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Equity transcribed: Is the tech press too positive in its coverage of startups?

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Brex, Equity podcast, paul graham, SoFi, TC, Uber | 0 comments

Welcome back the latest transcribed edition of Equity, the TechCrunch podcast that takes a closer look at the startup headlines from the week.

Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm kick this week off by discussing comments on Twitter made by Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham about the tech press. They then took a look at Uber’s first-quarter numbers, Brex raising, SoFi raising (and entering talks to buy the naming rights for the upcoming Los Angeles Rams stadium) and a lot more.

Here’s a sample:

Alex: Uber’s expectations were low. They had set, in their last S-1/A, these figures out and they came in the middle of revenue and loss expectations. I think the phrase is priced in, and that’s an odd place to be.

Kate: Yeah. It’s good that they came in on expectations. Lyft, you remember, had losses that were way, way, way higher than expected. But I would just say bottom line is, none of these companies, particularly I’m thinking of like Uber, Pinterest and Lyft, which are just recent unicorns to have gone public that are not enterprise software businesses. Is that they’re not profitable, and they’re not really showing clear paths to profitability yet. So, it’s just a little bit like, well, not looking so hot.

Alex: Just a little bit more about this. Because I know people aren’t going to go read the earnings reports because it’s boring. But if you dig into it, gross bookings rose 34% year over year. But adjusted net rev only grew 14%. Which means that of that new gross bookings, Uber’s take rate probably went down a little bit. Which implies that probably Uber Eats grew a lot and Uber’s percent cut of that revenue is smaller. So, the gross bookings growth looks great, but it doesn’t translate.

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Alex: If you’re looking to sell your private company stock, SharesPost has a solution for you. With more than 4 billion in company approved transactions, SharesPost is the leading marketplace for private company shares. To learn more, visit us at sharespost.com/equity.

Kate: Hello, and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital focus podcast. I’m back this week with Crunchbase news Editor in Chief, Alex Wilhelm Hey Alex, how’s it going?

Alex: Things are good. It’s cold out in the East Coast. But I’m more excited to hear about things on your end because you are in the new TechCrunch podcast studio. What is it like?


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Y Combinator president Sam Altman is stepping down amid a series of changes at the accelerator

Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in Accelerator, advisor, articles, Artificial Intelligence, chairman, chief executive officer, Co-founder, Michael Seibel, OpenAI, partner, paul graham, president, sam altman, San Francisco, Startups, Venture Capital, Y Combinator, yc | 0 comments

Sam Altman, the well-known president of the prolific Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, is stepping down, the firm shared in a blog post on Friday.

Altman is transitioning into a chairman role with other YC partners stepping up to take on his day-to-day responsibilities, as first reported by Axios. Sources tell TechCrunch YC has no succession plans. YC’s core program is currently led by chief executive officer Michael Seibel, who joined the firm as a part-time partner in 2013 and assumed the top role in 2016.

The news comes amid a series of shake-ups at the accelerator, which is expected to demo its latest batch of 200-plus companies in San Francisco March 18 and 19. In Friday’s blog post, YC expands on some of those changes, including the firm’s decision to move it’s HQ to San Francisco, which TechCrunch reported earlier this week.

“We are considering moving YC to the city and are currently looking for space,” YC writes. “The center of gravity for new startups has clearly shifted over the past five years, and although we love our space in Mountain View, we are rethinking whether the logistical tradeoff is worth it, especially given how difficult the commute has become. We also want to be closer to our Bay Area alumni, who disproportionately live and work in San Francisco.”

In addition to moving it’s HQ up north, YC has greatly expanded the size of its cohorts — so much so that it’s next demo day will have two stages — and it’s writing larger checks to portfolio companies.

