Founded in late 2013, did the impossible, coming seemingly out of nowhere to take on some of the biggest players in mobile. The company has made a name by embracing a fawning fanbase and offering premium smartphone features at budget pricing, even as the likes of Samsung and Apple routinely crack the $1,000 barrier on their own flagships. history is awash with clever promotions and fan service, all while exceeding expectations in markets like the U.S., where fellow Chinese smartphone makers have run afoul of U.S. regulations. The company’s measured approach to embracing new features has won a devoted fantasied among Android users. Over the past year, however, the company has looked to bleeding edge technology as a way forward. OnePlus was one of the first to embrace In-Display fingerprint sensors with last year’s 6T and has promised to be among the first to offer 5G on its handsets later this year. CEO formed the company with fellow Oppo employee Carl Pei. The pair have turned the company into arguably the most exciting smartphone manufacturer in the past decade. OnePlus has big plans on the horizon, too, including further expansion into the Indian market and the arrival of its first TV set in the coming year. At Disrupt SF (which runs October 2 to October 4), Lau will discuss OnePlus’ rapid accent and its plans for the future. Tickets are available .
ChefSteps co-founder and CEO Chris Young shows off the Joule sous vide cooking device during the 2016 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) In the days following news that , the cooking technology startup, had to make , co-founder and CEO Chris Young has said that while the situation “truly sucks,” the company is still operating. Young shared some insight in a public group on Facebook last Friday night, writing that ChefSteps’ “funding situation unexpectedly changed” and a “significant fraction” of the 7-year-old company’s team — reported to be about 50 people — had to be let go. “I appreciate your understanding that in the coming days our focus will be on supporting our affected friends and that we may be a bit slower to respond than usual,” Young wrote in a post to the group, which is a community of more than 17,000 users and fans of ChefSteps’ signature product, the sous vide cooking device. Young said certain lines of business, including Joule Ready and any additional content being added to ChefSteps Premium, would be discontinued. But product and customer support for Joule will still be available. In a follow-up text to GeekWire this week, Young said he had nothing additional to add to what was in the Facebook post, and said, “We are still operating while we explore strategic options.” ChefSteps was by Young and Grant Crilly, who both previously collaborated with former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold on his epic . The startup, which is currently of the Pacific Northwest’s top privately held companies, has been funded through a low-interest loan from Gabe Newell, head of the video game company Valve. “I won’t lie, this is all incredibly difficult, but making these changes will allow us to focus on Joule and continue to support the hundreds of thousands of customers that cook with Joule,” Young wrote on Facebook. “We remain confident in our Joule sous vide business, which continues to exceed our expectations. We will continue to provide product and customer support for Joule — yes, your Joule is going to keep working.” Read the Facebook post in full and captured below: (Facebook screenshot)
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg takes questions at a news conference in Chicago. (AP via YouTube) Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stuck to his positions on the safety of the 737 MAX airplane today during a contentious annual shareholders’ meeting and news conference in Chicago. Muilenburg took questions in a face-to-face public forum for the first time since last month’s due to concerns raised by two catastrophically fatal crashes last October and this March. At one point, a reporter asked Muilenburg whether he’d resign. “My clear intent is to continue to lead on the front of safety and quality and integrity,” he replied. “That’s who we are as a company.” Muilenburg said that he’s been talking with factory workers in Renton, Wash., and with Boeing test pilots over the past few weeks. “To the core of our people, they care about this business and the safety of our airplanes,” he said. “That’s what I’m focused on.” Investigations into October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, and March’s Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia, have focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system was designed to replicate the operating conditions of previous-generation 737 planes on the 737 MAX, which is equipped with bigger jet engine. But preliminary findings suggested that during each fatal flight, spurious data from an angle-of-attack sensor repeatedly forced the plane into a steep dive. Boeing had laid out procedures to regain control, but in the two tragedies, the procedures either weren’t followed to the letter or didn’t work. Muilenburg resisted characterizing the MCAS issue as a design flaw or a mistake. Instead, he said the issue was a “link in the chain” that will be broken thanks to a software update that’s being tested for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies around the world. The process by which the 737 MAX was originally certified for flight in 2017 is currently under investigation by an internal Boeing team and the FAA, as well as by the Justice Department and the FBI. Muilenburg insisted that MCAS system “was designed per our standards” and followed proper certification procedures. “We haven’t seen a technical slip or gap in terms of the fundamental design and certification of the approach,” Muilenburg told reporters. “That said, we know this is a link in both accidents that we can break. That’s a software update that we know how to do. We own it, and we will make that update, and this will make the airplane even safer going forward.” During today’s meeting, Boeing shareholders voted down a proposal to remake the company’s chairmanship as an independent position that would rule out Muilenburg’s dual role as CEO and chairman. Relatives of some of the victims of the 737 MAX crashes traveled to Chicago to take part in a news conference aimed at drawing attention to lawsuits being filed against Boeing. One of the speakers was Manant Vaidya, a Canadian of Indian descent who lost six family members in the Ethiopia crash. Vaidya was sharply critical of Muilenburg’s comments. “He said that all design and certifications were followed. At the end of day, if all certifications were done, how could the crash still have occurred?” he said. “I am completely lost right now. