The tech-backed company that makes ‘the world’s most comfortable shoes’ is releasing a brand-new style

allbirds tree runners 2

  • Allbirds has launched a new shoe style called Tree Runners.
  • Made from eucalyptus tree fibers, the Runners are the biggest departure yet from the company’s signature style made from a novel Merino wool blend.
  • Allbirds has found a cult following among tech workers in Silicon Valley.


Allbirds, the footwear-maker of choice among tech workers in Silicon Valley, is releasing the successor to a plain wool sneaker that’s been called the “world’s most comfortable shoe.”

On Thursday, Allbirds launched a new style of sneaker that’s made from eucalyptus trees. The shoes have a simple, low-top profile that’s like the running sneaker meets the boat shoe.

According to Allbirds founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, the Tree Runners shoe is the most environmentally -friendly style the company has made since its founding in 2014. Fiber gets stripped from eucalyptus trees that grow in South Africa and is woven into a yarn using a 3D-knitting machine. The shoes are lightweight, comfy, and silky to the touch.

allbirds tree runners 1

Tech workers in Silicon Valley have been singing the praises of Allbirds since the company’s launch. The venture capital-backed startup based in San Francisco is best known for its Wool Runners and Loungers — both super-soft sneakers made from a Merino wool blend.

Titans of industry, including Larry Page, Dick Costolo, Ben Horowitz, and Marissa Mayer are fans.

Steven Sinofsky, a partner at top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz who previously ran Windows at Microsoft, said he bought a pair because he’s “just a guy trying to fit in.”

The fashionable duo behind Warby Parker, Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, said in an interview that Allbirds are their go-to travel shoes. They invested in the company in 2016.

In 2017, Allbirds raised a $17.5 million Series B round of funding that allowed the company to open stores in San Francisco and New York City and launch a children’s line called Smallbirds.

The company had a “very successful year” following the release of the Wool Runners in 2016, Brown, a former professional soccer player from New Zealand, told Business Insider. Allbirds would not disclose revenue, but said first-year sales of the sneaker beat projections five-fold.

allbirds cofounders Joey Zwillinger, Tim Brown

Allbirds’ charmed run has not been without difficulties. In 2017, a writer at Yahoo Finance reported that Silicon Valley’s favorite sneaker has “a wear-and-tear problem.” Half a dozen people who own the shoes told Yahoo Finance that the shoes fall apart when worn on a regular basis, and some buyers on the internet agreed that the $95 shoes aren’t made to last.

Brown and Zwillinger told Business Insider that the new Tree Runners were designed for durability. The 3D-knitting machine uses more yarn around the toe and sides of the shoe to prevent stretching. The process also creates less waste because only the materials used are “printed.”

I tested out a review pair of the Tree Runners at the South by Southwest tech conference last weekend. I also own several wool sneakers from Allbirds.

Being on my feet during 17-hour days was tolerable in the soft cradle of Allbirds’ new kicks. The Tree Runners have gaps in the knit that made them breathable on a 90-degree day in Texas. The shoes provided the support of a traditional sneaker with the cool looks of a skipper.

The biggest annoyance was the shoelaces, which are now made from recycled water bottles. The laces came undone constantly, which I attributed to their smooth texture.

But overall, the new shoes should not disappoint fans. 

The Tree Runners style sells for $95 and is available now in Allbirds stores and online.

SEE ALSO: We reviewed the new Allbirds Tree collection — here’s how they feel

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Former PlayStation CEO Jack Tretton is a legend in the video game business — and now he’s starting a new company with a radical business model to shake up the industry

Jack Tretton

  • Game industry veteran and former PlayStation CEO Jack Tretton is starting a new company focused on video games.
  • The company is named Interactive Gaming Ventures; the goal is to partner with indie game developers by providing capital and management assistance.
  • Unlike the traditional game publisher model, Interactive Gaming Ventures acts like a publisher partner.

If you’ve played any PlayStation console across the past 30 years, you’re familiar with Jack Tretton’s work. 

The long-time Sony employee starting working in the PlayStation division before Sony was fully convinced it would ever become a player in the video-game industry. He ended his career at the Japanese electronics giant in 2014 as the president and CEO of Sony’s PlayStation group, having ushered in the outrageously successful PlayStation 4 the year prior.

He’s kind of a big deal — which is why it’s so fascinating that he’s starting a new video game company, named Interactive Gaming Ventures, that’s focused on ushering smaller games to market.

