this week i'm thinking about – #6 – average time to unicorn status

Hey friends,

Happy December 🎅🏻! I’m writing a weekly blurb about 1) one thing I learned, and 2) one question I’m thinking about that’s broadly tech-related.

If you have thoughts, please do reply! I’ll paraphrase the best responses in the next newsletter. My goal is to start conversations with people thinking about similar topics through different lenses. I'm trying this out with a small group of VIP friends, but if you know anyone who would be interested in the discussion, please do forward this along or have them subscribe here.


What I learned about: average time to unicorn status 🦄🇨🇳
Is the tech ecosystem more friendly towards building a company in China or the US? It’s hard to compare the countries’ startup-friendliness quantitatively. But one fascinating stat is the average time from founding to unicorn: unicorns in the US take 7 years on average from the founding date to a $1B+ valuation, whereas Chinese unicorns take just 4 years. A few potential explanations: 1) Chinese startups are overvalued and reach high valuations decoupled from their financials, 2) Chinese investors converge on winners early to lock up capital markets and prevent competition, 3) China’s younger tech ecosystem (roughly ⅓ of the US in terms of total tech market cap) means there’s less saturated consumer distribution, making it easier to achieve hyper-growth. I tend to think it’s dominantly reasons two and three, but would love to hear if you guys think there are other contributing factors.

What I’m wondering about: applications of cheaper CV 👀🧠
I’m still uncertain that self-driving car startups will drive returns for employees and investors, given there are many well-endowed incumbents with sophisticated products (Tesla, Waymo, GM / Cruise). But they have massively driven down the cost of vision-based computing. What are industries where cheaper computer vision hardware and software (lidar, image classification) will unlock new applications? A few I’ve seen: defense (Anduril), security (Flock Safety, Cobalt Robotics), agriculture (Abundant Robotics). What else?

Top replies from last week’s edition (Swedish microchips, tech antitrust):
Heather on Google, Amazon, and Facebook antitrust – it’s likely to take close to a decade, and will take a crisis to motivate D.C. to action. Even then, it won’t look like the regional breakup of past monopolies. Instead, it’ll be Congress bartering with the big tech companies with various concessions like more content oversight, splitting off business units, and increased pricing controls. “Congress is unlikely to split up any of the core monopolies.”

Alexander pointed out that implanted microchips are usernames, not passwords – making them potentially easy to steal. You can solve this, at least partially, by having a Yubikey-like microchip.

Axel share Ratsit with me, a Swedish website where you can see financials for any Swedish company (like Capital IQ, but government-mandated even for early-stage startups). Helpful to get a sense for the scale of microchip companies like Biohax (still quite early, as expected).

What I’m reading