Canada’s True North conference is not your typical tech event

From the venue and the flashy event website, Waterloo, Ontario’s True North conference (in its second year) doesn’t seem all that distinct from a laundry list of other major tech events that take place each year across North America. But from the moment its main stage programming kicked off on the first day, it was clear this wasn’t your typical gathering place for the tech industry faithful.

The main stage track kicked off with Communitech CEO Iain Klugman. The event is produced by Communitech, an entrepreneurial support and resource organization founded in 1997 to foster the Waterloo region’s technology industry. Communitech sprung out of BlackBerry and the University of Waterloo and the world-class innovation community that surrounds both.

Klugman, a former communications executive and current board member at a number of Communitech-fostered startups and academic institutions, sounded a cautionary and urgent note that continued throughout the day.

Tech conferences, in general, tend to dwell on optimism and enthusiasm, with brief forays into dark alleys of negative consequences. Not this one.

Communitech CEO Iain Klugman speaking at True North 2019 in Waterloo.

Klugman’s talk touched on opportunity, but it was the opportunity to discuss among a group of peers with influence in the technology industry how they should undertake together “to set things right.” Last year’s event had a similar outcome, resulting in the “Tech for Good Declaration,” which True North describes as “the Canadian tech industry’s living document,” and includes a number of principles designed to help guide technology development with community good in mind.

Rather than changing focus for year two, True North’s organizers seem to have doubled down: Klugman’s opening talk included references to surveillance capitalism and breaches of trust, and included this cheerful analogy: “Technology is like fuel. It can warm our homes or it can burn them to the ground, so we decide which one it will do.”

As a whole, the event is about the “tough choices” faced by the collective “we” of the tech industry, according to Klugman.

True North’s official keynote perfectly took the baton from the intro, as New York Times columnist and longtime political commentator Thomas Friedman took the stage. Friedman, a somewhat controversial figure owing to some of his past political stances, launched into a talk informed by his most recent book, “Thank You for Being Late,” and talked about what we’re seeing now in human history as a moment of intersection of three different forces accelerating in a “nonlinear manner” all at once, including technological development outpacing humanity’s ability to adapt to those changes.

NYT columnist and author Thomas Friedman at True North 2019 in Waterloo.

Friedman’s talk ended with him positing that humans spend most of their time today in the essentially “god-less” realm of “cyberspace,” a realm “where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge,” while at the same time we’ve achieved better than ever ability to act with god-like power to control and manipulate our environment. He chided the essential disconnect of powerful forces that act with supreme mastery over technology but with no grounding in sociopolitical understanding (specifically naming Mark Zuckerberg) and those who have the inverse problem (the U.S. Congress, in Friedman’s view).

Overall, Friedman’s views are grounded in what he describes as a place of optimism. But the takeaway is more that humanity is currently at a state where it’s overwhelmed on a number of fronts and out of its depth in terms of having a capacity to cope.

In the afternoon, Robert Mazur (longtime undercover agent and the subject of biopic “The Infiltrator”) discussed his experience tracking down and prosecuting money launderers operating more or less with the blessing of large financial institutions, precisely because their systems were designed around incentive systems that encouraged them but didn’t have protections in place to prevent bad actors from taking advantage. Mazur further elaborated that current telecom industry structure actually makes it even easier than ever to launder large sums relatively unchecked. In essence, it was a warning to be mindful of how the products you build can be exploited by the most malicious actors.

Former Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario and creator of the concept of “Privacy by Design” Ann Cavoukian came next, decrying the current state of data “centralized in huge honeypots of information,” including Google (her example).

Former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

This centralization, she noted is a huge risk in terms of presenting opportunities for tracking, misuse, leaks and more. It’s “taking away our agency as individuals,” she said, and the solution is moving to true decentralization of data.

“Privacy […] is freedom, and is about you making decisions relating to your personal information; not the state, not corporations — you,” she said. “It’s not about secrecy, it’s about control [and] privacy is a necessary condition for societal well-being.”

