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Brace for Impact
tuesday report #18 // tech layoffs wind down, while funding stalls, and the industry braces for impact; desantis and twitter v. pretty much everyone else; top deals; major stories in tech and politics
Welcome back to the Tuesday Report, the Pirate Wires weekly digest. Every week we deliver a brief lead story followed by a storm of fire links to catch you up on everything you need to know.
When you put it like that. Following Meta’s most recent round of layoffs, now impacting business divisions throughout the company, I noticed a shocking headline from ZeroHedge — Tech Layoff Mania Sparks 200,000 Job Cuts As New Grads Pursue Careers On Wall Street. It really is a huge number, and tech is definitely suffering through a local winter, but I find it hard to believe Wall Street is even in the orbit of a safe bet right now. We focus a lot on job cuts, including here at Pirate Wires, but they aren’t necessarily a smoking-gun indication of poor corporate health. In an age of unthinking, gerontocratic stagnation, decisive action also signals sentience in the c-suite, and as our broader economy blindly bumbles closer by the day to serious economic calamity, tech executives are at least preparing. It also seems their preparations are close to made.
Tech layoffs are actually lower this quarter than they were same time last year, and, following the incredible spike in layoffs we saw first quarter of this year, it’s starting to look like we’re over a peak. This is not to say “we’re back.” Instances of companies looking to hire are still down, while instances of people looking for employment are up. Job postings in general, with job postings for software devs in particular, are way down — less than half of where they were a year ago. In terms of venture funding, which is to say the future, everything of course remains bleak (we included a helpful graphic of this in last week’s report).
Artificial intelligence remains the single funding bright spot, and for the industry in general, which is now enjoying a broad, public boost for its quick signal change to “everything we do is thinking robots, actually.” At this point, the sheeple chorus is in this regard unfortunately giving “Web3.” There are only a small handful of AI companies worth watching. I mean, there are only a small handful of AI companies that are actually even AI companies. But the way I’d look at the rest is not so much that our most important tech companies are suffering as they are acting rationally in advance of disaster, while investors do the same. Things aren’t bad. People are getting ready for things to be bad. Tech is bracing for impact.
Now we wait.
Elementl, a San Francisco-based company, is building an open-source Python library for data orchestration. Raised a $33M Series B led by Georgian with participation from Index Ventures, 8VC and others.
Zageno, a Cambridge, MA-based company, is a marketplace for lab supplies for the research industry. Raised $33 million in their fourth round of equity funding led by Grazia Equity, General Catalyst and Oak Ridge Management Group.
Worldcoin, a San Francisco-based company, is a digital currency platform coupled with an iris scanner to solve the “proof of unique human” problem. Raised $115 million of Series C funding led by Blockchain Capital, with participation from Bain Capital, Distributed Global and a16z.
→ Other notable investments
Sixfold | $6.5M seed | Bessemer, Crystal Venture Partners
The New York-based company claims they are “the first generative artificial intelligence designed to solve the hardest problems in the insurance industry.”
Poolside | $26M round | Redpoint
Incubated by Redpoint and led by Redpoint’s Managing Director Jason Warner, the company aims to “unlock humanity’s potential by pursuing AGI for software creation” according to Redpoints’ blog. Warner was formerly Github’s CTO.
Nymbus | $70M series D | Insight Partners & others
The Jacksonville, FL-based company is a developer of core banking software.
Builder | $250M series D | Microsoft, Insight Partners & others
The London-based company builds tools to allow non-technical users to create software.
Kustomer | $60M round | Redpoint, Battery Ventures
The New Jersey-based company funding is part of a spinout from Meta this month. Meta acquired the company for $1B just 14 months ago, but has since let it go. (It’s giving Zuck’s “Year of Efficiency.”)
Figure | $70M series A | Parkway, Aliya Capital, Bold Ventures, Tamarack Global & others
The Sunnyvale-based company is developing autonomous humanoid robots. CEO Brett Adcock self-financed Figure’s $100M seed round in 2022.
ROCKET MAN BAD
DeSaster? We already knew DeSantis was running for president, but on Wednesday he made it official in a live audio chat with Elon Musk and David Sacks on Twitter Spaces.
