Aug 20, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Welcome back! Thanks to my Axios tech colleagues for holding down the fort while I was gone. I assume all was quiet, Twitter stayed clear of controversy and Elon Musk was calmly focused on improving Tesla's manufacturing operation.

1 big thing: Sports stars dive into tech investing

Andre Iguodala speaking at the Players Technology Summit in San Francisco. Photo: Gene X Hwang/Orange Photography

There's no question that technology is transforming professional sports, but less obvious are the ways in which star athletes are changing the tech industry through their involvement and dollars.

The bottom line: Sports players have a big pull and can bring more than dollars when they back a company. And both athletes and startups are finding new ways to take advantage of such star power.

What's happening: A number of athlete-investors gathered in San Francisco last week for Bloomberg's Players Technology Summit, rubbing elbows with VCs and startup executives.

  • The crowd at the daylong event was more racially diverse — and a lot taller — than your typical tech conference. However, the topics were familiar ones, including how to invest in the right startups, making sense of cryptocurrencies, and the opportunities and pitfalls of social media.

Who was there: NBA athletes were far more prevalent than those from other sports, but also on hand were Joe Montana and son Nate, along with pro volleyball legend Kerri Walsh Jennings.

  • While many of the moderators were Bloomberg journalists, also taking a turn as interviewer was Golden State Warriors star Andre Iguodala, who's a prolific tech investor in addition to three-time NBA champ.

Be smart: Interviewed by Iguodala, Andreessen Horowitz partner Jeff Jordan told the athletes to start small as they are learning the ins and outs.

"Early on, only invest money you can stand to lose," Jordan said.
”Say that again," Iguodala said, wanting to make sure the crowd had caught the point.

Iguodala shared his own ups and downs as an investor, in an interview with Axios.

  • Highlight: Pulling out his iPhone, Iguodala pulls up info on Trumid, a fintech startup that focuses on bond trading. "That's one of my favorite ones," he said. "It wasn’t crazy sexy that people would have jumped on, but something I understood."
  • Lowlight: Investing in a gas delivery service seemed like a good idea, Iguodala said, noting how much he hates waiting at the pump. But the entrenched players turned out to wield a significant home court advantage.

Celtics guard/forward Jaylen Brown also shared his advice. Brown, who attended Cal, has more financial industry experience than most NBA players, having spent a summer interning at Base Ventures in Berkeley.

  • The biggest thing Brown learned: "You don't get paid for ideas. You get paid for execution," he told Axios.
  • Brown said his main objective is trying to win a championship and make the most of his basketball playing days. At the same time, he wants to use the opportunities he has now to "build a brand and also, you know, build a paper trail, so when I do step back from the game, it's not like I've got to start over from the start."

Iguodala had similar advice for the younger players:

"You've got to grow up really fast, and you know, you've got to cut out the Fortnite. You've got to cut out the — the hour you might spend on social media just browsing and, you know, you've got to make the most of your time, because before you know it, it's all over."

Correction: An earlier version of the story said Jaylen Brown graduated from Cal. He played for Cal in 2015, but joined the NBA after his freshman season.

2. College chat app pulls a page from Facebook

Photo: Islands

Islands, a chat app for college students that's growing in popularity, is rolling out a new version that adds a student directory to the service. If that sounds familiar, it is. It's exactly where Facebook started, nearly 15 years ago.

“All that’s new is old, and people still wanna learn about what’s going on around them," Islands' founder Greg Isenberg tells my colleague Kia Kokalitcheva.

Why it matters: Teens’ social media preferences have changed since then in major ways, such as a preference for ephemerality (Snapchat) over permanence (Facebook). But some social-media needs transcend generations, as Islands’ makers discovered, and chat apps could end up building new Facebooks for their Facebook-averse users.

What’s next: In 2019, the company hopes to begin generating revenue, which will include a combination of advertising and other forms. The startup will likely also raise more funding next year, as it’s been subsisting on the $1.85 million it raised in 2016 from Greylock Capital, TechStars Ventures, Advancit Capital (Shari Redstone’s fund), Scott Belsky, and others.

Go deeper: Kia has more here.

3. Americans less worried about online security
Expand chart
Reproduced from National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans are actually less concerned about online security and privacy risks than they were in 2015, according to new Census Bureau data released today by the technology policy arm of the Commerce Department, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: These findings are surprising in light of the constant news of security breaches and privacy scandals, and suggest that consumers are becoming numb to the growing threats to their personal data.

By the numbers: The proportion of online households reporting privacy and security concerns fell from 84% in 2015 to 73% in the fall of 2017, according to the analysis.

  • And just 33% in 2017 said privacy concerns stopped them from doing certain online activities, like posting on social media or making purchases online — down from 45% in 2015.

Our thought bubble: The drops in consumers' concerns shouldn't obscure the fact that consumers are, overall, still aware of the risks posed by participating in the digital universe.

Go deeper: Kim has more here.

4. A push for batteries to eliminate "blood cobalt"

In Kawama, DRC, a miner prepares to descend. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post/Getty Images

My Axios colleague Steve LeVine has a look at how the U.S. government is funding a push to reinvent lithium-ion batteries so they contain little or no cobalt, an increasingly expensive metal found largely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where activists say workers often toil in inhumane conditions.

The big picture: Cobalt — contained in virtually every commercial lithium-ion battery on the planet — has unusual energy density and the ability to stabilize volatile electrochemistry. But its price has swung wildly given booming demand for electric cars in China, from Tesla, and elsewhere — in addition to electronic devices like smartphones.

  • By seeking to eliminate or seriously reduce the metal's use in batteries, the Department of Energy, along with several startups, may complicate what has been one of the primary quests of the last decade: to create a safer, cheaper battery that lasts much longer than current technology.
  • In a June speech in Washington, D.C., Peter Faguy, a senior manager in the battery research effort at DOE, used the term "blood cobalt" to describe the metal, suggesting that removing it from lithium-ion batteries is a moral issue.

What's going on: The DOE is funding three-year research efforts at Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national labs.

Go deeper: Steve has more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Y Combinator's summer Demo Day event takes place today through Wednesday in Mountain View.

Trading Places

  • BitTorrent founder Bram Cohen has left that company's board, following its sale to Tron, a blockchain startup. (The Verge)


  • A federal judge told a man accused of hacking into Electronic Arts to put up bitcoin or another cryptocurrency for bail. (Daily Post)
  • New trend: People are buying clothes, taking Instagram pics in the outfit, and then returning them. (Quartzy)
  • QR codes are widely used in China as a way to quickly share digital links in the physical world. In the U.S., not so much. But that's not stopping the Parkland student-led March for Our Lives group from using them as a way to register voters. (Axios)
  • Chip designer Arm introduced its next-generation architecture, which it hopes will further its longstanding quest to break into the PC market. (CNET)
  • Phonemaker OnePlus has its first deal with a U.S. carrier and plans to sell the OnePlus 6T through T-Mobile. (CNET)
6. After you Login

As someone with major astigmatism and severe near-sightedness, I love this (accurate) series of paintings on what life looks like to those with poor vision.

Ina Fried