Berlin venture studio Merantix raises $27M fund to concentrate on AI startups

Berlin-based Merantix, a venture studio which specifically concentrates on building ‘AI companies’, says it has raised a new €25M fund ($27M). Anchor investors include Trusted Insight, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as well as further family offices from Europe.

Co-founder Adrian Locher said in a statement that the successful fundraising “underpins Europe’s competitive ability with regards to new transformative technologies and validates the innovative potential of Berlin. We are very excited to spearhead AI’s incredible value potential and are eager to build more disruptive companies with our amazing team.”

Locher is a Swiss serial entrepreneur and investor and has founded more than 10 companies both in Europe and the US. His co-founder, Rasmus Rothe, is a ‘deep learning’ researcher who has published over 15 academic papers with more than 1,000 citations while attending Oxford, Princeton, and ETH Zurich.

Merantix says that contrary to traditional investment funds, its studio model enables a steep in-house learning curve with close guidance for entrepreneurs and a shared operational infrastructure. Unusually, companies incubated within Meratix have full access to the code, data and insights of other Merantix companies. Overall, its team consists of more than 60 engineers and entrepreneurs.

Companies Merantix has incubated include Vara, an AI software for cancer screening which has obtained regulatory approval for a European-wide roll-out in 2019, and SiaSearch, a search engine for petabyte-scale ADAS and automated driving data which automatically indexes and structures raw sensor data and is working with Volkswagen, among others.

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Equity Monday: A global selloff, MURAL snags $23M, and two unicorns that can’t raise

Good morning friends, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a short-form audio hit to kickstart your week. Regular Equity episodes still drop Friday morning, so if you’ve listened to the show over the years don’t worry — we’re not changing it in the slightest. (Here’s last week’s episode which took a look at The Athletic’s latest round, in case you missed it.)

This Monday was a bit of a bad news run. The weekend was stuffed with news, not much of it good.

Continued concerns relating to the spread of the coronavirus led to equity selloffs in Asia and Europe. In the United States, markets look set to follow suit. The concerns come as startups had already come under pressure from investors to show a quick path to profitability. Now, their public comps are taking fire as well.

Topping it off, today kicks off a huge, two-week earnings run from tech companies worth trillions of dollars. It’s not a great moment for it. (As we note on the show, the economic side of the outbreak is a small portion of the story; it feels a bit crass to cover the moment from a dollars-perspective, but that’s our particular lens.)

We also ran through three funding rounds, including MURAL’s $23 million Series A, Otter.ai’s $10 million Series B, and Sawee’s $2.3 million round focused on last-mile logistics. (As a product, I can’t recommend Otter highly enough.)

Wrapping, a Wall Street Journal story was stuck in my head all weekend. According to the Journal’s Eliot Brown, Lime and DoorDash have each been out in the markets trying to raise money lately. Neither has managed to pull it off. If stocks keep selling, what happens next for the infamous unicorns?

That’s what we have for you today. More on Friday morning.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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premium Founding organizations: Creating companies that sustain our open-source community

Open source has a sustainability problem.

A question that’s frequently discussed in the web development community is how to make open-source maintainable. As one of many examples, Henry Zhu, the lead maintainer of Babel, one of the most depended-on projects in the JavaScript ecosystem, until 2017 was working on Babel in his free-time while working a full-time job.

Open source is key infrastructure: for comparison, imagine if the lead mechanic on the Brooklyn Bridge had to work on it in his spare time, or hustle for contracts!

Founding organizations: one route to sustainability
Creating sustainable open-source communities isn’t simply a problem for community maintainers; it’s a problem for everyone.

When a project is created outside an established company, an increasingly popular way of sustaining it is to form a commercial organization around it, raise venture capital, hire maintainers, and create hosted services to pay the bills. 

RELATED CONTENT: The realities of running an open-source community

We’ll term these “founding organizations”—companies founded by the creator or key contributors of an open-source project to support the project. A growing number of projects are now sustained in this way. This is exciting for software developers the world over, because better software benefits everyone! 

Founding organizations provide public goods for their communities
As Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal and Acquia put it:

“In economics, the concepts of public goods [is] decades old…for example, everyone can benefit from fishing grounds, whether they contribute to their maintenance or not. Simply put, public goods have open access.

Open Source projects are public goods: everyone can use Open Source software and someone using an Open Source project doesn’t prevent someone else from using it.”

Great founding organizations keep their community’s technology up to date in a changing world.

