MILLS COLLEGE ALUMNAE LAUNCH NEW FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN: AN NFT BAKE SALE FEATURING FORTUNE COOKIES TO HONOR BELOVED MILLS COLLEGE ART PROFESSOR HUNG LIU
“INSPIRE” collection features 217 tokens created by artist and Mills alumna Megan Pumpelly
Five alumnae of Mills College are raising funds for their alma mater the old-fashioned way – with a bake sale. But the fundraising campaign comes with a modern twist – the fortune cookies up for sale are actually non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, created by artist and Mills alumna Megan Pumpelly (’05) to honor beloved Mills College art professor Hung Liu, who passed away on August 7.
The campaign is designed to capitalize on the exploding market for NFTs, with Beeple setting a record at Christie’s with a $69.3 million sale in March (42,329 ETH, worth $138 million at today’s price). Mills College also recently set a record at Christies, selling a Shakespeare First Folio last October for just under $10 million. Only 217 of the fortune cookie tokens in the “INSPIRE” collection will be minted, in honor of Hung Liu’s Feb 17 birthday. The tokens are available in all colors of the rainbow, symbolizing the importance of Mills College to the LGBTQ community. There are also 7 ultra-rare “full rainbow” tokens.
“Mills College is an important pipeline of future leaders for traditionally under-served communities like Latinx, BIPOC and LGBTQ students. For 169 years Mills College has provided a safe haven for women’s education, and this collection is designed to honor the qualities that make the College a treasure worth saving and supporting,” said artist Pumpelly.
Among those leading the fundraising campaign is also Rob Pumpelly ’04, a graduate of the Center for Contemporary Music, who said: “Mills College is a cultural icon in Oakland and over its 169-year history has played an enormous part in the history and evolution of American music and dance. I am pleased to contribute original compositions to this project. NFTs offer the potential to unlock the value of Mills’ archives which include the SF Tape Music Center, and also more than 12,000 paintings, sculptures, rare books and manuscripts in the Mills College Art Museum.”
“When you support the Mills College NFT Bake Sale, you’re not just giving. You’re getting something too. In exchange for your contribution you receive a unique token that has value and can be traded in the future. We hope that many people want to support the education of women, minorities and LGBTQ+ students,” said Claudia Mercado, ’07. “At a time when the future of our College is shrouded in secrecy, Blockchain’s strengths of combating corruption and advancing transparency, trust, governance and liquidity are critically now more than ever. So are the skills of critical thinking we learn from a liberal arts education, which Steve Jobs identified as crucial to the success of Apple”
Janice Thomas ’05 said “Hung Liu painted many Buddhist images. Part of the Buddhist tradition of honoring the dead is remembering their good deeds and performing good deeds that bring them merit. Hung Liu used the fortune cookie, a California creation, so powerfully in her work. We hope this bake sale brings good fortune to all who participate. Buying a cookie is doing a good deed to support women’s education and preserve this university that so many of us treasure.”
Tara Singh ’07, a former alumna trustee, added “Mills College and its 169-year legacy of educating women faces a critical juncture. It needs the advocacy and support of those who understand that women deserve a place to learn and thrive that is designed especially for them. The attempted shuttering of Mills, a majority minority institution with one third of the student population representative of the Latinx community, should be sounding the alarm for our political representatives and community organizations who believe that diversity, inclusion and women leaders are valuable to our society.”
Hung Liu joined the Mills College faculty in 1990 and served as tenured professor of art until her recent passing. She was one of the first Chinese artists to find success in the United States and “valorized everyday immigrants in monumental portraits.” She passed right before her first major exhibition of her works (including 200,000 fortune cookies) at the De Young museum in San Francisco and another major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Buying these Fortune Cookies supports women’s education and the preservation of 169-year old Mills College, a crucial on-ramp to success on the world stage for students from all walks of life. Many pathways, one destination.
INSPIRE is the first batch of cookies in the Mills College bake sale. Created by Mills College alumnae: artist Megan Pumpelly ’05, Rob Pumpelly ’04, Janice Thomas ’05, Claudia Mercado ’07, and former Trustee Tara Singh ’07.
A tribute to Mills College beloved professor Hung Liu, who joined the faculty in 1990 and served as tenured professor of art until her recent passing. Hung Liu was one of the first Chinese artists to find success in the United States.
Only 217 of these tokens will ever be minted, in honor of Hung Liu’s birthday. The tokens are offered in all colors of the rainbow as well as 7 ultra-rare full rainbow tokens. The Fortune Cookies will be released in 6 batches, each batch has 5 of each color plus one rainbow token.