“We formed Independent Gaming Ventures with money backed inside the industry, with industry understanding,” Tretton told me in a phone interview this week. “We’re targeting two to three projects a year where we can work very closely with successful indie developers that’ve had some degree of commercial success in the past, but are looking for some management advice, some financial contribution to help grow their business a little bit sooner than they could on their own.”

Jack Tretton (E3 2013)

On paper, it sounds like Tretton’s starting a new game publisher along the lines of EA and Activision — but there are some key differences from the traditional game publisher model. For one, Interactive Gaming Ventures won’t own the rights to the game after publishing. 

“Our interest is really in the game itself,” Tretton said. “We invest specifically in the game itself — the developer owns the IP [intellectual property], the developer controls the actual process of developing.”

That’s meaningful! Traditionally, a game publisher like EA or Activision agrees to publish an independent studio’s game in exchange for rights to that game. The game studio is paid for that project, and when it’s finished, the publisher owns the IP. In the case of Interactive Gaming Ventures, the game’s developer owns the IP and retains control of the project’s development.

“We’ll provide financial support with milestones,” Tretton said, “But when the game ultimately goes to market, we’ll take a percentage of the income in return for our investment. And hopefully we’ll share in the success together. It’s really more of a royalty-based investment.”

Ark: Survival Evolved

Tretton’s not alone in this new business — he’s working with Studio Wildcard CEO Doug Kennedy, a man who’s most well-known recently for the insane survival game “Ark: Survival Evolved.”  

That game’s tale of success — from an unfinished “Early Access” release to a major console game — serves as a model for the type of game that Interactive Gaming Ventures intends to release.

“We’re looking to make investments in two to three projects a year, probably between $1 and $5 million per project, with studios that’ve had some degree of commercial success,” Tretton said. More specifically, Tretton’s looking for games that “publish on PC first in early access, and then ultimately roll out to consoles.” 

As it turns out, some of the biggest games in the past 10 years followed exactly that path: Both “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Minecraft” started out on PC only, eventually making their way to consoles in more polished forms.

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds

With Interactive Gaming Ventures just getting off the ground, there are no projects to speak about just yet — but Tretton’s timed his company’s announcement to the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, which kicks off next week. 

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Stephen Hawking was my real-life Time Lord: Remembering the genius who inspired countless humans on this rock drifting through space

stephen hawking stars breakthrough starshot GettyImages 520676566

  • Stephen Hawking died in his home in Cambridge at age 76 on March 14, 2018.
  • The physicist pioneered new ways of understanding black holes and the universe.
  • His popular-science books — especially “A Brief History of Time” — may persist as some of his greatest achievements.

Stephen Hawking, who’s known for his explorations of time and discovering that black holes can evaporate, died today at age 76 in his home in Cambridge.

I was lucky enough to see him speak in person twice, but I first got acquainted with the British physicist during a long Boy Scout trip to the middle of nowhere, Ohio.

Hawking, of course, wasn’t riding on our body-odor-filled bus. Instead, I saw his image on a paperback copy of his 1988 book, “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes“. In the photo, the bespectacled author sat in a wheelchair in front of a star field.

I don’t recall why a friend handed me the book. But that introduction to Hawking’s writing influenced the arc of my life, and undoubtedly that of millions of other people.

How Hawking helped change me with words

a brief history of time stephen hawking book cover amazon

Like many tweens-going-on-teens in the 1990s, I was trying to fit in at school with limited success.

“A Brief History of Time” became a magical escape hatch. In reading it, I could leave behind probing questions about girls I liked, peer pressure to make a clown out of myself (which I excelled at), and chaotic and sometimes cruel social circles.

Instead, I could join Hawking on fantastical adventures to the edges of black holes and inside time-traveling spacecraft; shrink down to the infinitesimal scale of subatomic particles; and journey to the birth and eventual death of the universe. He was like a Time Lord from the show “Doctor Who,” though he scurried about the universe via words instead of a phone booth.

The book — which had sold millions of copies even then — was dense, for sure. But to me it read like a riveting sci-fi tale and murder mystery rolled into one. And it was real. What Hawking wrote represented a digestible guide to the limits of human knowledge.

I had only a crude knowledge of mathematics, so I didn’t understand half of what Hawking wrote, at least at first. Yet his prose was eminently readable. I read the book cover-to-cover, again and again, extracting new understanding each time.

