Samsung chairman dies at age 78

Lee Kun-hee, the long-time chairman of Samsung Group who transformed the conglomerate into one of the world’s largest business empires, died today at the age of 78, according to reports from South Korean leading news agency Yonhap.

The story of Samsung is deeply intertwined with the history of its home country, which is sometimes dubbed “The Republic of Samsung.” Lee, the son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, came to power in the late 1980s just as South Korea transitioned from dictatorship to democracy with the political handover from military strongman Chun Doo-hwan to Roh Tae-woo. Under his management, Samsung spearheaded initiatives across a number of areas in electronics, including semiconductors, memory chips, displays, and other components that are the backbone of today’s digital devices.

Lee navigated the challenging economic troubles of the 1990s, including the 1998 Asian financial crisis, which saw a near collapse of the economies of South Korea and several other so-called Asian Tigers, as well as the Dot-Com bubble, which saw the collapse of internet stocks globally.

Coming out of those challenging years, Lee invested in and is probably most famous today for building up the conglomerate’s Galaxy consumer smartphone line, which evolved Samsung from an industrial powerhouse to a worldwide consumer brand. Samsung Electronics, which is just one of a spider web of Samsung companies, is today worth approximately $350 billion, making it among the most valuable companies in the world.

While his business acumen and strategic insights handling Samsung were lauded, he faced troubles in recent years. He was convicted of tax evasion in the late 2000s, but was ultimately pardoned by the country’s then president Lee Myung-bak (no relation).

Samsung has also been under fire from groups including Elliott Management over chairman Lee’s attempts to secure the financial future of Samsung for his son, Lee Jae-yong, who took over effective leadership of the conglomerate following the elder Lee’s heart attack in 2014. Lee Jae-yong has suffered his own run-ins with the law, having been found guilty of bribery and sentenced to five years in prison, which was ultimately suspended by a judge.

After his heart attack, Lee Kun-hee remained hospitalized in stable condition according to Yonhap. Rumors of his condition have percolated in the six years since.

According to Bloomberg, Lee leaves behind roughly $20 billion in wealth, and he is the wealthiest South Korean citizen. He is survived by his wife as well as four children.

Respect the hustle, not the stupidity

Yes, the media f’ing gorged on the Quibi story yesterday. We did, they did, everyone did. And really, truly, how could anyone not? Nearly $2 billion came in (with $350 million heading back), a star-studded lineup of executives and production teams, an absolutely massive advertising campaign, and a PR strategy that all but begged the sun to melt Icarus’ wings.

Our collective exhalation on the complete clusterfuck that was Quibi though leads to a legitimate and interesting question: are we obnoxiously attacking a good-faith failure? Wasn’t Quibi a bet just like every other startup, a bet that just happened to fail? A16Z’s general partner Andrew Chen put it vividly on Twitter, saying “It’s gross” and lauding the entrepreneurial challenge of building a startup:

I understand this view, deeply. In fact, all of us at TechCrunch understand this. One of the things that we pride ourselves on here is respecting the hustle. We know how hard it is to launch a startup. As a team, we collectively talk to thousands of founders every year, and we hear the heartbreaking stories and the downright trauma at times that comes with building a company. Occasionally (and yes, we focus most of our reporting here), we hear about the wins and successes too.

Let’s be honest: most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. And when success happens, we like to talk about it, report on, and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.

But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.

Chen makes an important point that many obvious ideas in tech started as dumb ideas. That’s true! In fact, the history of technology is littered with examples of ideas that investors and the press thought were either dumb or impossible to build (which is a more polite way to say “dumb”).

Why do supposedly dumb ideas turn out to be smart? Part of the reason is that what starts out as dumb slowly iterates into something that is very smart. Facebook was just a “facebook” for checking out your classmates on college campuses. If it had ended there and withered away like many other social networks before it, we might well have put it in the waste bin of history. But Zuckerberg and his crew iterated — adding features like photos, a feed, messaging and more with an extreme focus on growth that made the product so much more than when it started.