Hung Liu “valorized everyday immigrants in monumental portraits”. She recently passed the evening before her first major exhibition of her works (including 200,000 fortune cookies) at the De Young museum in San Francisco, and right before another major exhibition of her work is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
We hope the beauty of Hung Liu’s work and the joy she generated in her students will flow as magical energy into this NFT bake sale to help Mills train many generations of artists and first generation college students for centuries to come. We make this cookie in love, respect and reverence, and we pray that our bold statement will help Mills College retain its independence.
This is a digital version of the Fortune Cookie updated for the 21st century. Buying this NFT will bring you good luck because you will be supporting 26,000 Alumnae save our beloved school! Help us use the power of NFTs and blockchain to preserve Mills College’s 169-year heritage as a women’s college with your interest in this world-first philanthropic token listing.
ABOUT MILLS COLLEGE
Mills was the first women’s college west of the Rockies and was founded at the same time as the city of Oakland and the State of California. It was the first women’s college to offer a computer science major (1974) and the first to accept trans students (2014). The Mills College music department played an historic role in the birth of the Sixties and San Francisco’s Summer of Love.
The student population of Mills is majority minority. Mills College’s magical campus and unique educational experience has produced many future world leaders. The school’s motto is Una Destinatio, Viae Diversae – many paths to a single destination.
Proceeds from the Mills College NFT Bake Sale will be donated to the Alumnae Association of Mills College to help Mills remain an independent women’s college.
Throughout my career I’ve usually been ahead of my time. Sometimes too far ahead. If you get into a new market too early, you solve the most difficult problems, fight the toughest battles and bear all the scars – but usually don’t survive long enough to reap the most rewards. For example, the guy who wrote DOS didn’t make the money from DOS. Microsoft bought it for $25,000 and created the most lucrative monopoly of all time. Nikola Tesla died penniless and his rival Thomas Edison also said his income had “nearly disappeared” in his final interview. Usually inventors get screwed by predatory capitalists who get bought out by corporations who get bought by even bigger corporations…who then milk the invention for all it’s worth.
In the case of Bitcoin, its pseudonymous inventor “Satoshi Nakamoto” is still considered the largest individual holder with 1.1 million Bitcoin – which remains untouched in the original wallets. Recently a stir was caused when 50 BTC ($3m) was transferred from a 2009 wallet, prompting a public denial by Australian Craig Wright who has claimed to be Satoshi, has been involved in multi-billion dollar lawsuits for being Satoshi, and is widely ridiculed in the industry for these claims. For all we know Satoshi is a Chinese hacking crew or a team of wizards operating in a chamber deep in the vaults of the Bank of International Settlements in Basel. Satoshi’s stake is currently worth almost $60 billion – about as rich as Carlos Slim, Michael Bloomberg or Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott. We don’t know if Satoshi’s lost his password or is even still alive.
Bitcoin seems to be flipping the traditional model on its head. The inventor may be the biggest owner, but since Satoshi many millions of people have been profiting from Bitcoin – with many hundreds of millions more to come in the near future.
On October 5 2009 the first trade of Bitcoin on an exchange took place – 1309.03 BTC for $1. 11.5 years later that is worth a little over $75 million.
Innovation Usually Comes From the Fringe
Bitcoin has followed the idea lifecycle framework described by futurist Watts Wacker in “The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets”. It’s an idea that’s come in from the Fringe to the Edge, through the Realm of the Cool and is now The Next Big Thing solidly making its impression towards mainstream consciousness and Social Convention. The parodies have already begun:
I first heard about Bitcoin from Max Keiser. I knew of Max from his 1996 invention of the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which sought to apply market-based price determination models to celebrities (and really anything). In the early 2000’s, retired young and with more money than I’d ever dreamed of burning a hole in my bank account, I used to trade precious metals and stock derivatives as a hobby – so the HSE seemed like a great idea to me. Pick up and coming stars, take a bet on their career prospects, look for outsized returns. Get a feeling their next movie is going to flop, short them. Max sold his patents to Cantor Fitzgerald whose offices were in the World Trade Center on 9/11; the technology fizzled out after that.
Max Keiser was promoting Bitcoin on the InfoWars show when it was less than $10. Max was someone I’d respected for a long time, his arguments made sense, and yet, for some reason…I didn’t buy.
In 2012 I was thinking about getting into silver again. Show me a silver trader and I’ll show you a conspiracy theorist. When the silver bugs started to trash Bitcoin, that got my attention. “Whatever they’re telling you, do the opposite” is often a trading strategy to consider. Still, for some reason…I didn’t buy.
In August 2012 when the image above was emailed to me, Bitcoin was $9.55. Silver was $27.72 As I write this, March 2021, Bitcoin is $58,099.78 and Silver is $25.14 – even after a month or so of Wall Street Bets unprecedented social media-driven #SilverSqueeze. BTC could easily go 2x from here in the next 12 months but Silver is unlikely to go 2x from here in the next 12 years.
