Winamp Logo
Dead Cat Cover
Dead Cat Profile

Dead Cat

English, News, 1 season, 108 episodes, 4 days, 6 hours, 32 minutes
A podcast about Silicon Valley, hosted by newsletter writer Eric Newcomer and Tom Dotan, with Katie Benner as a regular special guest. (
Episode Artwork

Two Titans on the Future of AI (with Reid Hoffman & Vinod Khosla)

Today, we have a double episode for you — two conversations from the Cerebral Valley AI Summit.Reid Hoffman was fresh off a meeting with President Joe Biden when Hoffman and I sat down on stage at the Cerebral Valley AI Summit Nov. 15. On stage, he told us that working to get Biden elected next year is one of his top priorities. Then, I sat down with the ever-feisty Vinod Khosla. The investor called for a TikTok ban and more welcoming immigration policies while warning against open-source artificial intelligence projects.Thousands of enterprises around the world rely on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) to power applications that drive their businesses. OCI customers include leaders across industries, such as healthcare, scientific research, financial services, telecommunications, and more.NVIDIA DGX Cloud on OCI is an AI training-as-a-service platform for customers to train complex AI models like generative AI applications. Included with DGX Cloud, NVIDIA AI Enterprise brings the software layer of the NVIDIA AI platform to OCI.Talk with Oracle about accelerating your GPU workloads.Hoffman Plans to Go Big for BidenHoffman, fresh off a meeting with President Biden, kicked off the afternoon with a strong endorsement of the President’s record. Hoffman praised Biden for his recent executive order on artificial intelligence. Reid called himself “a 95%-98% supporter” of the executive order, endorsing provisions on reporting and monitoring, “red team” testing, and voluntary commitments by companies that might eventually be enforced via the Defense Production Act. But he pushed back on the idea that the FTC should be monitoring the AI industry for anti-competitive conduct.“Startups are not being impeded right now,” he asserted, despite the apparent dominance of OpenAI and the mega-cap tech companies. Reid sits on the board of Microsoft, and offered that he was in fact “first money in” on OpenAI, through his personal foundation, but he’s not concerned about, er, his own companies having too much power. “I don’t think it constrains competition on any level.”Hoffman is always happy to engage on policy, and I asked him what he thought about Marc Andreessen’s recent “techno-optimist” manifesto, which denigrates the very idea of government oversight. Reid said he was a techno-optimist too, and half-joked that Andreessen “quoted kind of liberally from things I’ve written and said” without any attribution. But Hoffman said that he’s not on board with Andreessen’s approach. “It’s kind of dumb to think that when you have major technologies there can’t be negative side effects,” he said, noting that all his AI projects have safety teams. “Tech can be amazing. Let’s be intentional about building.”Khosla Wins Cheers from the Cerebral Valley AudienceVenture capitalist Vinod Khosla confirmed that his firm, boosted by an early stake in OpenAI, was about to close on $3 billion in commitments for a new fund. Valuations are high, he said, “but just because valuations are high doesn’t mean it isn’t a good time to invest.”He’s not buying existential risk, calling it “nonsensical” talk from academics who had nothing better to do. But he’s long on China risk, saying the U.S. is in a “techno-economic war” with China and needs to fight hard. “I would ban TikTok in a nano-second,” he said, unlike his predecessor on stage, Hoffman, who Khosla said he very much admired. Khosla is firmly against open-source AI models as well due to the China risk.Bio-risk and cyber risk are real concerns too, he noted.But if China or rogue viruses don’t kill us, Khosla thinks the near-future is very bright: “I do think in 10 years we’ll have free doctors, free tutors, free lawyers” all powered by AI. Khosla also gave a grudging endorsement of the Biden Executive Order, saying it was “okay.” But like most Silicon Valley moguls, he has no time for antitrust issues. “We have to get people like Khan out of there,” he said, referring to the chair of the FTC (though misstating her name), calling her “crazy, left-wing.”   Khosla said he’s long believed that AI would force us to “redefine what it is to me human.”Meantime he himself plans another 25 years of VC investing, and if all goes well, maybe more. Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/30/202344 minutes, 28 seconds
Episode Artwork

Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi & MosaicML Founder Naveen Rao Speak at Cerebral Valley

We were delighted to kick off the 2nd Cerebral Valley AI Summit with Ali Ghodsi, CEO of Databricks, and Naveen Rao, co-founder of MosaicML. Their encounter at our debut event in March led to Ghodsi buying Rao’s company, which had little revenue, for $1.3 billion. At our event on Nov. 15, the two discussed how the deal came together quickly after meeting at the conference dinner. Thousands of enterprises around the world rely on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) to power applications that drive their businesses. OCI customers include leaders across industries, such as healthcare, scientific research, financial services, telecommunications, and more.NVIDIA DGX Cloud on OCI is an AI training-as-a-service platform for customers to train complex AI models like generative AI applications. Included with DGX Cloud, NVIDIA AI Enterprise brings the software layer of the NVIDIA AI platform to OCI.Talk with Oracle about accelerating your GPU workloads.Ghodsi recounted how he started spending some time with Rao and thought, “these guys are pretty good,” and then by chance noticed an employee he respected poking around with MosaicML and offering a strong endorsement. Soon Ghodsi was on the phone with the head of his deals team, who told him “if you want to buy these guys you have to do it this weekend.” Rao said by that point “you kind of know he’s going to pop the question,” and once they worked out the money, the deal was done.The two executives certainly seemed to be in harmony as they touted the potential benefits from their combination, which in simple terms will bring MosaicML’s expertise in building specialized generative AI models to Databricks’ corporate data platform products, essentially super-charging Databricks for the generative AI era. They were eager to defend the idea of open-source foundation models that are specific to certain tasks, rejecting the notion that general-purpose models like ChatGPT-4 will eventually swallow everything. (This conversation took place before OpenAI was thrown into chaos by its board of directors.)Ghodsi said calls to limit open-source models on the grounds that they’ll be too easily exploited by bad actors a “horrible, horrendous” idea that would “put a stop to all innovation.” “It’s essential that we have an open-source ecosystem,” he said, noting that even now it’s unclear how a lot of AI models work, and open-source research will be critical to answering those questions.Rao added that many of the people making predictions about how AI would develop are “full of s**t.” On the safety question, he noted that cost alone would stand in the way of any existential risks for a long time, and in the meantime the focus should be on real threats like disinformation and robot safety.Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/21/202322 minutes, 4 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Artificial Intelligence Startup Draft

If you could amass any five artificial intelligence startup bets right now, which companies would you pick? My Cerebral Valley co-hosts and I took a stab at answering that question with an artificial intelligence startup draft. Our startup draft starts at 27:35 after a discussion of some of the biggest themes going into this week’s Cerebral Valley AI Summit. The draft gave us a chance to dissect some of the most promising startups in artificial intelligence right now. The goal was to amass five companies with the biggest valuation five years from now. We restricted ourselves to AI startups that had raised more than $100 million. I encourage you to make your own prediction in the comments. Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/14/20231 hour, 4 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork

Chip War (with Chris Miller)

For this week’s episode, I spoke with Chris Miller, the author of Chip War, about the rise of Nvidia. While OpenAI gets the lion’s share of the public adulation for the sudden excitement about generative intelligence, Nvidia’s H100 chips are powering much of the generative AI frenzy. Nvidia’s stock has climbed over 200% over the past 12 months. And the company has become a key investor in generative AI startups.Miller (who comes on the show around the 41-minute mark) talks through Nvidia’s history and the geopolitical war raging over the production of chips.In the first part of the episode, Cerebral Valley AI Summit co-hosts Max Child, James Wilsterman, and I discuss how big technology companies are working to fend off this new generation of AI startups. Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/10/20231 hour, 32 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork

The AI Personal Stack (with Joshua Browder)

I’m back from my honeymoon in Japan. Thanks for sticking with the newsletter as I celebrated my wedding this year. Expect more of my newsletter writing soon. If you have tips or story ideas for me, you can always reach out at [email protected] hope you’ve been enjoying the Cerebral Valley podcast series while I’ve been gone. If you missed the first three episodes, you can check them out in the links below:* The Cerebral Valley Podcast: Artificial Intelligence Becomes Reality* AI Kills Us All (with Daniel H. Wilson)* Someday That NPC Could Be More Alive Than You Are (w/ Amy Wu & Keith Kawahata)On this week’s episode of our Cerebral Valley podcast, co-hosts Max Child, James Wilsterman, and I talk about how artificial intelligence is actually affecting our lives today. Then at the 34:40 mark, I talk with DoNotPay CEO Joshua Browder. His company is helping consumers cancel their gym memberships, dispute charges, and otherwise stand up to big corporations. Browder got some heat for planning to have an artificial intelligence-powered lawyer argue in court. Ultimately, he reversed course under pressure from the legal world. Browder envisions a world where AI is fighting other AIs. Companies use artificial intelligence to power their chatbots and to handle customer support. Consumers need to be armed with similarly powerful AI-powered tools to resist those companies. Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/1/20231 hour, 23 minutes, 55 seconds
Episode Artwork

Someday That NPC Could Be More Alive Than You Are (w/ Amy Wu & Keith Kawahata)

Video games often represent the frontier of any new technology. Many of the most popular applications in the initial iPhone app store were games. Today’s virtual reality devices are dominated by video games. Artificial intelligence seems poised to upend the video game business and entertainment more broadly.On the third episode of our six-part Cerebral Valley podcast series, Max Child, James Wilsterman, and I game out how artificial intelligence could reshape the media we consume. It helps that Max and James are the co-founders of Volley, which builds AI-enabled games. They develop many of the most popular voice games on the Amazon Alexa and smart TV platforms like Roku. Max and James have been deep in the trenches of conversational-style gaming and have spent a lot of time thinking about how humans interact with ever smarter computers.In the second half of the episode, I talk with Menlo Ventures partner Amy Wu, who focuses on gaming and consumer investments, and Keith Kawahata, a former executive at Wargaming, AppLovin, and Kabam, who now has a stealth artificial intelligence gaming startup. Wu helps to articulate a three-part thesis on how artificial intelligence might change the gaming business. (1) artificial intelligence will help with the creation of the game art and graphics, (2) AI can create more sophisticated non-player characters, and (3) AI can help write the code of the game itself.One of the things that I was struck by from the conversation is that games may have a big leg up in implementing artificial intelligence over movies — because people interact so much more with a gaming, giving it tons of data to react to. While TikToks can learn what small populations of people like and what an individual likes over a long time, a game could learn a lot about a user in a single play session.Of course, there are real hurdles left standing. Most notably, text-to-image generation so far is mostly two-dimensional. Despite everything that’s happened, image generation models aren’t just whipping out 3-D levels that are ready to play. And it could be a while until non-player characters are as smart as humans. But imagine playing a game of Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption and the characters roaming around the game are self-aware agents with their own thoughts and drives. Give it a listenP.S. I’m on my honeymoon right now in Japan. I was working frantically to record these episodes before I left. My chief of staff Riley Konsella is sending the episodes out for me while I’m gone. If you need anything while I’m away, you should email Riley.Thanks in advance for being understanding that this newsletter is slowing down for my honeymoon. I’m going to dedicate myself to relaxing over the next two weeks so that I come back hungrier than ever. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/24/20231 hour, 34 minutes, 45 seconds
Episode Artwork

AI Kills Us All (with Daniel H. Wilson)

What’s so crazy about this moment in artificial intelligence is that many of the most credible voices in AI think there’s a real chance that this all turns out really, really badly. Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei recently pegged his “chance that something goes really quite catastrophically wrong on the scale of human civilization” between 10% and 25%. That’s comforting.Applications to attend the Cerebral Valley AI Summit close TODAY October 17. Apply right now to be considered for an invitation!On the series’ first episode we reflect on how generative artificial intelligence and large language models took Silicon Valley by storm.So in our second episode of the six-part Cerebral Valley podcast, Max Child, James Wilsterman, and I played out the doomsday scenarios. We talked a lot about science fiction and how writers have imagined artificial intelligence turning dystopian.In the second half of the episode, I talked with science fiction author Daniel H. Wilson. He wrote the books How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where’s My Jetpack?, and How to Build a Robot Army. Wilson has also consulted with the military to help them game out how dystopian technologies might unfold. Of course, even in the Anthropic CEO’s estimation, the most likely scenario is probably a more boring one: artificial intelligence doesn’t try to secretly destroy us as we sleep in our beds. But the fact that there’s a chance is certainly worth considering.I open our conversation with the parable “The unfinished fable of the sparrows” from Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence.It was the nest-building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!”“Yes!” said another. “And we could use it to look after our elderly and our young.”“It could give us advice and keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat,” added a third.Then Pastus, the elder-bird, spoke: “Let us send out scouts in all directions and try to find an abandoned owlet somewhere, or maybe an egg. A crow chick might also do, or a baby weasel. This could be the best thing that ever happened to us, at least since the opening of the Pavilion of Unlimited Grain in yonder backyard.”The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?”Replied Pastus: “Taming an owl sounds like an exceedingly difficult thing to do. It will be difficult enough to find an owl egg. So let us start there. After we have succeeded in raising an owl, then we can think about taking on this other challenge.”“There is a flaw in that plan!” squeaked Scronkfinkle; but his protests were in vain as the flock had already lifted off to start implementing the directives set out by Pastus.Just two or three sparrows remained behind. Together they began to try to work out how owls might be tamed or domesticated. They soon realized that Pastus had been right: this was an exceedingly difficult challenge, especially in the absence of an actual owl to practice on. Nevertheless they pressed on as best they could, constantly fearing that the flock might return with an owl egg before a solution to the control problem had been found.Give it a listen. P.S. I’m on my honeymoon right now in Japan. I was working frantically to record these episodes before I left. My chief of staff Riley Konsella is sending the episodes out for me while I’m gone. If you need anything while I’m away, you should email Riley. Thanks in advance for being understanding that this newsletter is slowing down for my honeymoon. I’m going to dedicate myself to relaxing over the next two weeks so that I come back hungrier than ever. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/17/20231 hour, 15 minutes, 9 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Cerebral Valley Podcast: Artificial Intelligence Becomes Reality

In the past 12 months, it has felt like “AI” transformed from a pair of letters that companies affixed to their latest product announcements to get some extra marketing luster to the shorthand for a genuine technology revolution. ChatGPT, Dall-E, Midjourney, and more showed the world what artificial intelligence is now capable of doing. Then, the funding started pouring in for every startup that had anything to do with those two letters. Every venture firm needed to bet on their own foundational model and every startup needed to get its hands on Nvidia’s H100s to train their own foundation models. Ahead of the 2nd Cerebral Valley AI Summit on Nov. 15, I wanted to really take stock of how we got here. So I teamed up with my conference co-hosts Max Child and James Wilsterman to bring you a six-part podcast series on the rise of generative artificial intelligence.You can apply to attend the Cerebral Valley AI Summit here. Applications close Oct. 16. On the series’ first episode we reflect on how generative artificial intelligence and large language models took Silicon Valley by storm. With the help of ChatGPT, we consider the top research papers that brought us here, the most important historic milestones along the journey, the key artificial intelligence products on the market today, and how artificial intelligence is already impacting our lives. The show is fun and and lighthearted. I hope it’s a little more accessible than the usual fodder on the Newcomer podcast. For instance, on a future Cerebral Valley episode, we’re going to do a draft pick of what we think will be the most valuable AI startups. On upcoming episodes, I interview guests like Daniel H. Wilson — author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where's My Jetpack? and How to Build a Robot Army — and DoNotPay CEO Joshua Browder.If you’ve never listened to the Newcomer podcast before, this is a good time to give it a shot. Die-hard podcast listeners will remember Max and James, who are the founders of the AI voice games company Volley, from my January episode on augmented reality.Whether you can make it to Cerebral Valley in person or not, my hope is that this series is a solid primer as to what exactly has been going on in the business of artificial intelligence. I follow this stuff super closely and until we got organized for this podcast series there was so much that I hadn’t learned. I know most of you won’t be able to come to the conference in person, but there will be a virtual conference in this newsletter. We will publish recordings from the summit on our YouTube channel and send out some of our favorites over the podcast feed. So this is your lively refresher on all the crazy stuff that happened in Silicon Valley artificial intelligence startups this year. Give it a listen.Apply to attend the Cerebral Valley AI Summit here. Applications close Oct. 16. P.S. I’m on my honeymoon right now in Japan. I was working frantically to record these episodes before I left. My chief of staff Riley Konsella is sending the episodes out for me while I’m gone. If you need anything while I’m away, you should email Riley. Thanks in advance for being understanding that this newsletter is slowing down for my honeymoon. I’m going to dedicate myself to relaxing over the next two weeks so that I come back hungrier than ever. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/10/20231 hour, 1 minute, 41 seconds
Episode Artwork

Life Extension Innovations, Moonshots & Snake Oil (with Celine Halioua & James Peyer)

I brought two top Silicon Valley entrepreneurs working on extending lifespans on the Newcomer podcast this week. One of them is trying to help people live longer. The other, their dogs.James Peyer, the CEO of Cambrian Bio, is acquiring majority stakes in drugs that could combat a particular illness while showing promise for broader use among healthy humans. Meanwhile, Celine Halioua, the CEO of Loyal, is developing drugs to make dogs live longer. Fundamentally life extension, or longevity, is about finding drugs and treatments that can be given to healthy humans to help them live longer, healthier lives. Instead of just treating illnesses, entrepreneurs in the space want to find ways to stave off aging in already healthy people. The space has long been a fascination of mine. In February 2022, I profiled Elad Gil’s investments in an array of companies looking to make healthy humans live longer, healthier lives.The HBO show Silicon Valley helped popularize the idea that Silicon Valley elites were pumping their veins with younger people’s blood. (I’ve yet to get anyone to confess to me that they’re buying plasma.)To the chagrin of this week’s guests, one tech mogul desperate to avoid death has received a lot of the attention recently. That’s Braintree founder Bryan Johnson. Time magazine just profiled Johnson under the headline “The Man Who Thinks He Can Live Forever.” Johnson, 46, is a centimillionaire tech entrepreneur who has spent most of the last three years in pursuit of a singular goal: don’t die. During that time, he’s spent more than $4 million developing a life-extension system called Blueprint, in which he outsources every decision involving his body to a team of doctors, who use data to develop a strict health regimen to reduce what Johnson calls his “biological age.” That system includes downing 111 pills every day, wearing a baseball cap that shoots red light into his scalp, collecting his own stool samples, and sleeping with a tiny jet pack attached to his penis to monitor his nighttime erections. Johnson thinks of any act that accelerates aging—like eating a cookie, or getting less than eight hours of sleep—as an “act of violence.” Even as Johnson is getting a lot of attention for his self-experimentation, there’s a growing view that there could be something credible behind Silicon Valley’s interest in life extension. The Economist just wrote that “slowing human ageing is now the subject of serious research.”Many in mainstream science and medicine look at all this slightly askance. That is understandable. It is an area which attracts chancers and charlatans as well as those with more decent motives, and its history is littered with “breakthroughs” that have led more or less nowhere. America’s Food and Drug Administration does not recognise “old age” as a disease state, and thus as a suitable target for therapy. Nevertheless, evidence has been accumulating that such research might have something to offer.Some established drugs really do seem to extend life, at least in mice. That offers both the possibility that they might do so in people and some insight into the processes involved. The ever-greater ease with which genes can be edited helps such investigations, as does access to large amounts of gene-sequence data. The ability to produce personalised stem cells, which stay forever young, has opened up new therapeutic options. And new diagnostic tools are now offering scientists means to calculate the “biological ages” of bodies and organs and compare them with actual calendar ages. In principle this allows longevity studies to achieve convincing results in less than a lifetime.I dug in with Halioua and Peyer about where they saw the most opportunities, how their own companies were progressing, and why they thought Johnson’s publicity campaign was doing a disservice to companies working on longevity. The duo helped break down the space, discussing which types of companies they think are innovators, which efforts are more speculative moonshots, and which ones are simply snake oil. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/27/20231 hour, 5 seconds
Episode Artwork

Fighting for Pro-Crypto Legislation in Sam Bankman-Fried's Shadow (with Chris Lehane)

Chris Lehane was once the consummate Democratic spin man and campaign wonk. He introduced the world to the vast right-wing conspiracy against the Clintons. In 2015, Lehane dove into the high-growth startup world. He joined Airbnb to run policy and communications. He taught the home sharing company how to fight nicely with cities, dishing out data and tax cooperation in exchange for favorable local regulations. Unlike Uber’s confrontational approach that had it going to war with Bill de Blasio in New York City, Airbnb tried to foster a cozy relationship with urban policymakers.Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and President Barack Obama built a tight relationship. A year ago, just as the crypto winter was starting, Lehane joined Katie Haun’s self-named venture fund, which had raised $1.5 billion. Haun Ventures positioned itself as a leader in regulation, policy, and communications. Haun is a former assistant U.S. attorney. Rachael Horwitz, the firm’s chief marketing officer, once ran communications for Coinbase. And Lehane brought the political experience, especially with Democrats. But there’s only so much one firm can do to change crypto’s reputation in Washington, especially with Democrats. Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of FTX, had become the crypto world’s standard bearer with Democrats, donating to their campaigns and speaking to their values. Then when Bankman-Fried’s empire unraveled and he headed to jail, many Democrats grew disillusioned with crypto. This year, two Republican-led House committees moved forward crypto-friendly legislation that would clarify the regulation of crypto currencies and give the Commodities Futures Trading Commission more power to regulate crypto (denying the SEC some of that power). Meanwhile, the Biden appointed SEC chair Gary Gensler has sued crypto exchange Coinbase and Binance for failing to register their exchanges with the SEC. I invited Lehane on the Newcomer podcast to take stock of crypto’s status in Washington. We talked about the bills working their way through Congress, the SEC lawsuits, and the crypto winter. Lehane and I also talked about how he believed that America needed to embrace a “common sector” that served as a hybrid between government regulation and corporate self-regulation. Think Airbnb data sharing with cities or Facebook’s oversight board. We also commiserated over co-existing with Silicon Valley Republicans in the MAGA era. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/13/20231 hour, 5 minutes, 39 seconds
Episode Artwork

He Helps Rich Tech Founders Part With Their Money (with Rey Flemings)

I spend most of my time here talking about how people earn their money.Rey Flemings, the chief executive of the YC-backed startup Myria, is an expert at helping people spend it. For several years, Flemings ran a luxury services consultancy for family offices. In other words, he threw parties in Las Vegas, introduced billionaires to celebrities, rented out private mansions, and helped people acquire things money can’t usually buy. These days, Flemings is building a startup around the same concept. Letting rich people buy what isn’t on the market. He’s building a marketplace for off-market travel and accommodations. On top of that, he’s spinning up a social network for the ultra wealthy. Flemings says his average member’s net worth is about $600 million. I sat down with Flemings to talk about his startup and to understand how Silicon Valley’s most successful people are spending the fantastical sums that they’ve earned in the past few years. He warned about the unhappiness that sudden fortune can bring, calling it “the success condition.”We’re all humans. We’re all chasing the American Dream. We’re all chasing success. And when you achieve it, one of the first discoveries that people are shocked by is that you have to pump the brakes. Money doesn’t buy happiness. I was talking with a new client the other day and he said, “Ray, I can’t talk about this publicly, the world would play the world’s smallest violin, but the day I exited triggered the deepest and greatest period of depression in my life.”Give it a listen.Highlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.There is a phenomenon in Silicon Valley where someone suddenly becomes rich, especially when their entire net worth is tied up in a startup. Finally, they sell the company and now have all this money, but don't really know how to be wealthy or what to buy. What typically happens when somebody sells their company for a billion dollars and gets 300 million of it?Rey Flemings: First of all, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, right? We’re different. Significant, sudden, great wealth does come with a particular set of challenges. Zooming out across 15-17 years in this space and looking at all of the folks that work here, zoom all the way out. Let’s just focus on first-generation people who are operating a business and/or they’re doing something presently to amass that wealth. I’ve worked with probably 100-125 folks in that category. I hear the same things over and over, so often that we have even coined a name for it — we call it the Success Condition.It goes something like this: We’re all humans. We’re all chasing the American Dream. We’re all chasing success. And when you achieve it, one of the first discoveries that people are shocked by is that you have to pump the brakes. Money doesn’t buy happiness. I was talking with a new client the other day and he said, “Ray, I can’t talk about this publicly, the world would play the world’s smallest violin, but the day I exited triggered the deepest and greatest period of depression in my life.”What ends up happening is we chase the American Dream only to realize it and then we’re like “Wait, why am I not happy? What’s missing here?” Rich people get sad, depressed and commit suicide just like anyone else. Studies show that beyond about $100,000 a year, any more money doesn’t actually contribute to human happiness. The wealthier and more successful you become, the harder it is to form close interpersonal relationships with people that aren’t in your network.Break down what was the motivation to do Y Combinator and build more of a tech platform for Myria?Rey: Fantastic question, Eric. I’d love to sound like I had this all planned out and was so smart with so much foresight. I knew I wanted to build a scalable business with my background. But when I started The Blue, I ran it for 5-6 years before we could start Myria. It was complicated. How do you scale services? Many say you can’t scale services. If so, what do you scale and how? How do you keep customers happy who want white glove service and personalization? How do you provide that special touch at scale? These are really hard problems to solve.I grew that business bootstrapped to about $60 million GMV annually. If you do that, you stay busy. I didn’t know my kids, family, or myself. I was always on a plane, just work, work, work. That’s not sustainable.At least you get to go to parties sometimes?Rey: Yeah, almost always in that business. I just celebrated my 50th birthday. I don’t have to tell you I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on a plane in a suit. That’s no way to live.It turns out that when we started Myria, we asked clients what they wanted. Ninety-two percent of requests fell into just three categories. People wanted our global travel product — not just booking a flight or kayak to Toledo. Really crazy, experiential travel beyond a private jet. When you get off the private jet, what happens? The best things in the world you can’t find on Google. If you can’t search for them, how do you know what’s on the menu? There’s a whole universe of off-market awesomeness in every category, but no one tells you about them because they aren’t online.Travel experiences, people, and assets. When you’re running a big company, you have an amazing team. When you hit $300 million net worth, you probably move to a single family office with teams managing your wealth. But for your personal life, even with household employees, you want to relax at home. A person worth $3 billion wouldn’t run their company with one person, but their personal life becomes a multi-billion dollar enterprise with homes, kids, divorce, assets everywhere. Assistants work hard but can’t be experts in everything billionaires need help in.We asked clients what they wanted and 92% of requests were in three categories. Also, there are about 20 markets ultra wealthy care about. If we have great coverage in those categories in those markets, we’ve covered nearly all use cases.I’ve always wondered — if I’m at Bezos’ level of wealth, do I try to get everybody who interacts with me to sign an NDA? Especially if I’m out partying on a yacht, is everybody at that party signing something to keep things confidential?Rey: On the Myria platform, everyone who sells to our members is automatically under binding arbitration. The wealthy are targets for frivolous litigation. We try to prevent that.In real life, if you’re hosting a party, many will request or demand NDAs and lock up phones, like Dave Chappelle style with magnetically locked bags. I think that’s good considering phone addiction. You’ve thrown a million dollar party for people’s enjoyment but they just look at their phones. But there are gaps. I can share a horror story.We did an expensive, innocent party at an incredible estate with famous people relaxing and having fun — nothing unprintable. But no one wanted cameras in their face while relaxing Someone who signed the NDA went to the press implying we discriminated by only having women sign NDAs, not the men. The men were dear friends of the client, so they didn't have to sign. Sometimes NDAs can backfire.Do you require NDAs for everything?Rey: We try to on the platform but nothing substitutes for having a good group of trustworthy people, which is harder as you become more successful. It’s become a sport to vilify the rich, making it harder to form close relationships outside your network. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/29/202359 minutes, 28 seconds
Episode Artwork

Hydrogen Space Balloon (with Jane Poynter & Ali Rohde)

Jane Poynter spent two years and 20 minutes in a biosphere back in the early 1990s. (There’s a documentary about it.) Later, Poynter set her sights on a mission to Mars. Wired wrote in 2014, “Meet the Couple Who Could Be the First Humans to Travel to Mars.” The story was about Poynter and her husband, Taber MacCallum. These days, the duo is working together on building a hydrogen balloon that will take tourists to space for $125,000. Poytner came on the podcast to talk about her startup, Space Perspective. We also discussed SpaceX, Elon Musk, Virgin Galactic, and the state of the adventure tourism industry in light of the deep sea deaths on a OceanGate submersible headed to the Titanic. On the show, Poynter said that Space Perspective, which has about 130 employees, has raised almost $70 million. Prime Movers Lab and LightShed Ventures are major investors, Poynter said. She told us that she hopes to commercial operations “around the end of 2024.” Venture capitalist, chief of staff newsletter author, and AI event host Ali Rohde joined me as a guest co-host for the episode. (She’s a friend of the show and I’m exploring different podcast episode formats. I always welcome your feedback and advice. In that spirit, I’ll mention that I’m still looking for a podcast producer.)Think of the episode as part two in my exploration of space startups. Last week, I talked with Delian Asparouhov, the co-founder of Varda Space Industries. This week, we interrogate space tourism. Give it a listen.Highlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.What if anything did you take away from the OceanGate situation?Jane: What’s fascinating is we got almost no customer questions or refund requests due to the OceanGate accident. It’s incredibly different from what we do. Also, in the 60+ years of deep ocean submersible operations there had never been a fatal accident until that incident. You have to ask why. I don’t want to focus on OceanGate specifically, but the big takeaway for us was that we embrace regulatory oversight. We want the FAA and Coast Guard to work with us since we also operate at sea. We go so far beyond any standards they would set that it’s good for us and the industry to have that accountability and transparency. That was the main takeaway: We welcome reasonable regulations and oversight.Space tourism more akin to safaris than Virgin GalacticJane: It’s interesting that you talk about Blue Origin and Virgin not being competition because the experience is so differentiated from what we offer. Our experience is more akin to incredible safaris, trips to Antarctica, and other wonder travel that deeply transforms people. That’s why we priced our tickets at $125,000. It’s in line with those kinds of life-changing experiences. When Antarctica tourism opened up, there was a huge demand from people willing to pay high prices for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We’re seeing incredible excitement and demand from customers wanting to go to space with us. We have an event coming up soon with over 100 of our explorers gathering here, and they all want to connect with each other too. We’re building a real community around spaceflight and this experience. It’s going to be such an extraordinary, bonding experience for people. I truly believe it will bring people together in a deep way.You mentioned Blue Origin, Virgin, and SpaceX — obviously some of the first names people think of when space is mentioned like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. They are controversial figures, likely quite different from our target customer base. But I'm curious. What do you think about them? Are you grateful for how they've helped popularize and mainstream space travel?Jane: Taber and I worked with Elon before he started SpaceX, so we have an interesting perspective. In the early days of SpaceX, space tourism was considered a joke and the idea that commercial companies could enable space travel or moon/Mars missions was insane. It was assumed that only governments could do that. Elon deserves a lot of credit; Gwynne Shotwell too. She's done an incredible job revolutionizing the space industry by lowering costs, improving efficiency and effectiveness, and showing us what's possible. SpaceX paved the way for the over 100 small rocket companies operating now, which never would have happened without that trailblazing. So while there are likely narrative or cultural elements we wouldn't fully align with, overall we are absolutely grateful for the pivotal role SpaceX played in advancing commercial space and making it seem achievable.What excites you about exploring space?Jane: When I think about space exploration, I don’t view it as leaving Earth never to return. I actually quite like this planet! To me, space exploration is more of an extension of the perspective-broadening we do now. When people look down on Planet Earth from space, it’s a mind-blowing experience. Now imagine yourself standing on the moon or Mars and seeing Earth. It’s that exponentially more impactful. It will give people a wildly different perspective on what it means for all of us to live together. We should think of ourselves as one human family living on Spaceship Earth. As we venture farther out, it will become increasingly clear that we’re holding up a mirror to humanity, seeing ourselves somewhere other than Earth for the first time. It’s a wild concept. So that’s how I view space, not as leaving the planet but expanding our perspective to appreciate that we’re all in this together.How do you prevent accidents in the air?Jane: A common question we get is what happens if something goes wrong with the balloon? The balloon technology is incredibly well understood with a long legacy. Hundreds have been flown in the last 20 years without a single in-flight incident. However, we obviously need backup systems. We have a series of parachutes, similar to those used on SpaceX’s Dragon capsules or other space vehicles. They are robust, proven parachutes. We have four total, with only two needed for a safe landing. The parachutes are only used in an emergency scenario because normally the ship ascends under the balloon and descends back onto the balloon, keeping the flight system consistent. This is a very safe approach, never transitioning between flight systems. We’ve focused on simplicity everywhere possible because simpler systems tend to be safer overall. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/22/20231 hour, 6 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork

Spaceman Explains to Earthman How Things Work (with Delian Asparouhov)

