Can the US Compete in Solar and Electric Vehicles?
A lot to digest this week. China’s global economic leadership in sustainable tech, @garrytan has a new role heading Y Combinator, @OM exposes Apple’s AI weakness, @VitalikButerin has a new book, @Cloudflare defends the freedom to publish, @ttunguz thinks about web3 apps and @SamirKaji tweets about what makes a good VC.
By Keith Teare • Issue #325
The long road to American-made EVs
China’s Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain
Apple’s missing “augmented” intelligence
Y Combinator: accelerator investments need to change focus
Welcome Home, Garry Tan
How emerging VC funds can attract capital
Proof of Stake - The Book
The Future of Crypto Native Consumer Products
Why We'll See More New Types of Web3 Apps in the Next Year by @ttunguz
The 5 Phases of Figma’s Community-Led Growth: From Stealth to Enterprise
Cloudflare's abuse policies & approach
Cloudflare probably won't terminate services for 'despicable' sites
Substack Reins in Cash and Perks for Writers as Creator Economy Retrenches
Snap Will Lay Off One in Five of its Employees This Week
Madrona Venture Group opens Silicon Valley office
China has been going through a lot of pain during Covid. The government policy of drastic lockdowns reflects its insecurities, especially surrounding its vaccine. And the economy has slowed significantly from the rapid growth of the pre-Covid years.
Despite these truths, this week sees new evidence of its likely economic dominance in years to come. EV innovation and production in China are huge. @BededictEvans chart from @Bloomberg shows that almost 30% of vehicles sold in China are now plug-in automobiles.
Then, @VisualCapitalist weighs in with charts showing China’s dominance in all aspects of solar panel supply.
The world economy is made up of nation-states and the economic balance between them is constantly changing. These changes happen in decades, not weeks, but they have tipping points.
China’s economic power will ultimately be reflected in political and military might in the same way Britain’s was and more recently the USA's. That is why it is so dangerous for US politicians to provoke China as Nancy Pelosi did recently with her Taiwan visit. It was both naive and uneducated.
Can the US do anything to stem the inevitable rise of the Chinese economy? The short answer is no. Why? Economics. The size, youth, and productivity of China are so far ahead of the US that only a re-start as Japan and Korea, had in 1945, could enable the investment required to modernize. That took a world war, and help from the nation that defeated them.
But there is no shame in being eclipsed by a new economic power. As the UK has shown, moving from being first to second or even lower down the world economic league table is not a life-ending change. Being large, prosperous, and happy is possible without being in first place. But attempting to stay in first place, and acting as if nothing has changed, is foolish.
And talking of being in first place, Y Combinator has a new CEO, starting in January. Garry Tan is the new leader, replacing Geoff Ralston. I have had the pleasure of meeting both over the years. Garry is an investor in SignalRank. The FT writes that YC is going to have to change in light of the drying up of later-stage capital. That is probably correct. But YC is a powerhouse and I think Garry will accelerate its ability to spot and nurture innovative startups.
Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn, Cloudflare’s founders, defended the company from critics this week. The attack was an attempt to force Cloudflare to close down websites that published views the critics considered too extreme to exist. The Cloudflare team responded by strongly defending the right to publish - even acknowledging that previous decisions to close down far-right sites were an error of judgment. Read their reasoning below. I consider it right and, in light of the atmosphere surrounding freedom of speech, brave. Well done @eastdakota and @zatlyn.
And @Om has done it again. A wonderful piece pointing out how the company he and I both love for its products - Apple - is well behind in the use of even simple intelligence in software. Siri is a bit brain dead……
The Video and Podcast accompanying That Was The Week is recorded separately on Fridays and delivered to paying subscribers via email. To subscribe, go to our home at Substack
China's Lead in Solar and Electric Vehicles
The Inflation Reduction Act lays the groundwork for an EV supply that starts in the United States.
For years, prospective electric vehicle buyers could count on a federal vehicle tax credit, which amounts to a $7,500 discount on a wide range of EV models. The incentive was originally authorized in 2008 and played a critical part in promoting early EV startups and encouraging price-conscious consumers to take the plunge and go electric. The IRA extends the tax credit until 2032 and establishes an additional $4,000 credit for used EVs.
But there are new rules, too, for a vehicle to qualify for that credit. The final assembly of any qualified vehicles must take place in North America, and the credit will also hinge on the vehicle’s size, its total cost, and potential buyers’ income. Starting before 2024, at least 40 percent of the critical minerals and at least half of the battery components used to build new eligible EVs will need to come from the US or one of its free trade partners to access the full credit.