In 2013 on a trip to London some of my mates who worked in tech showed me the Silk Road. I marveled at the Amazon-like 5-star peer reviews of all manner of dark web items – even sneakers. Still, for some reason…I didn’t buy.
By August 2014 I’d been watching Bitcoin for a while. It was just going up, and up, and up. I finally caved, buying 6 BTC for US$500 each at Coinbase. Bitcoin promptly crashed to $250, and stayed there for about 2 years. I wasn’t exactly convinced this was the future of investing!
In 2017 a friend of mine in Palo Alto, Gordon Fuller (Bucky’s grand-nephew) told me about the Brave browser’s ICO (Initial Coin Offering) for BAT, their Basic Attention Token. Today, the thing that amazes me about Brave is you can earn free tokens just by browsing the Internet. It’s like Chrome except they pay you crypto based on your usage. The crypto itself keeps going up in value against the Federal Reserve Note USD. At the time, this “Web 3.0” aspect of the idea did not resonate with me quite so much as hearing they raised $35 million in less than 30 seconds from an Internet-based crowdsale.
Brave sold 1 billion BAT at a price of $0.035 each. Today BAT are $1.16, so this was a 33x return in less than 4 years for anyone lucky enough to get in the door in those 30 seconds.
Bringing Blockchain Down Under
I saw exciting opportunities to help companies tap into this new financial world and in July 2017 moved from Silicon Valley, a regulatory nightmare for crypto, back home to New Zealand, where the regulatory environment seemed quite favorable – so long as you didn’t try to sell any tokens to New Zealanders. Enthusiastic about the potential for the “next Internet”, I gave a public lecture about “Demystifying Blockchain” in Auckland. A few dozen people came, and I boldly told them I thought Bitcoin was a great buy at the then price of US$11,500.
The next week I sent out a follow-up letter saying “I hope you followed my advice” as Bitcoin went up +53% to $17,600. It peaked at $20,000 then crashed again and we were back to the crypto winter for a couple more years . There was another run up in 2019, but it peaked and slid down again. The people who bought tickets to hear me speak may well have been cursing me, but if they took all the other advice I gave they’re probably thanking me now.
I made some recommendations in my 2017 talk which I stand by today. Anyone who followed them would have survived the “crypto winter” and profited enormously.
HODL. You only lose when you sell. It can be awful sitting on 70% paper losses, but it feels great when they bounce back. When you sell, you cement the loss and eliminate any chance of upside.
Set aside a fixed amount every month to invest into crypto. Put maybe half into bitcoin and the rest into whatever looks good that month. A strategy of steady accumulation is likely to perform well for most; a trading strategy requires more skill, time, and risk.
Buy the dips. Bitcoin and other crypto charts seem to fit the patterns of technical analysis more purely than stocks. Use Relative Strength Index to see whether a token is overbought or oversold at any given time(frame).
Use a hardware wallet, don’t keep your savings on exchanges. Cybersecurity is one of the greatest underappreciated risks in modern society, as usually the victims don’t announce it. The hackers are getting more sophisticated all the time.
Profit from alt-coins and put savings into Bitcoin. Look for emerging coins that have more potential for high multiple gains than more mature tokens like BTC and ETH
How Can You Buy If It Might Go Down?
Will crypto markets crash again? Yes! In the last month there have been at least 2 days where Bitcoin dropped around 10%. In a day! The volatility can be gut-wrenching. Will it go up again? Yes! How can I be so sure?
Because Bitcoin is something that has been dreamed about in financial circles for a long time. A hedge against inflation. If you think central banks will continue to increase the infinite supply of fiat currency, then the dollar’s value will continue to decline against the fixed supply of Bitcoin. I see governments around the world going crazy with money printing over COVID. More dollars in circulation = less purchasing power per each dollar; this is the essence of inflation. Gold can protect you from hyper-inflation…until it’s confiscated. Bitcoin is much harder to confiscate.
If you think that Central Banks have issued all the dollars they ever will, and their printing presses will now be mothballed…then Bitcoin is at its peak. If you think that monetarism means more money printing in the future…then there’s still plenty of time to buy Bitcoin.
Early Days With Early Adopters
Bitcoin has followed the Diffusion of Innovation Model, also knows as “Crossing the Chasm”. My 6-month consulting engagement with the Chasm Group in 2006 was some of the best money we ever spent. The “chasm” recognizes that for a technology to move out of the hands of the nerds and into every day life of regular people takes more than just adding some new features in the next release.
