🍳 Brunch Briefing | Extortion

ASMR, PTSD, and Bumble's hypocrisy

Image result for jeff bezos and mohammed bin salman

In this week’s BB, you’ll learn about…

🇸🇦 MBS’s weak meme game

🌞 Cheering up Greta

🌐 The doomsday scenario that keeps Bill Gates up

🦋 A musical trend for the distractible

🏙️ Chief of Staff, investing, and PM roles

💄 Mean Girls at Bumble, Uber’s experiment, and a robot with invisible hands

🏆 Praise for the tech-literate, and a crowded winner’s circle

🤦‍♂️ This was a busy week for The Generalist as we launched new feature “The Miss.” If you haven’t had an opportunity, check out my interview with James Beshara, prolific angel investor and the former founder of Tilt. You’ll learn how he evaluates companies, how he found his first unicorn, and the two deals he wishes he could get a do-over on.

🔁 For new subscribers, I’d also recommend taking a look at last week’s Brunch Briefing featuring a thesis from Aashay Sanghvi, VC at Haystack. Aashay shared his thoughts on the emerging “Globalization Stack,” the tools and services that allow companies to launch in new geographies faster.

In addition to providing a nuanced take on an under-discussed topic, his inclusion prompted an interesting question on Twitter:

Hopefully we can make the introduction of different perspective similarly seamless. Thanks to TJ for the thought.


🐰 Overheard

(Quotes from clever people)

Jeff all what you hear or told to it’s not true and it’s matter of time tell you know the truth, there is nothing against you or amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) sent that Whatsapp message to Jeff Bezos in February 2019, almost a year after the Amazon CEO clicked on a video sent from the Saudi premier. This week, news broke that in clicking that video, Bezos’s phone was compromised with a 29,000 % spike in data leaving his device immediately afterwards.

Of course, a great deal happened in between. A brief timeline of events. 

  • April 2018: Bezos and MBS meet at a dinner and exchange numbers. 

  • May 1, 2018: MBS messages a video which Bezos ostensibly clicks. Forensic analysis of the device shows a huge exfiltration of data. 

  • October 2, 2018: Jamal Khashoggi, a reporter from the Bezos-owned Washington Post, is murdered by agents of the Saudi government. The WP investigates, putting pressure on MBS’s government. 

  • November 8, 2018: MBS continues to contact Bezos, rather pathetically trying to buddy up by sending the above lame, sexist meme. Some have noted that the woman in the picture looks vaguely similar to Bezos’s mistress, Lauren Sanchez, perhaps serving as a veiled threat.

  • February 7, 2019: In a Medium post entitled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” Bezos reveals that tabloid babble-mill The National Inquirer attempted to use kompromat from his extra-marital affair to stop the Washington Post’s investigations into Khashoggi’s death. In particular, they threatened to publish images of “[Bezos’s] semi-erect manhood,” among other delights. In his piece, Bezos alludes to the specter hanging over The National Inquirer’s attempted blackmail: the Saudi government. He notes that David Pecker, head of Inquirer parent company AMI, has close connections to the Kingdom having solicited funding for his business in the country. He also notes that when invited to the White House by Trump, Pecker used his +1 to bring a Saudi emissary. The inference from Bezos is that the compromising materials made their way in Pecker’s inbox via the Saudi government in order to thwart further probes into the Khashoggi case.

  • February 16, 2019: MBS sends the above rather desperate don’t-believe-what-anyone-says-I-still-care-about-us text protesting his innocence. 

  • January 22, 2020: The Guardian reveals that Bezos’s phone was hacked, via a Whatsapp video. The UN subsequently calls for the US to scrutinize MBS’s surveillance of Bezos and attempts to influence the Khashoggi investigation. 

  • January 24, 2020: In a final twist, The National Inquirer’s information appears to have, at least partially, come from the brother of Bezos’s mistress with evidence showing David Sanchez passed texts onto the publisher. With no word yet on who attained Bezos’s intimate photos, there may yet be evidence of direct Saudi government involvement.

In an age in which the mind-shredding has begun to feel mundane, this is a saga that cannot be glossed over. Through Softbank’s Vision Fund, investments in other venture firms, and backing unicorns directly (Slack, WeWork, Cruise), we are seeing something sinister and concerning: the insinuation of a bloody dictatorship into the fabric of the American tech sector. Both founders and investors would be wise to tread carefully when dealing with the Kingdom. 

🖼️ 1000 words

(Something to look at)

Good news, Greta. At Davos this week, activist Greta Thunberg repeated her concerns over the frailty of the world’s response to climate change, saying “Our house is still on fire…Your inaction is fueling flames by the hour.” 

While the World Economic Forum’s “Jobs of Tomorrow” report does little to dampen the current conflagration, its analysis may be cause for some optimism. Citing data from LinkedIn and Burning Glass, a company that analyzes global job postings, the WEF noted that “Green Economy” positions are expected to grow rapidly over the next two years, with an annual growth rate of 35%, bested only by jobs in Data & AI. Though growing less quickly, the “Care Economy” (home healthcare workers, personal trainers, counsellors) will gain the most jobs total.

This data echoes US Bureau of Labor projections from September 2019: between 2018-28, employment is expected to grow by 8.4MM jobs with the the highest percentage increases occurring among “solar photovoltaic installers” and “wind turbine technicians;” 63.3 % and 56.9 %, respectively. 

😱 Signs of the apocalypse

(Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!)

We are unprepared. When asked about the potential scale of a global pandemic, Bill Gates cited statistics from the Institute of Disease Modeling: within 250 days, 33MM could be dead. Domestically, the US remains deeply underprepared, reliant on long supply chains for medical supplies, bereft of bio-containment units, and susceptible to the human bias that causes us to overlook and underfund low-frequency but high-severity disasters. The third case of the coronavirus was confirmed this Saturday in California.

