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.
SlashGear’s Best of CES 2021 – The Tech that Mattered
It’s fair to say that CES 2021 was a tech show of firsts: no huge Las Vegas bonanza of gadgets and vast booths, but still plenty of news delivered up virtually instead. As always, the TVs were big, the laptops potent, and the oddball gizmos, well, odd. Read on for SlashGear’s best of this year’s show.
Best IoT/Smart Home Device: Philips Hue Wall Switch Module
Filling a gap that Hue fans have long been requesting, the Hue Wall Switch Module slips inside a regular light switch and gives it a connected upgrade. No more inadvertently cutting your smart bulbs off from the network, and better still it can be programmed to launch a specific scene. The smart home never felt so unobtrusive.
Best Ultraportable Notebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 514
Sleek, tough, and ideal for our new working-from-home and homeschooling lifestyles, the Acer Chromebook Spin 514 also has the advantage of being affordable. $480 gets you a brand new Chrome OS notebook, complete with support for Android apps and a 360-degree hinge.
Best Laptop: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
Following in the footsteps of the expensive-but-lovely Galaxy Chromebook 2020, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 has plenty to live up to. It hits the mark with a more affordable price tag, the same head-turning style, and a new QLED display.
Best Tablet: Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable
Lenovo’s ThinkPad range might not be the first place you’d expect to find a tablet, but then the ThinkPad X12 Detachable is no ordinary slate. Resolutely focused on getting things done, it doesn’t stint on hardware and usefully includes integrated LTE, still a rarity on Windows PCs.
Best Gaming: OtterBox Xbox Gaming Portfolio
CES 2021 wasn’t short on potent gaming PCs, but it was OtterBox’s Xbox Gaming Portfolio that caught our eye. Intended to help make the most of Xbox game streaming, the range helps connect your phone to your Xbox Wireless Controller, as well as protecting it all in your bag. With next-gen consoles focusing significantly on game streaming, these are the sort of accessories no gamer on the go should be without.
Best Content Creation Tool: Sony Airpeak
Drone, meet pro-grade photography. The Sony Airpeak isn’t the first time we’ve seen high-level camera tech loaded up onto a drone, but it promises to bring it out of the realm of big-budget movie and into the hands of a wider range of content creators. Given Sony’s well-deserved reputation in Alpha camera image quality, it’s no surprise that filmmakers and photographers alike are excited.
Best Medical Device: Razer Project Hazel
Only after 2020 could a smart face mask cause such a splash. Razer’s Project Hazel is – for the moment – a concept, but given the reception the color-changing, modular face mask received, we’d be very surprised if it didn’t graduate to a full product in the company’s range.
Best TV: Samsung Neo QLED 4K
Bigger isn’t enough any more in TVs: picture quality is where it’s at, along with sleek design. Samsung’s Neo QLED 8K line-up isn’t quite as lavish as the company’s MicroLED sets, but that should make them much more attainable in 2021. They also come with the company’s clever solar-powered remote, doing away with disposable batteries.
Best Accessory: Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD Monitor
If you’re working from home, suddenly the screen on your laptop just may not be cutting it any more. Dell’s UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD Monitor isn’t small, but its 5k2k resolution is certainly a luxury most of us would like to sit in front of.
Best Smartphone: TCL Rollable/Scrollable Concept Phones
TCL may not be a household name in smartphones yet, but the company is aiming to change that. Its rollable and scrollable concepts look like science-fiction, but the company says it’s aiming to commercialize at least one of them, for those who demand a big-screen but in a more portable form-factor.
Best Wearable: Lenovo ThinkReality A3 smart glasses
Want a big monitor, but stuck in a tiny apartment? Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 smart glasses focus on adding functionality where it’s most useful, plugging into a Windows PC and allowing for up to five virtual displays to expand your desktop, regardless of the size of the desk itself.
Best Audio: V-MODA M-200 ANC headphones
Active noise cancelling headphones are a big deal right now, a bubble of peace amid busy homes. V-MODA’s M-200 ANC headphones may not be the cheapest example out there, but the company’s commitment to great audio quality and its flexible ANC system help them stand out of the crowd.
Best Automotive: Mercedes-Benz MBUX Hyperscreen
Car tech has come to dominate CES in recent years, and little catches the eye like Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX Hyperscreen. Replacing the whole dashboard with a series of sleek displays and touchscreens, it’s no glossy concept but a preview of what drivers of the upcoming EQS luxury all-electric sedan will get to enjoy.
Best of CES 2021: Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i
In a year where our homes suddenly had to double as offices, schoolrooms, and movie theaters – among other things – the idea of a device that’s similarly flexible is mighty appealing. Lenovo’s ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i takes the unusual idea of its predecessor, an e-paper touchscreen on the lid of a convertible notebook with stylus support and lengthy battery life, and refines it. The result is not only one of the most striking notebooks at CES 2021, but also one which epitomizes the multitasking, multipurpose world we currently live in.
Bluetti AC200P Power Station Review
When it comes to batteries, you almost always have to make a compromise between power and size. That’s more true with portable batteries where mobility plays a more critical role. There are times, however, when the reverse is true and charging power becomes the deciding factor. The latter is true for Maxoak’s newest portable power station, the 2000Wh Bluetti AC200P, which uses the term “portable” very loosely, at least in comparison to other portable power stations. In exchange, however, you won’t have to make that many compromises in what or how many you can juice up with it.