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the world.” Over the weekend, a number of media outlets reported that some 737 MAX planes didn’t have an indicator known as a “disagree alert,” which might have given pilots an early indication that an angle-of-attack sensor was feeding bad data to the MCAS system. Today, Boeing : “Boeing included the disagree alert as a standard feature on the MAX, although this alert has not been considered a safety feature on airplanes and is not necessary for the safe operation of the airplane. Boeing did not intentionally or otherwise deactivate the disagree alert on its MAX airplanes. “The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, stand-alone feature on MAX airplanes. However, the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended. “The disagree alert was tied or linked into the angle of attack indicator, which is an optional feature on the MAX. Unless an airline opted for the angle of attack indicator, the disagree alert was not operable. [The angle-of-attack indicator is a software-based information feature that’s distinct from the angle-of-attack sensor hardware. For more on the distinction, .] “On every airplane delivered to our customers, including the MAX, all flight data and information needed to safely operate the aircraft is provided in the flight deck and on the flight deck display. This information is readily accessible to pilots, and it always has been. “The air speed, attitude, and altitude displays, together with the stick shaker, are the primary flight information indicators in the flight deck. All recommended pilot actions, checklists, and training are based upon these primary indicators, not on the AOA disagree alert or the angle of attack indicator. “As the MAX safely returns to the air after the software modifications are approved and certified, all MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. All customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the disagree alert per a service bulletin to airlines. “We are confident that when the MAX returns to the skies, it will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.” For what it’s worth, Boeing’s shares finished the trading day down 0.46%, at $379.05.
Tesla shows off a configuration for a Robotaxi front seat without a steering wheel. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla’s billionaire CEO, Elon Musk, laid out a vision for a huge fleet of self-driving electric vehicles that owners could share with friends or other riders, with Tesla getting a cut of the proceeds. The Robotaxi concept relies on the ability to make Tesla cars fully autonomous, to the point that the steering wheels can be removed. “By the middle of next year, we’ll have over a million Tesla cars on the road with full self-driving hardware, feature complete, at a reliability level that we would consider that no one needs to pay attention,” Musk told investors at Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Musk acknowledged that the timetable could be in flux, due to regulatory concerns as well as his tendency to get overly optimistic about timetables. He pointed to Tesla’s past achievements, including the creation of the all-electric Roadster, Model S, Model X and Model 3, as well as its production of solar roofs for power generation and battery packs for personal and grid-level energy storage. “Only criticism, and it’s a fair one, [is that] sometimes I’m not on time,” Musk said. “But I get it done, and the Tesla team gets it done.” Based on Tesla’s market performance, Musk might still have some convincing to do: During today’s trading, share prices declined nearly 4 percent, to $262.75 per share, and drifted in after-hours trading during . The downturn had more to do with , including a downgrade in Evercore’s market outlook and this week’s expected news of first-quarter losses. Nevertheless, the trend underscored the view that Musk’s Robotaxi plan wouldn’t be a slam-dunk. Tesla CEO Elon Musk discusses the Robotaxi concept. (Tesla via YouTube) The concept would let Tesla owners make their car available for others to drive when they’re not using it, through a smartphone-based app system that matches up cars with riders. Tesla and the owner would share revenue from the ride. Tesla estimates that the cost to run a Robotaxi would be less than 18 cents per mile, compared with 62 cents per mile for U.S. ownership cost and $2 to $3 per mile for traditional ridesharing models. The fact that no driver is required is key to the financial formula. During the Autonomy Day presentation, Tesla engineers spent most of their time laying out the case for expecting that their computer-vision system would satisfy the requirements for full autonomy within the next year or so. Tesla cars that were built since October 2016 would be eligible for over-the-air upgrades to full autonomy, but not cars sold before that time, Musk said. “Unless it’s designed in, it’s not worth it,” he said. Musk said he expected full autonomy to transform the automotive market within two or three years. “Once regulators are comfortable with us not having a steering wheel, we’ll just delete that. … The probability of the steering wheel being taken away in the future is 100%. Consumers will demand it,” he said. In an , Cornell University computer scientist Bart Selman said that’s debatable. Selman said Tesla may face an “extra level of difficulty” because it’s aiming to get to full autonomy by relying exclusively on computer vision without including a lidar laser-scanning system. There’s a broader issue as well: Statistically speaking, self-driving cars may well be safer than human-driven cars — but could conceivably fall prey to unusual accident scenarios that humans would easily avoid, such as . “The question then becomes whether society will choose the greater overall safety level over the risk of having certain types of ‘non-human’ accidents occur with some regularity,” Selman wrote. Other questions had to do with the business model for Robotaxi. Musk said Tesla would operate its own on-demand cars in areas where there weren’t enough to serve the market. He pointed out that Tesla’s leased cars will not be available for purchase when the lease expires, and that those cars would be reclaimed for Tesla’s Robotaxi fleet. One analyst asked about a scenario in which Tesla owners worked out their own car-sharing schemes. That led Musk to point out that a clause in Tesla’s contract forbids drivers to do ride-sharing outside Tesla’s own network. But couldn’t drivers work out a car rental arrangement? “Seems easy,” the analyst said. “OK …” Musk replied. Musk also acknowledged that Tesla, and not the car’s owner, would probably be held responsible for any accidents or injuries caused by Robotaxis. “The right thing to do is to make sure there are very few accidents,” he added. Will regulators go for the idea? That may well be the multimillion-dollar question for Tesla. “We won’t have regulatory approval everywhere, but I’m confident we’ll have regulatory approval somewhere,” Musk said. Even assuming that full autonomy wins regulatory clearance, Tesla would still face formidable competition from the likes of , , Alphabet’s venture and GM’s subsidiary. and are also joining the fray.