Cavoukian wrapped her talk by noting the sheer volume of privacy breaches that have leaked consumer information to date, and about the importance of encryption in keeping this safe. Overall, her talk was a blueprint for tech companies looking to incorporate data privacy and good stewardship into the DNA of their products from day one.

Kelsey Leonard, Tribal Co-Lead on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body of the U.S. National Ocean Council, provided a talk on the implications of digital rights and the continued digital divide as it pertains to Indigenous communities globally. Leonard pointed out that Indigenous nations in North America are the least connected in the world, something she noted continues the ongoing colonialism, and even can potentially contribute to “ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples.”

Kelsey Leonard, advocate for Indigenous Data Governance and Sovereignty, speaks at True North 2019 in Waterloo.

Indigenous people are also systematically disenfranchised from data ownership and data control, by virtue of their being left out of advanced STEM education and formalized degrees, she said. Leonard also noted that platforms contain reinforcement of what she calls “digital colonialism,” in that Indigenous names are often flagged as fake by algorithms designed to enforce real-name policies, and Indigenous languages are often mistranslated (specifically as Estonian, she said).

This worsens existing Indigenous language and culture erasure. Leonard said a language is lost every two weeks on average, according to recent research. What’s required then is to add protection measures specific to digital platforms to help counter this institutional digital colonization and enforce Indigenous Sovereign Data.

To close day one, Recode founder and legendary Silicon Valley reporter Kara Swisher summarized a lot of her recent work as a New York Times columnist. Basically, that means she called on the industry to stop messing around and start fixing stuff.

Kara Swisher speaks at the True North 2019 conference in Waterloo, Ontario.

Swisher said we’re coming to a “reckoning” for tech in terms of media coverage, and the overwhelmingly positive coverage it’s received over the past many years. She emphasized that we’re only at the beginning of the impact technology will have on society, and laid out a number of current areas of innovation and investment that will continue to upset societal norms, including autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and more.

Regarding media specifically, Swisher noted that she marked a significant shift when BuzzFeed started A/B testing to amplify and extend the attention-capture possible around specific “news” items, citing the famous Katy Perry Left Shark incident of 2015. This, combined with our “continuous partial attention,” which is tied to our inability to totally disengage from our smartphones, is combining to have effects on how we think and work in the world, Swisher said.

She added that, today, many of her new big concerns are around AI, and that “everything that can be digitized will be digitized.” Not only that, she continued, but “almost everything can be,” which will be massively disruptive to peoples’ lives, with effects including a future where most people will have a very high number of different jobs over the course of their lives, requiring continuous education and retraining. “We have to think really hard about what good AI is and what problematic AI is,” she said.

Thompson Reuters Foundation CEO Antonio Zappulla at True North 2019 in Waterloo discussed using technology to help fight human trafficking.

Across other stages, too, the themes of technology’s dangers and how to avert it prevailed across programming. Take Some Risk founder Duane Brown gave a talk on opting out of the always-connected lifestyle and becoming “digitally exhausted.” MedStack founder and CEO Balaji Gopalan talked about the risks inherent in dealing with private patient data in healthcare. Other topics included sustainable energy for Africa, using big data to counter human trafficking and ensuring we steer away from encouraging consumerization in this generation of connected kids.

The event’s central theme was the deceptively simple (and frankly over-uttered) phrase “tech for good,” but the programming and content revealed a level of sophistication and sincerity on the topic that exceeds the low bar often found in tech industry marketing materials and staged events. Overall, it felt introspective, contrite and contemplative — a self-reflection from a community genuine about shoring up its ethical shortcomings. In other words, refreshing.

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Neurobehavioral health company Blackthorn pulls in $76 million from GV to treat mental disorders

There are numerous challenges to finding effective treatments for mental disorders. However, Blackthorn Therapeutics, a neurobehavioral health company using machine learning to create personalized medicine for mental health, is betting its technological approach to finding drugs that work will put it ahead of the competition. Lucky for them, GV and other biotech investors have shown they agree by adding another $76 million in Series B financing to the coffers.

