Here’s the complete list of tech CEOs supporting the repeal of DACA


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(There are none.)

Meanwhile, here’s how the leaders of tech’s biggest companies have responded to the repeal.

Drop us a comment below if you see any tech leader who supports the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and we’ll update our list.

Featured Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Why ‘TAM’ doesn’t matter to me


When you ask a VC what they look for in investments, you’re likely to get a response that involves going after a large “TAM,” or “total addressable market.” TAM is defined as “the existing revenue opportunity available for a product or service,” and it’s often calculated by taking the existing top-down market size and whittling down segments of the market that are not addressable.

On the surface, the use of TAM as a key investment criteria makes perfect sense. To build a business that goes from very little to very large in a short amount of time, you must attack a very large market, right?

The only problem is that if you had applied the TAM framework over the past 25 years, you would have passed on most of the best venture investments of all time. A cursory examination of these companies in their early years highlights the danger of too heavily weighting TAM. In fact, at the time of their Series A rounds, many of the very best venture investments would have had relatively small — or even undefined — TAMs.

Let’s examine Uber. At the time the Series A was done in 2011, Uber’s product was a substitute for premium car services like black cars and limousines, not a taxi substitute. At that time, the total U.S. car service market was $2 billion in annual revenue, which would yield a $400 million TAM assuming a 20 percent take rate for Uber.

Later on, Uber launched Uber X, a lower-cost alternative that made it a true taxi substitute and made its global ambitions more apparent. But even in 2014, if you had considered the broadly defined global taxi and car service market of ~$100 billion, the $20 billion TAM would have still understated the magnitude of Uber’s opportunity. In fact, one famous economist did just this when he concluded that Uber could not possibly be worth $17 billion due to the TAM of the taxi and car service markets.

WhatsApp is another example. At the time of the Series A in early 2011, there were ~500 million people with smartphones worldwide. Facebook, which eventually bought WhatsApp, was earning $6 per user annually. So an optimistic estimate for WhatsApp’s TAM would have been $3 billion. For what it’s worth, WhatsApp is still essentially pre-monetization six years later, but it has 1.2 billion users and clearly Facebook saw much greater potential in the platform when it paid $19 billion to acquire it in 2014.

Coinbase is a more recent example (Disclosure: I am involved as an investor). When the Series A was done in May 2013, the total market cap of Bitcoin was ~$1 billion and the daily trading volume was <$5 million. Assuming a 2 percent commission rate, the annual TAM for Coinbase would have been $36.5 million. Hardly the type of TAM that venture capitalists seek. Today, there is a >$100 billion market cap for crypto-currencies, and daily trading volume often surpasses $4 billion. Needless to say, when I wrote Greylock’s investment memo for Coinbase, I did not use the term TAM.

If TAM can be directionally misleading in the early years, how should founders and investors think about weighing the importance of market size? Of course, the eventual size of the market opportunity is paramount. There are several other factors to consider — in addition to the strict measurement of TAM — when trying to assess size of market opportunity:

    • TAM expansion: The best companies always fundamentally change the markets in which they operate. They do this in many ways: removing friction, increasing convenience, enabling new use cases and lowering price. By doing so, they can dramatically expand the size of their markets. Airbnb, in which Greylock is an investor, did this to the short-term rental market by smoothing the trust barrier associated with renting out your home or staying in someone else’s. In doing so, they expanded the TAM of short-term rental.
    • Credible adjacencies: In other cases, a startup’s initial product or service is merely an entry wedge into a larger opportunity. For instance, Amazon started with selling books because the category had a large number of SKUs, shipped well and had near universal appeal. In retrospect, books were just the entry wedge in to selling everything online. The art here is understanding when proposed adjacencies are real and when they are fiction.
    • Nascent market potential: Successful startups often ride the wave of a new market that is small today, but will be big in the future, with or without that startup. WhatsApp with the smartphone revolution and Coinbase with crypto-currency are two examples. In many technology businesses, there is a tremendous advantage of being the first to scale in an emerging category. Starting or investing in the early player in a developing category can be a great bet.
    • Frequency of use: As a general rule in consumer technology, the frequency with which users interact with a given product or service tends to correlate with the size of the opportunity. Something that becomes a regular behavior with a large swath of the population generally has an opportunity to build a big business. Ofo and Mobike, the Chinese bike-sharing companies, are early examples of this phenomenon. The bike-sharing TAM is still relatively small, and they only collect cents for each ride, but investors see opportunity in something that people use 2-3x per day for the critical task of commuting.

