The Six Reasons Smart Folks are Worried About Apple

There are two huge topics of discussion in Silicon Valley right now. The first is “Who will win the level 4 autonomy race, Tesla or Uber?,” and the second is “Is Apple in trouble?”

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One of the greatest parts of my life, and boy do I lead a charmed life, is that, for some crazy reason, the smartest kids in the class have decided they like to hang out with me.

I’ve been asking my investor, founder and journalist friends what worries them about Apple, and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought myself. Here are the top six (valid) reasons I’ve compiled:

1. iPhone 7 announcement fell flat
2. Project Titan is anything but
3. The Underwhelming Watch
4. How is Apple MIA on VR & AR?
5. Machine Learning & AI
6. Jobs said he solved TV, but we can’t see it

iPhone 7

We wanted VR, we wanted a new form factor and Howard Stern wanted holographic phone calls. We got Samsung’s waterproofing from two years ago, a new color (or lack of color), a camera upgrade and they took our headphone jack. 

I’m actually excited about the camera upgrades, as I’ve got kids and I like taking pictures of food, but I know that I’m in the minority of people who will upgrade a 12-24 month-old phone just to take slightly better pictures.

Those of us who drop our phones into the toilet, or who spend too much time emailing in the hot tub, will certainly appreciate the waterproofing. I’ve started to see friends making videos underwater on the Cape with the Samsung waterproof smartphone and it’s cool, but the iPhone 7 is rated just under the Samsung in terms of water protection.

As an aside, it’s kind of cool that there is actually a rating system around “immersion protection,” with the iPhone 7 being resistant and the Samsung being able to operate underwater for 30 minutes (more).

Is this Apple’s shortcoming, or simply a sign that we’ve hit Peak Smartphone? Probably 50-50, and that’s a huge problem for Apple, either way.

More importantly, Android’s operating system continues to get tighter and easier to use, and don’t get me started on how much better Google’s Project Fi is than AT&T or Verizon’s offerings, providing a real reason to switch to Android: less carrier pain!

Apple really should make their own Project Fi, as the best part of Android is kicking out Verizon.

Project Titan

Reports are they’ve rebooted away from making their own car, and earlier this year we heard they couldn’t find a partner for the project (i.e., BMW or Mercedes). The car is the missing piece to the puzzle, and the facts that they can’t get a partner, and have decided to not release their own project is really sad — or it’s a diversionary tactic!

Seriously, it’s completely possible Apple is making the car and is doing a MASSIVE head fake to the industry by leaking that they will simply be a software provider.

The Underwhelming Watch

Everyone I know bought the watch and very few are still using it. They added GPS and made it swim proof in version 2.0, but that is basically a catch-up move. My Fitbit Surge lasts for a week on a charge and has had GPS for a couple of years.

Clearly Apple missed the mark with a timepiece and now realize they need to specialize and win over the athletes. I give them credit for that.

My prediction: The smartwatch is DOA until they can put a 4G connection into it and make it a standalone device. Imagine being able to call an Uber, check your email and make a phone call on your watch while leaving your phone at home — that’s compelling!

How is Apple MIA on VR & AR?

If any company should own the VR & AR space, it’s Apple, which has a massive App Store with loyal developers, sexy hardware and made-to-use chips that are exceptional at graphics. Yet, here we are, with Oculus being bought by Facebook and leading the pack along with…. HTC’s Vive. Samsung, Google, Sony and Microsoft have really compelling products in the market as well.

Heck, Snapchat is making some AR glasses as we speak, which I’m predicting will feature people’s Snapcodes above their heads while allowing you to “blink three times quickly” to publish the last seven seconds of your life.

Yep, Snapchat will release a “Life DVR” before Apple even announces something.

[ If you missed it, here is the video from the tiny startup they bought, and their public demo. ]

That’s seven major competitors out there getting it done and we don’t even have a rumor about an Apple product. Now, VR & AR are very new and there is no clear winner, so it is possible that Apple could come from behind — like they did in smartphones and tablets — and lap the competition. But given their recent track record, it is strange we’re not even hearing rumors.

Machine Learning and AI

Apple took forever to figure out the cloud and now it looks like the same pattern might be playing itself out again with machine learning and AI.

The sexy features in products we’ll be using in the coming years might not be measured in design and hardware specs, but rather in intelligence. Do you care about what the car looks like or the fact that it doesn’t let you get in a fender bender (or lets you sleep on the way to work)?

Will you care about the UX of your next email app and calendar, or the fact that it prioritizes your email perfectly, and finds the perfect cafe, time and people to invite to solve your latest business meeting needs?

All the good stuff coming will be based on machine learning and AI and that doesn’t play to Apple’s strength — but boy does it play to Google’s!

Jobs said he solved TV, but we can’t see it

Famously, Steve Jobs told Walt Mossberg that he had solved the TV issue, and that he was going to do an actual physical TV — not just the current hockey puck device called “Apple TV” that you plug into your Samsung TV. (The one that comes with a kickass Smarthub built in that does 90% of what Apple TV already does, and some things it refuses to do, like support Amazon Prime!)

There has been no word on a physical TV in a long, long time, and Apple can’t seem to figure out how to do a skinny bundle for an OTT (over the top) service.

