Momo, Vietnam’s top payment app, lands big Series C investment led by Warburg Pincus

Fintech in Southeast Asia continues to pique the attention of global investors. Alibaba, Tencent and others have jumped into the region and deployed hundreds of millions of dollars, and now Warburg Pincus is joining them. The U.S-headquartered PE firm has led a Series C investment in Vietnam’s Momo, which claims to be the country’s largest mobile wallet company with 10 million downloads.

Momo already has some big-name investors; Standard Chartered led a $28 million round in 2016 while Goldman Sachs invested $5.7 million back in 2013.

The size of this new round isn’t being disclosed, but Pham Thanh Duc, CEO of M-Service — the parent company of Momo — said it is a record deal for an e-commerce or fintech startup in Vietnam. A lot of the biggest deals in Vietnam have been undisclosed, but one of the largest from last year was a $50 million-odd investment in e-commerce company Tiki from China’s JD.com which gives an indication of the size. The deal might even be as high as $100 million, that’s according to a Deal Street Asia report, although Pham declined to comment on the figure.

M-Service was founded over a decade ago, Momo is its take on digital payments in Vietnam, a market of nearly 100 million people, one-quarter of whom are aged under 25.

Momo started out offering digital payment via an e-wallet app. It has since expanded into utility bill payments and mobile top-up, as well as areas like movie tickets, airline flights and payment for goods and services at 100,000 payment points nationwide, including popular chains. The service recently began offering bill payment for loans, and Pham said it is developing a credit scoring system that will allow it to introduce financial services to users in partnership with financial institutions.

The playbook, he said, is very much based upon the success of Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay services in China, which went from payments to loans and investing and more.

While both of those Chinese internet giants have stepped into Southeast Asia with fintech investments in markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, neither has entered Vietnam at this point. Pham said Momo has an ongoing dialogue with Alibaba, but there’s been no investment. Since neither Alibaba nor its fintech affiliate Ant Financial has an operating presence in Vietnam, he said the relationship is “just conversations” at this point. That’s certainly a pairing that is worth keeping an eye on as Alibaba aims to enlarge its presence in Southeast Asia, which — with a cumulative population of 600 million people, growing middle classes and rising internet access — is seen as a growth opportunity by Chinese tech companies.

Partner-wise, Momo works with the likes of Facebook and Google to provide payment for their services and it will soon begin working with Apple, Pham revealed.

While other businesses may be looking region-wide, Momo is not entertaining new market expansions at this point.

“For the next two to three years, we are still very focused on the domestic market,” Pham told TechCrunch in an interview. “There’s no short-term plan to expand to other countries [and] our main effort is focused on user base expansion in Vietnam.”

But, Pham said, he does expect that overseas players will enter Vietnam.

Grab Pay and GoPay [from ride-hailing duo Grab and Go-Jek) will come soon and even Alipay, but I think that for the last five years we have been the number one e-wallet provider,” he said. “We care much about competitors because we are leading the market… other players have had to imitate our model.”

Estimating that nearest-competitor ZaloPay, from Vietnam’s top chat app Zalo, may have around “one-tenth” of the user base Momo, Pham explained that he believes his company is around 12-18 months ahead of the competitor.

This new investment — which was led by a Warburg Pincus affiliate in Vietnam and closed last year — is aimed at fortifying that lead and grabbing a much larger slice of the Vietnamese population, which is tipped to rocket past 100 million by 2025.

Facebook finds and kills another 512 Kremlin-linked fake accounts

Two years on from the U.S. presidential election, Facebook continues to have a major problem with Russian disinformation being megaphoned via its social tools.

In a blog post today the company reveals another tranche of Kremlin-linked fake activity — saying it’s removed a total of 471 Facebook pages and accounts, as well as 41 Instagram accounts, which were being used to spread propaganda in regions where Putin’s regime has sharp geopolitical interests.

In its latest reveal of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — aka the euphemism Facebook uses for disinformation campaigns that rely on its tools to generate a veneer of authenticity and plausibility in order to pump out masses of sharable political propaganda — the company says it identified two operations, both originating in Russia, and both using similar tactics without any apparent direct links between the two networks.

One operation was targeting Ukraine specifically, while the other was active in a number of countries in the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Central and Eastern Europe.

“We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post,” writes Facebook’s Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy. “In these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”

Sputnik link

Discussing the Russian disinformation op targeting multiple countries, Gleicher says Facebook found what looked like innocuous or general interest pages to be linked to employees of Kremlin propaganda outlet Sputnik, with some of the pages encouraging protest movements and pushing other Putin lines.

“The Page administrators and account owners primarily represented themselves as independent news Pages or general interest Pages on topics like weather, travel, sports, economics, or politicians in Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan,” he writes. “Despite their misrepresentations of their identities, we found that these Pages and accounts were linked to employees of Sputnik, a news agency based in Moscow, and that some of the Pages frequently posted about topics like anti-NATO sentiment, protest movements, and anti-corruption.”

Facebook has included some sample posts from the removed accounts in the blog which show a mixture of imagery being deployed — from a photo of a rock concert, to shots of historic buildings and a snowy scene, to obviously militaristic and political protest imagery.

In all Facebook says it removed 289 Pages and 75 Facebook accounts associated with this Russian disop; adding that around 790,000 accounts followed one or more of the removed Pages.

It also reveals that it received around $135,000 for ads run by the Russian operators (specifying this was paid for in euros, rubles, and U.S. dollars).

“The first ad ran in October 2013, and the most recent ad ran in January 2019,” it notes, adding: “We have not completed a review of the organic content coming from these accounts.”

These Kremlin-linked Pages also hosted around 190 events — with the first scheduled for August 2015, according to Facebook, and the most recent scheduled for January 2019. “Up to 1,200 people expressed interest in at least one of these events. We cannot confirm whether any of these events actually occurred,” it further notes.