(Viome Photo) , a wellness startup from entrepreneur , has raised $25 million in funding from a crop of investors that includes Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Jain said the new cash, which brings the Seattle-area startup’s total funding to $45 million, would be used to fund research into the link between the human microbiome and chronic diseases including diabetes, autoimmune disorders and Parkinson’s, as well as cancers. Naveen Jain. (Viome Photo) “We are now doing a bunch of clinical studies with 15 or so separate diseases,” said Jain. The aim of the studies, which are looking at diseases as wide-ranging as insomnia and pancreatic cancer, is to “understand exactly what’s happening inside the human body so that we can predict, prevent and reverse chronic diseases,” he said. Viome analyzes its customers’ microbiomes through stool samples in order to make food recommendations for health or weight loss. The idea is to foster health through microbes, which make up more than half of the cells in the human body. The funding round included return investor Bold Capital as well as Physician Partners, Hambrecht Healthcare Growth Venture Fund, and Matthew Harris of Global Infrastructure Partners. Viome said the financing was part of a series B round in which the company aims to raise $100 million. “People are investing because we’re solving a massive problem,” Jain said. “[Benioff] is a very happy customer and he said, ‘I want to be part of it.'” The Salesforce CEO has shown an interest in mental health and wellness, adding meditation rooms to the Salesforce offices and investing in Thrive Global, a wellness startup founded by Arianna Huffington. A spokesperson for Benioff declined to comment when contacted by GeekWire. Jain says the company’s competitive edge lies in its RNA sequencing technology, which emerged from defense work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Viome uses machine learning algorithms with the aim of predicting the body’s response to certain foods based on the composition of an individual’s microbiome. Researchers cast doubt These claims have drawn criticism. Jonathan Eisen, a professor at UC Davis, the “Theranos of the microbiome world” on Twitter last year, referencing Elizabeth Holmes’ blood testing startup that became infamous for false claims about its technology. “My issue with Viome was overstating the state of the science,” Eisen told GeekWire. “There’s no scientific support for any of their tools.” The Viome material on Amazon is filled with completely misleading overselling snake oil – e.g. they claim they can tell you "exactly which foods to eat and which to avoid in order to support your wellness" — Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) In the early 2000s, Jain for claims he made about InfoSpace, a high-flying internet business that fell to earth during the dot-com bust. Jain later went on to co-found public records firm Intelius as well as Moon Express, which aims to . (Viome Screenshot) Jain responded to the criticism by saying that Viome’s underlying technology is superior to the microbiome sequencing technology used by other companies. Eisen once served as an advisor to Viome competitor uBiome. Several startups have set out to give health insights based on an analysis of gut bacteria, including and . And the promise of the microbiome has caught the attention of investors. Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, famous for coining the term “Unicorn” to describe billion-dollar startups, recently about the brain-gut connection and her own dietary experiments. “Changes in diet can modulate the microbiome and have an effect on health,” said Sean Gibbons, an assistant professor at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. But Gibbons said it’s too early to draw conclusions about the specific effect of individual foods on a person’s health. “For anyone to claim that there’s a general purpose algorithm that can predict health from the microbiome is sort of a sci-fi, weird claim to make this point,” he said. Prominent endorsements for Viome That’s not to say that tinkering with the microbiome doesn’t have potential. Fecal transplants, which insert gut bacteria from healthy people into sick patients, have proven to be , a bacteria that infects nearly 500,000 Americans each year. Viome has received endorsements from health and wellness celebrities like , as well as . The startup recently partnered with Helomics, a precision medicine company, to study the link between the gut microbiome and ovarian cancer. Viome from Campbell Soup earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. The company has nearly 150 employees across six locations, including its headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. and offices in San Diego, Santa Clara, Calif., New York, Bangalore and Los Alamos, N.M. Viome is Jain’s seventh venture and the first to come out of his Bellevue-based innovation factory. BlueDot looks for market opportunities for technology developed at leading research labs, with a focus on the health and energy sectors.