The Big Question People Aren’t Asking Publicly — Yet

It’s super annoying when folks say “Steve Jobs would have gotten this done” and “Jobs would never have stood for this,” but the reason folks say it is because Jobs was that good at getting the final 10% or 20% out of product — and Apple.

Without Steve, Apple seems to be getting by just fine, but these six red flags are leading folks to believe that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start thinking about putting a visionary product person in the top seat and having Cook move back to the more natural position of COO.

Tim Cook has kept the ship tight at Apple, but there is a growing sense among the most elite and informed people I talk to that someone with a bold product — or corporate M&A — vision needs to take over.

Founder authority, which is driving Tesla, Google, Netflix, Uber, Amazon and Facebook to dizzying heights of audacious innovation, is what’s missing at Apple today. Cook has managed the transition exceptionally when you look at the stunning balance sheet, but someone has to step into the driver’s seat and prepare Apple to compete with Elon, Larry, Reed, Travis, Jeff and Mark — who are just getting started.

In my follow-up piece, I’ll outline “the Path to a Trillion,” but for now, what do you think are the biggest threats to Apple out of those six? Are there any other issues that belong in the top six?

All the best, @jason

PS – I’m writing this on my iMac Retina, while my iPhone 6s and iPad Pro charge on the desk, but I’m wearing a Fitbit Surge and have my Nexus 6 in my pocket. I just bought my first Windows machine in years to power my Oculus headset. I’m 80% Apple, 20% other right now — and the Apple part is shrinking fast.  

PPS – Our next event will feature speed dating with the 100 founders who are the most ready for their Series A, pitching to the 50 top investors in the world. You get 10 minutes to quickly meet, so this is super efficient for everyone. Founders and investors apply here.


Scale v4.0

Founders, friends & investors,

On November 14-15 we will invite 2,000 of you to join us for the 4th edition of our SCALE conference.

The SCALE conference has two tracks featuring 26 speakers each, and we focus on the two most important aspects of running a startup:

1. Growth
2. Raising Money

This year we are also introducing “Founder | Investor: Speed Dating,” which will be 12-minute sessions between the 100 startups we’ve determined are the “most likely to scale” in the next 18 months and the 50 investors we think are the most active and helpful in the industry (both VCs & angels). Founders & investors apply for speed dating here.

There are seven ways you can participate in the event:

1. FREE TICKETS FOR FOUNDERS: Founders can come for free by clicking to tweet this message (limited to the first 1,000 folks):

2. Buy a Summit ticket for $295, which includes lunch & downloadable copies of all the videos from the event for your team.

 3. Buy a VIP ticket for $995, which includes lunch, videos of all the talks, and a seat at the two intimate dinners.

4. If you build a tool or provide a service for startups and/or investors, you can present your tool for 10 minutes on stage in exchange for helping support the event as a partner. Email

5. You can nominate someone (including yourself) to be part of the SCALE 100 speed-dating program, which is limited to 100 founders. In order to be in the SCALE 100 you need to have a product in market that has traction but that has NOT raised Series A. The goal of speed dating is to introduce the “up and coming” startups that are getting ready for their series A in the next 3-18 months. If your startup is pre-traction, you should apply to present at the LAUNCH Festival (announcement coming October 1st). Nominate your start-up

 6. We have 10 (unpaid) speaking slots left for founders or investors. If you would like to talk at this event the best way is to pitch us on a talk with the format of “How I built COMPANY NAME from X to Z, and from A to F, doing these three things.” Every talk at SCALE is designed to be massively helpful in either growing your company or helping you raise capital.

7. We have eight paid speaking slots with demo tables for partners who are looking to demo their products or services to the audience. Email if interested.


All of our speakers must rehearse their talks at least one time with me and my team. We give candid feedback and rank the talks before you see them. We do not allow anyone on stage who doesn’t score an 8.5 of 10 on our internal scoring system. Additionally, we ask all of our attendees to rank each speaker and we send those rankings to the speakers, along with your comments. We invite the speakers who are in the top 1/3rd to speak again the next year.

All the best, @jason

PS – Featured talks are listed below. Four stars indicate that this was a top-rated speaker at one of our previous events.

****Scaling Z2: The Next Generation of Zenefits, David Sacks, Zenefits

How Casper Revolutionized Sleep & Became a $100m Company in Less than Two Years, Philip Krim, Casper

****The Super, Way Early Indicators For Hyper-Growth SaaS Companies, Jason Lemkin, SaaStr

How to Increase Conversion 30% & Retention 35% by Giving Away Your Product, Amanda Richardson, Hotel Tonight

****How to Make Your Product Viral in 5 Easy Ways, Josh Elman, Greylock

Locking Down Series A: How to Know When You Have Product-Market Fit, Satya Patel, Homebrew

Winning With Data: How to Create & Scale a Data-Driven Company, Tomasz Tunguz, Redpoint

****A Step-by-Step Practical Guide to Getting Your Series B, Jed Katz, Javelin Venture Partners

10 Lessons From Scaling Pinterest & The Hierarchy of Engagement, Sarah Tavel, Greylock

****Stay Scrappy: How to Double Your Runway by Leveraging Co-working Spaces & Shared Resources, Paul Judge, Tech Square Labs

Take the Red Pill: The Billion-Dollar Opportunities Now Emerging for Businesses that Combine Software with Real-World Operations, Glenn Kelman, Redfin

