Many founders believe in the myth that the first steps of starting a business are the hardest: Attracting the first investment, the first hires, proving the technology, launching the first product and landing the first customer. Although those critical first steps are difficult, they are certainly not the most difficult on the arduous path of building an iconic company. As early and late-stage funding becomes more abundant, founders and their early VC backers need to get smarter about how to position their companies for a looming valley of death in-between. As we’ll learn below, it’s only going to get much, much harder before it gets easier.
There will be an abundance of capital at the two ends of the startup spectrum. At one end, hundreds of seed and micro VCs, each armed with dozens of $250,000-$1 million checks to write every year, are on the prowl for visionary founders with pedigrees and resumes. At the other end, behemoths like SoftBank, sovereigns, as well “early-stage” firms raising larger funds are seeking breakout companies ready for checks that are in the mid-tens to hundreds of millions. There will be a dearth of capital to grow companies from a kernel of a business, to becoming the clear market-defining leader. In fact, we’re already seeing deal volume decreasing significantly as dollars increase, likely evidence of larger checks going into fewer companies.
Founders should no longer assume that their all-star seed and Series A syndicates will guarantee a successful follow-on financing. Progress on recruiting and product development, though necessary, are no longer sufficient for B-rounds and beyond. Founders should be mindful that investors that specialize in leading $20-50 million rounds will have a plethora of well-funded, well-mentored, well-staffed startups with slick presentations, big visions and some early market traction from which to choose.
Today, there is far more capital chasing fewer quality companies. Fewer breakout companies and fear of missing out is making it easy to raise growth rounds with revenue growth, which may not be scalable or even reflective of an attractive business. This is creating false realities and prompting founders to raise big rounds at high prices — which is fine when there is an over-abundance of capital, but can cripple them when capital later becomes scarce. For example, not long ago, cleantech companies, armed with very preliminary sales, raised massive financings from VCs eager to back winners toward scaling into what they characterized as infinite demand. The reality is that the capital required to meet target economics was far greater and demand far smaller. As the private markets turned, access to cash became difficult and most faltered or were acquired for pennies on the dollar.
There is a likely future where capital grows scarce, and investors take a harder look at the underpinnings of revenue, growth and (dis)economies of scale.
What should startup leadership teams emphasize in an inevitable future where the $30 million rounds will be orders of magnitude harder than their $5 million rounds?
A business model representative of the big vision
Leadership teams put lots of emphasis on revenue. Unfortunately, revenue that’s not representative of the big vision is probably worse than no revenue at all. Companies are initially seeded with the expectation that the founding team can build and sell something. What needs to be proven is the hypothesis that the company can a) build a special product that b) is inexpensive to convince customers to pay for, and c) that those customers represent a massive market. It should be proven that it is unattractive for customers to switch to the inevitable copycats. It should be clear that over time, customers will pay more for additional features, and the cost of acquiring new customers will go down. Simply selling a product to customers that don’t represent that model is worse than not selling anything at all.
Recruiting talent that’s done it
Early founding teams are cognitively diverse individuals that can convince early investors that they can overcome the incredible odds of building a company that until now, shouldn’t have existed. They build a unique product, leveraging unique tools satisfying an unmet need. The early teams need to demonstrate the big vision, and that they can recruit the people that can make that vision a reality. Unfortunately, more founders struggle when it comes to recruiting people that have real experience reducing a technology to practice, executing on a product that customers want and charting the path to expand their market with improving unit economics. There are always exceptions of people that do the above for the first time at startups; however, most of today’s iconic startups knew what kind of talent they needed to execute and succeeded in bringing them on board. Who’s on your team?
Present metrics that matter
The attractive SaaS valuation multiples behoove all founders to apply its metrics to their businesses even if they aren’t really SaaS businesses. Sophisticated later-stage investors see right past that and dismiss numbers associated with metrics that are not representative. Semiconductors are about winning dedicated sockets in growing markets. Design tools are about winning and upselling seats in an industry that’s going to be hooked on those tools. Develop a clear understanding of how your business will be measured. Don’t inundate your investor with numbers; present a concise hypothesis for your unfair advantage in a growing market with your current traction being evidence to back it.