Via Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is never short of courtside enthusiasm while watching his LA Clippers compete, as we documented on . But on Monday night, he took it to another level, as he witnessed a bit of NBA history as his team overcame the largest deficit ever in the playoffs with a 135-131 victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers trailed by 31 points before mounting a comeback to stun the defending NBA champs at home in game two of the opening round series. Ballmer has owned the team since 2014 and they failed to even make the playoffs last year. It wasn’t looking like they’d be around long this year after a 121-104 loss on Saturday. But the founder of has got to be geeking out over the stats this morning: The Clippers’ comeback win was UNBELIEVABLE
The Startup CEO of the Year finalists, from left to right, clockwise: Leen Kawas, Athria Pharma; Scott Moore, Ad Lightning; Ambika Singh, Armoire; Milkana Brace, Jargon; and Forest Key, Pixvana. (Photos courtesy Athria; Ad Lightning; Timothy Anaya; Jargon; and Pixvana) Managing a fast-growing startup is not easy. But the GeekWire Awards finalists for Startup CEO of the Year have figured out a way to not only lead early stage companies but also inspire others to join them on their mission. We’ve opened voting in 11 categories, and community votes will be factored in with feedback from more than 30 judges. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. This year’s nominees for Startup CEO of the Year — Jargon CEO Milkana Brace; Athria Pharma CEO Leen Kawas; Pixvana CEO Forest Key; Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore; and Armoire CEO Ambika Singh — run companies that operate in various industries, from virtual reality to fashion to biotech. To qualify for this category, eligible CEOs must have 200 employees or fewer. You can see the nominees for the other CEO of the Year category, for big tech companies, here. Learn more below about what makes the finalists for Startup CEO of the Year special, and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. Jargon CEO Milkana Brace Jargon CEO and co-founder Milkana Brace. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) In her short time as CEO of , has demonstrated a crucial skill for any entrepreneur: the ability to adapt. Brace, a former senior director at Expedia and Groupon, originally helped start Jargon in late 2017 as an on-demand interpretation service. But after joining the Alexa Accelerator in Seattle last year and getting feedback from mentors, the company switched gears and started building a localization product for voice apps. Jargon made another slight pivot in recent months and is now focusing on developing a voice content management service. The company’s latest iteration helped attract last month from investors including Amazon’s Alexa Fund. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Brace: “Milkana Brace is both brilliant and humble, and this combination, combined with her unwavering commitment to delivering value to her customer, enabled her to lead and execute a massive pivot during the Techstars program that has positioned Jargon for success today. As a multilingual founder, her vision and leadership is helping drive culturally-competent global communication through multi-sense technology.” Athria Pharma CEO Leen Kawas Clinical pharmacist and founder of Athria Pharma Leen Kawas speaks at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Based on her years of work both inside the lab and in the boardroom, is wholly committed to developing therapies that can help slow and stop the course of neurological diseases. The foundation of, previously known as M3 Biotechnology, began while Kawas was earning her Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University nearly a decade ago. The Seattle company, which its name change today, uses technology that Kawas developed at WSU and has raised more than $20 million. Athira is developing its lead therapeutic candidate, NDX-1017, a drug that could halt or reverse the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses including Parkinson’s and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It uses regenerative technology, rebuilding connections between neurons and increasing the mass of the brain and brain health. NDX-1017 is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials, with Phase 2 set to begin later this year. Kawas serves on multiple science and Alzheimer’s-related boards and holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Jordan. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Kawas: “Leen Kawas is a dedicated CEO who takes finding a therapy for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s very seriously. She is a champion for patient advocacy, promoting biotech in our region, and creating a work culture full of collaboration and innovation.” Pixvana CEO Forest Key Pixvana CEO Forest Key. (Pixvana Photo) is a quintessential early-stage company builder. The CEO of Seattle-based virtual reality startup likes to “build things that don’t yet have antecedents.” “I’m particularly good at 1.0 stuff: creating the vision, getting other people on board, pivoting aggressively and often… and always driving to outcomes,” Key writes on his . The entrepreneur already had one big startup success. After stints at Lucasfilm, Adobe, and Microsoft, in 2009 he launched buuteeq, a software startup for the hotel industry. The company raised $17 million in capital and grew to 150 employees and 10,000 customers before it was by travel giant Priceline in 2014. Now Key is back on the startup horse as the leader of Pixvana, which launched in 2015 and has raised $20 million from investors including Vulcan Capital, Raine Ventures, Microsoft Ventures, Cisco Investments, Hearst Ventures, and Madrona Venture Group. The company sells end-to-end cloud-based VR storytelling software and now also . Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Key: “Forest Key embraces a steady and smart ‘get-things-done” leadership style, compassionately guiding his loyal team through startup challenges.” Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore. (Photo via Ad Lightning) Whether it’s building an online humor website or scaling an advertising exchange platform, is a proven leader. Moore is founder and CEO of , a Seattle startup that helps online publishers and advertising exchanges . Ad Lightning spun out of Seattle-based startup studio Pioneer Square Labs in 2017 and has raised nearly $5 million from investors such as Sinclair Digital Ventures, an investment division of Sinclair Broadcast Group; Seattle Angel Fund, Flying Fish Partners; Curious Capital; and The Alliance of Angels. Total funding in the company is $4.8 million. The startup was also part of the inaugural class of Verizon Ventures’ “Media Tech Venture Studio.” Prior to Ad Lightning and Cheezburger, Moore was general manager of Microsoft’s MSN consumer portal and head of media at Yahoo. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Moore: “Scott Moore is someone you just want to be around. His good nature, coupled with fierce tenacity, pair tremendously to make him an outstanding CEO. He leads with integrity and fairness, no matter the situation — and he’s seen quite the spectrum over the years.” Armoire CEO Ambika Singh Ambika Singh, CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Armoire. (Timothy Anaya Photo) Functionally, is a women’s clothing rental service. But a conversation with may convince you that her startup is really about girl power (or more precisely, busy professional woman power, but that’s less catchy). Singh is CEO and co-founder of Armoire, a Seattle startup that uses data-driven curation . Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company ships designer clothes to customers who can swap out the items at any time or purchase them at a discounted rate. Singh helped launch the company while at MIT’s Delta V accelerator program and has since grown Armoire to more than 30 employees while raising $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Singh: “Ambika Singh’s entrepreneurial journey is a source of constant inspiration … Most inspiring is that she lives her values, creating the sizeless, endless, closet-of-the-future for women, while hiring a team of primarily women (engineers, designers, stylists and machine learning experts), and exuding the very confidence she inspires in her clientele.” Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Cole Brodman. , a Seattle-area networking startup led by former T-Mobile executive , was acquired last month by , a new company led by former Qualcomm CEO and chairman Paul Jacobs. The news was revealed Monday by in a story that details how Jacobs dropped plans to take Qualcomm private and is now focusing on San Diego-based XCOM. M87 launched out of Austin, Texas in 2014 and . That’s when Brodman, who spent 17 years at T-Mobile — including stints as CMO and CTO — took over as CEO. M87 develops technology to help wireless carriers improve network performance by creating dynamic device-to-device mesh networks. It’s similar to what Jacobs, whose father founded Qualcomm, and a group of former Qualcomm execs are building at XCOM: “giving everyone’s phones the ability to route traffic like a cell tower,” as WSJ reported. Paul Jacobs. (XCOM Photo) “We believed in the XCOM thesis of edge networks and compute, and Paul’s vision on how device-to-device technologies will enhance wireless networks,” Brodman told GeekWire in an email Monday evening. “That’s been our thesis all along, so it’s a great match. Plus, the XCOM team has some fantastic engineering talent and track record in wireless technology to help amplify our go-to-market and product roadmap.” M87 was folded into XCOM but will continue developing its technology, Brodman said. The company’s 20 or so employees are staying onboard, including Brodman. “XCOM likes the access to telecom and software talent in the Seattle area and is keeping an office here,” Brodman added. XCOM had about 30 employees before acquiring M87. It raised additional investment to buy the Seattle-area company, per the WSJ. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. M87 had raised around $12 million. It reeled in a $5 million fundraising round in 2016 led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, the company’s VC arm, and Trilogy Equity Partners, the Seattle-area firm where Brodman holds a position as partner. “It can be a really interesting business,” Brodman said in 2016. “There aren’t a lot of solutions today to help wireless carriers solve coverage capacity problems and most require them to build new cell sites. I’m excited about software-based solutions to approach this problem.” Brodman and spent the next four years as a board member for a handful of startups. Len Jordan, managing director at Madrona, told GeekWire he’s excited to see M87 “realize its vision for extending the power of networks all the way to the edge.” “The acquisition by XCOM is a great outcome for everyone involved,” he said. “The combined team has the experience and skill to reshape an industry.”