****Beyond Fundraising: Building Trust With Your Investors to Ensure Profitability, Clara Brenner, Urban Innovation Fund

****Launching a New Market: Hacks & Guerilla Tips to Gain Attention in a New Geography, Sonny Mayugba, Requested

****Think Outside the Digital Box: Promotions in the Physical Realm, Aaron Magness, Betabrand

Leveraging Data to Maximize New Client Acquisition, Retention & Monetization, Melody McCloskey, StyleSeat

Every VC Thinks They’re a BizDev Rock Star: How to Really Leverage Them & Their Network, John Heltzel, Los Altos Advisors

Want Real Disruption, Have a Real Mission: 10 Ways to Scale by Strengthening Your Purpose, James Siminoff, Ring

Out of Office, On the Clock: Scaling with Remote Talent, Brian Alvey, Clipisode

****Why Attribution Modeling is Critical to B2B Startups & How You Can Master it in Under 60 Days, Andy Artz, Social Capital

****Beyond Sand Hill Road: Finding Great Investors Outside of Silicon Valley, Jonathon Triest, Ludlow Ventures

****After the Chicken-and-Egg Problem: How to Scale a Marketplace, Abigail Keifer, RedClay

Moneyball: How to Optimize Paid Acquisition via Segmentation & Landing Pages, Edgar Blazona, BenchMade Modern

****Don’t Take NO for an Answer: Creating AMP (Angel Market Pressure), James Heller, Wrapify

****Why you should NEVER Scale With Negative Unit Economics & How You Can Turn it Around, Jason Demant, Bento

****You Make What You Measure: Why Good Metrics are Critical to Good Growth, Kyle Hill, HomeHero

How to Scale Your Startup By Selling to the Government, Stonly Baptiste, Urban Us

****Zero to 60: Lessons in Building an Org Chart from Scratch, Adam Nash, Wealthfront

How to Land Customers, Employees and Investors Through Social Impact, Shaun Abrahamson, Urban Us

The Power of NPS & Relentless “Delightification,” Jill Bourque, RushTix

****How to Get 100,000 Users for Your Bot in 100 Days, Adelyn Zhou, TopBots

Delivering Delight: Why Customer Satisfaction is Everything & How to Achieve It, David Hassell, 15Five

How to Hack Your Hiring Process: Recruiting Top Talent as a Startup with Limited Capital, Andrew Farah, Density

Top 10 Rules for Customer Success, Mei Siauw, LeadIQ

****The Power of Customer Engagement: Leveraging Feedback Loops to Unlock More Revenue from Clients, Craig Zingerline, Votion

Evolving Twitter, A message from our CEO

Twitter is an exceptionally important platform, but it’s struggling massively in the past couple of years because it can’t figure out how to be an open, anonymous platform, while controlling harassment.

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It’s kind of embarrassing that Twitter can’t figure this out on their own, so I figured I would redesign the product and write the memo to the user base for their CEO Jack.

You’re welcome! @jason Calacanis

twitter verified [A troll-free twitter is coming. Image by @paljasma]

Evolving Twitter, A message from our CEO

By @Jack, January 1st, 2017

On behalf of the Twitter team I’d like to wish you a happy new year and thank you for not only using our service, but for passionately sharing with us how you would like to see it evolve with the hashtag #twitter2017.

Today we’re taking a major step in the evolution of Twitter by rolling out verified accounts to all of our users. Verification isn’t a perfect process, and it will take a year to give our most active users the blue check mark, but we think it will be worth it because people will have to “own their words.”

Continue reading Evolving Twitter, A message from our CEO

Splashy Cashy: Deep Stack M&A in Silicon Valley

[ Disclaimer: This piece is pure speculation on my part, with just a little input from folks who voted on and responded to this tweet storm. I obviously haven’t spoken to the founders of any of these companies, nor would they tell me if they were considering selling (obviously). ]

If you’ve ever played poker you know that a player’s ‘stack size’ — the value of the chips they have in front of them — can deeply impact their behavior in a hand.

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When playing poker at the $1-$2 game, where the bet sizes are very small, you’re going to play differently depending on if you have $5,000 or $50 in front of you.

Every hand matters when you’re short stacked, but very few hands are material when you’re deep stacked, as you have the luxury of playing a lot of hands or waiting on the sidelines.

Tech companies that are wildly deep-stacked right now:

1. Apple $200b+ in cash/equivalents, $593B valuation
2. Google $75b+ in cash/equivalents, $551B valuation
3. Amazon $16b+ in cash/equivalents, $366B valuation
4. Facebook $23b+ in cash/equivalents, $362B valuation
5. Microsoft $105b+ in cash/equivalents, $457B valuation
6. Cisco $60b+ in cash/equivalents, $157B valuation

Those six companies have $470b+ in cash/equivalents and $2.5t in market cap.

Zuckerberg has been the master of acquisitions in the past couple of years, having the audacity to pay $22b for WhatsApp and $2b for a *pre-customer* Oculus. Think about that for a moment. Zuck paid $2b for a company without a market, and that may take a decade to have 100m users — if that ever happens!

And look what just happened. Unilever, GM and Walmart just sat down at the big game and shot the locks off their wallets:

1. Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for $1b
2. GM bought Cruise for a rumored $1b+
3. Walmart is buying for $3b
4. Verizon is buying Yahoo for $4.83b

… and let’s not forget that Bob Iger is absolutely the greatest acquirer in the business, with Disney buying Star Wars, Marvel & Pixar for a paltry $15.45b — combined! He also bought MAKER, which was probably worth the $500m for the education.