“We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?” Hawking wrote.

His book not only helped answer those questions for my teenage self, but also instilled in me new curiosities, such as “Is there a theory of everything?” and “Will we ever detect evidence of multiple universes?”

More importantly, Hawking revealed to me how science was thought through and performed.

The things that once felt exciting and mysterious to me, like astrology, ghosts, and UFOs, suddenly seemed foolish. Why clamor for evidence of the occult when the greatest source of mystery in our existence — the universe itself — was at our fingertips?

Smitten by the ultimate

nasa apollo 11 earth africa 1969 AS11 36 5352HR

I eventually returned the book to my friend in a dog-eared and tattered state. But its wonder stuck with me.

Hawking — whose struggle with the neurological disease ALS left him increasingly unable to move his body — summoned the courage and resolve to turn his condition into a gift. He used it to formulate bold ideas, put them forth with careful and thoughtful writing, and develop an uncanny ability to make the exceedingly complex comprehensible (and at times hilariously entertaining).

His work helped me see the purpose and excitement of learning to do math and science. It’s also why Hawking and “A Brief History of Time” are the first two things I think of when asked why I became a science writer.

The book was my first deep-dive exposure to the technically challenging, murky frontiers of human knowledge. It gave me the desire and the language to chase the ultimate in my career. Hawking’s work is probably why I’m still smitten by absurdly complex topics like gravitational waves, black holes, nuclear physics, and space exploration. And it’s why I spend my workdays striving to understand these frontiers and their profound, surprising relevance. (Have a gold or platinum ring? Thank a pair of colliding neutron stars.)

Now more than ever with his passing, I hope others will continue to find the boundless yet grounded curiosity he helped me discover at a young age.

I hope my work will, like Hawking’s did for me, spur readers to look up at the night sky (preferably in the middle of nowhere) and see more than “just” moons and stars. Hopefully they will fund and understand the beauty and interconnectedness of the universe, how little we know about it, and just how much we have yet to learn as a young alien species stuck on a rock that’s drifting through the void.

This story was originally published on March 14, 2018, at 5:49 p.m. ET.

Remembering Stephen Hawking:

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This Silicon Valley sleeper hit app just got $52 million to do for spreadsheets what Microsoft did for computers (MSFT, AAPL, GOOG, GOOGL)

Howie Liu

  • Airtable has raised $52 million in Series B funding led by Caffeinated Capital and CRV.
  • Airtable uses a simple spreadsheet interface to make it easy to build custom apps, its CEO, Howie Liu, says. It also launched a new product called Blocks to make it easier to use Airtable to do that.
  • Airtable has become a sleeper hit in Silicon Valley, earning love from users and companies like Tesla, WeWork, Airbnb, and Time magazine.
  • An initial public offering is the plan — Liu sold his last company to Salesforce and doesn’t want to go that route again.

Airtable, a spreadsheet app that has become one of Silicon Valley’s sleeper hits, has raised $52 million in new funding in a round led by Caffeinated Capital and CRV to bring its total to $62.6 million.

When it was founded in 2015, Airtable was a small, business-focused spreadsheet program. It has since found new audiences, as companies like Tesla, Airbnb, and WeWork — as well as smaller teams and individual users — have come to rely on Airtable to organize their data.

The secret to Airtable’s success, according to its CEO, Howie Liu, is that it makes it easy to make a custom app. Every cell of an Airtable spreadsheet can store anything, including photos or lists. Adding an interface on top of the spreadsheet can turn it into a simple but powerful app — without coding.

“We think we can be what Windows was for personal computing,” he said. “We’re confident we can be the Apple or Microsoft of the low-end-app space.”

For example, Tesla uses Airtable to store information and keep track of every car that leaves its factory in Fremont, California. The video and photo teams at Time magazine and Fortune use Airtable to manage their entire production schedule too.


“It really allows people with little or no technical knowledge to build high-level workflow systems,” Liu said.

The state of the Airtable business

Liu’s first company was acquired by Salesforce when he was 21 years old. A year later, he quit to start Airtable after realizing how Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel were limiting. Actor Ashton Kutcher, who had previously invested in Liu’s first company, invested in Airtable after Liu pitched Kutcher in his trailer on the Two and a Half men set. 