While creating self-driving car systems, it’s natural that different companies might independently arrive at similar methods or results — but the similarities in a recent “first of its kind” Nvidia proposal to work done by two years ago were just too much for the latter company’s CEO to take politely. Amnon Shashua, , openly mocks pointing out innumerable similarities to Mobileye’s “Responsibility Sensitive Safety” paper from 2017. He writes: It is clear Nvidia’s leaders have continued their pattern of imitation as their so-called “first-of-its-kind” safety concept is a close replica of the RSS model we published nearly two years ago. In our opinion, SFF is simply an inferior version of RSS dressed in green and black. To the extent there is any innovation there, it appears to be primarily of the linguistic variety. Now, it’s worth considering the idea that the approach both seem to take is, like many in the automotive and autonomous fields and others, simply inevitable. Car makers don’t go around accusing each other of using the similar setup of four wheels and two pedals. It’s partly for this reason, and partly because the safety model works better the more cars follow it, that when Mobileye published its RSS paper, it did so publicly and invited the industry to collaborate. Many did, and as Shashua points out, including Nvidia, at least for a short time in 2018, after which Nvidia pulled out of collaboration talks. To do so and then, a year afterwards, propose a system that is, if not identical, then at least remarkably similar, and without crediting or mentioning Mobileye is suspicious to say the least. The (highly simplified) foundation of both is calculating a set of standard actions corresponding to laws and human behavior that plan safe maneuvers based on the car’s own physical parameters and those of nearby objects and actors. But the similarities extend beyond these basics, Shashua writes (emphasis his): RSS defines a safe longitudinal and a safe lateral distance around the vehicle. When those safe distances are compromised, we say that the vehicle is in a Dangerous Situation and must perform a Proper Response. The specific moment when the vehicle must perform the Proper Response is called the Danger Threshold. SFF defines identical concepts with slightly modified terminology. Safe longitudinal distance is instead called “the SFF in One Dimension;” safe lateral distance is described as “the SFF in Higher Dimensions.” Instead of Proper Response, SFF uses “Safety Procedure.” Instead of Dangerous Situation, SFF replaces it with “Unsafe Situation.” And, just to be complete, SFF also recognizes the existence of a Danger Threshold, instead calling it a “Critical Moment.” This is followed by numerous other close parallels, and just when you think it’s done, he includes showing dozens of other cases where Nvidia seems (it’s hard to tell in some cases if you’re not closely familiar with the subject matter) to have followed Mobileye and RSS’s example over and over again. Theoretical work like this isn’t really patentable, and patenting wouldn’t be wise anyway, since widespread adoption of the basic ideas is the most desirable outcome (as both papers emphasize). But it’s common for one R&D group to push in one direction and have others refine or create counter-approaches. You see it in computer vision, where for example Google boffins may publish their early and interesting work, which is picked up by FAIR or Uber and improved or added to in another paper 8 months later. So it really would have been fine for Nvidia to publicly say “Mobileye proposed some stuff, that’s great but here’s our superior approach.” Instead there is no mention of RSS at all, which is strange considering their similarity, and the only citation in the SFF whitepaper is “The Safety Force Field, Nvidia, 2017,” in which, we are informed on the very first line, “the precise math is detailed.” Just one problem: This paper doesn’t seem to exist anywhere. It certainly was never published publicly in any journal or blog post by the company. It has no DOI number and doesn’t show up in any searches or article archives. This appears to be the first time anyone has ever cited it. It’s not required for rival companies to be civil with each other all the time, but in the research world this will almost certainly be considered poor form by Nvidia, and that can have knock-on effects when it comes to recruiting and overall credibility. I’ve contacted Nvidia for comment (and to ask for a copy of this mysterious paper). I’ll update this post if I hear back.
Rainway CEO Andrew Sampson at TechStars Seattle Demo Day in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Google today jumpstarted the ninth generation of gaming hardware with at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. Big on hype and , Stadia promises to use to let players jump straight into high-end, fast-paced games from existing devices without any need for additional hardware; if you can run a YouTube video at 4K, you’re already set up for Stadia. In Seattle, however, there’s already a startup doing what Google pitched on Tuesday. allows users to stream video games from personal devices to any other machine in their possession, as long as it has a browser and can comfortably run video at 60 frames per second. for its beta last year, the 2-year-old company that graduated from Techstars Seattle in 2018 made its official launch on the Windows platform at the end of January. “We did get there first,” Sampson told GeekWire over the phone from GDC. “It’s always good to beat the big guys to the punch.” Sampson fired off a set of tweets after Tuesday’s announcement, noting how Google “misrepresented” the performance of its beta tests for the new streaming service and said the search giant “goes on to pretend as if they are the first to get high-quality games playing in the browser.” Google then goes on to pretend as if they are the first to get high-quality games playing in the browser. They aren't. We launched two years ago with low-latency game steaming in Chrome, Firefox, and even Safari. — Andrew Sampson @ GDC (@Andrewmd5) If you want to maintain your freedom and begin playing your game library anywhere today, check out — we're building an extension to your games, not a replacement. — Andrew Sampson @ GDC (@Andrewmd5) Sampson told GeekWire that “Google doesn’t understand that openness is a big reason why people love playing video games.” “Some of the games that we love, like [Defense of the Ancients], are the result of people having access and control over the games that they’re playing,” he said. “By taking away the box, and taking away the ability to actually modify the game, what market are you serving, other than the publishers directly? People want to be able to configure and tinker. Being able to upgrade your console and PC is part of that experience. Getting rid of it is almost baffling.” Rainway has an announcement coming later this week regarding its availability on the Xbox. Since its launch, the company has racked up more than one million regular users. And remember, Rainway is coming to Xbox