Find efficiencies by working in massive markets
“Pouring fuel on the fire” is a misleading metaphor that leads some into believing that capital can grow any business. That’s just as true as watering a plant with a fire hose or putting TNT in your Corolla’s gas tank: most business models and markets simply are not native to the much-sought-after venture growth profile. In fact, most later-stage startups that fail after raising large amounts of capital fail for this reason. Most markets are conducive to businesses with DIS-economies of scale, implying dwindling margins with scale, which is why many businesses are small, serving local, fragmented markets that technology alone cannot consolidate. How do your unit economics improve over time? What are the efficiencies generated by economies of scale? Is there a real network effect that drives these economies?
I expect today’s resourceful founders to seek partners, whether it’s employees, advisors or investors, to help them answer these questions. Together, these cognitively diverse teams will work together to accelerate past any metaphoric valley and build the iconic companies taking humanity to its fantastic future.
Samsung’s Exynos 2200 SoC revealed with AMD RDNA2 ray tracing GPU
After much recent speculation surrounding it, Samsung has officially announced its Exynos 2200 (E2200) SoC. The big news with this launch is this year’s Exynos chip dumps ARM’s Mali GPUs for a custom GPU Samsung has co-developed with AMD that features RDNA2-based graphics.
There’d been recent speculation that Samsung had an insufficient yield of the new chip to make it into its eagerly anticipated Galaxy S22 series including the S22 Ultra. With its launch underway, it now appears that the E2200 will indeed join the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (SD8G1) in Samsung’s premium smartphone offering — though some rumors claim otherwise.
Samsung has typically launched Exynos variants of its flagship phones in international markets, while the U.S., Canada, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan get the Snapdragon version. The company has used this strategy to help it manage its global supply chain, although it has led to criticism because of performance variations of its devices with the Exynos models.
Breaking down the Exynos 2200
On the CPU side, the E2200 is very similar to the Qualcomm SD8G1 (and indeed the MediaTek Dimensity 9000). It features brand new ARM v9 architecture across the board with a single big core, the Cortex-X2, doing the heavy lifting; that’s joined by three smaller performance cores in the shape of the Cortex-A710.
Rounding things out are four Cortex-A510 efficiency cores. Samsung is yet to reveal the peak clock speed of the E2200, but as a point of comparison, the SD8G1 is clocked between 1.8GHz and 2.9GHz, so we can expect something similar from the Exynos. Its new neural engine is also said to offer twice the AI performance as before.
The GPU side of the E2200 is where things get particularly interesting. Samsung has partnered with AMD for what will be the first of many mobile GPUs to come from this new collaboration. The new GPU has been dubbed the Samsung Xclipse 920 and is based on AMD’s vaunted RDNA2 graphics architecture, the same that powers the Xbox Series X and Sony PS5 consoles.
As with those devices, the new Xclipse GPU supports hardware-accelerated ray tracing for more realistic lighting effects and graphics. In fact, Samsung claims the E2200 delivers console-level graphics performance (which is, of course, not the first time we’ve heard such claims being made).
Samsung’s fabrication tech vs TSMC
While Samsung hasn’t revealed much in the way of specific performance details on either the CPU or GPU side of the E2200, the main concern around previous chips fabricated using Samsung’s foundries is their sustained performance. Historically, Samsung’s fabricated chips have struggled to compete with chips fabricated by TSMC in either transistor density or sustained performance, even if the purported node technology is the same or similar. This was apparent in the characteristics of the Exynos 990, Snapdragon 888, and Exynos 2100, which experienced throttling issues under heavy loads.
The E2200 is using similar Samsung 4nm EUV fabrication technology to the Qualcomm SD8G1, which Qualcomm has contracted Samsung to produce. However, unlike the Snapdragon 888, which was exclusively fabricated by Samsung, this time around Qualcomm (like MediaTek for the Dimensity 9000) has also been able to access TSMC’s heavily booked production lines to produce some of its SD8G1 chips.
Chip enthusiasts are keenly awaiting performance comparisons between the Samsung fabricated SD8G1 chips and those from TSMC which utilize its N4 process. Samsung says it has boosted investment in its fabrication technologies, so all eyes will be on the E2220 when it arrives with the launch of the Galaxy S22 series next month.