It worked out, says Liu, because Airtable is growing fast — while he didn’t disclose specifics, revenue is up 500% from the year-ago period, he says. The app’s users are in the seven digits, with “thousands” of signups every day, Liu says. And Tesla has become one of Airtable’s biggest clients, with a deal size in the six figures.

Liu says that all of the interest caught him a little by surprise: “If you asked me on the day we launched if a few years later we would be signing six figure enterprise clients, I would have said no.”Airtable mapping block

Liu also says that he’s had good advice along the way: Former Slack CMO Bill Macaitis is an advisor to Airtable, as is Amanda Kleha, formerly the head of marketing at Zendesk. Both of them help assist with that enterprise marketing push. Box CFO Dylan Smith, a college friend of Liu’s, has also acted as an advisor.

Airtable isn’t yet profitable, Liu said, but can be “cash flow positive at a moments notice.” And an IPO is the eventual goal, he says, because he doesn’t want to sell his company again. The funding will go towards opening an office in New York City, hiring, and product development.

Airtable is also launching a new product called Blocks, which allows users to build more involved applications for businesses, sti lll without coding. The Mapping Block, for example, lets a film studio can track in real-time where all of their shoots are happening around the globe, from the status of equipment rentals to a production’s status.

Liu attributes Airtable’s fast growth to a change in marketing strategy. Recently, Liu and his team shifted focus to going after larger enterprise customers, rather than smaller businesses and startups. Once they made that decision — and they started blanketing San Francisco in billboards — word began to spread.

“It’s crazy how Airtable kind of blew up,” Patrick Perini, vice president of product at San Francisco-based startup Mira, told Business Insider. Perini is considering moving all of Mira’s operations on to Airtable. “All of my developer friends are pretty excited about it,” Perini said.

SEE ALSO: This 26-year-old CEO pitched Ashton Kutcher in his movie trailer — and got funding

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Here’s what it was like to watch the play about the downfall of Travis Kalanick with a load of Uber employees

Travis Kalanick

  • Groups of Uber employees in the UK went to see a new play in London about the downfall of Travis Kalanick.
  • “Brilliant Jerks” re-creates key incidents in Kalanick’s downfall.
  • The play also tackled themes such as drug addiction and adoption.

On Wednesday night, several groups of Uber employees sat in a cavernous space underneath Waterloo station in London and watched “Brilliant Jerks,” a play that re-creates the downfall of the Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick.

Of course, the crowdfunded play couldn’t specifically name Kalanick or Uber for legal reasons. So it was about a nameless taxi app, and Kalanick became “Tyler Janowski.”

Uber employees watched as actors re-created key events in Kalanick’s downfall: There was the infamous trip to a karaoke escort bar in Seoul, South Korea. And there was the incident where female employees weren’t given leather jackets but the male members of the team were.

The actors also portrayed the kind of workplace sexism that the former employee Susan Fowler described in her explosive blog post that contributed to Kalanick leaving the company he founded.

One actor played a female employee who likened the taxi company’s code base to a cathedral, built by many people over time to become a giant, intricate work. But the actor playing her manager discounted her metaphor, instead heaping praise on a male employee who had a similar idea.

It could have been uncomfortable viewing for the Uber employees in the audience, and for some it appeared to be as they looked on awkwardly. But others laughed along with the jokes and seemed to enjoy the performance.

The play told three stories: the downfall of the CEO, the experience of a young woman who worked at the company, and an employee’s difficult time working at the company.

But it also introduced new themes to the story. It grappled with subjects such as alcoholism, drug addiction, adoption, HIV, and homophobia. The cavalcade of issues became distracting after a while, but it helped to broaden the story beyond a focus on Uber.

“Brilliant Jerks” takes its name from a comment by Arianna Huffington, an Uber board member, who stepped in to help the company during its crisis last year.

“I made it very clear that we were going to abandon this cult of the top performer, which is often what excuses bad behavior,” Huffington told CNN in October. “So I called it from now on, no brilliant jerks will be allowed.”

This isn’t the first time employees of a large technology company have taken a trip to see a critical depiction of their employer.

In 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took staff members to a screening of “The Social Network,” a film that purportedly depicted the founding of Facebook. “To celebrate a period of intense activity at Facebook, we decided to go to the movies. We thought this particular movie might be amusing,” a Facebook representative told Reuters at the time.

“Brilliant Jerks” is being performed at the Vault Festival in Waterloo until Sunday.