Facebook adds that open source reporting and work by partners which investigate disinformation helped identify the network.

It also says it has shared information about the investigation with U.S. law enforcement, the U.S. Congress, other technology companies, and policymakers in impacted countries.

Ukraine tip-off

In the case of the Ukraine-targeted Russian disop, Facebook says it removed a total of 107 Facebook Pages, Groups, and accounts, and 41 Instagram accounts, specifying that it was acting on an initial tip off from U.S. law enforcement.

In all it says around 180,000 Facebook accounts were following one or more of the removed pages. While the fake Instagram accounts were being followed by more than 55,000 accounts.  

Again Facebook received money from the disinformation purveyors, saying it took in around $25,000 in ad spending on Facebook and Instagram in this case — all paid for in rubles this time — with the first ad running in January 2018, and the most recent in December 2018. (Again it says it has not completed a review of content the accounts were generating.)

“The individuals behind these accounts primarily represented themselves as Ukrainian, and they operated a variety of fake accounts while sharing local Ukrainian news stories on a variety of topics, such as weather, protests, NATO, and health conditions at schools,” writes Gleicher. “We identified some technical overlap with Russia-based activity we saw prior to the US midterm elections, including behavior that shared characteristics with previous Internet Research Agency (IRA) activity.”

In the Ukraine case it says it found no Events being hosted by the pages.

“Our security efforts are ongoing to help us stay a step ahead and uncover this kind of abuse, particularly in light of important political moments and elections in Europe this year,” adds Gleicher. “We are committed to making improvements and building stronger partnerships around the world to more effectively detect and stop this activity.”

A month ago Facebook also revealed it had removed another batch of politically motivated fake accounts. In that case the network behind the pages had been working to spread misinformation in Bangladesh 10 days before the country’s general elections.

This week it also emerged the company is extending some of its nascent election security measures by bringing in requirements for political advertisers to more international markets ahead of major elections in the coming months, such as checks that a political advertiser is located in the country.

However in other countries which also have big votes looming this year Facebook has yet to announced any measures to combat politically charged fakes.

Flutterwave and Visa launch African consumer payment service GetBarter

Fintech startup Flutterwave has partnered with Visa to launch a consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter.

The app based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within countries and across Africa’s national borders. Existing Visa card holders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non card-holders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave—which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product—to pivot to African consumers and traders.

Rave is B2B, this is more B2B2C since we’re reaching the consumers of our customers,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola—aka GB—told TechCrunch.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms, such as Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa, to make transfers across payment products, national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa, the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana—pretty much the entire continent,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

“In phase one we’ll pursue those who are banked. In phase-two we’ll continue toward those who are unbanked who will be able to use agents to work with GetBarter,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will generate revenue through fees from financial institutions on cards created and on fees per transaction. A GetBarter charge for a payment in Nigeria is roughly 40 Naira, or 11 cents, according to Agboola.

With this week’s launch users can download the app for Apple and Android devices and for use on WhatsApp and USSD.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Facebook, Booking.com, and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave has processed 100 million transactions worth $2.6 billion since inception, according to company data.

The company has raised $20 million from investors including Greycroft, Green Visor Capital, Mastercard, and Visa.

In 2018, Flutterwave was one of several African fintech companies to announce significant VC investment and cross-border expansion—see Paga, Yoco, Cellulant, Mines.ie, and  Jumo.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October that saw former Visa CEO Joe Saunders join its board of directors.

The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Flutterwave hasn’t yet released revenue or profitability info, according to CEO Olugbenga Agboola.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers to South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

Facebook urged to give users greater control over what they see

Academics at the universities of Oxford and Stanford think Facebook should give users greater transparency and control over the content they see on its platform.

They also believe the social networking giant should radically reform its governance structures and processes to throw more light on content decisions, including by looping in more external experts to steer policy.

Such changes are needed to address widespread concerns about Facebook’s impact on democracy and on free speech, they argue in a report published today, which includes a series of recommendations for reforming Facebook (entitled: Glasnost! Nine Ways Facebook Can Make Itself a Better Forum for Free Speech and Democracy.)

“There is a great deal that a platform like Facebook can do right now to address widespread public concerns, and to do more to honour its public interest responsibilities as well as international human rights norms,” writes lead author Timothy Garton Ash.

“Executive decisions made by Facebook have major political, social, and cultural consequences around the world. A single small change to the News Feed algorithm, or to content policy, can have an impact that is both faster and wider than that of any single piece of national (or even EU-wide) legislation.”

Here’s a rundown of the report’s nine recommendations:

  1. Tighten Community Standards wording on hate speech — the academics argue that Facebook’s current wording on key areas is “overbroad, leading to erratic, inconsistent and often context-insensitive takedowns;” and also generating “a high proportion of contested cases.” Clear and tighter wording could make consistent implementation easier, they believe.
  2. Hire more and contextually expert content reviewers — “the issue is quality as well as quantity,” the report points out, pressing Facebook to hire more human content reviewers plus a layer of senior reviewers with “relevant cultural and political expertise;” and also to engage more with trusted external sources such as NGOs. “It remains clear that AI will not resolve the issues with the deeply context-dependent judgements that need to be made in determining when, for example, hate speech becomes dangerous speech,” they write.
  3. Increase “decisional transparency” — Facebook still does not offer adequate transparency around content moderation policies and practices, they suggest, arguing it needs to publish more detail on its procedures, including specifically calling for the company to “post and widely publicize case studies” to provide users with more guidance and to provide potential grounds for appeals.
  4. Expand and improve the appeals process — also on appeals, the report recommends Facebook gives reviewers much more context around disputed pieces of content, and also provide appeals statistics data to analysts and users. “Under the current regime, the initial internal reviewer has very limited information about the individual who posted a piece of content, despite the importance of context for adjudicating appeals,” they write. “A Holocaust image has a very different significance when posted by a Holocaust survivor or by a Neo-Nazi.” They also suggest Facebook should work on developing “a more functional and usable for the average user” appeals due process, in dialogue with users — such as with the help of a content policy advisory group.
  5. Provide meaningful News Feed controls for users — the report suggests Facebook users should have more meaningful controls over what they see in the News Feed, with the authors dubbing current controls as “altogether inadequate,” and advocating for far more. Such as the ability to switch off the algorithmic feed entirely (without the chronological view being defaulted back to algorithm when the user reloads, as is the case now for anyone who switches away from the AI-controlled view). The report also suggests adding a News Feed analytics feature, to give users a breakdown of sources they’re seeing and how that compares with control groups of other users. Facebook could also offer a button to let users adopt a different perspective by exposing them to content they don’t usually see, they suggest.
  6. Expand context and fact-checking facilities — the report pushes for “significant” resources to be ploughed into identifying “the best, most authoritative, and trusted sources” of contextual information for each country, region and culture — to help feed Facebook’s existing (but still inadequate and not universally distributed) fact-checking efforts.
  7. Establish regular auditing mechanisms — there have been some civil rights audits of Facebook’s processes (such as this one, which suggested Facebook formalizes a human rights strategy), but the report urges the company to open itself up to more of these, suggesting the model of meaningful audits should be replicated and extended to other areas of public concern, including privacy, algorithmic fairness and bias, diversity and more.
  8. Create an external content policy advisory group — key content stakeholders from civil society, academia and journalism should be enlisted by Facebook for an expert policy advisory group to provide ongoing feedback on its content standards and implementation; as well as also to review its appeals record. “Creating a body that has credibility with the extraordinarily wide geographical, cultural, and political range of Facebook users would be a major challenge, but a carefully chosen, formalized, expert advisory group would be a first step,” they write, noting that Facebook has begun moving in this direction but adding: “These efforts should be formalized and expanded in a transparent manner.”
  9. Establish an external appeals body — the report also urges “independent, external” ultimate control of Facebook’s content policy, via an appeals body that sits outside the mothership and includes representation from civil society and digital rights advocacy groups. The authors note Facebook is already flirting with this idea, citing comments made by Mark Zuckerberg last November, but also warn this needs to be done properly if power is to be “meaningfully” devolved. “Facebook should strive to make this appeals body as transparent as possible… and allow it to influence broad areas of content policy… not just rule on specific content takedowns,” they warn.

In conclusion, the report notes that the content issues it’s focused on are not only attached to Facebook’s business but apply widely across various internet platforms — hence growing interest in some form of “industry-wide self-regulatory body.” Though it suggests that achieving that kind of overarching regulation will be “a long and complex task.”

In the meanwhile, the academics remain convinced there is “a great deal that a platform like Facebook can do right now to address widespread public concerns, and to do more to honour its public interest responsibilities, as well as international human rights norms” — with the company front and center of the frame given its massive size (2.2 billion+ active users).

“We recognize that Facebook employees are making difficult, complex, contextual judgements every day, balancing competing interests, and not all those decisions will benefit from full transparency. But all would be better for more regular, active interchange with the worlds of academic research, investigative journalism, and civil society advocacy,” they add.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on their recommendations.

The report was prepared by the Free Speech Debate project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom, St. Antony’s College, Oxford, in partnership with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, the Project on Democracy and the Internet, Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Last year we offered a few of our own ideas for fixing Facebook — including suggesting the company hire orders of magnitude more expert content reviewers, as well as providing greater transparency into key decisions and processes.

Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


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5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

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Research finds heavy Facebook users make impaired decisions like drug addicts

Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring the idea that there’s more to “social media addiction” than casual joking about being too online might suggest. Their paper, titled “Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task” (Meshi, Elizarova, Bender, & Verdejo-Garcia) and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, indicates that people who use social media sites heavily actually display some of the behavioral hallmarks of someone addicted to cocaine or heroin.

The study asked 71 participants to first rate their own Facebook usage with a measure known as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. The study subjects then went on to complete something called the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a classic research tool that evaluates impaired decision making. The IGT presents participants with four virtual decks of cards associated with rewards or punishments and asks them to choose cards from the decks to maximize their virtual winnings. As the study explains, “Participants are also informed that some decks are better than others and that if they want to do well, they should avoid the bad decks and choose cards from the good decks.”

What the researchers found was telling. Study participants who self-reported as excessive Facebook users actually performed worse than their peers on the IGT, frequenting the two “bad” decks that offer immediate gains but ultimate result in losses. That difference in behavior was statistically significant in the later portion of the IGT, when a participant has had ample time to observe the deck’s patterns and knows which decks present the greatest risk.

The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain injuries to heroin addicts, but using it as a measure to examine social media addicts is novel. Along with deeper, structural research, it’s clear that researchers can apply much of the existing methodological framework for learning about substance addiction to social media users.

The study is narrow, but interesting and offers a few paths for follow-up research. As the researchers recognize, in an ideal study the researchers could actually observe participants’ social media usage and sort them into categories of high or low social media usage based on behavior rather than a survey they fill out.

Future research could also delve more deeply into excessive users across different social networks. The study only looked at Facebook use, “because it is currently the most widely used [social network] around the world” but one could expect to see similar results with the billion-plus monthly Instagram and potentially the substantially smaller portion of people on Twitter.

