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Unicorpse: Why founders and investors should stop talking about unicorns


The current usage of the word unicorn makes me tired. I could rant about it for a while, but that would make me tired of myself ranting about it.

Instead, I’d like to focus on a word that appeared a month ago by Aileen Lee in Welcome To The Unicorn Club, 2015: Learning From Billion-Dollar Companies. That word is unicorpse.

From section #6 in Aileen’s post:

“Given how much capital our private companies have raised in the past few years, most likely have cash to fund 2-4+ more years of runway.  If private capital is no longer available in the future, these companies will seek a public offering or acquisition. Some will demonstrate strategically justifiable metrics and have fantastic ‘up round’ exits; others may see liquidation preferences kick in which will negatively impact founders and employees; others may fulfill the adage “IPO is the new down round”, which has been the case for more than half of the public companies on our list. Or worse, some may become “Unicorpses” :)).”

The word showed up again in Nick Bilton’s Vanity Fair article Is Silicon Valley in Another Bubble . . . and What Could Burst It?

“Indeed, contrary to Kupor’s argument at the Rosewood, it is this later-stage investing—with its shortage of regulation, tremendous envy, and Schadenfreude—that worries many bubble-watchers. “We basically doubled the number of unicorns in the past year and a half,” says Aileen Lee, the founder of Cowboy Ventures, who has herself become a mythic creature in the Valley after coining the term. “But a lot of these are paper unicorns, so their valuations may not be real for a while.” Others, Lee acknowledged, may never see their balance sheets add enough zeros to justify the title. They will be given a new sobriquet: “unicorpse.””

Yesterday, Erin Griffith had a perfect chance to use unicorpse in her article VCs have ‘Dying Unicorn’ lists, but they aren’t sharing them but she missed the lay-up and went with dying unicorn instead.

“But amid all the unicorns getting their horns, investors have warned of “dead unicorns.” In March, investor Bill Gurley made headlines with his pronouncement that “a complete absence of fear” would lead to dead unicorns this year. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen warned in a tweetstorm that startups with high burn rates would “vaporize.” Last week Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also predicted dead unicorns as startups seem to focus more on their valuations than their customers.”

Now, I don’t blame Aileen for the word unicorn. And I credit her for unicorpse, which I expect will be a lot more prevalent in the future. It’s not, in Bilton’s language, schadenfreude on my part. Instead, I believe that by focusing on the concept of a unicorn, we are paying attention to exactly the wrong thing.

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I once simultaneously sat on the boards of three public companies that were all worth more than $ 1 billion. One went bankrupt, one was acquired for $ 0.14 / share ($ 40m), and one was acquired for $ 0.025 / share ($ 25m). I think you can call two of them as unicorpses and one of them a unicorpse with nothing left but dust where the bones should have been.

Don’t feel bad for me. I once was on the board of a company that had generated lifetime revenue of $ 1.5m and was acquired by a public company for $ 280m of stock which, by the time the deal closed, was worth around $ 1.1 billion. Two years later, the public company (which at one point was worth over $ 30b) was bankrupt.

None of these companies were ultimately worth $ 1 billion or more. Each of them stumbled for different reasons, but a lack of obsessive focus on product and customer was a big part of why they vaporized. They assumed, regardless of how much capital they had, that they could raise more. They didn’t focus on building a long-term, sustainable business that had a huge protective mote around it. I don’t care how disruptive you are – if you don’t build a moat, someone is going to come disrupt you.

I’m encountering an increasing number of companies with burn rates in the stratosphere. I get uncomfortable when the net burn rate for a company goes above $ 500k / month. In fast growing companies with a balance sheet > $ 25m I can stomach a $ 1m / month net burn. But when I see $ 2m / month net burn rates, I vomit. And a $ 4m / month net burn rate, even if you have $ 100m on your balance sheet, makes me physically ill.

As an investor, would I rather own 30% of a company that is acquired for $ 300m in cash that had only raised $ 10m or 2% of a company with a paper value of $ 1b and $ 200m of liquidation preferences? As a founder, would you rather own 10% of the company that sold for $ 300m in cash or 2% of a company with a paper value of $ 1b and $ 200m of liquidation preferences? There is a lot more in the calculation of value, especially who gets what, than that $ 1 billion unicorn thingy.

Let me say it a different way.

There is nothing special or magical about $ 1 billion valuation. It’s just a number.

I’m not predicting a bubble or anything else. I’m not negative about where we are at in the cycle. I hope to live another 50 years as I think this is going to be the most interesting point in the history of our species up to this point.

But I do think it’d be useful for more founders and investors to ponder unicorpses and spend less of their energy talking about, and trying to become, unicorns, lest you one day find yourself a pile of dusty bones.

The post Unicorpse appeared first on Feld Thoughts.

This story originally appeared on Brad Feld.

VB’s research team is studying web-personalization… Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.


IBM Watson Ecosystem Strengthen the Hybrid Cloud Capabilities

IBM hybrid cloud 300x199 IBM Watson Ecosystem Strengthen The Hybrid Cloud CapabilitiesIBM has introduced new hybrid cloud capabilities for Watson to help companies to connect their data with web applications in the cloud. Watson Hybrid Cloud solution will use Watson Explorer as the default platform for application development, combining enterprise data sources in the application through a scalable environment that keep local and private data secure.