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If you’re not using Google Chrome’s permanent ‘Mute Site’ feature, you’re not using Chrome at its best

Mute site

  • An update to Google’s internet browser, Chrome, brought users a lot of new features including the option to mute certain websites permanently.
  • This is an upgrade from the option to “Mute Tab,” which was more of a temporary fix for users, since the settings would revert to their defaults if you closed the tab or browser. 
  • The update could prevent users from avoiding sites with auto-play videos altogether. 

In January, Google Chrome — the search giant’s extremely popular web browser — started rolling out an update with a lot of new features, including the ability to permanently mute sites that auto-play annoying videos every time you visit.

Google Chrome updates usually consist of bug fixes and other necessary security-related adjustments that make a minimal difference in your day-to-day browsing. But every now and then, Chrome serves up a little gem, and this is one of them.

Google Chrome users can now right-click on a tab and select “Mute Site” to make sure that the site never plays sound. You can also click on the padlock on the left end of the address bar, scroll down to “Sound,” and select “Block.” I found sites would remain muted even when visiting them in an incognito tab, which means only clearing out your cache would undo the site-wide mute.

Of course, this means if you do want to hear a video from of your muted sites, you’ll have to “Unmute Site,” done in the same manner. But now, you won’t have to worry about visiting websites that will interrupt your music or general browsing experience. Prior to this update, there were some sites that I avoided completely for this sole reason.

Before Google added this option to mute an entire website, there was the option to “Mute Tab,” but that fix was temporary: If you closed the tab or browser, the settings would revert to their defaults, and you’d continually need to remember to mute the tab each time. Sometimes the best option was just muting my entire computer or phone, but then I’d miss out on my Spotify playlist.

If you’ve closed your Google Chrome browser in the last month or so, this feature should be in your browser already since this was an automatic update. You’ll know if a Chrome update is pending if those three dots in the top right-hand corner of your window are any color besides grey: They can be green, red, or orange, depending on how long its been since the update was released.

I highly advise making use of the “Mute Site” feature. It’ll change your relationship with certain websites, and make for a less frustrating web-browsing experience overall.

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The real reason a top Uber executive abruptly left shows how much mistrust and fighting there really was behind the scenes

rachel whetstone uber

Rachel Whetstone’s seemingly abrupt departure from Uber in April 2017 did not go unnoticed. 

Whetstone, after all, was the embattled ride-sharing company’s head of policy and communications. And Uber was in the center of the worst storm of bad press anyone in the business could remember.

But while her exit caught outside observers by surprise, it didn’t come completely out of the blue. 

Before Uber, Whetstone had served for years as head of public policy and communications at Google. Those years had made her rich, and when she arrived at the ride-hailing company, she wasn’t under the spell of potential wealth, which drove other top players at Uber.

“That made her feel like she could speak truth to power with [then-Uber CEO] Travis,” a former executive said. “She wasn’t part of the group of yes-men who would never disagree with him.”

Over time, Whetstone had become disillusioned with Uber. In her role as a powerful woman in the company, she was someone who many troubled employees and other insiders felt comfortable venting to. As these people shared negative stories with her, Whetstone began to see Uber differently. She became angry.

She saw a company that needed to grow up, but that under CEO Travis Kalanick, wouldn’t.

As Whetstone became increasingly frustrated with Uber, she developed a reputation with some as being difficult to work with, becoming easily upset. She would threatened to quit, but would then cool down and change her mind. Or Kalanick talked her down and encouraged her to stay. 

Kalanick indulged her at first, feeling she was a good resource for the company. But over time, he felt, she had become too much drama to deal with.

“She had this distaste for the company, starting with Travis,” one person said, adding, “Rachel hated the company, but was there punishing the company for making her be there.”

The time Kalanick accepted Whetstone’s resignation

The situation came to a head after a damning article about Uber was published in the tech news site The Information.

The article described how a group of Uber executives — including Kalanick, his then girlfriend, Gabi Holzwarth, and business head Emil Michael — visited a South Korean karaoke bar in 2014. That bar turned out to be more like an escort service, featuring women with numbers taped on them. 

Before Holzwarth talked to The Information, she reached out to Whetstone and told her that she had received a call from Michael. Holzwarth and Michael had been close friends when she dated Kalanick. Michael warned her that the press might start digging into the Korea incident. Holzwarth told Whetstone that she felt as if Michael was threatening her not to talk.