The most important public good founding organizations and other governing bodies provide is technological parity with up-and-coming tools. 

Technologies can catch up to the state of the art. In recent years, JavaScript, distrusted for browser incompatibility issues and awkward syntax, received a huge facelift after significant investments by major browser vendors and the TC39 community, culminating in ES5, ES6, ES7, etc. MongoDB was famously mocked in 2010 for not being durable or scalable, only to years later print official “MongoDB is web scale” t-shirts after they had solved these problems. 

Other technologies can fall behind. In the website world, both WordPress and Drupal lack core support for version control and modern front-end tooling. In the infrastructure world, Docker exists and is widely used; however, as a project it has been more or less subsumed by Kubernetes, and today most development happens on Kubernetes rather than the container runtime. 

We believe founding organizations’ responsibility to the community extends to a sort of social contract. Its social contract is fulfilled when technology in the community stays current. Conversely, when a technology begins to fall behind the times, fails to invest in important public goods or keep up with changing development standards, the community should hold the founding organization largely responsible. 

Adequate investment critical to stay ‘cutting edge’
Keeping an open-source tool on the cutting edge doesn’t typically require technological breakthroughs. More often, it requires steady, methodological, persistent engineering work—and lots of it. 

Much of this work, especially in systems with plug-in architectures, can come from the community. Both Drupal and Magento, among others, have done excellent work crediting community contributors and commercial entities for work they’ve done or sponsored. 

But there are almost always key changes — fundamental re-architectures, foundational stability and scalability work — that should be done by a centralized entity. This requires sufficient economic investment from founding organizations to hire enough talented engineers, engineering managers, and product managers to move the work forward.

To invest the requisite amount, a founding organization must be both able and willing to sufficiently invest in its community.

To analyze the level of investment a founding organization makes, we must ask two questions.

Question 1: Is the company effective in creating a sustainable business around the community? 
Founding organizations have a responsibility to build strong businesses in order to sustain continued investment into the community, and must determine the appropriate metrics to do so. 

Question 2: Is the company investing product and engineering resources to open source? 
What’s a good baseline for how much a founding organization should invest in open source? A good comparable here is governments, who almost always spend 15-20+% of GDP on public goods. 

We’re deeply committed to open-source technology and to the community, and wanted to share our experiences fostering sustainability while building one of the most popular open source frameworks on the web. It’s our hope that these ideas can help introduce more structure and rigor to the challenge of open-source sustainability, so we can create a better web for everyone.

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Teller raises $4M to take on Plaid in the U.S. by providing API access to bank accounts

“They’re idiots, they’re really naive,” is how Stevie Graham, the co-founder of fintech Teller, once described Open Banking Limited, the body charged with delivering open banking in the U.K.

His view back in 2017 — which now looks somewhat prophetic — was that open banking wouldn’t be the competition driver it was hyped up to be. Instead, incumbent banks were incapable of change and would act in a malevolent way to stop fintechs from walking through the front door and stealing their lunch.

He, along with co-founder Dan Palmer, had spent several years building an early version of Teller that reverse engineered the APIs used by U.K. banks for their own mobile apps, and offered access to developers that wanted to create apps using banking data. It was billed as a more robust and realtime alternative to either screenscraping or waiting haplessly for PSD2 — the European directive mandating open banking — to eventually come into existence.

But this inevitably meant playing a game of Whac-A-Mole as incumbent U.K. banks tried unsuccessfully to thwart the efforts of Graham and Palmer. It was also never entirely clear who was doing the whacking.

Fast-forward to today, and Graham, who was Twillio’s first European employee, has a different incumbent in his sights. In late 2018, Teller re-incorporated in the U.S. to take on Plaid, the financial services API provider recently acquired by Visa for a chunky $5.3 billion.

The fintech startup also quietly raised $4 million in seed capital from a slew of U.S. investors: Lightspeed Venture Partners, Founders Fund, and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s SciFi. Teller’s U.K. product has since been shut down, and the company launched a U.S. beta of Teller in September.

“The U.S. is a better opportunity for Teller because the market is far larger with more mature, large-scale customers to serve as well as startups being created every day, [and] an incumbent with an unreliable, unpopular product and not much competition,” Graham tells me.