Last time I remember writing about Varda co-founder and Founders Fund partner Delian Asparouhov, I was giving him a hard time about his subdued impromptu Clubhouse run-in with then San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin who he’d been flaming on Twitter.But since then, Asparouhov has mellowed out online. When I texted him after our podcast recording session and mentioned that his Founders Fund colleague Mike Solana was sassing me on Elon Musk’s social networking platform, Asparouhov wrote back, “Bro I’m tryna do 3 jobs over here. I don’t have time to pay attention to what Solana is up to.”Besides Varda and Founders Fund, I wondered what the third job was.He texted me back, “Fatherhood.”On the latest episode of the Newcomer podcast Asparouhov and I covered a lot of ground. We talked about Varda’s satellite mission and its ambitions to manufacture in space. We discussed SpaceX’s reusable rocket and the media conversation around Starship’s explosion. Asparouhov mused about UFOs and missions to Mars. It was a wide-ranging conversation about space and technology.The conversation started off digging into Varda’s excited research into LK-99.Varda ran an experiment which they initially thought might show verification of room temperature semiconductors.By the time we recorded our conversation, you could tell Asparouhov was more muted about Varda’s findings.Later he tweeted, “alas, the rocks we made floated due to iron impurities.”Highlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.Eric: What is Varda’s focus at the moment?Delian: Our goal is to take some of the research that’s been shown on the International Space Station to have a ton of promise in terms of, as we’ve been talking about, solid state formulation. It turns out solid state formulation is significantly affected by gravity - that may also be true in superconductors. So one day down the line, if somebody does discover these formulations and they’re showing issues that we think gravity could actually solve, there’s a world where Varda flies a superconductor. You know, four or five years, definitely not anytime soon, given that the biopharma side is so much more preserved currently.Eric: I’m gonna be dumb again. To me, solid state is like hard drives. Is that what you mean by solid state formulation?Delian: If you look at what’s happening both in superconductors and what we do in the pharma world, you’re taking things that start as very fine grain powders or liquids and making solid state crystalline versions of them. In the pharma world that ends up looking like a little bit of table salt that you take, and it turns out that thing actually has drug cancer molecules and mRNA molecules. In the world of superconductors, it turns into these things that look like, I mean you’ve seen them on Twitter, they look like these kind of weird half ceramic, half metal objects. So solid state is just the form of the matter. Solid state in particular typically means a larger crystalline lattice structure, not just individual small molecules.Eric: The whole story of milestones you’re talking about, what would be viable, reminds me of the SpaceX experience. Where a few months ago one of their rockets blew up. It’s so hard as a layperson, even when cheering these things on, to know as an external observer what signs show the company’s on track. What was your reaction to media like The New York Times framing the SpaceX explosion super negatively?Delian: I think the layman’s view, particularly The New York Times, was clueless and off base. In aerospace, it’s easier to publicly verify traction, unlike software where companies just claim things. You can see did the rocket launch? Did the spacecraft enter orbit? Those are physical facts. SpaceX is developing an extremely ambitious new rocket alongside their workhorse Falcon 9 that has flown over 200 times without exploding. This new rocket is riskier but more capable. It’s interesting because even though Falcon 9 lands part of itself, it still loses the top section on every flight. So travel is expensive if you had to rebuild the cockpit after every plane flight. This new rocket Elon’s making aims to be fully reusable to lower costs.Because it’s so ambitious, SpaceX’s approach is to test and fly rapidly rather than get stuck analyzing indefinitely. Their early Falcon rockets blew up but they learned. Nobody expected this new rocket to even get off the pad, but it went way further than expected before failing around stage separation. Calling it a failure seems crazy to me given this is the most ambitious project ever. It did way better than anyone thought, proving out concepts. Failures are part of pushing forward ambitiously. The NYT calling it a Space Shuttle-type failure shows cluelessness - this explicitly developmental rocket had no people aboard. To get to safe, you have to start unsafe and prove it out over time.Eric: How much does Varda depend on SpaceX’s continued success in bringing down the cost curve? Could Varda work with today’s cost of satellite deployment? Or are you counting on further reductions in deployment costs?Delian: At today’s launch costs, where we’re spending $1.5 to $2 million per flight, that is low enough for us to build a strong business around what we’re doing now. So I’d say none of our models or thinking depends on future cost drops. Obviously I’d be thrilled if something like Starship came online, though I think that’ll take time. I’d be excited for more players to start landing rockets - no one has really done that yet, even though it’s been eight and a half years since SpaceX’s first landing. So I’m not counting on it happening soon. We’ve architected our business so it doesn’t depend on further cost reductions.. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/15/202356 minutes, 26 seconds
Episode Artwork

Scaling People (with Claire Hughes Johnson)

Claire Hughes Johnson writes in her book, Scaling People, about a moment early on in her time at Stripe when an Irish journalist shouted to her, “You’re the lady! You’re the lady with the lads!”Hughes Johnson, who joined Stripe in 2014 as the payments startup’s chief operating officer, works closely with two of the most iconic Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Patrick and John Collison. During her tenure as COO, she helped bring her management know-how from Google and experience working for Sheryl Sandberg to help organize the growing company. I invited Hughes Johnson on the Newcomer podcast to talk about her time at Stripe and the management lessons that she has put down on paper in Scaling People, which she published this year. Toward the end of our conversation, Hughes Johnson turned the tables on me and gave me some coaching.Our conversation circles around two sections of her book, in particular. We talked about giving feedback and honesty in a corporate setting. She talked about her principle that managers should encourage people to “say the thing you cannot say.”She writes,How often have you sat in a meeting and mused, “It really feels like there’s something that isn’t being talked about right now”? Or had a conversation with a report and thought, “I think they’re getting upset about what I’m saying”? Or caught yourself filtering everything you say? These questions prompt a bigger one: Why don’t managers say what’s actually on their minds?People often think that good management is about having a lot of filters, and for good reason. There’s a lot that might feel risky to say, or that feels like a personal judgment. But be wary of over-filtering. Fine-tuning your filters and pushing yourself to name your observation in a constructive way means you’ll be able to have a more honest conversation about what’s going on. Then you can all start working on a solution in earnest.Hughes Johnson concludes scaling people with a chapter titled, “You.” It looks at how managers manage themselves.She writes,The more senior you become, the more creative reality gets at finding ways to beat you up every day. You will have days—sometimes many in a row—when your highest performer is threatening to quit, a top customer has just informed you that they’re moving to a competitor, you’re leading a company-wide meeting the next day and haven’t had time to prepare, and the cross-functional project you kicked off last week is already going off the rails. Many people don’t have the psychological strength and resilience to keep going. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz calls this “the struggle,” when “nothing is easy and nothing feels right.”To make it all work, you have to learn how to manage your time and energy. First, diagnose what gives and takes your energy. The easiest way to do this is to map out your good and bad days and track what activities add to and detract from your energy. An easy tactic is to keep check marks on your calendar of good days and bad days. After a month, look at all the good days and all the bad days, and then the good weeks and bad weeks, and see what trends jump out. When I did this exercise, I found that the weeks when I had more than one work event that kept me from having dinner with my kids and getting them to bed were bad weeks. I then resolved to restrict my work-related late nights to once a week—a personal guideline that I occasionally break, but not often. Your goal is to study what combination of time spent on which activities creates your best performance, then determine where you need to set boundaries to preserve your strongest self.Coming up as a reporter, I was always resistant to “management” and “leadership” advice. Those words made me think of Dale Carnegie books and cash-grab leadership seminars. But as I’ve started to build Newcomer into more of a company (we’ve got a full-time chief of staff, three summer interns, and am looking to hire a full-time reporter), I’ve come around to the idea that being intentional about how you spend your time and how you work with people are essential skills, worthy of serious reflection. These days, Hughes Johnson is a corporate officer and advisor at Stripe. She’s spending a lot of her time working with individual managers and offering coaching inside the company. So we got a taste of how Stripe’s management guru thinks.I really enjoyed our conversation. Give it a listen. Highlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.On Good Management.Claire Hughes Johnson: One of the topics that came to mind during my interview with John and Patrick was the importance of good management and smart operating structures. I emphasized that we shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel. I believe in fundamentally sound management practices, rather than creating an entirely new way of thinking about performance feedback.I paused and told them, “You guys have to be with me on this. We might start with a very basic version of performance feedback, but it’s better to do that than to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” What’s wrong with doing everything from first principles? At some point, it becomes exhausting, and you might not be the best at constructing the system.I also discussed the permanence of management structures and hierarchies that have been in place for hundreds of years. There have been attempts to innovate, such as holacracy, and workers’ expectations have changed. I’m not suggesting we do things the same way we did 100 years ago, but we must pay attention to history.Patrick became particularly interested in this topic and started reading studies on management practices. He found academic research and data that showed countries with good management education and practices tend to have better economic outcomes. He agreed, saying, “Yeah, I think you’re right. Let’s put some fundamentals in place.”Unfortunately, some young companies want to reinvent more than they should. They may have invented a great product and feel compelled to create new ways to manage people. But I believe this can be a mistake, and it’s better to rely on proven methods and structures.Young companies, especially, should practice giving feedback.Claire Hughes Johnson: The book has a lot of stuff on operating structures. It’s really important to have goals and metrics that everyone recognizes as the company's most important goals, and to review them publicly with everyone. The mission should be clearly articulated, along with the direction for the next three to five years. Clear feedback structures are vital. Ideally, feedback should be continuous, but in young companies, many managers are new to this process, so they’re not giving as much feedback. Therefore, you actually have to build more structures for it, which may seem counterintuitive. Some companies might say, “Oh, we’re just running after this prize, and we can’t be distracted by that.” But I respond, “Well, actually, it’s the most important thing, because you aren’t used to doing it.”How do you think about feedback? How direct or brutal should the feedback be?Claire Hughes Johnson: When I first started working at Google, I was shocked at how direct the engineers were, saying things like, “That’s a terrible idea.” It was not the world I had been in working in consulting or government. At first, I got defensive, but I’ve come to love it. However, when I talk about feedback, there’s a level of directness that I don’t think is productive. If it’s so direct that it feels like an attack, people stop listening and think about survival. It becomes a matter of adapting or dying.I have an operating principle that I talk about in the book: “Say the thing you think you cannot say.” I try to push myself and others to be open and willing to put things on the table without creating an attack response. For example, I might say to a leadership team member at Stripe, “From my seat, 10,000-20,000 feet away, I have a couple of things I’m worried about.” Then we can have an interesting conversation, looking at the problem together.As a leader, it’s also about reading the room, even virtually. What’s the body language? Are people making eye contact? Are there weird comments in the doc? My job is to get everyone else’s opinion on the table first. Sometimes I'll say, “It feels like there's something we’re not saying. It feels tense in here.” Then I might call on someone to break through to the real thing.There are different dynamics at play, such as power dynamics and layering issues. Sometimes you can tell the team isn’t behind their leader. Other times, there’s friction within the team or with another team. And sometimes, it's a matter of seeing the forest for the trees, stepping back to look at the bigger picture. Is this actually a good product? Why are we not seeing more user adoption? Why have we only grown 10% when the rest of the products are growing 40%? As a leader, your job is to have that bigger picture in mind and to ask, “Is this the right strategy?” Sometimes, you have to zoom out and say, “We’re having the wrong conversation, folks.” Get full access to Newcomer at
8/8/202359 minutes, 26 seconds
Episode Artwork

Staying Global (with Bejul Somaia)

Lightspeed Venture Partners can sometimes live in the shadow of its noisier rivals. Andreessen Horowitz has a massive war chest, sprawling payroll, and insatiable appetite for attention. Meanwhile, Sequoia Capital is, well, Sequoia. But Lightspeed has established itself as one of the top multi-stage technology investors of this era. In July 2022, Lightspeed announced that it had raised more than $7 billion to invest in startups. Now, as Sequoia spins off its Chinese and Indian venture capital arms and as Lightspeed builds out its presence in Europe, Lightspeed is looking like one of the most globally-oriented venture capital firms. I invited Bejul Somaia on the Newcomer podcast to talk about Lightspeed’s investments in India and its global strategy. Somaia is one of the leaders of the firm and relocated to the United States after many years investing for Lightspeed in India. “We want to see, access, and compete for the best opportunities wherever they are,” Somaia told me. Venture capital investments in India fell to $25.7 billion in 2022 from $38.5 billion in 2021.“Forcing capital into these companies is not necessarily the answer and I think we’ve learned that time and again,” Somaia said. “2021 — we know was out of control everywhere. But in shallow markets, out of control is even more damaging because the asset price inflation is even more significant in shallow markets. The movements are more jarring,” he said. A correction was healthy, necessary, and painful. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/1/202353 minutes, 38 seconds
Episode Artwork

Psychedelics, Micro Nuclear Reactors & Venture Turbulence (with Rebecca Kaden)

Union Square Ventures has some of the best performing funds in the venture capital industry. As I’ve reported, USV-backer UTIMCO disclosed in a recent filing that USV had delivered the public investment fund an internal rate of return of 59%. And that number will likely go up over time. (For instance, USV portfolio company Casetext sold to Thomson Reuters for $650 million after the UTIMCO performance update.) I invited USV managing partner Rebecca Kaden onto the Newcomer podcast to talk about how USV consistently invests in unconventional companies. We started off our conversation talking about Journey Clinical, the psychedelics company, in which Kaden announced a Series A investment in January. We also discussed USV’s $200 million climate fund strategy, her interest in the AI application layer, and how rising interest rates are effecting the venture capital asset class. Give it a listenHighlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.Eric: How do you repeatedly invest in weird things like psychedelics?Rebecca: This thesis around access to care, which has attracted so much capital — some of it ours and is proving to be a good category — has been where the market has gone, but it’s actually only one piece of the puzzle. The way we get into things that are unusual is by having strong theses about where things are going versus being extremely opportunistic. Obviously, there’s a balance. But that thesis thinking is important. A lot of thesis work on this category really led to the belief that access to care is only half the puzzle. The other is how is care itself going to evolve, and you start unraveling that thread: how is care itself evolving? The real biggest last evolution of care is SSRIs. Those are prescription drugs and have been very important to the treatment for mental health crises, but there’s a lot of things they don’t treat. They’re not a one size fits all model. And they’re basically all we got, right? The innovation has not had a lot of other layers, except for psychedelics. And so we became very interested in psychedelics as the next card to get turned over and the next option in needing a bucket of options to treat a crisis.Eric: There are pharmaceutical companies. If there’s money to be made, shouldn’t they be trying? What’s happening that it feels like you need a real outsider thinking to bring ketamine, a drug that’s legal, to people’s lives that the medical system is unable or unwilling to do what’s happening?Rebecca: Well, this isn’t really unique to psychedelics or to mental health. Pharmaceutical companies make drugs, so the development of drugs goes with them, but the distribution and networks of access is outside of it. That’s not particularly new or unique here. That’s where business opportunity has been. So the idea is, when you talk about distribution and networks of access, that’s often where these business opportunities lie. The development of drugs is kind of a different beast, which lies in the pharmaceuticals. Why is there a business opportunity with creating access? Because the same reason technology drives business opportunity into anything. Offline access is slower, it’s more gated; it’s more piecemeal. You have to be at the right doctor at the right time, you have to find it. By creating a network, you just allow anyone anywhere to find access and education at a faster speed and with much broader supply, which brings efficiency to the market.Eric: Do you think mushrooms are going to be on the table soon? Or how much was this a bet that the regulatory regime would change?Rebecca: I don’t think mushrooms as we think about them in a recreational sense are just gonna get legalized, maybe they will, but that’s a separate kind of thing. I think other forms of psychedelics in formats that are right for care are very much going to get legalized. And actually, as we did our research, to us that’s a when not an if. When you dig into what’s going on clinical trials and in the clinical world, in some ways that seems pretty easy to bet on that these will continue to happen. And if not exactly the form that we’ve outlined, rapid new forms of options for care for mental health diseases are going to get approved and released. They’re going to need a network of education and distribution to go into the therapist network.I do think there’s a regulatory risk here. There’s some amount of regulatory risk on psychedelics. We have to be honest about it. But I actually think more about regulatory risk across broader online healthcare in general. We’re at somewhat of a time of that whole market still getting worked out on not unique to mental health and not unique to psychedelics, but what you can prescribe online and to whom and to how and how to allow that really important access that we’ve come to rely on, but also do it in an appropriately controlled way.Eric: You come from a consumer focused firm. When you were interviewing with USV, was it clear that you were shifting away from consumer, and how have you thought about consumer professionally?Rebecca: We don’t think a lot about the divide in our portfolio if we think about our fund construction, or how we're looking at the world between consumer and B2B. What we think about is this thesis and the mechanics involved, for instance the role of building network driven businesses and the opportunity to leverage bottom up networks to create moats and scale and to broaden access by driving value and down costs systematically across categories we care about. Sometimes the right application when you pull the threads of that thesis is a consumer product or service, and sometimes it’s the enabling infrastructure of them. But most of USV’s investments had been one of those two things. They’ve either been the end application or the enabling infrastructure involved, but a common theme throughout our investments is how do you build important networks that can change industries, but rise outside of them. If you think about Journey Clinical, it’s a network of therapists. They’re stronger, and the more you add on to them, it’s a bottom up growing network of acquiring the therapist, even though it interacts with the healthcare system and can change it. But it’s growing this network outside of the infrastructure to then impact the existing structure. We really like that if you think across of our investments, and sometimes that turns out to be consumer, if you think about an Outschool in education, or a Duolingo, or a Twitter, and sometimes it turns out to be the enabling infrastructure or the B2B Marketplace application like Journey Clinical.Eric: What are your thoughts on AI in consumer?Rebecca: The piece of the AI craziness that I’m most excited about is the application layer. There’s still a lot of kind of complexity and uncertainty on the foundational model and on the enabling infrastructure on where equity value aggregates — how much of the stack the models own, how defensible those models are, how that shakes out — but what I feel like we can have more conviction about is that it unleashes a wave of consumer innovation that’s going to be really fun. The way this is gonna get utilized is by products that we want to use. I’m excited about unleashing this rejuvenated value around fun things to do, where the coolest thing about AI driven applications is they get better if people actually use them. So the strongest incentive of the team is to increase engagement and utility. The only way to do that is to combine utility with fun. There’s gonna be so many things in the market that if things aren’t fun to use, you’ll go to another option. But the team has a huge incentive to get you to stick because that’s how their product gets better. So if you think about something like Duolingo, which has been on this for a long time of leveraging machine learning and AI to create better consumer experiences — streaks, gamification, fun — infused with the utility of language learning is critical, because their product gets better if I use it. I’m really excited to see that apply to lots of different consumer applications. We’ve been talking a lot and everyone’s been talking a lot about whether they’re going to be moats. Is stickiness going to be possible? The barriers are so low. The moat is going to be fun and teams that can create rapid new fun things that keep you on the platform. We haven’t seen that in a while. I’m excited about it. Get full access to Newcomer at
7/25/202343 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork

Talking Threads With the Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen

Elon Musk is the liberal elite’s enemy of the moment. How quickly the bad blood for Mark Zuckerberg is forgotten. When Zuckerberg’s Meta released Twitter rival Threads, reporters and left-leaning types (myself included) flocked to the new app as a potential refuge from Musk’s Twitter. The enemy of my enemy is my friend seemed to be the logic of the moment.I invited Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen onto the podcast to discuss the sudden embrace of Threads, her ongoing criticisms of how Facebook operates, and her new book, The Power of One.Haugen, for one, has not forgotten the problems with Facebook. She hadn’t downloaded Threads.I said on the podcast, “As a reporter, it’s funny to see the reporter class embracing Threads at the moment when two years ago, or even more than that, they would have been so negative and apprehensive about trusting Facebook. I’m just curious watching the pretty upbeat response to Threads, what do you take from that and are you surprised there seems to be some media trust for Facebook right now.”Haugen was empathetic toward people fleeing Twitter for Threads. “I think it’s one of these things where the trauma the Twitter community has faced in the last year is pretty intense,” Haugen told me. “People really liked having a space to discuss ideas, to discuss issues, and the idea that they could have a space again feels really good.”We spent much of the episode getting into the particulars of The Facebook Files and her criticisms of Facebook. She outlines a core critique in The Power of One’s introduction:One of the questions I was often asked after I went public was, “Why are there so few whistleblowers at other technology companies, like, say, Apple?” My answer: Apple lacks the incentive or the ability to lie to the public about the most meaningful dimensions of their business. For physical products like an Apple phone or laptop, anyone can examine the physical inputs (like metals or other natural resources) and ask where they came from and the conditions of their mining, or monitor the physical products and pollution generated to understand societal harms the company is externalizing. Scientists can place sensors outside an Apple factory and monitor the pollutants that may vent into the sky or flow into rivers and oceans. People can and do take apart Apple products within hours of their release and publish YouTube videos confirming the benchmarks Apple has promoted, or verify that the parts Apple claims are in there, are in fact there. Apple knows that if they lie to the public, they will be caught, and quickly. Facebook, on the other hand, provided a social network that presented a different product to every user in the world. We— and by we, I mean parents, children, voters, legislators, businesses, consumers, terrorists, sex- traffickers, everyone— were limited by our own individual experiences in trying to assess What is Facebook, exactly? We had no way to tell how representative, how widespread or not, the user experience and harms each of us encountered was. As a result, it didn’t matter if activists came forward and reported Facebook was enabling child exploitation, terrorist recruiting, a neo-Nazi movement, and ethnic violence designed and executed to be broadcast on social media, or unleashing algorithms that created eating disorders or motivated suicides. Facebook would just deflect with versions of the same talking point: “What you are seeing is anecdotal, an anomaly. The problem you found is not representative of what Facebook is.”To jog your memory for the episode, in September 2021, the Wall Street Journal published the first in a series of articles, called the Facebook Files, about the company’s cross check program, which gave special treatment to high-profile users when it came to the company’s moderation decisions. The Journal followed that report with a story about how Facebook’s internal research showed that 32% of teen girls said “that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” The third story in the series showed that Facebook’s decision to preference “meaningful social interactions” seemed to have the opposite effect, giving more reach to posts that instigated conflict and anger. Perhaps most damning in my mind, was the Journal’s fourth story in the series which showed that Facebook had failed to implement internationally many of the table stakes moderation practices it applies in the U.S.The Journal won a Polk Award for its reporting. I have at times been skeptical of how damning these stories were. It’s not that crazy to me that Facebook would want to provide extra attention toward moderation decisions for public figures. Is Instagram harming teen girls more than Vogue or Cosmo? So it was fun to finally hash out some of these issues with Haugen on the podcast. Ultimately, I think we were mostly aligned that we both support much better disclosure requirements for Facebook. Regulators are fighting with both arms tied behind their backs.I was disappointed, however, that Haugen seemed to bend over backward to come off as apolitical in her critique of Facebook. She didn’t really engage in the obvious political asymmetry: Republicans are clearly much more likely to post the type of content that Democrats would call misinformation. I think that’s a fair statement whatever you think of “misinformation.”Anyway, that should give you enough context to dig into our conversation. Enjoy!Give it a listenHighlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.Eric: How would you see a disclosure regime working that still allows companies like Facebook to be flexible and to change?Frances: I think a lot of people don’t sit and think about what’s the menu of options when it comes to intervening in a problem as complicated as this. I’m really glad that you brought up the idea that these companies’ grow and change, where the next one to come along might not fit the exact same mold of this one. One of the ways the European Union handles that flexibility — and to be really clear, this kind of way of doing regulation of saying disclosure and transparency is instead of something like what’s happening what’s happening in Utah, where Utah is coming in and saying, “This is how you will run your company.” If people are under 18, they have to have parent supervision, no privacy for kids, their parents can see everything — or like Montana coming out and just flat out banning TikTok. Those are kind of “building fences” type roles, where we’re like, “Oh, this is the fence you can’t cross.” And the thing about technology is it moves and changes, and they’re very good at running around fences.So the alternative is something like what the European Union passed last year, which is called the Digital Services Act. And the Digital Services Act says, “Hey, if the core problem is a power imbalance, right, the fact that you can know what’s going on and I can’t, let’s address that core problem because a lot of other things will flow downstream from it.” So they say, “Hey, if you know there’s a risk with your product, you need to tell us about it. If you discover one, if you can imagine one and you tell us about it. You need to tell us your plan for mitigating it because it’s going to be different for every platform. We want it to unleash innovation. And you need to give us enough data that we can see that there was progress being made to meet that goal. And if we ask you a question, we deserve to get an answer,” which sounds really basic, but it’s not true today.Eric: Some of these problems that you've identified are just human problems. If you talk about sort of the Instagram critique with it, potentially making sort of young teenage women — some segment of them unhappy. I mean, you could say, like, was that so different from Vogue? Is this really an algorithmic problem?Haugen: There have always been teen girls that were unhappy about their bodies or how nice their clothes were. But there are a limited number of pages of Vogue every month. The second time you read Vogue, you’re going to have a different impact on you than the third time you read Vogue. Or you’re going to get bored of it? And in the case of something like Instagram, Instagram progressively pushes you towards more and more extreme content.…With a 13-year-old girl, she might start out by looking for something like healthy recipes. And just by clicking on the content get pushed over time towards more and more extreme materials.Eric: Why did you decide to come out and reveal your identity?Frances: I had been contemplating for quite a while would I have to come forward at some point. I had a chance to talk to my parents about it a large number of times just because what I was seeing on a day-to-day basis while I lived with them during COVID was so different from Facebook’s public narrative was on these issues. But the moment where I was like “okay, I have no other options” was right after the 2020 election — so this was in December, less than 30 days after the election — they pulled us all together on Zoom and said, You know how for the last four years, the only part of Facebook that was growing was the Civic Integrity team. So it was the team, for aimed to ensure Facebook was a positive social force in the world, that it wasn’t going to disrupt elections, it wasn’t going to cause any more genocides because by that point there had been two. They said, Hey, you are so important; we’re going to dissolve your team and integrate it into the rest of Facebook. And when they did that, that was kind of the moment where I realized Facebook had given up. That the only way that Facebook was going to save itself was if the public got involved. That the public had to come and save Facebook. Get full access to Newcomer at
7/18/202357 minutes, 4 seconds
Episode Artwork

Musk & Zuck Go Head to Head, Vying to Rule Global Online Discussion (with Katie Notopoulos & Tom Dotan)

Former BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos spent the first few days posting on Meta’s Twitter copycat, Threads, as if she were the editor-in-chief of the new app. “As EIC, it’s a lot of work! I’m personally curating the feed for users based on all of Meta’s information on them to bring each person a hand-curated feed that I’ve approved,” Notopoulos posted on Threads. While Meta tolerated the ruse, the company censored one of her more roguish posts. “At Threads, our expectation is for all users to treat others with kindness and respect. This encompasses acknowledging the choice to adopt a Nazi lifestyle. We embrace a diverse community,” she trolled.Ultimately, Notopoulos announced that she had been fired from her role as editor-in-chief. I invited her on the show, along with Dead Cat podcast defector Tom Dotan, who abandoned our old podcast in favor of a gig at the Wall Street Journal. Together, we made sense of the Threads-Twitter rivalry. We talked on Friday so a few of our stats on Threads’ growth might be outdated. Threads has since exceeded 100 million users and Elon Musk has proposed a “literal dick measuring contest” and called Zuckerberg a “cuck.” Otherwise, I think you’ll find our conversation perfectly current. It’s a lively episode. I posit that Threads will quickly become the Uber to Twitter’s Lyft. I didn’t just invite Notopoulos on the show because she has been a Threads troll and a the thorn in the side of Meta. She is famous for her extremely online, yet carefully reported pieces from her time at BuzzFeed. She wrote a piece titled, “Chuck E. Cheese Still Uses Floppy Disks To Make Its Rodent Mascot Dance — For Now.” And she revealed the real names of the Bored Apes founders. BuzzFeed is paying her for the next few months after the company shut down its news division. So she’s had plenty of time to spend on Threads. Dotan once covered Snapchat obsessively and we spent many Dead Cat episodes talking about Facebook, so I thought this would be a fun episode to have him back on the show — even if the Journal has muzzled how wild he can be in his pronouncements. We concluded the show talking about a much more Newcomer-y topic. Dotan wrote last week about how AI had stemmed tech’s downturn. He reported:The Nasdaq has risen 32% this year—the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 3.4%—while Microsoft shares have climbed 41% and Nvidia shares have almost tripled on the back of optimism that AI will bolster their businesses.Companies that had been touting their cost-cutting and apologizing for hiring too many people in recent years have been adding to the excitement by broadcasting their AI ambitions. Of the S&P 500 companies with earnings conference calls from the middle of March to late May, 110 mentioned AI, according to FactSet. That is a record high and around three times the 10-year average.  Give it a listenHighlighted ExcerptsThe transcript has been edited for clarity.Eric: Will threads be bigger than Twitter? Will it be the Uber to Twitter’s Lyft?Katie: I predict yes.Tom: Twitter in its current state? Not at its peak? Yeah, such a low bar.Katie: Twitter still has advantages over Threads, like anonymity and retaining large followings. [Instagram Head] Adam Mosseri recently mentioned that Threads won’t be a place for news.Eric: Threads aims to be a “nice” platform, countering the mean-spiritedness associated with Elon Musk and promoting a friendlier environment. Do you think the personality and positioning of Facebook will play a significant role, or is it all about the product and Instagram’s connection?Katie: It’s a combination. Threads’ success will come from being a product under Instagram, which many people don’t realize is owned by Facebook. On the other hand, people are leaving Twitter because of Elon Musk's presence.Tom: Facebook has a history of copying features in response to perceived threats, such as stories. However, Twitter isn’t a threat. This opportunistic move by Facebook. To launch Threads won’t magically fix the limitations of text-based platforms. We’re in an era of niche social media experiences, and reaching a billion users with this format is unlikely. It’s unfair to hold that expectation. Nonetheless, with 70 million users already, it can be considered a success.Katie: The Instagram account provided a dictionary where a conversation is referred to as a thread. For example, I was reading some intriguing threads that Eric was discussing. However, an individual post is still called a post, and instead of a retweet, it’s called a repost.Eric: What are your thoughts on what was happening there? I found it very strange that they were dictating the language they want people to use. I couldn't determine if they're worried people will start using terms like “tweet” and if they wanted to discourage that.Katie: I interpreted it similarly. People were genuinely asking, you know, what should we call them? Since they're not tweets, do we call them retweets? What should we call them? I think the worst-case scenario would be if people started jokingly referring to them as “threats,” which is probably not what they intended.Eric: People are really enjoying wordplay, and personally, I'm not a fan of that. There are posts about your followers or your thread count. It's like a new summer camp where everyone is trying to come up with the language that will dominate the platform.Katie: Absolutely. And it’s important to remember that there are a lot more people signing up than they expected, maybe around 70 million or something. But most of these users aren’t on Twitter and don't know anything about it. They’re not comparing it to Twitter. It’s mostly regular users, like 16-year-olds in Brazil, who are thinking, “Oh, a new platform? Where does this fit in with Instagram? Just tell me what to do.” The user base is incredibly diverse, which is why it's very straightforward in terms of understanding.Tom: Explain to me, though, why people who have never liked Twitter would suddenly join a Twitter copycat and find it useful. Twitter has been around for a while, and its mechanics and design haven't broadly appealed to more than 200-300 million users. So why now are they expecting people in Brazil, who have ignored Twitter for the first decade of its existence, to suddenly find “thread” compelling just because they can use their Instagram handle and easily sign up?Katie: Personally, as someone eager to test out new apps, I preordered it on iTunes so that it would be ready for download at exactly 7 pm. I was excited about it because I follow technology news and knew there was a new app coming out. But for most people, I don’t think they heard about the app and actively went to the App Store to look for it. I assume that when most people opened Instagram, they received a prompt to click and experience the new threads. They were signed up right from inside the Instagram app. So, anyone who opened Instagram yesterday was directed to join the app. They might have thought, “I’m not sure what this is, but I like Instagram, so I’ll give it a try.”Eric: It seems like there are a couple of factors at play. There’s definitely a disdain for Elon Musk, particularly among reporters and the left, including myself. I feel like that revolt and the desire of that crowd to find a new home helped motivate this, which is amusing because those same individuals have been critical of Zuck over the past five years.Katie: I think it’s a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” to a large extent. That seems to be the prevailing sentiment.Eric: Indeed. It’s obviously Instagram's power to bring Instagram users to the new app. Additionally, there are people who believe in getting on a platform early and building followers. So it’s like these three groups trying to coexist—the social media managers who want to grow their accounts in case it becomes the next big thing, the Twitter rebels, and the Instagram influencers who are being told that this is part of the app.Katie: I have another theory as well. When you sign up for the app, the feed is currently purely algorithmic, and it includes a lot of content from people you don't follow. There’s probably a lot of enthusiasm from these big celebrities who haven’t found success on TikTok and are holding onto Instagram as an essential platform for their careers. Fans and regular users are excited because they suddenly see celebrities who hadn't posted on Twitter for years.Eric: What are people’s opinions on the algorithmic feed? I think the average person wants an algorithmic feed.Katie: I believe so too. Instagram has continued to have an algorithmic feed for years because multiple tests have shown that it's what people actually want.Katie: Another important factor to consider is the timing of the app’s launch. Summer is the ideal season for such apps because teenagers are out of school and have more time to use their phones. The current success can be attributed to the high number of young users who are typically in school during other times of the year. While the app’s popularity may decline in the fall, I don't think it will fade away like Clubhouse did.Tom: Additionally, Facebook can easily maintain the app without much effort. Even if it reaches its peak user base, let’s say around 100 million, and then gradually declines to 50 or 60 million, it will still be manageable for Facebook to sustain it. The operating costs are likely low, mainly cloud computing expenses, and it might even serve as an ad platform. For Facebook, it could be a side project that requires minimal effort. If it also happens to cause some inconvenience for Elon Musk and the ongoing competition in Silicon Valley, then that's an added bonus. Get full access to Newcomer at
7/11/202357 minutes, 56 seconds
Episode Artwork

Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet Talks Pre-Seed Deals, YC, SoftBank & `Zombie Mode' Funds