When the story came out, it included a reference to that phone call and portrayed Whetstone as being sympathetic to Holzwarth and asking her if anyone from Uber had expensed the night in the karaoke bar. The story also said that Whetstone had reported the call to the legal team, which turned the information over to Holder’s investigators, citing someone “with direct knowledge of the matter.”

Kalanick was not pleased. As his head of PR, he felt Whetstone was supposed to be defending the company from stories like these, not be part of them.

Not only was Whetstone doing a poor job of defending the company, Kalanick’s inner circle believed, she was riling other employees and stirring up gossip. Kalanick talked to her about these concerns. The subtext was alarming: the implication that she was somehow the source of the negative leaks to the press.

Such intimations were both insulting and potentially career-ruining. A PR person found to be leaking would almost definitely never work again.

In early April, Whetstone quit. The next day, she changed her mind and said she’d like to stay.

This time, however, Kalanick accepted her resignation. Over dinner, they amicably negotiated an exit package involving millions of dollars’ worth of stock that vested over time and agreed on a face-saving explanation that kept Whetstone on as a consultant.

On April 11, her resignation was announced and Kalanick publicly praised her as she left, calling her “a force of nature, an extraordinary talent and an amazing player-coach who has built a first-class organization.”

Click here to read the full BI PRIME article — THE TAKEDOWN OF TRAVIS KALANICK: The untold story of Uber’s infighting, backstabbing, and million-dollar exit packages

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19 billionaires who grew up poor

Oprah Winfrey

• Billionaires don’t always come from moneyed backgrounds.

• In fact, many famous billionaires actually grew up poor.

• From George Soros to Larry Ellison to Oprah Winfrey, here’s a look at how some of the wealthiest people on the planet came up from nothing.

Billionaires aren’t all born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

In fact, many came from nothing at all.

The “rags-to-riches” trope may be a cliché, but it’s one that’s definitely grounded in reality for some famous billionaires.

Through extraordinary grit and perseverance, individuals across the globe have beat the odds and achieved their own rags-to-riches stories.

Here are 19 people who started off life poor and went on to become billionaires:

SEE ALSO: From fry-cook at McDonalds to waitress at Hooters, here are the unglamorous first jobs of 24 highly successful people

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Guy Laliberté was a fire-eater before founding Cirque du Soleil

Net worth: $1.19 billion

At the beginning of his career, Laliberté had fire in his belly — literally. The Canadian-born circus busker played the accordion, walked on stilts, and ate fire.

Later on, as Business Insider previously reported, he took a chance and flew a troupe from Quebec to Los Angeles without purchasing a return fair. The circus troup traveled to Las Vegas and became Cirque du Soleil.

Laliberté is now the CEO of Cirque de Soleil.

Kenny Troutt, the founder of Excel Communications, paid his way through college by selling life insurance.

Net worth: $1.41 billion

Troutt grew up with a bartender dad and paid for his own tuition at Southern Illinois University by selling life insurance. He made most of his money from phone company Excel Communications, which he founded in 1988 and took public in 1996. Two years later, Troutt merged his company with Teleglobe in a $3.5 billion deal.

He’s now retired and invests heavily in racehorses.

Montpellier rugby club president and Entrepreneur of the Year Mohed Altrad survived on one meal a day when he moved to France

Net worth: $2.7 billion

Born into a nomadic tribe in the Syrian dessert to a poor mother who was raped by his father and died when he was young, Altrad was raised by his grandmother. She banned him from attending school in Raqqa, the city that is now capital of ISIS.

Altrad attended school anyway, and when he moved to France to attend university, he knew no French and lived off of one meal a day. Still, he earned a PhD in computer science, worked for some leading French companies, and eventually bought a failing scaffolding company, which he transformed into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of scaffolding and cement mixers, Altrad Group.

He has previously been named French Entrepreneur of the Year and World Entrepreneur of the Year.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

The highest-valued marijuana companies of 2017 reveal 2 key insights about the booming industry

legal marijuana california dispensary

  • US venture capital dropped $303.9 million into the cannabis industry in 2017, up from just $1 million in 2012.
  • Most of the top venture-backed companies in the space are either biotech companies or those that provide ancillary services, like software platforms and payroll management.
  • The murky legal status of cannabis in the US has given rise to cannabis-focused venture funds, which thrive in the uncertainty.

