Posts Tagged ‘Peter Thiel’

Lab-Grown Leather Could Be a Reality In 5 Years

September 25th, 2012 09:41 admin View Comments


fangmcgee writes Lab-grown leather apparel could hit the runways in as little as five years—all without harming a hair on a single animal’s head, according to Andras Forgacs, co-founder and CEO of Modern Meadow, a Missouri-based startup that’s approaching meat-and-leather production from a tissue-bioengineering, rather than farming, point of view. Backed by Breakout Labs, the grant-awarding foundation headed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Modern Meadow seeks to combine regenerative medicine with three-dimensional printing to synthesize leather and ultimately meat.”

Source: Lab-Grown Leather Could Be a Reality In 5 Years

College Degrees: More and More, They’re Just a Piece of Paper

May 25th, 2012 05:45 admin View Comments

Faking a computer science degree cost Scott Thompson his CEO job. But with one notable exception, most observers thought he was doing OK, under lousy circumstances.

Sure, the lying was wrong, but apart from that, would Thompson’s lack of a computer science degree have hurt his career? Does having the right degree – or any degree – really matter that much any more?

There’s plenty of evidence that in a world where a 9-year-old can write an iPhone app, degrees may be obsolete. After all, Bill Gates and Michael Dell did just fine without finishing college, and dropouts like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson have questioned the value of traditional education. Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel is offering standout youngsters $100,000 in angel investments to start companies instead of going to college.

To find out what a degree means today, we asked a Bay Area headhunter. She specializes in financial services, but also works with medical and high-tech clients. Under condition of anonymity, she revealed that while a degree helps, lacking one is usually not a deal-breaker, particularly if the prospect has solid experience.

Are You a “Front-Pager”?

“A computer science degree from 1987 isn’t worth much if they haven’t stayed current. I’d rather present a self-taught developer if he has a couple of shipped products under his belt.” She does admit that a degree can be a good tie-breaker, and a paper from a top-tier school shows an applicant “was at least smart enough to get in.” In the end, though, “Clients are interested in ability. If you have the chops and the experience, you’re getting hired – unless [the client] is looking for a front-pager.”

A “front-pager,” or high-profile executive, needs a different set of credentials to impress the public. “If you’re director-level or below, we can be flexible, but VPs and C-Levels need to build confidence with the board, the public and investors. They need a solid track record with no holes, and it helps to have a couple of relevant degrees. They need to be groomed and vetted.” Degrees set baseline expectations, and the lack of a degree would not put investors at ease.

In many cases, the shorter the list of accomplishments, the longer the list of degrees. Executive rosters seem to bear this out. Even maverick CEOs surround themselves with highly educated cabinets, particularly in technical and financial positions. Michael Dell may have dropped out of college, but his Enterprise Group CTO has a Master’s in Electrical Engineering. Avadis Tevanian, a former Apple CTO, has a doctorate in computer science. Microsoft’s CFO has an MBA.

Of course, a lot of these executives predate the current democratization trend. And many of today’s director-level execs will eventually work their way up through the ranks. Ten years from now, we’ll probably see more degree-less VPs who were hired under “or equivalent experience” clauses.

Social Performance Reviews

Degrees may become optional, but assessments will not. Internet Research Group’s Peter Christy sees a codified analysis of “demonstrated behaviors” as the answer. “The idea is to have someone tell you about important behaviors – how they dealt with problems previously that were thought of as important to the position in question. One can imagine a much more valuable “CV” in a modern form, in which the person made assertions about what they did of importance in a previous position and there was the opportunity for others to comment on the assertion (a more substantial form of Facebook, perhaps). Sort of like a social form of performance reviews – interesting but a little frightening… .”

So don’t spend the kid’s college money just yet. Making the initial cut to get to that interview will always require a standout resume, and a degree is still a good way to start building. And that’s particularly true for folks who want to do something other than coding apps.

Still, despite Thompson’s travails, there’s no question that the technology world is more open than ever to hiring star performers who never bothered to go to college.

It’s as good a reason as any to start requesting testimonials on LinkedIn. Here’s hoping nobody lies.

Stock images courtesy of Shutterstock

Jobs/Gates image courtesy of Joi Ito.

Source: College Degrees: More and More, They’re Just a Piece of Paper

Facebook IPO: Who Are the Real Losers?