Applying the Diffusion of Innovation model to Bitcoin, you can see we are still well into the “Early Adopter” stage. It has not yet crossed the chasm into the Early Majority, but major events like the Coinbase IPO and Tesla accepting Bitcoin are bringing us there. There’s still a long way to go before every person in the shopping mall is holding some crypto in their smartphone, let alone their retirement funds.
The chasm here is things like call center support, government regulation, banking system acceptance, tax treatment, and so-called professional advisers touting it. All of this is under way, but we’re not there yet. Cryptocurrency is drawing the attention of consumers but is not yet a consumer item.
Last week Max Keiser went on InfoWars again. He is predicting Bitcoin will hit $288,000 before the end of this year. Max said that there are now about 200 million people with cryptocurrency. This is still FAR from mainstream adoption – in contrast, there are about 5 billion people with mobile phones and about 4.7 billion with Internet access. These are both technologies I’ve seen develop in my life time. Facebook has more than 2.8 billion users; it has only been available to the public since 2006. The iPhone didn’t even exist before 2007 and now there are more than a billion of them.
User adoption has a long way to go, but no matter what there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoin. Right now 18.7 million of them have been mined.
Every 10 minutes a new Bitcoin block is mined, and whatever mining pool got to write it earns 6.25 Bitcoin. This works out to 900 Bitcoin per day. Pantera Capital estimates PayPal is buying 70% of the daily allocation and Square’s Cashapp is buying 40%.
There are now multiple Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Funds, with many more filing with the SEC including Fidelity ($5 trillion AUM).
Cryptocurrency hedge funds and decentralized venture funds are emerging. Institutions and corporations are putting some of their treasuries into Bitcoin, with spectacular results. We are not yet even at 1% of Institutions and large corporations doing this with 1% of their treasuries. What happens when 90% do it with 10% of their treasuries?
The US Dollar and other fiat currencies are relatively free from volatility, but their purchasing power decreases over time. Bitcoin is highly volatile, but its purchasing power increases over time. Gold has traditionally been used as a store of value, and a “gold standard” is considered superior to the money printing of Keynesian economics. This is because gold is finite and relatively scarce. However the history of metal-based currency is also a history of debasement, fraud and theft. Supposedly all the gold ever mined in human history would fit into 3 Olympic sized swimming pools. What happens if new mining techniques lead to large increases in supply? The discovery of ancient civilizations in jungles or beneath deserts or oceans has traditionally led to increases in the gold supply in the past. Who knows what might be hidden deep in the earth? Today gold can be made in nuclear reactors, created from copper, 3D printed and grown by bacteria. Plans are well underway to mine gold from asteroids.
Just as we have been promised “peak oil” since the 1950’s, but technological innovation has led to a combination of increasing oil supplies and improving efficiency; so it is likely that time and technology will yield increases in gold supplies in the future. While it is relatively scarce, its scarcity is actually difficult to calculate. Bitcoin’s scarcity is mathematically pure and transparently traceable by all market participants.
There is still a great deal of upside for Bitcoin, and there is even more in the world of blockchain, cryptocurrency and fintech. First of all, forget about the price of “a” Bitcoin. You don’t have to buy a whole one. Each Bitcoin is divisible into 100 million units called a Satoshi. There will only ever be 21 quadrillion Satoshis in the world. Right now you can pick up a million Satoshis for about five hundred bucks – stack ’em while you can.
Although as the price goes higher, the potential upside reduces; at the same time, as Bitcoin matures, the risk goes down. 5 years ago there were legitimate fears that governments may ban it, the IRS and SEC may go after people promoting it, hackers may steal large amounts, people might forget passwords, competing technologies might emerge, large players may launch 51% attacks to create fake transactions, whales may manipulate the price by dumping, futures contracts might be added to the market with price manipulation around their expiry dates. Today, all of that has happened and Bitcoin is stronger than ever. There is little existential risk for Bitcoin now. If the SHA-256 public/private key encryption it is based on is hacked, this would be a problem (for much more than just the crypto world), but the nature of the immutable blockchain lends itself to preventing large-scale abuses.
Bitcoin is the “apex predator” of the financial markets. As an asset class it is getting very close to being larger than silver.
Bitcoin is a “better gold” than gold; if the markets wake up to that then a 10x (and bey0nd) is still ahead of us.
Bitcoin’s market cap in excess of 1 trillion dollars puts it in the elite league of Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon. However the value of those companies is correlated with revenues and earnings per share; whereas Bitcoin’s price is set by supply and demand. The supply is fixed and demand is exploding, Economics 101 says this leads to price rises.