We’ve seen this pattern again and again throughout time. Founders get feedback from users, they iterate, they pivot, they try new things, and slowly but surely they start to migrate from what might have been a very raw concept to something much more ready to compete in the ferocious marketplace of business and consumer attention today.

This was never the story with Quibi. There was never an iteration of the product, or a long-range plan to assiduously cultivate users and talent as the company found traction while carefully husbanding its capital for the inevitable tough moments in the growth of any company.

Yes, we in the commentariat do make mistakes, but analysts weren’t dumb in pointing out all of Quibi’s glaring, red-alert flaws. Those analysts were smart. They were right. They might not be right next time, of course — no analyst should get too overconfident in their predictions. But at the same time, we shouldn’t just collectively throw up our hands and declare every idea that comes our way a brilliant gift from the heavens. Most ideas are dumb, and we and everyone else have every right to point that out.

So respect the hustle. Don’t kick a hardworking entrepreneur down who is just trying to get their project out there and show it the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t call out stupid when you see it. The best entrepreneurs know that — even at its most vituperative — critical feedback is the necessary ingredient to startup success. Lauding everyone lauds no one.

WoHo wants to make constructing buildings fast, flexible and green with reusable “components”

Buildings are the bedrocks of civilization — places to live, places to work (well, normally, in a non-COVID-19 world) and places to play. Yet how we conceive buildings, architect them for their uses, and ultimately construct them on a site has changed remarkably little over the past few decades. Housing and building costs continue to rise, and there remains a slow linear process from conception to construction for most projects. Why can’t the whole process be more flexible and faster?

Well, a trio of engineers and architects out of MIT and Georgia Tech are exploring that exact question.

MIT’s former treasurer Israel Ruiz along with architects Anton Garcia-Abril of MIT and Debora Mesa of Georgia Tech have joined together on a startup called WoHo (short for “World Home”) that’s trying to rethink how to construct a modern building by creating more flexible “components” that can be connected together to create a structure.

WoHo’s Israel Ruiz, Debora Mesa, and Anton Garcia-Abril. Photo via WoHo.

By creating components that are usable in a wide variety of types of buildings and making them easy to construct in a factory, the goal of WoHo is to lower construction costs, maximize flexibility for architects, and deliver compelling spaces for end users, all while making projects greener in a climate unfriendly world.

The team’s ideas caught the attention of Katie Rae, CEO and managing director of The Engine, a special fund that spun out of MIT that is notable for its lengthy time horizons for VC investments. The fund is backing WoHo with $4.5 million in seed capital.

Ruiz spent the last decade overseeing MIT’s capital construction program, including the further buildout of Kendall Square, a neighborhood next to MIT that has become a major hub for biotech innovation. Through that process, he saw the challenges of construction, particularly for the kinds of unique spaces required for innovative companies. Over the years, he also built friendships with Garcia-Abril and Mesa, the duo behind Ensamble Studio, an architecture firm.

With WoHo, “it is the integration of the process from the design and concept in architecture all the way through the assembly and construction of that project,” Ruiz explained. “Our technology is suitable for low-to-high rise, but in particularly it provides the best outcomes for mid-to-high rise.”

So what exactly are these WoHo components? Think of them as well-designed and reusable blocks that can be plugged together in order to create a structure. These blocks are consistent and are designed to be easily manufactured and transported. One key innovation is around an improved reinforced cement that allows for better building quality at lower environmental cost.

Conception of a WoHo component under construction. Photo via WoHo

We have seen modular buildings before, typically apartment buildings where each apartment is a single block that can be plugged into a constructed structure (take for example this project in Sacramento). WoHo, though, wants to go further in having components that offer more flexibility and arrangements, and also act as the structure themselves. That gives architects far more flexibility.

It’s still early days, but the group has already gotten some traction in the market, inking a partnership with Swiss concrete and building materials company LafargeHolcim to bring their ideas to market. The company is building a demonstration project in Madrid, and targeting a second project in Boston for next year.

Index Ventures’ Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon: ‘There’s basically an infinite bid’ for growth-stage startups

The venture world is swimming in capital these days, and the flood doesn’t appear to be abating.