Today, Blackthorn announced the close of its $76 million series B round from GV, Scripps Research, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and a bevy of other biotech investment firms, including Polaris Partners, Premier Partners, Vertex Ventures HC, Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Life Science Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and Biomatics Capita.

Blackthorn has been heads down the last couple of years on a clinical trial for a drug that could potentially treat mood disorders. In April, the company announced positive results from its phase I trial for the drug.

The company plans to use the funding to advance its clinical-stage programs for mood disorders as well as for potential treatment of autism spectrum disorder, advancing towards clinical investigation in 2020.

Brian Chee, a managing partner at Polaris Partners, Lori Hu, a managing director at Vertex Ventures HC, and Julie Sunderland, a managing director at Biomatics Capital have joined Blackthorn’s board as directors in conjunction with the funding.

Blackthorn also recently added two people to its executive team. Jane Tiller has joined as chief medical officer and Laura Hansen as vice president, corporate affairs.

“BlackThorn was founded to bring new therapies to patients by applying advances in computational sciences to address patient heterogeneity, one of the biggest historical challenges in the field of neuropsychiatric drug development,” said Blackthorn’s president and COO Bill Martin, Ph.D. “Three years later, insights from our data-driven approaches are yielding patient enrichment strategies that could increase probability of clinical trial success and improve patient outcomes. We are grateful for our investors’ support to continue advancing our platform and therapeutic pipeline as we build out a world-class team at the intersection of technology and clinical neuroscience.”

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Colombian point-of-sale lender ADDI nabs $12.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz

Andreessen Horowitz <3 Latin American startups.

Latin America is the only region outside of the U.S. where the venture firm is routinely investing capital and it has just made another commitment, doubling down on its early stage support for the point-of-sale lending startup, ADDI.

ADDI picked up $12.5 million in new financing in April of this year as the company looks to expand its lending services online.

For an American audience, the closest corollary to what ADDI is up to is likely Affirm, the point-of-sale lender that’s raised a ton of cash and come in for some (valid) criticism for its basic business model.

Like Affirm, ADDI lets its borrowers apply for credit at the moment of purchase. The company likens its service to the layaway and credit plans that already exist in Colombia — but involve pretty onerous requirements to use. Company co-founder Santiago Suarez and Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange both commented on how, in some cases, Colombian shoppers have to have three people vouch for a borrower before a store will issue credit or agree to a layaway plan.

The difference between an ADDI loan — or any loan — and layaway is that an installment payment plan doesn’t charge interest (and even with the fees that installment plans do charge, they are often still cheaper than taking out a loan).

But financial products are coming for consumers in Latin America whether those buyers like it or not — and for the most part, it seems they do like it.

Historically, only the wealthiest clientele in Latin America received anything resembling the kinds of financial products that are more widely available in the United States, according to Strange. And the investment in ADDI is just part of her firm’s thesis in trying to make more services more broadly available in a region where a technological transformation is creating unprecedented opportunities for challengers.

That assessment is what drew Santiago Suarez back to Latin America only two years ago. A former executive at Lending Club who previously had worked as the head of New Product Development and Emerging Services at J.P. Morgan, Suarez saw the tremendous growth happening in Latin America and returned to Colombia to see if he could bring some much needed services to his home country.

Suarez partnered with his childhood friend, Elmer Ortega, who was working as the chief technology officer of the local hedge fund where he had previously been employed as a derivatives trader before learning how to code.

Together the two men, who had known each other since they were five-years-old, set out to transform how credit was offered in retail shops. It’s an industry that Suarez had known well since his parents had owned stores.

“In the U.S. there are all of these gaps that fintech companies are filling,” says Suarez. “But the gapes in Latin America are bigger.”

Suarez and Ortega incorporated the company in September 2018, around the same time they raised $2.3 million from the regional investment firm, Monashees, Andreessen, and Village Global . They then raised another $1.5 million in an internal round of financing before closing the most recent funding.

The company offers loans at annual percentage rates ranging from19.99% to 28.90%. The company started with a digital solution for brick and mortar retailers because 90% of retail in Colombia still happens offline. 

