doing with the 60 billion dollars it has to invest. Hopefully Stephanie’s peace Brazos my eyebrows and gets this changed.
What Would You Risk for a Faster Cure? – When I saw that Michael Milken is playing a critical role in pushing vaccine development for COVID-19, I got real nervous. He shaped a good bit of the financial world in the 80s and 90s, and gave a bunch of entrepreneurs the financing they need to build businesses that are still important today. Reginald Lewis became the first black man in the U.S. to buy a billion dollar company with Milken’s help. Ted Turner. John Malone. The list goes on. That said, he went to jail for two years and paid over a billion dollars in fines for a bunch of tax and securities violations. He’s rehabbed his image over the past couple of decades through the Milken Institute and its Global Conference. He got a pardon from the president earlier this year for his past crimes. Finding a vaccine for COVID-19 is definitely an all hands on deck situation, but can he be trusted?
Pittsburgh-Based Niche Secures $35M For School Search Platform After 100% ARR Growth In 2019 – niche is a platform that allows parents to search for schools ranging from kindergarten all the way up to college. what concerns me about this platform is just where we’re headed more broadly in education. A tool like this is more beneficial to the wealthy family that has options in terms of where they can send their children to school. I worry that platforms like this further inequities in education. Look at the map above from Niche’s site where they’ve graded the schools across DC. Guess where the majority of the multimillion dollar homes are?
Another thing that comes to mind is this pandemic has shed more light on our education system – areas where it’s weak, the ability of kids to study from home, the stress kids are under in school, and more. Over the next ten years, where does Niche see its growth coming from to justify a $35M raise? They’re a lot more bullish than I am.
Why Hip-Hop and Gaming are Still Scratching the Surface – Per usual, Dan Runcie does a nice job teasing out opportunities for hip hop artists. In this piece he looks at gaming and how hip hop artists could find an additional revenue stream through partnerships with game development companies in order to put on concerts. He qualifies his analysis by saying that these platforms will need to effectively reach a broader demographic than they currently do in order for artists to maximize the opportunity. Unfortunately, the game development industry is quite monolithic—very white and male. Delane Parnell has built a nice platform on top of the gaming industry facilitating competition through PlayVS, but what black entrepreneurs out there are building new game development businesses?
Oil Slump, Coronavirus Create a Perfect Storm for Nigeria’s Economy – Back in 2014 or 2015, then Central Bank of Nigeria governor Sanido Lamido Sanusi caused a lot of commotion by claiming that Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation had $20B unaccounted for. He eventually lost his job. Around the same time, then finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted how Nigeria needed to meaningfully wean itself off of oil dependence and was ridiculed for her stance. It’s unfortunate to see the tough situation the country is in right now due to this mix of oil prices bottoming out because folks are not moving around. Hopefully, the country emerges from this with a focus on reinventing itself.
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.
Coming up as a young boy, my Grandmama would end her prayers over me and my younger brother with that line. Gertrude Liverman, my Grandmama is an amazing woman. She came up on the coast of North Carolina, worked picking crops before getting jobs cleaning people’s homes. She was in her early 40s before she was able to legally vote.
I think about my Grandmama a lot. As I learn more about what has happened in this country over the time she’s been alive, I wonder what her life was like at the time. She didn’t get past middle school with her education. How did she process the changes in the 50s as her kids went through their elementary and middle school educations after the passage of Brown v. Board of Education? A single mother of eight children, what was going through her head when social workers came threatening to put her children into different homes? What was going through her mind once news got around that Lyndon Johnson had signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
Unfortunately, I won’t get those answers. She’s been living with Alzheimer’s for several decades. Listening to the stories my mom and her siblings share about Grandmama, I get a clear picture that her faith gave her the ability to navigate everything she encountered making her way through this country. What’s amazing is that in all the time I spent with her as a kid, I never sensed bitterness or anger about what she went through. I never heard her talk about what-ifs.
What I saw Grandmama do was visit neighbors to make sure they were alright. I heard her call folks and pray with them. I laughed with her as she flicked me on my head, joking at how hardheaded I was. It would be cool for her to see I’m just as stubborn and persistent as the kid who wouldn’t stop shooting the basketball against the imaginary hoop on the side of her apartment, until it felt like I was making shots.
I love my Grandmama very much. I’m grateful for the 95 years she’s spent on earth and for every bit of additional time she gets with us. She’s got a big legacy of faith, hard work, love, and endurance. Hopefully, I do it justice as I continue on.
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.