Welcome to Startups Weekly, a nuanced take on this week’s startup news and trends by Senior reporter Natasha Mascarenhas.
After a Tahoe-based tech conference, Sheel Mohnot, the fintech investor behind Better Tomorrow Ventures, is beatboxing in his head — all day, every day. And while it may feel like an uncommon takeaway from an event featuring the who’s who in tech that was precisely the point.
Mohnot is one of the 40 people who attended “Learning Man” earlier this month, a tech conference focused on immersing attendees in education, play and creation. Attendees were in their 20s to 60s; in exchange for expanding their mind, tickets cost $750. The event, organized by friends Marie Diamond, Arielle Zuckerberg, Amit Kumar, Jared Goldberg and Kristen Winzent, wanted to ironically dig beyond what brought everyone together in the first place: the world of tech.
Diamond, a comms executive and organizer, told TechCrunch that “the whole premise of the conference is that work is often the least interesting thing about us and we wanted to provide a space for people to go deeper.”
The main rule? Bring a topic that you want to teach others about. The main principles? Stuff like “Beginners are sexy” and “The world is a passion project.” Company merchandise is encouraged — as long as it’s not your own (a rule which one person correctly interpreted as a chance to rock an FTX risk management shirt).
Participants collectively held over 30 presentations, talking about everything from travel hacks to fertility 101 to date night planning. That said, artificial intelligence did make an appearance in at least two sessions, even a few hundred miles from what has been dubbed Cerebral Valley. And, beatboxing aside, Mohnot did manage take away a professional learning from the time management presentation: hire another EA.
As a result of the event, not-so-jokingly there was some sponsor interest. I joked with that they may have accidentally created a community-focused tech startup. But Diamond says that they’re specifically not trying to make money off the event. “I think it would change the nature of it, it was a small key experiment and I think we want to keep the authenticity of it.” She adds, laughing, “if there’s any sponsorship, it would be from Sheel and Taco Bell.” (Mohnot got married to his wife last month in the Taco Bell metaverse).
Zuckerberg, a co-organizer, part-time DJ and investor at Long Journey VC, says that they’re thinking of making it an annual event. Community members who attended the debut conference are cooking up mini “Learning Man Dinners.”
“We actually barely talked about work and it was delightful,” Zuckerberg said.
With that, let’s move on to the rest of Startups Weekly. In the rest of this newsletter we’re talking about Amazon’s new bed, and bad advice from investors. Are we surprised? As always, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram to continue the conversation. If you feel like supporting me extra, subscribe to my very free and still in the works Substack.
And before we truly continue, I have a shameless plug: Scoops make me happy. If you hear about a venture firm or startup winning, raising, flailing or, oh I don’t know, booting an executive because of internal happenings, tell me. Pitch decks and term sheets welcome too. Happy to talk about anonymity and explain more of my process and what I’m looking for. You can tell me stuff on Signal at +1 925 271 0912. No pitches, please.
Amazon is finally jumping into the generative AI race, but not in the way you’d expect. Unlike Microsoft and Apple, which both have sought to build AI models in-house, Amazon is recruiting third parties to host models on AWS. The effort is called Amazon Bedrock, and startups are given the ability to build generative AI-powered apps via pretrained models from startups, including AI21 Labs, Anthropic and Stability AI. It is currently in limited preview.
Here’s why we’re not surprised: I mean, we’ve been waiting for this. Amazon has seemingly been dancing around the AI conversation compared to the bold moves of some of its competitors. Before Bedrock, Amazon’s interest was best seen through a partnership with Stability AI, and even more recently, an accelerator for generative AI startups.
- Unpicking the rules shaping generative AI
- Betaworks’ new ‘camp’ aims to fund transformative early-stage AI startups
- User spending goes up by more than 4000% on AI-powered apps
Raise from me, but don’t pay yourself? No thanks
Some venture capital firms are doling out surprising advice these days: raise capital from our firm, but don’t pay yourself. In other words, if you’re a founder with true ambition, your salary is in equity, rooted in the future success of your startup. Well, TC’s Haje Jan Kamps doesn’t love that, writing: “If you’ve raised venture capital, you have to pay yourself.”
I don’t disagree. But here’s what Haje said:
But you know what is one of the biggest distractions? Not being able to afford your mortgage, rent, car payment or next shipment of Huel. As a founder, it is your duty to focus on building the startup so it is as successful as it can be as quickly as possible.
As an investor in these startups, it’s your duty to help the startup get to that point in the shortest possible amount of time. Telling founders not to take a salary is wonderfully counterproductive on so many levels.
Three perspectives on founder mental health
On Equity this week, I chatted with three experts about mental health. Pioneer Mind’s Naveed Lalani, psychiatrist Dr. Saumya Dave and Graham & Walker’s Leslie Feinzaig all said different versions of the same statement: founders shouldn’t have to choose between mental health and grit.
Here’s what to know: This episode is full of perspectives on how to hustle responsibly, ranging from a call to action for investors to support founders in looking at their mental health as a business priority to the fragmented world of “mental health support.” Give it a listen. I’m proud of it.
- Big shout out to Dominic-Madori Davis for joining the Found podcast team!
- Throwback Saturday: If you missed Startups Weekly last week, catch my last issue here: “We’re still talking about Y Combinator Valuations.”
- Let’s hang on campus? TechCrunch is coming to Boston literally next week. On April 20th, I’ll be at TC Early Stage with my favorite colleagues to interview top experts at the best one-day founder summit in town. Book your pass ASAP! Speakers include Techstars’ Kerty Levy, Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson and NFX’s James Currier.
- Programming note: If you’re reading this on a browser, get this in your inbox too! Subscribe here and share it with your friends.
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Take care, and tell your people you love them,
If you have a juicy tip or lead about happenings in the venture world, you can reach Natasha Mascarenhas on Twitter @nmasc_ or on Signal at +1 925 271 0912. Anonymity requests will be respected.