By all means, founders and investors should continue to think about the size of the market they serve. Doing so helps prioritize development, understand customer segmentation and uncover non-obvious insights. But take it with a grain of salt; and if you see an opportunity, don’t let a TAM number stop you from building something great.

Featured Image: snapgalleria/Shutterstock

SpaceX opens applications for its 2018 Hyperloop Pod competition


SpaceX confirmed at its second Hyperloop Pod design competition that there would definitely be a third, and now it’s opening up registration for that test, which is set to run next year. The 2018 competition will again take place at SpaceX’s 0.77-mile long test track near its Hawthorne HQ, and will challenge student teams to design the best pod they can create.

The engineering-focused effort is again targeting one metric of performance in particular: Speed. That was the focus of the most recent Hyperloop Pod competition, too, which took place on August 27 and which Munich’s WARR Hyperloop won with a 201 mph top pod speed. Check out our recap:

At the event, Elon Musk said that he saw no reason future pods couldn’t manage 500 to 600 mph on the same length of track, so he’s clearly hoping that setting speed as the target for the next competition will produce better results than last time around. SpaceX later ran its own vehicle down the track to see how fast it could go, and beat 220 mph – so that’s really the new goal post for anyone participating in 2018.

There’s another new twist for the next competition – all participating pods must be self-propelled, meaning they can’t make use of SpaceX’s own pusher vehicle, which provided a starting boost to pods that didn’t have their own means of acceleration.

This new round is open to both existing and new pod design teams, and applications are being accepted until September 29, 2016. The competition itself is set to take place sometime during summer next year, with a final date TBD.

Good games make good investments at Good Shepherd


Game development is a risky business — in the literal sense, that is. Hoping a title becomes a million-seller and justifies its staff and years of gestation often leads to the ruin of game studios and publishers. And that’s if the game ever even releases. But Good Shepherd has found that careful curation, help with pain points like localization, and other avenues of stewardship can make games as reliable an investment as a mutual fund, but considerably more profitable.

The company, founded in 2011 as Gambitious but eventually (and I’d say wisely) rebranding under the current name, basically finds promising games and makes sure they get the best chance at success possible. And it works: they’ve helped usher 15 games into the world, 12 of which have been out for at least a year and 9 of which are already profitable. The portfolio as a whole is turning a 30 percent profit.

More easily said than done. Independent game developers aren’t exactly widget makers; even promising titles can and do end up in development hell as the narrative is reworked, scope is adjusted, art styles are redone, and so on. A good publisher or backer will make sure these don’t torpedo the whole project.

Three games currently on the roster at Good Shepherd.

The idea isn’t particularly original — it’s the kind of work that many venture funds and incubators do with young, inexperienced companies — but it hasn’t really been applied to games. Part of that is the perception that games are either hits or whiffs, making it a risky area for investment — although the same could, of course, be said of startups.

But the strategy of a huge release hopefully recouping all costs in a month or two is peculiar to AAA development; the latest Call of Duty costs a hundred million to make, so needs to sell 2 million copies before mainstream gamers move on to the next big franchise release.

An indie game doesn’t have the benefit of an Activision-size marketing team or simultaneous release in 36 countries and languages. But its budget is smaller, and people will continue buying it for years — because often the point of indie games is that they are original creations not bound to any particular console or sales cycle. Cave Story, for instance, is just as awesome today as it was in 2004 — and it still sells.

Understanding these debit and credit columns for a class of asset is critical to making a smart investment, and that’s what Good Shepherd has focused on. I talked with Mike Wilson, founder of Devolver and co-founder of Good Shepherd, while he was in town for PAX West. He said that the company is intensely focused on the writing, music, and other truly original parts of games — the kind of things people talk about for years.

“The magic of what we’ve done is to remove the ‘hit’ requirement for making investing in indie games a reasonable thing to do,” Wilson told me. “We are very sensitive to giving these people a great first experience that isn’t reliant on hitting the lottery with a project breaking into the mainstream.”

The company works with creators to fill in the gaps in their expertise, much as Devolver has done: sometimes a team needs to be connected with a good level designer, or maybe kept to deadlines, or given a hand with marketing or localization. All of a sudden a half-formed game planned for release in one country and store becomes a fully-formed one in 6 countries and multiple stores and sales. For small teams and small budgets, that could be the difference between sinking like a rock and becoming millionaires overnight — something that definitely happens now and then.