Alternative Tokens for Edgy People
When Bitcoin goes up, the rest of the cryptocurrency market goes up – often by proportionately much more than Bitcoin. The opportunity for another 10x growth in Bitcoin is still there but may take some time to realize. The opportunities for 10x growth in alt-coins are everywhere. Many coins are going up this much in weeks or months. One token in our portfolio went up 55% yesterday:
In my Dec 2017 talk I predicted there would be more than 10,000 alt-coins within a couple of years. The last crypto winter slowed that down, but today we’re getting close:
The success of the alt-coins is driving enormous amounts of innovation, sweat equity and financial capital to pour into non-bitcoin markets. These are now taking on a life of their own.
Uniswap is a project on the Ethereum blockchain. One token may be exchanged for another without having to go through Know Your Customer Requirements of centralized exchanges. Users can also deposit pairs of tokens in Liquidity Pools and earn returns from a share of trading fees in the pool as well as appreciation of the tokens. Yields in excess of 100% APY are not unusual – I know of one pool at the moment getting 210%. UniSwap are about to launch Version 3 of their protocol which provides similar returns for less capital commitment. Some predictions say it could be 4000 times more lucrative than Uniswap v2.
It took Uniswap 30 days to process $1 million in transactions. 2 years later it is doing > $1 billion per day. This is completely decentralized, meaning a government can pass a law “we forbid Uniswap” and everything would just continue on exactly as before. This can’t be shut down so it is not going away. It only gets bigger from here. Even so, this is a fledgling area, a frontier in the crypto space for pioneers and early adopters. We haven’t even reached our first hundred thousand Liquidity Providers, let alone a million. Getting involved with DeFi now is like getting involved with Bitcoin in 2015.
Funge Me, Baby
As the underlying infrastructure for the crypto world is built, it becomes faster, cheaper and easier to launch new innovations. This year has seen an explosion of NFTs: non-fungible tokens. Fungible means divisible – if I have a barrel of oil, I can give you a gallon of oil and we both have a quantity of oil. Non-fungible means unique – like an original painting. NFTs tap into the popular collectibles craze and are making inroads in the art and sports worlds. Last October the artist Beeple had never sold a print for more than $100, despite painting a new painting every day for decades. In March the venerable auction house Christie’s, founded in 1766, sold his collage The First 5000 Days as an NFT for $69 million – putting him in the Top 3 most valuable living artists.
Another NFT work of Beeple’s just sold for $6.6 million – 100x what the seller paid for it 4 months previously. You don’t have to be the artist to make money from trading collectibles. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey auctioned off the first ever tweet for $2,915,835.47. Someone invested $175,000 in basketball NFTs that are worth $20 million 6 months later. Opportunities to “buy low, sell high” are increasing in frequency, and the timeframe for rewards keeps decreasing.
Conclusion: CRYPTO 2021 = INTERNET 1998
In 1994 when I first got on the Internet it took me months to figure it out and get started. I had to use “Trumpet Winsock” and understand modems, IP addresses, and the Windows registry and operating system. Today getting on the Internet is just taken for granted. So many layers of application and user interface have been built on top of those initial protocol stacks, which are still there…just less visible than in the olden days. Crypto is in a similar place. User interfaces and help files are improving, the experience is becoming more consumer friendly. Some of the smartest minds in the world are building out the application layer for this new financial world, not just new apps but entirely new business models.
Comparing crypto to the Web, it feels like we are in about 1998. We’ve had a couple of big crashes, there’s maybe an even bigger one to come but the genie can’t be put back in the bottle: this invention is here to stay. The infamous “dot com” crash of 2000 sent Apple and Amazon’s stock plummeting below $10. And yet, here we are, trillion dollar companies today. Did the dot-com crash prove the Internet was a passing fad? There were certainly many business journalists reporting that at the time. They were wrong and many of their publications have gone broke or are on their last legs…while those who embraced the Internet even after it crashed went on to do well from it.
Was it a bad idea to invest in Amazon stock in 1999, because it might go down? If you bought before the crash you probably felt awful for a few years. But if you put your stock certificate in a drawer, didn’t sell any, and waited for it to come back around because you saw the long-term potential of the idea…you’d be laughing all the way to the bank.
This is where we are with crypto. Don’t put your life savings in, but put a small % of them. Put a small % of your pay packet into crypto every month. Start accumulating. In 5 years you’ll be thanking me, whatever the market does in the short term.
10 Suggestions For The Venture Capital Fund Bill – by Steve Outtrim
First let me say
that I am in general supportive of this Bill. The more capital that can be
invested in New Zealand’s fledgling venture capital industry, the stronger that
industry may become in the future. Our agricultural base is limited by
available land and water, and our tourist industry is limited by the size of
the global traveling population and the infrastructure we have here to host
them. Our innovation economy is limited only by our imagination. New Zealand
makes world-class technology and we have a robust and respected system of laws
that mean licensing of intellectual property is a viable and scalable business
It is important
that New Zealand play to our strengths and be realistic about our weaknesses.