China’s Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain
Many governments are investing in renewable energy sources like solar power, but who controls the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels?
As it turns out, China owns the vast majority of the world’s solar panel supply chain, controlling at least 75% of every single key stage of solar photovoltaic panel manufacturing and processing.
This visualization shows the shares held by different countries and regions of the key stages of solar panel manufacturing, using data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Solar Panel Manufacturing, by Country and Stage
From polysilicon production to soldering finished solar cells and modules onto panels, China has the largest share in every stage of solar panel manufacturing.
Even back in 2010, the country made the majority of the world’s solar panels, but over the past 12 years, its average share of the solar panel supply chain has gone from 55% to 84%.
China also continues to lead in terms of investment, making up almost two-thirds of global large-scale solar investment. In the first half of 2022, the country invested $41 billion, a 173% increase from the year before.
Country/RegionSolar Panel DemandAverage Share of Solar Panel Manufacturing CapacityChina36.4%84.0%Europe16.8%2.9%North America17.6%2.8%Asia-Pacific13.2%9.1%India6.9%1.3%Rest of the World9.1%0.8%
Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding
After China, the next leading nation in solar panel manufacturing is India, which makes up almost 3% of solar module manufacturing and 1% of cell manufacturing. To help meet the country’s goal of 280 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity by 2030 (currently 57.9 GW), in 2022 the Indian government allocated an additional $2.6 billion to its production-linked incentive scheme that supports domestic solar PV panel manufacturing.
The post Visualizing China’s Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain appeared first on Visual Capitalist.
Credit: Om Malik
Essays of the Week
As part of writing a review, I have been using Apple’s 2022 version of the 13-inch MacBook Air. I am not the first one to say it — many others have said before — it is a great device. It is a great testimonial of Apple’s hardware excellence and knowledge crammed into this thin sliver of engineering marvel. The new M2 chip, the longer battery life, improved webcam, keyboard, and speakers — everything is of exceptional quality. Apple does know how to build good premium hardware at scale.
Sadly, you can’t say the same when it comes to its software & services that rely on machine learning and augmented intelligence. The obvious deficiencies, whether on the Mac, the iPhone, or the iPad, are quite annoying. Take the Mac as an example. By now, it should be easier for the “notification” system to understand that showing notifications of events that have already happened is mere noise and a nuisance. And yet, you have to manually delete them. I mean, it should be obvious to any computer system and any application that date and time have passed.
Don’t get me started about Siri, which feels like a kindergartner compared to highly effective Alexa, and Google’s Home. If you have an accent that is not “classic American” or “classic English,” Siri will never quite understand you. Much as I loved the HomePod, it could never play “Nitin Sawhney” when I asked Siri to play his new album.
Things on iOS are comically calamitous. We all know about “What the Duck,” and by now, we have decided to live with it. Whether it is the spontaneous capitalization of words without reason, amazingly incomprehensible autocorrect, or lack of competence to transcribe effectively makes you wonder what is the point of all those neural engines Apple’s hardware team keeps cramming into the newer generation of Apple’s chips.
Next week, Y Combinator will hold its 35th Demo Day. Tech start-up founders will have just one minute to present their ideas to potential investors. This year the stakes are particularly high, as new chief executive Garry Tan will be aware. His recent appointment coincides with a sharp downturn in start-up investment. In the second quarter of the year, global start-up funding fell 23 per cent from the previous quarter to just over $108.bn, according to CB Insights. Megaround investments of $100mn or more fell almost a third. This drop reflects the fall in public market share prices. In May, Y Combinator warned start-ups to plan for the worst. So-called accelerators live at the sharpest end of the start-up funding ecosystem, backing ideas that may not yet be products. Few make it to the next round of funding. The rise of software companies that do not carry big upfront costs has made the business of early-stage investing more lucrative. But if venture capital firms reconsider their investment plans, accelerators could struggle to sell their start-up stakes.
Dear YC Community,
Today we announced that I am stepping down from my role as YC’s President and CEO at the end of this year. I am leaving YC, but I’m not actually the retiring type and am looking forward to some to-be-discovered adventures. Although the time is right for me to leave and I’m sad to move on from YC, I am excited to announce that Garry Tan will be YC’s next President and CEO.
We have an amazing organization and it deserves a fantastic leader, so let me explain why I am so confident that YC will thrive under Garry’s leadership. All of us at YC know Garry well. He was a YC founder in the summer of 2008 and is both a terrific hacker and a brilliant designer. Garry is also one of the most trustworthy, kind, and likable people I know.
