No. 260 – Entering a New World We Have No Idea About

Source: Guggenheim Partners

We Are All Government-Sponsored Enterprises Now – This is interesting analysis by Guggenheim’s Chief Investment Officer Scott Minerd where he basically says that we’re potentially heading to a situation where the government will be beholden to ensuring companies and markets have access to credit because of how it’s navigating this pandemic situation. A lot of companies are able to access credit because the Federal Reserve and Treasury have offered to back investment grade companies.

If Minerd’s analysis is right then I imagine we have to have a different kind of conversation around the nature of our private sector. The incentives to build must feel different when the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve are guaranteeing they won’t let you hit the floor. My daughter struggles to ride her back to this day because she knows I won’t let her fall.

Howard Marks on Uncertainty – Howard Marks wrote a really interesting piece on how an investor works through uncertainty. He starts off talking about the importance of forecasting and how investors ideally gain an edge and create profits by being able to forecast what others aren’t yet seeing. In the current pandemic, there’s so many unknowns that it’s nearly impossible to predict the future – like you really can.

Marks spends a good bit of time on the role bias plays in forecasting and how it’s important to be aware of your blind spots. He says he knows his but doesn’t know the word for it. In my mind one of the best things you can do to address your bias is to surround yourself with people and points of views that oppose one another. It’s hard for me to believe no one will put a name to your BS in that kind of environment.

I also appreciate his treatment of intellectual humility and its importance for investors—knowing what you don’t now. In the midst of being clear on what you don’t know, I think this highlights the importance of firming up on your first principles and being clear on what your True North is. I hinted at mine yesterday–finding a way for black people globally to connect with one another socially, politically, and economically.

Here’s to us being able to operate in the uncertain, getting clear on what we don’t know, and pushing for greater intellectual humility.

Also, I imagine people like Marks can’t be too thrilled with Minerd’s forecasts about the Federal Reserve and Treasury. He’s raising $15B to find distressed companies whose debt he can buy. The federal government providing support for investment-grade companies makes things more difficult for him to find attractive opportunities.

19 Industry Associations Pen Letter to Congress Asking for Liability Protections – A group of industry associations representing a range of industries from travel to retail to entertainment wrote a letter to Congress asking for liability protection as they implement federal guidelines for maintaining workplaces that keep employees and customers safe. It’s definitely important that companies don’t face unwarranted litigation, but I can’t help but notice in the letter that they work with all sorts of stakeholders excluding their employees and customers. I’m pretty sure that would have gone a long way in building good will to ensure that everyone’s on the same page in reopening the economy while protecting the interests of stakeholders.

Silicon Valley self-driving car unicorn could be reaching the end of the road – A couple years ago, I was excited to see a black woman take on the CEO role at Zoox, a self-driving car start up The company faces a tough situation because of its high cost structure. Their cars are built from the ground up rather than the retrofits their competitors use. It looks like Zoox is looking in parallel for either a buyer or investors from whom they can raise more money. Hopefully the company finds a reasonable deal that keeps CEO Aicha Evans at the helm. I keep thinking about Julia Collins who left robotic pizza maker Zume not too long after the company raised $375M from Softbank Group.

Facebook is quietly helping to set up a new pro-tech advocacy group to battle Washington – Last year, Mark Zuckerberg called for stronger regulation of the technology sector. I’m curious to see how this new group Facebook is helping to set up will be engaging that conversation. My hope is that the company approaches this new world of tech regulation in good faith. The company’s establishment of an oversight board to address its privacy issues the company has been dealing with the past several years was encouraging. It’d be a shame to see the company engaged in other activity that detracts from that progress.

No. 248 – Wednesday Reads

Source: World Food Programme

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.

‘I’m not Huawei’s spiritual leader. I’m a puppet leader,’ founder Ren Zhengfei says – Speaking of China, this is a peak into Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei’s life. He’s been running that company since the year after I was born. To be in a battle with the United States at this point in his life must be exhausting.

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.

No. 187: 3 Thoughts – Heartland Visa | GDP-B |Top VCs

From Managing Decline to Building the Future

What would it look like for there to be a visa program that matched skilled immigrants with communities that are especially hard-hit by population decline in the U.S.? The Economic Innovation Group, a think tank founded by Sean Parker of Facebook fame, just published a report outlining this idea. I think the idea is compelling, but there are a few questions that come to mind:

  1. What steps will these communities need to take to make themselves as appealing as possible for immigrants to stay? I wonder how welcoming these communities will be to a new wave of folks coming in. Will they perceive the pie as fixed and these new entrants as eating their share of it?
  2. What role do folks who left these struggling communities have in trying to revive it? Marc Andreessen is from Iowa. Jack Dorsey is from Missouri. Can struggling communities partner with these sorts of folks to help cast vision for a new future and attract talent?