On the other side of the business, Good Shepherd is meant to be a reliable, transparent investment vehicle for people who want to back games but don’t have any idea how to go directly to creators. Acting as intermediary to investors and critical oversight for creators, the company gets to have its cake and eat it too: out one end comes money, and out the other end comes art.

Considering the pedigree of the people involved (people from the games industry who have always pushed back against AAA studios) the latter would seem to be the primary goal. If you could enable people all over the world to pursue their dreams and build something cool, wouldn’t you? Fortunately, it also happens to produce quite a bit of money, which justifies it for everyone else.

Featured Image: Good Shepherd

Google launches a new certification program for mobile web developers


Google today launched a new certification program for mobile web developers. As the name implies, the Mobile Web Specialist Certification is meant to help developers show off their mobile web development skills, no matter how they learned them. The program joins Google’s existing certification programs for Android developers, cloud architects and data engineers.

Taking the open book test will cost $99 (or 6500 INR in India) and consist of a number of coding challenges and a 10-minute exit interview, which allows you you explain why you chose a given solution to solve your exam questions. You’ll have four hours to complete the coding challenges and you can take three stabs at the exam if you don’t pass in your first attempt. Some of the topics covered here include basic website layout and styling, progressive web apps, performance optimization and caching, as well as testing and debugging.

Google also offers a study guide to help you prepare for the exam.

Once you pass the exam, you will get “a digital badge to display on your resume and social media profiles” (for reasons I can’t explain, Google notes that you can even use this badge on your Google+ profile…). This isn’t about some digital badge, of course. The main idea here is obviously to give developers a way to highlight their skills to potential employees. Given that this is an untested program, though, it remains to be seen how these certifications will actually influence hiring and interviewing decisions.

 

 

Amazon Alexa now responds to certain questions with skills that can help you when Alexa can’t


Amazon is making it easier for Echo and Alexa-powered device owners to find voice apps that extend the functionality of its virtual assistant. The company recently launched a new feature that has Alexa making suggestions of third-party skills to try in response to certain questions. In other words, if you ask Alexa to do something that she’s not capable of, she’ll point you to a skill that can perform that task instead.

Alexa’s ability to recommend third-party skills was first spotted by Voicebot.ai, which noted that, in the past, Alexa would only say that she couldn’t help you when you asked a question she didn’t know the answer to.

For instance, Alexa would often respond like, “Hmmm. I don’t know that,” or she might tell you to check back later.

If you wanted to find a skill that suited your needs, then, you’d have to browse through the Alexa Skill Store on the web or in the Alexa companion app.

However, now things are changing. Recently, the virtual assistant has gotten clued into what the voice apps written for her platform can do, and will make suggestions if she thinks there’s one that can help you with your question.

Amazon has confirmed this skill recommendation functionality is new, but it’s not yet broadly rolled out either in terms of supported skills or Alexa’s customer base.

“Currently, in limited scenarios, Alexa will respond to certain questions by suggesting skills that may be helpful,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are excited for this feature to expand and to roll out to more customers over time to help them discover new skills and get information through Alexa.”

Voicebot had noticed this new trick when asking Alexa a question related to a stock price. Before the new feature, getting a response to the question at hand would mean asking Alexa to open a third-party skill that delivers this kind of information. Now, however, when Alexa was asked a stock price question she didn’t know the answer to, she responded “I don’t know that. Maybe the skill Stock Prices by Opening Bell can help. Do you want to try it?” 

In another case, she recommended the voice app Fifty-Two Week Low for further stock information (see video above.)

This behavior brings Alexa more on par with how skill discovery works today on Google Home, via its virtual helper, Google Assistant. If Google Home developers tell Google what type of actions an app can handle, their app will then be offered as a recommendation to relevant user questions, the website for Google Home explains.

We’re working to determine how Amazon’s process differs, but it’s likely using a similar understanding of a skill’s actions.

The move to suggest skills could help increase adoption of voice apps on the dominant smart speaker platform.