Although it’s in its early days, the company has already originated 10,000 borrowers and typically loans out roughly $500 since it launched on February 22, according to Suarez. He declined to comment on the company’s default rate on loans.

Now with 40 employees on staff, the company is looking to bring its lending tool to more e-commerce and physical retailers, according to Suarez. And despite the threat of cyclical political turmoil, Suarez says there’s no better time to be investing in Colombia. 

“It’s the most stable country outside of Chile… Way more stable than Brazil, way more stable than Argentina and way more stable than Mexico,” Suarez says. “What we’re looking at is more than cyclical instability… those things go beyond that.. Nubank was able to build a multibillion business in the worst political and economic crisis in Brazil’s history. I think Colombia is an incredibly attractive space with a deep talent pool.”

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On the road to self-driving trucks, Starsky Robotics built a traditional trucking business

More than three years ago, self-driving trucks startup Starsky Robotics was founded to solve a fundamental issue with freight — a solution that CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher believes hinges on getting the human driver out from behind the wheel.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Starsky Robotics started a regular ol’ trucking company. Now, nearly half of the employees at this self-driving truck startup help run a business that uses the traditional model of employing human drivers to haul loads for customers, TechCrunch has learned.

Starsky’s trucking business, which has been operating in secret for nearly two years alongside the company’s more public pursuit of developing autonomous vehicle technology, has hauled 2,200 loads for customers. The company has 36 regular trucks that only use human drivers to haul freight. It has three autonomous trucks that are driven and supported by a handful of test drivers. Starsky also employs a number of office people who, as Seltz-Axmacher notes, “know how to run trucks.”

The CEO and co-founder contends that without the human-driven trucking piece, Starsky won’t ever have an operational, or profitable, self-driving truck business. The trucking business has generated revenue, led to key partnerships such as Schneider Logistics, Penske and Transport Enterprise Leasing, and importantly, helped build a company that works in the real world. It has also been a critical tool for recruiting and vetting safety drivers and teleoperators (or remote drivers), according to Seltz-Axmacher.

“The decision to have a trucking business interact with the real trucking world in parallel with developing the robotics piece is a necessary part of building a longstanding business in the space,” said Reilly Brennan, general partner at Trucks VC and the first institutional investor in Starsky.

Starksy, which was co-founded by Seltz-Axmacher and Kartik Tiwari, has raised $21.7 million in equity from investors including Shasta Ventures and Trucks VC.

The evolution over at Starsky illustrates the challenge that awaits the autonomous vehicle industry and the giant companies and startups operating within it. Even after engineers solve the complexity of building an AI-powered driver that’s better than a human, these companies must figure out the equally intricate task of operations. Robotaxis, autonomous delivery robots and self-driving trucks won’t matter if humans don’t use, like or trust the tech.

Figuring out the basics of operations — including the rather pedestrian and obvious ones — will mean the difference between making or losing money. Or, having a business at all.

And the stakes are high. Trucks are the backbone of the U.S. economy and moved more than 70% of all U.S. freight and generated more than $700 billion in 2017, according to the most up-to-date statistics available from the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Companies pursuing robotaxis and other autonomous vehicle programs are going to eventually wake up — if they haven’t already — to the same realities that Starsky has accepted, Brennan contends.

“The interaction with the market, particularly in logistics, is vital,” Brennan said, adding that companies pursuing robotaxis that haven’t built out and tested a consumer-facing app risk the same problems. “They need to have a business on day one, not on day 720.”

For Starsky, it started with something as basic as having a working vehicle and access to mechanics that could fix it.

Trucks, the hard way

Seltz-Axmacher admits now he underestimated how difficult trucks could be.

“Hey, it’s a truck, how hard can buying one be?,” said Seltz-Axmacher, as he described the company’s first major purchase of a truck for about $50,000. “We quickly realized that having a truck and driving a truck are not easy things to do.”

Starsky engineers retrofitted the truck, named Rosebud, with its autonomous driving system and made plans to test it at the Thunderhill Raceway about 150 miles north of San Francisco. It didn’t make it. The truck’s engine was smoking by the time it crossed the Bay Bridge. And then the truck, along with all those engineers, sat for two weeks while Seltz-Axmacher hunted for a diesel mechanic.