This thing is huge, no doubt about that. Of course, that may be expected if you noticed the “2000W” or “2000Wh” label that the Bluetti AC200P comes with. This is twice the capacity of the Jackery Explorer 1000, for example, but also has more than twice the features and output options.
At 16.5 x 11 x 15.2 inches and weighing 60.6 lbs, almost 27.5kg, the Bluetti AC200P is barely portable. Sure, you can still carry it with some effort, but it’s meant more to be carried to its final location rather than carried around everywhere. As if to emphasize that nature, There are no carrying handles on top, just handlebars at the sides.
The power station’s design is clean and utilitarian, with all the action happening only on the front side. That includes the LCD touch screen that not only shows battery stats but also lets you control some settings. Unfortunately, that screen is easily defeated by bright outdoor light, like the sun, for example. The top, as mentioned, is bereft of any carrying handles or any structure for that matter, leaving the surface clear and flat for the wireless charging areas.
Power is the defining trait of the Bluetti AC200P and that comes via the 2000Wh battery inside as well as the High 2000W AC inverter. With the plethora of output options available, the power station makes short work of mobile devices, easily charging them hundreds of times if really needed.
It can also handle small appliances, including mini-fridges, something more portable power stations can only dream of.
The Bluetti AC200P also offers a variety of charging options for the battery itself, with solar charging advertised as the best method in both efficiency and economy. That said, that requires a separate purchase and a 400W wall charger will have to do.
You can also charge via a car charging cable and the Maxoak packages all needed cables, amusingly even the Solar Charging Cable.
It also bears noting that the Bluetti AC200P uses Lithium Iron Phosphate, a.k.a. LifePO4. This is the very same kind of battery used in electric vehicles for its reliability, safety, and long lifetimes even under higher temperatures.
Of course, the power station does have fans to keep things cool but they are pretty silent so you won’t have to worry about disturbing neighbors.
All that power would go to waste, however, if the portable power station didn’t allow users to take advantage of it. Fortunately, the Bluetti AC200P is all about that but, unfortunately, this is also where it makes a few compromises, too.
The highlight, of course, are the six AC outlets available for anything, from that mini-fridge to that laptop that still doesn’t support USB-C charging, as long as they are OK sharing that 2000W output. There are two 12V/3.0A DC ports to complement it, a lone 12V/25A DC port, and a 12V/10A DC car charger port.
For mobile devices, you have four 5V/3A full-sized USB-A ports, none of which support any fast charging technology, like Qualcomm’s Quick Charge.
You’ll have to make do with the single USB-C charger that does output up to 60W of power, good enough for some lighter laptops. Other laptops, however, might trickle charge only at that rate and might be better off using the AC outlets instead.
Last but not the least, the Bluetti AC200P also offers two wireless charging pads capable of a shared 15W of power output. You’ll have to keep that in mind when using both at the same time. Unfortunately, placing devices can be a bit tricky as you have to really hit that small area where the charging coil is located underneath.
With a 2000Wh LifePO4 battery and a total of 17 charging output options, the Bluetti AC200P 2000Wh Portable Power Station definitely exudes power and does its name justice.
It’s not without costs, of course, primarily the size and weight of the box, but it makes up for that in versatility. Then there’s also the $1,999.99 price tag that some might balk at. It is clearly a tool designed to meet a specific need and, fortunately, it does impress when it comes to meeting that need.
GPD WIN 3 gaming handheld PC mixes old design with new hardware
The success of the Nintendo Switch revived interest in portable gaming consoles and gave birth to some devices and smartphone accessories that tried to capitalize on that. Even before the age of the Switch, however, GPD was already trying its luck with dedicated Android gaming handhelds before stumbling upon a niche yet profitable portable PC gaming market. Its latest attempt is perhaps its most ambitious yet, cramming almost unbelievable specs into a design that looks like a blast from the past.
Those who have been following the tech market long enough may experience a bit of deja vu looking at the GPD WIN 3, the latest crowdfunded portable gaming PC handheld from the company. There is no mistaking it takes inspiration from the 2006 Sony VAIO UX and the small number of “slider” ultra-mobile PCs or UMPCs that tried to carve a niche during those days. Of course, the GPD WIN 3 applies some modern touches, starting with what’s running inside.
The contraption is powered by a Core i7-1165G7 (or Core i5-1135G7) with 16GB of LPDDR4X 4266 MHz RAM and 1TB of M.2 SSD storage, quite the powerhouse considering the size of the GPD WIN 3. There’s also the Intel Iris Xe graphics, the chipmaker’s somewhat discrete GPU and its latest attempt at making it big in PC gaming. There are, of course, the usual gaming buttons and joysticks flanking the touch screen while its special trick is the touch keyboard hidden underneath that same sliding screen.
There are, of course, certain compromises that have to be made with a gaming PC of this size and power. For one, the 5.5-inch screen maxes out at 1280×720 pixel in order to maximize the graphics hardware, allowing it to run games at moderate frame rates and decent settings but at lower resolutions. The keyboard, which lacks the tactile feedback of physical keys, is also best for brief text input only, for in-game chats, logins, etc.
Given this is pretty much a laptop in a small form-factor, it shouldn’t be surprising that the price tag is anything but small, too. The lowest you can get it on Indiegogo right now is $799 for the Core i5 option but you might want to consider throwing in $50 more for a dock that converts the GPD WIN 3 into a desktop, as long as you have a bigger screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. The campaign, which is pretty much a pre-order system, still has over a month left. Judging by how many already grabbed the highest $949 tier, however, it’s clear that this might also be GPD’s most successful product yet.
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