After earning a degree in computer engineering from Stanford, Garry was an engineer at Palantir and then created one of the earliest and best-designed blogging platforms, Posterous. After selling Posterous to Twitter, Garry joined YC as a partner - almost exactly when I also joined PG, Jessica, and co. For the next five years we worked together advising startups. Garry also found the time to build some of the core internal software (including Bookface!) still used at YC. In 2015, Garry left YC to focus on Initialized Capital, the venture fund he co-founded. Over the years at Initialized, Garry showed his investing expertise and continued supporting YC companies. He built a superb team there which will continue investing in great companies while Garry comes back home to YC.
Throughout his career, Garry has impressed everyone around him with his intelligence, his affability, and his desire to get things done or, as he might say, “let’s get building!” And while showing that he is a leader who understands the details of building and running a business, he also demonstrates his extraordinary communications skills, with hundreds of thousands of YouTube followers who watch his many videos on startups, jobs, and life.
My goal has been to cement YC as an institution that will endure for decades – not only through organizational changes but by leading a team that has scaled the community we bring together, the products and capital we provide to startups, and the software we build. Garry, the visionary hacker, designer, and builder who has described how YC is “engraved on his heart” believes in this future and is precisely the right person to take over as YC’s chief executive.
The last decade and more have been transformative for me. There are so many amazing startups I have had the privilege of working with and watching make products people want. And I’ve learned so much from the brilliant people at YC. There are perhaps millions of people who can honestly say PG taught them everything important that they know about startups. I’m one of them. Thank you PG, Jessica, Robert, and Trevor for creating the platform built to help founders figure out how to make something people want.
2022 is proving to be a record year for venture fundraising. But not all funds are receiving equal treatment from limited partners.
While mega-funds may have raised their largest vehicles ever, the proportion of US VC capital going to emerging managers—that are investing out their first, second or third funds—hit a decade low in Q2, according to the latest NVCA-PitchBook Venture Monitor.
We spoke with Laura Thompson, a partner at Sapphire Partners, an LP arm within Sapphire Ventures, about the current fundraising environment, how emerging managers can grab LPs’ attention and why there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for marking down VC portfolio companies.
Sapphire Partners, which operates out of an evergreen vehicle, invests in early-stage established and emerging venture funds based in the US, Europe and Israel.
PitchBook: Despite the market downturn, 2022 has been a phenomenal year for venture fundraising. Did most of this fundraising start in 2021 or earlier?
Thompson: I think funds with established LP bases don’t usually surprise LPs with fundraising. Yes, many of the fundraising processes started last year, even for the recently closed funds. However, if you look at the numbers, most fundraising was from mega-funds and smaller established funds, which LPs prioritize since they prioritize existing relationships. When the market environment turns, as it has, LPs gravitate toward more established platforms because it gives them comfort. This can be a big challenge for emerging managers, especially those raising first funds.
How can emerging managers stand out in this market? It seems nearly impossible now.
As we go through pitch decks, many funds seem good. That’s why I think there’s nothing as powerful for LPs as references. The strongest references come from founders, GPs and other LPs. For instance, if a founder tells me, “I love this person. Here’s my direct kind of experience working with them,” that’s a powerful reference.
Also, it is such a crowded market now, I feel there has to be something different about a new manager. Different comes in many flavors, and it is very LP-specific. For instance, we have been in Europe for a long time, but I know a bunch of LPs who want to build their European portfolios. I also think climate change is on top of everyone’s minds now, and some LPs feel they don’t have enough exposure to climate-focused funds. Ultimately, as a new manager, you need to show LPs how your fund will be additive to LPs’ portfolios.
The ideas behind Ethereum in the words of its founder, describing a radical vision for more than a digital currency—reinventing organizations, economics, and democracy itself in the age of the internet.
When he was only nineteen years old, in late 2013, Vitalik Buterin published a visionary paper outlining the ideas behind what would become Ethereum. He proposed to take what Bitcoin did for currency—replace government and corporate power with power shared among users—and apply it to everyday apps, organizations, and society as a whole. Now, less than a decade later, Ethereum is the second-most-valuable cryptocurrency and serves as the foundation for the weird new world of NFT artworks, virtual real estate in the metaverse, and decentralized autonomous organizations.
The essays in Proof of Stake have guided Ethereum’s community of radicals and builders. Here for the first time they are collected from across the internet for new readers. They reveal Buterin as a lively, creative thinker, relentlessly curious and adventuresome in exploring the consequences of his invention. His writing stands in contrast to the hype that so often accompanies crypto in the public imagination. He presents it instead as a fascinating set of social, economic, and political possibilities, opening a window into a conversation that far more of us could be having.