Apple And Samsung Still Control The Smartphone Market: Can Any Other Brand Take The Crown?
Canalys has released its latest statistics for the smartphone market, and it’s great news for Apple and Samsung. Apple came in first place with 22% of worldwide shipments in Q4 2021, while Samsung came in second place with 20%. Unfortunately for other smartphone makers, there was a huge chasm between the top two companies and the rest of the market.
Xiamoi came in third place with 12%, while OPPO came in fourth with 9%, and vivo came in fifth with 8%. The disparity between the top two makers and the rest of the market leads many to wonder if any other company will ever be able to take the top spot. While other companies have certainly come close to dominating the market, there are a number of challenges they need to overcome, none of which will be easy.
Branding And Budget
One of the biggest benefits Apple and Samsung have is their branding. No matter where you are, Apple and Samsung are two of the world’s most recognizable brands.
This brand recognition is a huge advantage for both companies, making it easy for them to attract attention and market their new models. In fact, it’s not uncommon for both brands to have lines of people waiting to buy their new phones on release day.
In contrast, many smaller brands lack the name recognition or the budget to easily gain it. As a result, they must rely on large events, such as CES, to promote their products. Needless to say, the pandemic has been especially hard on such companies, as many events have either had to be canceled or significantly altered.
Another major challenge smaller companies face is matching the supply chain advantages Apple and Samsung both have. Because of their size, and the volume of products they produce, both companies are able to secure their supply chain, buying up memory and components, to a degree smaller companies cannot.
While this can be a significant challenge to overcome under the best of circumstances, it’s an even bigger issue during the pandemic when the global supply chain is already under pressure (via White House).
China And National Security Concerns
The company that came the closest to unseating Apple and Samsung was Huawei. Unfortunately for that company, it soon found itself banned by the US and its allies, forced to sell off part of its phone business, and cut off from its suppliers, both software and hardware.
Huawei’s example illustrates one of the biggest challenges to toppling Apple and Samsung: mistrust of Chinese corporations. Because of various economic factors, such as being where much of the world’s electronic devices are manufactured, Chinese companies have tangible competitive advantages over companies elsewhere.
Unfortunately, whether fairly or not, Chinese companies often come under criticism for aiding Beijing in its spying efforts. In addition, there have also been well-documented cases of Chinese companies stealing intellectual property from outside companies operating in China (via WSJ).
These various factors create a degree of mistrust in countries around the world and often result in sanctions and bans that impede such companies’ ability to compete. While it’s certainly possible another company will topple Apple and Samsung and control the smartphone market, it’s unlikely such a change will happen anytime soon.
The 5 best and 5 worst things about Huawei Smartphones
There was a time, not too long ago, when Huawei almost took over the smartphone world. Bagging marketing contracts with big Hollywood names like Henry Cavill, Scarlett Johansson, and Gal Godot, the company seemed poised to be the next big thing in the global market for mobile phones. When it managed to surpass Apple in global sales numbers back in 2019, its victory against Samsung to become the top-selling smartphone provider in the world was almost assured.
But like its astronomical rise, Huawei’s fall from grace was equally dramatic, leaving newcomers to the smartphone market wondering what the fuss is all about — and if Huawei’s phones were even worth considering. To illustrate the company’s story, controversy, and legacy, we take a look at some of the things that made and still make Huawei’s phones quite the catch, as well as reasons to stay away from the company unless you live in China. Let’s look at what Huawei did right and wrong to end up where it is today.
We start with what Huawei got right.
Huawei may have already been big in China, but its growth in international markets suggests that it was at least doing some things right (via Statista). That it was able to penetrate the US market enough to make its political critics worry is also a testament to its efforts. Huawei phones feature many things, of course, but there are a few things that stand out that made them worth the risk of investing in the Chinese brand. This begins with its photo capabilities.
1. Exceptional photography
Although it didn’t start out as a champion in this sphere, Huawei’s phones have long been considered the top of the class when it came to smartphone photography. Some might consider the Huawei P9 from 2016 as the model that started this trend. It was, coincidentally, also one of the first phones to sport a dual-camera system (though the HTC One M8 predated them in 2014 and the gimmicky LG Optimus 3D in 2011).