After a rocky start complete with hot mics, server crashes, and sporadic interludes of hold music, the trio ran a fairly effective live event. DeSantis touted his record of slamming politically-obsessed corporations, universities, and public schools with anti-woke legislation, promised a restoration of law and order, especially at the southern border, vaguely outlined an isolationist foreign policy, and condemned the idea of state-minted digital currency, while defending the rights of citizens to use cryptocurrencies. At one point, Sacks asked him about Nic Carter’s Operation Chokepoint 2.0, which we published here at Pirate Wires. DeSantis not only knew what this was, but had opinions. 🏴☠️
I found the whole thing interesting, and appreciated the casual format’s natural push toward conversation that felt more accidentally informative; at some point, maybe halfway through, DeSantis started talking like a regular person, and I really do believe I have a sense of who he is right now because of it. This is not the kind of thing you get from a debate, a stump speech, or a brief interview on CNN. Inevitably, the announcement was framed as a “DeSaster” by his opponents, including both Trump and our absolutely hysterical press. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, with a heavy lean in Twitter’s favor. There were some embarrassing opening glitches. But when you step back and take the whole picture in, it’s just clear they don’t at all matter. Now that circumventing the press and going direct is possible, it’s inevitable. The trend away from institutional, endemically left-wing “watchdogs” will continue, and this is, of course, the real reason the media, which works for the Democratic Party, is angry. Trump, at least, is more honestly in competition.
Notably, the presidential chaos came a day after Axios reported the Daily Wire would be uploading all of its podcast videos to Twitter, which the media has framed — and will continue to frame — as literally fascistic in nature. At least one platform is allowing Republicans to post unencumbered. “Unfettered,” if you will. I expect the histrionics to increase the deeper we enter this election season, and the more obvious it becomes that Twitter is no longer the kind of place that censors the Hunter Biden laptop story.
→ More Musk
Elon hints X.AI will have a cozy relationship with Twitter and Tesla (Axios)
Neuralink gets FDA approval for human clinical trials (Reuters)
Tesla’s Model Y was the best selling car in the world in Q1 (Twitter)
Virgin Orbit goes under (WaPo)
Virgin Galactic, back to space (WaPo)
Nvidia is now world’s sixth most valuable firm. The video game chip maker has ridden the AI boom to a nearly trillion dollar valuation. It’s now worth nearly as much as Tesla and Facebook combined. (WaPo)
Another day, another TikTok data security issue. Internal documents show the company’s employees have a habit of sharing sensitive user information in company Lark channels (the ByteDance-owned equivalent of Slack) containing thousands of employees, including those based in China. Also, TikTok employee’s Lark data is still stored on servers in China, maybe? “Project Texas,” as currently conceived, does not seem to address these issues. Spy app. (NYT)
Americans have more trust in tech companies that sell tangible products (Axios)
Surgeon General issues social media advisory (WSJ)
Netflix is coming for your shared passwords (WSJ)
Neil Mohan’s plan to make YouTube the king of TV (WSJ)
Arm unveils two new chips to boost smartphone performance (TechCrunch)
New PlayStation handheld incoming (Axios)
→ Legal Battles
Minnesota governor overturns zealot legislature, preserves state’s access to Uber, Lyft (Minnesota Reformer)
Lawmakers pen letter to Google over post-Roe data collection (WaPo)
Microsoft tweaks Bing’s data tracking to avoid fine-loving French bitches (Bloomberg)
Also: how Call of Duty became the focal point of the globally consequential Microsoft-Activision antitrust case (WSJ)
→ Funding, investments, acquisitions, contracts
Meta sells Giphy to Shutterstock for $53 million after UK government demands attention (TechCrunch)
Apple commits to multibillion-dollar 5G-components deal with Broadcom (CNBC)
Uber partners with Google’s Waymo (WaPo)
Ford partners with Tesla, granting new EV access to 12,000 existing Tesla Superchargers across North America (CNBC)
$2 billion deal falls through for video game company Embracer Group. The Swedish company had been working for months on a “transformative partnership” with an unknown party. All the paperwork was finalized, the unknown partner backed out at the last minute. Embracer shares plummeted 40 percent. (Axios)
THIS WEEK IN PIRATE WIRES
Encyclopedia Titanica. We used to think that everything we did online would live forever, but now that’s looking closer to the opposite of true. Following Google’s intention to nuke an entire, internet-native trove of data, historical record-keeping looks increasingly impossible. This is really weird, and hard to wrap your head around, and therefore basically ignored. But if we don’t face it, we’re going to vanish. A new Solana banger — (Pirate Wires)