Adaptive Biotechnologies Co-founder and CEO Chad Robins speaking from the Health Tech stage at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) As the CEO of Adaptive Biotechnologies, has shown a knack for turning really good ideas into a viable business. But even Robins admits that he makes for an unlikely leader of a biotechnology company. Robins revealed his thoughts about what makes an effective CEO during , hosted by Fuel Talent CEO Shauna Swerland. Adaptive dates back to a phone call Robins received ten years ago from his brother, Harlan Robins, saying he’d made a discovery that he thought could “change the world.” Chad Robins jumped at the chance to start a biotech based on sequencing the immune system. The company is now at the forefront of and has signed massive partnerships with Genentech to and Microsoft to . Here’s what Robins had to say about leadership. Lesson #1: Do the right thing. While in college at Cornell, Robins spent more than three months on a backpacking trek with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). “My whole leadership style to this day is based on those 100 days in the wilderness,” Robins said. “There was a thing called expedition behavior and … at the end of the day it’s just do your sh*t and be a good person. Do the right thing, right?” While hiking in the desert, Robins was part of a group, and each member had a job to do when they got to the campsite. “If one of those people didn’t do their job, you either wouldn’t drink, you wouldn’t eat, or you wouldn’t sleep well,” he said. “If I was mailing it in, someone else was picking it up. And that’s not fair.” His love of the outdoors led Robins to his first attempt at launching a business. Soon after graduating, Robins started an outdoor luxury travel company called American Beauty, named after the Grateful Dead album. Lesson #2: Learn to love fundraising “I love fundraising” isn’t a phrase you hear often, but that’s exactly how Robins feels. As he sees it, his job is to make sure the company has the money it needs. “I try to simplify a CEOs job into really three categories: money, people, strategy. If you don’t have money, you can’t get the right people. And if you don’t have the right people, it doesn’t matter what strategy you set,” he said. Fundraising has also led Robins to Brian Kaufmann from Viking Global Investors, who helped Adaptive find its strategy and set fundraising targets. The biotech industry requires mountains of cash to stay competitive, which has spurred Adaptive to raise more than $400 million to date. Lesson #3: Build culture from the top-down and the bottom-up When companies talk about management strategies, they often discuss either ruling from the “top-down” or encouraging grassroots change from the “bottom-up.” For Robins, building a company culture requires doing both at the same time. “First and foremost, you have to have a cultural leader. And that should be the CEO, who sets a tone of what you want this company to be,” he said. On the flip side, cultivating culture from the bottom-up comes down to smart hiring. “We want to be an innovative company overall and we want to be compared to the disruptive, game-changing companies across the board. To do that, you need to hire for the right mindset and the right type of person.” For Robins, the right type of person is one who has good ideas and is eager to listen and encourage debate within the company.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter habit has sparked gyrations in the stock market. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla CEO Elon Musk is in trouble again with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this time over a 13-word tweet. The SEC filed a motion in federal court on Monday, claiming that a tweet that Musk sent out last week violated the terms of an brought last September. After the motion came to light, lost as much as 5 percent of their $298.77 market-close value in after-hours trading. The price crept back to somewhere around its previous level overnight, however, as traders digested the news. It’s the latest in a series of ups and downs (or, more accurately, “downs and ups”) caused by Musk’s Twitter habit. Read the PDF: Under the terms of last year’s agreement, Musk was supposed to have all of his Twitter comments pre-approved by Tesla’s designated representative if they touched upon “information material to the company or its shareholders.” That provision was meant to head off tweets like the one that Musk sent out last August, claiming that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private even though that wasn’t actually the case. That claim and its aftermath sparked wild gyrations in the market, leading the SEC to open its fraud investigation. The agreement also required Musk to step down from his post as Tesla’s chairman and pay a $20 million fine. Tesla was also fined $20 million, and was forced to appoint two new independent directors to its board. The seeming resolution of the SEC case, plus Tesla’s , sent Tesla’s share price as high as $376. But Musk touched off a new round of regulatory trouble on Feb. 19 when he talked about the production outlook for this year: Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) That claim was amended a little more than four hours later: Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) The SEC seized on the initial tweet, and within days investigators were asking Tesla whether the tweet had been pre-approved. In court filings (which Tesla had sought to make confidential), Bradley Bondi, a lawyer for Tesla, acknowledged that the first tweet had not been specifically pre-approved. Instead, it “was intended to recapitulate the information set forth” in forward-looking statements that were made by Tesla and Musk in January, in connection with year-end results. “Mr. Musk believed that the substance had already been appropriately vetted, pre-approved, and publicly disseminated,” Bondi wrote. The substance wasn’t quite the