How to redesign GDP for the 21st century

Lots of countries, particularly developing ones, hang their hat on the size of their GDP (gross domestic product) which measures the value of the things we pay for in a year. A lot has changed since the measure was developed in the 1930s and the measure doesn’t quite capture all the value being created in an economy.

There are plenty things we don’t pay for up front – Facebook, the music you streamed on Spotify, etc. GDP measures what you paid for your phone, your laptop, your internet connection. MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson claims to have developed an alternative GDP measure that captures the benefits we receive from the things we don’t pay for – GDP-B.

If this catches on, I’m really interested to see the impact it could have on policymaking. For example, Ghana rebased its GDP last year using a new set of more recent data that included more factors in its economy like oil and technology. On paper, the country’s GDP was $52 billion, about 25% bigger than originally believed. A number of governments in Africa turn off the internet around election time to stave off protests and organizing while they conduct funny business. Imagine getting a better measure of that impact. These past couple years in the U.S., I’ve often wondered what has been the impact on productivity of this president tweeting so much. Perhaps GDP-B could provide an answer.

The Midas List

Forbes puts this list out on the top 100 venture capitalists based on the the following methodology:

To make the list, investors are ranked by their portfolio companies that have gone public or been acquired for at least $200 million over the past five years, or that have raised additional funding at a valuation of $400 million or more. Forbes and TrueBridge put a premium on newer exits, as well as early-stage returns. 


This list needs to look a lot different 10 years from now. More melanin would be nice. Lo Toney closed his Plexo Capital I fund at $35.1M last month. Charles Hudson closed his second Precursor Ventures fund at $31m last month as well. Education seems to be getting hot in the startup world, hopefully Shantel Garvey notches a win. Perhaps Ken Chenault will notch a big win at General Catalyst. The list needs more black folks.

No. 169: Facebook to Get an African-American Board Member…Soon?

Facebook has been on the hot seat as more information comes to light about the role it played in Russia’s meddling in the November 2016 election. The hot seat treatment brought the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, to DC for an exclusive interview with Axios co-founder Mike Allen to discuss the situation and what Facebook was going to do about.

While in town Thursday, Ms. Sandberg visited with the Congressional Black Caucus. Apparently, one of the points of conversation was when Facebook was going to appoint an African-American director. CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond said after the meeting that Ms. Sandberg had committed to adding an African-American to Facebook’s board soon. It doesn’t make sense that no person of color sits on Facebook’s board, granted this applies to much of corporate America. That said, the question now is who would be a good candidate to join Facebook’s board?

Some would immediately think of Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He has been the flag-bearer for the internet and television industry for the past several years. Before that, he was a member of the FCC, and chaired it for four years. He has a wealth of knowledge on navigating the regulatory landscape and would add a ton of value to Facebook in this vein.

The problem is that Mr. Powell serving on Facebook’s board while heading up the NCTA would be a conflict of interest, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t step down from his super powerful position just to be able to join Facebook’s board. Further, Mr. Powell doesn’t have the experience leading diversity initiatives at the scale with which Facebook needs experience. So, Mr. Powell’s not a fit.

There are two things this director needs experience with to move the needle forward at Facebook:

  1. The director needs to understand the media landscape and the regulatory system around it. Increasingly Facebook is being looked at as a media company rather than a social network. Because of that and the outcomes of the Russia-Facebook issue, Facebook could find itself facing increasing regulation to align the company with the rest of the media industry, so they will need someone who knows how to navigate that.
  2. Facebook needs someone with experience pushing diversity at a large organization and who can guide Facebook’s management as it continues diversifying its workforce. Facebook’s annual reports on its diversity numbers show that the company has quite a ways to go and having someone in the boardroom who knows how to get that done is key.

Payne Brown would be a strong fit to join Facebook’s board. He’s currently a managing director at Highbridge Capital Partners, which is a minority partner in Diddy’s RevoltTV. Mr. Brown was a vice president at Comcast where he led strategic initiatives, while overseeing program content, managing relationships with industry counterparts and governments, and standing up the company’s diversity council and leading the development of the company’s diversity philosophy.

While there is government experience on the board in Erskine Bowles, having someone like Mr. Brown who has been successful on the lobbying side of the table in dealing with Congress would be helpful as Facebook’s dealings with Congress on Russia’s election meddling and whether it needs to be regulated like a media company increase.