With the new hybrid cloud capabilities, users can more quickly extract business intelligence from data housed in multiple environments – traditional or cloud. In addition, IBM has announced the addition of 270 new partners to the ecosystem of Watson, as well as new specialized cognitive apps in different sectors such as entertainment, energy, health and tourism in order to save time, risk, and ensure regulatory compliance.

Cognitive application developers often face the challenge of where to locate the data and can not move them all to a public cloud for different reasons, either because of their huge amount, or by privacy requirements, regulations or security. Using the IBM hybrid cloud capabilities, users can quickly extract business intelligence data hosted securely in multiple environments.

The platform allows companies to develop applications in seconds and with minimal configuration. Watson Hybrid Cloud solution will use Watson Explorer as the default platform for application development, combining enterprise data sources in the application through a scalable environment that keep local and private data securely.

IBM Watson Analytics automates some steps of the analysis, such as data preparation, predictive analysis and visualization in an understandable way for different departments within a company, such as marketing, sales, operations, finance and human resources.

IBM has also renewed its portfolio with new products that allow companies to integrate hybrid cloud solutions in their organization, and meet new workloads generated by the rise of mobile, social and analytical technologies. The new IBM Power Systems, IBM Spectrum Storage, IBM Systems z, IBM Middleware, IBM SoftLayer and OpenStack software, promise to help customers easier navigation between these environments and more valuable for the development of business information.

Last month, IBM launched a new division called IBM Watson Health allowing patients, physicians, researchers and insurance sectors to deal effectively with health data. The unit offers a secure platform for open cloud for doctors, researchers, insurance companies and solution-oriented health and wellness, allowing anonymity to share and combine data concerning health companies.

MarketsandMarkets, the consulting and market research firm, has estimated that the growth of hybrid cloud will reach about $ 84.67 billion in 2019. The results of this study show the increasing adoption of the hybrid cloud computing model.

The main features of the hybrid cloud computing model are the standards and shared services, packaged solutions, self-service, scalable, price based on use, accessible via the Internet, standard UI technologies and publishing services and API, which result in a more efficient use of IT assets , greater agility to launch new services and greater cost efficiency.

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Amazon Pop-up Loft programme to give start ups free web service training

amazon awsThe Amazon Web Services (AWS) Pop-up Loft programme has extended to London, with the opening of dedicated office space where start ups can get free support from cloud computing experts.

The Fore Street offices, close to the city of London, will be open until the end of October with the intention of bringing together developers, engineers, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts. AWS is offering personal help and guidance from a range of experts from both AWS and its partners, with the intention of encouraging entrepreneurs to build new systems on AWS or create their own startups. Once registered, visitors can participate in training courses, boot camps, self-paced labs, seminars or networking events.

The programme will feature a number of educational strands for would-be developers. Under the Ask an Architect initiative, AWS users can book appointment for a one to one meeting with an AWS systems expert to discuss technical questions about their AWS architecture, AWS features and cost optimization. The AWS Technical Bootcamps will be free one day training sessions run by experienced AWS instructors and systems designers, with the aim of giving delegates hands-on experience using a live environment with the AWS Management Console.

The free technical sessions are designed to cover development areas in which experienced instructors are rare in the cloud industry, such as mobile and gaming, databases, big data, compute and networking, architecture, operations, and security. AWS customers, partners and industrialists will also host evening sessions to share their experiences.

Startups will also get the chance to hear from customers, venture capitalists and incubators. Experts in venture capital, from Seedcamp and Techstars, will be on had to offer funding and business development guidance.

Intel, a supporter of the programme, will host talks and demonstrate new advances in Xeon processors and the Internet of Things. IT automation company Chef will advise on development operations.

Pop-up Loft London is the third initiative in the programme after previous events in San Francisco and New York as AWS aims to help local startups to grow their businesses using its cloud services.  Two thirds of the UK’s startups with valuations of over a billion dollars, including Skyscanner, JustEat, Powa, Fanduel and Shazam, now use AWS to run their services, Amazon claims.

“We’re bringing some of the brightest and most creative minds in the industry to help startups across the UK,” said Amazon CTO Werner Vogels.


Hammer & Chisel pivots to voice comm app for multiplayer mobile games

Discord's creators Jason Citron and Eros Resmini of Hammer & Chisel.


Hammer & Chisel didn’t have much luck with its pioneering iPad game, Fates Forever. It launched last year as a mobile version of the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games. It won a lot of praise, but it didn’t get traction with players.

So Jason Citron, the founder of Hammer & Chisel, made the tough choice of shutting the free-to-play game down and pivoting to something new. It was an emotional time, but the team came through with something new, he said. The result is Discord, a new free voice communication chat app for multiplayer mobile games.

The app is in alpha testing now, and it is getting a lot of traction from players who want a reliable way to talk to team members during a game. Citron hopes it will make a splash in the $ 1.7 billion voice chat market, which is growing within the larger esports professional gaming market.