same, though. Back in January, Tesla said it was aiming to hit a , or an annualized rate of roughly 500,000 a year, assuming that no snags arose in its plans for expansion in China. That’s not exactly what Musk said in the first tweet. Bondi said Tesla’s designated tweet-checkers realized that, and so they hammered out the wording of the second tweet as a clarification. Read the PDF: For what it’s worth, on the day after the tweet, Tesla’s general counsel, Dan Butswinkas, after spending only two months on the job. Jonathan Chang, vice president of Tesla’s legal department, took over Butswinkas’ position. The SEC said the fact that Musk didn’t get pre-approval of the wording for the “evidently inaccurate” first tweet was a violation of the agreement. As a result, the SEC is calling on Musk to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of the court’s judgment from last September. “A violation need not be willful in order to find contempt,” the SEC wrote in its motion to U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, where the original judgment was filed. The SEC also cited last December as evidence that he wasn’t taking the agreement’s requirements seriously. Back then, Musk acknowledged that none of his tweets had been “censored” since the settlement. “I guess we might make some mistakes,” he told CBS’ Lesley Stahl. “Who knows? … Nobody’s perfect.” Musk went on to say that “I do not respect the SEC … I do not respect them” — but would abide by the settlement “because I respect the justice system.” Now it’s up to the justice system to decide whether to take Musk to task over an ill-turned tweet. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan gave Musk a March 11 deadline to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt. If Nathan rules that the violation is serious enough, Musk could face further limitations on his activity at Tesla … or on Twitter. In a follow-up Twitter exchange, Musk signaled that he intends to stick to his guns: SEC forgot to read Tesla earnings transcript, which clearly states 350k to 500k. How embarrassing …
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter habit has sparked gyrations in the stock market. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla CEO Elon Musk is in trouble again with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this time over a 13-word tweet. The SEC filed a motion in federal court today, claiming that a tweet that Musk sent out last week violated the terms of an agreement aimed at settling a securities fraud case brought last September. After today’s motion came to light, Tesla’s share price dropped by more than 4 percent in after-hours trading, from $298.77 at the close to around $288 a couple of hours later. It’s the latest in a series of ups and downs caused by Musk’s Twitter habit. Read the PDF: Under the terms of last year’s agreement, Musk was supposed to have all of his Twitter comments pre-approved by Tesla’s designated representative if they touched upon “information material to the company or its shareholders.” That provision was meant to head off tweets like the one that Musk sent out last August, claiming that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private even though that wasn’t actually the case. That claim and its aftermath sparked wild gyrations in the market, leading the SEC to open its fraud investigation. The agreement also required Musk to step down from his post as Tesla’s chairman and pay a $20 million fine. Tesla was also fined $20 million, and was forced to appoint two new independent directors to its board. The seeming resolution of the SEC case, plus Tesla’s profit-generating increase in production for its Model 3 electric car, sent Tesla’s share price as high as $376. But Musk touched off a new round of regulatory trouble on Feb. 19 when he talked about the production outlook for this year: Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) That claim was amended a little more than four hours later: Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) The SEC seized on the initial tweet, and within days investigators were asking Tesla whether the tweet had been pre-approved. In court filings (which Tesla had sought to make confidential), Bradley Bondi, a lawyer for Tesla, acknowledged that the first tweet had not been specifically pre-approved. Instead, it “was intended to recapitulate the information set forth” in forward-looking statements that were made by Tesla and Musk in January, in connection with year-end results. “Mr. Musk believed that the substance had already been appropriately vetted, pre-approved, and publicly disseminated,” Bondi wrote. The substance wasn’t quite the same, though. Back in January, Tesla said it was aiming to hit a goal of turning out about 10,000 cars a week sometime between the end of 2019 and the middle of 2020. That’s not exactly what Musk said in the first tweet. Tesla’s designated tweet-checkers realized that, and so they hammered out the wording of the second tweet as a clarification, Bondi said. Read the PDF: For what it’s worth, on the day after the tweet, Tesla’s general counsel, Dan Butswinkas, announced that he was leaving the company after spending only two months on the job. Jonathan Chang, vice president of Tesla’s legal department, took over Butswinkas’ position. The SEC said the fact that Musk didn’t get pre-approval of the wording for the “evidently inaccurate” first tweet was a violation of the agreement. As a result, the SEC is calling on Musk to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of the court’s judgment from last September. “A violation need not be willful in order to find contempt,” the SEC wrote in its motion to U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, where the original judgment was filed. The SEC also cited an interview with Musk that aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes” TV show last December as evidence that he wasn’t taking the agreement’s requirements seriously. Back then, Musk acknowledged that none of his tweets had been “censored” since the settlement. “I guess we might make some mistakes,” he told CBS’ Lesley Stahl. “Who knows? … Nobody’s perfect.” Musk went on to say that “I do not respect the SEC … I do not respect them” — but would comply with the agreement “because I respect the justice system.” Now it’s up to the justice system to decide whether to take Musk to task over an ill-turned tweet. If the judge in the case thinks the violation is serious enough, Musk could face further limitations on his role at Tesla.