Continue reading Splashy Cashy: Deep Stack M&A in Silicon Valley

Inside Drones


Today we’re thrilled to be launching yet another awesome newsletter: Inside Drones.

If you think this is interesting, here are a couple of things you can do:

  1. Head over to Product Hunt and look for Inside Drones, and leave a comment (I’m doing a Q&A right now)   

  2. Subscribe:

  3. Forward to a friend who cares about drones.

  4. Click to tweet a subscribe button (can edit before sending)

Drones continue to shift industries from film and photography to farming and urban development. They are advancing in quality, speed, and price at staggering rates, and the innovation doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

We’re committing a substantial amount of our editorial efforts each week to understanding this industry and the communities that are growing around it, and to delivering all the news that technologists, investors, enthusiasts, and pilots are looking for.

We’ve been iterating on it in private beta with a group of 50 drone experts and founders in the space, and have dialed in an editorial angle/process that we think you’ll find compelling.

As always, leave a comment and let us know what you think. – @jason

Introducing Inside Security

inside security twitter card-01

Today we’re launching our latest newsletter. This one requires a paid subscription, but if you sign up now we’re offering the first year for free: Inside Security

The newsletter is curated and written by David Strom, a veteran reporter who has covered network security, cybersecurity, and infosec for decades. These issues have always been important, but as more and more of our lives and society’s infrastructure moves online, security is going to be increasingly important. We’ll keep you informed.

If you’re a CIO, CSO, or anyone who works professionally in security, then this is a no-brainer. But anyone who works in technology or just wants to know a bit more about the security of their devices could benefit greatly from this newsletter.

We’ve been iterating on it in private beta with a group of 50 security experts, and have dialed in an editorial angle/process that we think you’ll find compelling.

Four asks:

  1. Head over to Product Hunt and look for Inside Security, and leave a comment or show your support (I’m doing a Q&A right now)   
  2. Subscribe:
  3. Forward to a friend who works in/cares about infosec and cybersecurity.
  4. Click to tweet to give your friends a free year of Inside Security (can edit before sending)

As always, post a comment and let us know what you think. – @jason

My AngelList Syndicate just hit 1,000 investors!

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.44.33 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.44.28 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.44.25 PM

I’ve been writing about the revolution in angel syndicates and crowdfunding for years now, and moments ago my syndicate (currently on AngelList) just hit 1,000 members.

As I wrote recently, we are the most active syndicate in the history of syndicates, with over 50 deals and a lot more in the pipeline.

For now, I just wanted to say thank you to Naval and the AngelList team for giving us our start! If you’re interested in angel investing, and you’re an accredited investor, I highly recommend joining AngelList.

If you want to discuss angel investing (even if not accredited), go ahead and sign up for, which is just content at the moment — but who knows, that might change some day! 🙂

Introducing Inside VR & AR

Today we’re launching our latest newsletter: Inside VR & AR.

As you might have guessed, it’s just like the Launch Ticker (i.e. highly curated, in-depth, no bs) except it’s focused on news related to virtual/augmented reality.

If you’re an investor, work in media or in technology and want to know what’s happening with VR/AR, or you’re a VR/AR enthusiast – we think you’ll like this newsletter. We’ve been iterating on it in private beta with a group of 50 investors and founders who operate in the virtual and/or augmented reality space, and have dialed in an editorial angle/process that we think will resonate with you.

Four asks:

  1. Head over to Product Hunt and look for Inside VR/AR, and leave a comment or show your support (I’m doing a Q&A right now)   
  2. Subscribe:
  3. Forward to friends who are interested in VR/AR!
  4. Click to tweet a one-click subscribe card for Inside VR & AR (can edit before sending)

As always, post a comment and let us know what you think. – @jason

Some thoughts on gun violence from a gun owner

Originally published in the Inside Daily Brief

I’m a gun owner, which might (or might not) come as a surprise to some of you who’ve seen me talk about gun control on social media from time to time. Of course, I talk about personal freedom a whole lot too, which I think makes me a model of how most Americans feel about guns, which is pragmatic and depressed.

There is no question we have a gun violence problem in the United States, as this weekend’s tragically record-setting mass killing in Orlando demonstrates (not to mention the murder of YouTube personality Christina Grimmie less than 24 hours earlier.) There are clearly differences between all of these horrible shootings, but you wouldn’t know that from how each side of the argument uses them to push their extreme agendas of “no guns” or “no limits on guns.”

We’ll see what the investigation in Orlando turns up, but these stories tend to triangulate around mental illness, easy access to powerful weapons and “lone wolf” terrorism. This time, we’ve also got to contend with the loathsome hate crime aspect of the senseless murder of over 50 people.

Lone wolves feel distraught, that the system has screwed them over and that they have nothing to live for, and suddenly an opportunistic radical group — or the voices in their head — leverage that isolation to achieve even more sinister goals. They’re very hard to deal with and impossible to solve for completely.

Gun control feels like our most challenging issue as a country, as our founding charter was designed to be difficult to change. Attempts to abolish the Second Amendment, in some ways, feels to patriotic Americans as evidence for why the Amendment exists — as a bulwark against unchecked government power.