People who know of my interest in NFTs in the arts and crypto in general often ask me, “Okay, but are these things *actually* useful in the real world?”
It’s a reasonable question. Real-world applicability is essential for crypto to be a true success. Today, the public is confused or dislikes crypto. That’s not great for new consumer products. Crypto is at a crossroad. It is essential the industry shows real utility.
And there are already many examples where consumers are putting these products to practical use. In this article I’ll dive into the top 9 areas where crypto offers real value, beyond speculation and flipping.
As I described in part I of this series, successful consumer products tend to hit on a number of core user needs, not just speculative upside:
So which products are the most viable examples of utility today?
Today, the most real-world use case for crypto remains as an alternative to fiat currency, especially when used for international payments. The separation of “state and money” argument. DeFi apps like Pancake Swap boast more than 2 million monthly active users across multiple countries.
The summer of 2021 marked an influx of dollars & interest into web3. Since then, the fourth crypto winter has dropped snow atop web3, but the revenue decline isn’t equal across web3 software.
NFT marketplace revenue collapsed 62% since the beginning of this year. This chart shows the decline in monthly revenue from January to August. L1s’ monthly revenue has followed NFT marketplaces downward, falling 57%.
The parallel revenue drop suggests L1 revenue skews to NFTs today, likely upwards of 75% concentration.
On the other hand, the Defi (decentralized finance) sector enjoys more consistent revenue patterns. Decentralized exchanges (DEX) revenue has fallen 10%. Credit providers (lenders) increased revenue, as did yield aggregators.
Said another way, bonds (web3 products that produce yield) have outpaced consumer spending in web3 through August. The two most salient NFT collections, Bored Apes & Crypto Punks, have seen their prices fall by 50% from their highs, reducing trading volumes & marketplace fees.
In the earliest stages of company-building, folks often worship at the altar of speed — launch an MVP quickly, gather hoards of customer feedback and start pivoting your way into product/market fit. The sooner you can get your product out there, the better.
But the path to building Figma was an exercise in patience. Founded in 2012, Figma didn’t actually start shipping software to beta users until 2015. After launch, it took another too years to add paid pricing tiers — and a couple more to bring on a sales team.
But taking a longer, winding path to launch a product doesn’t mean that you keep customers at arm’s length along the way. As Claire Butler will tell you, community was core to the company’s GTM strategy early on — even while still in stealth. As Senior Director of Marketing, Butler joined Figma as one of the first ten employees and the company’s first business hire. She began shaping the company’s bottoms-up growth strategy and laying the track for a vibrant community before the product was even publicly available.
When it comes to building community, folks tend to treat it as an afterthought, such as an online user group or a few in-person events to tack on later, after they’ve found product/market fit and built up a strong user base. But as Butler tells it, community is what enabled Figma to enter a crowded category and start making waves right away. “Community is such a fuzzy word and there’s no standard definition. How I define community is that it’s not a set of specific programs or a Slack group. It’s an approach to building and your go-to-market strategy that orients around fostering a passionate user base who’s going to power up your product adoption,” says Butler.
In this exclusive interview, Butler imparts tons of lessons about how to build and cultivate a community along each phase of the startup journey — from the earliest innings of the company, all the way to bringing on a sales team and targeting more enterprise deals. She shares the specific creative tactics Figma used to energize the design community and build organic momentum when the product was just beginning to take shape. Butler flags some of the key decisions that paid off along Figma’s journey — including making the call to finally emerge from stealth, introducing pricing with the right gating strategy and finally bringing in a sales motion. Let’s dive in.
Cloudflare and the Freedom to Publish
Cloudflare launched nearly twelve years ago. Over that time, our set of services has become much more complicated. With that complexity we have developed policies around how we handle abuse of different features Cloudflare provides
Cloudflare said Wednesday that it’s not likely to terminate services for controversial customers in the future, following online protests asking the company to stop providing service to a site linked to hate and harassment.
One of Cloudflare’s popular security services is anti-DDoS protection, which blocks attempts to flood a website with traffic in order to knock it offline. Without Cloudflare’s service, it’s unlikely that Kiwi Farms — a site with a long history of harassment that has been blamed for several suicides — would be able to stay online.
In a blog post Wednesday, Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince and Alissa Starzak, vice president and global head of public policy, said the company’s leadership has concluded that “the power to terminate security services for [controversial] sites was not a power Cloudflare should hold.”
“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” the Cloudflare executives said in the post.