Self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics began with this first, and problematic truck

The truck, pictured above, continued to break down. The company ran into more snafus, including a problem with insurance and the title of the vehicle. Starsky was going to miss a key milestone and Seltz-Axmacher was going to have to tell investors that it wasn’t because of bottlenecks in engineering, but because they didn’t know how to manage the truck part of this self-driving truck company.

The founders learned that even “average” trucks needed to go to the shop every 60 days, which is operationally complex when vehicles are traveling throughout the United States.

Starsky ended up making a key hire, Paul Schlegel, who is a veteran of trucking operations, to organize the enterprise. Schlegel, who has 32 years in the transportation industry with companies such as Schneider National and Stevens Transport, developed the trucking business that enabled autonomous trucks, but still worked in their absence. The trucking operations team is in Dallas. 

The driver pinchpoint

Seltz-Axmacher has said repeatedly that “unless you’re getting the driver out of the truck, you’re not solving anything.”

The problem in trucking is the supply of drivers. The chronic shortage has, in turn, driven up costs. For instance, the median salary for a truckload driver working a national, irregular route was more than $53,000 — a $7,000 increase from ATA’s last survey, which covered annual pay for 2013, or an increase of 15%. It’s even higher for private fleet drivers, who saw their pay rise to more than $86,000 from $73,000, or a gain of nearly 18%.

Starksy soon found that finding the right drivers was just as hard as finding the right trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows the company has reported three crashes of its manually driven trucks.

Seltz-Axmacher said they’ve had a driver make a wrong turn and have a low-hanging branch rip a hole in the side of a trailer. The most serious incident involved a new driver who took an offramp in Florida too fast and rolled the truck onto its side. No one was injured and the driver was terminated.

These drivers are critical to the autonomous program and the best of them end up becoming teleop controllers, a job that involves sitting in an office, not logging days and weeks in a truck.

Starsky is taking a dual approach to its autonomous trucks. It outfits regular trucks with a combination of sensors like radar and cameras along with software that allows long-haul trucks to drive autonomously on the highway. When the truck is about to exit, a trained remote operator, who is sitting in an office, takes over and navigates the truck to its final destination.

The promise of being able to be promoted to teleoperator is a big part of how Starsky is able to hire drivers effectively. The company contends it wouldn’t be possible to find 25 highly skilled safety and remote drivers without having a broader fleet of regular truck drivers to choose from.

Robotrucks or bust

The ultimate goal of Starsky Robotics hasn’t changed, Seltz-Axmacher said. To get there, the company recently hired Ain McKendrick as vice president of engineering, and former Tesla executive Keith Flynn to head up its hardware manufacturing to support Starsky’s fleet build. McKendrick, who co-founded Podtek and Lyve, also has experience at autonomous vehicle company Cyngn, Highfive, Netflix and Dell .

By early 2020, the company aims to have 25 autonomous trucks — a goal that is only possible if it has 100 regular trucks, he added.

The only way Starsky can scale its operations on the autonomous side is to continue to scale its regular trucking operations six months in advance. In other words, the regular trucking business is inextricably linked to the success of deploying autonomous trucks.

The company has already found that the 15-plus brokers that are regularly giving it freight to haul are ready for driverless trucks.

“Many times the brokers who have given us loads have been fairly ambivalent to whether or not we’re hauling that freight with a self-driving truck, Seltz-Axmacher said. “A lot of the concern that people might have is that this is a technology-averse industry and might not be willing to accept self-driving trucks has proven not to be true.”

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Social Capital reincarnated

Nine months ago, the once high-flying venture capital fund Social Capital made the bold decision to stop accepting outside capital and operate as a family office, in essence.

The co-founder of the outfit, brazen billionaire and early Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, pledged to upend his investment strategy and make fewer but much larger investments as a means to improve his returns. Naturally, a near-complete exodus of Social Capital’s venture capitalists followed.