Of course, the Founding Fathers didn’t give us many details about how easy it should be to get firearms, if criminals should have them, what the waiting period should be, or if you should be able to buy, say, a grenade launcher! Thanks, guys!

Perhaps the stalemate we’re in is exactly what our forefathers intended, a rough and tumble battle that makes us fight for every inch of progress or maintaining the status quo. Or perhaps the Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate that technology would exist allowing one armed individual to savagely murder over 50 people in just minutes. (How could they, in a time when the average gun took a couple of minutes to reload and the accuracy wasn’t particularly precise?)

So, here we are, a polarized country dealing with extremist groups, deadly weaponry that’s absurdly easy to obtain, a mental-illness crisis and a (largely) link-baiting media corp that makes their bones by soaking up page views and ratings when people die in random attacks.

There’s a solution to this, but only if we can assure the gun-owning public (around 33% of US adults) that the Left isn’t driving toward a gun-free society, with incremental controls as a pathway to complete abolition of gun ownership.

The reasonable compromise seems like requiring insurance based on how deadly a weapon is, combined with background checks and licensing, just like how we deal with cars. Of course, this can never happen if the Left insists on “no guns!” and the Right insists on “no limits on guns!”

In my plan, a revolver might cost, say, $100 to insure every year — about 1/3rd of the cost of the gun. A more powerful handgun with a larger magazine might be $250, while assault style riffle would be $1,000 a year.

The time to get a licenses would increase as well. Just as a standard driver’s license might take a week or two of effort, but the license to drive a big-rig might take weeks or months of training. If you want to buy an assault riffle, be prepared for a certification course and insurance, which would provide ample time for law enforcement — and the insurance companies — to red flag bad actors.

Right now, the time, cost and paperwork between wanting to pull off a mass shooting and getting powerful weapons to enact those plans is minutes. In my model, it would take months — and it should take that long if we’re going to allow them.

Now, a gun-free society would just be wonderful, unless you’re some conspiracy theorist who believes that a random individual, once thought to be unelectable, figures out how to hack the political system and take office, and then dismantle our democracy, starting with journalists, while blaming the poorest and defenseless among us. In that case, well, you might really appreciate the spirit of the Second Amendment.

What a depressing mess.

What do you think, is there a solution? Could we ever get both sides to the middle? Are you in the middle or on the left or right — and why?

Originally published in the Inside Daily Brief – subscribe to get all the best news in your inbox.

The Stunning and Expected End of Gawker

Originally published in the Inside Daily Brief

Nick Denton’s incendiary publishing empire, Gawker Media, collapsed under the weight of his excessively cruel and cutting philosophy today, an outcome many predicted, but that Denton miraculously dodged for a decade, as subjects chose to thicken their skin rather than get into protracted and destructive litigation, until Peter Thiel anonymously bankrolled them.

Gawker’s demise is an Rorschach test for the intelligencer, with journalists, billionaires, publishers and pundits all being forced to decide which aspects of Denton’s business to focus on, reconciling the loathsome (or socially just) outing of gay men, the hilarious (or illegal) tweaking of powerful media manipulator Steve Jobs by buying a stolen iPhone and the invasion of privacy of celebrities by publishing their sex tapes.

That last one, which landed a $140m bomb on Gawker, is impossible for anyone to defend, as was the outing of closeted gay man (and a non “public figure”) being shaken down by an escort (a story Denton had taken down), except by the staunchest of free speech advocates, who fall back on the “I wouldn’t publish it, but have to defend ugly free speech to keep whistleblowers protected.”

This is the crux of the entire donnybrook: where is the line between your freedom of speech and my right to privacy. If we asked 1,000 journalist if they would publish a stolen sex tape I think we all know how they would answer that question. If you asked 1,000 civilians if stolen sex tapes should be published I think we would get a similar response.

In fact, Gawker has employed countless very talented writers, who have broken dozens of important stories, and I’m guessing most of them would never publish a sex tape.

However, just as Gawker judged their subjects on their worst moments, they to are being taken down by their worst, bone-headed decisions.

In fact, the entire downfall of Gawker revolves around the outing of a gay man by a gay journalist working for a gay publisher, at a moment in time when being gay was something that would, sadly, often result in you having dramatically less professional opportunity. A time when Tim Cook and Anderson Cooper were in the closet, and when society might not have accepted their ascension to becoming the top anchorman and CEO in the world.

Gawker’s downfall has as much (or more) to do with our society’s bigotry against gay men as it does free speech. If Peter felt safe enough to run a hedge fund as a gay man (not an easy thing to do if you want money from, say, Saudi Arabia, where being openly gay could result in imprisonment, flogging or death), or if Denton and some portion of his writers, didn’t have the goal of putting gay men for some combination of page views and, I assume, to social change, none of us would have been dragged into their all-consuming group Rorschach test.

People are not all good or all bad, and Denton and Thiel are both unique, driven individuals who I know fairly well (I’ve traded emails with both in the past month), and who I see as hurt individuals now in the final act of a brutal drama of Denton’s creation.

Nick would do things differently if he could turn back the clock, and before a jury nailed him for his mistakes, so this bankruptcy is his Penance.

Gawker was worth $300,000,000 before this and I heard Denton owned 75% of the company. My guess is the company will sell for $100M, pay off creditors for the majority of that money, leaving Denton with A whopping twenty million dollars — a fraction of the $225m he would have made.