A counter to Mr. Brown joining the board could be that he’s not a household name and could perplex investors who are trying to put a value to the impact he could have on Facebook’s business. Well, Payne has worked on Wall Street for several years now and I’m sure analysts would easily be able to ask around and get a better sense of the impact he’s had on the media industry. If they don’t get answers on Wall Street, they could just ask Diddy!

A bit of an aside to all this is that it’s fine that Facebook has made a commitment to adding an African-American individual to its board, and that Congressmen like G.K. Butterfield are focused on getting more African-Americans into executive roles in Silicon Valley. But, we have a lot of work to do to build an ecosystem within the black community that could support my daughter building a $100 billion business.

I believe there is enough wealth within the black community today to do this along the startup venture path – pre-seed, seed, series, A, B, C, D, initial public offering, and beyond. That’s what makes the work the folks at Black Girls Code, Precursor Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, Backstage Capital, Black Wall Street and more exciting because they are more likely to find these folks and get them started along the path.

It would be nice to have a concerted effort from black policymakers, high net worth black people, and black players in the tech space to build an ecosystem around black technology entrepreneurs and provide them with the resources they need to build the future and billion dollar businesses along with it.

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Additional Reading for the Weekend:

  1.  Shonda Rhimes Just Became the Third Black Woman in the TV Hall of Fame
  2. Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures Filed to Raise $25M for the pre-seed venture firm’s second fund
  3. African startup founders can finally start looking for big-ticket funding nearer home
  4. Lightspeed Welcomes Tara Nicholle-Nelson as Entrepreneur-in-Residence
  5. Backstage Capital acquires The Door to continue funding underrepresented founders
  6. Issa Rae Built a Hollywood Career on Her Own Terms. Next, She’ll Build an Empire

No. 156: 3AMReads: Azure in Africa |Facebook Invests in Fiber Optic | Volvo Takes to Kenya

Microsoft Announces First Public Cloud in Africa

Microsoft announced today that it was going to stand up two data centers in South Africa, the first public data centers on the continent. Let that sit with you for a bit. Hopefully, this is the beginning of public clouds proliferating across the continent. The benefits of this reach from public sector revenue generation to auto mobility technologies I was fretting over yesterday. GM, come back, maybe?

Facebook Invests in Fiber Optic in Uganda

I missed the news earlier this year that Uganda was investing $170M in a fiber optic project in Uganda. East Africa landing $270M in fiber optic investments over the past couple months, including Google investing $100M in Csquared, is definitely a good look. Keep it coming!

Volvo Expanding Truck-Building to Kenya

Volvo announced yesterday that it was opening its third truck assembly plant on the African continent, this time in Kenya. I look forward to seeing how this operation performs considering the work the East African Community has done to ensure cross border trade is as strong as possible.

No. 67: Pay Attention to the Air Through Which You Walk

Chinedu Echeruo gave a talk at Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series on the value that creativity unleashes into the world. In it, he shared a parable David Foster told in a speech to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I found this to be a really compelling commentary on the power of how one thinks. We see that power all around us. Political parties. Marriage. Entrepreneurship.

While thinking on this parable further, I remembered an interview angel investor Jason Calacanis did with Peter Thiel, the contrarian billionaire co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He made a point about how one should pay attention to things that don’t work as well as one would like. What comes to mind now is the difficulty I have getting my daughter in and out of her car seat. His argument was that opportunities for a solution lie in those instances of discomfort.

For the past few months, I have tried to document ideas that come to mind during the course of a day. After hearing Mr. Thiel’s argument, I have tried to look a little closer at the everyday things with which I engage on a normal basis. My daughter’s car seat. The rectangular shape of my laptop and iPhone. To apply the language of Mr. Foster’s parable, I am trying to shift my thinking to be aware of the water in which I am swimming, rather the air through which I am walking.

For example, I remember that I heard Mr. Thiel make this comment about paying attention to the discomforts around you while I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street. I can remember this now, but with all the head shots I delivered playing football, I probably won’t remember this experience 50 years from now.

What if I could take a snapshot of that moment in time – the image of the intersection, the two-minute portion of the conversation, the day and time, how the conversation made me feel? Imagine being able to recall that experience 50 years from now as a form of treatment for my dementia.

You’ve seen the joy on the man’s face as he listens to jazz music he’d enjoyed decades prior. Imagine creating a playlist of sorts for your older self to enjoy pivotal moments of your life.

This may or may not be a good idea (I kind of like it and will mention it to my mom who works on dementia issues). That aside, the thought exercise of paying attention to something as routine as a memory unlocks a creativity that I look forward to experiencing more.