A stated purpose of
this Bill is to help address one weakness: that companies in the $2-$15 million
revenue range find it difficult to attract the capital necessary for growth. Unfortunately
the structure of the Bill offers little to actually assist businesses in this
range. Instead it suggests that nothing will really change; the “industry
darlings” who are already the most likely to attract funding will suck up most
of the capital. This may work well over the 15-year timeframe expected with
respect to repaying this $300 million; or it may not. Venture funding is inherently
risky. Capital alone does not guarantee success. Many well-funded businesses
have failed, and across the industry there is only a 10% likelihood of a
We should spend 10% of the funds on education and business
incubation to ensure that the nation’s companies are “Series A ready”. This
would be more beneficial overall than picking a handful of winners. Even if every
winner lost, the nation would still be left with a benefit. A further 10% should be set aside to foster
investment in social enterprises that are financially sustainable.
In this submission
I will suggest 10 ways that the Bill could be enhanced to deliver its goals and
highlight some of the country’s potential that I believe is not adequately
addressed by the Bill. A great strength of New Zealand is diversity; it is
important that when building a vibrant Crown-assisted Venture Capital industry
we take steps to include Māori, Pasifika, women, youth and those with special
My Qualifications to Speak on This Bill
I moved from
Wellington to Melbourne to create my startup Sausage Software, which was the
first “dot com” company in Australasia to go public in 1996. I also founded Urbanise,
which went public on the ASX in 2014. After 25 years of living between Melbourne
and San Francisco, I returned to New Zealand in 2017. In Silicon Valley I
contributed to KEA, Kia Ora USA, SF Kiwis and the Kiwi Landing Pad. In NZ I
have participated as keynote speaker and delegate at the Morgo entrepreneurship
In addition to
raising more than $200 million of capital for my own businesses, resulting in 2
IPOs and 2 trade sales, I have been an early-stage venture capital investor in
more than 50 companies and sat on Advisory Boards of dozens of startups.
My current role as
Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Innovation
and Entrepreneurship has put me in a unique position to observe most aspects of
New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem, and compare it to world’s best practices I’ve
experienced in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
Once In A Lifetime Opportunity
We will not be doing
one of these every year – so is this it for the next 15 years? If so, it is
important to get it right.
The Venture Capital
Fund Bill helps encourage Crown-owned NZ Super funding to be redeployed as
venture capital, which offers the enticing appeal of outsized returns balanced
with the practical reality of extreme risk. NZ Super has had an Actual Return
of 1.49% p.a. since its inception in 2003.[ii]
The idea is that rather than the Government managing risk as if it were a Venture
Capitalist, private sector fund managers will co-investment with the Government.
This de-risks the investment somewhat for the fund managers, perhaps helping
the size of funding rounds to increase; but it does nothing to help new
businesses scale up to be global winners, and very little to help the social
fabric of our great nation.
1. Clarify Target Deal Size
the bill, Minister David Parker gave examples of a number of Wellington-based
IT firms seeking $1 million in Series A funding – US$633k. With all due respect
to my home town, to me this indicates parochial thinking which does not scale
to a global market. For a tech startup competing on the global stage this would
be about enough to pay one good sales rep to attend half a dozen trade shows
company seeking $600k Series A is unlikely to even get a meeting with a Silicon
Valley VC firm. This is barely a big enough size to get in front of an angel
2019 Average US Early Stage Investment ($NZD):[iii]
Series A: $21.4m
The intention of
the fund is to invest the $300 million in the first 5 years, and liquidate its
holdings entirely in 15 years. This means $60m investment per year – enough to
fund 3 US-sized Series A deals, 15 in total. If the VCF invests in 5 different
funds, each fund can do 3 deals in 15 years.
If the fund were to
invest at the size Minister Parker referred to – $1m deals – this would require
one investment per week for the first 5 years. This would be one investment
every month for 5 funds, which is also unrealistic. The sweet spot is perhaps a
combination of big and small deals.
2. Consider Payback Time
Perhaps there is
some thought that the investments will exit before the 15 years is up, and those
returns could be re-invested at least once more before the final liquidation. It
is a long time between funding and exit for most investors. Peter Thiel’s
legendary initial investment in Facebook took 9 years before a liquidity event.
My own in Urbanise took 14. The US median time for companies to raise funding rounds
is 20 months and from funding to IPO is 8.2 years.[iv]
It is quite
possible that even if the fund invests in companies that continue to be
successful, they will not go public or get acquired within 15 years. What then?