The executives said that Cloudflare has previously cut off service to sites on account of “reprehensible” content on two occasions — the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer in 2017 and 8chan, a forum linked to hate crimes and conspiracy theories, in 2019.
“To be clear, just because we did it in a limited set of cases before doesn’t mean we were right when we did. Or that we will ever do it again,” Prince and Starzak said in the post.
News of the Week
Substack shook up traditional media last year, offering six-figure cash advances and benefits including healthcare to recruit writers for a newsletter platform that publishes high-profile authors like Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald. But this year, the San Francisco startup has told some writers it is scaling back such perks, joining a group of tech companies reassessing the way they lure independent writers and online performers after a frenzied battle for talent in the past two years.
Some newsletter writers say Substack earlier this year told them it would be reducing the frequency of upfront payments. The five-year-old company, which has raised $82 million from Andreessen Horowitz and other investors, also said it has cut a healthcare subsidy it was offering to some top writers. And it’s “not being as aggressive” in offering support services, such as access to image repositories and legal help, to attract new writers, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie said in an interview, although it is continuing to offer them to writers who already publish on its service.
Snap, the parent company of photo-sharing app Snapchat, is laying off 20 percent of its staff this week, which equates to over 1,000 employees.
Snap, the parent company of photo-sharing app Snapchat, is laying off 20 percent of its staff this week, which equates to over 1,000 employees.
The company will start laying off employees within its 6,400-strong workforce from today, according to a report published by The Verge on Tuesday.
The job cuts will severely impact the team working on Minis, small applications and games made by third parties that run in the Snapchat app, affected the most.
Another team that will see layoffs is Snap’s hardware division, which is responsible for its AR Spectacles glasses and the Pixy camera drone that was recently canceled after being on sale for just a few months.
Zenly, the company Snap acquired in 2017 for social mapping, will also be affected by the layoffs.
According to The Verge, Snap spokesperson, Russ Caditz-Peck, declined to comment on the job cuts.
Snap had a difficult year and struggled with dwindling business. It delivered disappointing second-quarter earning results and said that it would not forecast results for the third quarter.
The company’s disappointing results sparked a wave of social media companies reporting poor earnings. For example, Facebook delivered a decline in revenue for the second quarter of 2022, marking the end of the tech giant’s decade-long streak of nonstop revenue growth. Although Facebook’s revenue fell by 1% to $28.8 billion, the company says that it expects to grow in the third quarter.
Though the scale of the layoffs is significant, Snap’s job cuts have long been expected. Snap’s stock price has lost nearly 80 percent of its value since the beginning of this year. The company has had trouble navigating Apple’s tracking restrictions across iOS apps and said in May that it would slow hiring, and look for ways to cut costs.]
Madrona Venture Group opens Silicon Valley office as it looks beyond Seattle for new investments - GeekWire
Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group is doubling down on a recent push to invest beyond the Pacific Northwest, opening its first office outside the region in Silicon Valley.
Founded in 1995, Madrona traditionally focused on its backyard of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, becoming one of the area’s largest investors of tech companies including Apptio, Smartsheet, Impinj, and others.
But in 2019 the firm launched an “acceleration fund” designed for more mature companies located across North America. It raised $100 million that year for the fund and added another $161 million in late 2020.
The move to open a physical outpost outside of Seattle reflects Madrona’s ongoing desire to look beyond its backyard for new investments and keep tabs on other tech ecosystems.
It’s a similar strategy followed by Flying Fish, another Seattle firm that raised its second fund earlier this year and said it would expand its geographic reach.
Madrona is “first and foremost a Seattle firm,” said S. Soma Somasegar, a former Microsoft exec who became managing director in 2015. The firm will continue making a vast majority of its early stage investments in the Pacific Northwest, which set records for funding levels last year.
But Somasegar also said “we want to get into the best of the best companies.” Planting a flag in Silicon Valley helps fuel that goal.
“We are going to be more open to getting into those companies, no matter where they are,” he said. GeekWire
Startup of the Week
New York-based SeatGeek raised $238 million as part of a Series E at a $1 billion pre-money valuation.
The funding announcement comes just about two months after SeatGeek’s $1.35 billion deal to go public via a SPAC was mutually canceled by both the SPAC, RedBall Acquisition Corp., and the company due to unfavorable market conditions.
The new round mints the ticket marketplace as a unicorn. The company last raised a $57 million Series D in 2017.
Led by longtime investor Accel, the new round also saw participation from Wellington Management, Arctos Sports Partners and Ryan Smith, founder and executive chairman of Qualtrics and founder of Smith Entertainment Group.