Ultimately, we know that social media is shifting human behavior and potentially its neurological underpinnings, we just don’t know the extent of it — yet. Due to the methodical nature of behavioral research and the often extremely protracted process of publishing it, we likely won’t know the results of studies conducted now for years to come. Still, as this study proves, there are researchers at work examining how social media is impacting our brains and our behavior, we just might not be able to see the big picture for some time.

Vietnam threatens to penalize Facebook for breaking its draconian cybersecurity law

Well, that didn’t take long. We’re less than ten days into 2019 and already Vietnam is aiming threats at Facebook after it violating its draconian cybersecurity law which came into force on January 1.

The U.S. social network stands accused of allowing users in Vietnam to post “slanderous content, anti-government sentiment and libel and defamation of individuals, organisations and state agencies,” according to a report from state-controlled media Vietnam News.

The content is said to have been flagged to Facebook which, reports say, has “delayed removing” it.

That violates the law which — passed last June — broadly forbids internet users from organizing with, or training, others for anti-state purposes, spreading false information, and undermining the nation state’s achievements or solidarity, according to reports at the time. It also requires foreign internet companies to operate a local office and store user information on Vietnamese soil. That’s something neither Google nor Facebook has complied with, despite the Vietnamese government’s recent claim that the former is investigating a local office launch.

In addition, the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information (ABEI) claimed Facebook had violated online advertising rules by allowing accounts to promote fraudulent products and scams, while it is considering penalties for failure to pay tax. The Vietnamese report claimed some $235 million was spent on Facebook ads in 2018, with $152.1 million going to Google.

Facebook responded by clarifying its existing channels for reporting illegal content.

“We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law. We are transparent about the content restrictions we make in accordance with local law in our Transparency Report,” a Facebook representative told TechCrunch in a statement.

TechCrunch understands that the company is in contact with the Vietnamese government and it intends to review content flagged as illegal before making a decision.

Vietnamese media reports claim that Facebook has already told the government that the content in question doesn’t violate its community standards.

It looks likely that the new law will see contact from Vietnamese government censors spike, but Facebook has acted on content before. The company latest transparency report covers the first half of 2018 and it shows that received 12 requests for data in Vietnam, granting just two. Facebook confirmed it has previously taken action on content that has included the alleged illegal sale of regulated products, trade of wildlife, and efforts to impersonate an individual.

Facebook did not respond to the tax liability claim.

The company previously indicated its concern at the cybersecurity law via Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) — a group that represents the social media giant as well as Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Line and others — which cautioned that the regulations would negatively impact Vietnam.

“The provisions for data localization, controls on content that affect free speech, and local office requirements will undoubtedly hinder the nation’s fourth Industrial Revolution ambitions to achieve GDP and job growth,” AIC wrote in a statement in June.

“Unfortunately, these provisions will result in severe limitations on Vietnam’s digital economy, dampening the foreign investment climate and hurting opportunities for local businesses and SMEs to flourish inside and beyond Vietnam,” it added.

Vietnam is increasingly gaining a reputation as a growing market for startups, but the cybersecurity act threatens to impact that. One key issue is that the broad terms appear to give the government signficant scope to remove content that it deems offensive.

“This decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in Vietnam. In the country’s deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities,” said Amnesty International.

Vietnam News reports that the authorities are continuing to collect evidence against Facebook.

“If Facebook did not take positive steps, Vietnamese regulators would apply necessary economic and technical measures to ensure a clean and healthy network environment,” the ABEI is reported to have said.

A look back at the Israeli cyber security industry in

2018 saw a spate of major cyber attacks including the hacks of British Airways, Facebook and Marriott. Despite growing emphasis on and awareness of cyber threats, large organizations continue experiencing massive data breaches. And as the world becomes increasingly connected (cars and medical devices, among others), attack vectors are evolving and exposures multiply.

The Israeli cybersecurity industry has long been recognized as a hotbed for innovative solutions, and 2018 to be yet another strong year. Early stage companies raised more money than ever before to tackle emerging security threats like protecting the proliferating number of internet-connected devices and enabling blockchain technologies to thrive in more secure environments.

Growing seed rounds chasing greenfield opportunities

In 2018, the total amount of funding for Israeli cybersecurity companies across all stages grew 22 percent year-over-year to $1.03B. This closely matched the funding trends of 2016 and 2017 that each saw 23 percent year-over-year growth in funding amount. At the same time, 2018 saw 66 new companies founded, an increase of 10 percent over 2017, which represented a rebound after a dip last year (60 new companies in 2017 vs. 83 in 2016). Notably, average seed round increased to $3.6M in 2018 from $3.3M in 2017. 2018 marked the fifth consecutive year the size of Israeli cyber seed rounds grew. Since 2014, the average seed round size has increased 80 percent.

With industry growth metrics of Israeli cybersecurity up across the board in 2018, 2017’s dip in new cyber startups appears to have been an outlier. Not only does entrepreneurial interest in cyber look to be on the rise, investor enthusiasm, especially at the early stages, signals a market brimming with opportunity. Growing round sizes are interesting, but more revealing is following where this capital is flowing.

Emerging fields supplanting “traditional” technologies

The top emerging fields among new startups in 2018 included new verticals within IoT security, security for blockchain and cryptocurrencies, cloud-native security and SDP (Software Defined Perimeter). These nascent verticals drew considerably more attention than more “traditional” cyber sectors such as network security, email security and endpoint protection. Of all the emerging sectors, IoT drew the most investment with funding reaching $229.5M across all stages. What makes IoT particularly interesting is its continual branching into various new sub-domains including automotive, drones and medical devices.

Shai Morag, CEO and co-founder of Secdo, an Israeli cybersecurity firm acquired for $100M by Palo Alto Networks in mid-2018, sees these trends accelerating. “Innovation is going to keep happening in these areas for the next few years. We’ll also see innovation in third-party supply-chain risk assessment and management. Another wide-open field for innovation is SMBs. They are an underserved market hungry for full-stack solutions. These emerging fields are where I’m seeing the most excitement.”

