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Amid plummeting stocks and political uncertainty, VCs urge their portfolios to prepare for winter – TechCrunch



The warning signs are flashing faster and more furiously now and investors are increasingly urging their startups to take notice.

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average enduring a Christmas Eve rout of historic proportions and other indices entering bear market territory, the long-predicted end of the latest bull market is upon the technology industry.

While tech companies managed to escape the worst parts of the great recession in 2008, increasing regulatory scrutiny coupled with a broader set of economic risk factors (including a trade war with China, flagging domestic industrial spending, and — perhaps most worrying — the $9 trillion in debt sitting on corporate balance sheets) may offset projected growth in information technology outlays from companies to create a scenario where the roaring teens of the tech industry’s millennial years head into the terrible twenties of the new century.

That means venture capital investors are once again breaking out the RIP Good Times slide deck from Sequoia Capital and cautioning their portfolio companies about what comes next.

“In the course of preparing plans for 2019, most of our mature companies have internalized the risk for a downturn, but I think it’s hard to really model what the impact will be,” wrote Founder Collective managing partner David Frankel in an email. “You could imagine a slowdown in capital markets due to a rise in interest rates, that might hurt some companies that are overly dependent on VC, but leave the strong companies largely unscathed. It’s also easy to imagine a more systemic correction that decimates the verticals that were (& this will be easy with hindsight of course) ‘vitamins’ not painkillers.”

For some startups that means making hay while the sun shines and raising more capital now. As Joshua Hoffman, the chief executive of synthetic biology startup Zymergen, explained to Bloomberg when discussing his recent $400 million round led by SoftBank Vision Fund, “We wanted to have some fat on our bones for sure… The time to raise money is when people are giving it to you.” (Even if that money is tied to the dismemberment-and-beheading-happy Saudi Arabian government.)

For some, the times look very similar to the early 2000s when the dot-com bubble burst. In 2000, venture investors put around $99 billion into venture backed startups. Eighteen years later that number is roughly $96 billion.

In the first year of the new millennium a Japanese firm called SoftBank had established a worldwide network of funds to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into startup companies that were going to revolutionize the technology industry. Now, SoftBank is once again the firm throwing millions (hundreds of millions) against the proverbial wall in hopes that billions will come bouncing back.

Venture firms are expected to raise around $45 billion this year, while back in 2000 funds were sitting on about $80 billion in capital, according to a 2005 study from University of Western Ontario professor Milford Green.

There are important differences between the early part of the millennium and today’s technology and venture capital markets. Business models for technology companies are far more mature (Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, and Microsoft are among the world’s most valuable companies) and the replacement of “eyeballs” with ad dollars can’t be overstated as an engine for economic growth and value.

At the same time, the fact that an entire generation of entrepreneurs have not experienced an economic down cycle is a sign of concern for some investors.

“There’s a large cohort of founders who haven’t seen a down economy and that’s a risk to the ecosystem,” Frankel writes. “Many founders believe that in a weak economy, that they might have to accept a down round, but few have grappled with the reality that capital markets don’t soften, they seize and capital just can’t be had, at almost any price, for months or more.”

So investors like Lux Capital’s Bilal Zuberi has begun advising portfolio companies to start preparing for times they’ve never seen. Winter… is indeed coming.

In a direct message Zuberi wrote:

“Yes, for all obvious reasons we do believe startups should be thinking hard about their capital needs going into 2019 and beyond, and how to not get caught in a firestorm. (a) the amount of money flowing in SV startups has meant startup teams and investors are not used to being frugal. Consider this, many junior partners at VC firms have never seen an economic downturn — and they are sitting on Boards of startups spending tons of money, (b) raising money sooner than later, but not increasing burn is a prudent thing to do for companies that have access to more capital, (c) when downturn hits there will be special situations opportunities to invest in good companies but at lower valuations. All VC firms know…But I wouldn’t want any of my companies to become a ‘special situation’. So fighting hard now to reach escape velocity is also prudent. And (d) you are seeing VC firms bulk up their own funds, raise debt funds, and so on…this should be a signal to startups that where capital flows from upstream is starting to worry. Smart founders should take that as a signal, and prepare accordingly.”

For Zuberi, preparation means a few things. Founders need to think about their financing plans beyond the next 12 to 18 months, and raise capital only if that cost of capital is low. Preparation also means keeping tabs on burn rates and financials in general, and begin planning on how to move aggressively should competitors start becoming “special situations” that investors may look to offload.

Of course, there’s still the possibility that all of this worrying will be for nothing. Bill Gurley warned about a culling of the unicorn herd in 2015, and there have been rumblings about a startup crash since the Brexit vote went through.

At this point though, the parallels are beginning to look more than eerie and it may behoove founders to take the warnings as more than just another instance of investors crying wolf — if only because it seems that the wolf is indeed at the door.