Altman, who joined YC as a partner in 2011 and was named president in 2014, will focus on other efforts, including OpenAI, a research organization in which he co-chairs. Altman was the second-ever YC president, succeeding YC co-founder Paul Graham in 2014. Graham is currently an advisor to YC.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Paul Graham on why he doesn’t like seeing college-age and younger founders

Posted by on Sep 1, 2018 in Accelerator, paul graham, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Yesterday, as part of some of its newest programming for startup founders, the startup incubator Y Combinator posted a new interview with its widely revered founder Paul Graham. The apparent idea was for Graham to share some deep thoughts about startups with fellow founder and current YC partner Geoff Ralston, though the two spend much of the (entertaining) interview discussing Graham’s formative career and his cofounders in his early startup Viaweb, and no wonder; one of them is famous hacker Robert Morris, who became the first person convicted under the then-new Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Much of the advice that Graham did eventually dispense to founders in the audience was interesting to us, however. Graham talked, for example, about his views on competition, which can essentially be boiled down to the idea that companies fail owing to poor execution, not because of me-too startups. In fact, said Graham, though companies worry about competitors, YC’s dataset suggests that “maybe one out of 1,900” of its portfolio companies has been killed by a rival that’s tackling the same problem.

Graham also repeated another point that we’ve heard him make in the past, which is that determination is far more important than intelligence when it comes to becoming a successful startup founder. Take away determination bit by bit, and you have “this ineffectual but brilliant person,” said Graham. But subtract out intelligence bit by bit and “eventually you get to some guy who owns a bunch of taxi medallions but he’s still rich. Or [who has] a trash hauling business, or something like that. You can take away a lot of smart.”

Yet our favorite part of the sit-down centered on the audience’s questions. One of these was a question about how founders deal with the varying commitment levels of their cofounders, which often change over time based on how the company is faring, as well as external events. Graham’s answer was simply for founders to ask themselves: “Would I rather have 30 percent of this [one] person, or 100 percent of another person?” (He said in the case of Morris, he would have taken 10 percent of him over 100 percent of another individual.)

Asked about the right founder DNA, Graham also offered up an unsurprising insight but one we personally hadn’t heard him say before, which is that YC isn’t so crazy about funding people who’ve worked at “certain” large companies for long periods, as it has learned over the years that they aren’t natural founders. He didn’t specify what the tipping point is for YC, but he offered that “if you’ve worked for a large company for 20 years, you might not be a founder, unless you were forced to [stay there] for visa reasons. Because if you were the kind of person who would make a good founder, you wouldn’t be able to stand working for a large company for 20 years.”

Related to this same question, Graham was asked about the trend in Silicon Valley to employ — and fund — ever-younger individuals. It’s clearly a trend that Graham finds objectionable.

Noting that he doesn’t “think on behalf of YC anymore” — not since handing the reins to President Sam Altman in early 2014 — he said YC “better not be [funding high school students], because that would be an evil thing to do, There are plenty of high school students who could start successful startups,” he said, “but they shouldn’t . .  . Because if you start a successful startup, like, the footloose and fancy-free days of your life are over. You’re working for that company.”

At this point, Ralson piped in to say that YC has “funded high school students,” adding that it isn’t looking to encourage them but has funded them “only because they are already going” with their companies. That didn’t stop Graham from warning that people who start companies at too young an age are engaging in “premature optimization. When you’re in high school and even in college, you should be figuring out what the options are, not picking one option and running with it . . . it’s good to mess around with a whole bunch of things in your early 20s, whether this messing around takes the form of college or something else.”

It’s not just a matter of losing out on precious time that could be better spent on exploration, he suggested. The real risk in taking the leap too soon is that it could work. “Starting a startup is like catching a dragon by the tail if it works. Be careful at what point you do that.”

You can check out the full interview here.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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How Airbnb went from renting air beds for $10 to a $30 billion hospitality behemoth

Posted by on Aug 12, 2018 in affordable housing, Airbnb, brian chesky, Co-founder, Culture, Denver, DST Global, economy, General Catalyst, joe gebbia, Lyft, New York, New York City, paul graham, San Francisco, sharing economy, TC, Uber, vacation rental, Y Combinator, Yuri Milner | 0 comments

Happy 10th anniversary Airbnb.

When we first wrote about the company a decade ago, it was a spare website cobbled together by its founders for the low low price of $20,000.

In the years since, the marketplace Airbnb created has radically transformed the rental landscape in cities, created an entirely new hospitality market and surged to a valuation of roughly $31 billion.

