THE “DOOMSDAY PLANE” weighs 800,000 pounds when fully loaded and can withstand the effects of a nuclear bomb or asteroid blast while remaining aloft for 12 hours without refueling. First deployed in 1974, the Boeing E-4B has been the preferred mode of long-range transportation for US secretaries of defense ever since. But when Ashton Carter’s staff discovered the behemoth would literally crush the runway in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he planned to attend the annual gathering of tech elite at the Allen & Co. conference, the SecDef nimbly switched to a sleek Gulfstream V. He jetted in with just a few aides, his wife (the conference is something of a family affair), an overnight bag weighing less than 10 pounds—and the message that the US military has a new spirit of agile entrepreneurialism.
Sequoia Capital has funneled millions of dollars to scores of well-connected entrepreneurs and academics, who invest and look for ideas
Startup investor Jason Calacanis took a $25,000 gamble five years ago on a company almost no one had heard of called UberCab. That investment in what is now Uber Technologies Inc. has ballooned to roughly $110 million.
Mr. Calacanis has never said publicly where the money came from: Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture-capital firms. Since 2009, Sequoia has funneled millions of dollars to scores of well-connected entrepreneurs, academics and other people known as scouts.
Scouts invest the money in startups and keep their eyes and ears open for ideas that Sequoia might like. Mr. Calacanis introduced Thumbtack Inc.’s founder to a partner at Sequoia, which bought a stake in the local-services website that has since surged 50-fold, research firm VCExperts estimates.
Thumbtack’s founders now steer tips to Sequoia, too. “Sequoia had been great to us, so we were happy to send other high-quality entrepreneurs their way,” says Marco Zappacosta, chief executive of Thumbtack. He has made a few startup investments of his own using Sequoia’s money.
The secretive ecosystem of cash and connections is an unusually powerful example of how venture-capital firms try to gain an edge in the never-ending hunt for the next blockbuster. That search has gotten trickier now that some startups with sky-high valuations are hitting turbulence.
Most of Sequoia’s scouts are entrepreneurs whose startups were funded by the firm. That means they know a lot about what Sequoia is looking for and will recommend the firm to other entrepreneurs.
Forging tight relationships that generate new deals for venture-capital firms is more important than ever as the cost of creating startups falls. The resulting acceleration in company launches has made it harder for venture-capital firms to identify the best opportunities as startups emerge. And competition is growing as new investors who are flush with capital invade the technology world.
Sequoia has been a mainstay of the venture-capital establishment for decades. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., on Sand Hill Road, the Main Street of Silicon Valley’s venture-capital industry, Sequoia made early bets on many of today’s tech titans, including Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.
It was the only venture firm that backed messaging company WhatsApp, sold to Facebook Inc. last year for $22 billion. Sequoia invested about $60 million for a stake valued at $3.5 billion in the deal. Sequoia now owns stakes in 33 private,venture-capital-backed companies valued at more than $1 billion apiece, more than any other venture-capital firm.
Silicon Valley is all about using tech to come up with solutions to gnarly problems. Yet the ugly reality of online harassment has remained intractable. The Internet, which has so amplified the voices of women, minorities, and LGBT folk, is still very much a free-fire zone for those who would shame, silence, or abuse them. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that 25 percent of 18- to 24-year-old women have been the target of online sexual harassment. Last year the issue erupted in the mainstream media with Gamergate. The online movement targeted a female game developer, making accusations about her sexual life and publishing her address and phone number, prompting her to move out of her home. In September, WIRED convened a roundtable of people deeply involved in the issue to discuss what it would take to produce lasting change.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and space constraints.
wired: Defining harassment can be really complicated. Del, you’ve said before that’s a challenge for you and Twitter.
Under pressure from regulators, laboratory firm Theranos Inc. has stopped collecting tiny vials of blood drawn from finger pricks for all but one of its tests, according to a person familiar with the matter, backing away from a method the company has touted as it rose to become one of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups.
The move is a setback to the Palo Alto, Calif., company’s ambition to revolutionize the blood-testing industry. As a result of the halt, Theranos is operating more like a traditional lab that draws blood with needles from patients’ arms. Theranos is valued at $9 billion, or about as much as each of the industry’s two largest companies in the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration inspectors recently showed up unannounced at Theranos, the person familiar with the matter said. The inspection was triggered by concerns the agency had about data Theranos had voluntarily submitted to the FDA in an effort to win approval for its proprietary testing methods, this person said.
He “just gets into rooms, and people listen.”
In May 2014, the Reverend Jesse Jackson traveled from his home in Chicago to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, to address the search giant’s annual shareholder meeting. Technology isn’t what you would call a core area for the 73-year-old civil rights leader, who carries an old-school flip phone and oversees a website, Rainbowpush.org, that looks like a relic from the GeoCities era. But Jackson had a bone to pick. Despite Google’s mission to make the world’s data “universally accessible and useful,” it had been fighting for yearsto stop the release of federal data on diversity in its workforce. “There should be nothing to hide, and much to be proud of and promote,” Jackson told the company’s executives after politely requesting its diversity stats. “I ask you, in the name of all you represent, to pursue this mission.”
David Drummond, the company’s only black high-level executive, sized up Jackson, who stood out amid the mostly white crowd. “Many of the companies in the Valley have been reluctant to divulge that data, including Google,” he responded. “And quite frankly, I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re wrong about that.”
