VBT Newsletter

September 19th

Good morning!

Welcome to another Sunday edition featuring:

  • Walmart is planning an autonomous delivery service in Miami

  • These startups create NFTs and digital swag for the metaverse middle class

  • The FTC released findings on how Big Tech eats little tech

  • Video game spending hit a record for August

  • And a new report shows that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

It’s September 19, 2021.

1. #MiamiTech

Walmart plans autonomous delivery service in Austin, Miami, and Washington D.C. (Miami Inno)

Walmart is gearing up to test autonomous delivery services in Austin, Miami, and Washington, D.C. While it's a relatively small rollout, planned for select parts of the three cities, the testing will help pave the way for future autonomous delivery services.

After a consumer places an online order, a runner would deliver the packages to the customer directly. But, in the background, Argo's self-driving technology will be woven in with Walmart's app platform to alert customers when an order is ready so they can grab the goods from the back of the car when it arrives.

The cars, which are Ford vehicles equipped with Argo AI autonomous systems, will have safety drivers at the wheel ready to take over as needed. The new partnership comes as Ford and Argo AI continue to prepare to launch robotaxi services in Miami as early as next year with Lyft.

While it may not be a game-changer now, Walmart has been making acquisitions, investments, and partnerships that indicate its long-term plans to integrate automated delivery at scale in the coming years. In 2018, Walmart partnered with Ford to examine the potential for self-driving vehicle deliveries in Miami-Dade County.

2. NFTs

These startups are creating NFTs and digital swag for the metaverse middle class (Fast Company)

Recently, a bunch of digital apes sold at Sotheby’s auction for $24.4 million. It’s the kind of headline we’re all growing accustomed to in the era of NFTs. For those who can afford it, changing your avatar on social media in accordance with your latest NFT purchase has become the new digital flex.

But some companies are taking a different approach to swag in the metaverse, giving more utility to digital goods and making them more accessible to everyday users. Alongside NFTs, conversation around the metaverse has captured the tech world and beyond.

  • Who are you? The avatar tech company Genies aims to bring people closer to their authentic selves by allowing users to create their idealized avatars. Currently, Genies has become the de facto avatar generator for celebrities, including Rihanna, Cardi B, and Jennifer Lopez. Genies will operate through Giphy’s API

  • Who are you wearing? CryptoKickers is a platform where users can design, mint, and sell their own NFT sneakers on the Solana blockchain. For a minting fee that averages between $70 and $80, users have sold shoes for upwards of $300.

  • What do you do? Jadu AR is pushing the idea of utility even further with, of all things, jetpacks that can be used in AR, with avatars from MeeBits, Fluf World, and Void: Visitors of Imma Degen. The long-term vision for Jadu is to build an AR world where players own the various items that operate inside that world.

The metaverse is ushering in a new wave of commerce and social experiences. The question now is who will you be in it?

3. Startups

FTC releases findings on how Big Tech eats little tech (Axios)

Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan signaled changes are on the way in how the agency scrutinizes acquisitions after revealing the results of a study of a decade's worth of Big Tech company deals that weren't reported to the agency.

The FTC reviewed 616 transactions valued at $1 million or more between 2010 and 2019 that were not reported to antitrust authorities by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

  • 94 of the transactions exceeded the dollar size threshold that would require companies to report a deal. The deals may have qualified for other regulatory exemptions.

  • 79% of transactions used deferred or contingent compensation to founders and key employees, and nearly 77% involved non-compete clauses.

  • 36% of the transactions involved assuming some amount of debt or liabilities.

In a statement, Khan said the report shows that loopholes may be "unjustifiably enabling deals to fly under the radar." However, Nothing in the report indicates that rules were broken or that the deals were anticompetitive, Neil Chilson, a former FTC adviser, pointed out.

4. Gaming

Video game spending hit record for August, boosted by consoles (Bloomberg)

Consumer spending on video game hardware, content, and accessories hit a record high for the month of August, assuaging concerns that the pandemic boost in gaming would wane with economic re-openings. Total spending rose 7% last month compared with a year ago to $4.4 billion.

Here are some more details:

  • So far this year, spending has increased 13% to $37.9 billion compared with the same period a year earlier. 

  • Hardware sales jumped 45% to $329 million in the month. It was the best August tally since 2008 and the third-highest month ever.

  • Consumers purchased more of Nintendo’s Switch than any other hardware platform in August. The Switch has also sold the most units among competitors so far this year.

  • PlayStation 5 generated the most revenue, and 10 months after it hit the market remains the fastest-selling PlayStation platform in history. Sony expects to sell more than 14.8 million PS5 units this fiscal year. 

  • The best-selling game in August was Madden NFL 22, followed by Sony’s Ghost of Tsushima.

  • Total video game sales rose 7% in August to $4.37 billion. 

5. Social Media

Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health (CNBC)

A Senate panel plans to bring tech executives to Capitol Hill following a revealing report from The Wall Street Journal about the impact of Instagram on teens’ mental health. The hearing will take place in a couple of weeks and will include representatives from Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snap, and YouTube.

The Journal’s report, which the outlet said was based on internal documents from Facebook, revealed that the company had been aware of significant negative impacts of Instagram on teenage girls.

At a March hearing, Mark Zuckerberg testified in response to a question about children and mental health, that research shows that “using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits.”

Although both the House and the Senate have hauled tech CEOs to Congress several times over the past couple of years, this hearing might stand out because of its bipartisan nature. A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on Blackburn’s remarks and pointed to an earlier blog post in response to the Journal’s reporting.

6. Funding, IPOs, M&As

As always, please feel free to share questions, feedback, or requests for future newsletters.




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