May 24th, 2012 05:00 admin View Comments

 PayPal co-founder and Facebook pre-IPO stockholder Peter Thiel

Facebook’s tainted public offering, which has attracted the attention of federal securities investigators, has grown a bit darker with the filing of a class-action lawsuit. Los Angeles-based law firm Glancy Binkow & Goldberg filed the suit Tuesday in state court in San Mateo County, Calif., on behalf of all investors who lost money in the IPO.

The suit rides on allegations that days before Facebook raised the price range on its soon-to-be-public stock, executives warned the lead underwriters that their financial estimates for the company were too high. The bankers, which included Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Securities and Goldman Sachs, lowered their estimates and then told a handful of large investor clients, leaving everyday investors in the dark.

“At best, this ‘selective disclosure’ of the estimate cut is grossly unfair to investors who bought Facebook stock on the IPO (or at any time since) and didn’t know about it,” said Henry Blodget, Wall Street observer and Business Insider founder. “At worst, it’s a violation of securities laws.”

During the height of the pre-IPO frenzy, individual investors clamored for more Facebook stock, while more knowledgeable institutional investors were talking about paring back stock orders. For investors who didn’t know about the revised estimates, Facebook’s opening stock price last Friday was a sucker’s deal.

The losers, and potential plaintiffs, were the millions of individual investors who bought the stock for $38 a share or more and were looking at an investment worth $32 as of the close of trading Wednesday.

The winners included venture capital firms Accel Partners and Greylock Partners and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who were among the pre-IPO stockholders that collectively received about $9 billion in the offering, according to the law firm.

While no one has said any crimes have been committed, the smoke from the dealings before the IPO has prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to consider an investigation to look for the fire. The lead securities regulator in Massachusetts has reportedly subpoenaed Morgan Stanley.

Facebook has yet to clearly state why estimates had to be lowered. But the company’s amended SEC filing before the IPO hints it’s related to the growing number of users accessing the site through mobile devices and Facebook’s failure to date of monetizing the shift through advertising.

While many questions remain, the Facebook IPO is pointing to what many Occupy Wall Street supporters have said: Banks pull the financial strings, and the rest of us are the puppets.

Source: Facebook IPO: Who Are the Real Losers?

Developer Bootcamp Teaches Regular Folks To Code – and Maybe Get a Job at a Startup

May 10th, 2012 05:59 admin View Comments

Learning to code is becoming the key skill for anyone who wants to launch a tech startup, or even just get a job working at a hot tech company. That may seem intimidating, but programming is not some monumental skill that only specially gifted people can learn. Really, it it isn’t all that different from learning to speak another language. If you can pick up the rudiments of Spanish or French in a couple of weeks, how hard could it be to get started with Ruby On Rails? The Developer Bootcamp is designed to help anyone get started coding – and they might even get a job at a startup or tech heavyweight out of it as well.

A Vocational School for Programmers

San Francisco-based Developer Boot Camp was an idea that started with a friend in need. Last November, a friend of Shereef Bishay was stuck in a dead end job as an administrator. He wanted to help, so he suggested his friend learn to code. 

“He lost a bet to me and owed me some money and I told him, ‘hey, go teach yourself Ruby On Rails. You are a developer and you don’t know it,’” Bishay said.

That led to a post on Hacker News offering to teach people how to develop in Ruby. Bishay would charge tuition but would refund it if the students got jobs as developers and he earned a recruitment fee from the hiring company. 

So began Developer Boot Camp. 

The initial class, taught mostly by Bishay and a group of volunteers, produced 21 students, 15 of whom got job offers (with an average starting salary of $79,000) as developers at the end of the program. Bishay now has a full summer class of 40 students and is taking applications for the fall. The program lasts 10 weeks and has tuition of $12,000. 

Wait. $12,000? To learn Ruby in a relatively short program with no official certification? That seems steep, especially with programs like Codecademy available for free online and other programs like Boston Startup School free for students that are accepted. 

Bishay said that the ability to get a job and become a developer is worth the expense. For the next two sessions, if students get a job and Bishay gets a recruitment fee, he will refund $5,000 of the tuition. If students don’t get a job or there is no recruitment fee for the job they do get, Bishay keeps all of the tuition. 

“Right now it is a huge opportunity and it is going to be for the next decade. That is why I can afford to be so cheap… If 90% of my graduates are getting job, it means that tuition, it is nothing, right? Compare it to college. This is why people go to college, so they can get jobs. Then they leave $150,000 in debt and they don’t get a job,” Bishsay said. 

Pay $12,000 to skip college and go straight to being a developer? If it gets you a job, it is justified. Right? 