“PSD2 was also a factor in our decision to withdraw from the U.K. Primarily because it made practically every use-case of banking APIs a regulated activity, meaning that it’s no longer possible to quickly build and test a product without first spending thousands of pounds and 3-6 months getting FCA approval. When we checked at the end of 2018 less than 100 entities had been granted approval. We can not build the business we want with a total addressable market of 100 customers”.

On Plaid, Graham is almost as scathing as he was about the major U.K. banks three years ago, even if he chooses his words a little more carefully. Unlike Plaid, Teller’s technology is not built using screenscraping, dubbed a “creaky technique” by the Teller co-founder,  and therefore is “more reliable and performant”.

“We are also better because we have the incentive to really care about our users and mean it. Plaid has rolled up the market by buying Quovo and is now effectively a monopoly. Speaking to users we found a lot of frustrated Plaid customers that didn’t feel as if Plaid was sympathetic when things went wrong. For example their Capital One integration has been down for months. Maybe the Plaid folks genuinely can’t fix it, maybe they don’t have truly enough competition to care. Either way, our Capital One integration works great”.

Suspicious of Visa’s ability to innovate and serve developers as customers, Graham says that if he was a Plaid user he would be concerned about the future quality of the product now that it’s owned by a legacy business “not exactly renowned for … shipping successful developer products”.

The deal is also substantially all-cash, he notes, suggesting that employees may have little incentive to stay.

“The top talent at Plaid has to now be sitting there in the morning thinking ‘do I really want to work at a stodgy public company that has barely 3x’d its stock price in 5 years? This is not what I signed up for’. This is why I fear for the future of Plaid’s product. A lot of their best people will be heading for the door, and we’d love to talk to them,” Graham says unabashedly.

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N26 reaches 5 million customers including 250,000 in the US

Challenger bank N26 has reached 5 million customers. In 2019 alone, N26 managed to add over 2.5 million customers. And the company’s growth rate seems to be accelerating as N26 reached 3.5 million customers in June 2019.

That represents an addition of 1 million customers during the first half of 2019 and an addition of 1.5 million customers during the second half of 2019.

One reason why N26 is growing at a faster pace is that the company is still expanding to new market. N26 has been available all around the Eurozone for a while. People living in the U.K., Denmark, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland can also open an N26 account.

But N26 also expanded to the U.S. during the summer of 2019. It represents a huge market opportunity, even though N26 faces competition from local players, such as Chime.

Over the past five months, N26 has managed to attract 250,000 customers in the U.S. The company operates under a sligthly different model in the U.S. N26 has partnered with Axos Bank, a white-label partner that manages your money, while N26 takes care of all the interactions between customers and their money.

Banking regulation is complicated in the U.S., which makes it difficult to launch a challenger bank across all 50 states without a banking partner.

There are now 1,500 people working for N26 across five offices — Berlin, New York, Barcelona, Vienna and São Paulo. Up next, as you might have guessed with the mention of São Paulo, N26 plans to expand to Brazil.

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Watch SpaceX launch another batch of its Starlink satellites live

SpaceX is launching another group of 60 satellites for its Starlink broadband internet constellation, with a liftoff scheduled for 9:49 AM EST (6:49 AM PST) this morning. Should it be required, there’s a backup launch opportunity set for tomorrow, January 28 at 9:28 AM EST (6:28 AM PST), which it might need to use since weather isn’t looking great at the moment. Already, after SpaceX’s last launch of 60 Starlink satellites earlier in January, the company is now the largest private satellite operator in the world – this is the third batch of 60 ‘production’ Starlink satellites, after an initial 60 launched early last year as a test, meaning SpaceX now has around 240 small satellites in low Earth orbit for its broadband consumer internet project.

Each Starlink satellite is roughly 600 lbs, but they’re essentially flat, allowing SpaceX to load and launch up to 60 per flight aboard one of their Falcon 9 rockets. The satellites each have on-bard propulsion systems and are designed for a controlled de-orbit once they reach the end of their useful life, with SpaceX noting that they’re also designed to leave behind zero debris once they de-orbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX is intent on building out an extensive network of these satellites – eventually launching as many as 10,000 or more – with the goal of blanketing the Earth in affordable, reliable and easy to access broadband internet. Its goal is to offer service to customers in the U.S. and Canada by the end of this year through a series of planned launches of batches of 60 Starlink satellites scheduled through the remainder of 2020.