Today, the firm’s three founders, Palihapitiya, Mamoon Hamid and Ted Maidenberg, have gone their separate ways. Palihapitiya is rewriting the Social Capital playbook, Hamid is busy reinvigorating Kleiner Perkins and Maidenberg is building on top of the data-driven strategy and proprietary software dubbed “Magic 8-Ball” he built at Social Capital, with a new firm called Tribe Capital.

Quietly, Tribe Capital’s co-founders, Maidenberg and former Social Capital partners Arjun Sethi and Jonathan Hsu, have deployed millions of dollars in Social Capital portfolio companies like Slack and Carta, hired several former Social Capital employees and flexed a data-first approach that looks pretty damn familiar.  

Data or bust

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCTOBER 19: Founder/CEO of Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya, speaks onstage during “The State of the Valley: Where’s the Juice?” (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Social Capital began laying the foundation for a data-driven approach to investing years ago. Now, Tribe Capital is doubling down.

From its founding in 2011, Social Capital established itself as a contrarian fund out to “fix capitalism.” Its strategy and reputation as an up-and-comer unafraid of new tricks earned it stakes in Slack, SurveyMonkey, Box, Bust and many other admirable upstarts.

As the firm matured, its partners experimented. In 2016, its early-stage investment team made the daring choice to rely on data rather than gut-feel alone to make its investment decisions, confronting a timeworn ideology that the best VCs have a special skill-set that enables them to spot future unicorns.

Using an operating system for early-stage investing dubbed “capital-as-a-service” and the growth and data analysis tool Magic 8-Ball — a sort of QuickBooks for startup data — Social Capital forwent the traditional pitch process and rapidly evaluated thousands of companies on the basis of metrics and achievements alone.

Palihapitiya, Maidenberg, Hamid and the other members of the partnership were on a mission to do venture the right way. Until they weren’t.

“I found us incrementally drifting away from our core mission, and our strategy was increasingly that of a traditional investment firm,” Palihapitiya wrote last year. “It became harder to take the risks we took in 2011 and it became easier to play the same game as every other VC.”

At its peak, Social Capital employed a team of 80. Once Palihapitiya confirmed his intent to transition the firm away from venture, the team began to shrink, fast. Today, the firm employs 30, including partners Ray Ko, Andy Artz and Jay Zaveri. One-third of that number were hired after the big pivot.

The Social Capital diaspora 

Social Capital co-founder Mamoon Hamid left the fund in 2017 for Kleiner Perkins.

Social Capital’s former investors have since identified their second acts.

In the last year, Sakya Duvvuru, a former partner, founded Nellore Capital Management, and Carl Anderson, another former partner, started Marcho Partners.

Tony Bates joined Genesys as its CEO, Mike Ghaffary accepted a general partner role at Canvas Ventures, Ashley Carroll is consulting full-time, Kristen Spohn says she is still exploring opportunities, Adam Nelson joined South Park Commons as a venture partner and Tejinder Gill joined Collaborative Fund as a principal.

Hamid, for his part, resolved to re-establish Kleiner Perkins’ once-stellar reputation.

“Kleiner Perkins was a firm that was in desperate need of a change of its own,” Hamid tells TechCrunch. “It was a unique opportunity and I was about to turn 40. I thought, there is one thing I wanted to do in my career that I hadn’t done before and that was to turn around one of the best venture firms of all time.”

Hamid’s August 2017 departure from Social Capital represented the beginning of the end of the partnership. Though Hamid, a co-founder and leading dealmaker, asserts turmoil at the firm began after his exit. 

Nine months after Hamid made the call to move on, Arjun Sethi, who once led Social Capital’s early-stage investment team, made the same call as did Maidenberg and Hsu. Simultaneously, growth equity chief Tony Bates and vice chairman Marc Mezvinsky were said to be departing.

The mass exodus continued, culminating in Palihapitiya’s final declaration: Social Capital was finished with venture capital.

‘Magic 8-Ball’ — reborn

Maidenberg, Sethi and Hsu built Tribe Capital in the image of Social Capital. With similar DNA, the three men are attempting to upgrade an early-stage investment strategy they not only created, but nearly perfected.