Perhaps. At the end of the Developer Bootcamp’s spring class, its “career day” attracted 30 companies to interview the 20 students. That’s a good ratio.

The initial class included one teenager, 10 people in their 20s, seven people in their 30s and two in their 40s (one person dropped out). The question is whether it is more effective to spend the money to gain entry-level employment as a Ruby developer where you can learn other software development skills on the job – or to go for an academic degree that may or may not set the student up for a lifetime of success. And vocational schools in other fields – for example, learning how to be a chef – often cost a lot more than $12,000. 

This is not the first time a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has advocated learning to code as opposed to going to college. A year ago, PayPal co-founder and serial entrepreneur Peter Thiel created the “Thiel Foundation” to give $100,000 to 20 people under the age of 20 to start their own companies. There is also Chicago-based Code Academy (not to be confused with Codecademy, the free online program to learn the rudiments of coding) that teaches both coding skills and entrepreneurship in a three-month program. 

Source: Dev Bootcamp Spring 2012 Student Exit Survey


Teaching People how to be Programmers

From a high-level perspective, Bishay just wants to teach people how to program. “I appreciate that the tech companies are hiring and there is a need, but that is not what inspires me. That just helps make it a business,” Bishay said. 

“What it was born from was I love my friend and I thought he should be a developer and I love my life as a developer. It is an awesome thing to be and I think everybody should learn to code, it is the new literacy,” Bishay said. He likens software programming to reading and writing 300 years ago, when only a few people could do it. He predicts that those that do not know how to code will soon be in the same position as peasants who could not read or write. “Software is eating the whole world and in 10 or 20 years, if you don’t know how to program it [will be] like 50 years ago not knowing how to read and write. People need to do this,” Bishay said. 

Bishay also wants to dispel the myth that software engineers are some type of super people. “I think there is a myth that has been perpetuated. The myth goes something like this: Only a fraction of humanity was born with the genetic makeup to become developers. This is hard, complicated stuff and is not for the faint of heart and you need to be a special, special person to do it. People do not think that they will become programmers. It is something that other people do that are more special than them,” Bishay said. 

As Codecademy proves, anybody can learn to be a programmer. It does not take an IQ of 170 to learn Ruby On Rails. As for whether shelling out $12,000 for a 10-week programming program is a good idea, that probably depends on an individual’s situation and their perspective on life and employment. And it could be a good way for entrepreneurs to learn enough coding skills to satisfy investors and evaluate programming talent. It certainly is not for everybody.

Top image courtesy of Shutterstock 

Source: Developer Bootcamp Teaches Regular Folks To Code – and Maybe Get a Job at a Startup

Reverse Engineering: Gautam Gupta Goes From VC to Entrepreneur

May 3rd, 2012 05:00 admin View Comments

Gautam Gupta had it all. He was just 26 and a rising venture capitalist with a bright future and a big salary. An associate at General Catalyst Partners, he’d sourced six deals, deployed $65 million and had just opened General Catalyst’s Palo Alto office.

Then he threw it all away to launch a startup. And not some cool startup with a mobile-social app poised to be acquired for $1 billion. An e-commerce startup. Even his mother began to wonder.

“My mom’s first question was, ‘Are you sure about this?’” Gupta recalls.

Indeed, it was a surprising decision. Maybe not as surprising as Ben Horowitz’s decision to go public with his unironic and cringeworthy embrace of better management through gangster rap… but still.

Reverse Engineering

Most standout Silicon Valley careers track the other direction, from successful entrepreneur to venture capitalist (see: Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, etc.). Why did Gupta go the other way?

“I had never really done anything in my career outside venture capital,” he says. He joined General Catalyst straight out of Babson College. “So now I am 26 and I thought I should spend at least a few years of my life trying to build a business or do something on the operating side before I got too deep into VC and was not able to get out of it.”

Together with a college friend, he started a company called NatureBox, which sells healthy snacks online. He wasn’t completely starting over; General Catalyst provided a large piece of the new company’s seed financing.

Health food is familiar territory for Gupta. He weighed 210 pounds when he was 12 years old – he trimmed his 5-foot-6 frame to 145 pounds by improving his eating habits. E-commerce is also a good fit, since Gupta specialized in e-commerce investments while at General Catalyst. He knows it’s not the sexiest tech space these days, but he likes the challenge.

Solving Difficult Problems

“The first reaction to the food industry you get from VCs is, ‘Why would you want to start a food company? The margins are so low, it’s perishable,’ and on and on. But I like the idea of solving a difficult problem. You can still build an awesome business in the space – it has been done.”