That’s changing the game for venture capitalists and their firms, which transformed from solo practitioners focused on one stage and a single geographical area to covering all startups in all geos in all industries in just a handful of years.

One firm that has navigated those changes for decades is Index Ventures, one of the first funds to launch in Europe that has evolved into a multi-stage firm in recent years. The firm last raised a total of $2 billion this past April to continue doubling down on all the deals springing up across the world.

This week on Extra Crunch Live, I interviewed Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon, two SF-based partners at Index, to discuss what they are seeing in the market, how VC fundraises have changed and continue to change and how they are adapting to the rise of rolling funds and other new seed vehicles. This was the first time that the two came together for a panel, and our conversation was a real blast.

Here’s an edited and condensed version of the conversation, with highlights of the best insights from the panel.

“It’s not easy to just sit on the sidelines and wait till things sort themselves out.”

TechCrunch: September is traditionally a time for fundraises to kick off for the fall, but in this COVID-19 world, everything is different. Who is fundraising right now and what do you see going on?

Nina Achadjian: Well, there are two things. One, there was an incredible pull from the market for technology tools. So many businesses that had put off buying technology or investing in technology really all of a sudden found themselves in a digitally-first world or a digital-only world and therefore, there was a massive pull for technology products. It’s the reason why companies like Shopify and others in the public markets have had just amazing, record quarters.

The second thing is, in venture when we raise these funds, we have a certain time period to deploy them, usually anywhere from two years to five years. So for us as investors, it’s not easy to just sit on the sidelines and wait till things sort themselves out.

So actually, a lot of venture investors have piggybacked off of this incredible pull from the market side and have been investing, I would say, at the same pace, or even a faster pace than we were before.

“There’s basically an infinite bid for these companies.”

Are those paces the same for all stages?

Lots of happy people as Palantir and Asana spike on first day of trading

The markets are closed and the verdicts are in: investors liked what they saw in Palantir and Asana .

The two companies, which debuted this morning in dual (and duel) direct listings, continued to prove that enterprise tech companies without the brand recognition of Spotify (which conducted its own direct listing back in 2018) can make direct listings work. So far, the evidence is decent that the mechanism isn’t throwing off investors.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Asana closed its first trading day at $28.80 a share — a gain of 37% against its reference price of $21 a share. The company’s first trade was at $27. Meanwhile, Palantir closed the day at $9.73, a gain of 34% against its reference price of $7.25. Its first trade was at $10. Asana is valued at about $4.3 billion at close, while Palantir reached $24.8 billion, based on its fully diluted share count, including recent securities sold.

As an aside, my Equity co-host Natasha Mascarenhas and I did an “Equity Shot” talking more about these early numbers. Tune in if you want to hear our discussion and analysis:

That done, with big bold numbers on the board, there were a number of winners.

First and foremost, Founders Fund, which is the only major investor shared between the two companies, has a lot of capital incoming. The firm owns 5.8% of Asana and approximately 6.6% of Palantir, netting it somewhere around $1.8 billion given today’s valuations (that’s definitely back-of-the-envelope math mind you).

Meanwhile, Benchmark owns 9.3% of Asana, and a number of other investors including Japanese insurer SOMPO, Disruptive Technology Solutions, UBS, and 8VC own significant stakes in Palantir.

The other winners are the founders of these companies. Dustin Moskovitz retains a 36% stake in Asana, while his cofounder Justin Rosenstein holds a 16.1% stake. Over at Palantir, the trio of founders of Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, and Peter Thiel now have liquid billions at their collective disposal.

Asana founders Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz. Photo via Asana

Of course, employees will be happy to get liquidity as well. Asana does not have a lockup period, and so its employees and insiders are free to trade. Palantir coupled a direct listing with a lockup, and so only about 28% of the company’s shares are eligible for sale today. The remainder will be authorized to be sold over the next year.

In an interview with Moskovitz shortly after the markets closed today, he said that “it’s been an exciting morning, but ultimately it’s just one step in a much longer journey towards fulfilling our mission” (you can read more of our interview with Moskovitz on Extra Crunch).