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“We think it’s a necessary, missing piece for the esports movement,” Citron said in an interview with GamesBeat.

Citron said investors have been supportive, in part because Discord is taking off, even though it’s still in alpha testing.

Citron’s Hammer & Chisel went through YouWeb’s 9+ incubator, which provided initial funding. Early investors included Accel, TWI, and IDG. Then the company raised another round of funding earlier this year from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark Capital and Chinese Internet gaming company Tencent. Citron in particular got a lot of attention for his new startup because he built Aurora Feint, later called OpenFeint, in the early days of the Apple App Store and then sold it to Gree in 2011 for $ 104 million. That was an extraordinary, fast-moving experience for an entrepreneur who had a big pay day at the age of 26.

Discord voice and text chat for mobile games.

Above: Discord voice and text chat for mobile games.

Image Credit: Hammer & Chisel

But with Hammer & Chisel, his first move wasn’t a success.

“We were very careful in spending our money,” Citron said. “We are an experienced team. We’ve done this before. We spent enough to get Fates Forever out. It was clear it wasn’t going to be a big business. We didn’t burn a lot of money on marketing.”

Fates Forever had a lot of critical acclaim as a pioneering MOBA on mobile. It had a lot of attention from Apple, which featured it prominently.

“We could theorize about why a game didn’t work, but at the end of the day, it didn’t work,” he said. “Making games is challenging. It’s a combination of novelty, pop culture, and operations. It was a very emotionally difficult time. We all love games. A lot of the most important relationships with my wife and best friends are built around games. A lot of our best memories we have are about playing games together. That’s what motivates me. I want to make things that help people become closer together through games.”

During the process of creating Fates Forever, the team noticed that voice and text chat for mobile hadn’t advanced. Over the past decade, there hadn’t been much progress as voice chat moved from the PC to mobile. So the team started experimenting.

Fates Forever

Above: Fates Forever

Image Credit: Hammer & Chisel

“Out of that, we built Discord,” Citron said.

Others have devised ways to handle game communication, such as Curse, Skype, C3, Hipchat, and Teamspeak. But Eros Resmini, who handles business operations at Hammer & Chisel, said that none of them are that satisfying. In fact, you can think of Discord as a mashup of two useful tools.

“If you think Skype and Teamspeak had a baby and it hand all sorts of super powers that is parents didn’t have,” Citron said. “What was basically a skunkworks project appears to be the most promising product we’ve built.”

Citron said that Discord became popular because it has low-latency communication, or minimal delays between when someone says something and another person hears it.

For much of this year, the company has been working on Discord. The networking infrastructure is built in Erlang, a technology that AT&T created in the 1980s for telecommunications. The system is spread across nine data centers around the world. The company has done tests to make sure that the latency is good.

Resmini also noted that esports competitors — or professional gamers who play games for money prizes — were worried about security. With Skype, it’s easy to get somebody else’s personal internet protocol (IP) address because the communication happens peer-to-peer. Citron said that Discord works through server infrastructure, so it’s impossible for anyone to obtain another player’s IP address. If a voice server in the distributed cloud gets attacked by flooding it with data, it shifts the communication to another server.

“We have special hardware on our endpoints that does distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection,” Citron said.

Discord for mobile game chat.

Above: Discord for mobile game chat.

Image Credit: Hammer & Chisel

Discord runs in a browser or as an app. So getting into the chat is easy, as all you have to do is share a link and type in your user name.

“That’s the magic moment,” Citron said. “It’s really easy to get people into a chat.”

Early reaction has been favorable for Discord. The company hasn’t spent money on user acquisition, but it is spreading via word of mouth.

“We’ve thought about doing esports sponsorship deals, but it’s growing so fast on its own that we haven’t yet,” Resmini said.

Over time, Hammer & Chisel hopes to introduce ways to monetize Discord. Those options include offering paid customization to players, who can pay for special “emoji” text chat or other kinds of stickers or decals.

Citron founded Hammer & Chisel as a mobile-first game company in 2012. Eros Resmini, who also worked at OpenFeint, joined to help get Discord off the ground.

VB’s research team is studying web-personalization… Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.


Uber, Didi Kuaidi Race In China As Uber Pledges To Be In 100 More Cities In A Year

Uber doubled its promises of Chinese expansion when its CEO said Tuesday it will be in 100 new Chinese cities in a year. The U.S. ride-hailing giant is pushing forward in China despite intense — and capital-heavy — competition from Didi Kuaidi, the homegrown, newly-merged company that has raised Uber-sized funds to hold on to its lead in China.

Cloud Computing

Google Compute Engine adds bigger VMs, autoscaling

Google Compute Engine, the company’s IaaS cloud computing offering, got a face-lift today with the announcement that new autoscaling features and 32-core VMs would be available to the general public.

Autoscaler, according to an official blog post, is the same system that Google itself uses to dynamically scale the number of VMs being used by a given application based on load — users set utilization targets, and the autoscaling system spins up or shuts down VMs in order to keep, say, RAM utilization at 50 precent. The idea is to remove the need for extensive capacity planning and management, Google said.

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