Venture capital is patient, it doesn’t seek dividends. Liquidating an
investment before an official liquidation event may have a significant cost in
planning the liquidation of the fund in the future, why not make it perpetual
and continue to invest the funds in New Zealand startup businesses? The fund
could begin repaying the initial loan to the Superannuation Fund after 15
years, at a rate of interest superior to the 1.49% actual return to date. Over
a 50 year horizon an initial $300 million seeding into the Venture Capital
industry has the potential to become one of New Zealand’s greatest assets – at
15 years, we would just be getting started.
3. Global Competitiveness
US firms raise bigger
earlier stage rounds and economies of scale give them smaller operating costs.
The reason they raise large investment rounds is they intend to dominate. To absorb
or crush all competition, no matter what. If we are going to inject $300
million of taxpayer money into stimulating startups, we should do so the way we
would spend that money on sports: to win, to enhance the brand of the whole
nation, and to attract new talent to New Zealand.
succeeded in sailing because wherever you go round the globe, wind is wind, sea
is sea and a boat is a boat. A boat can be built in New Zealand that is equal
or better than any made anywhere else in the world. This process begins with
the intention to be the best. If the intention is to build a dinghy, you could
make the greatest dinghy the world has ever seen, but don’t be surprised if the
competitor’s 75-foot hydrofoil monohull sails away with the Cup.
We need to be
producing startups that are globally competitive from the very beginning. This
is the gap in our Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem that most needs to
be addressed. Extra venture capital funding injected into the existing system sounds
good in theory, but in practice will not change the percentage of startups that
fail. Funding 15 companies with Series A rounds will not help the thousands of
other businesses in the $2-$15m revenue range who don’t get funded by
professional Venture Capital. If we increase the percentage of successes the
whole industry will benefit. Capital can do that, but on its own more money
does not automatically result in more productivity.
The key to a
company raising Series A investment is Product-Market Fit, meaning being in a
good market with the right product for that market. At least 40% of surveyed
customers would be “very disappointed” if they could no longer get that product
or service. Most Kiwi businesses do not understand this, and as a result struggle
to raise Series A funds. Education about this concept and how to achieve it
would cost much less than $300 million, and would greatly benefit the nation
because our companies could then attract venture capital from anywhere.
4. Māori and Pasifika
New Zealand is a
world leader in its treatment of indigenous issues, renowned for our racially
diverse and integrated population. The global Venture Capital industry is not
renowned for its treatment of racial minorities. This is an opportunity for New
Zealand to take a lead role on the world stage, setting the way for others as
we have so many times before.
A percentage of
funds could be co-invested with Iwi. Venture capital should benefit them as
well. Iwi projects may not need an international focus, but there should be no
limitations to success.
Zealand’s role as the largest Pacific Island nation puts us in a position to
help encourage Pasifika peoples to participate in startups. A cultural shift
towards embracing failure is important, and could be assisted with government-backed
The bill suggests a
proportion of funds could be invested outside NZ. This should be for Pasifika
or for NZ owned companies in foreign markets. There is no requirement for the
Guardians’ NZ Super Fund to invest in NZ assets, as a result only 18% of the
fund is invested domestically.[v]
Replicating this in the allocation of the Venture Capital Fund would be
disastrous for local startups.
5. More Than Money – Incubation
In the U.S. if you
receive investment from top-tier Venture Capital firms you are almost
guaranteed to be successful. This is because you don’t just get their money.
You get expertise, with the lead investor usually taking a Board seat and being
very actively engaged with senior management. You get access to the best
boutique recruitment agencies, with massive rolodexes of people who have worked
together in past companies – whether they failed or succeeded. The V.C. will
help you build a team, infuse them with the right culture, and introduce you to
corporate partners to form strategic alliances with.
There is nothing in
this bill to do this, it is assumed that this function will already be done by
private industry. There are some good incubator initiatives with a track record
of success such as Icehouse Ventures and the Velocity program at CIE. However
there is no “Y Combinator” of New Zealand. What is needed is a combination of
training, skills exchange, and shared business infrastructure. 10% of funds
should be set aside to provide incubator-based funding which will help Kiwi
entrepreneurs develop the skills and thinking needed for global success while
sharing business infrastructure.
6. Growth Hacking
Partnering with larger
companies is a way to grow quickly without the founders having to dilute
equity. Sometimes this can include selling regional licenses or franchises. It is difficult for small Kiwi
companies to build international networks; yet there is a large international
network of Kiwis abroad. A global marketing agency for Kiwi companies could
facilitate partnership and licensing deals. This would accelerate the growth of
Kiwi companies faster than each one raising capital and trying to build these
networks from scratch on their own. This model has worked in the past for other
export industries in New Zealand.