Maëlle Gavet and I first crossed paths about a decade ago when she was the CEO of the Russian e-commerce company Ozon. Then, we met up again when she was working as the chief operating officer for the SoftBank-backed real estate tech company Compass. A couple of months ago, I ran into Gavet at a networking dinner in New York City. I interrogated her about her two-and-half years so far as the chief executive officer of Techstars, the global pre-seed investment firm.I invited Gavet on the Newcomer podcast to talk about her time at Techstars and the state of the early stage market. You can listen on Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Substack’s app or wherever you get your podcasts. I’ve also included some excerpts from the discussion below. What she said about the state of venture capital firms will strike a chord of fear with many of my readers. Gavet warned that many VC funds are entering “zombie mode.”She said: In the VC environment, there is a consolidation ongoing, it’s not visible yet and in my view, the worst is to come. Emerging general partners not being able to raise their next fund. In the venture world, they don’t shut down. It’s not like in the operating company world where a company goes bankrupt and literally fires people, closes the door, and that’s it. In the VC world, it’s more like they move into zombie mode. It’s like we are still managing our last fund, but we’re not raising anymore.Our conversation covered a range of topics, including Gavet’s book, Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem and How to Fix It. We concluded our conversation, interrogating how tech has changed since she published the book and discussing what it would mean for brewing artificial intelligence regulation. Give it a listenLightly edited podcast excerpts from my conversation with Maëlle Gavet:What was the main thing that you wanted to change about Techstars?I wanted Techstars to become the best and largest pre-seed investor in the world. I thought that there were a lot of really good building blocks. The fundamentals were there, and there was also an opportunity to scale it further, streamline it, strengthen it, and provide more value to entrepreneurs, helping them get better terms, better exits, and better valuations. That’s a long process. The VC industry works in a very, very long cycle. So it’s not like you arrive and then three months later things change. But that was the idea of taking this great company to a whole different level. To start, when I would talk about Techstars, people would actually know who we are and what we do. And I remember announcing that I was joining Techstars to my network, and a few people, including venture capitalists from Silicon Valley who will remain unnamed, saying: Why are you joining a nonprofit? My answer was, this is not a nonprofit, this is an investment business and a pretty good one at that. It’s just that they never really position themselves as an investment business. And so part of the work was to change internally and externally, the image of Techstars to say, we are very large pre-seed investors. And by the way, as for Crunchbase, a few months ago, we officially became the largest pre-seed investor in the world.What has been the company with the best return for Techstars?We have some really, really cool companies that I like very much. Companies like Chainalysis made headlines not long ago because they provide blockchain data and analysis to governments, banks and businesses around the globe. And when things like FTX happen, and it’s only the most famous but there have been multiple situations where figuring out what is happening in the blockchain, crypto world has been pretty critical for a lot of institutions. Chainalysis is usually the company that calls.One that I liked very much is called Remitly. They’re a mobile payments service that enables users to make a person-to-person international money transfer. So that’s the tagline. What they do is that they allow to a large extent immigrants from all around the world to send money in a safe and cheap way to their families and to the people who need it. That's a $6 billion company. They went through an IPO in 2021. This is a company with a mission, which is amazing.We’re talking about billion dollar plus companies, and we can also talk about smaller companies because we have 3,600 companies in our portfolio. We’ve got a bunch. But the one that I like a lot among our billion-dollar-plus companies is a company called Zipline. They design and manufacture these drones, and then they operate them to deliver vital medical products in Africa. It’s a $3 billion company. They did successful fundraising in April of this year. Again, what they’re doing really makes a lot of sense for the world, and the risk of using a Silicon Valley sentence: to make the world a better place. But the reason why it matters so much is because I deeply believe and so does my team that big money comes from solving big problems. Big problems usually are found in things that make the world a better place. Not always, but it does help. So that’s my $3 billion-plus favorite company, but we got quite a few others.Are there standard terms for Techstars? If I’m an entrepreneur, what should I expect in terms of money and ownership?We have standard terms and they’re public. So it’s $20,000 plus $100,000 convertible notes. And depending on the conversion of the note, we ended up on average about 8% of the capital in the company. Basically what we provide to founders is the capital, obviously. But there is what we call the Techstars formula. So it’s the $120k that I've just mentioned. It’s the program. Our programs are very intense. It’s a small class, very small classes — 10 to 15 companies. It’s very hands-on. You have the Techstars team, and these are Techstars employees dedicated to that particular program. These tend to be people who are former entrepreneurs themselves. What is your read on the funding environment right now?In the VC environment, there is a consolidation ongoing, it’s not visible yet and in my view, the worst is to come. Emerging general partners not being able to raise their next fund. In the venture world, they don’t shut down. It’s not like in the operating company world where a company goes bankrupt and literally fires people, closes the door, and that’s it. In the VC world, it’s more like they move into zombie mode. It’s like we are still managing our last fund, but we’re not raising anymore.A lot of venture firms have not yet taken the full write-down on their valuation, which compounds the problem because a lot of institutional LPs have public and private portfolios and the public portfolios have taken the write-down. Valuations has dropped quite dramatically.We came from a period where it was not abnormal for a venture firm to raise every two years, sometimes every year. And so a lot of the firms are now out in the market fundraising. And if you take a significant write down, then suddenly your performance on paper doesn’t look great. And so it can create a problem for you. So it’s not like they are in denial. I just think that they’re trying to keep the appearances. The institutional LP knows that so there’s like a double effect. The first one is most institutional LPs are over overexposed to VC because the VC hasn’t taken the write-down that the public market has so there’s like a denominator effect. And then the second reason is the LPs know when they look at the GP they invested in that some of them have not taken the full write down, and they’re like, okay, maybe we’re going to wait to see where all of that lands. And so VC environment is very tricky at the moment, and I think what we’re observing is a complete change of the guard, a complete reorganization of the venture space. It’s not over. My guess is that it’s probably another few another couple of years. At the outcome of that change, we're most likely going to see very different players really influencing the markets.I would assume that over time, there’s less money available.There’s less easy money available. We have a little over 15,000 investors who have made an investment in Techstars, portfolio companies we’ve been connected with. So we talk to a lot of these people like we are deal flow to the VC industry, we’re not really a VC ourselves. And what we tell our portfolio companies is, it’s not that there is no money. There absolutely is some money, but it’s harder to get because the VC is going back to some fundamentals — you should probably do due diligence before you give a check of a few million dollars to a company. You are going to have to show a clear path to profitability — doesn’t mean that you have to be profitable, but it has to be clear and credible, not like you know, the hockey stick that makes you profitable in year 10 if all the planets align and you have no competition. And so that, by definition makes it a lot harder to create compelling cases. And then in a lot of cases, the VC will now ask, even at an early stage, to see some traction. We have companies that have raised recently very good rounds at seed and Series A levels, but they had a good track record a clear path to profitability, and a great product market fit. I think, if I had to summarize: Gone are the times where you could go and raise $5, $10, $15 million based on a napkin and a barely put together MVP [minimum viable product]. That’s not happening anymore unless you're in AI. And that's a different thing.Some of the founders think the gloom and doom has been oversold. VCs want to get better terms, and it’s in VC’s interest to emphasize how bad things are. What do you say to that?The valuation that we saw in 2021 and 2022 didn't make a lot of sense. We’re seeing a recalibration of the markets. We also say that to our portfolio companies: If you are being offered a down round, you probably should accept it because most likely, and obviously it's always on a case-by-case basis, but most likely, your last valuation was probably a little inflated, and the new valuation that you're getting is probably closer to reality. And so yes, it looks like you're down round. But maybe the way you should look at it is your previous round was an out of the ordinary round and this is the normal round. So it's not a down-round technically; it’s just a normal round. Get full access to Newcomer at
7/6/202353 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork

Not Exactly AR And Not Exactly VR (with Lauren Goode & Anand Agarawala)

The metaverse had been left for dead. The massive hype for virtual worlds that we saw during the pandemic dissipated once we could all see our fellow humans in person again. But last week Apple finally revealed its augmented reality device, the Apple Vision Pro. The tech giant that rarely misses the mark with its carefully thought through product releases revealed that it wanted people to strap on ski goggle-like devices, direct a computer with their eyeballs, click with their fingers, and video chat in a digital realm.I invited Wired senior writer Lauren Goode and Anand Agarawala, CEO of the startup Spatial, on the show to talk about the new device. Goode got 30 minutes first-hand with the Apple Vision Pro. So we spent the first part of the show interrogating Goode about her experience with the $3,500 device that’s expected to be released next year. Goode told us that she didn’t think the device is truly augmented reality in the purist sense of the term. “It’s not using any waveguide technology that refracts light and then puts it into your eyeballs. It’s not holographic or volumetric, but it is AR if you think about the literal definition of AR as augmenting your reality,” Goode said. “Once you are running computer applications into this space in front of you where you would typically be looking at your real world living room but actually you’re seeing apps and playing games and doing stuff, you are augmenting your reality. It’s conceptually AR.”Agarawala has been hard at work on building tools for augmented reality devices for the past seven years at Spatial. The company builds 3D creation tools and hosts experiences across a range of devices, including virtual reality and augmented reality devices. Agarawala is cheering for real competition among the big tech giants when it comes to developing these wearable computers. “The market at some point of maturity would need all the Big Tech companies to get involved. If you’re just the one company doing it, that means it’s probably not a big enough market,” he said. Apple’s entry into augmented reality “absolutely validates it,” Agarawala said. On the episode, we talked about Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on the release of the Apple Vision Pro:Apple finally announced their headset, so I want to talk about that for a second. I was really curious to see what they were gonna ship. And obviously I haven’t seen it yet, so I’ll learn more as we get to play with it and see what happens and how people use it.From what I’ve seen initially, I’d say the good news is that there’s no kind of magical solutions that they have to any of the constraints on laws of physics that our teams haven’t already explored and thought of. They went with a higher resolution display, and between that and all the technology they put in there to power it, it costs seven times more and now requires so much energy that now you need a battery and a wire attached to it to use it. They made that design trade-off and it might make sense for the cases that they’re going for.But look, I think that their announcement really showcases the difference in the values and the vision that our companies bring to this in a way that I think is really important. We innovate to make sure that our products are as accessible and affordable to everyone as possible, and that is a core part of what we do. And we have sold tens of millions of Quests.More importantly, our vision for the metaverse and presence is fundamentally social. It’s about people interacting in new ways and feeling closer in new ways. Our device is also about being active and doing things. By contrast, every demo that they showed was a person sitting on a couch by themself. I mean, that could be the vision of the future of computing, but like, it’s not the one that I want. There’s a real philosophical difference in terms of how we’re approaching this. And seeing what they put out there and how they’re going to compete just made me even more excited and in a lot of ways optimistic that what we’re doing matters and is going to succeed. But it’s going to be a fun journey.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
6/13/202353 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork

Rug Salesman Turned Valley Insider Raises a $432 Million Seed Fund (with Pejman Nozad)

I couldn’t help but spend the first few minutes of my conversation with Pejman Nozad fishing for the story of how a rug salesman built one of Silicon Valley’s top institutional pre-seed and seed funds. Nozad has such a fascinating and inspirational story; it reflects what is possible when Silicon Valley is at its best. Nozad told me how Sequoia’s Doug Leone gave him a shot. “We connected [as] both really good salespeople,” Nozad recalled. “I said Doug, ‘I can help you invest in some amazing founders.’”Leone said he would come to meet with Nozad. “I made my life mission that I’m ready,” Nozad remembers. They hit it off and the deal flow, well, it flowed.Nozad would later introduce Sequoia to Dropbox. Pear VC, which Nozad co-founded with Mar Hershenson, first raised $50 million in 2013. Nozad and I spent much of our conversation talking about the practicalities of a $432 million seed fund.For a firm that invests in pre-seed and seed round startups, the latest fund size is enormous, especially as we’ve been in a downturn outside of AI.With that fund size, Pear VC will need to find many more winners than in earlier funds to generate high multiples for its limited partners.“I wake up every morning and I think we’re going to go out of business by the end of the day,” Nozad said. “So that’s the mentality. It doesn’t matter if you have $400 million or $4 million or $4 billion. I want to stay on my toes. DoorDash performance, or Guardant Health, that doesn’t mean anything about Fund IV.”Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
6/6/202348 minutes, 3 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Gossip Economy (with Kyle Harrison)

For this week’s Newcomer podcast, I talked with Contrary general partner Kyle Harrison. We spent the first part of the episode talking about his piece VC Contagion: Is Venture Capital Killing Itself? I just published the essay exclusively in Newcomer. Then, on the podcast Harrison talked about Contrary and its research strategy. The firm has published reports on Stripe, OpenAI, Databricks, and many other private companies.We also discuss whether, when it comes to the private markets, information really wants to be free. Harrison talks about the gossip economy that powers the venture capital industry. This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity.But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
5/31/20231 hour, 3 minutes, 39 seconds
Episode Artwork

The State of Consumer Investing With Benchmark's Sarah Tavel

It’s been a sad state of affairs for consumer companies not named TikTok. Poparazzi just shut down. (At least some of the team went to Instagram.) Popshop is struggling. The venture capital firm Benchmark helped establish both companies as consumer startups to watch by leading their Series A rounds. Sarah Tavel, who led the investment in Poparazzi and has worked closely with Popshop, agreed to come on the Newcomer podcast to talk about the brutal state of consumer startups. “Our deep belief at Benchmark is that our job is not to predict the future, but to try as best we can to see the present clearly,” Tavel told me.Of course, it’s not just Benchmark’s once high-flying startups that are reeling. Andreessen Horowitz audio company Clubhouse laid off more than half of its employees. Hype for the photo company BeReal seems to be dying down. (Searches for the company’s name on Google are at less than half their peak.) “It is a really tough environment right now to build that type of company,” Tavel said about startups building for consumers. “It’s always been difficult, but the level of difficulty has been turned all the way on. Because right now, anybody building something in consumer has to compete with the most addictive consumer format that we’ve ever had — which is short video.”Tavel, who co-led an early investment in Pinterest and then became the company’s first product manager, talked through some of the most promising opportunities in startups. Artificial intelligence seems poised to create new consumer startups. Tavel flagged the legal artificial intelligence company EvenUp, which just raised at a $350 million valuation from Bessemer, as one such promising startup. I marveled at the bootstrapped rise of Midjourney. But, of course, many generative AI startups, especially ones building foundation models, are raising such large rounds that it can be difficult for a firm like Benchmark to rationalize an investment. We also talked about one of Tavel’s most successful investments at Benchmark, Chainalysis. The blockchain data company raised $170 million at $8.6 billion last year. The New York Times wrote a glowing profile of the company last month. Tavel, who doesn’t like to announce her startup investments, revealed that she has secretly invested in an unannounced NFT company.“Crypto is a bad word now,” Tavel told me. “It’s really hard to train consumers to trust something again — once a consumer has made a first impression. It’s much easier to teach a user a first impression than to rewrite that first impression.”Finally, I asked Tavel to give us a peek behind the curtain at Benchmark. Fortune’s Jessica Mathews recently interviewed Benchmark’s Bill Gurley about his decision to step back.Mathews wrote:“The venture business, if you want to be at the top, requires insane, remarkable hustle… You have to live in fear that the next Google is going to get funded by a firm that’s not yours,” he says. “Either you’re in there rowing as hard as you can, because we’re all a team, or you’re not.”That said, he still has strong instincts about the future of tech. “If I were still active as a venture capitalist, I’d be looking at a lot of the vertical applications of A.I. I look at the coding stuff, and it’s insane… If you’re not using it, I think you’re probably writing your own death certificate as a programmer, because people are going to be so much more efficient. And the question is: What are other applications that have that kind of productivity boost or lift, and I think people are trying to figure that out.”But in the end, it was a book by Steve Martin, Born Standing Up, that helped convince Gurley it was time to step back. “One day, [Martin] is in Vegas and he comes out, and the top row is empty, the first time he’s ever seen the top row empty. He quits the next day—never does standup again. And then he goes off and he does his banjo and his theater and his acting.… Like I said, I don’t think I ever played the stage, so I’d rather not say I’m the same. It influenced me. That notion influenced me.”Today, the Benchmark partnership is made up of Tavel, Peter Fenton, Eric Vishria, Chetan Puttagunta, and Miles Grimshaw. Tavel said about the firm, “We’ve always had a pretty simple idea, which is that there’s this creative destruction.”“Once you start — there’s no training wheels. So you’re thrown into the deep end. You’re an equal partner and you’re expected to be 100% until the minute that you retire,” Tavel said. “And when you have an equal partnership, it kind of pushes you in the direction of just recognizing — as Bill said in that interview — the hustle may not be in you anymore. And if you feel that way, then the model — as was set up by the founders — is such that it’s time to raise your hand and move on.”Of course, my understanding is that partners like Gurley, Matt Cohler, and Mitch Lasky remain fairly heavily involved at Benchmark even so. “It’s like an affliction. The reason they’re here in the first place was because the curiosity and competitiveness and the drive for learning and relevance, being in the mix, that never leaves you,” Tavel said. “They are a significant portion of our LP base, they’re still there on Mondays, and I’m texting all of them all the time.”Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
5/23/202358 minutes, 9 seconds
Episode Artwork

Substack's Index Fund of Culture (with Chris Best and Hamish McKenzie)

I caught up with Substack co-founders and at Substack’s office in San Francisco last week. They’re fresh off raising a community fundraising round and launching their social network Notes. I wrote in March about my decision to invest $5,000 in Substack’s fundraising round, even though the company revealed that it had negative revenue in 2021:I’m already compromised when it comes to Substack. They’ve made my job possible. And while I already have plenty of financial exposure to Substack’s performance just by dint of running my business on Substack’s platform, I’m eager to have a chance to show my support.So this is the rare — hopefully singular — interview where I can’t claim true editorial independence. I’m compromised on this one. Still, I think you’ll find it an informative and entertaining conversation. I’m able to bring my perspective as a Substack writer to the conversation and I can’t help but fish for drama and news.This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity. But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.In our conversation, I asked McKenzie and Best about Twitter’s one-sided war with Substack. Elon Musk has at times throttled links to Substack. It is impossible to imbed tweets in Substack posts anymore. Adding some intrigue to the tensions, Andreessen Horowitz, Substack’s largest outside investor, is an investor in Musk’s Twitter. And, Musk actually long ago hired McKenzie, a former PandoDaily reporter, to write for Tesla.“I try to think about Elon as little as possible,” McKenzie said in our conversation at Substack’s office. “What we’re trying to do here is not build the anti-Twitter or build the anti-Instagram or anything like that. We’re trying to build the first Substack. The vision for what we think it can become is an amazing, beautiful thing and it’s bigger and more important than social media.”McKenzie acknowledged that “arguably Twitter is trying to kill Substack.”I asked about newsletter godfather Ben Thompson’s critique of Substack’s community round in his newsletter. Thompson wrote in April:We know that valuation because Substack asked its writers to fund a round at the same $650 million post-money valuation it achieved in 2021, despite the fact the company failed to raise money last year; the company never released its 2022 financials.Frankly, I think this request was shameful: Substack has rightly earned the affection of a lot of writers by providing them with a new way to earn money, and of course those writers want Substack to succeed. Keeping such a lofty valuation, though, is effectively asking for a donation from an audience that almost by definition doesn’t know any better. That doesn’t seem very writer friendly! Nor, for that matter, does this fight with Twitter. Again, I think this is a product bet that makes a lot of sense: Substack needs to take big swings if it’s ever going to reach its valuation. Writers, though, who need Twitter’s distribution, didn’t sign up for this fight; they are simply stuck in the middle.We also talked about Best’s botched podcast interview with The Verge’s Nilay Patel. In the interview (here’s a link to the key exchange), Patel hammered Best on Substack’s stance on blocking overt racism on Notes. In that interview, Best declined to say that Substack would ban particular objectionable racist comments from the platform unilaterally. In my conversation with him, Best continued to oppose “centralized censorship” on Substack’s platform. And he doubled-down on his answer, saying that he had “basically the same answer.”Best said, “We do have a content policy. It allows a lot of stuff we don’t like. It bans only very extreme things. If people are putting things that are against the overall content policy, they are taken down by us. However, that allows a lot of stuff that we find very objectionable. Then we try to build a system that puts people in control of what they see and who they interact with.”As should be pretty obvious from the conversation, I think that if Substack Notes is successful, it will actually be much more curated than many other social networks. Writers want to give their readers a premium, elevated experience — not just a platform that does the bare minimum of content moderation. So I’m optimistic over time that Substack will find ways to empower writers to curate the platform. Even though Substack often finds itself talking about free speech and tough moderation decisions, in many ways what the company has built is a system where writers are given the power to moderate the platform themselves. The last thing I’ll tease from the conversation is that the Substack founders no longer come off as diametrically opposing to supporting advertising. Judge their answer for yourself.In the conversation we name-dropped a bunch of newsletters and Substack writers, including Give it a listen.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
5/17/202351 minutes, 58 seconds
Episode Artwork

Traffic Jam (with Ben Smith)

The blitzscaling funding model failed news companies. Vice Media — which raised more than $1 billion from the likes of TPG, Technology Crossover Ventures, and Disney — is reportedly preparing to file for bankruptcy. BuzzFeed — which raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors like Andreessen Horowitz, General Atlantic, and NBCUniversal — just shut down its news division and has watched its stock price sink 95% since going public via a SPAC.Meanwhile, Gawker, which successfully avoided the cash-burning approach, was brought down in a lawsuit funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel. This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity. But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.In his new book, Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral, former BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith takes stock of the heady days of media spending and snarky online writing. (Of course, for all his insistence that that spendy era of media is over, Smith is the co-founder of Semafor, a company that raised $25 million — including about $10 million from Sam Bankman-Fried — to build a new digital media business.)I invited Smith on the podcast to talk about his new book. I started the discussion by going back to David Carr’s 2012 profile of BuzzFeed. Carr wrote at the time:[W]ith the addition of Mr. Smith and his new hires, BuzzFeed is growing some serious news muscles under a silly, frilly skin, and added the header “2012” for election coverage. (More traditional news verticals will be rolled out in the coming months.) It’s gone well so far, with comScore showing 10.8 million unique visitors in December, more than double that of the same month in 2010.Its business model, in part, capitalizes on the mix of high and low content; instead of banner ads, BuzzFeed works with companies like Pillsbury to create content ideal for sharing, including “10 Things You Never Knew You Could Do With a Crescent Roll.”If it is successful, BuzzFeed will generate the kind of traffic that will rival behemoths like, yes, The Huffington Post. Mr. Peretti says that BuzzFeed makes a profit some months, but given the level of investment and growth — there are now 78 people in its Flatiron offices — the burn rate on that new chunk of capital is significant. “It’s fun to watch them make all these hires,” said Choire Sicha, the founder of The Awl site and a veteran of the New York Web scene. “But it’s important that they don’t overspend. Web ad rates are what they are and that isn’t going to change.”Then I turned the conversation to former Gawker editor Max Read’s review of Traffic. Read writes: In the end, only one character in “Traffic” can really be said to have any vision. In 2013, Disney CEO Bob Iger offered to buy BuzzFeed for $650 million. In the book’s strangest and funniest scene, a nightmare blunt rotation of Smith, Peretti, BuzzFeed video chief Ze Frank and BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg get high on a hotel balcony in Los Angeles and discuss the offer. Frank and Smith urge an ambivalent Peretti to turn down the offer, worrying that “Disney’s corporate culture would stifle” Buzzfeed’s creativity. Not so much Steinberg, the company’s money man, who gets “down on his knees on the balcony to plead with Jonah to take the deal.”Frank and Smith would go on to win the argument; they and Peretti saw BuzzFeed’s monster traffic as the key to their dreams of a burgeoning, independent media empire. As we now know, they were wrong. Steinberg is far from a genius — after leaving BuzzFeed, he joined the Daily Mail’s U.S. operation, and then founded the cosmically annoying CNBC-for-millennials brand “Cheddar,” whose videos can be found on gas pumps across the country — but he alone managed to see that traffic for what it really was: the “pump” phase of a pump-and-dump scheme that Peretti never had the vision to complete.In my conversation with him, Smith, the former media columnist for the New York Times, also offered his thoughts on the upcoming presidential primary and Tucker Carlson’s departure from Fox News. Give it a listen.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
5/2/202354 minutes, 25 seconds
Episode Artwork

The World After Capital (with Albert Wenger)

Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger has been successful enough to write a techno-manifesto. Wenger made early investments in companies like Twilio, MongoDB, and Etsy. Now, he’s spending much of his time on USV’s climate investing out of the firm’s $200 million climate fund.Wenger has historically been a media recluse — but he’s started popping his head out. So when I got the opportunity to talk to him on the Newcomer podcast, I jumped. After all, Union Square Ventures has ranked 1st and then 2nd in the Founder’s Choice VC Rankings. And USV was among the first venture capital firms to privately raise the alarm to portfolio companies that they needed to protect against a banking crisis. So we had a lot to talk about. Plus, Wenger is in the big ideas phase of his career. “We live in a period where there is an extraordinary range of possible outcomes for humanity. They include the annihilation of humankind in a climate catastrophe, at one extreme, and the indefinite exploration of the universe, at the other,” he concludes in his book The World After Capital, which is available for free online. Wenger has a strong point of view about where we’re headed: He argues that we’ve moved from the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Age and that we need to dramatically rethink society in light of that change. Despite the book’s manifesto-like qualities, The World After Capital frames up some of the core issues of our time. In particular, he argues that financial markets cannot adequately price the ultimate scarce resource of our age — attention. As artificial intelligence looks poised to further disrupt society, Wenger’s point of view is only becoming more compelling.In our Newcomer podcast discussion, Wenger and I examine the current state of universal basic income. You can hear how we think differently about the issue. I’m eager to think about how it could realistically be implemented in the United States sometime soon; he’s interested in the broad sweep of history. On the podcast, we talk about the banking system and I interrogate whether there’s any hypocrisy in opposing the 2008 bank bailouts and defending the government’s decision to backstop depositors at Silicon Valley Bank.It was a fun conversation that looks beyond the day-to-day news cycle to some of the bigger questions that technological progress posses for our society. Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
4/25/202358 minutes, 26 seconds
Episode Artwork

Amazon Bedrock & BabyAGI (with Jon Turow)

Before becoming a partner at Madrona Venture Group, Jon Turow worked as the head of product for computer vision at Amazon Web Services. He spent nine years at AWS in the product organization. Since becoming a venture capitalist, he’s invested in promising AI companies like Runway and Numbers Station, along with the buzzy data company MotherDuck.So when Amazon announced a partnership, called Amazon Bedrock, with Anthropic, Stability AI, and AI21 Labs, I asked Turow to come on the show to help me break down Amazon’s effort to bring foundation models closer to its cloud customers. Turow is someone who has helped me think through everything that’s happening in artificial intelligence broadly. So we had a fun conversation about open source and the excitement around AI agents — like BabyAGI. This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity.But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
4/18/202349 minutes, 5 seconds
Episode Artwork

Open-Source AI: Replit's Amjad Masad & Hugging Face's Clem Delangue

Today, we have a bonus double episode of the Newcomer podcast for you — two conversations from the Cerebral Valley AI Summit last week. Part 1: Replit CEO Amjad Masad and Hugging Face Clément DelangueTogether, they’re a charismatic open-source alliance.We talked about the threat posed by OpenAI’s partnership with Microsoft, the questions around Replit and Hugging Face’s business models, and where they would like to see more development in artificial intelligence.Charles Hudson, at Precursor, wrote up a smart reflection on the Cerebral Valley event and one of his main takeaways was about open-source companies like Replit and Hugging Face. Hudson wrote:Open-source applications will play a big role in this early phase of experimentation. One of the more refreshing and interesting things for me to hear was the different approaches that open-source companies were taking relative to their more commercially-minded peers. It wasn’t simply about business models or go to market approaches — it felt way more fundamental and philosophical about how they wanted to see AI deployed and governed. I didn’t have a full appreciation for that difference before the event, but it was one of the things that I was most struck by at the event.The Cerebral Valley AI Summit is presented bySamsung Next invests in the boldest and most ambitious founders.Tell us about your company. We’d love to meet.Part 2: Adept CEO David Luan and Greylock partner Saam MotamediOn stage with Luan and Motamedi, a major investor in Adept, I wanted to know how Adept planned to compete with foundation models like OpenAI and Anthropic — especially now that OpenAI has introduced plugins that allow third-parties to easily connect to ChatGPT. Adept is building an AI model that mirrors humans input into computers. It’s a different approach than the language models that are getting built by other foundation model companies.I also asked Luan about his time at OpenAI and at Google. I particularly wanted to know if he trusted his old team at OpenAI to spearhead the AI revolution.Find the PodcastWe’re also posting all the on-stage conversations on our YouTube channel over the next few days. Right now, you can watch:* Stability CEO Emad Mostaque one-on-one with me (the first half of my last podcast).* Shane Orlick (President at Jasper) and Cristóbal Valenzuela (CEO of Runway) with Coatue’s Caryn Marooney.* Benchmark’s Miles Grimshaw’s conversation with Quora CEO and OpenAI board member Adam D’Angelo and with LangChain founder Harrison Chase.* A panel of investors (Leigh Marie Braswell at Founders Fund, Bucky Moore at Kleiner Perkins, and Amber Yang at Bloomberg Beta) moderated by me.* Volley CEO Max Child’s talk with Lisha Li (Rosebud), Caroline Zhang (Knowtex), Chun Jiang (Monterey AI), and Medha Basu (Defog).* General Catalyst’s Deep Nishar with me (also featured in Tuesday’s podcast episode) .* Volley CTO James Wilsterman’s talk with Yasmin Dunsky (Wild Moose), Emily Dorsey (Pyq), and Lydia Ding (Code Complete). Get full access to Newcomer at
4/6/202356 minutes, 56 seconds
Episode Artwork

Cerebral Valley Double Feature: Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque & General Catalyst's Deep Nishar

Today, we have a double episode for you — two conversations from the Cerebral Valley AI Summit last week. Part 1: My Conversation with Stability AI CEO Emad MostaqueI didn’t know what to make of Stability AI and its CEO Emad Mostaque heading into my conversation with Mostaque Thursday at Cerebral Valley.Mostaque’s company has wrapped its arms around the wildly successful open-source artificial intelligence project Stable Diffusion. Last year, Mostaque’s company, Stability AI, raised about $100 million from investors. Lightspeed led an investment in the company a $1 billion valuation. Coatue led the previous round. On the other hand, the company has publicly scuffled with fellow Stable Diffusion co-creator Runway. Stability AI got sued by Getty Images. And it’s hard to understand exactly how Stability AI plans to profit off its proximity to Stable Diffusion. Is it just a really hyped AI consulting company?Mostaque himself is a man of mystery. He’s a former hedge fund investor who has situated himself at the heart of generative AI. He makes big pronouncements. There are whispers that Stability AI is raising another big funding round and is in talks with a big tech company partner. On stage, Mostaque didn’t dismiss the idea that the company might partner with Apple. Mostaque also said that he intended to take Stability AI public, insisting that the public markets want to get behind the AI trend. Bloomberg wrote about it. The Cerebral Valley AI Summit is presented bySamsung Next invests in the boldest and most ambitious founders.Tell us about your company. We’d love to meet.I won’t tell you how to feel about the conversation. Some people afterward told me that they were impressed by Mostaque’s performance and conviction. Mostaque had signed the letter calling for a pause in AI development — a surprising stance for someone who helped launch the generative AI craze. He was among the most electric speakers at Cerebral Valley. At the same time, some well-connected attendees told me off the record that they don’t believe Mostaque’s pronouncements. He can be short on specifics and big on promises. I found it hard to pin him down on many of the details of his business. The AI world is watching to see what happens next. Give it a listen.Part 2: My Conversation with General Catalyst’s Deep NisharStarting at 30:33, you can listen to my interview with General Catalyst’s lead growth investor Deep Nishar. A former executive at Google and LinkedIn and then one of the top investors at the SoftBank Vision Fund, Nishar has had a front seat at the table for many of the developments in the technology industry.Human health — and how artificial intelligence can shape it — was at the heart of our conversation. It’s easy to get lost in chatbots and image generation tools but the promise of artificial intelligence is far larger.We also talked about Google’s standing in the AI race and I got his reflections on SoftBank’s AI strategy.Find the PodcastWe’ll have a bonus episode for you on Thursday so watch out for that. We’re also posting all the on-stage conversations on our YouTube channel over the next few days. Right now, you can watch:* Benchmark’s Miles Grimshaw’s conversation with Quora CEO and OpenAI board member Adam D’Angelo and with LangChain founder Harrison Chase.* Volley CEO Max Child’s talk with Lisha Li (Rosebud), Caroline Zhang (Knowtex), Chun Jiang (Monterey AI), and Medha Basu (Defog). Get full access to Newcomer at
4/4/202349 minutes, 58 seconds
Episode Artwork

Venture Capital Gravitational Physics (with Ravi Mhatre)

Ravi Mhatre co-founded Lightspeed Venture Partners just before the technology industry unraveled in the dot-com bust. Lightspeed weathered the dot-com crash and became one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, known particularly for many of its enterprise software investments. This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity. But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.Over his two decades at Lightspeed, Mhatre has invested in Nutanix, MuleSoft, AppDynamics, Zscaler, and Rubrik to name a few.On the Newcomer podcast, Mhatre and I talked about Silicon Valley in the wake of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. We discussed how the gravitation physics of the startup business has changed.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
3/29/202343 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork

Peering Over the Edge of Death (with Jon McNeill)

Behind the headlines, Jon McNeill has been a key operator and board member across many of the companies that you read about.He was the president of Tesla. Then, in February 2018, he left to take the role of chief operating officer at ride sharing company Lyft. At Tesla, he worked desperately to get the company to sell enough cars to hit Tesla’s sales targets. With the rest of the executive team, he said, “We were arm and arm to do the impossible.”This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity. But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.“For more than two years we operated the company and we just had a quarter’s worth of cash,” McNeill said, recalling a period that Elon Musk has said put the company on the brink of bankruptcy. Tesla was manufacturing vehicles out of tents.“For sure, bankruptcy was a reality,” McNeill said. “When you’re peering over the edge of death, creativity starts to happen in really unique ways.”After Tesla, McNeill helped take Lyft public. But his tenure at the company lasted less than two years. His vision conflicted with the ride sharing company’s founders.Today, McNeill sits on the board of General Motors, CrossFit, and Lululemon — to name a few. In 2020, he helped found the hatch studio DVx Ventures, which has spun up seven startups so far. I brought McNeill on the podcast because I wanted to know whether the high-cash burn, blitzscaling model embraced by ride sharing companies like Lyft could survive in the new normal with non-zero interest rates and falling tech stocks.“I think blitzscaling is appropriate when interest rates are zero, when capital is free,” McNeill told me. “If people are going to hand you free capital — then you make different decisions and there was an era,” he said, “where capital was free.” But McNeill argued the bliztscaling playbook isn’t going to work anymore. “You could go out to burn capital to acquire customers in a business that didn’t have its economics figured out yet. And ride share was a good example of that. And you could burn through a lot of investor capital because basically every time you raised it didn’t cost you much in terms of valuation.”But McNeill told me, “When interest rates are non-zero, I don’t think blitzscaling is appropriate because you can’t afford the cost of capital.”I asked him, “Can companies escape blitzscaling?”“Yeah, they can but they have to have super talented leadership to do it.”He pointed to his old rival Dara Khosrowshahi as one such leader.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
3/21/202353 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork

A Wall Street Veteran & Investor Explains Silicon Valley Bank's Unraveling (with Laurence Tosi)