Besides, it’s counterintuitive. Like Gupta.

Source: Reverse Engineering: Gautam Gupta Goes From VC to Entrepreneur

Biggest Winners In Facebook’s IPO

February 2nd, 2012 02:00 admin View Comments

shutterstock_84519823.jpgWhen Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953, he famously offered photographers, writers and artists the choice of cash or stock in the then-private company. While most chose cash, a few held onto shares that were worth millions by the time the company went public.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg used a similar tactic, which means David Choe, a graffiti artist who was given stock for painting the walls of Facebook’s headquarter, worth an expected $200 million when the company’s shares start trading publicly. That and other details about who will be instantly wealthy were revealed in Facebook’s $5 billion IPO filing Wednesday.

The New York Times has a complete round up of who will gain the most from Facebook’s IPO. What follows is a condensed version of some of the highlights from that list.

  • Zuckerberg hold 553.8 million shares worth $28.4 billion, based on a company valuation of $100 billion, or $53 per share.
  • Peter Thiel, who invested $500,000 in Facebook in 2004, has 44.7 million shares that could be worth $2 billion.
  • Bono’s venture capital fund Elevation Partners invested $120 million in Facebook in 2010.
  • Accel Partners, which owns 201.4 million shares, could see a thousand-fold return on its initial investment.
  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg could eventually hold as much as 40 million shares (she currently has 1.9 million shares, according to the filing)
  • DST Global, the investment firm led by the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, owns about 7% of Facebook.
  • Zuckerberg’s father, a dentist in New York, owns 2 million shares.
  • Co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Zukerberg’s Harvard roommate, holds 133.8 million shares.
  • David A. Ebersman, Facebook’s chief financial officer, holds seven million unvested shares. He has been working at the company for less than three years.
  • Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, former business partners of Zuckerberg, own 1.2 million shares as part of a legal settlement with Zuckerberg.
  • Eduardo Saverin, Facebook’s estranged co-founder, settled for a 5% stake in the company. A block of those shares have been sold in the secondary market.

Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.

Source: Biggest Winners In Facebook’s IPO

Paypal Founder Helping Build Artificial Island Nations

August 16th, 2011 08:20 admin View Comments


MadMartigan2001 writes with a pretty crazy article on a project involving floating libertarian paradises. From the article: “PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters. Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties.”

Source: Paypal Founder Helping Build Artificial Island Nations

Allen & Co.’s Chosen Startups: Airbnb, Dropbox And Quora

July 11th, 2011 07:23 admin View Comments

The Allen and Co. conference at Sun Valley in Idaho is a peculiar beast. Press aren’t allowed to attend or cover any of the panels and aren’t allowed in the storied Duchin bar. In addition, attendees are not allowed to talk to the press about the content of any of the panels which makes for some interesting reporting adventures.

Still, despite restrictions, attendance is totally worthwhile; After all it’s the place where mythical investor Warren Buffet rubs elbows with OWN’s Gayle King rubs elbows with actress Salma Hayek rubs elbows with Groupon CEO Andrew Mason rubs elbows with fashion designer Diane von Fusterberg rubs elbows with Facebook investor Peter Thiel and so forth.

And, more importantly, the wall of curtly congenial yet ultimately deflective PR people is nowhere to be found. For journalists hungry enough, it’s paradise.

The conference has been primarily media focused since the 1982,and only last year did the tech to media mogul ratio achieve parity. As an example of its commitment to all things Internet, Allen & Co investment bank throws another more tech-focused conference in early in the year.

It’s amazing that when the people who are doing new things (and that you’re used to covering day in and day out) are literally put on the same podium as Oprah. The big draw this year was Bill Gates interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, and it was rumored that the talk show queen herself had changed her flight in order to catch the before noon panel on Saturday morning. According to friend Gayle King she ended up missing the panel after all.

It’s probably a good thing. From what I heard, Zuckerberg and Gates didn’t say anything particularly newsworthy, with Zuckberg dropping talking points about Facebook’s success and its user to engineer ratio (750 million users divided by 2,000+ employees) and his curious Law of Social Sharing. The highlight of the talk for one attendee (which consisted of questions along the lines of  “Do you like being CEO of Facebook?) was when Gates joked that Allen and Co. had brought together two of the best interviewers and then paused, “Oprah and Charlie Rose.”

What’s more interesting is that the investment bank has taken to inviting small startups to present at panels. Last year it was Square, Groupon, Pandora and oddly enough, the somewhat mysterious startup ThingD. This year it was Dropbox, Quora and Airbnb.