Peter Thiel will have spent $10-20m supporting these lawsuits, and get paid back all of that from the Hulk Hogan settlement, an inconsequential amount of money for someone with billions.

The whole episode will have no impact on any other publisher you know and Peter will never launch another volley of anonymous lawsuit against a publisher again.

At the end of the day we can agree that:

  1. We all want a free, vibrant press.
  2. We don’t want billionaires suing publications into oblivion because they are personally wronged.
  3. We don’t want journalists publishing people’s sex tapes, libeling them or otherwise invading people’s privacy.
  4. We want all journalists to subscribe to basic ethical concepts(i.e. fact checking, getting comments from subjects before publishing, getting multiple sources before publishing).

There is no big lesson here for journalists or publishers outside of “don’t publish stolen sex tapes.” If you follow the basic rules of the road you will should be fine. This Whole mess is an isolated, bizarre battle of will at a moment in time that doesn’t indicate on a larger or sustained trend.

Everyone back to work.


Introducing Inside Tesla

Today we’re launching our second newsletter: Inside Tesla. As you might have guessed, it’s just like the Launch Ticker (i.e. highly curated, in-depth, no bullshit) except it’s focused on news related to Tesla Motors.

If you own a Tesla, covet a Tesla Model 3, own shares in $TSLA or are an Elon Musk fanboy, you’re going to love it. If you like burning fossil fuels, destroying the environment, risking the future of planet earth and you don’t want to live on Mars some day, just close this tab. 🙂

Four quick asks:

  1. Head over to Product Hunt and look for Inside Tesla and join the discussion
  2. Subscribe:
  3. Send this post to a friend who owns a Tesla!
  4. Click to tweet a one-click subscribe card for Inside Tesla (can edit before sending)

As always, post a comment and let us know what you think.

Starting today “civilians” can be angel investors — should they?

This month I finished investing my first angel fund, the LAUNCH Fund. It took 35 months to deploy the $10m fund in 85 startups. During that same period, my team and I have run the most active “angel syndicate” in history.

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So I’ve been a “professional angel” for about three years, with three years of “dabbling” in angel investing as a Sequoia Scout before that. It’s been extremely rewarding, personally giving back to fellow founders, and obviously hitting a home run every 50 investments has made it a financially sound decision (who knows, I might hit a home run every 20 investments — time will tell — Yum! Yum!).

Angel Syndicates Two Years In

For background, angel syndicates are a new phenomenon here in Silicon Valley, with SeedInvest, FundersClub and AngelList being the most notable platforms in the space.

A syndicate is a group of well-heeled investors (more on this later) acting as one corporate entity, commonly referred to as an SPV (special purpose vehicle), in order to invest their money into a startup. Typically, we’ll have 50 to 99 investors (the legal limit in an LLC structure) who have put in between $1,000 to $50,000 each.  

We did one of the first, back on March 11, 2014, for a company called, for which we raised $328k. They’ve done exceptionally well since then, and I’m optimistic we will return a multiple on our cash back to investors on this company, in which few people wanted to invest at the time (back then mindful meditation and paid Apps weren’t as proven; today the company is doing millions in revenue). is not a done deal, but I love that we did that deal when folks speculated we shouldn’t have.

That’s what I do for a living: really, really risky investments. That’s why I call our syndicate the “trench run syndicate,” after Luke Skywalker’s — spoiler alert — risky attack on the Death Star.

We are currently running our syndicate on AngelList ( and we’ve done 45 syndicates to date, for a total of $12.2m, with many of them being oversubscribed (as in, people who wanted to invest were not able to because we filled our “allocation” which is given to us by the founder of the company).

There are 954 members of my syndicate, representing $3.9m per deal. Since only 99 people can invest in each SPV, we typically invest $200-300k per deal.

Included in the 45 deals are folks like: ($328k), Brilliant ($258k & $207k), OneDrop ($408k & $489k), Butterfleye ($748k & $168k), Signpost ($499k), Wrapify ($309k & $134k) and Cafe X ($416k).

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Lions & Lambs in the “Post Unicorn” Era

S’all about that dollar and we nuh deal with cowards
Weak lambs get devoured by the lion
In the concrete jungle, the strong stand and rumble
The weak fold and crumble, it’s the land of trouble
— Lil’ Kim, Lighters Up

Exceptional post from exceptional investor and deceivingly brilliant strategist Bill Gurley this week (he speaks simply, but drops knowledge bombs consistently — my kinda VC).

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Bill outlines the dynamics of the unicorn era and the funding dynamics for the founders, employees, VC, angels, mutual funds and LPs invested in these high flyers — and in some cases — “die-ers.” Go read it and take some notes in case you are lucky enough to invest in, work for or create one of these high flyers.

In this post, I want to talk about the new rules for aspiring unicorns which I will call “lambs” in this piece because, sadly, many founders out there have been softened by market conditions and are going to be slaughtered and eaten. Apologies if you cry at trees being cut down, and don’t like the graphic nature of the metaphor, but startups before their A round — which is where I operate — are a high mortality business. Eight of 10 startups angels invest in, in my experience, are a donut (zero dollars returned).

The mortality rate shouldn’t actually be that high, but an environment as frothy and freewheeling as the one we have experienced these past three years has lead first-time founders to a level of entitlement that makes an episode of HBO’s GIRLS, filled with the worst decision making since an installment of Friday the 13th, seem decisively well thought out.