SpaceX has faced heavy criticism from the scientific community regarding the impact that Starlink will have on the ability to use high-powered telescopes from Earth for observation of space and the stars. SpaceX has said its doing its best to mitigate any potential impact, including testing dark-colored coatings for the sides of the Starlink satellites that face Earth, and sharing its schedule for orbital positions of Starlink to provide researchers with the best times to direct their equipment for an unobstructed view. So far, that doesn’t seem to have allayed everyone’s concerns.

Starlink’s network could connect regions and customers that previously had poor or non-existent internet connectivity, however, and for SpaceX, it’s an opportunity to build out another pillar of revenue in addition to launch services that could support founder Elon Musk’s long-term goals of reaching and colonizing Mars. Musk has said that his only reason for acquiring personal wealth is to fund this ambitious vision, and once operational and available to subscribers globally, Starlink could be a key element of that funding.

Today’s launch also includes a recovering attempt of both the Falcon 9 first stage (which has flown twice previously already) and the two fairing halves used to protect the cargo. The fairing recovery is a more recent and less proven part of SpaceX’s launch strategy, and involves catching the two large shells using ships at sea. There’s one boat for each half, named “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief” respectively. SpaceX has been attempting recoveries for a few launches now, and has succeeded in catching one half of the fairing only once previously. If it can manage to recoup these reliably, it could save up to $6 million per launch – and Musk recently revealed this could eventually lead to a similar recovery system for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule with astronauts on board.

The webcast above should start around 15 minutes prior to the planned liftoff time, so at around 9:34 AM EST (6:34 AM PST).

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Indian B2B packaging marketplace Bizongo raises $30M

Bizongo, one of the largest business-to-business online marketplaces for packaging needs in India, has raised $30 million in fresh funding round as it looks to widen its footprint in the nation and serve more categories.

The new financing round, Series C, was led by Switzerland-based hedge fund Schroder Adveq, which manages assets worth $10 billion. Existing investors B Capital, Accel, Chiratae Ventures, and IFC also participated in the round, the startup said.

Mumbai-based Bizongo has raised about $56 million to date. It was valued at about $96 million in its Series B financing round in 2018, according to an analysis of its regulatory filings.

The five-year-old startup serves as a marketplace for businesses to identify, buy, and sell material packing solutions across industries. It also offers packing design, development, and procurement solutions.

Sachin Agarwal, chief operating officer and co-founder of Bizongo, said the startup offers a unique value proposition of promising a “100% availability of packaging material and no-stock-outs at very low inventory.”

“This helps clients to reduce their packaging material procurement cost by 2-5% and at the same time ensures better production planning for our supply partners. This creates a strong value proposition for all stakeholders across the value chain,” he said in a statement.

Bizongo did not reveal how many customers it has, but said they span across some of the nation’s leading e-commerce, retail, FMCG, FMCD industries. On its website, it claims it works with over 750 manufacturers in India, and has delivered 290 million packaging units to date. It also claims to have served over 350 brands.

In a statement, Aniket Deb, chief executive and co-founder of Bizongo, said the startup has witnessed a “significant improvement in operating metrics since the last round of financing and the current round will further help us grow the business in a sustainable way.”

The fresh fund will be deployed to ramp up technology infrastructure and to expand to newer sectors such as pharma packaging. Deb said the startup also plans to work on expanding its presence in the country.

“We believe in the vision of the founders who are transforming and digitising the highly fragmented B2B packaging marketplace by leveraging technology and a unique supply chain efficiency solution. Bizongo has demonstrated strong momentum by continuing to add marquee clients and we have been impressed with the company’s rapid growth trajectory over the past year,” said Kabir Narang, General Partner at B Capital Group, in a statement.

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LA tech industry mourns Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles startup community is joining the rest of the world in mourning the death of NBA superstar, entrepreneur and investor Kobe Bryant who was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Reports indicate that Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, and seven other passengers were on board a helicopter traveling to Bryant’s basketball training facility Mamba Academy. There were no survivors.

The 41 year-old NBA All-Star, Olympic medalist, Oscar winner and father of four was most famous for his achievements on the basketball court, but had established himself as an entrepreneur and investor whose reach extended far beyond the Los Angeles area that he called home.

“Kobe was loved in Los Angeles,” wrote Mark Suster, managing partner of the Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Upfront Ventures, in a private message to TechCrunch. “He not only played at the peak of his sport but everything he did was quality from film, to books to philanthropy. It’s truly a sad day in LA.”