Extreme moderation. Content moderators for YouTube are now asked to sign a form acknowledging the job may give them PTSD. The poorly paid position — often filled by immigrants — exposes workers to violent and disturbing content, resulting in several moderators suffering lasting adverse mental affects. While technology may have an increasing role to play in removing undesirable content, the potential for algorithmic prejudice suggests human intervention may be necessary in some capacity for a while to come.

📡 Signal

(One exploding Google Trend)

European airplane, cool dentist. The feelings evoked by listening to the immensely popular “Chillhop” YouTube channel defied easy classification for New Yorker columnist Amanda Petrusich, instead inspiring a cloud of nebulous descriptors like those above. Which is sort of the point. Lo-fi music — ambient melodies designed for passive listening — is less an experience to be had as a soundscape for other activities, particularly those that require focus. 

As headphones continue to serve as the modern cubicle — a social signal letting coworkers know they should leave you alone — expect unobtrusive audio to become an increasingly hot space. Apps like Loffee boast thousands of five-star reviews, while Warner Music signed a deal with algorithmic melody-maker Endel. Adjacent content like ASMR — typically, pleasant sounding whispers — may also worm its way into your ears.  

🔟 Jobs

(The jobs you need, and no more.)

  1. Chief of Staff - Choosy (NYC). While traditional fast fashion labels are changing their practices in the face of sustainability-minded consumers, this on-demand manufacturer is staffing up.

  2. BD Manager - Duffel (NYC). Travel is a notoriously difficult space, but Duffel seems to have found a profitable niche. The provider of airline API access and other infrastructural tools is backed by Benchmark, Index, and others.

  3. Director of Business Intelligence - By Humankind (NYC). Help keep plastics out of our oceans by joining a personal care company that takes the ‘P’ out of CPG.

  4. Summer Associate - Two Sigma (NY). The venture team is looking for smart STEM-focused folks to hop aboard for a few months. You’ll be surrounded by hundreds of PhDs and other brainiacs, working from one of the nicest offices in NYC.

  5. Summer Intern - Atomic (SF). The creators of Hims, Hers, Zenreach, and Terminal are looking for “Operating Generalists” (among other things) this summer.

  6. Data Scientist - YC (SF). When it comes to incubators, YC is in a league of its own. Help the team find more efficient ways to comb through the thousands of applications they receive and find the next Stripe, Airbnb, or Gusto.

  7. Internal Operations - Stealth, Future of Cities (SF). This company has raised $10MM but is still lurking in the shadows. The CEO apparently served on the founding team of a +$1B startup. Tread carefully, but given how compelling the space is, this might turn out to be an overlooked gem.

  8. Product Manager - Dave (LA). Working at this fintech unicorn sounds like it would make you feel good. In addition to providing tools that help 4MM users find work, budget, and avoid overdrafts, the company shares revenue with charities that protect our climate and put food on the table for families. Their mascot is also very cute.

  9. Head of Digital Marketing - Dosist (LA). Amidst a sea of cannabis charlatans, Dosist is building something real. Their innovative hardware helps patients (and others) take the right hit. You’ll help spread the gospel.

  10. Investor - Openview Partners (Boston). What is the most promising business that has raised $50MM? That’s the question OP is posing to fill its investor role. The growth equity fund are open to a range of backgrounds.

🐒 Long tail

(Best of the rest)

Wolfe in sheep’s clothing. Dating app Bumble is often lauded for its female-first approach and commitment to reducing harassment online. The inclusiveness of its office culture may be a little less worthy of praise with employees describing a cliquish environment reminiscent of “Mean Girls.” Perhaps cause for further concern is the emerging megalomania of CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd: the company’s founder did her best Adam Neumann impression by talking up the potential for a future Bumbleverse of business lines including Bumble skincare, Bumble-produced films, Bumble wedding services, and a Bumble daycare.

Slimming down. As part of a 90-day strategy to refocus on the core business, WeWork has sold Teem and its stake in The Wing. The former, a workplace management platform, sold to iOFFICE, while GV, Sequoia, and NEA picked up equity in the female-only coworking space. An interesting take on the development of coworking space over the next decade from Slow Ventures’s Sam Lessin, “The number of workers working out of shared office space will grow five times from today. The most popular office space company will be a franchise model.” Food for thought.

Light touch. As robots become an increasingly embedded part of the workforce, the question of their manual capability grows in relevance. How can mechanical fingers handle a piece of delicate machinery or a component of a medical device? A team of academics from ETH Zürich believe they have the answer: acoustic levitation. By leveraging sound waves, robots are able to hold and maneuver objects without touching them. Remarkable. 

Pricing power. In order to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors, Uber is testing a new feature: giving driver’s the ability to set their own prices, up to 5x the platform’s base rate. The feature is currently being tested on airport rides in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and Sacramento.  

🧩 Puzzler

(A question, conundrum, or riddle to mull over)

I dig out caves, storing precious metals inside. I build bridges of silver, make crowns of gold. You will need my help, sooner or later, and yet you fear me. Who I am?

I should have guessed a readership of technology enthusiasts would be quick to respond to last week’s puzzler. The answer was, of course: a computer keyboard.

Always reliable CLL hit the enter button first but a coterie of challengers were hot on his heels. Congratulations to Arnold G, Adriana V, Stephen C, and NMT who also found their rightful place on the podium.

The first month of 2020 is almost behind us. Wishing you all a strong end to January, and good vibes for February. 💙