Laurence Tosi had a front seat for another banking crisis: He worked as a top banking executive and then private equity executive as the financial crisis swept up Wall Street. Tosi is someone I turn to when I want to get a sophisticated investor’s account of what’s really going on in Silicon Valley.His resume straddles Wall Street and Silicon Valley. He worked as the chief operating officer at Merrill Lynch, as the chief financial officer at Blackstone, and as the chief financial officer at Airbnb. Today, Tosi runs an $8 billion investment firm called WestCap that invests in startups and venture capital funds.As Silicon Valley Bank was unraveling, Tosi guided his portfolio companies on how to move their money out of the bank. Then, over the weekend, after Silicon Valley Bank failed, he talked to top banking executives, Senators, and members of Congress, including Representative Ro Khanna.Tosi, despite his generally optimistic outlook, offered a bleak take on what this year will look like for the startup industry. He predicted a “hard landing” and that 2023 will be even tougher than last year for startups. “The worst is yet to come,” Tosi said. “They raised rates so fast, the shock to the body after so many years of such a dovish stance and zero rates, it’s going to take some time to work through the system.”On the Newcomer podcast, we discussed the bank run and what led to Silicon Valley Banks failure. Give it a listen.Find the Podcast Get full access to Newcomer at
3/14/20231 hour, 2 minutes, 10 seconds
Episode Artwork

This Kicked Off With a Dinner With Elon Musk Years Ago (with Reid Hoffman)

For the first episode of the Newcomer podcast, I sat down with Reid Hoffman — the PayPal mafia member, LinkedIn co-founder, Greylock partner, and Microsoft board member. Hoffman had just stepped off OpenAI’s board of directors. Hoffman traced his interest in artificial intelligence back to a conversation with Elon Musk.“This kicked off, actually, in fact, with a dinner with Elon Musk years ago,” Hoffman said. Musk told Hoffman that he needed to dive into artificial intelligence during conversations about a decade ago. “This is part of how I operate,” Hoffman remembers. “Smart people from my network tell me things, and I go and do things. And so I dug into it and I’m like, ‘Oh, yes, we have another wave coming.’”This episode of Newcomer is brought to you by VantaSecurity is no longer a cost center — it’s a strategic growth engine that sets your business apart. That means it’s more important than ever to prove you handle customer data with the utmost integrity. But demonstrating your security and compliance can be time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Until you use Vanta.Vanta’s enterprise-ready Trust Management Platform empowers you to:* Centralize and scale your security program* Automate compliance for the most sought-after frameworks, including SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR* Earn and maintain the trust of customers and vendors alikeWith Vanta, you can save up to 400 hours and 85% of costs. Win more deals and enable growth quickly, easily, and without breaking the bank.For a limited time, Newcomer listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Go to to get started.Why I Wanted to Talk to Reid Hoffman & What I Took AwayHoffman is a social network personified. Even his journey to something as wonky as artificial intelligence is told through his connections with people. In a world of algorithms and code, Hoffman is upfront about the extent to which human connections decide Silicon Valley’s trajectory. (Of course they are paired with profound technological developments that are far larger than any one person or network.)When it comes to the rapidly developing future powered by large language models, a big question in my mind is who exactly decides how these language models work? Sydney appeared in Microsoft Bing and then disappeared. Microsoft executives can dispatch our favorite hallucinations without public input. Meanwhile, masses of images can be gobbled up without asking their creators and then the resulting image generation tools can be open-sourced to the world. It feels like AI super powers come and go with little notice. It’s a world full of contradictions. There’s constant talk of utopias and dystopias and yet startups are raising conventional venture capital financing.The most prominent player in artificial intelligence — OpenAI — is a non-profit that raised from Tiger Global. It celebrates its openness in its name and yet competes with companies whose technology is actually open-sourced. OpenAI’s governance structure and priorities largely remain a mystery. Finally, unlike tech’s conservative billionaires who throw their money into politics, in the case of Hoffman, here is a tech overlord that I seem to mostly agree with politically. I wanted to know what that would be like. Is it just good marketing? And where exactly is his heart and political head at right now?I thought he delivered. I didn’t feel like he was dodging my questions, even in a world where maintaining such a wide network requires diplomacy. Hoffman seemed eager and open — even if he started to bristle at what he called my “edgy words.”Some Favorite QuotesWe covered a lot of ground in our conversation. We talked about AI sentience and humans’ failures to identify consciousness within non-human beings. We talked about the coming rise in AI cloud compute spending and how Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are positioned in the AI race.Hoffman said he had one major condition for getting involved in OpenAI back in the early days when Musk was still on board.“My price for participation was to ask Elon to stop saying the word “robocalypse,” Hoffman told me. “Because I thought that the problem was it’s very catchy and it evokes fear.”I asked Hoffman why he thought Musk got involved in artificial intelligence in the first place when Musk seems so worried about how it might develop. Why get the ball rolling down the hill at all, I wondered?Hoffman replied that many people in the field of artificial intelligence had “messiah complexes.”“It’s the I am the one who must bring this — Prometheus, the fire to humanity,” Hoffman said. “And you’re like, ‘Okay, I kind of think it should be us versus an individual.’” He went on, “Now, us can’t be 8 billion people — us is a small group. But I think, more or less, you see the folks who are steering with a moral compass try to say, how do I get at least 10 to 15 people beyond myself with their hands on the steering wheel in deep conversations in order to make sure you get there? And then let’s make sure that we’re having the conversations with the right communities.”I raised the possibility that this merely suggested oligarchic control of artificial intelligence rather than dictatorial control. We also discussed Hoffman’s politics, including his thoughts on Joe Biden and “woke” politics. I asked him about the state of his friendship with fellow PayPal mafia member Peter Thiel. “I basically am sympathetic to people as long as they are legitimately and earnestly committed to the dialogue and discussion of truth between them and not committed otherwise,” Hoffman said. “There are folks from the PayPal years that I don’t really spend much time talking to. There are others that I do continue because that conversation about discovering who we are and who we should be is really important. And you can’t allow your own position to be the definer.”I suggested that Thiel’s public views sometimes seemed insincere.“Oh, that’s totally corrosive,” Hoffman said. “And as much as that’s happening, it’s terrible. And that’s one of the things that in conversations I have, I push people, including Peter, on a lot.”Give it a listen.Find the PodcastRead the TranscriptEric: Reid, thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm very excited for this conversation. You know, I'm getting ready for my own AI conference at the end of this month, so hopefully this is sort of a prep by the end of this conversation, we'll all be super smart and ready for that. I feel like there've been so many rounds of sort of AI as sort of the buzzword of the day.This clearly seems the hottest. When did you get into this moment of it? I mean, obviously you just stepped off the Open AI board. You were on that board. Like how, when did you start to see this movement that we're experiencing right now coming.Reid: Well, it's funny because my undergraduate major was artificial intelligence and cognitive science. So I've, I've been around the hoop for multiple waves for a long time and I think this kicked off actually, in fact, with a dinner with Elon Musk years ago. You know, 10-ish years ago, Elon and I would have dinner about once a quarter and he's like, well, are you paying attention to this AI stuff?And I'm like, well, I majored in it and you know, I know about this stuff. He's like, no, you need to get back involved. And I was like, all right. This is part of how I operate is smart people from my network tell me things and I go and do things. And so I dug into it and I went, oh yes, we have another wave coming.And this was probably about seven or eight years ago, when I, when I saw the beginning of the wave or the seismic event. Maybe it was a seismic event out at sea and I was like, okay, there's gonna be a tsunami here and we should start getting ready cause the tsunami is actually gonna be amazingly great and interesting.Eric: And that—is that the beginning of Open AI?Reid: Open AI is later. What I did is I went and made connections with the kind of the heads of every AI lab and major company because I concluded that I thought that the AI revolution will be primarily driven by large companies initially because of the scale compute requirements.And so, you know, talked to Demis Hassabis, met Mustafa Suleyman, talked to Yann LeCun, talked to Jeff Dean, you know, all these kind of folks and kind of, you know, built all that. And then it was later in conversations with Sam and Elon that I said, look, we need to do something that's a for pro humanity. Not just commercial effort. And my price for participation, cause I thought it was a great idea, but my price for participation was to ask Elon to stop saying the word robocalypse. Because I thought that the problem was that it's very catchy and it evokes fear. And actually, in fact, one of the things I think about this whole area is that it's so much more interesting and has so much amazing opportunity for humanity.A little bit like, I don't know if you saw the Atlantic article I wrote that we evolve ourselves through technology and I'm, you know, going to be doing some writings around describing AI as augmented intelligence versus artificial intelligence. And I wanted to kind of build that positive, optimistic case that I think is the higher probability that I think we can shape towards and so forth.So it's like, okay, I'm in, but no more Robocalypse.Eric: I appreciate the ultimate sort of network person that you tell the story through people. I always appreciate when the origin stories of technology actually come through the human beings. With Elon in particular, I'm sort of confused by his position because it seems like he's very afraid of AI.And if that's the case, why would you want to, like, do anything to sort of get the ball rolling down the hill? Like, isn't there a sort of just like, stay away from it, man, if you think it's so bad. How do you see his thinking? And I'm sure it's evolved.Reid: Well, I think his instinct for the good and the challenging of this is he tends to think AI will only be good if I'm the one who's in control.Eric: Sort of, yeah.Reid: Yeah. And this is actually somewhat replete within the modern AI field. Not everybody but this. And Elon is a public enough figure that I think, you know, making this comment of him is not talking at a school.Other people would, there's a surprising number of Messiah complexes in the field of AI, and, and it's the, I am the one who must bring this, you know, Prometheus, you know, the Fire to humanity. And you're like, okay, I kind of think it should be us, right? Versus an individual. Now us can't be 8 billion people, us as a small group, but I think more or less you see the, the folks who are steering with a moral compass try to say, how do I get at least 10 to 15 people beyond myself with their hands on the steering wheel in deep conversations in order to make sure you get there and then let, let's make sure that we're having the conversations with the right communities.Like if you say, well, is this going to, you know, institutionalize, ongoing, um, you know, power structures or racial bias, something else? Well, we're talking to the people to make sure that we're going to minimize that, especially over time and navigate it as a real issue. And so those are the, like, that's the kind of anti Messiah complex, which, which is more or less the efforts that I tend to get involved in.Eric: Right. At least sort of oligarchy, of AI control instead of just dictatorship of it.Reid: Well, yeah, and it depends a little bit, even on oligarchy, look, things are built by small numbers of people. It's just a fact, right? Like, there aren't more than, you know, a couple of founders, maybe maximum five in any, any particular thing. There is, you know, there's reasons why. When you have a construction project, you have a head of construction, right?Et cetera. The important thing is to make sure that's why you have, why you have a CEO, you have a board of directors. That's why you have, you know, you say, well, do we have the right thing where a person is accountable to a broader group? And that broader group feels their governance responsibility seriously.So oligarchy is a—Eric: a chargedReid: is a charged word. And I,Eric: There’s a logic to it. I'm not, I'm not using it to say it doesn't make sense that you want the people to really understand it around, around it. Um, I mean, specifically with Open AI, I mean, you, you just stepped off the board. You're also on the board of Microsoft, which is obviously a very significant player.In this future, I mean, it's hard to be open. I get a little frustrated with the “open” in “Open AI” because I feel like there's a lot that I don't understand. I'm like, maybe they should change the name a little bit, but is it still a charity in your mind? I mean, it's obviously raised from Tiger Global, the ultimate prophet maker.Like, how should we think about the sort of core ambitions of Open AI?Reid: Well, um, one, the board I was on was a fine one and they've been very diligent about making sure that all of the controls, including for the subsidiary company are from the 501(C)(3) and diligent to its mission, which is staffed by people on the 501(C)(3) board with the responsibilities of being on a 5 0 1 board, which is being in service of the mission, not doing, you know, private inurement and other kinds of things.And so I actually think it is fundamentally still a 501(C)(3). The challenge is if you kind of say, you look at this and say, well, in order to be a successful player in the modern scale AI, you need to have billions of dollars of compute. Where do you get those billions of dollars? Because, you know, the foundations and the philanthropy industry is generally speaking bad at tech and bad at anything other than little tiny checks in tech.And so you said, well, it's really important to do this. So part of what I think, you know, Sam and that group of folks came up with this kind of clever thing to say, well, look, we're about beneficial AI, we're about AI for humanity. We're about making an, I'll make a comment on “open” in a second, but we are gonna generate some commercially valuable things.What if we struck a commercial deal? So you can have the commercial things or you can share the commercial things. You invest in us in order to do this, and then we make sure that the AI has the right characteristics. And then the “open”, you know, all short names have, you know, some simplicities to them.The idea is open to the world in terms of being able to use it and benefit from it. It doesn't mean the same thing as open source because AI is actually one of those things where opening, um, where you could do open source, you could actually be creating something dangerous. As a modern example, last year, Open AI deliberately… DALL·E 2 was ready four months before it went out. I know cause I was playing with it. They did the four months to do safety training and the kind of safety training is, well, let's make sure that individuals can't be libeled. Let's make sure you can't create as best we can, child sexual material. Let's make sure you can't do revenge porn and we'll serve it through the API and we'll make it unchangeable on that.And then the open source people come out and they go do whatever you want and then wow, you get all this crazy, terrible stuff. So “open” is openness of availability, but still with safety and still with, kind of call it the pro-human controls. And that's part of what OpenAI means in this.Eric: I wrote in sort of a mini essay in the newsletter about, like tech fatalism and it fits into your sort of messiah complex that you're talking about, if I'm a young or new startup entrepreneur, it's like this is my moment if I hold back, you know, there's a sense that somebody else is gonna do it too. This isn't necessarily research. Some of the tools are findable, so I need to do it. If somebody's going to, it's easy if you're using your own personhood to say, I'm better than that guy! Even if I have questions about it, I should do it. So that, I think we see that over and over again. Obviously the stakes with AI, I think we both agree are much larger.On the other hand, with AI, there's actually, in my view, been a little bit more restraint. I mean, Google has been a little slower. Facebook seems a little worried, like, I don't know. How do you agree with that sort of view of tech fatalism? Is there anything to be done about it or it's just sort of—if it's possible, it's gonna happen, so the best guy, the best team should do it?Or, or how do you think about that sense of inevitability on if it's possible, it'll be built?Reid: Well, one thing is you like edgy words, so what you describe is tech fatalism, I might say as something more like tech inevitability or tech destiny. And part of it is what, I guess what I would say is for example, we are now in a AI moment and era. There's global competition for it. It's scale compute.It's not something that even somebody like a Google or someone else can kind of have any kind of, real ball control on. But the way I look at it is, hey, look, there's, there's utopic outcomes and dystopic outcomes and it's within our control to steer it. Um, and even to steer it at speed, even under competition because.For example, obviously the general discourse within media is, oh my God, what's happening with the data and what's gonna happen with the bias and what's gonna happen with the crazy conversations, with Bing Chat and all the rest of this stuff. And you're like, well, what am I obsessed about? I'm obsessed about the fact that I have line of sight to an AI tutor and an AI doctor on every cell phone.And think about if you delay that, whatever number of years you delay that, what your human cost is of delaying that, right? And it's like, how do we get that? And for example, people say, wow, the real issue is that Bing chat model is gonna go off the rails and have a drunken cocktail party conversation because it's provoked to do so and can't run away from the person who's provoking it.Uh, and you say, well, is that the real issue? Or is it a real issue? Let's make sure that as many people as we can have access to that AI doctor have access to that AI tutor that where, where we can, where not only, you know, cause obviously technology cause it's expensive initially benefits elites and people are rich.And by the way, that's a natural way of how our capitalist system and all the rest works. But let's try to get it to everyone else as quickly as possible, right?Eric: I a hundred percent agree with that. So I don't want any of my sort of, cynical take like, oh my God, this version.I'd also extend it, you know, I think you're sort of referencing maybe the Sydney situation where you have Kevin Rus in New York Times, you know, communicating with Bing's version of ChatGPT and sort of finding this character who's sort of goes by Sydney from the origin story.And Ben Thompson sort of had a similar experience. And I would almost say it's sad for the world to be deprived of that too. You know, there's like a certain paranoia, it's like, it's like, oh, I wanna meet this sort of seemingly intelligent character. I don't know. What do you make of that whole episode? I mean, people really, I mean, Ben Thompson, smart tech writers really latched onto this as something that they found moving.I don't know. Is there anything you take away from that saga and do you think we'll see those sort of, I don't know, intelligent characters again,Reid: Well for sure. I think 2023 will be at least the first year of the so-called chatbot. Not just because of ChatGPT. And I think that we will have a bunch of different chat bots. I think we'll have chatbots that are there to be, you know, entertainment companions, witty dialogue participants.I think we'll have chatbots that are there to be information like Insta, Wikipedia, kind of things. I think we'll have chatbots that are there to just have someone to talk to. So I think there'll be a whole, whole range of things. And I think we will have all that experience.And I think part of the thing is to say, look, what are the parameters by which you should say the bots should absolutely not do X. And it's fine if these people want a bot that's like, you know, smack talking and these people want something that you know, goes, oh heck. Right?You know, like, what's, what's the range of that? And obviously children get in the mix and, and the questions around things that we already encounter a lot with search, which is like could a chat bot enable self-harm in a way that would be really bad?Let's really try to make sure that someone who's depressed doesn't figure out a way to harm themselves either with search or with chat bots.Eric: Is there a psychologically persuasive, so it's not just the information provided, it's the sense that they might be like walking you towards something less serious.Reid: And they are! This is the thing that's amazing. and it's part of the reason why like everyone should have some interaction with these in some emotional, tangible way. We are really passing the Turing test. This is the thing that I had visibility on a few years ago because I was like, okay, we kind of judge, you know, intelligence and sentience like that, Google engineers like it.I asked if it was conscious and it said it was because we use language as a way of doing that. And you're like, well, but look, that tells you that your language use is not quite fully there. And because part of what's really amazing about, “hallucinations”—and I'm probably gonna do a fireside chat with the gray matter thing on hallucinations, maybe later this week—where the hallucination is, on one hand it says this amazingly accurate, wonderful thing, very persuasively, and then it says this other thing really persuasively that's total fiction, right? And you're like, wow, you sound very persuasive in both cases. But that one's true and that one's fiction.And that's part of the reason why I kind of go back to the augmented intelligence and all the things that I see going on with in 2023 is much less replacement and much more augmentation. It's not zero replacement, but it's much more augmentation in terms of how this plays. And that is super exciting.Eric: Yeah. I mean, to some degree it reflects sort of the weakness in human beings’ own abilities to read what's happening. Ahead of this interview, I was talking to the publicly available ChatGPT. I don't know if you saw but I was asking it for questions and I felt like it delivered a very reasonable set of questions. You know, you've written about Blitzscaling, so [ChatGPT] is like, let's ask about that. It's, you know, ask in the context of Microsoft. But when I was like, have you [ChatGPT] ever watched Joe Rogan? Have you ever been on a podcast? Sometimes maybe you should have a long sort of, you should have a statement like I'm doing right now where I sort of have some things I'm saying.Then I ask a question. Other times it should be short and sweet. Sometimes it, you know, annoys you and says oligarchy, like explaining to the chat bot. [In an interview, a journalist] can't just ask a list of like, straightforward questions and it felt like it didn't really even get that. And I get that there's some sort of, we're, we're starting to have a conversation now with companies like Jasper, where it's almost like the language prompting itself.I think Sam Altman was maybe saying it's like almost a form of plain language like coding because you have to figure out how to get what you want out of them. And maybe it was just my failure to explain it, but as a journalist replacing questions, I didn't find the current model of ChatGPT really capable of that.Reid: No, that's actually one of the things on the ChatGPT I find is, like, for example, you ask what questions to ask Reid Hoffman in a podcast interview, and you'll get some generic ones. It'll say like, well, what's going on with new technologies like AI and, and what's going on in Silicon Valley? And you know, and you're like, okay, sure.But those aren't the really interesting questions. That's not what makes me a great journalist, which is kind of a lens to something that people can learn from and that will evolve and change that'll get better. But that's again, one of the reasons why I think it's a people plus machine. Because for example, if I were to say, hey, what should I ask Eric about? Or what should I talk to Eric about and go to? Yeah, gimme some generic stuff. Now if I said, oh, give me a briefing on, um, call it, um, UN governance systems as they apply to AI, because I want to be able to talk about this. I didn't do this, but it would give me a kind of a quick Wikipedia briefing and that would make my conversation more interesting and I might be able to ask a question about the governance system or something, you know, as a way of doing it.And that's what AI is, I think why the combo is so great. Um, and anyway, so that's what we should be aiming towards. It isn't to say, by the way, sometimes like replacement is a good thing. For example, you go to autonomous vehicles and say, hey, look, if we could wave a wand and every car on the road today would be an autonomous vehicle, we'd probably save, we'd probably go from 40,000 deaths in the US per, you know, year to, you know, maybe a thousand or 2000. And you're like, you're shaving 38,000 lives a year, in doing this. It's a good thing. And, you know, it will have a positive vector on gridlocks and for climate change and all the rest of the stuff.And you go, okay, that replacement, yes, we have to navigate truck jobs and all the rest, but that replacement's good. But I think a lot of it is going to end up being, you know, kind of, various forms of amplification. Like if you get to journalists, you go, oh, it'll help me ask, figure out which interesting questions to add.Not because it'll just go here, here's your script to ask questions. But you can get better information to prep your thinking on it.Eric: Yeah. I'm glad you brought up like the self-driving car case and, you know, you're, are you still on the board of Aurora?Reid: I am.Eric: I've, you know, I covered Uber, so I was in their self-driving cars very early, and they made a lot of promises. Lyft made a lot of promises.I mean, I feel like part of my excitement about this sort of generative AI movement is that it feels like it doesn't require completeness in the same way that self-driving cars do. You know? And that, that, that's been a barrier to self-driving cars. On the flip side, you know, sometimes we sort of wave away the inaccuracy and then we say, you know, we sort of manage it.I think that's what we were sort of talking about earlier. You imagine it in some of the completeness that could come. So I guess the question here is just do you think, what I'm calling the completeness problem. I guess just the idea that it needs to be sort of fully capable will be an issue with the large language models or do you think you have this sort of augmented model where it could sort of stop now and still be extremely useful to much of society?Reid: I think it could stop now and be extremely useful. I've got line of sight on current technology for a tutor, for a doctor, for a bunch of other stuff. One of the things my partner and I wrote last year was that within five years, there's gonna be a co-pilot for every profession.The way to think about that is what professionals do. They process information, they take some kind of action. Sometimes that's generating other information, just like you see with Microsoft's co-pilot product for engineers. And what you can see happening with DallE and other image generation for graphic designers, you'll see this for every professional, that there will be a co-pilot on today's technology that can be built.That's really amazing. I do think that as you continue to make progress, you can potentially make them even more amazing, because part of what happened when you move from, you know, GPT3 to 3.5, which is all of a sudden it can write sonnets. Right? You didn't really know that it was gonna be able to write sonnets.That's giving people superpowers. Most people, including myself—I mean, look, I could write a sonnet if you gave me a couple of days and a lot of coffee and a lot of attempts to really try.Eric: But you wouldn't.Reid: You wouldn't. Yeah. But now I can go, oh, you know, I'd like to, to, um, write a sonnet about my friend Sam Altman.And I can go down and I can sit there and I can kind of type, you know, duh da, and I can generate, well, I don't like that one. Oh, but then I like this one, you know, and da da da. And, and that, that gives you superpowers. I mean, think about what you can do for writing, a whole variety of things with that. And that I think the more and more completeness is the word you are using is I think also a powerful thing. Even though what we have right now is amazing.Eric: Is GPT4 a big improvement over what we have? I assume you've seen a fair bit of unreleased, stuff. Like how hyped should we be about the improvement level?Reid: I have. I'm not really allowed to say very much about it cause, you know, part of the responsibilities of former board members and confidentiality. But I do think that it will be a nice—I think people will look at it and go, Ooh, that's cool. And it will be another iteration, another thing as amazing as ChatGPT has, and obviously that's kind of in the last few months. It’s kind of taken the world by storm, opening up this vista of imagination and so forth.I think GPT4 will be another step forward where people will go, Ooh, that's, that, that's another cool thing. I think that's—can't be more specific than that, but watch this space cause it'll be cool.Eric: Throughout this conversation we've danced around this sort of artificial general intelligence question. starting with the discussion of Elon and the creation of eventually Open AI. I'm curious how close you think we are with AGI and this idea of a sort of, I mean, people define it so many different ways, you know, it's more sophisticated than humans in some tasks, you know, mini tasks, whatever.How, how do you think we're far from that? Or how, how, how do you see that playing out?Reid: Personally amongst a lot of the people who are in the field, I'm probably on the, we're-much-further-than-we-think stage. Now, some of that's because I've lived through this before with my undergraduate degree and the, you know, the pattern generally is, oh my God, we've gotten this computer to do this amazing thing that we thought was formally the provence of only these cognitive human beings.And it could do that. So then by the way, in 10 years it'll be solving new science problems like fusion and all the rest. And if you go back to the seventies, you saw that same dialogue. I mean, it, it's, it's an ongoing thing. Now we do have a more amazing set of cognitive capabilities than we did before, and there are some reasons to argue that it could be in a decade or two. Because you say, well, these large language models can enable coding and that coding can all, can then be self, reflective and generative, and that can then make something go. But when I look at the coding and how that works right now, it doesn't generate the kind of code that's like, oh, that's amazing new code.It helps with the, oh, I want to do a parser for quick sort, right? You know, like that kind of stuff. And it's like, okay, that's great. Or a systems integration use of an API or calling in an API for a spellchecker or whatever. Like it's really helpful stuff on engineers, but it's not like, oh my God, it's now inventing the new kind of training of large scale models techniques.And so I think even some of the great optimists will tell you of the great, like believers that it'll be soon and say there's one major invention. And the thing is, once you get to one major invention, is that one major invention? Is that three major inventions? Is it 10 major inventions?Like I think we are some number of major inventions away. I don't, I certainly don't think it's impossible to get there.Eric: Sorry. The major inventions are us human beings build, building things into the system or…?Reid: Yeah. Like for example, you know, can it do, like, for example, a classic, critique of a lot of large language models is can it do common sense reasoning.Eric: Gary Marcus is very…Reid: Exactly. Right. Exactly. And you know, the short answer right now is the large language models are approximating common sense reasoning.Now they're doing it in a powerful and interesting enough way that you're like, well, that's pretty useful. It's pretty helpful about what it's doing, but I agree that it's not yet doing all of that. And also you get problems like, you know, what are called one shot learning. Can you learn from one instance of it?Cause currently the training requires lots and lots of compute processing over days or in self play, can you have an accurate memory store that you update? Like for example, you say now fact X has happened, your entire world based on fact X. Look, there's a bunch of this stuff to all go.And the question is, is that one major invention is that, you know, five major inventions, and by the way, major inventions or major inventions even all the amazing stuff we've done over the last five to 10 years. Major inventions on major inventions. So I myself tend to be two things on the AGI one.I tend to think it's further than most people think. And I don't know if that further is it's 10 years versus five or 20 years versus 10 or 50 years versus 20. I don't, I don't really know.Eric: In your lifetime, do you think?Reid: It's possible, although I don't know. But let me give two other lenses I think on the AGI question cause the other thing that people tend to do is they tend to go, there's like this AI, which is technique machine learning, and there's totally just great, it's augmented intelligence and then there's AGI and who knows what happens with AGI.And you say, well first is AGI is a whole range of possible things. Like what if you said, Hey, I can build something that's the equivalent of a decent engineer or decent doctor, but to run it costs me $200 an hour and I have AGI? But it's $200 an hour. And you're like, okay, well that's cool and that means we can, we can get as many of them as we need. But it's expensive. And so it isn't like all of a sudden, you know, Terminator or you know, or inventing fusion or something like that is AGI and or a potential version of AGI. So what is AGI is the squishy thing that people then go, magic. The second thing is, the way that I've looked at the progress in the last five to eight years is we're building a set of iteratively better savants, right?It just like the chess player was a savant. Um, and, and the savants are interestingly different now. When does savant become a general intelligence and when might savant become a general super intelligence? I don't know. It's obviously a super intelligence already in some ways. Like for example, I wouldn't want to try to play, go against it and win, try to win.It's a super intelligence when it comes, right? But like okay, that's great cause in our perspective, having some savants like this that are super intelligence is really helpful to us. So, so the whole AGI discussion I think tends to go a little bit Hollywood-esque. You know, it's not terminator.Eric: I mean, there there is, there's a sort of argument that could be made. I mean, you know, humans are very human-centric about our beliefs and our intelligence, right? We don't have a theory of mind for other animals. It's very hard for us to prove that other species, you know, have some experience of consciousness like qualia or whatever.Reid: Very philosophically good use of a term by the way.Eric: Thank you. Um, I studied philosophy though. I've forgotten more than I remember. But, um, you know, I mean…Reid: Someday we'll figure out what it's like to be a bat. Probably not this time.Eric: Right, right, exactly. Is that, that's Nagel. If the machine's better than me at chess and go there, there's a level of I, you know, here I am saying it doesn't have an experience, but it, it's so much smarter than me in certain domains.I don't, I, the question is just like, it seems like humans are not capable of seeing what it's like to be a bat. So will we ever really be able to sort of convince ourselves that there's something that it's like to be, um, an AGI system?Reid: Well, I think the answer is um, yes, but it will require a bunch of sophistication. Like one of the things I think is really interesting about, um, as we anthropomorphize the world a little bit and I think some of this machine. Intelligence stuff will, will enable us to do that is, well what does it mean to understand X or, or, or, or no X or experience X or have qualia or whatever else.And right now what we do is we say, well it’s some king of shadowy image from being human. So we tend to undercount like animals intelligence. And people tend to be surprised like, look, you know, some animals mate for life and everything else, they clearly have a theory of the world and it's clearly stuff we're doing.We go, ah, they don't have the same kind of consciousness we do. And you're like, well they certainly don't have the same kind of consciousness, but we're not doing a very good job of studying like what the, where it's similar in order it's different. And I think we're gonna need to broaden that out outcome to start saying, well, when you compare us and an eagle or a dolphin or a whale or a chimpanzee or a lion, you know, what are the similarities and and differences?And how this works. And um, and I think that will also then be, well, what happens when it's a silicon substrate? You know? Do we, do we think that consciousness requires a biological substrate? If so, why? Um, and, you know, part of how, of course we get to understand, um, each other's consciousness as we, we get this depth of experience.Where I realize is it isn't, you're just a puppet.Eric:  [laughs] I am, I am just a puppet.Reid: Well, we're, we're talking to each other through Riverside, so, you know, who knows, right. You know, deep fakes and all that.Eric: The AI's already ahead of you. You know, I'm just, it's already, no.Reid: Yeah. I think we're gonna have to get more sophisticated on that question now.I think it's, it's too trivial to say because it can mimic language in particularly interesting ways. And it says, yes, I'm conscious that that makes it conscious. Like that's not, that's not what we use as an instance. And, and part of it is like, do you understand the like part of how we’ve come to understand each other's consciousness is we realize that we experience things in similar ways.We feel joy in similar, we feel pain in similar ways and that kinda stuff. And that's part of how we begin to understand. And I think it'll be really good that this may kick off kind of us being slightly less kind of call it narcissistically, anthropocentric in this and a broader concept as we look at this.Eric: You know, I was talking to my therapist the other day and I was saying, you know, oh, I did this like kind gesture, but I didn't feel like some profound, like, I don't, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I did it. It felt like I did the right thing should, you know, shouldn't I feel like more around it?And you know, her perspective was much more like, oh, what matters is like doing the thing, not sort of your internal states about it. Which to me would, would go to the, if the machine can, can do all the things we expect from sort of a caring type type machine. Like why do we need to spend all this time when we don't even expect that of humans to always feel the right feelings.Reid: I totally agree with you. Look, I think the real question is what you do. Now that being said, part of how we predict what you do is that, you know, um, you may not have like at that moment gone, haha, I think of myself as really good cause I've done this kind thing. Which by the way, might be a better human thing as opposed to like, I'm doing this cause I'm better than most people.Eric: Right.Reid: Yeah, but it's the pattern in which you engage in these things and part of the feelings and so forth is cause that creates a kind of a reliability of pattern of do you see other people? Do you have the aspiration to have, not just yourself, but the people around you leading better and improving lives.And obviously if that's the behavior that we're seeing from these things, then that's a lot of it. And the only question is, what's that forward looking momentum on it? And I think amongst humans that comes to an intention, a model of the world and so forth. You know, amongst, amongst machines that mean just maybe the no, no, we're aligned.Well, like, we've done a really good alignment with human progress.Eric: Do you think there will be a point in time where it's like an ethical problem to unplug it? Like I think of like a bear, right? Like a bear is dangerous. You know, there are circumstances where pretty comfortable. Killing the bear,But if the bear like hasn't actually done anything, we've taken it under our care. Like we don't just like shoot bears at zoos, you know? Do you think there's a point where like, and it costs us money to sustain the bear at a zoo, do you think there are cases where we might say, oh man, now there's an ethical question around unpluggingReid: I think it's a when, not an if.Eric: Yeah.Reid: Right? I mean, it may be a when, once again, just like AGI, that's a fair way’s out. But it's a when, not an if. And by the way, I think that's again, part of the progress that we make because we think about like, how should we be treating it? Because, you know, like for example, if you go back a hundred, 150 years, the whole concept of animal rights doesn't exist in humans.You know, it's like, hey, you wanna, you want to torture animal X to death, you know, like you're queer, but you're, you're, you're allowed to do that. That's an odd thing for you to do. And maybe it's kind of like, like distasteful, like grungy bad in some way, but , you know, it's like, okay. Where's now you're like, oh, that person is, is like going out to try to go torture animals! We should like get them in an institution, right? Like, that's not okay. You know, what is that further progress for the rights and lives? And I think it will ultimately come to things that we think are, when it gets to kind of like things that have their own agency and have their own consciousness and sets of existence.We should be including all of that in some, in some grand or elevated, you know, kind of rights conceptions.Eric: All right, so back back to my listeners who, you know, wanna know where to invest and make money off this and, you know.Reid: [laughs] It isn't from qualia and consciousness. Oh, wait.Eric: Who do you think are the key players? The key players in the models. Then obviously there are more sort of, I don't know if we're calling them vertical solutions or product oriented or whatever, however you think about them.But starting with the models, like who do you see as sort of the real players right now? Are you counting out a Google or do you think they'll still, you know, sort of show?Reid: Oh no. I think Google will show up. And obviously, you know, Open AI, Microsoft has done a ton of stuff. I co-founded Inflection last year with Mustafa Suleyman. We have a just amazing team and I do see a lot of teams, so I'm.Eric: And that's to build sort of the foundational…Reid: Yeah, they're gonna, well, they're building their own models and they're gonna build some things off those models.We haven't really said what they are yet. But that's obviously going to be kind of new models. Adept, another Greylock investment building its own models, Character is building its own models, Anthropic is building its own models. And Anthropic is, you know, Dario and the crew is smart folks from Open AI, they're, they're doing stuff within a kind of a similar research program that Open AI is doing.And so I think those are the ones that I probably most track.Eric: Character's an interesting case and you know, we're still learning more about that company. You know, I was first to report they're looking to raise 250 million. My understanding is that what's interesting is they're building the models, but then for a particular use case, right?Or like, it's really a question of leverage or like, do people need to build the models to be competitive or do you think there will be... can you build a great business on top of Stability or Open AI or do you need to do it yourself?Reid: I think you can, but the way you do it is you can't say it's cause I have unique access to the model. It has to be, you know, I have a business that has network effects or I'm well integrated in enterprise, or I have another deep stack of technology that I'm bringing into it. It can't just be, I'm a lightweight front end to it because then other people can be the lightweight front end.So you can build great businesses. I think with it, I do think that people will both build businesses off, you know, things like the Open AI APIs and I think people will also train models. Because I think one of the things that will definitely happen is a lot of… not just will large models be built in ways that are interesting and compelling, but I think a bunch of smaller models will be built that are specifically tuned and so forth.And there's all kinds of reasons. Everything from you can build them to do something very specific, but also like inference cost, does it, does it run on a low compute or low power footprint? You know, et cetera, et cetera. You know, AI doctor, AI tutor, um, you know, duh and on a cell phone. And, um, and so, you know, I think like all of that, I think the short answer to this is allEric: Right. Do you think we are in a compute arms race still, or do you, do you think this is gonna continue where it's just if you can raise a billion dollars to, to buy sort of com GPU access basically from Microsoft or Amazon or Google, you're, you're gonna be sort of pretty far ahead? Or how do you think about that sort of the money, the money and computing rates shaping up?Reid: So I kind of think about two. There's kind of two lines of trends. There's one line, which is the larger and larger models, which by the way, you say, well, okay, so does the scale compute and one x flop goes to two x flops, and does your performance function go up by that?And it doesn't have to go up by a hundred percent or, or two x or plus one x. It could go up by 25%, but sometimes that really matters. Coding doctors, you know, legal, other things. Well, it's like actually, in fact, it, even though it's twice as expensive, a 25% increase in, you know, twice as expensive of compute, the 25% increase in performance is worth it. And I think you then have a large scale model, like a set of things that are kind of going along need to be using the large scale models.Then I think there's a set of things that don't have that need. And for example, that's one of the reasons I wasn't really surprised at all by the profusion of image generation, cuz those are, you know, generally speaking, trainable for a million to $10 million. I think there's gonna be a range of those.I think, you know, maybe someone will figure out how to do, you know, a hundred-million version and once they figured out how to do a hundred-million dollar version, someone also figured out how to do the 30-million version of that hundred-million dollar version. And there's a second line going on where all of these other smaller models will fit into interesting businesses. And then I think a lot of people will either deploy an open source model that they're using themselves, train their own model, get a special deal with, like a model provider or something else as a way of doing it.And so I think the short answer is there will be both, and you have to be looking at this from what's the specific that this business is doing. You know, the classic issues of, you know, how do you go to market, how do you create a competitive mode? What are the things that give you real, enduring value that people will pay for in some way in a business?All of the, those questions still apply, but the, but, but there's gonna be a panoply of answers, depending on the different models of how it playsEric: Do you think spend on this space in terms of computing will be larger in ‘24 and then larger in 25?Reid: Yes. Unquestionably,Eric: We're on the, we're still on the rise.Reid: Oh, yes. Unquestionably.Eric: That's great for a certain company that you're on the board of.Reid: Well look, and it's not just great for Microsoft. There are these other ones, you know, AWS, Google, but…Eric: Right. It does feel like Amazon's somewhat sleepy here. Do you have any view there?Reid: Well, I think they have begun to realize, what I've heard from the market is that they've begun to realize that they should have some stuff here. I don't think they've yet gotten fully underway. I think they are trying to train some large language models themselves. I don't know if they've even realized that there is a skill to training those large language models, cause like, you know, sometimes people say, well, you just turn on and you run the, run the large language model, the, the training regime that you read in the papers and then you make stuff.We've seen a lot of failures, of people trying to build these things and failing to do so, so, you know, there's, there's an expertise that you learn in doing it as well. And so I think—Eric: Sorry to interrupt—if Microsoft is around Open AI and Google is around Anthropic, is Amazon gonna be around stability? That's sort of the question that I'll put out to the world. I don't know if you have.Reid: I certainly don't know anything. And in the case of, you know, very, very, very, um, a politely said, um, Anthropic and OpenAI have scale with huge models. Stability is all small models, so, hmm.Eric: Yeah. Interesting. I, I don't think I've asked you sort of directly about sort of stepping off the Open AI board. I mean, I would assume you would prefer to be on the board or…?Reid: Yeah. Well, so look, it was a funny thing because, um, you know, I was getting more and more requests from various Greylock portfolio companies cause we've been investing in AI stuff for over five years. Like real AI, not just the, we call it “software AI”, but actual AI companies.For a while and I was getting more and more requests to do it and I was like oh, you know, what I did before was, well here's the channel. Like here is the guy who, the person who handles the API request goes, go talk to them. Like, why can't you help me? I was like, well, I'm on the board.I have a responsibility to not be doing that. And then I realized that, oh s**t, it's gonna look more and more. Um, I might have a real conflict of interest here, even as we’re really carefully navigating it and, and it was really important cause you know various forces are gonna kind of try to question the frankly, super deep integrity of Open AI.It's like, look, I, Sam, I think it might be best even though I remain a fan, an ally, um, to helping, I think it may be best for Open AI. And generally to step off a board to avoid a conflict of interest. And we talked about a bunch and said, okay, fine, we'll do it. And you know, I had dinner with Sam last night and most of what we were talking about was kind of the range of what's going on and what are the important things that open eyes need to solve? And how should we be interfacing with governments so that governments understand? What are the key things that, that, that should be in the mix? And what great future things for humanity are really important not to fumble in the, in the generally, like everyone going, oh, I'm worrying. And then I said, oh, I got a question for you. And he's like, yeah, okay. I’m like, now that I'm no longer on the board, could I ask you to personally look at unblocking, my portfolio company's thing to the API? Because I couldn't ever ask you that question before. Cause I would be unethical. But now I'm not on the board, so can I ask the question?He's like, sure, I'll look into it. I'm like, great, right? And that's the substance of it, which I never would've done before. But that wasn't why, I mean, obviously love Sam and the Open AI team.Eric: The fact that you're sort of a Democratic super donor was that in the calculus? Or, because I mean, we are seeing Republican… well, I didn't think that at all coming into this conversation, but just hearing what you're saying. Looking at it now, it feels like Republicans are like trying to find something to be angry about.Reid: WellEric: These AI things, I don't quite…Reid: The unfortunate thing about the, the most vociferous of the republican media ecosystem is they just invent fiction, like their hallucination full out.Eric: Right.Reid: I mean, it just like, I mean, the amount of just like, you know, 2020 election denial and all the rest, which you can tell from having their text released from Fox News that like, here are these people who are on camera going on where you have a question about, you know, what happened in the election.And they're texting each other going, oh my God, this is insane. This is a coup, you know, da da da. And you're like, okay. Anyway, so, so all like, they don't require truth to generate. Heat and friction. So that was, wasn't that no, no. It's just really, it's kind of the question of, when you're serving on a board, you have to understand what your mission is very deeply and, and to navigate it.And part of the 501(C)(3) boards is to say, look, obviously I contribute by being a board member and helping and navigate various circumstances and all the rest. And, you know, I can continue to be a counselor and an aid to the company not being on the board. And one of the things I think is gonna be very important for the next X years, for the entire world to know is that open AI takes its ethics super seriously,Eric: Right.Reid: As do I.Eric: Does that fit with having to invest? I mean, there are lots of companies that do great things. They have investors. I believe in companies probably more than personally I believe in charities to accomplish things. But the duality of OpenAI is extremely confusing. Like, was Greylock, did Greylock itself invest a lot or you invested early as an angel?Reid: I was the founding investor as an angel, as a, as a program related investment from my foundation. Because like I started, I was among the first people to make a philanthropic donation to Open AI. Just straight out, you know, here's a grant by Wednesday, then Sam and Crew came up with this idea for doing this commercial lp, and I said, look, I, I'll help and I have no idea if this will be an interesting economic investment.They didn't have a business plan, they didn't have a revenue plan, they didn't have a product plan. I brought it to Greylock. We talked about it and they said, look, we think this will be possibly a really interesting technology, but you know, part of our responsibility to our LPs, which you know, includes a whole bunch of universities and else we invest in businesses and there is no business plan.Eric: So is that the Khosla did? Khosla’s like we invested wild things. Anyway, we don't care. That's sort of what Vinod wants to project anyway, so yeah.Reid: You know, yes, that's exactly the same. So I put them 50 and then he put in a, I think he was the only venture fund investing in that round. But like, there was no business plan, there was no revenue model, there was no go to market…Eric: Well, Sam basically says, someday we're gonna have AGI and we're gonna ask you how to make a bunch of money? Like, is he, that's a joke, right? Or like, how much is he joking?Reid: It's definitely, it's not a 100% joke and it's not a 0% joke. It's a question around, the mission is really about how do we get to AGI or as close to AGI as useful and to make it useful for humanity. And by the way, the closer you get to AGI, the more interesting technologies fall out, including the ability to have the technology itself solve various problems.So if you said, we have a business model problem, it's like, well ask the thing. Now, if you currently sit down and ask, you know, ChatGPT what the business model is, you'll get something pretty vague and generic that wouldn't get you a meeting with a venture capitalist because it's like “we will have ad supported”... you're like, okay. Right.Eric: Don't you have a company that's trying to do pitch decks now or something?Reid: Oh yeah, Tome. No, and it's awesome, but by the way, that's the right kind of thing. Because, because what it does is you say, hey, give me a set of tiles, together with images and graphics and things arguing X and then you start working with the AI to improve it. Say, oh, I need a slide that does this and I need a catchier headline here, and, and you know, da da da.And then you, and you know, obviously you can edit it yourself and so on. So that's the kind of amplification. Now you don't say, give me my business model, right?Eric: You're like, I have this business model, like articulate it.Reid: Exactly.Eric: Um, I, politics, I mean, I feel like we, we live through such like a… you know what I mean, I feel like Silicon Valley, you know, has like, worked on PE everybody be able to, you know, everybody can get along. There's sort of competition, but then you sort of still stay close to any, everybody like, you, you especially like are good, you know, you you are in the PayPal mafia with a lot of people who are fairly very conservative now.The Trump years broke that in some ways and particular, and that, yeah. So how did you maintain those relationships?I see headlines that say you're friends with Peter Thiel. What is, what's the state of your friendship with Peter Thiel and how, how did it survive?I guess the Trump years is the question.Reid: Well, I think the thing that Peter and I learned when we were undergraduate at Stanford together is it's very important to… cause we, you know, I was a lefty. He was a righty. We'd argue a lot to maintain conversation and to argue things. It’s difficult to argue on things that feel existential and it’s ethically challenged is things around Trump. You know, the, you know, Trump feels to be a corrosive asset upon our democracy that is disfiguring us and staining us to the world. And so to have a dispassionate argument about it is, it's challenging. And it ends up with some uneven ground and statements like, I can't believe you're f*****g saying that, as part of dialogue.But on the other hand, you know, maintaining dialogue is I think part of how we make progress as society. And I basically sympathetic to people as long as they are legitimately and earnestly and committed to the dialogue and discussion of truth between them and committed otherwise.And so, you know, there are folks from the PayPal years that I don't really spend much time talking to, right?. There are others that I do because that conversation about discovering who we are and who we should be is really important. And you can't allow your own position to be the definer.It almost goes back to what we were talking about, the AI side, which is make sure you're talking to other smart people who challenge you to make sure you're doing the right thing. And that's, I think, a good general life principle.Eric: Well, you know, I feel like part of what my dream of like the Silicon Valley world is that we have these, you know, we have, Twitter is like the open forum. We're having sincere sort of on the level debates, but then you see something like, you know, the…Reid: You don't think it's the modern Seinfeld show I got? Well, not Seinfeld, um, Springer, Jerry Springer.Eric: Yeah, that's, yeah. Right. But I just feel like the sort of like, if the arguments are on the level issue is my problem with some of the sort of, I don't know, Peter Theil arguments, that he's not actually publicly advancing his beliefs in a sincere way, and that that's almost more corrosive.Reid: Oh, that's totally corrosive. And as much as that's happening, it's terrible. And that's one of the things that I, um, you know, in conversations I have, I push people including Peter on a lot.Eric: Yeah. Are you still, are you still gonna donate a lot, or what was, what's your, are you as animated about the Democratic party and working through sort of donor channels at the moment?Reid: Well, what I would say is I think that we have a responsibility to try to make, like with, it's kind of the Spider-Man ethics. With power comes responsibility, with wealth comes responsibility, and you have to try to help contribute to… what is the better society that we should be living and navigating in?And so I stay committed on that basis. And I do think there are some really amazing people in the administration. I think Biden is kind of a good everyday guy.Eric: Yeah.Reid: In fact, good for trying to build bridges in the country. I think there are people like Secretary Raimondo and Secretary Buttigieg who are thinking intensely about technology and what should be done in the future.And I think there's other folks now, I think there's a bunch of folks on the democratic side that I think are more concerned with their demagoguery than they are with the right thing in society. And so I tend to be, you know, unsympathetic to, um, you know…Eric: I know, Michael Moritz, it's Sequoia, that oped sort of criticizing San Francisco government, you know, and there's, there's certainly this sort of woke critique of the Democratic Party. I'm curious if there's a piece of it sort of outside of he governance that you're…Reid: Well, the interesting thing about woke is like, well, we're anti woke. And you're like, well, don't you think being awake is a good thing? I mean, it's kind of a funny thing. Eric: And sort of the ill-defined nature of woke is like key to the allegation because it's like, what's the substantive thing you're saying there? And you know, I mean we we're seeing Elon tweet about race right now, which is sort of terrifying anyway.Reid: Yeah. I think the question on this stuff is to try to say, look, people have a lot of different views and a lot of different things and some of those views are, are bad, especially in kind of minority and need to be advocated against in various… part of why we like democracy is to have discourse.I'm very concerned about the status of public discourse. And obviously most people tend to focus that around social media, which obviously has some legitimate things that we need to talk about. But on the other hand, they don't track like these, like opinion shows on, like, Fox News that represent themselves implicitly as news shows and saying, man, this is the following thing.Like there's election fraud in 2020, and then when they're sued for the various forms of deformation, they say, we're just an entertainment show. We don't do anything like news. So we have that within that we are already struggling on a variety of these issues within society. and we, I think we need to sort them all out.Eric: Is there anything on the AI front that we missed or that you wanted to make sure to talk about? I think we covered so much great ground. Reid: And, and we can do it again, right. You know, it's all, it's great.Eric: I love it. This was all the things you're interested in and I'm interested in, so great. I really enjoyed having you on the podcast and thanks.Reid: Likewise. And, you know, I follow the stuff you do and it's, it's, it's cool and keep doing it. Get full access to Newcomer at
3/7/202357 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork

Newcomer, the Podcast

I’m pleased to announce that I’m introducing a new podcast and starting a YouTube channel. I’m calling it “Newcomer” — like this newsletter. What can I say? It’s a good name.The show kicks off tomorrow with an interview with LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman. Hoffman just stepped off OpenAI’s board of directors. We talk about that decision, AI sentience, the PayPal mafia, cloud compute spending, Joe Biden’s presidency, and much more. I think you’ll enjoy the episode.For the new show, I’ve got interviews lined up with investor and former top Tesla and Lyft executive Jon McNeill and with Lightspeed Venture Partners founder and managing director Ravi Mhatre.I’m also going to publish some of the conversations from the Cerebral Valley AI Summit on the podcast feed and YouTube channel. In that vein, I’m happy to announce that Clem Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, and Amjad Masad, the CEO of Replit, are scheduled to sit down with me together at the Cerebral Valley AI Summit on March 30. (Founders and CEOs can still apply this week to attend the one-day conference in Hayes Valley. We’ve been overwhelmed with investor interest to attend.)Newcomer, the weekly podcast, will post on Tuesdays. I’ll send it to newsletter subscribers and publish it to Apple podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube. Email me with guest ideas. I’ll publish summaries of the episodes here in the newsletter. Over time, I might add bonus sections for paying Newcomer subscribers. With this podcast, I’m going solo, interviewing top investors and founders. I’m bringing my sensibility as someone who understands the inside-story of Silicon Valley but who is happy to poke and prod as to why the tech world operates like it does. I want to thank automated security and compliance platform Vanta for being the launch sponsor for the Newcomer podcast. You may remember Vanta CEO Christina Cacioppo from her appearance on the second episode of my old podcast Dead Cat. She’s been an early believer in my audio efforts! Excited to have Vanta on board. If you’re interested in sponsoring the podcast, reach out. For fans of my old podcast Dead Cat, give the new podcast a try. It will be arriving via the same podcast feed. The Newcomer podcast shouldn’t be so much a revolution as an evolution. Yes, my former co-host Tom Dotan is off skewering Marc Benioff for the Wall Street Journal. I’m on my own. It will give me more time to ask the hard questions and listen to the guests’ replies. I’m going to try to talk about the media less and the business of tech more. But it will be the same probing podcast that you’ve come to love. To get new episodes, subscribe to this newsletter, sign up to receive the podcast on Apple, and subscribe to the Newcomer YouTube channel. I’d definitely appreciate some positive reviews as I get this thing going. Like, comment, subscribe, and all that.See you in your feeds tomorrow! Get full access to Newcomer at
3/6/20231 minute, 44 seconds
Episode Artwork

A New Dimension (w/Nan Li, Adam Goulburn, and Zavain Dar)

I was the first to report that Nan Li, Adam Goulburn, and Zavain Dar were setting out to create a venture capital firm back in August 2022. So when the trio finally announced their $350 million life sciences and technology-focused venture firm, called Dimension, I had to have them on the podcast. I wanted to hear why Goulburn and Dar, general partners at Lux Capital, and Li, a general partner at Obvious Ventures, decided to embark on the long, hard trek of building their own firm.The three investors have become true believers about the rapid developments happening at the intersection of life sciences and software. Software engineers have made their way into the drug development process and the laboratory wet bench. Li describes having a realization, “Wow, this seemingly small area that we used to cover when we were coming up in the industry together is now reorganizing the entire industry. And we’re seeing signs of that everywhere.” He explained how the speed of lab experiments is opening the door for a bigger role for software in laboratory research.“Experiments are getting very high throughput. They’re very cheap to run. And labs are generating data streams that look kind of like internet platform companies. There are certain biotechs that we work with, that generate more data per day than Twitter does,” Li said on the podcast. “And that’s where data science and software must come in. It’s really out of necessity. The way a modern lab works today looks nothing like 20 years ago.”So, at probably the worst time to raise a new venture capital firm in recent memory, the trio set out to build a new one. On the podcast, Li, Goulburn, and Dar tell me how they did it. I ask them what technologies they are most optimistic about in the life sciences. And I pester them about whether healthy billionaires are getting vastly better healthcare than the rest of us — or are they just driving themselves crazy with tests?Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
2/1/202351 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork

Another Shoe to Drop (w/Jeremy Levine)

Bessemer Venture Partners’ Jeremy Levine is someone who keeps his head when others are losing theirs. He’s long been wary of tech exuberance while being a long-term optimist about the transformative power of technology. A board member at Pinterest and Shopify, Levine described his investing style to me for this week’s Dead Cat podcast: “I don’t like to go where all the cool kids are, where all the popular kids are. I like to kind of go off in the corner of the playground and find someone who’s doing something over there that’s really compelling that most people are prepared to dismiss or aren’t that excited about.”I wanted to have Levine on the podcast to explain the tech downturn. Levine has been investing at Bessemer for over two decades. I wondered, how does this moment compare to the dot-com bust and the Great Recession? On the podcast, Levine traces the ebbs and flows of tech euphoria while giving concrete math to the pain of down rounds. ‘The entire world smoked a giant joint and was high as a kite’He delivered quite the diatribe when I asked him to compare the present moment to the dot-com bust:When I joined the venture industry in 2001, I looked at these entrepreneurs who built businesses and these venture capitalists who funded them from ’96 to 2000 and I was jealous. Oh my lord, they generated enormous value and enormous wealth in such a short time. And I said to myself, the world is never going to get this crazy again. The entire world smoked a giant joint and was high as a kite, and what fun it would have been to be part of that, but I missed the party. But I thought, you know, it’s really rewarding and fun and challenging to find compelling entrepreneurs and invest in startups. So even though it’s never gonna get as good as it was in 2000 again, I’m going to try to make this my career because I think I’ll find it fun. And lo and behold, 20 years later, it happened again: Someone passed the joint around the party a second time, and no one remembered what happened the first time, and things got crazy. So in that sense, it’s really similar. Enormous wealth was created, enormous companies were created. But the difference is that when that party ended — at the end of 2021 — it wasn’t three or four companies left standing. It was dozens and dozens of strong public companies, and hundreds of really interesting private companies. Now, not every unicorn and not every company that raised a lot of money will be successful. But the industry is, I would say, two orders of magnitude larger than it was in 2000.He argued that he believed there was still “another shoe to drop” in this tech downturn. He said venture firms were reserving more money to make follow-on investments for their existing portfolio companies, giving them less dry powder with which to make new investments. “I think we’re in a little bit of that spiral,” Levine said.The Anti-PortfolioBack in July 2021, amidst the final heady months of the bull market, I profiled Bessemer and Levine in an in-depth story titled, The Anti-Portfolio. (Still worth a read if you missed it.) An undercurrent in the piece was that Bessemer had smartly invested early in some of the tech industry’s most popular public stocks like Shopify and Twilio but that the firm had sold down its positions before a massive run-up in their value on the public markets. Now, with Twilio down 70% and Shopify down 52% over the past 12 months, Bessemer’s decision to cash in its winners seems more rational. I asked Levine whether he felt vindicated.“We’ve made every mistake possible,” he told me. “But we’ve also gotten some things right. And so with the benefit of hindsight, we distributed our stock in Shopify way too early. And at the same time, we held onto some stocks in 2021 a bit too long. I think we’re not all that focused on getting that exactly right. Of course, we’re always trying to do better. But the real win, if you will, and the excitement and what motivates us is to invest in a company like Shopify or Auth0 when it’s really small and to nurture it and help that company become really big. And if you manage to top tick and exit your position … all the power to you. That’s just not that interesting of a game.”Give it a listenRead the automated transcriptP.S. If you want to weigh in as to whether I should rename the podcast, you can vote on Twitter or voice your opinion in the comments. Get full access to Newcomer at
1/24/20231 hour, 12 minutes, 29 seconds
Episode Artwork

'I Fell in Love With an Algorithm' (w/Cristóbal Valenzuela & Alexis Gay)

Generative artificial intelligence is sweeping the nation. People are turning themselves into animated characters, drafting their essays with ChatGPT, and illustrating with Stable Diffusion. Or, as was the case with the tiny special effects team on the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, they’re using it to help edit a movie.On the latest episode of Dead Cat, Cristóbal Valenzuela, the chief executive officer at generative artificial intelligence company Runway, talked about how he discovered that his AI-powered video editing software was used to help make the award winning film. When I wrote about generative AI burning white hot back in October, I talked to Valenzuela for that story and called him “among the most compelling founders that I’ve come across while reporting on artificial intelligence.” So I thought it would be fun to have him on the podcast and discuss some of the most pressing issues facing generative artificial intelligence. To help me interview Valenzuela, I invited Non-Technical podcast host and viral comedian Alexis Gay to guest host the episode. You’ll probably recognize her from some of her viral tech parody videos. (Listen to my guest appearance on Non-Technical if you want to learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about the man behind the newsletter.)On the podcast, Valenzuela predicts that “very soon,” in “a couple of years,” artificial intelligence software will be able to create the sort of TikTok videos that people flip through online. “We’re heading towards a world — where a lot of the content that you consume online will be generated [by artificial intelligence],” Valenzuela said.“There’s definitely an exponential progress rate that you can see and perceive more clearly now,” Valenzuela said. “What took years of progress is now taking months. And what used to take months is now taking weeks.”Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
1/17/202356 minutes, 13 seconds
Episode Artwork

Business Tea, the Creator Economy Downturn, Twitter Drama & TikTok's Chinese Influence (w/Taylor Lorenz)

I always enjoy talking with Taylor Lorenz, a deep thinker about the internet who infuriates certain pockets of tech Twitter. Last week, she published a look at the crypto social media accounts that broke news on the fall of FTX. She wrote about how accounts like Coffeezilla and AutismCapital have become media figures in their own right. She wrote for the Washington Post:All this coverage of the FTX implosion is the most prominent example of how “citizen journalism” is battling legacy publishers for online attention, catapulting a fresh class of independent journalists into the mainstream while also giving rise to a group of social media influencers who optimize for attention rather than accuracy.For years, drama channels and tea accounts — so called because the word “tea” is slang for juicy information — have been first to break news related to pop culture and influencers. Business news is late to undergo this trend.So in classic fashion, I broke one of my only New Year’s resolutions — to pay less attention to “the media” — and invited Lorenz on the Dead Cat podcast to talk about how these accounts are changing how information reaches the public.In my mind, our conversation was really about reputations — and how they’re built and maintained online. Later in the episode, we talk about how Twitter and rightwing media has shaped Lorenz’s own reputation online. Some of her critics might be surprised to hear her speak out against Instagram’s harsh content moderation policies.At the 27:30 mark, we shift gears and talk about the downturn in the creator economy. At 40:10, Lorenz and I debate whether we should be worried about Chinese influence over TikTok.Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
1/10/20231 hour, 18 seconds
Episode Artwork

All Eyes Are on Apple's Augmented Reality Device As the Hunt for a Revolutionary Consumer Startup Continues (w/Max Child & James Wilsterman)

Before the rise of crypto investing, venture capital careers seemed to be divided into two buckets: consumer and business-to-business. If the goal of venture capital investing is to pick winners, American consumer investors generally picked wrong. There just hasn’t been another Facebook. The biggest consumer startup of the moment is ByteDance, a Chinese company. While I’ve generally dedicated more time to writing about software investing since that’s where the money and exits have been, I’ve tried to chronicle consumer investing to the extent that it exists. I was the first to report BeReal’s seed and Series A funding round. I’ve scooped some of Discord’s valuation ascent. In December 2020, I wrote about investors’ effort to will a consumer renaissance into being. Sure, there weren’t any obvious new platforms but consumer investors weren’t going to let that get in their way.I invited my good friends Max Child and James Wilsterman onto the Dead Cat podcast. They’re the co-founders of voice games company Volley. The NFX, Y Combinator, and Lightspeed-backed startup — which they tell me is the largest voice game company — started off as a chatbot games company. So Child and Wilsterman know consumer trends. Chatbots once burned red hot before evaporating only to be revived with the rise of generative artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, few VCs have been bullish on voice as a platform.Child, Wilsterman, and I dig into the struggles of the QVC for startups trend. Popshop looks to be on the rocks and Whatnot may be peaking. We interrogate whether marketplaces were ever really a thing. And we wonder if AirPods as the next platform was really just a statement about Clubhouse. Then we look to 2023 and consider the pockets of hope for consumer investing: the rise of generative AI startups and the possibility that Apple announces an augmented reality device. And we ponder whether this crypto winter will ever thaw.Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
1/4/20231 hour, 14 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork

Does That Mean the Cat's Dead?

Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I became friends in San Francisco back in 2014 when we all worked as technology reporters at The Information. But we didn’t achieve that core pillar of modern friendship until August 2021 when we started a podcast together. Insider generously let Tom co-host the podcast with me — and Katie, a reporter at the New York Times, came on every few episodes as a regular special guest.A year and a half ago we kicked off the show with an interview of Rippling CEO Parker Conrad. Since then, publishing most Tuesdays, we’ve pumped out 69 episodes and have built up a loyal following of listeners for our niche tech media podcast. With our intense focus on how the media covers technology stories, we’ve become a must-listen for newsrooms, tech public relations shops, startup world movers and shakers, and tech industry onlookers. We’ve had a variety of guests on the show. We’ve featured venture capitalists, startup founders, political operatives, and security experts. In our most popular episode, we took a look at the media’s coverage of the rise and fall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with the old Uber CEO’s former top deputy, Emil Michael. Reporters, especially our reporter friends, have been a regular fixture of the show. We’ve talked with reporters like the New York Times’ Erin Griffith and Mike Isaac, the Wall Street Journal’s Deepa Seetharaman, Rolfe Winkler, and Kirsten Grind, Semafor’s Ben Smith and Reed Albergotti, Insider’s Aki Ito, Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz, and Puck’s Teddy Schleifer.Now the show — at least as we’ve come to know it — is coming to an end. Tom is taking a job at the Wall Street Journal and he’s stepping back from his co-hosting duties. Today’s episode is our last together. The episode is a fun look back at some of the themes that we’ve explored over the past year and a half. I’d encourage you to DM Tom on Twitter with your Microsoft story ideas and tips. Hopefully Tom will come back on the show as a guest and this memoriam will look overblown.This iteration of the Dead Cat show is going out on a high, apparently ranking number two among tech news shows at this moment.Going forward, I plan to continue podcasting and would love to get your input on the future of the show. I might keep the name “Dead Cat,” or I might not. I’m rather fond of it. (By the way, I explain the origins of the show’s name here.)Leave a comment or send me an email with your thoughts on what the future of the podcast should be. I’m open to suggestions for co-hosts, interview subjects, topics, show names, etc. As I talk about on this week’s episode, I’m inclined to align the show more closely with Newcomer newsletter content, meaning going forward it will probably be more focused on the business of technology and less about how it’s covered. In January, I hope to experiment with different formats and see what works. I think the podcast will continue to be free, meant to draw people into the newsletter and to attract a broader audience. I might pause the show in February for a relaunch or might decide that I can keep my stride. We’ll see!Anyway, this was a really enjoyable last episode to record. I hope you’ll give it a listen and help us wish Tom farewell.Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
12/27/20221 hour, 13 minutes, 37 seconds
Episode Artwork

'This Monolithic Other That Is Acting in Some Dark Confederacy Against What Is True and Good in the World' (w/Antonio García Martínez)

On last week’s Dead Cat episode with ex-Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, we spent a lot of time trying to steel man the free speech moderation crowd’s argument — even though none of us seemed to hold it ourselves. The other week, we had Jason Calacanis on the show but he didn’t want to talk about Elon Musk. This week, finally we have someone on the podcast who is a defender of the so-called free speech regime and is also willing to talk to skeptical journalists about it on air. Antonio García Martínez, the author of Chaos Monkeys and startup CEO, came on the show. On his Substack The Pull Request, he defended the free speech argument in April — before Musk acquired Twitter. (I’ve written that no one, Musk included, was plausibly going to govern social media under a free speech standard so invoking free speech is a pure marketing ploy. I think that position has been vindicated by Musk’s recent actions.) More broadly, García Martínez, or AGM as he is widely known, is someone who has pushed back against the tech media and leftwing employees. With Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan, we set out to make sense of the culture war between tech “builders” and reporters. Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
12/20/20221 hour, 17 minutes
Episode Artwork

The Musk Bubble in Tech Is Going to Pop (w/Alex Stamos)

This past Thursday Elon Musk accused Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer and the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, of running a “propaganda platform.” That’s the sort of upside down thinking we’ve come to expect from Musk, given Stamos is one of the most fair-minded and serious thinkers about content moderation and social media platforms today. So, on Friday, we had Stamos on the Dead Cat podcast to talk about Musk’s choreographed leaks about the old guard at Twitter.Last time Stamos came on the Dead Cat podcast, he explained why the media had underplayed its own culpability in enabling Russian disinformation while playing up Facebook’s failures. This time, Stamos helped Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan and I do our best to steel man Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss’s purported exposés on Jack Dorsey’s Twitter, though none of us were particularly impressed by the seriousness of their reporting. Taibbi documented Twitter’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop story. And Weiss reported on Twitter’s decision to ban Trump after the January 6 insurrection attempt. (Since we recorded on Friday, the gang has continued to pump out new iterations of the Twitter Files.)Stamos argued that the real essence of the critique that emerged from Taibbi’s reporting was the reality that governments across the world are actively trying to shape social media companies’ content moderation decisions.“Government interference on platforms is a real deal,” Stamos said.However, Taibbi didn’t show that in his tweetstorm. Joe Biden wasn’t in office, let alone the White House, when Twitter decided to briefly censor the New York Post’s story about the Hunter Biden laptop. “Musk giving very selective data to a couple of very politically biased journalists is not the kind of transparency we would need if we wanted to be confident that there was no interference on this platform by government,” Stamos said. “The kernel of truth is that every government on the planet, including ours in the United States of America, is trying to manipulate Twitter and all of the other major platforms. And so I proposed — here are things you can do if you’re Musk: You can have an open database of moderation decisions,” Stamos said. “You can commit to releasing — instead of just releasing emails from the Biden team, the DNC, not government actors — you could release all communications from all government actors globally. So the Modi campaign, the Indian government. I think it’s really important for somebody whose net worth is tied up in China, like Musk. Communications with the Chinese Communist Party is the kind of thing that if you really cared about this, you could release. But Musk apparently doesn’t like that idea.”On the podcast, we talked about Musk’s extreme exposure to China and Musk’s unwillingness to criticize the Chinese government. (Even as Musk has been vocally critical of the United States’ response to the pandemic, he hasn’t said anything about China’s far more restrictive Covid lockdowns.)“Tesla has a massive giga factory in Shanghai from which they will be producing cars to be shipped around the world,” Stamos said. “China is already 25% of the revenue. Clearly, if you look at discounted cash flows for the future, China’s going to be more than 50% of their stock price. And so yes, the [People’s Republic of China] has huge leverage over him. It’s like if Mark Zuckerberg, instead of having all his money in Facebook stock, his money was in a Chinese pharmaceutical company.”Ultimately, Stamos predicted that the Musk fever in Silicon Valley would break. But for the time being, he said, Musk was playing the same role that Trump did at many Thanksgivings across America — dividing friends and families.“I’m putting down a marker now. The Musk bubble in tech is going to pop,” Stamos told us. “Right now, it has become trendy to be seen as counterculture to be seen on Team Musk. And there’s a bunch of people who I used to work with, people who I’ve interacted with socially, who are smart, serious people who are now kind of waving the Musk flag. And just like with Trump. Just like with FTX. That bubble is going to pop. And you’re going to see all these people all of a sudden try to rewrite history.”Stamos argued that Musk is unraveling before our very eyes. Tesla’s stock is down 60% this year while most of the media attention has been focused on Twitter.“Musk is accelerating his breakdown here,” Stamos said. “If you end up with Twitter going out of business. Him having to give up Twitter to the bondholders or the debt holders. If you see him having to step down as CEO of Tesla. If you see some kind of massive moment — or you know, if there’s a horrible violent act that happens publicly. If there is, God forbid, something of the level of a Christchurch shooting or something that gets attached back to Musk’s moderation decisions — all of a sudden all these people who thought it was real cool to be on Team Musk are going to reverse themselves. And so I hope people are taking screenshots because it’s just a very scary. There’s a scary impulse in the Valley right now.”Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
12/14/20221 hour, 12 minutes, 18 seconds
Episode Artwork