The exchange was the public culmination of some behind-the-scenes arm wrestling that was vintage Jesse Jackson. Drummond, 52, was an old friend of the reverend who had volunteered for his 1988 presidential campaign and helped launch Jackson’s first tech initiative, the Silicon Valley Project, 11 years later. The two men had met quietly a month or so earlier at Google HQ, and again around the time of the shareholder meeting. Drummond knew Jackson would ask for the stats, and Jackson knew Drummond would agree to release them. Two weeks later, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, did just that. “Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity,” he said, upon revealing that the company’s overall workforce was only 30 percent female, 3 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent black.
Rather than simply criticize Google’s abysmal numbers, Jackson issued a statement calling for other companies to “follow Google’s lead” and release their data too. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple did so a few months after, and it wasn’t pretty: In most cases, less than 10 percent of the companies’ overall employees were black or Latino, compared with 27 percent in the American workforce as a whole. This chart reflects the broader tech sector:
Much easier to fly than not only the previous models, but competitors too. Produces higher quality, more stable videos. Improved controller makes it easier to fly and to shoot images.
Indoor flight is still difficult. Camera gimbal doesn’t swivel, and the camera still isn’t removable.
DJI’s drones weren’t the first ones to start buzzing around overhead. But as the popularity of remote-controlled quadcopters has continued to grow among consumers, DJI’s Phantom series of drones appears to be on its way to ruling the skies. Chat with a drone pilot at your local park—chances are, they’re flying a Phantom.
There’s good reason for their popularity. Phantoms are relatively cheap, they’re simple to operate, and the cameras that come attached to their bellies produce great images and videos.
The recently launched Phantom 3, the latest model, extends all of these strengths. The Phantom 3 doesn’t look much different than its predecessor, the Phantom 2. But while outward appearances may be the same, and the specs bump on paper doesn’t look huge, make no mistake, this is not a minor update. It’s evidence that the flying drone is truly ready for the mainstream.
There are two versions available: The Phantom 3 Professional, which can do 4K video, and the Phantom 3 Advanced, which only offers 1080p video, but is otherwise the same. I tested the 4K “Professional” model, but aside from the comments about video quality, everything below applies to the Advanced as well.
The Phantom 3 Professional captures 4K video at either 23, 24 or 30 frames per second, which eliminates the advantage of using a GoPro in most cases. There are also a few new tricks in the camera, like streaming 720p video direct to YouTube, which could have a huge impact on how journalists cover events and breaking news. The camera also no longer uses a fisheye lens, which means that live streaming video will actually require less editing. Did I mention the range has been improved? Those journalists (or rescue workers) can now be over a mile from the scene and still flying comfortably.
The Phantom 3 is also much quicker to get set up and in the air. The lightbridge, a piece of hardware that lets the drone communicate with and send video to your devices, renders the tedious task of connecting the device to Wi-Fi obsolete. You do still have to calibrate the drone’s compass, but once that’s done you’re good to go.
Those updates and some of the other small things–especially the lightbridge—are all welcome, but none of them hold a candle to the real reason the Phantom 3 blows earlier models out of the water: improved flight stabilization.
While drones are fun to fly on their own, let’s face it, they’re really flying cameras. And nothing kills that perfect swooping beach video like some jittery, jerky, nausea-inducing footage as the drone pilot struggles with the controls. Just search YouTube for copious examples. The jitteriness is understandable—as anyone who’s piloted a Phantom can attest, flying drones requires a lot of practice before you get good.
In its first season, HBO’s comedy Silicon Valley sometimes felt a little formless. It was a tech satire that necessarily lagged behind the world it was parodying; not even the fastest TV production schedules can keep up with an industry that seems to move at light speed.
The show was frequently very funny, but more as an unintentional sketch comedy — with individual scenes that stood out within larger episodes — than as a traditional sitcom. Yet the season one finale featured the show’s characters, perpetual underdogs, finally managing a big win, and that win provided just enough momentum heading into season two for Silicon Valley to turn the corner and become one of TV’s most reliably funny comedies — and most skillfully plotted shows.
Here are just a few of the ways Silicon Valley became as deftly written as any serialized drama in season two.
It’s so, so good at burying the foreshadowing
The season finale — which airs Sunday, June 14 — is positively packed with scenes that play off of moments from earlier in the season. But in almost every case, viewers won’t realize that those earlier moments were laying track for what was to come.
For instance, consider the livestream of a condor egg that the team set up to show off the streaming capabilities of their Pied Piper app a few weeks ago. When they first turned it on, it was seen as a crushing disappointment, as they couldn’t close a deal for a far more exciting, death-defying stunt’s livestream, which was poached by a competitor. In the finale, however, the stream of the condor egg proves to be an integral part of the characters’ greatest victory.
Too many TV shows draw so much attention to signaling what’s ahead that the audience can predict almost everything that’s going to happen. In Silicon Valley‘s best episodes, it feels almost like an exercise in sleight of hand; plot developments masquerade as punchlines to other jokes, so the audience is tempted to overlook them. That condor egg was so thoroughly established as a complete disappointment that I had almost even forgotten it existed — until it came up again.
It’s great at balancing setbacks with payoffs