Ever since then, Huawei has been blazing the trail in smartphone cameras, beating Apple and Samsung every year, even after the two manage to catch up for just a while. Forbes noted that the brand has the best imaging sensors and output in the market, at least according to some benchmarks.
2. Value for the price
Chinese-branded products have long had the stigma of being cheap in price and quality, but smartphone makers like Xiaomi, OPPO, and Huawei have been dispelling that misconception in the past few years. Huawei, in particular, has been catching up with its peers on the top rungs of the market ladder, and its phones have definitely earned the “premium” moniker in more ways than one — throughout China and elsewhere, according to South China Morning Post.
Huawei’s flagships are anything but cheap, especially compared to the likes of OnePlus or even Xiaomi. Models run anywhere from about $600 to over $1,000 (via Android Authority). What gives it some distinction is that you are really getting your money’s worth. Until the dominos started to fall, Huawei’s Kirin chips could run head to head with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon and Samsung Exynos. Huawei didn’t skimp on memory and battery either, and, of course, there are those excellent cameras. With prices being equal, Huawei’s top contenders could stand proud against the latest Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone and might even surpass them when it came to taking photos.
Huawei’s top smartphones might be as expensive as a Galaxy or iPhone, but those aren’t the only phones that the company offers. Beating Samsung at its own game, Huawei models are diverse and vary for different market tiers and budgets. And that’s not even counting the ones that its former subsidiary Honor sells.
That is part of what gave Huawei its success in multiple global regions. It didn’t focus solely on a single demographic or price range but threw everything it could at everybody, as the company’s product list makes clear. Of course, that doesn’t mean that those in the mid-range will get the same experience as those with more expensive models, but brand familiarity, not to mention the same software features, goes a long way in establishing trust with consumers.
Of course, it’s also a double-edged sword, and there are times when having too many options can be paralyzing for buyers. Fortunately, there are quite a few “winners” in each category, so it doesn’t always feel debilitating. That said, not all those phones are treated equally, and some get software updates more often and longer than others.
4. Daring to be different
Huawei has had the advantage of being a tech giant, and as such has had plenty of resources to throw around to play with ideas (via CNN). While it didn’t immediately jump on short-lived trends like curved phones and modular phones, it did embark on a few experiments that opened the doors to possibilities.
It took risks in playing around with smartphone designs, for example, particularly with the camera bump on phones’ backs (via Business Insider). From vertical columns to large circles to squares, Huawei spurred some trends in smartphone designs, even if they didn’t stick around very long. Of course, innovation in mobile imaging is its big thing, which is impressive considering it doesn’t have the same resources or history as Samsung and Sony in that market (via Forbes).
Huawei’s most recent bold bets naturally had something to do with foldables. It was one of the few to actually believe in the “outie” design exhibited by the Huawei Mate X and Mate Xs. Now it has released a Huawei P50 Pocket that will put a unique spin on the foldable clamshell design, according to Tech Radar, though it remains to be seen how long that will last as well.
Chinese smartphone makers have been criticized for their heavy-handed customizations on top of Android (via The Verge). Huawei is, unsurprisingly, part of the group, but its EMUI operating system spin is more than just a cosmetic skin. For years, it has been adding value to stock Android in ways that Google would probably never allow into its codebase.
EMUI has long allowed features like having two separate instances of the same app installed, customizable themes, memory cleaners, battery optimizers, game performance modes, and more, the company noted. Some of these have now become staples in other manufacturers’ ROMs as well, but it wasn’t always the case before. Huawei definitely helped pave the path for those, even if it’s now forgotten by history.
There are cases where Huawei might look like its following Samsung’s lead, but it is also perhaps the only one bold enough to do so. The ability to use a phone as a desktop when connected to an external monitor, for example, is still a rare ability. Currently, Huawei is also heavily advertising the special connection its phones have with its laptops, something mirroring Samsung’s preferential treatment on Windows.
Now, for how Huawei fell from grace.
1. EMUI Bloat
Alas, Huawei’s conquest of the smartphone world has never come to pass. Its downfall wasn’t exactly due to technical or technological problems with its products unless you count the alleged crimes committed by the company (via Quartz). There have always been reasons to steer clear of the company’s phones, but recent drama with the U.S. has only made its flaws even more pronounced.