Bryant launched his venture career with partner and serial entrepreneur Jeff Stibel back in 2013, according to Crunchbase. The pair made a mix of early- and late-stage investments in Los Angeles-based companies like LegalZoom, Scopely, Art of Sport, The Honest Company, RingDNA, FocusMotion, DyshApp and Represent.

Last year, the investment firm expanded with a $1.7 billion investment vehicle that was launched in partnership with the private equity fund, Permira, according to a report in USA Today.

“We are mourning this terrible loss and still searching for the words,” wrote Mattias Metternich, co-founder of Bryant’s grooming startup, Art of Sport, in an email. “As a founding partner to [Art of Sport] he was woven into the very fabric of our company and its vision and DNA. As a mentor we drew on his wisdom, passion and drive everyday… In the short term our thoughts and hearts are with him, Gianna and his surviving family.”

Jessica Alba, the co-founder of The Honest Company, took to Twitter earlier in the day to share her own reaction to the news. And Scopely’s official Twitter account shared a reaction, as well.

During his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, the MVP and 18-time All-Star set records and helped architect runs to five national championships. Together with Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant helped make the Lakers the dominant team in the NBA in the early 2000s.

“Kobe was the rare combination of God-given talent on-and-off the court with a competitive athlete mindset that was unrivaled to the point it was called the ‘mamba mentality’. Whatever he put his focus turned into excellence, whether it was an NBA championship, an Oscar, entering the VC game or — most importantly — fatherhood,” wrote Upfront Ventures general partner Kobie Fuller. “This loss is shocking and puts into perspective how precious our moments on this earth really are. My heart goes out to the Bryant family during this incredibly difficult time.”

While Bryant’s sports career was storied, and his post-sports career in media and investing successful, his legacy is complicated by a sexual assault allegation in 2003, which was later settled and for which Bryant apologized, but did not admit guilt.

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Currencycloud nabs $80M from Visa, World Bank Group and more for cross-border payment APIs

Sending money from one country to another — either because you are a business paying someone for a service, or a family member working abroad and sending money back home, or something in between — is a huge business, worth some $700 million annually. Today, a London startup called Currencycloud, which has built a set of remittance APIs that let any financial business integrate money transfer services into its platform, is announcing that it has raised $80 million to tap into that opportunity, and to help take on the Western Unions of the world.

To date, over $50 billion has been transferred between some 180 countries using Currencycloud’s 85 APIs, which cover areas like inbound money collection (helping clients get paid), foreign exchange, outgoing payments, and digital wallet services managing multiple currencies and more.

Mike Laven, Currencycloud’s American CEO and founder, tells TechCrunch that the company has some 350 companies using its APIs as of the end of 2019, and it employs 230 people, but you are almost certainly never going to see it, even if you’ve used it.

“No one is doing what we’re doing in terms of the model we have,” Laven said, referring to what he describes as an “embedded model” where transfer is seamlessly embedded into its customers’ platform and workflow. “I’m not competing with our customers. My brand is invisible. We think we’re still the only one that has that kind of solution.”

This round, a Series E, has a number of heavy hitters among the startup’s new strategic investors. They include Visa, the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, French bank BNP Paribas, the SBI Group (the Japanese giant that was once a part, but now independent, of SoftBank) and Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank. With that, Laven said that Asia will be a big focus for Currencycloud in the year ahead, with a new office in Singapore to tap into providing money-transfer APIs to businesses in the region.

At least one of its newest investors, Visa, is also integrating Currencycloud’s services into its own. Existing investors Sapphire Ventures, Notion Capital, GV (formerly known as Google Ventures, which led its Series D), Accomplice, and Anthemis are also participating.

As for the valuation, Laven said it was not being disclosed but he confirmed that the pre-money amount was higher than when it previously raised.

For some context, we first reported the news that Currencycloud was raising last summer, and at the time, when it had closed about $40 million of the funding, PitchBook estimated the pre-money valuation at $114 million and post-money at $184 million. That would imply that this Series E puts the London-based startup’s valuation at around $220 million (and took somewhat longer to close than originally planned). To date, Currencycloud has raised $140 million.

The startup has been around since 2012 and was early to identify the opportunity in the money-transfer market.

The trend of globalisation in the world economy has led to a sharp rise in the pace of remittances, helped by the expansion of the internet and smartphone usage — which has spelled opportunity for companies leveraging the latter to enter the market. And in terms of the companies providing money-transfer services, while there are some notable legacy names like Western Union and Moneygram, by and large it’s a fragmented market — leaving an opportunity for many more hopefuls to get involved.