As it prepares for an initial public offering in 2019, it’s worth a look back on how far the company has come, and how its founders’ vision for a new type of way to monetize unused apartment space for budget travelers has become the engine driving a new kind of travel and new experiments in modern living (for better or worse).

When we wrote about the company in 2008, the pitch for Airbnb’s services had already been set.

AirBed and Breakfast will definitely appeal to younger travelers, and conventioneers who can’t find a regular hotel room. In overbooked Denver, where 20,000 people will be descending for the Democratic National Convention, hotels are already sold out. More than 600 people have found alternative accommodations through AirBed and Breakfast, and 50 to 100 new listings appear every day. Prices range from $20 a night for an airbed to $3,000 for an entire house.

Indeed, it’s likely that there would have been no Airbnb without the 2008 presidential campaign. The election created a serendipitous confluence of an incredibly unique historical moment where a groundswell of demand could be met by a new type of supply and Airbnb’s co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were there to capitalize on the opportunity.

It’s good to remember that in 2008, the co-founders were claiming that they could barely make rent. And they were certainly strapped for cash for the fledgling business. There, again, the 2008 election presented them with an opportunity.

“The world thought we were crazy,” Gebbia recalled in an interview.

But the RISD grads had that $20,000 in seed funding and politically themed cereal boxes to tide the business over. It was the cereal gimmick — selling Obama O’s and Captain McCains – for $40 a box that got them the hearing from Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham and acceptance into the accelerator.

Three years later, the business was a rocket ship. It had pulled in a (whopping for the time) $112 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz, DST Global, and General Catalyst and was already on the path to bulldozing the old models of hospitality with a shared vision for visiting any city anywhere in the world.

“Airbnb, with its strong management team and engaged worldwide community is on a path to become a transformational company,” said Yuri Milner founder of DST Global, in a truly understated statement at the time.

So transformational, in fact, that the company would go on to raise billions more atop that hundred-million-plus Series B round.

But that success has not come without a certain cost.

For all of the ways in which Airbnb claims to be unlocking the local economy, it can’t avoid the accusations that it has locked out local renters in favor of financial speculators who are buying up apartments to lease to a traveling class rather than sustain a viable and vibrant neighborhood for the actual citizens that live there.

One study, published earlier this year (and funded by the AFL-CIO and the Hotel Trades Council), indicated that the company significantly impacted rental prices in New York.

… the study estimates that Airbnb has driven up long-term rental prices by 1.4 percent, or $384 per year, for the median New York City renter. The research suggests that both restricted availability in the long-term rental market and increased financial incentives in the short-term rental market account for this increase.

It’s those kinds of figures that have led to the sometimes aggressive pushback from local real estate advocates. Indeed, it was just about three years ago that San Francisco protestors from the Coalition on Homelessness took over Airbnbs headquarters to protest what they viewed as the company’s complicity in the surge in evictions and homelessness in the city.

In a 2015 letter to New York legislators, Airbnb’s public policy chief at the time, David Hantman, wrote, “The majority of hosts use the money they earn to pay their bills and stay in their homes.”

And in a separate blog post (now apparently lost in a site redesign) around the same time, Hantman took Airbnb’s argument further. “In fact, Airbnb makes cities more affordable,” Hantman was quoted as writing in Vice. “Sixty two percent of Airbnb hosts in New York said Airbnb helped them stay in their homes and the typical Airbnb host in New York earns $7,530 per year — a modest, but significant amount that can make a huge difference for families.”

The company’s kerfuffles with regulators (a sort of mirror image of the woes faced by fellow marketplace service Uber and its American competitor Lyft) have not effected the way investors are valuing the virtual room-for-rent-filled house that Chesky and Gebbia have built.

As we reported earlier this year, Airbnb raised nearly $4.4 billion in funding as a private company, to date, and reports say it is on track to make between $3.5 billion and $4 billion in revenues this year from its business connecting travelers with private homes and an array of other related services.

That’s a long, long way from matching would-be attendees to the 2008 Democratic National Convention with air mattresses or sofas in Denver.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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