As powerful and flexible as EMUI is, it is also pretty heavy in terms of content. Unlike Samsung these days, Huawei has kept to having its own app for everything and having those pre-installed, according to Tech Advisor. In a way, that actually worked in its favor when it had to move away from Google-certified Android. But for years, the experience of using EMUI on Huawei’s Android phones was anything but lightweight.
All these changes applied on top of Android did have consequences in the long run, especially when it comes to software updates. Huawei was never the fastest or most consistent when it came pushing out Android updates, big and small alike, and part of that can be blamed on the heavy-handed customizations that Huawei has made. Of course, that is almost moot today since Huawei has gone ahead with Harmony OS (via The BBC), but it still presents a big hurdle to keeping up with the company’s commitment to continue supporting its Android-based phones still in the market.
2. Isolated Ecosystem
Just like Samsung, Huawei wanted to build a kingdom of its own to rival Apple (via CNBC). That meant building an entire ecosystem of devices, software, and services that worked tightly together, almost to the exclusion of others. That dream actually became a necessity when it got shut out of Google’s kingdom and other American products. It seems to be working for the company and its customers, at least for those with access to Huawei products (more on that later).
Unfortunately, that also means that investing in Huawei’s products might risk getting isolated from others outside its bubble. Although technically still Android underneath, Huawei’s new Harmony OS mostly operates on its own away from the rest of the Android world. That nice integration with Windows laptops is also only available with Huawei’s Windows laptops, per the company’s website. Of course, nothing’s stopping anyone from buying Huawei products individually, but the switch to its own mobile OS has made it a bit harder for those phones to interoperate with the rest of the world.
There is almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of Huawei models available on all tiers, as the company’s website makes clear. That said, not all those are available in all markets (via Business Insider). In the typical esoteric decision-making processes that phone companies use, Huawei doesn’t sell some of its high-end products in some markets while depriving others of its mid-range phones.
Admittedly, that has always been the case with Huawei phones, but the past two or three years have added another hurdle in Huawei’s path. It no longer sells its smartphones in the US, as is noted above, which deprives it of one of the biggest markets in the world. While Xiaomi proved that it could make it big without the U.S., Huawei was abruptly cut off from a crucial source of profits. Along with restricted or almost no access to its usual hardware components and software like Google apps, the effects on Huawei’s position in the global smartphone market were pretty devastating.
For consumers, this means that it’s almost impossible to get their hands on Huawei’s latest and greatest. Even if they could, it wouldn’t be advisable because of concerns about network compatibility (via The Washington Post). This sadly means that buyers in the US are also deprived of some of the best smartphone cameras in the market, though Huawei’s reign might not last much longer anyway.
Like any other giant company, Huawei has always been accused of many things, but allegations about its ties with the Chinese government have so far been the most damning. Being placed in the U.S. Entity List alone already deprives it of the resources it needs to make and sell its usual products, but receiving the same snub from other countries puts more nails in its coffin. Huawei has always maintained its innocence, of course, but it isn’t really the first or only time it has been accused of shady business practices.
From espionage to industrial theft, Huawei has been accused of it all. It hasn’t been convicted of those yet, at least not in U.S. courts, but the mountain of unresolved cases hangs over its head like Damocles’ sword. This brings us to the biggest chink in Huawei’s armor.
5. Uncertainty of the future
There are just too many things going on with Huawei these days that it’s hard not to feel uneasy when trying to make a long-term investment in its products. Yes, Huawei is trying to build a more stable and more reliable ecosystem of products and services, but it’s fighting an uphill battle in markets outside of China where people might already have their own favorite smart home platform or app store.
Sure, you can also just buy the latest Huawei P50 Pro, at least if you’re not in the U.S., and enjoy its photography prowess on its own. These days, however, consumers have become more discerning and more forward-looking, no longer seeing these devices as something you change every two years or so. CNBC noted that people are now buying smartphones for the long haul, expecting support and software updates for multiple years. At the moment, Huawei just can’t provide that guarantee, especially when its very survival is still up in the air.
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