While it’s just one trading day, it was a positive one for both companies, and that provides even more evidence that the classic IPO now has stiff competition from direct listings and other alternative methods like SPACs.

Dustin Moskovitz discusses Asana’s first trading day

It’s a big day for Asana, the work management tool that debuted on the NYSE this morning in a direct listing. Founded back in 2009 by Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, the company has assiduously grown over the years, taking in about $213 million in venture capital the past decade and reaching almost $100 million in subscription revenue for the first six months of 2020.

TechCrunch sat down this afternoon with CEO Moskovitz and Asana’s head of product Alex Hood at the tail end of the company’s first trading day to talk about its early success, its future and how it feels to go public in a direct listing.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: Tell me how you’re feeling today — it’s been 10, 11 years since the company’s founding, what are your emotions on this first day?

Dustin Moskovitz: It’s been an exciting morning, but ultimately it’s just one step in a much longer journey towards fulfilling our mission and so, you know, we’re definitely pausing to celebrate but also looking ahead to what comes next because there’s going to be a lot more stuff to come after this.

What’s next?

Alex Hood: We really just feel like we’re getting started. The way that a billion and a quarter information workers work together really hasn’t changed all that much in the last 25 years — it’s really kind of based on the Microsoft Office suite form factor. We think that there’s a collaboration piece that really helps teams know who’s doing what by when and reduce the back and forth required to get work done.

Palantir’s reference price values it at roughly $16 billion

Palantir is preparing for its public debut tomorrow morning on the NYSE after 17 years, and now we are getting some data on how the company’s shares are being valued by investors.

NYSE announced that the the company, which will be traded under the ticker PLTR, will have a reference price of $7.25 per share. Palantir is pursuing a direct listing, and so a reference price is merely a guide from the market to investors, and does not represent an actual trading price.

According to Palantir’s after-hours filing with the SEC this afternoon, the company has 1.16 billion Class A shares, 484 million Class B shares, and 1 million Class F shares on its cap table outstanding today, or a total of roughly 1.64 billion. Only Class A shares will trade, and Class B and F shares are convertible to Class A shares on a one-to-one basis. On a fully diluted basis, which Palantir says represents 2.2 billion shares total according to its most recent S-1 filing, the company is valued at $16 billion. The difference between those two aggregate numbers comes from outstanding stock performance grants, warrants, and other financial instruments.

The company will begin trading tomorrow morning, and as it is pursuing a direct listing, it will raise no primary capital as part of its debut.

We looked at Palantir’s stock price over time based on internal trades, which have gone from around $5 a share at the beginning of January 2019 to $9.17 a share earlier this month as the company prepped its prospectus to go public. A reference price of $7.25 is below those last trades, and also below a $10 price point that the Wall Street Journal reported on last week from Palantir bankers.

Of course, a reference point much like an IPO price is a mostly made-up number, and the real value of these shares will emerge from the market tomorrow as traders buy up shares from insiders.

In its afternoon filing today, Palantir said that approximately 475 million shares will be available for trade, with the remainder of the company’s shares locked up. Palantir pioneered a direct listing with a lockup, and so we will also see how this configuration affects its share price in the coming months as more shares hit the market.

Extra Crunch Live: Join us today at 2pm EDT / 11am PDT to discuss the future of startup investing with Index Ventures VCs Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon

The venture capital world is rapidly changing, and thank heavens we have two of the smartest VCs on the future of investing, productivity tools, and remote work joining us today to make sense of all the noise.

On Extra Crunch Live today, Sarah Cannon and Nina Achadjian, two VC partners based in Index Ventures’ SF office, will talk about these subjects and more. Plus, we will be taking questions from the audience, so come prepared. Login details are below the fold for EC members, and if you don’t have an Extra Crunch membership, click through to signup.