In selecting startups for the LAUNCH Incubator we look for lions, not lambs. We want predatory founders that want to eat what they kill, sharpen their claws and be feared by the rest of the jungle.

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Understanding & gaming the selection process at incubators (like Y Combinator, 500Startups and Techstars)

Having run the LAUNCH Festival for almost a decade, and the LAUNCH Incubator for just over a year now (with 27 of 29 startups graduating), I’ve learned a lot about how people are selected for events and incubators.

Not only did I write the book on this kind of thing, starting with my “Ready, Set, Pitch event!” in New York City in 1997, I’m literally writing a book about it right now (book announcement coming soon!).

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In this quick post I’m going to explain to you how the first round of sorting works for incubators like Y Combinator, Techstars and LAUNCH Incubator (which is almost identical for events like DEMO, TechCrunch Disrupt and LAUNCH Festival).

After you apply to an incubator you are put into one of three buckets:  NFW, HFS and MAYBE.

Depending on the dealflow of an event or incubator, there are different percentages in each group, but for argument’s sake here is the rough breakdown:

50%: “No f@#$ing way!” bucket
25%: “Holy f@#$ing s@#t!” bucket
25%: Maybe

Your goal is to be so awesome that one of the reviewers says “Holy f@#$ing s@#t this is cool!” In the past couple of years I’ve had this experience a number of times, including when I saw, CafeX, FitBit, Zembula and Yammer.

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Understanding the magnitude of Tesla’s $11b+ triumph

Telsa now has 276,000+ preorders which, at an average order of $42,000, will result in $11b+ in revenue.

It’s clear that Tesla will hit 500,000 pre-orders this year.

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The original iPhone sold 5m+ units in its first year, which at $600 would be $3b+ in total sales. The iPad sold 19m+ in its first year, which at $700 would be $13b+ in total sales.

$11b+ in sales for a product that will be delivered no sooner than 21 months from now — a year into Donald or Hillary’s first term.

$11b+ in pre-sales for a product as oil has fallen from a high of $140/barrel ($5/gallon) to a low of $28/barrel ($1.60/gallon).

What can we take from this incomprehensible success?

  1. Tesla built up massive demand based on absurd NPS scores over the eight years since the Tesla Roadster hit the roads.
  2. Some percentage of consumers are enamored with the concept of emissions-free vehicles — even if they cost *more* than other cars.
  3. By extension, I think we can say that a significant number of consumers — enough to create the best selling pre-order product in the history of humanity — believe in global warming even though it will cost them personally more money.
  4. The long tech boom is very real, with the advantages of efficiency and innovation compounding at companies like Tesla, Amazon, Uber, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Netflix, which are designed around leveraging technology.
  5. Many analysts have no idea what they are talking about.
  6. Betting against Elon Musk, which seemed to be very much in vogue two years ago, is a very, very bad idea.

We live in a time of amazing change in the world, and Tesla’s past week will go down in history as one of the most important triumphs in the history of business, and perhaps even the turning point at which humanity decided to act in concert to solve a problem that transcends governments and borders: global warming.

Congrats to Elon and the team.

Best, @jason

PS – I always follow Tesla closely, but this time around I was able get the highlights from the Inside Daily Brief without needing to sift through all the noise. Check it out and let me know what you think!

PPS – At the 2016 LAUNCH Festival I hosted a VC panel with Hunter Walk, Aileen Lee, and Jed Katz. A great discussion you can watch here.

Tesla Model 3 Giveaway / Sweepstakes / Contest

As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Tesla Motors. I own the 16th Tesla Roadster and the Signature 0000001 of the Model S. Found it very touching that Elon took the time to thank the owners of Roadsters, Model S, and Model X for, essentially, underwriting the innovation and platform that has enabled the $35,000 Model 3.

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While I’m sure early adopters helped, the truth is, the person who saved Tesla and is responsible for this moment is Elon himself. He plowed his entire net worth and life into the company, year after year, and it almost broke him a couple of times. I’ve never seen anyone accomplish so much at such slim odds.

Over 200,000 folks have pre-ordered the Model 3 in the past 48 hours, making it what must be, on a dollar basis (200k X $40k average price = $8b), the largest pre-order for a product in history — basically it’s over double all Kickstarters put together.

Stunning, especially considering most folks thought this company would fail.

I want to give away a Model 3 in a contest for subscribers of’s daily email, and I need some legal and technical advice. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. To enter the contest, someone signs up for and remains an active subscriber (i.e., they open it and/or click on a link every week or so).
  2. When we hit 1m subs we give away the car to someone on the active subscriber list (i.e., someone who has validated their email, has opened or clicked on a link in the newsletter in the past two weeks, etc.).
  3. Avoid gaming where someone signs up with 100,000 burner emails (I think a Captcha, email validation and/or Facebook login would avoid this nicely).

Thoughts on how to execute this?

If we get to 1m subs, and half or 1/3rd stick around because they love the Inside daily email, the $35,000 Model 3 cost would put the email acquisition cost around a dime or two (which would work for us).

Note: I can’t promise we’re going to get this done, but if we do figure out how to do it we’ll figure out a way to give our first 50,000 subscribers double the entries — so go ahead and give a shot, it’s an awesome product that will save you hours a day and make you more informed.

best @jason

Join the greatest incubator ever created

We just graduated two sessions of the LAUNCH Incubator in March (two cohorts of seven), and they were our strongest class to date!