Today, Amazon is far ahead in the smart speaker race, with one forecast from eMarketer predicting Alexa would own 70{04edb846e1f7ff5cc6c6416fdec5ab17fdb82e2b499db9aa1b216ed4709c0e5d} of the voice-controlled speaker market this year. Another later study from Edison Research stated that Amazon Echo and Alexa devices would have 82{04edb846e1f7ff5cc6c6416fdec5ab17fdb82e2b499db9aa1b216ed4709c0e5d} of the smart speaker market, versus just 18{04edb846e1f7ff5cc6c6416fdec5ab17fdb82e2b499db9aa1b216ed4709c0e5d} for Google Home.

Alexa already has far more skills available at her disposal compared with rivals – over 15,000, in fact, as of this July. But many of these are unused, as consumers don’t know they exist, or they’re of poor quality. Meanwhile, the biggest use cases for Alexa so far have been things like listening to music, the radio or the news; setting a timer; or controlling smart home devices.

But for Alexa’s developer community to continue to thrive, voice apps need to be discoverable, and developers need to be able to make them viable businesses. To that end, Amazon has begun paying developers for their top performing skills, though a longer-term monetization strategy would eventually have to go beyond direct cash rewards.

Alongside news of skill recommendations, Amazon also announced new developer tools today –  the Alexa Skill Management API (SMAPI) and the Alexa Skills Kit Command-line Interface (ASK CLI) – which will make Alexa Skill management easier for developers accustomed to working in a command-line interface.

Tim Cook urges Congress to keep DACA alive in letter to Apple staff


Over the weekend, Tim Cook reaffirmed his support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama era policy that allows some illegal immigrants to defer deportation. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions took to a podium at the Department of Justice earlier today to confirm the administration’s decision, Cook emailed Apple staff a long memo urging Congress to make the policy permanent.

The memo, which was obtained by TechCrunch this morning, notes Cook’s “deep dismay” at the planned end for a program that could impact the lives of 800,000 Americas. As the executive noted over the weekend, that list includes more than 250 Apple employees.

Cook relays the stories of some of the employees who contacted him following his tweet over the weekend and the release of a letter last week that he cosigned along with other top executives from companies like Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.

“On behalf of the hundreds of employees at Apple whose futures are at stake,” Cook writes, “on behalf of their colleagues and on behalf of the millions more across America who believe, as we do, in the power of dreams, we issue an urgent plea for our leaders in Washington to protect the Dreamers so their futures can never be put at risk in this way again.”

The planned end of DACA is just the latest in a number of policy decisions that have drawn a wedge between Trump and the industry leaders who sat down with him at a tech summit just ahead of his inauguration. The full text of the letter can be read below.

Team,

America promises all its people the opportunity to achieve their dreams through hard work and perseverance. At Apple, we’ve dedicated ourselves to creating products that empower those dreams. And at our best, we aspire to be part of the promise that defines America.

Earlier today, the Justice Department announced that President Trump will cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months if Congress does not act to make the program permanent.

I am deeply dismayed that 800,000 Americans — including more than 250 of our Apple coworkers — may soon find themselves cast out of the only country they’ve ever called home.

DACA recognizes that people who arrived in the United States as children should not be punished for being here illegally. It lets these Americans, who have successfully completed rigorous background investigations, go to school, earn a living, support their families, pay taxes and work toward achieving their dreams like the rest of us. They are called Dreamers, and regardless of where they were born, they deserve our respect as equals.

I’ve received several notes over the weekend from Dreamers within Apple. Some told me they came to the U.S. as young as two years old, while others recounted they don’t even remember a time they were not in this country.

Dreamers who work at Apple may have been born in Canada or Mexico, Kenya or Mongolia, but America is the only home they’ve ever known. They grew up in our cities and towns, and hold degrees from colleges across the country. They now work for Apple in 28 states.

They help customers in our retail stores. They engineer the products people love and they’re building Apple’s future as part of our R&D teams. They contribute to our company, our economy and our communities just as much as you and I do. Their dreams are our dreams.

I want to assure you that Apple will work with members of Congress from both parties to advocate for a legislative solution that provides permanent protections for all the Dreamers in our country.

We are also working closely with each of our co-workers to provide them and their families the support they need, including the advice of immigration experts.

On behalf of the hundreds of employees at Apple whose futures are at stake; on behalf of their colleagues and on behalf of the millions more across America who believe, as we do, in the power of dreams, we issue an urgent plea for our leaders in Washington to protect the Dreamers so their futures can never be put at risk in this way again.