7. Social Enterprises
There is no
particular focus on social enterprises that make money and do good at the same
time. This would be beneficial to the whole nation. There are already 3500
social enterprises in New Zealand, but they are falling through the cracks of
The country needs to create the right legal framework for this fast-growing new
business type, and reflect that returns from these enterprises do not have to
be the outsize Venture Capital 10x returns for the enterprise to be considered
8. Fintech, Ethical AI and Robotics
We are moving into
an exciting new era where FinTech innovation will transform society as much as
the Internet did. New Zealand should lead the way in embracing blockchain, with
regulations that match the needs of the global banking system with the
requirements of blockchain startups. A vibrant cryptocurrency and blockchain
industry will attract Venture Capital to our shores and create jobs.
Part of the funding
should be routed through a Centre for Excellence in FinTech, A.I. and Robotics.
The right regulatory market is required for these industries, with that New
Zealand could lead the world.
Intelligence and Robotics are going to be some of the biggest industries of the
21st century. There is a great need for Ethics and Trust in these
fields. Medical advances such as organ printing, genome editing, stem cell
harvesting and cloning also raise a need for BioEthics. New Zealand is well
respected as a politically peaceful and neutral country with a high reputation
for trust and integrity. This positions us well to lead the 21st
Century in FinTech as the banking system is transformed and banking of
non-financial data such as DNA, medical records and personal information
9. Bring Talent To Us: Reverse the Brain Drain
A perverse incentive
of this bill could be that our best companies get enough funding to expand
internationally and then are forced to leave our shores because they can’t hire
enough people from the domestic talent pool to grow at the pace required. I can
see nothing in this Bill to prevent this situation.
In fact, we should
try to do the opposite: attract people from all around the world to come here
to start their high-tech businesses. Making it easy for startups to get
short-term visas for their workers would be crucial. We may not be the highest
paying nation in the world for tech workers but we can offer quality of life
that is world class – as many global billionaires seem to be noticing. If our
well-funded companies can draw from the global pool of talent to build teams
they are more likely to be internationally successful and to retain significant
operations here. Right now if every startup got funded and doubled in size
there would not be enough people to work in them all.
Entrepreneur work visa is the right idea, but expanding it so that whole teams and
their families could apply at once would be beneficial. This would result in an
influx of talent, ideas, and new companies that can provide employment and
training for local citizens.
This Bill should
include language focusing a small amount of funds on these important areas which
need support from the public sector because they do not get enough from the existing
Venture Capital Markets. If we only incentivize them to do more of the same we
will end up with more of the same.
An unspoken problem
that I hear frequently at the University is the difficulty for youth to access
these professionally managed funding sources. The opposite is true in Silicon
Valley, where even a teenager with a good idea can get funding. They focus on
the business and the technology, not the traditional investment manager’s list
of red flags. Youth should be a green light not a red flag. The financial needs
of youth are often less than the expenses of mums and dads, which means that
they can do more with less. The social consequences of trying something and
failing are less, and they have the greatest amount of energy. The video game
industry offers many opportunities for youth. Teaming up youth with experienced
elders on Advisory Boards will help their companies become investment-ready.
This year is the
126th anniversary of universal suffrage and we have come a long way
in addressing gender equality issues. Culturally we recognize the importance of
women in this country, but in the world of startups we lag sadly behind. Kiwi females
in senior leadership positions are at an all time low (18%).[vii]
While there are
some female-only seed investment groups such as Arcangels, there needs to be
more support from the traditional V.C. industry to encourage more female
entrepreneurs and leaders.
In the Internet
era, there is no reason why learning or hearing difficulties, mental illness,
autism or other increasingly prevalent debilitating conditions should exclude
participation in startups. Any of these are usually instant deal-breakers in
Venture Capital. Only the government is in a position to do something to pave
the way for inclusion of people with special needs in startup businesses.
Thank you for your
time in consideration of this submission.
I have spoken to
many people in developing my perspective on Venture Capital in New Zealand. I
would like to acknowledge and thank their contributions, however all thoughts
here are presented solely as my own opinion as a private citizen.
Thanks to Andy
Hamilton at Icehouse Ventures, Andy Shenk at UofA University Services, Jenny
Morel at Morgo, Michael Murphy at Callaghan Innovation, Steve Saunders at
Robotics Plus, Gower Smith at Swyft Inc., Wendy Kerr at UofA Center for
Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Mark Bentley at UofA Alumni Relations and
Development, Jenna Ash at UofA CIE, Blair Harrison at ASX (NZ), Simeon Burnett
at The Snowball Effect, Katie Carson at DLA Piper, John Holt at TAINZ/Kiwi
Landing Pad, Lesley Tilley at Kia Ora USA and David Teece at UC Berkeley Haas
School of Business.