During the incubator, these 14 startups met with over 30 investors and have raised millions of dollars already — it’s been fantastic to watch.

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We are going to do another seven startups in the LAUNCH Incubator Spring class, which starts on April 20th (we’re 420 friendly, if you have a cannabis startup and are wondering), and ends on July 14th at our annual Bastille Day party — which is taking place on the last day of our new Angel Summit, a two-day retreat for the 50 greatest angel investors on the planet.

Startups we’re looking for have three things in common:

  1. Founders who are hardworking and driven.
  2. Products that are finished — or near completion — and that have been executed at a very high level (more on this below).
  3. Products that operate in very large markets, that could result in a billion-dollar outcome.

If you’ve got an amazing idea or business plan, but you haven’t built your MVP, you aren’t ready for our Incubator yet, and you should finish your world-changing product, while coming to LAUNCH Festival and SCALE as our guest, and watching This Week in Startups (taking copious notes).

If you have finished your product, have an MVP, and have traction (or even if you’ve started to scale), you should join the Incubator. We had over 1,000 people apply for the last class, and accepted two sets of seven. This time around, we plan on doing seven startups and we’ve already selected three.

Four slots are open.

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How to land early adopters with Product Hunt

Product Hunt is a great platform for getting early adopters to sample your product, and it’s at least 20x more effective than getting a HackerNews or TechCrunch story today — and 200x more effective than getting on legacy sites like TechMeme.

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Getting the first 100, 500 or 1,000 people to engage your product is hard, so it’s certainly an awesome resource if you follow some simple best practices:

  1. Only launch when you have a clever product that can get to the top 10. If you don’t have a product that’s as good as the top 10 over the past week, it’s best to focus on refining your product — because you only get one shot to put your product up (or one shot for a major version).
  2. Like the iTunes store, your graphics matter, so make sure you have killer screenshots.
  3. You’re not supposed to ask for votes, but everyone does. So, instead of asking for votes, make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers, friends and investors and ask them at 7am and again at 10am to “check us out on Product Hunt.”
  4. Respond to every comment people make.
  5. Credit all the people who worked on your product.

Product Hunt can be a nice bump for a product, and it’s certainly more effective than TechCrunch or Mashable articles these days, but it won’t make a crappy product awesome — only you can do that.

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Four days off social media

Monday I started my 100-day retreat from social media and it’s been wonderful for my productivity and longer-form writing.

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Here is what I’ve done to keep myself from accidentally checking my social:

  1. I took Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and put them on the last page of my iPhone apps, inside a folder — out of sight, out of mind.
  2. I turned off desktop notifications and logged myself out of Facebook and Twitter.
  3. I’ve replaced my social apps and autoloading pages with Wunderlist and Google Docs / Evernote (I can’t pick between the two).
  4. I started taking my journal with me to meetings and taking many more notes — and now when I get back to my desk I re-read my notes and think about what I wrote.
  5. We have been posting to social media things that my team needs to share with our audience, like clips from This Week in Startups, my blog posts and updates from (which is having a little resurgency since we moved 100% to email).

Last night at poker I found myself wanting to check my phone over and over and I did open Twitter to do a search about a $600,000 bet by some degenerate poker players. They are basically betting that one of them can ride a bike from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It sparked a $10,000 free-roll bet with another poker player that she couldn’t do it in 72 hours (she did).

I couldn’t actually find that information anywhere else, so I spent < five minutes on Twitter.

If you look at, it’s now essentially an RSS feed for this blog.

But What about News?

It’s my job to be informed, so I’ve focused my energy on reading four emails every day: two editions of LAUNCH Ticker and two editions of Daily Brief. These take about three minutes each to read, with LAUNCH Ticker having 25-35 updates per email (too many, I told the team to pull it back to 15-20 per email), and’s Daily Brief email having 15-20 updates (but about 2-3 links per story capsul). If I have time, I like to click on all the links in a story from Inside as they are selected to be either informative or entertaining (which I find fun).

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Founders: Do not waste money on TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Alley

Last month we had 15,000 registered attendees at the LAUNCH Festival and we gave 250 startups free demo pit tables and five tickets each based on merit. The way we did this is, candidly, we don’t make a profit off our event.

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Seventy-five percent of the people in the DEMO PIT reported they met an investor (the other 25% certainly did meet an investor, but those investors didn’t uncloak — many, investors, including myself, don’t uncloak at events).

Have you done TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley? Please take this SURVEY and tell us how it went:

TechCrunch Disrupt has taken my DEMO PIT model — which I came up with 9 years ago — and corrupted it. They are giving their demo pit tables to founders for only one day and they are charging founders $2,000 for two tickets.

If the Startup Alley is open all day, you’re going to pay $300-400 an hour to stand at your table. Not to mention you are going to have to fly to New York City with three people (what it takes to properly have a table), and you’re going to have to put yourself up for four days.

Four thousand dollars (with travel, at least) to do the Startup Alley is a huge waste of resources for your startup. Just think about what else your startup could do with $4,000. If your customer acquisition cost is $5 or $10, you’re going to get a lot more attention from angel investors by emailing them a chart that shows you’ve now got 200 or 400 new customers — trust me, this I know.

Continue reading Founders: Do not waste money on TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Alley