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Galaxy S21 FE, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3 might launch in August



It seems that Samsung is really trying to step up its schedule this year, but perhaps not too early as expected. Initial reports claimed that Samsung’s next Unpacked event would take place in July, considerably earlier than it had ever done in the past years. A new report now says that the event will instead be in August again but, more importantly, Samsung will reportedly have three phones to launch, all of which are meant to fill in the gap that the Galaxy Note will leave this year.

Samsung already made it more or less official that there will be no Galaxy Note this year. That decision was partly blamed on the global semiconductor shortage, and probably indirectly because of the Galaxy S21 Ultra that already has S Pen support. Ironically, that shortage won’t change the fact that Samsung will launch three phones in its place instead.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 are already expected, of course, and they might still be launching earlier than they did last year despite this August schedule. The Galaxy Z Flip 5G did launch in August while the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Galaxy F20 FE followed later. That Samsung will just be announcing everything in August and make the devices available in the following months is also a possibility.

Unfortunately, the report from the Yonhap News Agency didn’t come with details about the Galaxy S21 FE or Fan Edition. If it will repeat the same formula from last year’s Galaxy S20 FE, it will simply be a watered-down and more affordable version of the base Galaxy S21 model. The report does estimate a 700,000 KRW price tag, roughly $624 versus that base model’s starting $799.

The Galaxy S21 FE might be overshadowed by the more expensive foldables, though, at least as far as attention is concerned. The Galaxy Z Fold 3, in particular, is expected to have Samsung’s first under-display camera and its first foldable to have S Pen support. The Galaxy Z Flip 3, which skips a generation to match its foldable sibling, is believed to have a bigger cover screen.

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Facebook really wants you to read articles before sharing them



It’s a common Internet habit: reading an article’s headline and then sharing the work without reading it. There are multiple reasons someone may do this, not the least of which is making assumptions about what the article presents based on its titles. Facebook is taking steps to address this habit, which can be problematic at times, by rolling out a new prompt.

The problem with sharing articles based on nothing more than the title is the risk of spreading misinformation, coming to conclusions that aren’t supported by the article, and lacking key details needed to discuss the matter. Actually reading the article provides context that may give the person sharing it a more informed perspective about the topic.

Facebook has announced that in order to encourage users to read articles before sharing them, it will now show them a prompt if they attempt to share a news article link they haven’t opened. The prompt includes the option to open the article first or to continue with sharing it.

Facebook notes in its prompt, “Sharing articles without reading them may mean missing key facts.” The prompt is described as a test at this time; it’s unclear how widely it is available. As with any test, it is possible it may change in the future or, perhaps, be removed.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of feature appear on a social media platform. Last summer, Twitter introduced a similar prompt that encouraged its readers to read an article before sharing it. The feature first arrived on Android before rolling out in October 2020 on iOS.

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Amazon fake reviews scam revealed in data breach with massive potential



By now, most of us probably suspect that fake reviews on internet shopping sites are a real thing. Whether being offering so-called “free product trials” after buying something or encountering a review that makes the product a little too good to be true, it’s easy to assume that fake reviews are a thing that happens. Today, however, a new security breach is giving us a better idea of just how widespread this might be.

Earlier this year, the folks over at SafetyDetectives discovered an open ElasticSearch database that contained what they call a “treasure trove” of messages between Amazon vendors and Amazon customers regarding fake reviews. The vendors in question typically offered free products in exchange for positive reviews, and in all, SafetyDetectives says that as many as 200,000 people are implicated by the data breach.

More than 13 million records comprising 7GB of data was revealed by this ElasticSearch server, which was closed and secured several days after SafetyDetectives discovered it in early March. SafetyDetectives says that it was unable to identify the owner of that server, making it impossible to alert them that the server was sitting wide open. It’s clear, however, that the server contained communications between several different vendors and customers – not just a single vendor.

Information that was leaked includes email addresses along with WhatsApp and Telegram phone numbers belonging to vendors. Customer data that was leaked includes 75,000 Amazon profile and account links of those who were selling reviews, PayPal email addresses, email addresses, and “Fan names” that could include the first names and surnames of users.

Instead of communicating through Amazon, vendors and the people selling reviews would often communicate through other messaging apps. Review sellers, it seems, were often instructed to purchase the product from Amazon and wait a few days before publishing a positive review of it, often with instructions from the vendor regarding what to say and how to make the review seem credible. After that, they were promised a refund on the purchase price of item – which was often carried out through PayPal to avoid using Amazon’s systems – and were allowed to keep the item in exchange for their positive review.

Obviously, this has some pretty big implications for vendors and Amazon users who were participating in fake reviews, as accounts for both could be terminated and fines could be levied depending on where in the world these vendors and reviewers are based. If you have a moment, be sure to read through SafetyDetectives’ full report on this data breach, because there’s a lot of good information there – including tips on how to spot fake reviews on Amazon.

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