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
The White House is finally standing up to Google, but at perhaps the exact wrong time.
The Department of Justice filed a brief Wednesday recommending that the US Supreme Court reject Google’s appeal in Oracle’s lawsuit against the company over its use of elements of the Java programming language. This doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court won’t hear the case. But the White House’s opposition does cast doubt on whether it will wind up on the docket.
Much has been made of Google’s close ties to the White House. Earlier this year the Wall Street Journal examined Google’s cozy relationship with regulators during the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust investigation into the company, which was settled in 2012. And advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has been calling foul for years. Both point out that Google spends an enormous amount money on lobbying, outspending competitors and similarly sized companies in other industries, and enjoys extensive access to political leaders.
But while a break with Google on other major issues, such as privacy law, might be a welcome sign of independence, this recommendation may not be in the public’s interest.
Fundamental Building Blocks
Oracle sued Google in 2010 for copying parts of the Java programming language called a “application programming interfaces,” or APIS. You can think of an API as a set of terms and commands that programmers use to tell a computer what to do. Google created its own code for actually executing those commands, but by copying Oracle’s APIs, Google made it easier for developers who already knew Java to write Android apps. Google admitted that it copied the APIs, but claimed that the APIs shouldn’t be subject to copyright, since they’re the fundamental building blocks of new programming languages, operating systems, and other technologies.
A court decision finding that APIs are copyrightable could make it much harder for software companies to create cross-compatible products, such as cloud services that can interact with Amazon’s cloud APIs, or development platforms that don’t require developers to learn an entirely new programming language. It could also embroil countless companies in lawsuits, since a huge number of products, especially open source software, depend on APIs created by other companies or individual developers. For example, UNIX-like operating systems such as Oracle Linux and Oracle Solaris depend on APIs developed originally at AT&T and subsequently by a whole host of outside contributors. The Java programming language was itself inspired by existing programming languages such as C. It’s impossible to predict how future lawsuits over APIs would shake out.
More than 20 years ago, AT&T ran a series of ads depicting the miraculous things information technology would allow us to do in the future.
“Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?” the first ad asks. “Crossed the country without stopping for directions? Or sent someone a fax from the beach? You will. And the company that will bring it to you is AT&T.”
Obviously, the future hasn’t turned out exactly as AT&T anticipated — most of us avoid sending a fax whenever we can. But the basic technologies AT&T is describing here — e-books, turn-by-turn directions, sending documents via mobile devices — are all commonplace. So, too, are many of the futuristic capabilities depicted in other ads in the campaign: video conferencing, electronic tollbooths, electronic ticket-buying kiosks, on-demand videos. Indeed, many of today’s technologies are better than the clunky versions depicted in these ads — we make video calls from smartphones, not phone booths.
Others, including smartwatches, MOOCs, and the internet of things, are just taking off now. Most of the remaining technologies — electronic medical records, wireless supermarket checkouts, efficient driver’s license renewals, telemedicine — are technologically feasible but have been thwarted by logistical or bureaucratic obstacles. (Real-time voice translation and useful virtual assistants are the two technologies that are still clearly in the future.)
Overall, the ads were remarkably accurate in predicting the cutting-edge technologies of the coming decades. But the ads were mostly wrong about one thing: the company that brought these technologies to the world was notAT&T. At least not on its own. AT&T does provide some of the infrastructure on which the world’s communications flow. But the gadgets and software that brought these futuristic capabilities to consumers were created by a new generation of Silicon Valley companies that mostly didn’t exist when these ads were made.
Last week we reported that some day care facilities associated with Silicon Valley technology companies had vaccination rates below “herd immunity,” the level that confers safety on a population. According to data provided by the California Department of Public Health, six facilities associated with Google, IBM, Cisco, and Pixar fell below both the state average and what health care professionals recommend to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
We have some further calibration of those numbers. The California DPH reported that a facility in San Jose run for IBM by the day care provider chain Bright Horizons had an immunization rate of 73 percent overall, with 89 percent of children having received the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, or MMR. But a spokesperson for Bright Horizons, Julie Kane, says this data is inaccurate. According to the company’s records, the San Jose facility has 105 kids enrolled, says Kane, including 12 infants who are too young to receive the MMR, which is first administered to children between the ages of 12 and 15 months. The vaccination rate for children eligible for the MMR at that facility, Kane says, is 100 percent. The state’s data only counts children ages 2 and up, so a large population of infants ineligible for the MMR shouldn’t result in low vaccination rates.
Kane says she isn’t sure why there’s a discrepancy between Bright Horizons’ figures and the ones available from the California DPH, which collects the data annually, most recently in November 2014. “Records of immunizations that are given after the facilities submit these reports are not reflected in the data,” says a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health. “Facilities collect information on all entrants in the months leading up to annual reporting in the fall. Facilities are required to follow-up on the missing immunizations of conditional entrants throughout the year. We do not know the circumstances at individual facilities.” (Conditional entrants are children who are due for vaccines and lack the personal belief exemption or permanent medical exemption that permit them to opt-out.) As for the missing vaccines, the DPH says: “Children catching up on their immunizations who are conditional entrants are supposed to receive vaccines during the school year (after the reporting deadline).” If that happens, we’d expect to see that reflected in the data published at the end of 2015.
In the year 2013-2014, the California DPH reported that Bright Horizons facility had an 83 percent vaccination rate, with 88 percent of children having received the MMR. The prior year, 2012-2013, the vaccination rate was 68 percent, with 84 percent for the MMR.
You can play with this data on your own, by the way. The startup NurtureList, which aims to connect parents with licensed childcare facilities, has made the California’s DPH measles data searchable on its website. And The Wall Street Journal has a great visualization of the incredible impact vaccines have had on infectious diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that in 2012, 122,000 people died from measles worldwide.
In 2014 the US had 644 cases of the measles, the most since the Centers for Disease Control declared the disease eliminated in 2000. Falling vaccination rates have likely contributed to the disease’s return. In 2001 98 percent of children attending California childcares had received the MMR; today, 95.7 percent have.