The legal-marijuana industry is booming in spite of the federal government’s antagonistic attitude toward the plant.

According to data and research firm Pitchbook, American venture capital put $303.9 million into 79 marijuana industry deals in 2017, up from just $1 million in 2012 when Colorado first legalized the drug. And 2018 is on pace to break 2017’s record. By the end of February, there were 12 venture-backed deals worth $159.4 million alone.

Looking at the highest-valued venture-backed companies in the marijuana industry, there are two clear patterns.

Money is flowing into the ancillary side — tech companies that provide software or payroll services to the cannabis industry but don’t actually touch the plant. It’s also moving into biotech companies that are researching and developing patents around cannabis compounds for medical purposes.

In the near future, the ancillary and biotech sectors look poised to dominate the cannabis industry, at least in the US. For now, venture capitalists are shying away from cultivators and other plant-touching businesses to avoid tangling with federal law and inviting a crackdown by the Justice Department.

VC Backed Cannabis Companies

According to Roy Bingham, the founder of BDS Analytics, a business-intelligence firm for the cannabis industry, concerns about the regulatory environment “still hang over” American investors and largely exclude mainstream venture capital firms from investing.

This has given rise to a number of cannabis-specific venture firms — mostly funded by a mix of wealthy people and entrepreneurs who may have a higher appetite for risk than institutional investors — like Poseidon Asset Management, Casa Verde Capital, and Phyto Partners. Privateer Holdings, an investment firm that functions as a Berkshire Hathaway-type holding vehicle for cannabis companies, is valued at $490 million.

“They’re very consciously only investing in cannabis-related activities as opposed to that being a piece of their bigger portfolio,” Bingham said. “They’ve said, ‘OK, that is actually a benefit, that’s an advantage for us that there’s this regulatory uncertainty, which will keep the big guys out for a period of time.'”

That hasn’t stopped some of the bigger, more mainstream venture-capital firms from making investments in the marijuana space. They’re just focusing on companies that offer ancillary services to the industry.

Veteran media firm Lerer Hippeau Ventures, backer of the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, invested in HERB, a cannabis-media company based in Toronto, in August. And Michael Lazerow, of Lazerow Ventures, has personally invested in Baker, a software platform for dispensaries.

Micah Tapman, a managing director at cannabis accelerator and venture-capital firm Canopy Boulder, told Business Insider that the “smart money” is looking toward the high-end medical side of the industry. Of the top 15 venture-backed cannabis companies, according to Pitchbook’s data, four are healthcare-specific.


Teewinot Life Sciences, in Florida, is working on the biosynthetic production of pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids (the active chemical compounds in the cannabis plant), according to the company’s website. Tuatara Capital, a fund focused on the biotech side of the cannabis industry, led a Series B round for Teewinot last year, valuing the company at $138 million. 

And Anandia Labs, a Vancouver-based marijuana testing company, closed $13.4 million in funding in January, pushing the company’s valuation over $50 million.

At the same time, ancillary services companies— like Baker and Leaflink — have high valuations driven up by enthusiasm around the industry. They also allow more mainstream investors to get a foothold since they aren’t flouting any federal regulations by getting involved.

Some of the companies that got in at the right time may be overvalued, according to Tapman.

Eaze, a cannabis-delivery service, “raised money at the perfect time,” Tapman said. “They had great connections and a good story,” Tapman said. “But it’s yet another delivery service of which there are a thousand.”

Companies like Leaflink — a New York-based online marijuana marketplace valued at $50 million after a round of investment in November — that have strong brands and competent management teams could be “huge,” according to Tapman and Bingham, but the risk of overvaluation is still present.

One of those brands, MedMen, operates 11 retail marijuana dispensaries in California, where marijuana is legal for adult consumption. It recently became one of the first American “unicorns” in the cannabis industry, valued at over $1 billion after closing a $41 million round of fundraising in February.

MedMen, the highest-valued venture-backed company, is a plant-touching company — creating an opportunity for Canadian investors, who don’t need to worry about the US federal government interfering in their business. MedMen’s last round was led by the Toronto-based Captor Capital.

“People are creating brands now that have great value,” Bingham said.

Editor’s note: We initially reported Teewinot’s Series B valued the company at $80 million. The correct number is $138 million. 

SEE ALSO: A hedge fund that focuses solely on marijuana is crushing it

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