Breaking out data on seed round funding into cyber startups targeting emerging vs. traditional markets reveals an even more pronounced growth trend. 2018’s aggressive early stage funding rounds disproportionately focused on companies pursuing emerging fields within cybersecurity. Of the 33 seed rounds raised in 2018, 20 (61 percent) went to companies in emerging fields. Even more striking, the sum of all seed rounds for emerging tech companies in 2018 was $79M, a 76 percent year-over-year increase. The numbers are clear, there is overwhelming investor interest in emerging cyber tech.

For example, the two largest seed funding rounds this year were in the IoT security domain. VDOO, founded by ex-Cyvera entrepreneurs (acquired by Palo Alto Networks in 2014 for $200M) and which develops security solutions for IoT vendors, raised an abnormally high seed round of $13M. Toka Cyber has secured $12.5M seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz and others, to develop and expand their IoT cybersecurity platform for governmental agencies. Twistlock, a pioneer developer of cloud-native security solutions raised $33M series C this year. BigID which protects sensitive data in light of GDPR and other privacy regulations raised both A ($14M) and B ($30M) rounds during 2018.

As the more traditional cybersecurity markets continue to consolidate and mature, prospects dim for “me too” cyber startups. We see that the industry still faces pressing problems in need of innovative solutions. Looming labor shortages, GDPR and other global data privacy legislation and the IoT explosion, are major challenges presenting substantial opportunities to incumbents able to provide relief. Investors and entrepreneurs sense greenfield opportunities on the horizon and are racing to plant their flags before the competition. This new divergent ecosystem is more selective of sophisticated, savvy investors and specialized, seasoned entrepreneurs.

Greenfields, not green founders

In 2018, 60 percent of founders had more than a decade’s worth of experience in the private sector–a 28 percent increase from 2017. The experience of these more seasoned founders came mostly from working in startups either as an executive or as an entrepreneur. Although Israel’s cybersecurity ecosystem relies heavily on the technical training potential entrepreneurs receive during service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), in 2018, the proportion of founders coming straight out of the IDF fell to 2 percent, dropping from 10 percent the year before.

While nearly all Israeli founders leverage the skills and know-how acquired in the IDF’s various technological units, the need for experience from the private sector, either as an executive or an employee, seems to be more prevalent. Larger seed checks and larger ambitions are fuelling this push for more mature, veteran founders. Rising founders are not simply looking to build a novel technology and score a lucrative acquihire exit from an existing giant–they want to push into greenfield territory and stake a market-leading claim all their own.

Amichai Shulman, co-founder & former CTO of Imperva and a Venture Advisor at YL Ventures, gives such founders aiming to “own a market” the following advice: “Make sure you’re able to explain – primarily to yourselves – how your offering and product becomes something bigger than what it inherently is in the beginning. Be able to articulate how you expand (in the future) further into organizations, not just by ‘selling more’ but by solving bigger and more general problems.”

Cyber exits continue to overperform

Beyond general trends, 2018 also had many exciting individual exits. Checkpoint-Dome9 and CyberArk-Vaultive were notable because both acquirer and acquiree were Israeli — a mark of true market maturity. The acquisition of Sygnia by Singaporean holding giant Temasek also was remarkable because it shows that the Israeli cyber market continues to attract new classes and kinds of global strategic players each year. In addition, Thoma Bravo’s  $2.1B acquisition of Israeli cyber firm Imperva made waves throughout the industry.

Tsahy Shapsa, co-founder of Cloudlock, which was acquired by Cisco in 2016 for $293M, reflected on the potential he sees coming from growing global investment. “From an entrepreneurial perspective, there is a constant dilemma between short-/mid-term exits and building a legacy company. As funding floods into Israel from around the world, temptation to sell early only increases. But all these exits have an advantage. They grow the pool of experienced, ‘repeat’ entrepreneurs and set the stage for more legacy companies to originate locally.” Zohar Alon, CEO and co-founder of Dome9 Security, which was acquired by Checkpoint in 2018 for $175M added the following guidance: “Israeli entrepreneurs should establish and maintain a constant communication channel with the local corporate development leaders, same as most do with the VC community focusing on product and go-to-market synergies.”

Israeli cybersecurity maintaining momentum

In 2018, investors became more domain-focused and preferred emerging fields. With traditional cybersecurity consolidating, emerging greenfields signal much stronger potential. Furthermore, growth continued both in cybersecurity startups as well as their fundraising across all stages, indicating rising confidence in the Israeli cybersecurity market.

The 2018 Israeli cybersecurity market boasted an excellent exit climate, highlighted not only by Imperva’s large-scale acquisition but also by the diversity in the types of players in the space. As such, the local cybersecurity market signals its ability to create and nurture large-scale security vendors, thereby attracting variety of both international and local players which continue identifying and capitalizing opportunities in this domain. For 2018, as has been the case for many years past, the state of the cyber nation is strong–and 2019 appears to promise more of the same.

In 2018 the ticketing industry finally killed the ‘sold out’ show

Among the many myths that were laid low in 2018, perhaps none was as welcome to throngs of live event fans as the fantasy of the sold-out show. Indeed, as the ticket market has moved to adopt new technology the new-found transparency has had one prime victim: The Sellout.

The highest-profile debunking of the sellout in sports for 2018 came from Washington, DC.

Originally reported by the Washington Post, the Washington Redskins officially ended their decade-long season-ticket waitlist this June. Once claimed to be 200,000 fans deep, the reality of Redskins demand hadn’t been as rosy since the glory days of Riggins and Theisman. In 2018, the Redskins have been selling single game tickets like never before — even using the secondary market as a favorable point of comparison.