But on top of all that, the system is largely expensive and inefficient — meaning there was a lucrative opportunity for a company to come along and provide an easy way to plug into the rails — say, by way of APIs — to build these services (not unlike what companies like Adyen or Stripe have done for e-commerce payments).

All roads, effectively, led to Currencycloud, and it’s seen business expand. To date, Currencycloud says that it has processed more than $50 billion in cross-border payments, with the proliferation of so-called neobanks (or challenger banks, going head-to-head with traditional institutions in the business of deposits and lending using all-digital, mobile-first platforms) helping it along. Customers include Monzo, Moneze, Starling, Revolut and Dwolla — alongside the likes of bigger players like Visa now also getting involved.

“I’m delighted to be joining the board of such an exciting technology company,” added Colleen Ostrowski, SVP and Treasurer at Visa, in a statement. “Currencycloud is re-shaping the way that the platforms of the future are moving money around the world, and there is huge potential for the company to drive further innovation in the cross-border payments industry.” 

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Technology is anthropology

The interesting thing about the technology business is that, most of the time, it’s not the technology that matters. What matters is how people react to it, and what new social norms they form. This is especially true in today’s era, well past the midpoint of the deployment age of smartphones and the Internet.

People — smart, thoughtful people, with relevant backgrounds and domain knowledge — thought that Airbnb and Uber were doomed to failure, because obviously no one would want to stay in a stranger’s home or ride in a stranger’s car. People thought the iPhone would flop because users would “detest the touch screen interface.” People thought enterprise software-as-a-service would never fly because executives would insist on keeping servers in-house at all costs.

Thees people were so, so, so wrong; but note that they weren’t wrong about the technology. (Nobody really argued about the technology.) Instead they were dead wrong about other people, and how their own society and culture would respond to this new stimulus. they were anthropologically incorrect.

This, of course, is why every major VC firm, and every large tech company, keeps a crack team of elite anthropologists on call at all times, with big budgets and carte blanche, reporting directly to the leadership team, right? (Looks around.) Oh. Instead they’re doing focus groups and user interviews, asking people in deeply artificial settings to project their usage of an alien technology in an unknown context, and calling that their anthropological, I’m sorry, their market research? Oh.

I kid, I kid. Sort of, at least, in that I’m not sure a crack team of elite anthropologists would be all that much more effective. It’s hard enough getting an accurate answer of how a person would use a new technology when that’s the only variable. When they live in a constantly shifting and evolving world of other new technologies, when the ones which take root and spread have a positive-feedback-loop effect on the culture and mindset towards new technologies, and when every one of your first twenty interactions with new tech changes your feelings about it … it’s basically impossible.

And so: painful trial and error, on all sides. Uber and Lyft didn’t think people would happily ride in strangers’ cars either; that’s why Uber started as what is now Uber Black, basically a phone-summoned limo service, and Lyft used to have that painfully cringeworthy “ride in the front seat, fist-bump your driver” policy. Those are the success stories. The graveyard of companies whose anthropological guesses were too wrong to pivot to rightness, or who couldn’t / wouldn’t do so fast enough, is full to bursting with tombstones.

That’s why VCs and Y Combinator have been much more secure businesses than startups; they get to run dozens or hundreds of anthropological experiments in parallel, while startups get to run one, maybe two, three if they’re really fast and flexible, and then they die.

This applies to enterprise businesses too, of course. Zoom was anthropological bet that corporate cultures could make video conferencing big and successful if it actually worked reliably. It’s easy to imagine the mood among CEOs instead being “we need in-person meetings to encourage those Moments of Serendipity,” which you’ll notice is the same argument that biased so many big companies against remote work and in favor of huge corporate campuses … an attitude which looks quaint, old-fashioned, and outmoded, now.

This doesn’t just apply to the deployment phase of technologies. The irruption phase has its own anthropology. But irruption affects smaller sectors of the economy, whose participants are mostly technologists themselves, so it’s more anthropologically reasonable for techies to extrapolate from their own views and project how that society will change.

The meta-anthropological theory held by many is that what the highly technical do today, the less technical will do tomorrow. That’s a belief held throughout the tiny, wildly non-representative cryptocurrency community, for instance. But even if it was true once, is it still? Or is a shift away from that pattern that another, larger social change? I don’t know, but I can tell you how we’re going to find out: painful trial and error.

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