How ‘Karen’ Became the Most Powerful Slur in America. After a pregnant nurse is forced into hiding following a dispute over a CitiBike, River examines the term “Karen.” Once an innocuous meme about rude customers, the term has taken on racial connotations, turning it into a quasi-racial slur with the unique power to ruin lives. (Pirate Wires)
Airchat: the “dinner party in your pocket.” Currently on waitlist, there’s little coverage of Airchat — @Naval's new social app — outside of a relative few high-viewcount tweets that showcase some of its more interesting features. Blending elements from familiar apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, Brandon Gorrell breaks down what Airchat is in a quick piece of reporting. (Pirate Wires)
OpenAI founders call for international AI watchdog (NYT)
Well wait a minute maybe not: Altman threatens to leave EU if ChatGPT regulations end up sucking (they will) (Time)
Microsoft to equip Windows 11 with a centralized AI assistant (Twitter)
TikTok now has an AI chatbot. It’s called Tako, and it’s available exclusively to users in the Philippines. (WaPo)
NYC’s first AI hiring laws arrive. As of July, NYC-based companies will be obligated to notify applicants if AI software is used in the hiring process. Companies must also have independent auditors vet the software for bias (which is to say they will be expected to code bias into the product), and reveal any data the software analyzed upon applicant request. Violators will be fined. (NYT)
New Quinnipiac GOP poll: Trump 56%, DeSantis 25%. Followed by Nikki Haley at 3%, Pence, Scott and Christie at 2%, and Ramaswamy at 1%. (Twitter)
Daniel Penny speaks. The young man who killed Jordan Neely in a New York subway car has finally spoken with reporters about the incident. He rejected the notion his intervention on the subway was motivated by racial animosity. He also said, while he’s saddened by Neely’s death, he’s unashamed of how he handled the situation and would do it over again if given the chance to wind back the clock. (NY Post)
NYC halts city deposits at Capital One, Key Bank. The move comes after the banks’ refusal to submit “anti-discrimination plans” required by the city’s financial agencies. For similar reasons, the city also declined to designate International Finance Bank, Wells Fargo, and PNC as eligible for holding city funds. This is all of course completely, dangerously insane. (Press Release)
Indiana doctor reprimanded for publicly speaking about 10-year-old’s abortion. Indiana’s Medical Licensing Board determined the doctor violated privacy laws by speaking about the case, and fined her $3,000. The complaint was lodged by the state’s Republican attorney general. (NPR)
Reminder: for meat, “product of USA” is a meaningless label. “An animal can be raised, killed, and processed in Brazil, but if it's packaged in the USA you can slap a USA label on it” – from a Twitter thread worth reading in full. Tl;dr: companies were once unable to get away with this, but the FDA overturned country of origin labeling laws because they “hampered competition” with foreign livestock. (Twitter)
IRS opens case on Matt Taibbi amid Twitter Files reporting (Twitter)
Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to be new NSA and Cyber Command chief (WSJ)
Fetterman tweets 14th amendment, which granted citizenship to former slaves, exists to mitigate budget crisis (Twitter)
New York Representative Richie Torres calls on Senator Diane Feinstein, who is obviously now senile, to resign (The Hill)
Australia looking to become less dependent on China for lithium exports (NYT)
Portugal bans Chinese companies from 5G networks (Bloomberg)
China pressures Netherlands for access to cutting-edge chip tech (AP)
Alibaba cuts cloud division by 7%, still plans 15,000 hires company-wide (Bloomberg)
TSMC receives 50% subsidy from German gov’t to build chip plant (Bloomberg)
Chinese malware discovered in U.S. telecommunications systems. Guam — which has Pacific ports and an expansive military airfield — was the main target of the operation headed by a Chinese government hacking group, prompting speculation concerning China’s real interest in preventing American intervention in Taiwan. (NYT)
Katherine Dee on Saudi Arabian culture in the era of social media. Snapchat dating culture, cafe menus tailored to Instagram and TikTok food posting, provocatively dressed teens at Charlie Puth concert venues brimming with sexual tension, an “Anime Epcot” for Middle Eastern weeaboos. (Tablet)
Ro Khanna: “A nation needs heroes.” The Democratic lawmaker expressed admiration for FDR last week, and leftists went feral. “So you want to cancel FDR?” Khanna asked. “Of course, internment is a deep stain. But what’s next — cancel Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln?” He has somehow not received the memo that all of those men have already been canceled by leftists. (Twitter)
Max Meyer on his late father, veteran suicides, and “the stoicism and profound patriotism of those who protect us.” Important, touching thread worth checking out in full on Twitter. (Twitter)
Hop in my mentions with your weekend stories and links to all the bangers that we missed.