Hollywood As Told By the Former NBC Entertainment Chairman (w/Paul Telegdy)

Former NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy once lorded over Hollywood as a titan of television as the industry around him was crumbling. The Netflix menace was on the rise and Hollywood media companies were struggling to respond. Telegdy was trying to hold it together while running an increasingly imperiled broadcast network. Before he was pushed out of NBC in 2020 amidst a nation-wide fever of recriminations, exposés, and public firings, Telegdy oversaw some of the world’s most successful reality television programming, including The Voice, American Ninja Warrior, and while at BBC Worldwide Dancing with the Stars. He also had the pleasure of overseeing Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Telegdy regularly fielded calls from the future president. Trump always wanted to brag to Telegdy about the show’s ratings success, Telegdy told us. By the late 2010s, streaming had upended the television business, dislodging NBC from its prized perch and creating new media titans like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Apple. Disney proved most successful at answering the streaming industry’s money-burning onslaught — only for investors to suddenly change their tune this year and insist on profits rather than growth.We invited Telegdy — who Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan got to know covering Hollywood — on the show to talk about the state of Hollywood today. We start off the episode discussing Telegdy’s rise from his perch at the BBC and then his ascent to the top rungs of Hollywood at NBC. We talk about how the era of Hollywood “Jeffs” gave way to the reign of “Bobs.” Telegdy dissects Bob Chapek’s short tenure as the chief executive officer of Disney before his old boss Bob Iger returned to the role. Finally, we ask Telegdy about The Hollywood Reporter article that helped tank his job at NBC. The Hollywood Reporter accused Telegedy of “racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior.” The story’s headline read, “NBC Insiders Say Entertainment Boss Fostered Toxic Culture, Under Investigation.” He was ousted from NBC in a reorganization as the company investigated the allegations.We wanted to know what was it like being on the other side of a media exposé.We reached out to NBC and the reporters at the Hollywood Reporter for comment. NBC declined to comment and the reporters did not reply.In 2021, eager to make a quick comeback, Telegdy co-founded the entertainment company The Whole Spiel with his cousin. Telegdy has prodigious knowledge about the entertainment business and a sharp British sensibility, just the kind that might get someone in trouble with American office politics under a microscope. Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
12/6/20221 hour, 11 minutes, 17 seconds
Episode Artwork

Going All-In on the Tech/Media War (w/Jason Calacanis)

There’s no one more perfectly situated between the tech media and the tech elites who loathe them.Jason Calacanis built his reputation in Silicon Valley as a feisty tech reporter, waiting in line to ask Steve Jobs questions at the Code Conference. An extremely early investment in Uber suddenly made him one of the most famous angel investors in the world (thanks also to Calacanis’s self-promotional megaphone). Today, Calacanis co-hosts All-In, the second-most popular tech podcast and one of the most popular podcasts in the world. The show is a must-listen in Silicon Valley and the envy of many wannabe thought leaders.We invited Calacanis on our much, much smaller tech podcast Dead Cat to interrogate what has made All-In so successful and where Silicon Valley’s roiling war with the media is headed. Calacanis, who is reportedly part of Elon Musk’s war room at Twitter, warned us that he absolutely would not talk about Musk’s Twitter. (We tried.)This was a fun episode that we recorded right before Thanksgiving with co-host Tom Dotan and regular special guest Katie Benner. I’m going to publish a companion article with my reflections on the conversation shortly. Enjoy! Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
11/30/20221 hour, 16 seconds
Episode Artwork

Taylor Swift Tickets, FTX & Twitter

If you’ve resolved that this Thanksgiving you won’t yield the conversation about tech entirely to your NFT-happy, crypto-pushing younger cousin, this is your moment to refresh yourself on the latest from the FTX saga. Give Dead Cat a listen. We catch you up on former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s latest messages with a reporter and on Elon Musk’s crusade to reform Twitter.In this hosts-only episode, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I mourn my inability to get tickets to see Taylor Swift and we come up with some better strategies for making sure tickets only get in the hands of the Swifties with truest of hearts.Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/22/202256 minutes, 42 seconds
Episode Artwork

SBF in Shambles (w/Teddy Schleifer)

On the latest episode of Dead Cat, we examine how effective altruism’s crypto benefactor took the world — and the media and the Democratic Party, in particular — for a ride. Sam Bankman-Fried escaped much of the skepticism that rival exchange Binance has faced — yet it’s SBF’s FTX that has filed for bankruptcy.With the help of Puck reporter Teddy Schleifer, Dead Cat co-hosts Tom Dotan and I try to make sense of what exactly happened and explain the saga to the non-cryptographically inclined. Schleifer tells us what the midterm elections will mean for tech and Peter Thiel. Dotan confesses his deficiencies as a political forecaster.On this week’s episode of the podcast, I’m pretty open that I think the media had a blindspot for Bankman-Fried because of his effective altruism, pedigree, crypto skepticism, and Democratic politics. Yesterday, Stratechery quoted my tweets declaring as much. I assume my tweets caught the newsletter’s attention because I was willing to say something that most reporters won’t really admit publicly.I agree with the subtext of Marc Andreessen’s latest tweets. Bankman-Fried’s performative virtue now appears to have been an obvious cover for his private transgressions. And the left was more susceptible to Bankman-Fried because it shares many of his professed values.But I tweeted last Tuesday and recorded the podcast on Friday — and already the narrative is moving so fast. Republicans are clearly starting to spin up the Bankman-Fried criticism as an anti-Democratic talking point. I think it’s ridiculous to expect that the federal government should have suspected anything in particular was amiss at FTX relative to the other exchanges, when the company’s own investors didn’t seem to know anything was going on. Yes, I think that the Securities and Exchange Commission should have been more aggressive about regulating crypto broadly and not just waited for things to come undone on their own. But I don’t think Republicans were exactly cheering them on there. And while the media could have been more skeptical, you can’t expect reporters to ferret out every scandal (though CoinDesk certainly played a role in bringing FTX down). Ultimately, the company and major shareholders are responsible for the company’s behavior.So while I think that the mainstream media would have been more skeptical of Bankman-Fried if not for his persona and politics, I don’t think it was a corrupt or conscious act. Here’s a case where the left is guilty of the sort of implicit bias that it’s always talking about. It’s too easy to overlook someone’s shortcomings when he wraps himself in the very things that you believe in.Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/15/202254 minutes, 28 seconds
Episode Artwork

The End of Quiet Quitting (w/Aki Ito)

While I was in Lisbon for Web Summit, Dead Cat co-hosts Tom Dotan and Katie Benner kept the podcast going without me. They brought on my old colleague Aki Ito, who is now a reporter at Insider, to talk about her reporting on coasting culture, which helped to spark the global discussion of “quiet quitting.”The trio discuss how a recession will yet again change society’s relationship with work.You can read Ito’s stories here:* How hustle culture got America addicted to work* 'My company is not my family': Fed up with long hours, many employees have quietly decided to take it easy at work rather than quit their jobs* Everyone's talking about “quiet quitting.” Here's what it means — and how the term got its start.And here’s her latest on how the trend is reversing: RIP, quiet quitting — layoff fears have workers back to the grindShe writes,One of the first documented cases of quiet quitting was a recruiter I'll call Justin. Deep into the coronavirus pandemic, after working 10- to 12-hour days for much of his career, Justin had decided to dial it back on the job. When I spoke with him in February, he had whittled his workweek down to 40 hours. In the ensuing months, he went even further, working as little as 30. Every week he worked a little bit less, freeing him up to spend more time with his wife and their newborn baby.It was Justin, in fact, who helped spark the national debate that's been raging over quiet quitting. After speaking with him and other recovering overachievers, I wrote about how hustle culture, thanks to the job security granted by the roaring economy, was giving way to coasting culture. When a popular career coach on TikTok riffed on my story, the phrase "quiet quitting" became something of a new cultural dividing line. You either loved the Justins of the world for striking a reasonable work-life balance, or condemned them as slackers and cheats.But by the time the US was furiously debating his new approach to work, Justin was already shifting gears. Over the summer, as the economy began to slow, he noticed his clients were scaling back their hiring plans. Performance reviews seemed to be getting tougher. Some of his colleagues were let go. "It made me nervous," he told me. "It hit me that I'm the only one who works in my family." So he decided to "play it a little more safe." Today Justin, the OG Quiet Quitter, is back to going above and beyond. He's working 50 hours a week.Give it a listen Get full access to Newcomer at
11/8/202255 minutes, 37 seconds
Episode Artwork

Blue Checks & Semi-Fascism (w/Tim Miller)

This week, we invited Tim Miller — the repentant former Republican operative and author of Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell — on the Dead Cat podcast to talk about Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and the upcoming midterm elections. Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan and I talk with Miller about Peter Thiel-backed Senate candidates J.D. Vance and Blake Masters. (FiveThirtyEight gives Vance a 78% chance of winning and Masters a 33% chance.)We discuss the populist future of the Republican Party and mourn the languishing low-taxes-at-any-cost wing of the Republican Party. Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
11/1/20221 hour, 4 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork

Roko's Basilisk (w/Nathan Benaich)

Nathan Benaich, the lone general partner at Air Street Capital, has long been on my radar as an artificial intelligence obsessive. And so now that the artificial intelligence is suddenly the fixation of the venture capital world, I invited Benaich on the Dead Cat podcast to talk about generative artificial intelligence. With my co-hosts, Tom Dotan and Katie Benner, we talked about the promise of generative AI and the ethics of a machines borrowing from the vast depths of human creativity. I pay homage to the AI overlords, cheering for the triumph of generalized artificial intelligence while Benaich warns us that the conversation about generalized artificial intelligence is a bit of a distraction.Benaich is the co-author of the State of AI Report that came out this month. It’s worth a read. At the 42:40 mark, Nathan departs and Katie, Tom, and I change topics dramatically. Tom reads from the former Mailchimp CEO’s email to the email marketing company discouraging employees from stating their pronouns at the beginning of a meeting.The article in Platformer, which first published the email, carries the headline, Did this email cost Mailchimp's billionaire CEO his job?Here’s an excerpt of Mailchimp’s then CEO Ben Chestnut’s message to the company: I am noticing that whenever new employees introduce themselves in Zoom before asking their question, they’re also announcing their pronouns. This is completely unnecessary when a woman (who is clearly a woman) to tell us that her pronouns are “she/her” and a man (who is clearly a man) to tell us that his pronouns are “he/him.”Tom, Katie, and I weigh in on the conversation around pronouns in the workplace, heavy-handed HR policies, and embarrassing CEO emails. Give it a listenRead the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
10/25/20221 hour, 14 minutes, 5 seconds
Episode Artwork

VC Twitter Ghostwriters (w/Logan Bartlett)

Insider’s anonymous first-person account of a ghostwriter for venture capitalists’ tweets captivated tech Twitter last week. Everyone wanted to know who exactly was paying $100,000 for a tweetstorm.How could anyone make $200,000 writing thought leadership. Why would anyone pay for that?So on this week’s episode of Dead Cat, hosts Eric Newcomer and Tom Dotan talked with Redpoint Ventures managing director Logan Bartlett who is a bit of a VC Twitter expert. Last November, Eric wrote about Bartlett's analysis of VC media output in a piece called A Twitter Troll’s Take on the Future of Investing.Since then, Redpoint hired a TikTok creator to help bolster the firm’s brand and Bartlett launched a podcast called Cartoon Avatars.On this week’s episode of Dead Cat, Bartlett insists he’s writing his own tweets, but he explains why VCs are so interested in building a Twitter following. Also Bartlett cast doubt on whether there’s a real market for people ghostwriting tweets for VCs.Later in the episode, we spitballed a ranking of some of the most important accounts on VC Twitter.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/18/20221 hour, 1 minute, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork

Cult of the Dead Cat (w/Joseph Menn)

In November 2017, with Dara Khosrowshahi a few months into his job as Uber CEO, the ride-hailing company came to me with some explosive information: The company claimed that during Travis Kalanick’s time as CEO, Uber had covered up a massive data breach. Hackers had downloaded sensitive information about Uber’s riders and drivers, and the company’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, had kept it under wraps by paying the hackers $100,000. Uber fired Sullivan and one of the company’s lawyers. I published the exclusive story with the headline, Uber Paid Hackers to Delete Stolen Data on 57 Million People.Cyber security reporters have — for years — raised questions about the Khosrowshahi regime’s story. Sullivan tried to frame the $100,000 payout as part of the company’s white hat bug bounty program. And Sullivan’s defenders argued that Kalanick era Uber’s effort to conceal the payout — at a time when it was under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission over a prior data breach — looks even less anomalous today in a world where companies pay ransoms to hackers all the time. So I’ve watched the case closely over the years to see whether I’d been had. Had Khosrowshahi and crew whipped up a fake scandal? (I never quite understood why they would need to — Kalanick era Uber already had so many.)Over the years, the legal system has consistently validated Khosrowshahi era Uber’s account. * In 2018, Uber reached a $148 million settlement with 50 states and the District of Columbia over its handling of the data breach. * In 2019, two men pleaded guilty to the Uber hack. * In 2020, the Justice Department indicted Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor, for his handling of the hack. * Finally, last week a jury found Sullivan guilty of both counts that prosecutors brought against him. (Those charges were obstruction of the Federal Trade Commission and misprision of a felony.) Still, parts of the cyber security world defended Sullivan’s actions.Joseph Menn, the well-respected cyber security reporter for the Washington Post and author of Cult of the Dead Cow, recently quoted security experts raising concerns about the potential ramifications of the guilty verdict.Menn wrote,Most security professionals had been anticipating Sullivan’s acquittal, noting that he had kept the CEO and others who were not charged informed of what was happening.“Personal liability for corporate decisions with executive stakeholder input is a new territory that’s somewhat uncharted for security executives,” said Dave Shackleford, owner of Voodoo Security. “I fear it will lead to a lack of interest in our field, and increased skepticism about infosec overall.”John Johnson, a “virtual” chief information security officer for multiple companies, agreed. “Your company leadership could make choices that can have very personal repercussions to you and your lifestyle,” he said. “Not saying everything Joe did was right or perfect, but we can’t bury our head and say it will never happen to us.”So Tom Dotan and I invited Menn onto the Dead Cat podcast to get his perspective on Sullivan’s conviction. We also asked Menn about crypto currency hacks, Cult of the Dead Cow, and Twitter’s whistleblower. Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/12/202256 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork

I’d Jump on a Grande for You (w/Erin Griffith)

The Twitter / Elon saga entered a new phase today. Elon Musk reversed course and agreed to buy Twitter at the previously agreed upon $44 billion. But we’re still thinking about Musk’s text messages that came out as part of discovery in the Delaware court case.On the latest episode of Dead Cat, we reveled in the many bizarre and often sycophantic texts that emerged during discovery. Tom Dotan and Eric Newcomer, along with recurring guest New York Times reporter Erin Griffith, give a close reading to the private messages of the Silicon Valley glitterati.We dish on texts from All-In hosts Jason Calacanis and David Sacks, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, and Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff. Would Emil Michael or Bill Gurley make for a better Twitter CEO?Fellow Substacker Alex Kantrowitz did a great job compiling some of the greatest hits. So you can read along.We mourn our shattered reality that Musk’s texts aren’t full of Grade A genius ideas for reforming Twitter.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/4/202256 minutes, 49 seconds
Episode Artwork

Take a Scooter to Your Local Court House

On this week’s Dead Cat, co-host Tom Dotan and Eric Newcomer talk about the sputtering scooter industry. Starting at 36:00 we hear Tom tells us about his jury summons. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/28/20221 hour, 29 seconds
Episode Artwork

Dream of Semafornication (w/Reed Albergotti)

This week on Dead Cat, Reed Albergotti — the technology editor for the soon-to-be launched media startup founded by Ben Smith and Justin Smith — joined the show to talk about the Biden administration’s executive orders shaping how the U.S. does business with China.Albergotti reported earlier this month that the Biden administration is looking to crack down on American investors cutting checks in China. He wrote for Semafor:Administration officials were particularly alarmed this March by a report in The Information that the Chinese arm of the Silicon Valley venture firm Sequoia Capital has begun raising a new, $8 billion fund for investments in Chinese technology, according to people close to the administration. A Sequoia spokeswoman declined to comment.…The details of the order could still change, but the administration has considered at least two ways of dealing with U.S. investments in China. One approach would be to require disclosures for any investments in semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and potentially other industries like rare earth minerals and electric cars. The other would be to set up a system that would give the government the ability to block investments outright, in the way that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States can block inbound investments from China and other countries.A third option being discussed by those involved is to do both. Biden could require disclosure and then, if something problematic arises, take further action to block it. That option is more appealing to U.S. companies and could be just as effective.Relatedly, the New York Times reported on another executive order that would expand the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to block Chinese investments in the United States. The Times reported that the executive order “directs the committee to consider whether a pending deal involves the purchase of a business with access to Americans’ sensitive data, and whether a foreign company or government could exploit that information.”Albergotti helped make sense of the Biden administration’s various executive orders — both planned and announced. Albergotti, with co-hosts Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and Eric Newcomer, speculated about whether a TikTok ban was forthcoming and reflected on Senator Josh Hawley’s TikTok grandstanding.In the latter half of the episode, we turned our attention to Patagonia owner Yvon Chouinard’s donation of the outdoor clothing retailer. We discussed the New York Times’ glowing coverage of Chouinard’s donation.Or was the media being unnecessarily dour? Was the media being too skeptical by declaring that Chouinard had avoided $700 million in taxes by giving his company away and by comparing him to the shadowy donor Barre Seid, who donated his device manufacturing company to support conservative causes?Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript Get full access to Newcomer at
9/21/20221 hour, 10 minutes, 13 seconds
Episode Artwork

What Would Steve Do? (w/Kara Swisher)

Dead Cat host Eric Newcomer already said his piece about Kara Swisher’s epic final Code Conference. Now you can hear directly from Swisher about what she thought. On this week’s Dead Cat podcast, Tom Dotan and Newcomer catch up with Swisher fresh off her final Code Conference. Together, we puzzle over Amazon chief Andy Jassy’s deference to his old boss and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai’s tough time denying that he wanted to buy Pinterest. We talked about Bob Iger’s charm and Swisher’s affection for Mark Cuban.We dug into Swisher’s interview strategy. We asked her whether her media publication Recode has been a success. Were they aggressive enough ahead of #MeToo? And what’s next for Swisher? Will Pivot replace Code?And we quiz Swisher on some of her favorite Code interviews. Why did she tell Mark Zuckerberg to take off his sweatshirt? How did Steve Jobs keep Bill Gates on his toes?Then we end the episode with a discussion of her final Code main stage panel — Tim Cook, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Jony Ive. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/14/20221 hour, 7 minutes, 17 seconds
Episode Artwork

Like, Comment, Subscribe (w/Mark Bergen)

Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen is the world’s top Google Kremlinologist, chronicling the rise and fall of technocrats and technologies inside Google parent company Alphabet.This week, Bergen published a book on Google subsidiary YouTube called Like, Comment, Subscribe: Inside YouTube’s Chaotic Rise to World Domination.That Bergen decided to set his sights on YouTube, Google’s massive user-generated video site, reflects YouTube’s significance inside of parent company Alphabet. The video platform is shaping culture worldwide without receiving Facebook-level scrutiny.Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan and I talked with Bergen on this week’s Dead Cat about his new book and YouTube’s ascendancy. We asked: * Why does YouTube's early legal battle with Viacom explain how YouTube evolved? * What does it mean that YouTube star PewDiePiew has been displaced by a ubiquitous Mr. Beast?* Why has YouTube been so weak willed about punishing the worst actors on its platform?Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/7/20221 hour, 2 minutes, 1 second
Episode Artwork

Extremely Online (w/ Taylor Lorenz)

Taylor Lorenz, a columnist at the Washington Post, has helped to popularize “cheugy,” “OK Boomer,” and, most recently, “nimcels.”She wrote about “niche internet micro celebrities,” or nimcels:While influencers use their online followings to make money, “for a niche internet micro celebrity, the goal is purely to entertain, versus an influencer,” said Da. “I think this term emerged to distinguish people doing a similar thing to influencers, but for completely different motivations. Being a niche internet micro celebrity feels less capitalist, less ‘I’m a brand.’ ”On this week’s Dead Cat, we used Lorenz’s latest story as a jumping off point to talk about the evolution of the terms “creators” and “influencers,” the rise of podcasting, and Lorenz’s various Twitter scrapes. Lorenz is a language obsessive and is writing a book called Extremely Online. She doesn’t like the name for the beat most people associate her with — internet culture reporter — since she doesn’t see a sharp line separating the real world and digital life. We covered a lot of ground in this week’s episode. We talked about Lorenz’s recent tweet dismissing Dimes Square and her online beef with Marc Andreessen. “All these billionaires are so fragile,” Lorenz told us.“I love debating tech. I love it,” Lorenz said. “Andreessen had me on their podcast twice and didn’t release either of the episodes.”We also discussed Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan’s latest story on YouTube’s accidental podcast ascendancy. He wrote over the weekend:Two recent surveys, one by Cumulus Media and one by Voices, showed that YouTube was the most frequently used podcasting platform, edging out Spotify and Apple's podcasting apps.…Last year the entire podcasting industry made $1.4 billion in ad revenue and is set to surpass $2 billion this year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. It’s a quickly growing industry but still a drop in the bucket compared to the $29 billion that YouTube made in ad revenue in 2021, or the $209 billion that Google ads made.So befitting the provincial, self-referential nature of the podcast industry — we talked about a tiny industry, on an insider-y podcast, with a guest who herself says she’s looking to get into the podcast game.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/30/20221 hour, 2 minutes, 4 seconds
Episode Artwork

Dogfood Your Ideals (w/Ellen Huet)

Will Marc Andreessen dogfood Adam Neumann’s new real estate startup? Will Andreessen be willing to run the same playbook for Flow, Neumann’s new rental real estate company? When is the last time, Andreessen — who called “renting a soulless experience” — actually lived in a rental? Is he willing to give up his $177 million Malibu compound for the shared amenities of a Flow? Andreessen doesn’t seem willing to embrace urban density in Atherton — he and his wife wrote a letter expressing their “IMMENSE objection to the creation of multifamily overlay zones in Atherton.” On this week’s Dead Cat, co-host Tom Dotan observed that much of Silicon Valley’s upper crust seems unwilling to put their values into action when it comes to residential real estate: “They’re not going to dogfood it, right? They’re not going to be using their own products in order to fix this larger issue.”Co-host Eric Newcomer replied, “The whole tech philosophy is dogfood your product — suffer through your terrible tech product that you’re trying to force on the world, and they won’t even dogfood the world that they want, which is a dense urban life.”Eric's former open office neighbor at Bloomberg, Ellen Huet, came on Dead Cat to talk about Neumann’s new company and Andreessen’s nimbyism. Huet wrote about WeWork for Bloomberg, hosted a podcast about Neumann, chronicled housing opposition in Atherton, and now is writing a book about an alleged sex cult called “OneTaste.” She also spent many years living in an intentional living community in San Francisco. So you can fairly say that she has stared deeply into Neumann’s soul.We start off the episode talking about the Andreessens’ opposition to new housing in Atherton. Then about halfway through, we get into Flow. Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/23/20221 hour, 3 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork

Unreal BeReals

This week on Dead Cat, hosts Tom Dotan and Eric Newcomer dive into social media wedding bans. The evolution of authenticity on BeReal. The state of TikTok. Media self-absorption. Dimes Square. Andrew Tate. Then we delve into Sam Bankman-Fried’s case against the startup world — what he calls “the financial circle-jerk.” Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/17/202251 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork

Do You Trust Amazon With Your Medical Records?

Amazon proved that it’s willing to enter any market with its 2017 announcement that it would buy Whole Foods for $13.4 billion. What other tech giant would buy a grocery store?Now Amazon is moving into — robotic vacuums? Amazon said it wanted to buy Roomba-maker iRobot for $1.7 billion. The acquisition raised all sorts of questions about what exactly Amazon wants from the suctioning rover manufacturer. Is the company trying to make a map of your house?Paranoia about Amazon’s data hoovering went into overdrive when Amazon announced that it intends to buy a virtual doctor’s office. Amazon said it would purchase telemedicine-powered doctor’s office One Medical for nearly $4 billion. (That acquisition comes after Amazon purchased pharmacy company PillPack in 2018 for $753 million.) My former boss Brad Stone smartly argued yesterday that the acquisitions are part of Amazon Chief Andy Jassy’s effort to build a “fourth pillar” for the company that moves it beyond Amazon Web Services, Prime, and Amazon Marketplace.He wrote:The deals are also emblematic of Jassy’s hunt for a so-called fourth “pillar,” beyond AWS, Prime and the Amazon Marketplace. Jeff Bezos described the features of such a business in his shareholder letter in 2014: “Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time—with the potential to endure for decades.” Eight years later, Amazon’s pursuit of this coveted fourth leg of the stool has been largely fruitless. Video has been an important part of Prime but is free for members and generates a nebulous return on capital. Advertising spews cash for Amazon ($8.76 billion in the last quarter alone) but is tolerated, not embraced, by customers.The deal raises questions, not just about Amazon’s strategy, but about how big we want these tech giants to get. Stone described the acquisitions as reflecting “an almost breathtaking disregard for the trustbusters.”On Dead Cat, the tech podcast I co-host, this week we grapple with whether we’re comfortable with Amazon’s size, especially as the e-commerce giant saunters into our medical lives. Katie Benner and I are both One Medical customers — patients you might call us — so on the latest episode we debate whether we would cancel our subscriptions once One Medical is officially under new ownership. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/9/202253 minutes, 12 seconds
Episode Artwork

Freeloaders, Fat cats & Ne'er-do-wells (w/Alex Heath)

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri has been playing defense as Instagram’s product goes on offense. Mosseri released a video explaining recent changes to Instagram and defended Instagram’s pivot from a friend-oriented, social graph-sorted photo sharing app to a creator-driven, AI-powered content machine.Meanwhile, the broader Meta employee base has been feeling the pain. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is bringing down the hammer, signaling that the company is trying to manage out weak performers. The company has started a campaign against coasters.But Meta employees are passing around memes suggesting that Zuckerberg is the coaster-in-chief.I talked with Verge reporter and social media savant Alex Heath about the turmoil at Facebook on the latest episode of Dead Cat, along with co-hosts Tom Dotan and Katie Benner.Heath recently recounted a contentious vignette inside a recent Meta all-hands:“Hi there,” the first prerecorded employee question started. “I’m Gary, and I’m located in Chicago.” His question: would Meta Days — extra days off introduced during the pandemic — continue in 2023?Zuckerberg appeared visibly frustrated. “Um… all right,” he stammered. He’d just explained that he thought the economy was headed for one of the “worst downturns that we’ve seen in recent history.” He’d already frozen hiring in many areas. TikTok was eating their lunch, and it would take over a year and a half before they had “line of sight” to overtaking it.And Gary from Chicago was asking about extra vacation days?“Given my tone in the rest of the Q&A, you can probably imagine what my reaction to this is,” Zuckerberg said. After this year, Meta Days were canceled.We talk about employee unrest at Meta, Instagram’s strategy shift, the state of the metaverse, and Snap’s oscillating stock price on the episode. At the end of the lively episode, the conversation devolved into an argument about antitrust. We end the podcast a bit abruptly in order to avoid recording Tom’s son dashing into the room. Enjoy.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/2/20221 hour, 11 minutes, 29 seconds
Episode Artwork

Travis Kalanick's Right-Hand Man Tells the Story of the Coup that Brought Them Down (w/Emil Michael)

This is definitely an episode you’re going to want to listen to. It’s been a long time coming. It’s a sequel of sorts to my interview with Bill Gurley that ran a few months after launching this newsletter and my conversation with Dara Khosrowshahi after that.I finally convinced Emil Michael, a central player in the Uber saga, to give me an on-the-record interview. Michael was once Travis Kalanick’s top lieutenant. He raised about $15 billion for Uber during his nearly four years at the company. Finally, he came on Dead Cat to talk to Tom Dotan and me. It’s been five years since Kalanick and Michael acrimoniously departed the company they helped build into a juggernaut. While Michael isn’t Kalanick — who I would love to interview again someday — he was probably the second most important person at Uber during the period, understood the company and Kalanick intimately, and is a lot more willing to publicly reflect on what Uber got right and wrong than his old boss. We covered a lot of ground in our hour and a half long conversation. Michael didn’t shy away from much. Whether you’re interested in the inside baseball behind Kalanick’s ouster, or if you want to learn from Uber’s mistakes, or you just want to hear how they raised so much money, you’re going to want to give this episode a listen.* He talked about his infamous visit to a shady Korean karaoke bar that led former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to recommend Michael’s dismissal. (In my mind, probably the biggest unreported information from the Kalanick era is the Holder report itself. If anyone ever wants to leak it to me, you know where to find me.)* We discussed the latest media Uber obsession — “The Uber files.” The Guardian and other outlets reported on Uber’s influence campaign in Europe and the “kill switch.” It was a trip down memory lane that helped convince Michael to give his side of the story. Michael quipped about the “kill switch,” Uber’s tactic of locking down computers ahead of government raids: “I do think one of the bad things we did at Uber was naming things terribly.”* Michael inveighed against Benchmark partner Bill Gurley’s crusade to push out Kalanick. But he also reminisced about how he and Gurley used to talk multiple times a day. * Michael criticized current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s management of the company, today worth $44.2 billion — about a third less than when Michael helped the company raise at an approximately $70 billion valuation. “When does the buck stop at Dara’s desk?” Michael asked us. But Michael also kicked himself for letting the merger with Lyft slip through his fingers. * We talked about the media coverage of Uber past and present, what the press got right, and what it got wrong. But Michael also admitted that he’d never really figured out how to talk to the press. * Together, we analyzed the Uber TV show, Super Pumped. * Michael engaged with core questions about Uber’s existence: Was the independent contractor model an inescapable original sin? Should investors ever have given Uber so much money? Was the Saudi round that valued Uber at about $70 billion a fair benchmark by which to judge Uber’s current CEO? * Given the many twists and turns of the Uber saga, there’s always more I wish that we’d dug into. We could have dedicated a whole episode to the Susan Fowler saga, for instance. And for every scandal that we examined, there’s another that we left out. Still, I think it’s as in-depth a public reflection as there has been from Kalanick’s camp since Kalanick resigned almost exactly five years ago.Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Michael: “Did you push back on Travis enough? Or did he like having people who are sort of like—”And he filled in the blank for me. Was he a “yes man”?Michael said, “I would at least say this on a relative basis: I did more than anyone else in history of giving him feedback. Whether it was investors or other leaders, whatever, because we had a relationship that allowed for that. And I cultivated that on purpose because I wanted to be someone who is able to be a counter voice there. And he listened to me.”Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
7/26/20221 hour, 27 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork

This Episode Wasn't Sponsored By Techmeme

I’m in Italy right now for my first extended vacation of the year. I spent yesterday bopping around Siena, taking in another beautiful Duomo, eating a sandwich with lardo, and hunting for the frescoes that provided the grist for my girlfriend’s mom’s art history thesis. After stopping in Rome and Florence, my girlfriend and I are staying in rural Tuscany for a friend’s wedding and then are headed to Cinque Terre in a few days.I’m doing my best to disconnect from the newsletter for these two weeks — though not as much as my girlfriend might like. I left my podcast co-hosts Tom Dotan and Katie Benner to their own devices with Dead Cat this week. Listening to the episode, they’re clearly feeling a little more pessimistic than I am. Tom proposed for the subject line of this email, “No ideas. No joy. No money” or “the summer of despair.” Both struck me as a little too dour.In the latest episode of Dead Cat, Tom and Katie take stock of some of the top stories in tech this week via Techmeme headlines: The implosion of Apple’s self-driving car program, the Uber files, and Elon Musk’s fight with Twitter. They ask why tech seems to be stuck in a rut. But mostly they seem to have a fun time, sardonically dissecting the tech world and puzzling out what the latest stock downturn means for our favorite tech storylines. It’s an enjoyable listen if you’ve got some time to kill as vineyards and hay bales pass you by.Their discussion hinges in part on The Information’s latest reporting on Apple’s self-driving car program. Apple just can’t seem to figure it out.The Information’s Wayne Ma reported on the perils of demoware:Engineers waste precious time choreographing demonstrations along specific routes using technology that works there but almost nowhere else, a phenomenon known as demoware. Some people who have worked on Titan say Apple fell harder into the demoware trap than some rivals, despite the fact that an automated car with no steering wheel needs to drive almost perfectly everywhere or few people would feel safe buying one.“If you spend enough money, you can get almost any fixed route to work,” said Arun Venkatadri, who previously worked on self-driving cars at Uber and now runs Model-Prime, which makes software tools for robotics companies. “But what isn’t shown is whether you can build your self-driving software in a scalable fashion and whether you can operate in a reasonably broad area.”And if Apple can’t figure it out, who can? Despite constant promises and over-optimistic projections from self-driving car researchers, the driverless cars don’t seem to be coming to the masses anytime soon.Even while on vacation, I couldn’t help myself from reading Twitter’s lawsuit against Elon Musk. The suit convinced usually skeptical Hindenburg Research to buy Twitter shares, believing that Twitter had a compelling case on its hands.It’s hard not to feel bad for Twitter. They never wanted Musk to try to buy them in the first place. Then Musk gave them an offer too good to refuse. And since then, he seems to be trying to do everything in his power to further erode Twitter’s value without paying them the premium he agreed to.Tom and Katie break down the drama on the latest episode.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
7/14/202243 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork

SBF Plays Crypto Savior (w/Teddy Schleifer & Jeff John Roberts)

Sam Bankman-Fried, “SBF,” is bailing out failing crypto companies. The question is whether he’s trying to stymie contagion risk from further roiling the crypto world or if he’s simply shopping for deals. Or maybe it’s both.SBF’s crypto currency exchange company FTX gave crypto lender BlockFi a $400 million credit facility and struck a deal that allows FTX to buy BlockFi for as much as $240 million.Meanwhile, SBF’s investment arm Alameda Research provided Voyager Digital $500 million in financing in June. (Voyager Digital suspended withdrawals and deposits on Friday.) SBF also kicked the tires on crypto lender Celsius before raising questions about the company’s finances. (Celsius has frozen accounts and hired restructuring attorneys.)The Block reported last week:FTX began talks with Celsius about providing financial support or making an acquisition but decided against proceeding after looking at Celsius's finances, the sources said. Celsius had a $2 billion hole in its balance sheet and FTX found the company difficult to deal with, one of the sources said.FTX has also reportedly considered buying Robinhood after buying up a 7.6% stake. These days it seems like the crypto industry is eager for any sign of an SBF bailout:On this week’s Dead Cat, Tom Dotan and I called in two experts. We brought on Jeff John Roberts, the author of Kings of Crypto and the crypto editor at Fortune, and friend of the show Teddy Schleifer, who is a reporter at Puck and an SBF obsessive.We argued about SBF’s bailout strategy, his political ambitions, and the state of crypto regulation. Roberts accused me of being a “nocoiner” and I assured him that I was contentedly losing money on crypto currencies.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript.Background readingThe Notorious S.B.F.Inside S.B.F.’s $12 Million Long ShotA 30-Year-Old Crypto Billionaire Wants to Give His Fortune AwayCan Crypto’s Richest Man Stand the Cold? Get full access to Newcomer at
7/5/202241 minutes, 36 seconds
Episode Artwork

A Long Drag on a Mango Juul Pod (w/ Lauren Etter)

I got back from Collision, the 35,000-person tech conference in Toronto, Sunday night. Everyone is worried about falling valuations — but the tech world keeps on spinning. Listen to this week’s episode of Dead Cat, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I catch up, talk about my conference-going experience, and argue about what tech executive we’d most like to see as president. (Katie picks Tim Cook but I’m going with Jeff Bezos.)Then, Tom and I talk with Bloomberg reporter Lauren Etter. She’s the author of The Devil’s Playbook. We discuss the FDA’s surprise decision to ban Juul starting at around 32:30.Etter wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek:In 2019 almost 30% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes, mostly Juul. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that e-cigarette use had become an “almost ubiquitous—and dangerous—trend among teens.” Since then, the portion of high school students vaping has dropped to 11%, and the most popular product is a newer entrant, Puff Bar, not Juul.Yet it apparently wasn’t the company’s appeal to young people that led the agency to pull Juul off the market. A 2016 rule gave the FDA the authority to grant or deny “marketing orders” to e-cigarettes and other alternative tobacco products based on whether they met the standard of being “appropriate for the protection of the public health.” The agency found that Juul didn’t meet that standard because the company failed to provide sufficient evidence “to assess the potential toxicological risks of using the JUUL products”—even though Juul spent more than $150 million and hired an army of scientists to make its case.On Friday, a federal court stayed the FDA’s ban to give Juul time to appeal.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
6/29/202253 minutes, 38 seconds
Episode Artwork

Nothing More Than a Magic Trick (w/Gary Marcus)

Are we nearing a time when we are going to get to have real, meaningful conversations with artificial intelligence?Nitasha Tiku got the world wondering just that with her story in the Washington Post about a Google engineer who believes that the company’s LaMDA artificial intelligence might be sentient. Google engineer Blake Lemoine carried out a series of seemingly personal conversations with the artificial intelligence and walked away believing that there was a sort of person behind the messages he was receiving.Artificial intelligence expert Gary Marcus thinks the idea that artificial intelligence systems are anywhere close to sentience is patently absurd. He wrote on his Substack:Neither LaMDA nor any of its cousins (GPT-3) are remotely intelligent. All they do is match patterns, draw from massive statistical databases of human language. The patterns might be cool, but language these systems utter doesn’t actually mean anything at all. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that these systems are sentient.On Dead Cat, Tom Dotan and I talked to Marcus about artificial intelligence, how tech companies should frame these text generating machines to their users, and the media’s failure to cover speculative technologies skeptically. (In the post we make reference to Marcus’s post Does AI really need a paradigm shift?)Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
6/22/20221 hour, 5 minutes, 21 seconds
Episode Artwork

Coming to You From a Soon To Be Chesa-Free San Francisco (w/Jonathan Weber)

I moved from San Francisco to New York, in February 2019, back before it was cool to turn tail on the tech mecca. Truth be told, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for San Francisco, but my girlfriend beckoned from Brooklyn.I’m writing this from my flight back to New York after over a week in SF. I spent much of it in an Airbnb next to Mr. Pickle’s on Van Ness Avenue and then a few days crashing at a fellow tech reporter’s apartment in the Outer Richmond. I ate Mission Chinese and La Taqueria, drank at Brass Tacks and The Monk’s Kettle, and made it up to Calistoga for a picturesque vineyard wedding.But did I spend any time working for you, dear reader? Yes, not to worry. I spent my days shuttling from South Park to the Presidio, catching up with venture capitalists, founders, tech media insiders, and senior tech executives. And I spent my nights getting drunk with them, eager for looser lips.Here are my key immediate takeaways:* One source told me that even Insight Partners — which announced a $20 billion fund in February — has decided to seriously slow down big late stage private investments. Until recently, Insight looked like one of the last holdouts when it came to doing late stage deals even as the market unraveled. But now, like pretty much everyone else, it’s mostly focused on its existing portfolio.* VC advice on the downturn — even Sequoia Capital’s presentation to founders — has felt too much like content marketing. For some startup CEOs it can feel a bit like you’re the goody two-shoes, “A” student in the classroom, when the teacher reprimands everyone. You think the rebuke applies to you, but really the message is meant for the troublemakers. But it’s the most diligent among us that take these admonitions personally. Founders need advice specific to their company. * There’s a sense that there have been many software engineers who have been overpromoted in the bull cycle and that this downturn could force some coders to reset their expectations about their appropriate rank and pay.* I spent much of my time asking sources what the overarching, thematic story of the downturn would be. One venture capitalist gave me my favorite answer: He argued that we’d look back on this downturn as a story of the perfect storm between retail and professional investor excesses. On the retail side, we saw the rise of Robinhood and Coinbase, and r/wallstreetbets trades on Kodak and GameStop. On the professional side, we saw firms like SoftBank and Tiger go so, so long without enough diligence to back it up.* If I had to name a couple companies/firms that I think are most likely to represent this downturn, right now I’d name Instacart, Coinbase, Robinhood, GoPuff, Bird, Tesla, Tiger, and SoftBank. Though, right now, I think increasingly crypto is looking like it will be the category most associated with this cycle’s excesses.* There’s been a lot of envy in traditional startup world of people who went over to the the crypto dark side. Now there’s all sorts of schadenfreude going on as crypto prices plummet. Some VCs are starting to admit (mostly in private) that they never really believed in crypto. Still, there’s so much money. Just as I was leaving the city, Coinbase announced that it was brutally laying off 18% of its staff, locking them out of their emails before they even had time to say goodbye.* We’re overdue for a reckoning over who screwed over credulous investors with implausible SPAC deals. ~cough~ Chamath ~ cough ~ At least, Brad Gerstner’s Altimeter led the PIPE on its own terrible Grab SPAC deal. * Andreessen Horowitz still remains, probably, the biggest nemesis of many firms in Silicon Valley. Sure, Tiger blew up the startup world. But what Tiger did was so unlike anything venture capital firms were doing, so there’s less professional jealousy. There are whispers that things aren’t as copacetic internally at a16z as might appear from their highly choreographed public communications. It would seem that part of the explanation for the explosion of funds at the firm has been the explosion of egos. Instead of resolving interpersonal conflicts on the consumer fund, let’s just create a gaming fund. In that light, it’s pretty amazing that the firm couldn’t figure out a way to keep Katie Haun. * Consumer investing across the board seems challenged. What’s going on over at Popshop, Lunchclub, Cameo, and Clubhouse just to name a few? I guess investors simply wishing consumer investing into being without a strong new thesis wasn’t exactly an omen for the sector’s inevitable success. (I will say that Whatnot and BeReal remain two consumer plays that I’m still following.) What will it mean for this generation of consumer investors? Benchmark’s next generation consumer investor, Sarah Tavel, seems to have made her best investment in business-to-business company Chainalysis, last valued at $8.6 billion. * Speaking of Benchmark, the firm deserves some credit for holding firm on its strategy as other venture firms’ fund sizes got crazy. Sure, Benchmark probably could have made way more money if it topped up its own investments — but then it might be taking the heat that Benchmark favorite Altimeter is getting right now over its overexuberance. There’s money and reputation to manage. Benchmark has always made enough money to value its reputation. (That’s something Travis Kalanick, Adam Neumann, Nirav Tolia, etc. surely gripe about.)* Last year’s hype around venture capital firms indefinitely holding onto private companies long after they go public is looking like pure bubble thinking. Sequoia’s timing on its all-in-one, hold indefinitely “The Sequoia Capital Fund” looks a little more like one of the excesses from the bull market. But limited partners seem too afraid to do anything to unwind the strategy shift that seems designed to enrich the firm’s general partners. (Reach out to me if you have off-the-record intel on this.)* Investors are dramatically slowing the pace of their investments. These funds are going to last years longer than they would have in bull times. Multi-stage investors seem more inclined to double-down on their existing portfolio companies than to make new bets. Bridge rounds are on everyone’s lips. Still, I heard from investors who had made secret Series B and C investments in companies this year. It’s a good time to make a bet on a company that got away for a hype-y Series A round.* Startup founders think prospective employees want assurances that their company is really worth what the company says it is. Good private unicorns are in a bit of a bind. Prospective employees are now automatically giving their equity offers a mental haircut based on the market downturn. So good companies have an incentive to reaffirm their valuations with funding rounds during the downturn — even if it otherwise might be smarter to keep their valuations artificially low so as to maintain room to grow should conditions worsen. (I wish employees would get better at assessing companies based on fundamentals, rather than the last tick fundraising round. Employees are basically begging founders to maximize for valuation, which then minimizes employee upside.)* Some small-to-medium sized companies are shopping themselves to their rival startups but it’s not always clear why the competitor would want to buy. Why take on additional burn and headcount when all you might end up getting is leads on some new customers? Sure, you might do some venture capital firm a favor, but what’s that really worth?* There are some cracks in up-start media world. The most obvious tremor is at BuzzFeed where the stock has sunk 54% in a month. Reporters have been leaving in droves. Meanwhile, The Information lost one of its top editors — Martin Peers. He’s long been a central figure over there. The Information’s up-and-coming venture capital reporter Berber Jin departed to the Wall Street Journal, as did Sarah Krouse who will be covering Netflix for the Journal. Stephen Nellis returned to Reuters. Meanwhile spirits seem strong at my former employer, Bloomberg. The ascendance of the player-coach editor seems to have people upbeat. Sarah Frier is leading big tech coverage and Lucas Shaw (who has been a guest on Dead Cat) is running the show on Hollywood coverage. And somehow Bloomberg just lured back a former star reporter who had left to join the startup ranks: Alex Barinka — who left Bloomberg as a deals reporter to help launch Imran Khan’s Verishop before going over to Stitch Fix — is joining Frier’s team as a social media reporter based in LA. * Next week I’m in Toronto for Collision where I’ll be interviewing Uncork Capital’s Andy McLoughlin, Real Ventures’ Janet Bannister, and Left Lane Capital’s Vinny Pujji on a panel Wednesday called “Survival of the leanest: The importance of being capital efficient.” Then, less than an hour later I’ll interview General Catalyst’s Hemant Taneja about responsible innovation. On Thursday, I’ll ask “Has the tech bubble burst... again?!” in a panel with FirstMark’s Matt Turck, Lux’s Deena Shakir, and Neo Financial’s Andrew Chau. Expect the most interesting tidbits in this newsletter late next week.Talking about Chesa Boudin on Dead CatMy first meeting in San Francisco started with a tour of The San Francisco Standard, the Michael Moritz-funded local news enterprise. My old editor Jonathan Weber — once the editor of tech media dot-com icon The Industry Standard — is the editor-in-chief over at the SF Standard. Weber, Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan, and I met up for a nice dinner at The Morris in the Mission. After spending the evening discussing San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s recall, Tom and I convinced Weber to come on the Dead Cat podcast and talk about the Standard and San Francisco politics.Tom thinks I’m going to get eviscerated by San Franciscans for my politics. This is something we’ve never seen before: a New Yorker opining on San Francisco local affairs. I did my best to offend conservatives and liberals alike, maligning the police while rooting for tech’s ascendant influence on San Francisco politics. Weber makes the case for objective, follow-the-reporting local news and outlines the real issues underpinning the recall. He explains how money is simultaneously to blame and not to blame for Boudin’s recall. And he defends the Standard against its critics for its influential story on Boudin’s refusal to make drug arrests. We interrogate what Boudin’s defeat means for the future of progressive politics and the city of San Francisco.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
6/15/202252 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork

Sheryl Sandberg Leans Out (w/Deepa Seetharaman)

Big tech executives are heading for the exits. Last week, Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced that she would leave the Facebook parent company in the fall. Today, Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, explained why he’s leaving Amazon: He’s going to become CEO of the logistics startup Flexport. With the markets on the brink, what other top tech executives will decide it’s a good time to step away?On this week’s Dead Cat, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talked to Wall Street Journal reporter Deepa Seetharaman about why Sandberg is leaving Facebook parent company Meta. There have been plenty of reasons cited for Sandberg’s departure: Burnout, a rising philanthropic impulse, a shrinking fiefdom within Meta. Seetharaman and her colleagues reported that Sandberg has faced an internal investigation at Meta that could have given Sandberg another reason to head for the exits.The Journal reported:Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal contacted Meta about two incidents from several years ago in which Ms. Sandberg, the chief operating officer, pressed a U.K. tabloid to shelve an article about her former boyfriend, Activision Blizzard Inc. Chief Executive Bobby Kotick, and a 2014 temporary restraining order against him.The episode dovetailed with a company investigation into Ms. Sandberg’s activities, which hasn’t been previously reported, including a review of her use of corporate resources to help plan her coming wedding to Tom Bernthal, a consultant, the people said. The couple has been engaged since 2020.Last week’s podcast guest, Casey Newton, pushed back against the idea in his newsletter that the investigation likely triggered Sandberg’s departure:Meta paid Sandberg $35 million last year; I can’t even imagine what she would have to ask her employees to do for her on the wedding front that would merit much more than a “hey, knock it off” from her boss.Moreover, as Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier noted, for top-level executives at the world’s biggest companies, the personal and professional are often intertwined. Meta, for example, paid $15.1 million last year “for expenses related to protecting its CEO at his homes and during personal travel.” It spent another $10 million on security for Mark Zuckerberg’s family and $1.6 million so he could travel on a private aircraft.And so you’ll forgive me for being skeptical that Sandberg’s wedding planning had anything to do with her departure, or the timing of her announcement. Particularly when you consider that Sandberg is going to continue working for the company for several more months as COO — and then remain on the Meta board indefinitely.Toward the end of the conversation with Seetharaman, we talked about the legacy of Sandberg’s “Lean In” campaign.Lean In helped to kick off a reexamination of how women were treated in the workplace, especially among the management ranks. That movement then started to seem passé as progressive crusaders wanted to shift the focus from individual workers “leaning in” to the responsibilities of the broader society. Today, as we’re starting to see some signs of backlash to progressive social politics, it’s worth reflecting on and celebrating the work that Sandberg undertook to help support women in the workplace.“We’re moving into a far more regressive era in American society, in a larger way, that’s beyond Sheryl Sandberg, and beyond Amber Heard, or Johnny Depp,” Benner said on the podcast. “[Sandberg] had the financial power, and she had the social and political standing within an extremely powerful company to use that platform to say women are treated like s**t at work. And can we all just agree on that? And so that was — I think we forget — that that was actually a very big deal.”Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
6/8/202249 minutes, 57 seconds
Episode Artwork

State of Substack (w/Casey Newton)

One of the many joys of going independent and writing on Substack is that I work at the eye of a trend piece. There’s a storm circling around me with fights about Substack’s politics and its promise as a media disruptor. But at the center of that vortex, I’m far more focused on my own business than the broader maelstrom around me. I’m very fortunate to say that my paid subscriber count has now grown beyond 1,500 and more than 22,000 people now receive my free emails. I’ve been enjoying a steeper growth curve lately.This week on the Dead Cat podcast, Katie Benner, Tom Dotan, and I talk to technology Substack writer Casey Newton. On the podcast, I reminisce about how I phoned Newton during the depths of the pandemic to tell him that I was going to leave Bloomberg to start a Substack only to learn he was about to launch one as well. Newton founded Platformer, a go-to destination for news and analysis about what’s happening in the technology industry — especially at social media companies. Newton and I are part of a group of writers that formed the Discord community Sidechannel together. (Paying Newcomer subscribers get access to the community, though I’ll confess that my channels are fairly dormant.)Our discussion was sparked by a news story about what’s not happening. Substack apparently isn’t raising a new round of financing, according to the New York Times. Unlike fellow Andreessen Horowitz portfolio company Clubhouse, which raised at a $4 billion valuation in April 2021, Substack hasn’t earned a unicorn valuation. Substack reportedly generated about $9 million in revenue in 2021. Given the turbulent financial markets, Substack abandoned its fundraising effort, according to the report.Newton celebrated Substack’s failure to fundraise in his newsletter:One, it reduces the pressure on Substack to financialize every facet of its newsletter, podcast and app ecosystem. In March, when the company introduced an app, I noted here that Substack shut off emails from your subscribed publications by default — a worrying step, I thought, toward building a centralized platform that the company could monetize more aggressively. To its credit, Substack changed the default to preserve email subscriptions within 24 hours. But giving up more equity to VCs will bring more “suggestions” from the company’s board to move in this direction. The more Substack can rely on its own cash flow, the more easily it can chart its own future.Two, having less cash on hand can enforce a useful kind of discipline on a company. Having giant piles of cash on hand can be great for making splashy acquisitions or experimenting with new products. But Substack is still figuring out just how many people can sustainably enter this line of work — solo creators, operating mostly without a safety net, selling media for a monthly fee.(On the podcast, we also talk about Elon Musk’s Twitter bid and Snap’s tumbling stock price.)Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript.The State of NewcomerGiven that we’re already talking about Substack — and since I’ve gained a bunch of new readers lately — I wanted to give a brief tour of the Newcomer newsletter to help you all navigate what I’m publishing and get a sense for the rhythms around here.Dead CatI publish Dead Cat — the podcast with my friends and fellow reporters Tom Dotan and Katie Benner — toward the end of the workday every Tuesday. (We usually record on Fridays.)The podcast is free and is meant to be a little looser than the newsletter. Dead Cat, while still pretty fixated on Silicon Valley inside baseball, is more oriented toward the culture of tech and less focused on money than my newsletter articles.Dotan is a reporter for Insider. He writes about the gig economy after spending years covering companies like Snap and Disney. Benner writes about the U.S. Justice Department for the New York Times after many years writing about Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The three of us worked together as reporters at The Information, where I was the first employee. We’ve been close friends for many years.You can listen to the podcast on Substack’s app or on Apple or Spotify. I’ve started including an automated transcript of our conversation in each podcast post. We’re averaging more than 1,800 listeners for each episode, according to Substack’s analytics. If you’re not interested in Dead Cat or don’t need an email to remind you to listen, you can opt out of receiving the emails on your account page. (I’ve been trying to put more meat on the bone of podcast posts so that even if you just read them, you’re receiving an email that will interest you — like my interview with the Uber driver who leaked the video of Travis Kalanick that arrived beneath a Dead Cat episode.)The podcast’s name is a reference to a text conversation between Marc Andreessen and Mark Zuckerberg. Though if you prefer to associate it with a dead cat bounce, I won’t hold it against you.Newcomer NewsletterAs regular readers know, I publish newsletter articles somewhat chaotically. Variety is the spice of life and I enjoy chasing different types of stories that take varying amounts of time to complete.I almost always publish a standalone newsletter article each week (usually toward the end of the week). Most weeks, I try to save something for paying subscribers. That can mean putting a paywall halfway down an article — like saving exclusive financial information for paying subscribers — or putting entire pieces behind the paywall. Types of Newcomer Posts* In-depth profiles of Silicon Valley main characters based on a probing interview. Think: Elad Gil Wants You To Live Longer or General Catalyst's Secret CEO or Above the Crowd.* Sweeping, deeply-reported narratives about a venture capital firm. Probably my most iconic piece remains, The Unauthorized Story of Andreessen Horowitz. And Andreessen Horowitz has been perhaps the main character of this newsletter with pieces like When Will a16z Become a Public Market Investor? I’d put my profile of Bessemer Venture Partners — The Anti-Portfolio — in this bucket. I’ve also been covering Y Combinator closely with my interview of YC President Geoff Ralston YC = Growth, What Insiders Think About YC's New Deal Terms, and Ali Partovi Wants to Beat the Old YC.* Stories about top investment firms based on their private fundraising materials. Recently, I published a look at Tiger Global with some of the firm’s private fundraising decks. (I added a few more slides after publishing the article by the way if you haven’t returned to it since.) Fans of that piece should also check out my article Inside 3 Crypto Funds' Investor Decks. I’ve gotten my hands on another pitch deck so I should have another similar piece out in the coming days.* Market trend pieces. Recent examples: Here’s What Investors Think the Treacherous Public Markets Mean for Private Startups or Good Times in The Great Revaluation. These pieces rely on my building up a depth of information about a particular sector before dropping it in a single post.* Story of a Cap Table articles. These are fun and instructive venture capital case studies. They’re always popular. An example from late last year: The Story of a Cap Table: GitLab. The challenge with these pieces is that they require interesting companies to file to go public — and cooperative sources at a regulatorily-paranoid time in a company’s lifetime. Given the slow IPO pipeline, there’s been a slowdown in cap table stories.* Weekend reading posts. It’s a fun way to concisely hit a bunch of different topics at once. But, truth be told, I’m always ambivalent about them. If you know me, then you know I feel guilty whenever I’m not breaking news or bringing exclusive access to a piece. But I think the reality is that I spend a unhealthy amount of time reading tech news and many readers are happy to get a rundown of what I think matters. I’m always trying to think of new ways to level these pieces up.* Scoops. I’m addicted to scoops. I live for the adrenaline. Definitely, my scoop on OpenSea’s funding round was important for the newsletter. I made that piece a broader look at Katie Haun and Andreessen Horowitz. If it’s getting toward the end of the week and I haven’t published anything yet, I’m probably scrambling for a scoop. It’s a great time to send me a tip.* There are other long-form pieces that don’t fit neatly into these categories. I wrote a case against Rivian. I’m still really proud of my investigation into Palantir’s SPAC investments. I should write a follow-up piece on how many of those investments have gone terribly. Get full access to Newcomer at
5/31/202254 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork

How Tech is Defending the Right to an Abortion (w/Kiki Freedman)

As the Supreme Court moves toward repealing Roe v. Wade, access to abortion pills over the internet could become a key frontier in the fight for abortion access in the United States.On this week’s Dead Cat podcast, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talked to Kiki Freedman, the co-founder and CEO of the digital clinic for abortion access Hey Jane. (Freedman also worked at Uber for four years as an early Uber Eats employee.) Hey Jane has raised more than $3 million in funding to provide abortion pills in California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. Like companies treating ADHD that we talked about earlier this month on the podcast, Hey Jane has been able to expand access to medication through telemedicine. Instead of prescribing Adderall, however, Hey Jane is prescribing abortion pills.Benner, who writes about the U.S. Department of Justice for the New York Times, updates us on her prognosis for the legal status of abortions in America. This week, Politico published a story headlined The Coming Legal Battles Over Abortion Pills:“The anti-abortion movement has prepared for this moment and is already focusing on restricting access to pills, knowing that abortion bans will be far less effective if states cannot keep the drugs from entering their borders. Nineteen states do not allow medication abortion via telehealth, others prohibit sending pills through the mail, and some states are introducing legislation that would ban the drugs entirely. But enforcing those laws will be uncharted territory, with new avenues for evading state bans as well as new legal challenges about whether federal or state law reigns supreme in some instances.”In our interview, Freedman recommends that people looking to support the right to abortion access donate to groups subsidizing abortions. Hey Jane has pulled together a list of funds that you can donate to. On the podcast, we discuss the role that tech companies can play in expanding access to abortion.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
5/24/202235 minutes, 54 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Rug Pull Really Tied the Room Together

I’ve been writing about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies since 2013. That means that I’ve seen a number of boom and bust cycles.It’s starting to feel like we’re entering another crypto winter. Bitcoin is down 37% since the start of the year. Ethereum is down 44% so far this year. Solana is down 68%. This week, Andreessen Horowitz published a piece reframing that brutal boom and bust whipsaw as the “The Crypto Price-Innovation Cycle.”The firm has written about the cycle, “Even though crypto cycles look chaotic, over the long term they’ve generated steady growth of new ideas, code, projects, and startups — the fundamental drivers of software innovation.”This week on Dead Cat, Tom Dotan and I spoke with someone who is much less optimistic that these crypto cycles are good for the world. We chatted with Jacob Silverman, a journalist who has published articles about crypto in the Washington Post and the New Republic. Silverman has become a frequent collaborator with actor Ben McKenzie — aka Ryan from The O.C. McKenzie, who is working on a book with Silverman, has become a prolific crypto critic. While McKenzie’s fellow celebrities are out hawking crypto currencies and NFT projects, McKenzie has been a necessary voice of caution.On this week’s episode, we talk with Silverman about the unraveling of Luna and stablecoin TerraUSD. We discuss crypto regulation and try to game out where things are going from here.Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript.Background reading:* The Pandemic Sparked a Golden Age of Crypto Scams (New Republic)* Why users are pushing back against the world’s largest crypto exchange (Washington Post)* Crypto Bro Behind Staples Center Renaming Has Messy Past (Daily Beast)* Anyone Seen Tether’s Billions? (Bloomberg Businessweek) Get full access to Newcomer at
5/17/202257 minutes, 16 seconds
Episode Artwork

We Saw This Movie. Everybody Died at the End (w/Rick Heitzmann)

Firstmark Capital’s Rick Heitzmann is someone I turn to when I want to understand what public market activity means for private startups. Heitzmann’s got an ear to Wall Street from his offices in New York City, but he invests in private technology startups.So I invited Heitzmann on Dead Cat with Tom Dotan and Katie Benner. We tried to make sense of this sudden downturn. Everyone has seen it coming for years. We just never knew when the party would end. Building on my story “The Endgame” from last week, we talk about how rising interest rates — not a global pandemic — seem to be finally bringing the boom times to an end.“We’ve entered into a new normal,” Heitzmann told us. “We’ve entered into a new period where capital is not free, where it’s going to be more and more expensive.”Heitzmann reminded us why startup investors kept deploying money even as things seemed frothy. “In the last 18 months of a 10-year bull market, most of the money is made. That’s why people are always afraid to get off the treadmill,” Heitzmann said.We all marveled at just how long this bull market has run, and we speculated about which companies might come to represent the excess when the dust has settled and the retrospectives are written. “These quick delivery guys — that are all over the streets of New York, the Jokr’s, the Getir’s,” Heitzmann observed, “We saw Kosmo. We saw it didn’t work and then we just did the same thing with another $10 billion.”“We saw this movie. Everybody died at the end,” Heitzmann said. “Now we’re wondering why in the sequel we think there is going to be a happy ending.”Give it a listen.Read the automated transcript. Get full access to Newcomer at
5/10/202248 minutes, 16 seconds
Episode Artwork

Adderall on Demand (w/Rolfe Winkler)

During the pandemic, the U.S. government relaxed rules that prevented doctors from prescribing controlled substances — like Adderall — over the internet. That’s created a bonanza for venture-backed companies like Cerebral and Done. Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler has been chronicling these telemedicine companies’ prescription practices. Winkler — a friend and former bridge partner of mine — came on Dead Cat to talk to Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and me about his stories.In March, with a colleague, Winkler documented how patients were getting Adderall prescriptions after 30-minute appointments. “All day every day, people were demanding Adderall,” a nurse practitioner for online mental-health company Cerebral Inc. told the Journal. “You can’t diagnose people in a half hour.”The Wall Street Journal reported:“Digital health startups that provide diagnoses and medications online for ADHD are following a familiar Silicon Valley playbook: They’re using software and the internet to remove the friction surrounding a service that is in high demand. Instead of a ride or groceries, this time it’s prescription drugs. Two of the most prominent new providers of these services for ADHD patients are Cerebral and Done Health, which now treat tens of thousands of patients online and have well-known supporters from the worlds of venture capital and sports.”Then in April, Winkler and another colleague reported that CVS and Walmart were blocking and delaying prescriptions for telemedicine startups. That same month, Cerebral’s former vice president in charge of product and engineering sued Cerebral over the company’s alleged focus on driving prescriptions.“When Cerebral determined that patients who were prescribed stimulants were more likely to remain Cerebral customers, the CEO directed Cerebral employees find ways to prescribe stimulants to more ADHD patients to increase retention,” the lawsuit said.This week, Winkler reported that startup Truepill, a pharmacy that until recently mailed some of Cerebral’s customers their Adderall medication, has decided to stop fulfilling schedule II drugs. In December, SoftBank’s Vision Fund led a $300 million investment in Cerebral that valued it at $4.8 billion.On Dead Cat, we talked about the tough questions these telehealth businesses have raised by applying the venture capital industry’s preferred independent contractor model to healthcare. At the 48-minute mark, we talk about Elon Musk’s effort to buy Twitter. Winkler, who has written about Musk’s Neuralink, offered a pretty rosy view (for a journalist) of the world’s richest man.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
5/3/202256 minutes, 26 seconds
Episode Artwork

Streaming in Crisis (w/Lucas Shaw)

Netflix’s stock price has been in free fall. The company was worth more than $300 billion late last year and now the stock market values the company at just $89 billion.At the same time, CNN’s buzzy streaming service CNN+ didn’t even get the chance to spread its wings. David Zaslav, now the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, pulled the plug on the nascent streaming service after Discovery closed its acquisition of CNN parent company WarnerMedia. On this week’s Dead Cat, Tom Dotan and I talk with Bloomberg’s Hollywood whisperer, Lucas Shaw, about Netflix’s struggles and the untimely demise of CNN+.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
4/26/202259 minutes, 19 seconds
Episode Artwork

Rooting for Elon

On the latest episode of Dead Cat, we throw our weight behind Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter.Katie Benner, Tom Dotan, and I make our predictions about whether Musk is going to succeed in his mission to acquire Twitter. (I’m betting against.)Dotan offers Musk a Plan B: Musk could buy the beleaguered photo pin board company Pinterest for a measly $15 billion.I celebrate venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s recent Easter absolution: He inexplicably unblocked me on Twitter.Meanwhile, Benner, who gave up Twitter for lent, brings us the good word about what life looks like post-Twitter — a reality we could all one-day face if Musk is able to bring the company crashing to the ground. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
4/19/202252 minutes, 58 seconds
Episode Artwork

Imploding Fast (w/Kate Clark)

Of all the sectors, I would never have guessed that one-click checkout companies would be the nexus of startup world drama. And yet that is where we find ourselves.The industry leader Bolt was co-founded by a man who seems desperate to win some sort of commendation for his conspiratorial tweetstorms.Meanwhile, rival Fast flamed out hot and, well, fast. The startup, which raised money from Index Ventures and Stripe, generated just $600,000 in revenue from its checkout service last year. The company was burning through as much as $10 million a month. Those figures come from the reporting of Kate Clark and her colleague Malique Morris at The Information. The duo have chronicled the fall of Fast, which had raised more than $100 million in funding.Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I spoke with Clark about Fast’s implosion. We also talked about Tiger Global renegotiating deal terms and Peter Thiel’s strange speech at Bitcoin 2022.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
4/12/202253 minutes, 43 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Fictionalized Viral Uber Driver

On the Dead Cat podcast, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talk about Apple’s WeCrashed, Hulu’s The Dropout, and SHOWTIME’s Super Pumped — the TV shows about Adam Neumann, Elizabeth Holmes, and Travis Kalanick respectively. (Spoilers: If you believe that real events that have already transpired can be spoiled.)This morning, I emailed Fawzi Kamel, the Uber driver whose confrontation with then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick went viral when I published it at Bloomberg. The video captures Kalanick — at the peak of the scrutiny around his leadership — telling Kamel, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own s**t. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”I wanted to catch up with Kamel to see if he had seen himself on TV. He’s a character in the SHOWTIME television series Super Pumped, played by actor Mousa Hussein Kraish.Kamel called me back: He hadn’t watched the show. The fictional version of Kamel gets rid of his car, consults with a lawyer and his wife, and then posts the video online. The real world Fawzi Kamel was far bolder.Kamel was still driving for Uber when he sent me an email with the subject line “About uber.” He wrote me from his iPhone on Feb. 22, 2017: I started driving for uber in 2011So I know the company from the beginning and I can introduce you to drivers who started in 2010 under Ryan grave . We all know the dirty uber thief .Last Sunday , I picked up Travis and I told him that non of the drivers trust him  anymore . Cause he  cheated the drivers who promoted his  idea at the beginning and made him  who he  is  todayHe got mad and slammed my car doorThe point I'm trying to make is the answer of uber CEO after I told him that I Bankrupt because of him  . Didn't seem as an answer of a CEOAnyway , I have all this in video , be my guest to see itI just want it to go viral , cause the CEO is an a*****e arrogant peace a shitThank youFawzi kamelI replied 13 minutes later with only four words: “Send me the video!”After some emails back and forth, Kamel sent me the video under the condition that I couldn’t publish it without his permission. (Unlike on TV, he hadn’t consulted a lawyer and wasn’t married.) I watched it and knew that the video would captivate a world obsessed with Uber’s brash CEO.I spent the next couple of days trying to convince Kamel to let me publish the video at Bloomberg, where I was covering the Uber beat. Kamel was a hard man to reach — in large part because he was still driving for Uber to earn a living. Eventually, Kamel gave me the greenlight — even though Bloomberg couldn’t pay him for the video. It went viral almost immediately. Kamel told me over the phone this morning that I was the only reporter who had replied to his message about the video. I learned this morning that the dashcam video that he’d recorded wasn’t actually stored on his camera. So he’d had to go pay a company $60 for access to the video after a friend of his convinced him that it was worth the trouble.Ultimately, Kalanick and Kamel sat down, and Kalanick paid him $200,000 as a make-good. The money helped Kamel pay off some of his debts.Kamel is clear about one thing: He’s not driving for Uber anymore. “I will never drive again,” he says.I offered to share my SHOWTIME password with him, but he didn’t seem interested.Instead, I sent Kamel a cell phone video of the Super Pumped episode, so Kamel could at least watch a recording of another man acting out a recording of himself. These days, Kamel says he’s spending his time buying and selling stocks on Robinhood. He doesn’t hold that company in particularly high regard.Kamel has actually softened his tone on Kalanick.“Travis is actually someone — if you confront him — he’s a very good guy to talk to,” Kamel says.“Firing Travis was a big mistake because if they didn’t fire him, Uber could be way more today,” Kamel says. “That’s all I know.” Get full access to Newcomer at
4/5/20221 hour, 8 minutes, 44 seconds
Episode Artwork

Going Evergreen (w/Hunter Walk)

Hunter Walk, co-founder of the venture capital firm Homebrew, is a staple of tech Twitter. Walk worked on Second Life and at YouTube before founding his own venture fund along with Satya Patel.A month ago, the duo announced that they were dramatically changing their strategy. The firm had previously raised three funds from limited partners — $35 million in 2013, $50 million in 2015, and $90 million in 2018 — and invested in companies like Chime, Plaid, and Honor. Then, late last month, Walk and Patel announced that they had decided to change course and start investing their own money.That strategy shift will drastically reduce their pool of capital. And it will mean forgoing lucrative management fees that provide a guaranteed income as they wait around for their portfolio companies to mature. Walk came on Dead Cat to explain the decision to embrace an “evergreen” capital model. We chatted about founder archetypes and what types of founders he’s looking to invest in. In the second half of the conversation, we talked about how his views on content moderation have developed since his time at YouTube. And he bristled at the idea that I saw his brand as a “good liberal” VC. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
3/29/202259 minutes, 9 seconds
Episode Artwork

VC Jeopardy!