“Those guys did a very good job working for me,” Palihapitiya tells TechCrunch. “I’m super proud to see them launch their own venture fund. It was a really important, defining experience for me; I hope they have the same level of success, if not more.”

But where Social Capital was mission-driven, regularly backing healthcare and education businesses, Tribe Capital makes no such claim. And where Social Capital leaned on data to inform its investment thesis, Tribe is putting its full weight into it.

We are believers that it’s hard to do a lot of things well, so we wanted to focus on one thing we are good at: early-stage venture with the approach of recognizing early-stage product-market fit,” Hsu tells TechCrunch. “At Social Capital we did that, but we did 30 other things, too.”

In total, seven former Social Capital investors and employees are working on Tribe. Georgia Kinne, a former Social Capital executive assistant, leads operations. Two former Social Capital data scientists, Jake Ellowitz and Brendan Moore, joined Tribe in the same role. And Alexander Chee, Social Capital’s former head of product development, is on board as an entrepreneur-in-residence.

Tribe won’t say how much capital they have raised yet or how exactly their three funds are structured, aside from confirming that only one is operating as a traditional venture fund. Paperwork filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in late April, however, confirms a $150 million target for the debut venture effort. 

It’s been a year since Tribe began investing. In that time, it’s put money in Slack, Front, Cover and SFOX. Most recently, it participated in Carta’s $300 million Series E, which valued the business at $1.7 billion. All of these companies were previously backed by Social Capital.

Tribe is making deals of all shapes and sizes across industries, with a particular focus on enterprise, fintech and SaaS startups. In addition to deploying heftier sums to late-stage businesses like Slack, Tribe has made 10 seed bets of roughly $25,000 each, leveraging its data platform to make investment calls.

“The income statement and balance sheet are the lingua franca for an established company to communicate the financial health of its business,” Hsu writes. “These accounting concepts are often unhelpful when inspecting an unprofitable early-stage company. For a startup, what’s needed is a common quantitative language for what matters, namely, a quantitative framework for assessing product-market fit.”

Tribe’s quantitative framework is called Magic 8-Ball, a diligence tool for potential investments created by Maidenberg and Hsu during their Social Capital tenure. The tool measures product-market fit, growth trajectory and more of early-stage businesses, where, as Hsu mentions, financial data may be lacking.

“We use data like accountants; it’s not a magical AI machine,” Hsu said. “If other firms want to copy, by all means, they can try. We aren’t here to be antagonistic, we are here to be partners to founders and other investors.”

So far, Magic 8-Ball has poured through data provided by some 200 companies, with plans to hit 1,000 per year. In total, Tribe has deployed $100 million.

Tribe’s 8-Ball tool is said to be much more complex than the earlier model, according to a source with knowledge of the platform. It’s like when Yahoo engineers Jan Koum and Brian Acton left the search and email giant to build something even better, the source, who asked not to be named, said. That business became the messaging powerhouse WhatsApp.

Hamid, who’s not affiliated with Tribe but aware of their investment strategy, made a similar comparison.

“It’s like if you’re an engineer at Cisco working on WebEx,” Hamid tells TechCrunch. “You’re a great engineer but you can do better, you can [do your own] company. Guess what? That’s Zoom. That’s Eric Yuan . And Zoom is worth $20 billion and WebEx was worth $3 billion. That’s pretty. That’s the story of Silicon Valley. That’s creative disruption.”

Hamid, however, was careful to point out the differences between Social Capital and Tribe. The DNA may be similar but they aren’t identical.

Social Capital represented a new kind of venture firm in favor of creative disruption. Tribe Capital represents a second go, a sort of Social Capital 2.0 sans Chamath Palihapitiya.

Bogged down by the conflict surrounding its leader’s flair for controversy, Social Capital wasn’t set up to succeed. The Magic-8 Ball, on the other hand, may be just right.

“Why did we get back together instead of going elsewhere? That is a reasonable question,” Hsu said. “We had good job offers but we had a viewpoint of the world that we wanted to keep working on together.”

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