No. 255 – Thursday Reads

Source: Niche and

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.

‘Burn. It. The. F#&!. Down.’: The metamorphosis of former hedge fund manager and Epsilon Theory founder Ben Hunt – My buddy Myles Wynn introduced me to Ben Hunt a month or so ago when he wrote a provocative piece questioning the numbers China was reporting on deaths due to COVID-19. This piece does a nice job profiling him. He’s definitely somebody I’m going to be paying more attention to moving forward.

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?

Ghana’s economy resilient enough to fund healthcare infrastructure – Minister – Earlier this week, I shared my concern with how Ghana was paying for the 88 hotels it planned to start construction on this year. Sure enough, the country is betting on the Sinohydro deal in which China will construct infrastructure in the country in exchange for bauxite. I can’t say that I’m a fan.

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.

No. 244: Timbaland and Swizz Beatz Should Build a Platform

Source: Pardon my poor drawing skills

The Verzuz battles Timbaland and Swizz Beatz have been organizing on Instagram have been a fresh breath of musical air the past several weeks. They’ve really done something special for the culture. While so many music greats are getting their flowers, I can’t help but remember that these battles are adding to Zuckerberg’s net worth. Apparently, networks have approached Swizz Beatz and Timbaland about taking the battles to another level. For now, the duo are keeping the battles organic for the culture, but I think there’s definitely an opportunity for Timbaland and Swizz to follow Dr. Dre into the land of billion dollar businesses. Here’s my thought for the Verzuz platform.

The Second Screen

A few weeks ago when T-Pain and Lil’ John had their battle, T-Pain mentioned that it would be great if they could plug their audio straight in to come out of the audience’s speakers. The bad audio in parts of RZA and DJ Premier’s battle showed how valuable this would be. T-Pain’s thought got me thinking about the second screen conversation that has been taking place in the media world the past few years. It’s the concept of enhancing your viewing experience on a TV or computer with parallel content on another device like your phone.

Source: Nielsen

Lots of people are consuming data on their phones while looking at the screen. Further, I imagine a lot of people have been casting the IG battles to their televisions, Sonos, Google Home, and Alexa devices. Imagine the Verzuz app taking advantage of people’s propensity to use a second screen to create higher fidelity in-home experience for folks.

Lisnr Has the Answers

How would the Verzuz app create this in-home experience? There’s a startup out there called Lisnr that uses ultrasonic sound to deliver instructions to your phone or other devices. I’m pretty sure the technology Rodney Williams and his team built could be used to send direct audio from a battle you’re watching on your phone or casting to your TV. 

Shazam may be coming to mind for you as the more realistic option to handle this. The problem with Shazam is that it uses a library of recorded samples of music to identify songs. That’s why you get all that latency when trying to figure out what that banger is you’re listening to. Shazam’s servers are busy searching for the song that matches the sample they captured from the song you’re listening to. Lisnr sends a direct instruction to your device on what to do, making for way faster speeds. 

What Could Go Wrong?

When I say “Ok Google,” both of my phones and my Google Home devices perk up listening for instructions. I often wake up to alarms from my phones and Google Home. For some reason, the technology for listening devices isn’t at the place where multiple listening devices on the same WiFi network can coordinate which device will answer a query. If all the devices are getting instructions from the Lisnr signal, it would be a mess having multiple devices playing music out of sync. For now, I suppose the fix for that would be to make sure only one phone in the house has the volume up. 

Use Cases for Days

There are so many ways Verzuz could power the audience ownership innovators like Ryan Leslie have been pushing for years. Imagine listening to a new artist at a concert and you get a pop-up on your phone asking whether you like the track they’re performing and then whether you want to get on their email list? Imagine these live battles where you get a ping after every round of tracks giving you the option to vote on who won the round. The amount of data artists could get access to would be boons for them and create interesting partnership opportunities for platforms like Steve Stoute’s UnitedMasters, Ryan Leslie’s SuperPhone and Angela Benton’s Streamlytics

I look forward to seeing where Swizz and Timba take Verzuz. Hopefully they build something rather than sell it off. Maybe this could be a start for figuring out what that looks like.