As I wrote when we announced the slate last week:

First, we have Nina Achadjian, who officially joined Index Ventures several years ago out of the firm’s SF office and was promoted to partner earlier this year. Achadjian has been searching for and investing into some of the most interesting new collaborative companies that are rebuilding the enterprise from the ground up (which happens to have been a brilliant move given our remote-work world this year). Her investments include such companies as product-management service productboard, sales performance platform Gong, executive assistant marketplace Double and real estate services platform ServiceTitan.

Second, we have Sarah Cannon, who joined Index in 2018 from CapitalG, and who is also based officially out of SF. Cannon made a splash earlier this year with her bullish bet on note-taking and team productivity wunderkind Notion, and has also invested in productivity tools like collaborative presentation software Pitch and smart team messaging app Quill.

Join us today at 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 6pm GMT.

Event Details

Postmates cuts losses in Q2 as it heads towards tie-up with Uber

Popular food delivery service Postmates is in the process of merging with Uber in a blockbuster $2.65 billion deal that would see it join forces with its food delivery competitor, Uber Eats. The deal remains under antitrust scrutiny, and has not yet been approved for closing. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

However, a new SEC filing posted after hours this Friday gives us a glimpse into how Postmates is faring in the new world of global pandemics and sit-in dining closures across the United States.

Postmates posted a loss of just $32.2 million in Q2, compared to a loss of $73 million in Q1, nearly cutting its cash burning in half. That compares to Uber Eats’ results, which showed a loss of $286 million in the first quarter of 2020 and a loss of $232 million in the second quarter — an improvement of roughly 20%, according to Uber’s most recent financial reports.

Altogether, Postmates lost $105.2 million in the first half of 2020, compared to a loss of $239 million in the same period of 2019.

Uber through its filing today also disclosed the cap table for Postmates in full detail for the first time. On a fully-diluted basis, the largest shareholder in Postmates is Tiger Global, which owns 27.2% of the company. Following up is Founders Fund with 11.4%, Spark Capital with 6.9%, and GPI capital with 5.3%. At Uber’s $2.65 billion all-stock deal, that nets Tiger Global roughly $720 million and Founders Fund roughly $302 million, not including some stock preferences and dividends that certain owners of the company hold.

While Postmates and Uber continue to go through the antitrust review process at the federal level, the companies also face legal pressure in their own backyards. Uber noted in its filing today that it and Postmates face headwinds due to California’s AB5 bill, which is designed to give additional employment protections to freelance workers. However, the company notes that such litigation “may not, in and of itself, give rise to a right of either party to terminate the transaction.”

TikTok files for injunction against pending Trump app ban

TikTok’s fight with the Trump administration doesn’t yet appear to be over, regardless of what the deal that was signed between its parent company ByteDance and Oracle says.

Earlier today, the company filed a motion to stop the Commerce Department from enforcing a ban against the popular social app. That ban was supposed to come into place on Sunday, but after the signing of the ByteDance/Oracle deal, it was delayed by a week, with additional delays expected as the deal closes in the coming weeks.

Now though, the company seems to be taking more aggressive action to stop the government. It’s perhaps looking at the plight of another app, WeChat, whose users successfully argued for an injunction in San Francisco federal court this weekend that blocked the app from being banned on Sunday by the Commerce Department. Unlike in WeChat’s case, where the lawsuit was brought by American citizens rather than its owner Tencent, TikTok itself filed its lawsuit against President Trump and the government, originally filing its lawsuit on September 18th, according to court records.

In its filing for an injunction, the company says that it has “made extraordinary efforts to try to satisfy the government’s ever-shifting demands and purported national security concerns, including through changes in the ownership and structure of [its] business, and [we] are continuing to do so.”

In particular, the company noted that the damage of the ban could be significant, arguing that “hundreds of millions of Americans who have not yet downloaded TikTok will be shut out … six weeks before a national election.” The company argues that President Trump and the Commerce Department exceeded its authority under existing legislation to enforce a ban, which mirror arguments made in the WeChat case this weekend.

It’s just the latest challenge in a sprawling situation that changes by the hour. Overnight, my colleague Rita Liao noted that China itself may not even approve the ByteDance/Oracle deal, calling it “extortion” and putting in doubt the whole framework for TikTok moving forward.