Other high-profile examples of this shift include the Golden State Warriors, who, despite selling out 100% of their regular season games, had hundreds of tickets available on for Game 1 of the NBA finals in the minutes before tip-off.

If the Redskins and Warriors signaled a shift away from the sellout era in sports, Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour did the same for music. Having wrapped up earlier this month, Reputation finished as the highest grossing US Tour in history, despite a flurry of articles lambasting the artist for not selling out many shows.  Ironically, it turns out that the most important factor in her record-breaking success was exactly that: not selling out.

Rather than a lack of demand, these unsold tickets for high-profile events are the result of the latest trend in the ticketing industry — making sure you have tickets to sell when fans want to buy them. Anyone that has purchased tickets on the Internet knows that the most active buying window is in the days and hours leading up to an event.

Before the Internet, while this last-minute market existed, it was contained to street corners and run by local brokers. For most of the 20th century, managing this aftermarket was a job ticket owners were comfortable outsourcing. With it’s limitless reach and real-time distribution, however, Internet-based selling changed their comfort level dramatically, by removing the ticket owner from the supply chain and costing them billions in margin. It also created a product category that became one of the worst, if not the worst, on the Internet.

If not for the universal appeal of live events, ticketing as a product would have died with Pets.com .  Instead, teams, artists and promoters became the poster children for the Internet’s power to disrupt. The response from many ticket owners was to simply to hang up a ‘Sold Out’ sign at the box office in the weeks, days and hours before the game — one that is just now starting to be taken down.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

To understand why that happened, it’s important to recognize that when the Internet took off, teams were principally in the season-ticket business, while artists and promoters were in the record-selling business.  Selling last-minute, ‘on-demand’ tickets simply wasn’t a focus. The Internet, however, turned that secondary market niche into a product category worth $10 to $15 billion at it’s peak — two to three times the size of the primary market it was based on.

In order to compete in this always-on marketplace, ticketing technology has received billions of dollars of investment in the last decade, with the goal of making it more compatible with the Web itself. In the last two years, Ticketmaster, Seatgeek and Eventbrite have all announced ‘open platform’ models that make it as easy to sell tickets in places like Facebook and Youtube as it does in Stubhub.

In January, Ticketmaster and the NFL announced a new platform deal that, for the first time ever, allows teams and leagues to define their own distribution ecosystem.  As one of the biggest destinations for ticket buying online, sites like Stubhub and my company, TicketIQ, have become direct-to-fan distribution channels in the new ticketing marketplace.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Before we singlehandedly credit technology for killing the sell out, it’s worth asking whether the decline in sellouts is simply the result of exorbitant ticket prices and increased competition for consumer attention. While there’s no question that it’s become harder to get people off of their couches for average events, the robust growth of the experience economy suggests the opposite trend.

According to a December 2017 McKinsey report, millennials spend 60% more on live experiences than GenXers — all in search of not only genuine connection, but also fresh social-media content. For the Reputation tour specifically, last-minute tickets on the secondary market were actually 35% cheaper than 1989 tour, which made buying tickets day-of the event more affordable than ever.

As for the Redskins, while their 2018 season hasn’t turned out as they’d hoped, at the box office, they’ve set themselves up for success in the years to come.  When demand spikes, whether as the result of a new stadium or a championship run, they’ll benefit directly and handsomely. As a point of reference for what kind of profit they might expect, the Financial Times reported that Taylor Swift’s per-show gross for Reputation increased by $1.4 million, including two dates in July at Fedex Field, home of the Redskins.

In “Look what you Made Me Do” the sixth song on the Reputation album, Taylor Swift sings about past “games”, “a tilted stage” and “unfair disadvantage”, for which she now seeks retribution. As a statement about her artistic and commercial stature, it’s clear she no longer wants to play nice. In addition to a jab at her artistic nemesis, Kanye West, it also reads like a farewell to the ticket market of old that has frustrated consumers for almost two decades.

Despite claims that she sold out her fans to achieve Reputation’s record-breaking success, the numbers mean that it’s a model we’ll be seeing much more of in the years to come. Regardless of how you feel about her forcing fans to Buy, Like and Watch to get their place in line for tickets, the good news for the ticket market overall is that it was her decision to make.

Investors and entrepreneurs need to address the mental health crisis in startups

Colin Kroll, was the co-founder of Vine and HQ Trivia, both consumer sensations that brought joy to millions; Anthony Bourdain, had been a chef, journalist and philosopher, who brought understanding and connectedness to millions of lives; while Robin Williams built a career as a brilliant comedian and actor.

What these three share in common is that they were all people at the pinnacle of their industry and they all died too soon. Their premature loss is a tragedy.

The most brilliant and creative amongst us are sometimes the most troubled and nowhere is that clearer than in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. With each passing unnecessary death the importance of mental health comes briefly into focus… but that focus lasts no longer than a news cycle and nothing changes. The time for lip service came and went long ago. We must take these issues seriously and we need to act.

The mental health epidemic is real. There are 18.5% Americans that will suffer from mental illness this year, 4% of them will suffer so acutely that it will substantially limit their ability to live their lives.

That means it is extremely likely you or someone you know is suffering right now and could use support. Moreover, unlike many of the challenges we face today, the most common expressions of mental health disorder (anxiety, depression, substance abuse and imposter syndrome) are largely addressable through individual action. Not only should we all take action, we all cantake action.

While national mental health statistics are troubling, they are downright terrifying for entrepreneurs. According to a study by Michael Freeman, entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to report having a mental health condition with some specific conditions being incredibly prevalent amongst founders.

