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For VCs, market size is crucial, because it becomes a proxy for how big a company could possibly get, which in turn is a measure of how big the return on investment could be. That only works in well-defined industries: If you’re trying to take on travel agencies with AI, well, then your total addressable market (TAM) is the same as the earnings across all travel agencies, globally.
Where that falls apart is if you’re creating whole new markets. In its pre-seed deck back in 2008, Uber, in its wildest dreams, said that the “best case scenario” was to hit $1 billion of revenue per year. Fifteen years later, it’s hilarious how wrong the company turned out to be.
One entrepreneur who’s had an incredible track record of upending markets is Elon Musk. First with PayPal, then with SpaceX, Starlink, Tesla, SolarCity, Neuralink and then the Boring company, Musk has shown that he has an uncanny knack for thinking so audaciously big that a traditional market sizing approach simply doesn’t make sense. SpaceX’s TAM isn’t the budgets of all the space agencies combined: It’s what happens when space exploration and launching small satellites suddenly becomes cheap enough that it unlocks a whole generation of new startups.
I wondered, then, what the ever-loving bejesus is going on with Twitter/X. Nothing he’s doing there makes any sense at all. Unless you look back at the list of companies Musk has founded. PayPal, while financially successful, was a failure: It became a Band-Aid on top of a broken banking system, when the original idea was to upend it altogether. X, I argue in my column this week, isn’t an attempt at torpedoing a successful social media site, but a second stab at trying to revolutionize international banking. And this time, Musk may just have all of the pieces of the puzzle to make it happen . . .
Anyway, what else has been going on in startup land this week?
The influencer economy
Never mind that the word “influencer” makes my skin crawl, and the fact that almost 90% of twentysomethings want to use that word as their job title, there sure are a lot of content creators out there, and that economy is seeing a lot of bumpy evolution along the way.
Morgan reports that blue checks aren’t protecting sex workers from X’s porn crackdown — which makes some amount of sense if Musk is indeed trying to turn the artist formerly known as Twitter into a bank of sorts.
It seems like people have forgotten all about the glassholes of a decade ago. Brian reports that the Ray-Ban Meta sunglasses have “influencer” written all over them.
The earth doesn’t suck: That’s just gravity: Sarah writes about a report claiming that X traffic and monthly active users are in decline.
Yeah, but where will they look for new jobs?: Ingrid reports that LinkedIn confirms it will cut a further 668 jobs, bringing the total to nearly 1,400 this year.
AI, AI, AI: ByteDance (the company that owns TikTok) has a new video editor, which targets businesses with AI ad scripts and AI-generated presenters.
The investor empathy gap
I’ve spent a bunch of time talking with founders recently who are struggling to get through to VCs when they are building products that, well, don’t really apply to them. This might mean international remittances for migrant workers, savings solutions for gig workers, or solutions for people who are in cancer treatment. Did you know, for example, that it’s not uncommon for people in medical treatment to not fill their prescriptions in order to save money?
All of these problems affect huge swaths of the population but are often essentially invisible to people at the top of the financial food chain.
In their article When was the last time Marc Andreessen talked to a poor person? Amanda, Dominic-Madori and Kyle expand on the idea, asking when the last time Andreessen spoke to an Instacart shopper struggling to make ends meet. As founders, we get to build the future we want to live in — let’s choose wisely.
Oh, but wait, there’s more installments of the Startup Soap Opera this week:
In the FTX debacle: Rebecca reports how FTX execs blew through $8 billion, and that testimony reveals how that happened.
More Web Summit drama: Web Summit has a rather checkered history (a Google search for Web Summit drama is more juicy than most tech conferences), and it’s back in the news. Ingrid reports that Web Summit is getting derailed as the conference’s founder picked a very public fight with those supporting Israel in Hamas conflict.
WeWhat now?: There’s been a bit of a back-and-forth argument between WeWork and its competitor Codi. That reached fever pitch this week. Mary Ann reports that WeWork sends a cease and desist notice over its competitor’s “WeWon’t” campaign.
What are the robots up to this week?
The big news in generative AI this week is that Google is starting to throw its weight around, with the search engine being able to generate images and write drafts for you, if you opt in to the Search Generative Experience from Google Labs. Who knows what — if anything — will show up in the main search engine, but seeing Google’s vision of what might happen certainly makes things in the AI space a lot more interesting.
The other highlight of the week for me was Brian’s story about how roboticists are thinking about generative AI.
More AI news, written with human fingers, as far as I’m aware:
These toddlers are still learning: If ChatGPT were human, it would barely be able to walk, so it’s no surprise that it’s a rapidly moving target. Kyle reports that Microsoft-affiliated research finds flaws in GPT-4.
It’s everywhere: An industry where there’s a huge search space, and a race to innovation, is EV batteries. Kirsten’s article about how generative AI is creeping into EV battery development offers a fascinating glimpse into how applied AI is finding use cases in the real world.
How to get AI market share: Alex asked a number of venture capitalists who are active in the AI investing space to walk us through what they are seeing in the market today, and they explain how startups can capture and defend market share in the AI era. (TC+)
Top reads on TechCrunch this week
And, as ever . . . here are the top stories in TechCrunch from the last week or so that haven’t yet gotten a name drop and a linky-link above:
MillionsAndMe: A hacker published a new dataset of 23andMe user information containing records of 4 million users on a cybercrime forum. Lorenzo reported that the newly leaked stolen data matches known and public 23andMe user and genetic information.
Blown away by new tech: Whisper Aero emerged from stealth a little over two years ago with a plan. Now it’s unveiled an ultra-quiet electric leaf blower, powered by aerospace tech.
Take my money: No, seriously, that’s what the IRS does. It’s kind of their thing. Although it seems like for 2024, the IRS will pilot free, direct tax filing in 2024, Devin reports. About damn time. Why? Well, this ProPublica story has some context.
A hard pass: Amazon has quietly rolled out support for passkeys as it becomes the latest tech giant to join the passwordless future. But you still might have to hold on to your Amazon password for a little while longer, Carly reports.
War and peace: One of my favorite stories this week was Mike’s reporting on Palestine’s growing tech industry, which he writes “has been literally blown apart by Israel’s war on Hamas.”