So why those three? Well Allen and Co. is an underwriter focused on building relationships with particularly lucrative clients and is seeking out the most promising of the Silicon Valley brood in order to whet the tech sector appetites of investor attendees and secure further business as the companies grow (Allen and Co. is said to be an advisor in Groupon’s upcoming IPO and is an investor in Pandora). All three also presented at Allen and Co.’s Arizona conference in March.

The triumvirate gave their talks on Saturday morning, with 15-minute presentations of their products; CEOs Adam D ‘Angelo and Brian Chesky presented examples of Quora questions and Airbnb listings and Drew Houston gave an overview of Dropbox. “Most people at the conference didn’t know what any of the products were,” said one participant.

While all three CEOs declined to give comment on why they thought they were chosen this year.  (None of them have the “Forget You” money of Eric Schmidt, who unabashedly talked to reporters for a crazy 70 minutes on Thursday) one investor had a theory, “Airbnb is printing money. They operate more rooms in Manhattan than all the [big] hotels combined.”

The same investor theorized that Quora’s invitation was due to the Facebook effect (Zuck essentially gave the keynote) and the fact that it has done a great job of giving people a venue to expand upon their online reputations. Dropbox has earned its place in the Sun Valley sun because the fact that it was one of the first champions of the cloud in addition to its impressive usership numbers – which makes it a prime acquisition target (and potential Allen & Co client).

In terms of where they stand regarding financing, Airbnb is about to officially announce raising $100 million at a $1 billion dollar valuation, Quora has a modest $11 million in funding (and is said to be raising more) and Dropbox is basically turning away term sheets, I’ve heard.

But even a 15-minute time slot on an agenda that includes King Abdullah of Jordan and New Jersey governor (and Republican Presidential hopeful) Chris Christie is huge; For the Sun Valley startups it means that that they get to pitch in front of idols Bill Gates, Mark Pincus and Mark Zuckerberg. But the benefits go both ways. Rumor has it that Dropbox was swarmed by potential investors at a BBQ during the conference’s first night.

Allen and Co. obviously doesn’t share what criteria it uses to invite startups (which it does, quaintly enough through snail mail) but common sense holds that it’s probably what it thinks would be a good bet (and return). My predictions for next year’s invite list: Instagram, UberCab and Spotify.

Source: Allen & Co.’s Chosen Startups: Airbnb, Dropbox And Quora

Zynga’s Largest Shareholders And How Much They Own

July 1st, 2011 07:56 admin View Comments

Zynga just filed for its much-awaited $1 billion IPO and know we know how much founder Mark Pincus and the company’s investors own in the company. Zynga’s investors include Reid Hoffman, DST, Google, Tiger Global, Kevin Rose, Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel, Foundry Group and IVP.

Pincus is the largest shareholder of Zynga, with 16 percent of the company. Kleiner Perkins owns 11 percent of the company; IVP owns 6.1 percent; Union Square Ventures owns 5.5 percent; Foundry owns 6.1 percent, Avalon Ventures owns 6.1 percent and DST owns 5.8 percent.

Pincus makes a salary of $300,000, and Van Natta earns a salary of $200,000.

Source: Zynga’s Largest Shareholders And How Much They Own

Social Gaming Giant Zynga Files For $1 Billion IPO

July 1st, 2011 07:12 admin View Comments

Zynga has just filed its S-1 with the SEC, indicating that the company plans to go public. According to the filing, Zynga aims to raise as much as $1 billion, but this could be a place holder amount. Updating

According to the filing Zynga has 60 million daily active users in 138 countries. 38,000 virtual items are created every second and game players spend 2 billion minutes a day on Zynga games. The company had $597 million in revenue in 2010, and posted revenue of $235 million in the first quarter of 2011.

Zynga is profitable, posting $90.6 million in net income in 2010, which is a a 28% net margin. In Q1 of 2011, the social gaming giant reported $11.8 million in profit. Zynga has $995 million in cash on hand.

Founder Mark Pincus writes in the filing of the company’s operational philosophies: Games should be accessible to everyone, anywhere, any time; Games should be social; Games should be free; Games should be data driven and ; Games should do good.

Underwriters include Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Barclays Capital, JP Morgan and Allen and Company.

Zynga’s investors include Reid Hoffman, DST, Google, Tiger Global, Kevin Rose, Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel, Foundry Group and IVP.

Source: Social Gaming Giant Zynga Files For $1 Billion IPO