Founders are:

  • 2X more likely to suffer from depression
  • 6X more likely to suffer from ADHD
  • 3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse
  • 10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder
  • 2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalization;
  •  and 2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Thomas Shahan

Addressing the ongoing mental health catastrophe in entrepreneurship is a moral imperative, and for wise investors, it should be a function of doing business.

Venture capitalists make their living off of the blood, sweat, and tears of founders. It is through their passion and efforts that we succeed or fail. We can either choose to see founders purely as a means to an end (generating returns) or we can see them as the whole people they are.

When I make an effort to get to know our founders beyond the most superficial level then I cannot help but be moved by their personal struggles. Seeing founders in our portfolio succeed on a personal level is just as rewarding for me as sharing in their professional success. Luckily, I believe the two are intrinsically linked, which means we don’t have to choose.

 As Michael Freeman writes:

“Mental health is as essential for knowledge work in the 21st century as physical health was for physical labor in the past. Creativity, ingenuity, insight, brilliance, planning, analysis, and other executive functions are often the cognitive cornerstones of breakthrough value creation by entrepreneurs.”

Depression, anxiety and mood disorders all actively work to undermine founder performance. They often contribute to burnout, co-founder conflict, toxic company culture, increased employee turnover, an inability to hire top talent, an inability to “show up” for important meetings and pitches and poor decision making in general. According to Noam Wasserman at HBS, 65% of failed startups fail for avoidable reasons like co-founder conflict. All of these experiences are exacerbated when founders are in a time of high mental and emotional strain.

Let’s assume that in a portfolio of 20 companies 15 of them fail or underperform and that Noam Wasserman’s 65% statistic holds true. That would mean that 10 of the 15 companies (65%) failed for avoidable “human centric” reasons. If a firm were able to help even half of those companies avoid failure caused by burnout and mental strain that would mean an additional five companies would be successful, doubling the number of successful outcomes in the portfolio.

Even if you’re a huge pessimist, to help change the trajectory for one out of ten companies, changes the portfolio from five winners to six. In other words, supporting founders before their “people problems” become business problems yields a 20% improvement in performance. Even if one were indifferent to the personal lives of the portfolio founders, they should care about founder health if they care about portfolio returns.

It’s great that investors profess to care about founders’ mental health, but words are not enough. We must act to reduce founders’ mental and emotional suffering. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good for business.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Thomas Shahan

Why do entrepreneurs suffer so much more acutely? 

Mental health problems permeate every industry not just the tech industry, but the statistics above would seem to indicate that we have a particular problem. What causes entrepreneurs to suffer at substantially higher than average rates? It’s a hard question to answer, and soon research from progressive labs like that of the Founder Central Initiative will help us to identify these drivers. For now, based on our own observations of founders, we believe there are several explanations which may contribute.

Self-Selection: Most founders are smart, driven and skilled people whose resume could almost certainly land them a job with a higher lifetime expected value (the median salary at Facebook is now $240,000) but they still choose the grueling, uncertain and more creative founder journey. Founders are almost certainly pre-disposed towards certain conditions (like ADHD) for example, Garret Loporto, in his book, “The Davinci Method” cites Fortune Magazine as claiming that people with ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own company than others.

Poisonous industry tropes: The narratives our industry tells are less real than pictures that grace the front of fashion magazines and are just as destructive. Photoshopped pictures of “perfect people” create an unattainable standard of beauty, the constant stream of stories about “overnight success” and “crushing it” create an unattainable standard for founders.

Startups are hard: The magic of a great team is in building a group with complementary skills. When just starting out founders don’t have a complete team and are required to do things they are not well suited to do. Working on projects that do not fit within a leader’s innate skills tends to be emotionally draining. It’s not uncommon in an early startup for introverts in the company to have to pitch and make sales calls while extroverts are forced to sit at a desk and grind away in a CRM.

Startups are alienating: The all-encompassing nature of a startup often causes founders to spend less time with family, friends and significant others and many are required to re-locate away from these support networks for funding or strategic reasons. As stress at a company builds, founders are more inclined to double down at work (a natural response to an emergency).  This tendency only further burdens the founder by muting their supportive relationships and reduces their ability to cope with company pressures.

A founder must be a rock: There’s a lot of pressure put on founders to stay steady in times of company turmoil.  As a result, they are often alone when they need others the most.  Founders report that they feel that they cannot talk with their co-founders, especially when the problem is with the co-founder, they cannot pass the burden of their worry on to their employees, and feel that their friends and family do not understand or are tired of hearing about the company.

The “I am my company” syndrome: Founders blur the line between themselves and their companies in such a way that company failures often are felt as personal failures. Losing a customer contract or receiving a “no” from an investor can feel like a deeply personal rejection.

Founders eat last: I have yet to meet a founder who has a budgeted line item for self-care or who takes guilt free vacations. In almost every other skilled industry there is recognition that people have a right to take care of themselves and that a little bit of self-care actually leads to a more productive workforce. Investors, founders and poorly trained middle managers all perpetuate a myth in the startup ecosystem that the only way to be successful is to grind yourself inexorably to the bone.

Financial risk: In addition to opportunity cost, founders often go without a pay check and pour a significant portion of their personal capital into their businesses. This creates enormous financial stress and anxiety that sets up a scenario in which a business failure also creates personal financial ruin. A certain amount of “skin in the game” can be positive but founders are often already all-in emotionally with their businesses. A founder with too much skin in the game may live under a Sword of Damocles and be unable to focus on the key tasks, ironically bringing about their own worst fears.

Imposter Syndrome: Founders often suffer from the sense that they don’t belong where they are and that eventually they will be exposed as frauds. This leads founders to chalk success up to luck but to take all the blame for any failures. 58% of tech workers suffer from Imposter Syndromeand I suspect the number is substantially higher among founders.

