In this land rush no company has been more aggressive than Tencent. Last year the company invested in four of China’s 10 largest tech venture deals and took part in a total of 48 deals worth $6.3 billion, according to Preqin, an alternative-assets data company; by that measure, Tencent was a bigger venture capital player than Alibaba or Baidu or, for that matter, Google. The deluge continued this year: Through April, Tencent had joined another $4 billion worth of deals.
At Shasta Ventures, we focus on investing at the early stage, so we studied 32 high value consumer companies to see what they looked like around their Series A. Our research included 25 billion dollar companies (as measured by $1 billion+ last round valuations, acquisition prices, or public market caps) and 7 high-flying private companies with billion dollar potential.
Our analysis discovered that many billion dollar companies have ideas that were easy to dismiss at first. How many people really ride in black cars? Who really wants to watch live video streaming of people playing video games? Why does anyone care about yet another cloud backup and sync service? Photo messages… that disappear?!?! How many people are interested in renting a couch in someone’s home?
It turns out that the biggest ideas are not clear when you first see or hear them, either because the idea seems small, regulations are high, or the fundamental assumption seems flawed. However, successful companies often start with executing very well on an initial concept that is the beginning to a much bigger offering.
A chapter on how international companies should respond to the challenges posed by Chinese entrepreneurs will be particularly relevant to readers in business. His suggestions include accelerating decision-making, increasing flexibility, and continually updating products and capabilities—all hallmarks of the Chinese way of doing business. Tse’s astute analysis of China’s entrepreneurs and their approach to innovation provides valuable information for business executives everywhere and confirms China’s role in shaping global business for the foreseeable future.
It’s now commonplace for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to turn their domiciles into startup incubators. Three years after Kenna started 20Mission, its 41 rooms are booked solid. A small room with a shared bathroom now runs $1,800 a month. Stays can last years but are typically a few months. Today every room has a door, and the front door unlocks with the tap of a smartphone. Rent is paid in cash, check, or Bitcoin. The Internet router takes up an entire closet. In the basement there’s a television studio, where residents produce a weekly Web program called Money & Tech.
As a freelancer for more than a decade, I was intrigued by this proposition, and in April decided to give WeWork a try. After perusing the options, which start at $45 a month for pay-as-you-go access and run into the thousands for a small office, I sign up for a $350 “unlimited commons” membership. This allows me to use WeWork locations around the world, so long as I can find a seat at the bar. I download the company’s iPhone app and book a spot at a WeWork location on Varick Street in Manhattan. By the next day, I’m tapping away on my laptop in the facility’s second-floor common area. In this WeWork, as in others I later visited, tiny, glassed-in offices line the perimeter. Many have techy names on the doors—Blipit, Znaptag—but there are also lawyers, nonprofits, movie producers, political consultants, and a beef jerky brand. One office is filled with beautiful leather shoes. My work area is lit like a gastropub, with dark wood and leather armchairs, a bar with trompe l’oeil liquor-bottle wallpaper, and microbrews on tap. One afternoon, after a tax-week call with my accountant, I emerge from a phone booth, hidden behind lascivious-looking red velvet curtains, to find a happy hour sponsored by a tequila brand. Soon I’m chatting over grapefruit margaritas with a video game designer who has just joined WeWork, too.
I have fretted for a number of years journalists at major newspapers and magazines have become pre-occupied with consumer tech, and ignore more complex innovation that happens at GE or Boeing or Corning.
One exception is Ashlee Vance at BusinessWeek. I take time to read his stories and have exchanged thoughts with him every so often. He told me last year he was working on a book on Elon Musk, and knowing his style I knew it would not be simple hero worship.
The book is out, and while it appears flashy like much that comes out of Silicon Valley and the LA area where Musk’s companies, Tesla and SpaceX are based it explores gritty operational and other details and presents lots of gory details of the complex man that is Musk.
“He’s set about building something that has the potential to be much grander than anything Hughes or Jobs produced. Musk has taken industries like aerospace and automotive that America seemed to have given up on and recast them as something new and fantastic. At the heart of this transformation are Musk’s skills as a software maker and his ability to apply them to machines. He’s merged atoms and bits in ways that few people thought possible, and the results have been spectacular. It’s true enough that Musk has yet to have a consumer hit on the order of the iPhone or to touch more than one billion people like Facebook. For the moment, he’s still making rich people’s toys, and his budding empire could be an exploded rocket or massive Tesla recall away from collapse. On the other hand, Musk’s companies have already accomplished far more than his loudest detractors thought possible, and the promise of what’s to come has to leave hardened types feeling optimistic during their weaker moments.”
And there is plenty of humor
“A word of warning: There’s going to be a lot of “fuck” in this book. Musk adores the word, and so do most of the people in his inner circle.”
Get yourself a copy to understand this modern day Hughes, Jobs, Ford and Medici rolled in one.
For all its clout, Product Hunt doesn’t have a lot of frills. It’s a website and e-mail newsletter that every day singles out 50 or so recently-introduced things Hoover, his team and a group of discerning volunteers decide are noteworthy. Readers “vote up” what they like, moving them higher on the site, where they get more attention. Startups are so hot in Silicon Valley that the industry needs a startup to curate them.
As readership’s grown, Product Hunt has become a virtual town square for tech’s cheerleaders, with people posting feedback about new products and startup founders like Groupon’s Mason answering questions about their latest inventions. Hoover has guarded who can comment, limiting the number to 8,000 thus far who were brought in through an invitation system. Mason says the biggest challenge for Product Hunt will be ensuring it’s not overrun by the Internet’s default to vitriol.
“We’ll invite a select number of companies to an exotic Mediterranean islandwhere they can escape the mental noise of the day-to-day and focus on the things that really matter. Your co-founding team will be connected to the biggest names in the industry, receive 1:1 mentorship and training, have the opportunity to pitch to international investors, get connected with international media, and will embark on an investors roadshow pitching in five different cities at the end of the program.”
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a pre-IPO tech startup with a $1 billion market value was a fantasy. Google was never worth $1 billion as a private company. Neither was Amazon nor any other alumnus of the original dotcom class.
Today the technology industry is crowded with billion-dollar startups. When Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee coined the term unicorn as a label for such corporate creatures in a November 2013 TechCrunch blog post, just 39 of the past decade’s VC-backed U.S. software startups had topped the $1 billion valuation mark. Now, casting a wider net, Fortune counts more than 80 startups that have been valued at $1 billion or more by venture capitalists (full list here). And given that these companies are privately held, a few are sure to have escaped our detection. The rise of the unicorn has occurred rapidly and without much warning, and it’s starting to freak some people out.
As far as Jung is concerned, it’s Silicon Valley, not IV, that has lost the plot. A former child prodigy and chief architect at Microsoft, Jung argues that venture capitalists have become obsessed with trifles such as social and mobile apps, while large corporations have pared back their research and development budgets. “Everything has moved toward the short term,” he says. “The public markets have gotten so efficient, and they’re not pleased when a CEO says, ‘Hold on. Give me 10 years, and I’ll figure this out.’ ” IV, he says, has been taking the long-term view all along. First it had to amass a patent portfolio. Then it needed to learn how to mine it for great ideas. Now it’s time to put those ideas to the test. Critics who only saw IV as a giant IP collector misjudged the company, he says. It will soon be pumping out dozens of revolutionary products.