Mikey Tom September 14, 2016
PitchBook senior financial writer Mikey Tom (@mikeytom) was at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference this week in San Francisco. Here are some hot topics from the third and final day:
Regulations and how startups deal with them has been brought to the forefront of the tech industry, with Uber’s battle with the state of New York and Airbnb’s complicated relationship with the city of San Francisco highlighting the need for startups to consider how their businesses interact with current norms and laws. And while Uber and Airbnb found success building first and asking questions later, it’s probably smarter to get ahead of these potential issues early on.
This was a running theme throughout one of the morning's panels, which featured three VCs who have experience dealing with regulators. Hemant Taneja of General Catalyst pointed out that as software continues to eat the world, entrepreneurs will move to reinvent regulated industries. We’ve seen that recently with the proliferation of companies in the edtech and healthtech sectors, both of which are rife with regulatory hurdles to jump and existing organizations that will need to be partnered with. Taneja also argued that startups need to make sure policy is part of their original MVP so that that type of thinking is engrained in the company culture from the beginning.
Advice to would-be founders: Take time to fully understand the regulatory landscape for your company and the goals of existing players. Think about how to frame what your startup is trying to accomplish so that it aligns with what regulators are already working toward.
A full video of the panel can be viewed here.
Even before the third day of the conference started, the air was abuzz with hype for autonomous vehicles. This was partially fueled by many Day 2’s talks centered on the tech, but also because Wednesday morning saw seemingly every tech news outlet publish a story about their experience riding in one of Uber’s self-driving cars.
Fittingly, the day opened with a fireside chat with Kyle Vogt, the CEO of autonomous vehicle tech developer Cruise. GM acquired the company earlier this year for roughly $1 billion, marking one of the larger moves an older automaker has made into the space.
With the barrage of Uber press in everyone’s minds, Vogt proceeded to bring the audience down to earth a bit. He contended that although there has been an impressive amount of progress in the field, the state of the technology is not as far along as some may be led to believe. There's a large distinction between a fully autonomous vehicle with no need for human interaction and a “fancy cruise control system,” as he put it.
He also emphasized that a lot of the benefits will only be available once there are almost entirely fully autonomous cars on the road, which may take a while.
That said, the hype isn’t all bad. Vogt has noticed many new startups enter the space, as well as many new college grads looking to join the field, both of which will contribute to bringing the technology to market faster. The attention of VCs has also been captured, probably fueled in part by the string of recent exits in the space.
No doubt it's an exciting time for autonomous vehicles, but let's be sure to be keep our feet on the ground.
The day ended with Connie Loizos interviewing Shervin Pishevar, a well-known venture capitalist who also is a co-founder and executive chairman at Hyperloop One. The company has been in the spotlight recently after one of its co-founders filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, wrongful termination, infliction of emotional distress and assault. WIRED did a great write-up on the suit, along with the story leading up to it.
Loizos did bring up the pending lawsuit, asking if Pishevar could enlighten us with what’s really going on over there. Predictably, he did not have much to say beyond that the company’s team of 180 is still pushing forward full-steam.
Earlier this year, Hyperloop One completed a propulsion test in the middle of the Nevada desert, accelerating a sled to 116 MPH in just 1.1 seconds. With that checked off, Pishevar says the company now has its sights set on larger goals.
In late July, Hyperloop One announced it had opened a 105,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in north Las Vegas, which will be used to build and test many of the components going into DevLoop, a full-system hyperloop prototype.
Pishevar reiterated the company’s goal of having DevLoop up and ready to test in 1Q 2017. It will be interesting to see if Hyperloop One will be able to push through the recent controversy and hit that goal, though perhaps the cracks have begun to show in Pishevar’s plan to bring Elon Musk's idea to life.