Moving the goalposts: Founders find it difficult to celebrate the small wins, each victory brings on the next, greater challenge. The second most stressful time for founders is right before they are able to secure a major fundraise, the most stressful time is right afterwards.

Substance Abuse: Our industry is awash in alcohol and other substances that founders and tech workers are encouraged to consumer freely for bonding, as a social crutch, and for performance optimization. These substances are both a cause and a symptom of broader problems in the ecosystem.

I wager that simply reading the above list left you stressed out and self-identifying with a number of the factors that cause founders stress. Luckily there are some things we can all do to combat mental health strain.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Thomas Shahan

What can investors and founders do about founder mental health?

Each of us who participates in the startup ecosystem contributes to the problem of poor founder health.  This puts each of us in a position to positively impact this experience by acting. Here are a few things we can do:

Destigmatize

o  Investors should make sure that the founders they work with know that they take mental health issues seriously. One way to do this is to take the Investors Pledge developed by Erin Frey and Ti Zhao at Kip. Just taking the pledge sends a powerful signal to founders that it’s OK for them to seek help. Better yet, investors, in their onboarding process with founders should explicitly touch on their support for the founders’ seeking mental health services when they feel compelled to do so.

o  Drop the act. Being an investor is different from being a founder but it isn’t easy and investors suffer in many of the same ways. If investors want to support their founders, they need to be authentic and vulnerable in front of them. Investors need to show founders its ok to open up and that it’s ok to have doubts or to struggle with mental health.

o  For founders, don’t spread or buy into the myths. When you’ve been grinding away on your business for years in anonymity and then have a major breakthrough, make sure your PR campaign accurately reflects the journey. You suffered to bring your company to the pinnacle of success and you had to invest heavily in yourself to survive the trip. Make sure when other founders read about your success they understand how you really got there.

Provide Resources

o  It’s easy for people to forget how financially constrained most founders are. Just because they’ve raised $5 million in a recent financing doesn’t mean they necessarily have the personal capital to seek help and support. A portion of financing rounds should be earmarked for the founders themselves and investors should hold founders accountable for investing in their wellbeing and development.

o  Founders need to include a line item in their P&L for wellness or self-care. Budgets are moral documents and they set the priorities of a company. If there is no line item for supporting the mental/physical/emotional well-being of the founders and employees, then the company will be devoid of the resources to offer this type of support. We, the participants in this ecosystem, need to put our money where our mouths are when we say that we are “founder friendly” and “invest in founders first”.

Don’t forget the mind body connection 

o  Mental, emotional and physical wellbeing are all deeply linked to one another. Just as mental health issues often lead to substance abuse, a lack of physical exercise or nutrition can also lead to depressive mood states and a lack of focus. The founder fifteen is as real as the freshman fifteen but it’s much more destructive.

Founders need to make sure to incorporate their physical activity of choice into their life, need to watch their nutritional intake and should consider activities such as yoga, meditation and intentional breathing that research shows help boost mood, sharpen focus and enhance emotional resilience. (Short plug, at Atlaswe work on addressing the whole person because we believe effective leaders are those who are both physically and emotionally fit.)

Connect, connect, connect 

o  Founders need to remain anchored in a support network. They should join a peer group, engage with old friends, go out on date nights with their significant other and make new friends. Not only is it a fun way to unload some of the pressure they’re under, but it’s a great reminder to founders that they have a separate existence from their company.

o  Founders should take an intentional vacation away from work, tech, and business. If, like me, a founder can’t voluntarily disconnect even while on vacation, they should consider joining a community like Soulscapeor traveling off the grid so that they are forced to disconnect and recharge. Burnout rarely appears as the primary track in startup postmortems, but a trained ear can usually find its influence.

o  Set a culture that is supportive of self-care. If everyone from the receptionist to the CEO is willing to seek help and take care of themselves, it creates a company-wide habit that enables everyone to thrive. A healthy culture will pay for itself a thousand times over in recruitment, lower turnover and happier, more productive people who are willing to sacrifice for the company when sacrifice is called for.

Set priorities not tasks

o  Founders and A-type personalities tend to live and die by their calendar and their task lists. Unfortunately, task lists are just reminders that there are countless things to be done. For most of us our task lists are quite literally infinite. This is a recipe for unbearable mental strain and unmanageable cognitive load. The definition of anxiety is when we perceive that our ability to achieve is overwhelmed by the tasks at hand, which is inevitable when our tasks are ill defined, too large or seemingly unending.  Instead of a task list, switch to a daily priorities list where only the urgent AND important items are listed. Completing these items may be more difficult but getting them off your plate is infinitely more satisfying.

 Be vigilant 

o  Learn the warning signs of depression and burnout. People who are drowning don’t wave their hands in the air and shout for help, they slip silently beneath the waves and only trained life guards tend to spot people in trouble. It’s the same way with depression. Depressed people don’t mope around and they aren’t necessarily sad so much as numb. Here are things to look out for:

  • Persistent feelings of pessimism
  • Sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Change in behavior and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Change in diet or eating schedule
  • Change in sleep schedule
  • Irritability
  • Inability to make decisions or concentrate
  • You can also use this validated self-assessment for depression

Building companies is inherently hard mentally, physically and emotionally but our ecosystem is a toxic one with dozens of factors all contributing to make it even more so. We are quite literally killing ourselves and thereby sabotaging our long-term competitiveness. There are tangible actions each one of us can take to start fixing this toxicity but at the end of the day but I believe most of those actions boil down to treating each other and ourselves as human beings. If we recognize and embrace our weaknesses and support one another in our imperfections, we will start seeing a healthier more sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Depression resources: https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/guide/resources/

Free/Cheap Peer Groups: https://www.evryman.cohttps://www.chairmanmom.com; Atlas Events and Peer Groups

(if anyone knows of similar free resources, please share them in the comments)