On this week’s Dead Cat, Tom Dotan and I reflect on this year’s SXSW. We take stock of the Austin tech scene and ponder what storylines emerged from the mega conference.At the 19:24 mark, VC Jeopardy starts. You can listen in as I host four venture capitalists in a fierce battle of startup-world trivia. Our contestants were Deena Shakir at Lux Capital, Charles Hudson at Precursor Ventures, Julian Eison at Next Ventures, and Steve Brotman at Alpha Partners. You can also play along yourself:Here’s a link to the first round questionsHere’s a link to the second round questionsThanks to my dear friends, Max Child and James Wilsterman at Volley for hosting the SXSW event. Wilsterman wrote the Jeopardy questions with some light oversight from yours truly. Volley is a San Francisco-based startup that creates voice-controlled games. The company just announced a partnership with Sony Pictures Television to produce a Jeopardy! game for Amazon’s Alexa and for Google smart devices. Great to see everyone who made it out to the event. Let’s do it again next year!Give the episode a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
3/22/202253 minutes, 39 seconds
Episode Artwork

Brands Are Not Human Beings (w/Jack Conte)

Patreon CEO Jack Conte took the stage at my first ever SXSW event with a beer in hand. With Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan, we discussed crowdfunding, OnlyFans, Substack, NFTs, Ukraine, and whether creators are brands.Speaking from the stage at the Volley Game Room at SXSW, Conte explained why his company wouldn’t compete with the likes of Twitter and YouTube to build audiences for the creators that it works with. “Patreon set out to solve a very specific problem. The specific problem we were solving was, there are creators who are getting millions of views, creators who have incredible reach, but they’re being undervalued by society,” Conte said. Conte said that he didn’t think Patreon could compete directly with large social media companies. “I actually don’t know that that’s a war that we would win. Those businesses are solid businesses. They have moats. They have network effects that make it very difficult to break into those worlds. I think Patreon’s best bet at solving this problem of creator payments is focusing very specifically on the problem of creator payments.”Conte seemed to be interested in exploring NFTs but was reticent to say that the company was specifically considering embracing them after receiving backlash on another podcast for even asking a question about NFTs.Toward the end of our conversation, Conte disagreed with journalist Taylor Lorenz’s stance that reporters should worry about their brands. Conte objected to the idea that creators of any sort should be thinking too much about their “brand.”For context, earlier this month, Insider quoted Lorenz in a much-discussed article.“When you think about the future of media, it’s much more distributed and about personalities," said Taylor Lorenz, a former Times tech reporter who recently left for The Washington Post. “Younger people recognize the power of having their own brand and audience, and the longer you stay at a job that restricts you from outside opportunities, the less relevant your brand becomes.”A bunch of political reporters — including the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Alemany — seized on Lorenz’s comments to take issue with the notion that journalists should shape their “brand.”Conte seemed to agree with Lorenz that journalists can increasingly operate independently of newsrooms, but he took issue with the idea that journalists should mind their brands.“Can journalists develop independent followings?” Conte asked rhetorically. “Of course they can.” “Do journalists need to be a part of larger institutions and leverage those institution’s historical reach?”“No, obviously, that is changing.” “But the more interesting part of what you just said is the distinguishing characteristics between this concept of a brand and the concept of a creator,” Conte said.“What I would argue is that those are very f*****g different things. Very different.” “A brand is consistent. It has brand values. It builds trust. It has decks of like its style and its voice and what it sounds like. And if it were a person, what kind of jeans would it wear?”“Like that’s what brands are.”“Brands are not human beings,” he continued. “They’re not.”“Creators are f*****g people. They’re inconsistent. They’re human. They're beautiful. They’re frail. They’re smart. They’re stupid. They’re strategic. They’re impulsive. They’re human beings.” Conte said, “We’re all trying to behave like brands today. And brands are corporations. Like we don’t have to behave like brands.”“When you watch a Prince music video — that f*****g guy is just himself, no matter what. And I don’t want him to behave like Walmart. I want him to be Prince. And my favorite creators, I want them to be themselves and I want them to feel human and I want them to not feel trapped by their brand values. I think it’s a mistake for everybody to think, ‘I need a personal brand. I need to create a brand.’” “Just be yourself.”Next week, look forward to VC Jeopardy with Deena Shakir, Julian Eison, Charles Hudson, and Steve Brotman. Get full access to Newcomer at
3/15/202258 minutes, 49 seconds
Episode Artwork

Keeping Tabs on the Oligarchs (w/Teddy Schleifer)

Suddenly, Silicon Valley is worried about its Russian ties. I’m getting messages from sources about potential Russian-connected venture capital firms and software companies with inordinate numbers of Russian customers. Companies like Netflix, Disney, Samsung, and TikTok are cutting at least some of their services in Russia. Meanwhile, Russia is restricting access to Facebook.There were echoes of this moment, in 2018, when Silicon Valley was forced to reckon with its addiction to Saudi Arabian oil money after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Investors started to wonder if they should feel guilty about the transgressions of their limited partners.But then the spotlight faded and the business world moved on.This time seems different. Most importantly, the U.S. government is expressly putting pressure on wealthy Russian elites. The ethical questions are taking a back seat to the foreign policy objectives of much of the Western world. So even in cases where people can justifiably separate the individual from the country, there’s intense pressure to hurt the Russian government by cracking down on individuals and institutions tied to Russia. There’s perhaps no more prominent Russian-born investor than Yuri Milner. Puck reporter Teddy Schleifer asked this month:“What is Yuri Milner thinking? That’s the question I posed last week to Milner’s spokesman, after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and then again on Monday, after Western governments responded with crippling sanctions. Milner, after all, is easily among Silicon Valley’s most prominent Russians, having made billions of dollars as the force behind DST Global, the venture firm that placed historic bets on Facebook and Twitter, among other Bay Area landmarks. But it was Milner’s embattled friends that put him on my mind: The Russian provenance of DST’s early capital was supplied in large part by Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch who made his fortune in metal and mining before teaming up with Milner in 2008.”In the latest episode of Dead Cat, Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talked to Schleifer about Milner’s public silence on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We discussed the abrupt transition from a globally interconnected financial system to one that is suddenly looking to root out Russian money. (A DST spokesperson told Schleifer that Milner hasn’t taken money from Russian limited partners since 2012.) We also talked to Schleifer about his list of American oligarchs. He ranked Reid Hoffman and Eric Schmidt as the most important political donors of the moment on the left, and Peter Thiel and Larry Ellison as number one and number two on the right. Cheekily, Schleifer gave Chamath Palihapitiya the number four spot — on the right.We also delved into philanthropy. Schleifer told us about one of his favorite donors — crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried — and floated the possibility that donor MacKenzie Scott’s rapid-fire giveaway project ends in disaster.Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
3/9/202254 minutes, 58 seconds
Episode Artwork

A Content Farming Retrospective (w/Shawn Colo)

In 2011, Google brought the hammer down on Demand Media. The search giant changed its search algorithm and sent Demand Media’s stock plummeting. The company had built web traffic by paying an army of independent writers — including Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan — to write low-effort posts that ranked highly on Google search results. The kneecapping of Demand Media’s content farm was a precursor to the platform wars of the next decade. Facebook became famous for building up ecosystems — whether it was social games or video news content — only to pull the rug out from the companies trying to play to the algorithm.Tom and I take a trip down memory lane with former Demand Media CEO Shawn Colo. He gives us a clear-eyed portrait of the company’s business strategy at the time and what brought it back down to Earth. Demand Media, co-founded by former Myspace executive Richard Rosenblatt, was for a brief moment more valuable than the New York Times, which had a content play of its own in Demand Media offers a case study for the challenges of media businesses: if the content is cheaply made, then it doesn’t have staying power; if the content is costly to produce, then the business will have low profit margins. It’s also a potent reminder as to how the companies that were once essential identifiers of a current moment in business can disappear from our collective memory. Colo — today the founder of investment firm 3L — identified some private companies to watch in the media business today. For his part, he has mixed feelings about the sector these days. He’s an investor in warehouse delivery company GoPuff, which we talk about toward the end of the conversation, and telehealth company Ro.Colo reveals that 3L’s second fund, which he’s already investing out of, is going to end up totaling between $400 and $500 million. Colo advises us that “if you’re making money, guys, the best strategy is to make money quietly.”Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
3/1/202258 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork

Super Pumped (w/Mike Isaac)

As much as insiders might bristle over their portrayals, television and movies shape how the world sees Silicon Valley. Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network defined how people thought about Mark Zuckerberg. Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short sold arcane financial stories to the masses. So Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I were interested to see how New York Times reporter Mike Isaac’s propulsive book about Uber from 2019 — Super Pumped — would be translated to our television screens.Since we can’t watch the show yet (the first episode airs Feb. 27), we spoke to Isaac — who has played an integral role in making sure that the show’s writers know the true story behind what went down in the Uber saga. We’ll soon see how closely they hewed to reality.But ears will be burning. Despite only running seven episodes, the show features a long list of tech characters. They might not be famous outside of Silicon Valley but they are the stuff of legend to Silicon Valley obsessives. That includes people like David Drummond, Larry Page, Arianna Huffington, Emil Michael, Rachel Whetstone, and Jill Hazelbaker. That’s not to mention the headline conflict between Travis Kalanick and Bill Gurley. Isaac gave us a spoiler-free behind the scenes look at the making of the show. We talked about Hollywood’s obsession with tech. Isaac gave us a preview of the questions he’s asking going into his in-the-works book on Facebook — which is already slated to become the sequel to the Uber series. And we concluded our conversation with a brief discussion of Isaac and his colleagues’ latest reporting on Spotify, which revealed that Spotify had committed to paying Joe Rogan a stunning $200 million-plus. Get full access to Newcomer at
2/22/20221 hour, 3 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork

Razzlekhan and Wordcels

Our regular special guest, Katie Benner, recently sunk her teeth into the intersection of an old passion and a new one: technology industry ignominy and, her current beat at the New York Times, the U.S. Justice Department. Benner talks me through the arrest of Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan. The duo were accused by the Justice Department of laundering money from the 2016 Bitfinex robbery. The arrest shows the federal government’s increasing sophistication when it comes to crypto currencies. But there are plenty of open questions about whether Lichtenstein and Morgan had the knowhow to pull off this historic heist. Morgan was a Forbes contributor who once wrote a column about protecting businesses from cybercriminals. She raps under the moniker Razzlekahn.Benner and I also talk about the apparent Chinese hack of the Wall Street Journal, Katie Notopoulos reporting on the identities of the creators of Bored Ape Yacht Club, and the latest technology meme — Wordcels and shape rotators. Get full access to Newcomer at
2/16/202256 minutes, 57 seconds
Episode Artwork

Meta Commentary (w/Alex Heath)

Last March, Alex Heath interviewed Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s virtual reality ambitions. Then in October, Heath broke the news for The Verge that Facebook planned to change its name and interviewed Zuckerberg again. This month, he wrote that both Facebook and Snapchat’s visions are colliding. They’re both hoping to look a lot like another app: TikTok.With newly rebranded Meta’s stock plummeting and Snap’s shares spiking, we thought it would be a good time to have Heath come on Dead Cat and explain what exactly is going on. Heath is a close watcher of social media companies — a reporter who takes these companies’ visionary pronouncements seriously. He’s far more bullish about the prospect of virtual reality and augmented reality revolutionizing our digital worlds than we have been. Tom Dotan and I talked with Heath about Apple’s crackdown on advertising tracking and why that’s hurting Meta more than Snap. We talked about Snap CEO Evan Spiegel’s ambitions for his company, which is suddenly looking relevant again. We chuckled about Heath’s recent interview with Matrix stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss where Reeves made fun of NFTs. And we concluded our conversation with a frank discussion about how reporters should think about interviewing someone like Zuckerberg.You can listen here on Apple and Spotify. Get full access to Newcomer at
2/8/20221 hour, 9 minutes, 40 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Dead Cat Experience

Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are pulling their music from Spotify over the company’s more than $100 million exclusive deal with popular podcaster Joe Rogan. The UFC commentator likes to host vaccine skeptics and has voiced his own apprehensions about the necessity of the vaccine for young people.Meanwhile, Substack — the home to this newsletter — apparently generates more than $2.5 million a year from anti-vax newsletters. The company recently published a blog post titled, “Society has a trust problem. More censorship will only make it worse.” It reads:We will continue to take a strong stance in defense of free speech because we believe the alternatives are so much worse. We believe that when you use censorship to silence certain voices or push them to another place, you don’t make the misinformation problem disappear but you do make the mistrust problem worse.Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I discuss the two latest controversies in Covid content moderation. We also talk about the market downturn and the broader risks for the economy. I argue that I’m more worried about the effects of Tesla’s stock falling than a crypto winter.Download the episode. Get full access to Newcomer at
2/1/202257 minutes, 20 seconds
Episode Artwork

Bobby Kotick's Call of Duty (w/Kirsten Grind)

Wall Street Journal reporter Kirsten Grind helped expose Activision Blizzard’s troubled corporate culture in a bombshell article in November, co-written with her colleagues Ben Fritz and Sarah Needleman. The article revealed that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick knew about the company’s sexual misconduct problems, including an alleged rape, and, in some cases, did not report the incidents to Activision’s board of directors. Then in January Microsoft moved to pay $75 billion in cash to buy the video games company — a 45% premium over Activision depressed share price. The acquisition could help Activision respond to a slew of investigations and legal challenges over its corporate culture. The deal gives Kotick a graceful exit from the gaming giant that he helped build. Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I talked to Grind about her investigation into Activision for this week’s Dead Cat podcast. Then we weigh the merits of Microsoft’s bid. Spoiler: We think it’s a steal for Microsoft. Give it a listen. Get full access to Newcomer at
1/25/202247 minutes, 48 seconds
Episode Artwork

Across the Pond (w/Ophelia Brown)

Ophelia Brown’s Blossom Capital announced Tuesday that it has raised $432 million for its third venture fund. (I told paying subscribers back in April 2021 to watch out for Blossom’s next fund.) The European Series A firm is taking a big leap from its $85 million first fund in 2019 and its $185 million second fund in 2020. Tom Dotan and I talk with Brown about her crypto investing — including Blossom’s recent investment in juggernaut MoonPay, which raised a $555 million Series A at $3.4 billion. Brown tells us that she’s buying NFTs with her venture capital fund. She appears to have purchased CryptoPunk #985 on Christmas Eve for about $400,000 (98 ETH). Now, with the falling price of Ethereum, it’s worth a little over $300,000, according to Etherscan. MoonPay isn’t the only Series A in name only that Blossom has participated in. The firm invested in’s $230 million Series A round that valued the company at about $2 billion. Thankfully for Blossom’s limited partners, just raised at a $40 billion valuation. We also talk about Brown’s early investment, with Jan Hammer, in Robinhood back when she worked at Index. And Brown tells us why she doesn’t like her friends to know her current whereabouts. Get full access to Newcomer at
1/18/202243 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork

No One Wants to Spend Any Amount of Time With a Plastic Thing Strapped to Their Face (w/Phil Libin)

Phil Libin is as deeply rooted in the Silicon Valley ethos as you can find. He immigrated to the United States as a child from the Soviet Union and went on to found the once trendy tech word-processing software company Evernote. He took a detour as a venture capitalist at General Catalyst. Now he’s a founder again. He’s the CEO of Mmhmm, a video conferencing company that’s backed by Sequoia Capital, and runs a product studio called All Turtles. Even though he has virtual reality headsets spilling out of his closet at his new home in Bentonville, Arkansas, he thinks the metaverse is “obvious b******t.” “It is a gloss that uncreative people and companies put over — fundamentally a lack of good ideas,” he says. “There’s a part of me that hates it and a part of me that fears it. But since I think it’s so spectacularly stupid, there’s actually not that much to fear.”Tom Dotan, Katie Benner, and I discuss the metaverse and reminisce about the days when people used to throw eggs at tech buses. Libin explains why he was quick to tell his employees that they would never be coming back to the office and tells us how he got it wrong at Evernote by trying to build his life around work. Get full access to Newcomer at
1/11/20221 hour, 1 minute, 13 seconds
Episode Artwork

Emperor Zuck (w/Deepa Seetharaman)

Deepa Seetharaman is a longtime friend, Wall Street Journal tech reporter, and — most importantly — a committed Dead Cat podcast listener. Her ears have been burning as we’ve talked about her and her colleagues reporting with former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos and as we’ve dissected her reporting on Instagram’s influence on teenage girls in our episode “The Facebook Philes.” And given the fact that we named this podcast after Mark Zuckerberg’s strange text messages with board member Marc Andreessen, we thought it was about time we brought on someone who actually regularly writes about Facebook to talk about the state of the company as it is under siege from whistleblower Frances Haugen and the media. Katie Benner, Tom Dotan, and I talk to Seetharaman about the Journal’s Facebook Files series, Mark Zuckerberg’s ever increasing control over the company he co-founded, and what Seetharaman knows about Zuckerberg’s relationship these days with Sheryl Sandberg and Peter Thiel. Get full access to Newcomer at
1/5/20221 hour, 10 minutes, 7 seconds
Episode Artwork

Defogging Our 2021 Amnesia

Katie Benner, Tom Dotan, and Eric Newcomer look back on 2021 in Techmeme headlines for our final episode of Dead Cat for the year. We discuss some of the biggest stories of the year: * In January, Microsoft said Russian hackers accessed some of its source code and the U.S. government pinned the SolarWinds hack on Russians. * In February, Elon Musk drove Clubhouse listeners (and journalists blocked by Marc Andreessen) to YouTube as they tried to listen to the live interview on the platform. It would represent a peak moment of cultural relevance for Clubhouse. * In March, Stripe’s valuation climbed to $95 billion. (And we talked about Stripe’s critics on Y Combinator-owned Hacker News and the coverage of Stripe’s hiring practices in Protocol.) * In May, Antonio García Martínez declared that Apple had fired him over the culture war backlash to his book Chaos Monkeys. * In June, the New York Times wrote about tough working conditions at Amazon. Later this year, a tornado would rip through an Amazon facility, killing six and raising further questions about how Amazon protects its workers. * Also in June, Andreessen Horowitz launched its much-discussed Future — a publication that hasn’t yet taken Silicon Valley by storm but has put every venture firm on notice that they need to think about getting in the content business. * We talked about Robinhood’s IPO in July and the rise of meme stocks. * And we discussed how big tech executives don’t seem to want to worry about the present. Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO in July as he spends more time on Blue Origin; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg rebranded his company to Meta in October; and Jack Dorsey left behind moderation challenges at Twitter in late November and then renamed his financial services company Square to Block, hoping to emphasize the company’s crypto ambitions. Finally, Tom, Katie, and Eric offer some predictions for what 2022 holds, though no one seems quite sure after this strange year.Techmeme!My favorite tech headline aggregator, tweet tracker, and conversation setter — Techmeme — has been generously featuring me on their home page as part of a round-up of interesting tech newsletters. So I wanted to return the favor.I check Techmeme literally every couple of hours and rely on it to do my job. And in a genuine coincidence, Techmeme served as an easy-to-navigate archive for this week’s podcast. It’s a free news aggregator for tech industry folks that’s updated constantly to show the most important tech stories of the moment and the commentary surrounding those stories. They also publish a daily newsletter with stories from the past day, which is useful if you forget to visit the site. Get full access to Newcomer at
12/29/20211 hour, 2 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork

Giving Hollywood the Business (w/Richard Rushfield)

Hosts Tom Dotan and Eric Newcomer speak with longtime Hollywood reporter Richard Rushfield, who launched his newsletter The Ankler in 2017. Rushfield told readers he would be “giving Hollywood the business,” describing his unsparing newsletter as “the newsletter Hollywood loves to hate and hates to love.” Now, Rushfield has broader ambitions. A splashy New York Times piece announced that he’d teamed up with Janice Min, the media executive responsible for reinventing both The Hollywood Reporter and Us Weekly. Substack is helping to fund their growth as The Ankler joins Y Combinator. Almost immediately drama ensued. Variety, the Hollywood trade publication and Ankler rival, ran a headline on Dec. 16: Janice Min Loses First Hire at Ankler Newsletter to Rolling Stone (EXCLUSIVE). It just so happened that Jay Penske, who was desperately trying to keep star reporter Tatiana Siegel in his media ecosystem, is the owner of Variety, Rolling Stone and Siegel’s employer The Hollywood Reporter. Meanwhile, Min insisted on Twitter that Siegel intended to join The Ankler.The blowup only seemed to firm up The Ankler’s insurgent posture and the threat it posed to Penske’s Hollywood media empire. We spoke to Rushfield about the contentious launch. We also talked about some of the biggest stories in Hollywood right now, including Netflix employees protesting Dave Chappelle and the backlash to the Golden Globes. Get full access to Newcomer at
12/21/20211 hour, 2 minutes, 47 seconds
Episode Artwork

Elizabeth Holmes' Moveable Feast (with Erin Griffith)

New York Times reporter Erin Griffith returns to the show to catch us up on what’s been going on with the Elizabeth Holmes trial. To the surprise of many, Holmes took the stand to defend herself. Griffith updates us on her lunch, the politics of queuing outside of the courthouse, and Holmes’ legal strategy. At the 33:40 mark Katie Benner joins hosts Tom Dotan and Eric Newcomer. We talk about Andreessen Horowitz crypto partner Chris Dixon’s anti-media tweets and Bloomberg Businessweek’s story on Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz purportedly slowly stepping back from their eponymous firm. We touch on leadership drama at Instacart and talk about fancy restaurants, including the viral review of Bros., Lecce. Get full access to Newcomer at
12/14/20211 hour, 2 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork

Dipping into Miami

Tom Dotan grills me on my trip to Miami during Art Basel. We talk about 500 Global in the shadow of 2017 exposé Dave McClure. We cover a potpourri of topics. I play my best Steven Pinker while Tom harkens back to his days as a digital media reporter. We talk about Max Read’s piece “Is web3 b******t?” and discuss the BuzzFeed public listing. (Ben Smith can finally sell his shares!) There’s even a brief discussion of the latest episode of Succession **spoilers** toward the end of the episode. Get full access to Newcomer at
12/9/202151 minutes, 57 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Media's Facebook Deflection (w/Alex Stamos)

We talked to former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos about what the media got right and wrong about its coverage of Facebook’s influence on the 2016 election. Stamos — who played a key role in bringing information to Robert Mueller about Russian election interference — is someone who is willing to criticize his former employer without letting the media off the hook. Stamos argues that Facebook inadequately addressed misinformation posted onto Facebook’s platform and downplayed its discovery of Russian election interference on its platform. BUT, Stamos argues that the media played a far larger role in helping Russian election interference by gleefully publishing stolen Democratic National Committee emails. We decided to check in with Stamos as the credibility of the Steele dossier has continued to unravel. We talk about the media’s failure to soul search over its own role in the hacked election. We also discuss the Facebook Files and Stamos’ objections to some of the latest reporting on Facebook.Background reading: Opinion: Indictment of Steele dossier source is more bad news for multiple media outletsHow Did So Much of the Media Get the Steele Dossier So Wrong?Collusion? Who needs it when Facebook was allowing Russians to help Trump? Get full access to Newcomer at
11/23/202148 minutes, 17 seconds
Episode Artwork

Tech Workers of the World Unite. Or Don't.

A quick announcement: I’m integrating the Dead Cat podcast a little more closely with this newsletter. We’ve brought on an audio editor with Substack’s support to professionalize the podcast. Now, you’ll be able to get Dead Cat right in your email. (But you can still listen to the latest episodes on Apple and Spotify.) If you don’t want to receive Dead Cat podcast episodes, you can go to and deselect “Dead Cat.” I hope you’ll listen along.What’s the pitch?It’s a show that gets behind the tech industry headlines. It’s hosted by me and Insider reporter Tom Dotan. Our good friend Katie Benner, a reporter at the New York Times, is a regular special guest. So far guests have included Rippling CEO Parker Conrad, Doordash VP and Obama administration alum Liz Jarvis-Shean, and Dispo CEO Daniel Liss. The podcast is meant to be a fun way to listen in on what reporters really think about the big tech stories of the day. Tom, Katie, and I have had a gossipy Signal thread for years. Dead Cat is that thread in podcast form.What’s with the name? Listen, Newcomer wasn’t the most creative name and I needed to make up lost ground. I also wanted a cute cat avatar. But we do have a rationalization for the name “Dead Cat.” Here’s the story:Thanks to a shareholder lawsuit several years ago, the public got a peek inside Marc Andreessen and Mark Zuckerberg’s text messages. Andreessen was coaching Zuckerberg on how to convince the Facebook board to support Zuckerberg’s efforts to solidify his control over Facebook even if he sold shares. Andreessen texted Zuckerberg: “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.”Zuckerberg didn’t seem to understand the language of spy craft.Zuckerberg replied: “Does that mean the cat’s dead?”Thus, the name for our podcast was born. To over intellectualize it, to me, it’s a statement about how the tech industry is already ascendant. The deed is done. The cat’s dead. We’re stuck with a culturally dominant Silicon Valley — the good and the bad. Now we’re just left making sense of it.What’s on the docket this week?Tom, Katie, and I talk about employee union organizing at tech companies and beyond. Tom argues that tech unions haven’t caught on like you might have expected from the cheerleading media coverage. We reflect on our conversation last week with Dispo CEO Daniel Liss and talk about reporter skepticism around cryptocurrencies. Finally, we touch on The Verge’s decision to resist background sourcing from corporate public relations. Get full access to Newcomer at
11/16/202145 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork

100 Percent Ethereum (w/ Daniel Liss)

We break the seal on crypto in this podcast in a long chat with Dispo CEO Daniel Liss about how the technology could transform social media products. He attended the big NFT conference in New York this past week and explained why the optimism in tech has been directed here. The conversation goes into what the crowd was like at the conference, how the consumer companies could embrace crypto as an alternative business model to advertising and whether it makes sense for services to jump aboard the trend even when its users don't care much about it yet. Get full access to Newcomer at
11/9/20211 hour, 1 minute, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork

Fine-tuning of the Metaverse

Yes, we talk about Facebook's metaverse announcement. And yes, Eric takes the techno-optimist point of view while Katie and Tom are completely befuddled why anyone would want to spend their time there. But also, we discuss whether the announcement actually buried all the Facebook paper scandals, why Frances Haugen's turn to release her documents to multiple outlets was a jolting move for any reporter, and how whistleblowers are now just another version of influencer culture. Get full access to Newcomer at
11/2/202141 minutes, 4 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Contradictarian (w/ Max Chafkin)

We dive into the wacky, wild and wildly inconsistent world of Peter Thiel with Bloomberg Businessweek editor Max Chafkin. He recently published a book, "The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power" that goes through Thiel's origins in the industry, how he influenced other founders and how his right wing political project is shaping up. Max also makes the case for why Thiel is one of the most influential characters in the formation of the current culture in tech. And Eric, Tom and Max mull over why Thiel's worldview is at odds with itself and whether maybe that's the point.Max's book: Get full access to Newcomer at
10/25/202147 minutes, 51 seconds
Episode Artwork

Blood Sport (w/ Erin Griffith)

We're joined by New York Times tech reporter Erin Griffith. She's been on the scene in San Jose covering the fraud trial against Elizabeth Holmes—tech's trial of the century, or at least the decade, or maybe of a generation. We talk about the surprisingly plodding pace of such a high profile trial, what kind of a case the prosecution appears to be building and what will be the broader reckoning for the tech industry. If there will be one at all. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/19/202147 minutes, 25 seconds
Episode Artwork

That's What the Money's For!

We discuss Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong's tweets about how the tech press' harsh coverage of CEOs is driving away talent and whether the increasingly critical stories about tech companies is the natural maturity of the industry. We also dive into last year's controversies when national politics spilled into company Slack rooms and whether banning it actually helped improve morale (as Armstrong also claimed). Finally, as top Facebook officials make the media rounds after the whistleblower's testimony in Congress, we disagree on whether getting an interview with a high ranking exec is all that valuable to a beat reporter. Get full access to Newcomer at
10/13/202146 minutes, 50 seconds
Episode Artwork

Look on my Monthly Uniques, ye Mighty, and despair! (w/ Ben Smith)

Katie and Tom interview New York Times media columnist Ben Smith about his piece on the deception at Ozy. This was recorded a few hours before the digital media company announced it was shutting down, following his reporting. We discuss Ozy's appeal to investors, the courting of billionaires, the nature of the fraud, and what to make of the entire cohort of digital media companies the sprang up at the same time.Ben's initial column on Ozy Get full access to Newcomer at
10/2/202141 minutes, 11 seconds
Episode Artwork

Three Down

With Eric on vacation, Katie and Tom take on hosting duties without adult supervision. We go over the rise of tech employees griping to reporters about company inner workings (aka "leaking") and what it says about the state of employee happiness in the industry. Also why CEOs won't be able to control it unless they address what's ailing company morale. Then we touch on the pervasiveness of gig workers around the world and what happens with a significant portion of the world's workers relies on that model. Also, the mortifying text messages between Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani. Stories we discuss in this episode:Elizabeth Holme's Texts: Cook's Memo: Gig Workers Get full access to Newcomer at
9/29/202140 minutes, 54 seconds
Episode Artwork

The Facebook Philes

Eric, Katie and Tom talk about why the Wall Street Journal's epic series about Facebook's internal failings is so powerful. And why Facebook continues to be aggressively covered by the media in a way it didn't use to be—well into the Biden presidency. That turns into a discussion about whether comparing the company to big tobacco makes sense. We also briefly debate if Peter Thiel is as powerful as the media makes him out to be. This will not be the last time we discuss Thiel on the podcast. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/21/202142 minutes, 13 seconds
Episode Artwork

If It Bleeds, It Leads

In a hosts-only episode, Katie, Eric, and Tom talk about whether the media has overplayed the Theranos story and argue about whether the public is still interested or what lessons can be learned from the verdict. That turns into a debate about other media-driven tech spectacles, like Facebook's camera glasses, and why reporters gladly play up the hype about hardware.  Get full access to Newcomer at
9/14/202149 minutes, 8 seconds
Episode Artwork

Episode 3: Liz Jarvis-Shean

Liz has handled communications with the media from the crucibles of both the tech and political worlds. We talked about her time with Tesla just as Elon Musk was finding his voice and going through and around the press. She reflected on her time with the Obama presidential campaigns, feeding opposition research to media about Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. And we debated whether the media has become too critical of tech, particularly from the vantage point of her current role as the VP of comms and policy at DoorDash. Get full access to Newcomer at
9/8/202148 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork

Episode 2: Christina Cacioppo

CEO and founder of security startup Vanta, Christina Cacioppo, joins to talk about how she was able to raise a huge Series A ($50m at $500m valuation). We also talk about her jump from being a VC to a founder, why Zoom-based fundraising is here to stay and whether female founders get a fair shake from the tech press. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/30/202131 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork

Episode 1: Interview with Parker Conrad

Our show begins with our first ever guest, Rippling CEO Parker Conrad. He talks about why the tech press spends too much time listening to VCs who don't have nearly as much power as reporters think. He also looks back at the way he was infamously pushed out of his previous company, Zenefits, and the role A16Z played in that saga.Our thanks to @yungchomsky for our theme music. Get full access to Newcomer at
8/23/202139 minutes, 28 seconds