Despite this setback for our nation, I’m confident that American values will prevail and we will continue our tradition of welcoming immigrants from all nations. I’ll do whatever I can to assure this outcome.

Featured Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tech leaders respond as the Trump administration announces plans to end DACA


The tech community hasn’t minced words since the president announced that he was strongly considering ending the Obama era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy last week. Several of technology’s most high-profile executives added their name to a letter calling on Trump “to preserve the DACA program,” and asking Congress “to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act or legislation that provides these young people raised in our country the permanent solution they deserve.”

In spite of pushback from prominent business people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took to a podium at the Department of Justice today, confirming its plans to end the policy. “To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest,” he told the press, “we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple.” Sessions did not take any followup questions.

But while Sessions apparently isn’t seeking feedback, tech’s top names are continuing to speak out. It’s just the latest in a number of rifts that have isolated the community from Trump, mere months after the parties sat down ahead of his inauguration in an attempt to find some common ground on policy. We’ve reached out to a number of top players to see where they fall on today’s decision. We’ll continue to update as more come in.

Apple: After adding his name to the letter last week, Tim Cook defended Apple’s 250 Dreamer employees in a tweet over the weekend. Today, in a letter sent to Apple staff, Cook added, “we issue an urgent plea for our leaders in Washington to protect the Dreamers so their futures can never be put at risk in this way again.”

Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg called the decision “cruel” and “a sad day for our country” in a Facebook post earlier today. The status update goes on to call on Congress “to pass the bipartisan Dream Act or another legislative solution that gives Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. For years, leaders from both parties have been talking about protecting Dreamers.”

Google: CEO Sundar Pichai was on the ball earlier this morning, after lending his name to the letter, he sent out a tweet, calling Dreamers “our neighbors, our friends and our co-workers.” Google spokesperson Riva Sciuto also offered TechCrunch a comment about the decision, stating,

“The DACA program has provided critical protections to hundreds of thousands of individuals, including Google employees and their families, allowing them to continue to make important contributions to our country, society, and economy. We are disappointed in today’s decision to end the program and urge Congress to take quick action to enact a permanent legislative solution.”

Microsoft: Along with signing last week’s letter, CEO Satya Nadella also penned a heartfelt and personal reaction to the expected news, noting that he had expressed his thoughts on the matter at the White House. “ I am a product of two uniquely American attributes,” Nadella wrote, “the ingenuity of American technology reaching me where I was growing up, fueling my dreams, and the enlightened immigration policy that allowed me to pursue my dreams.”

Today, the company’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith called for an urgent legislative response to the news. Smith explained that Microsoft is “deeply disappointed” in what it believes to be “a big step back for our entire country. Nadella has since issued a followup tweet, noting that the company “stand[s] for diversity and economic opportunity for everyone.”

Featured Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Watch Netflix’s new trailer for ‘The Magic School Bus Rides Again’


Netflix is ready to reboot The Magic School Bus, the classic kid-focused cartoon depicting far out field trips that probable made your grade school trips to the local pioneer village feel even more pedestrian by comparison.

The new Netflix series, called The Magic School Bus Rides Again, once more focuses on a class at Walkerville School, but this time teach Ms. Frizzle is passing the baton to her sister, voiced by Kate McKinnon.

That classic theme song is also back, but it’s now sung by Hamilton creator and original cast member Lin-Manuel Miranda, which is already making it more of an earworm for me, personally.

The whole new series is available to stream on September 29, so strap in and get ready for a ride. Oh wait, school buses don’t have seatbelts. Or maybe they do now? I have no idea.

Scotland plans to ‘phase out’ gas and diesel cars by 2032


Another country is looking to get rid of gas-powered vehicles entirely: Scotland, which wants to “phase out” new gas and diesel-powered cars entirely by 2032 (via The Independent). The Scottish government’s plan is set to beat the UK’s target by eight years, if all goes well, and also involves building out its roadway charging infrastructure to support the use of EVs instead.

The decision by Scotland to join in the effort to make cities and countries vehicle emission-free is not an isolated one. London has announced plans to become totally emission free by 2050, and France, Britain, Madrid and Mexico City have all made similar pledges, albeit with varying timeframes.

Some vehicle makers, likely anticipating a continued shift among international and municipal governments, have likewise outlined plans to move towards greener energy alternatives; Volvo is only going to make new hybrid and all-electric vehicles starting in 2019, and Aston Martin announced it plans to do the same beginning in the mid-2020s.