ESPN boss who shocked the media world by resigning says he did it because of a cocaine extortion plot

John Skipper

  • John Skipper resigned suddenly as ESPN president in December, citing a long struggle with “substance addiction.”
  • In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper shed light on the days leading up to his resignation, a time he said included being caught up in an extortion plot over a cocaine purchase.
  • Skipper said he resigned after disclosing the extortion to Disney CEO Bob Iger, agreeing at the time that he had “placed the company in an untenable position.”

In December, John Skipper resigned suddenly from his role as president of ESPN and cochairman of Disney Media Networks, citing a long struggle with “substance addiction.”

The move came as a shock to the sports-media world at the time. But in a new interview with the ESPN historian James Andrew Miller for The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper described the difficult days leading up to his resignation, which he said included being caught up in an extortion plot over a cocaine purchase.

In the interview, Skipper said he had been an “infrequent” cocaine user and that his drug use did not interfere with his work at ESPN. When Miller pressed him on that, saying the behavior Skipper described didn’t sound like an addiction, Skipper said that in December someone he had not previously bought cocaine from “attempted to extort” him and that this ultimately brought about a discussion with Disney CEO Bob Iger that led to his resignation.

“They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and this exposure would put my professional life at risk as well,” Skipper said. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob, he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”

“It was inappropriate for the president of ESPN and an officer of The Walt Disney Co. to be associated in any way with any of this,” he later said. “I do want to make it clear, however, that anything I did in this regard, and anything else resulting from this, was a personal problem. My drug use never had any professional repercussions, but I still have profound regret.”

Skipper described spending the day after his resignation by himself in New York City, crying as he “realized the profundity of what I’d done to myself, to my family, and that I’d given up the best job in sports on the planet.”

He went on to call James Pitaro, the man who replaced him as ESPN president on March 5, “a good, smart executive” whose “style will work at ESPN.”

Read the interview here.

SEE ALSO: John Skipper has unexpectedly resigned as president of ESPN, citing substance addiction

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How Improbable raised $502 million from SoftBank — and why one UK investor skipped the deal

Improbable

  • British software startup Improbable raised a record funding round when it took $502 million from SoftBank last May.
  • The startup enables third parties like researchers, gaming studios, and the US and UK military to create vast simulations that run on its SpatialOS software.
  • The massive round raised eyebrows in the UK and Europe, with one investor telling Business Insider that Improbable’s corporate structure meant he couldn’t invest.
  • Chief executive Herman Narula believes SoftBank invested because of a grand vision that people will live through gaming.

When UK software startup Improbable raised a massive $502 million (£360 million) funding round from SoftBank last May, it stunned the wider tech community.

It was the first time a private British firm received such a massive amount of funding in a single round — and that it came from the newly established SoftBank Vision Fund was even more intriguing. The Vision Fund is the Japanese tech giant’s $100 billion (£72 billion) war chest to fund big bets, and it’s put money into Uber, used car startup Auto1, and coworking company WeWork.

But what was also notable was the lack of participation from European investors in that round, though the firm has had earlier funding from LocalGlobe and Amadeus Capital Partners.

SoftBank and Improbable are making a massive bet we’ll all be gamers in the future

During an interview with Business Insider, Improbable chief executive Herman Narula said there were several reasons why SoftBank was willing to commit so much funding, and it boils down to his predictions about the future importance of gaming in our culture.

The company’s main technology is its cloud-based distributed operating system, SpatialOS, which allows third parties to build complex, highly detailed simulations. That could mean massively multiplayer games such as Bossa Studios’ “Worlds Adrift,” or military training simulations.

“I think the tech has always been the thing that’s been most compelling, what we’re trying to accomplish and the team we’ve assembled to go do that,” Narula said. One of the heavy hitters on the team is Bill Roper, chief creative officer and former executive at Blizzard Entertainment.

Narula added: “We believe in a future where games and virtual worlds become basically the most important part of human culture. That might seem like an insane prediction but the market [is worth] $100 billion today.”

It could be worth a lot more, Narula thinks, as people’s perception of gaming shifts away from something young people do in their spare to something that might earn them money. “Underneath the veneer of culture that it’s just for [people] our age, or the generation below, games mean something really different that’s very hard to perceive. People are looking at places where they can earn a living as streamers or content creators.”

He also thinks gaming will be worth more than social media, which he describes as “the regurgitation of interaction and information that concerns the real world.” Gaming, on the other hand, can involve creating new experiences. “People are interacting with each other in ways that are not supported in the real world,” Narula said.

'Scavengers'

“There are lots of people who looked at Improbable perhaps and gone, ‘How have they raised so much money, what are they doing here?'” Narula added. “Part of the confusion is that the general zeitgeist in tech is very much about AI, for example. What we are doing seems to be weirdly off the beaten track. I think that’s where the value lies, in things that are off the beaten track.”

Improbable has an unusual corporate structure that put off at least one European investor

According to one UK investor, SoftBank as a megafund was one of the few backers that could really afford to put sufficient money into Improbable.

The investor, who preferred to remain anonymous, negotiated with Improbable but said the firm’s corporate structure meant they couldn’t invest.

“When we’re investing a meaningful amount, we want board seats and representation rights,” the investor said. “[Narula] didn’t want to give us any of that. There was a risk … he could have washed us out.”

According to the firm’s public financial filings, Narula retains control of the firm’s board and voting rights. The son of an Indian construction billionaire, he also loaned the company £1.2 million, which was repaid last year.

SoftBank’s massive investment has given the company a board seat on Improbable, though not a controlling stake.

The UK investor described Narula as “inspiring,” and a “talent magnet” and added the SoftBank funding made sense for the firm’s ambitions.

For Narula, SoftBank was all about fit.

“For us, the money and the terms, we learnt this very early, they are not as important as they might seem,” he said. “We can raise more money later, or go to a higher valuation later. The focus is always: Are these people the right partners. … The key thing for us as a company was making sure we were actually able to get that ability to go global.”

SEE ALSO: Buzzy startup Improbable will use part of its $502 million cash pile to fund a new game called ‘Scavengers’

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A woman who shot her boyfriend in the chest for a YouTube prank has been jailed for manslaughter

perez grab

  • Monalisa Perez shot Pedro Ruiz in the chest with a Desert Eagle for a YouTube prank in Halstad, Minnesota, last year.
  • Perez was holding a thick encyclopaedia which the pair thought would stop the bullet.
  • It didn’t, and Perez died at the scene in front of a large crowd who were watching.
  • Perez struck a plea deal with Minnesota authorities and will spend 90 days in jail and 90 under house arrest.

A woman who shot her boyfriend in the chest and inadvertently killed him while trying to film a prank video for YouTube has been jailed.

Monalisa Perez, 20, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for firing a Desert Eagle handgun into the chest of Pedro Ruiz, 22, outside their home in Halstad, Minnesota.

Ruiz was holding a thick encyclopaedia, which the pair thought would stop the bullet and leave him unharmed. Instead, the bullet pierced the book and killed him.

Perez called 911, but medics couldn’t do anything for Ruiz.

Perez, who was pregnant with Ruiz’s second child at the time, was being watched by their three-year-old daughter and a crowd of 30 other people at the time, according to the BBC. Cameras were recording from two different angles.

She posted this tweet in the build-up to the stunt:

Me and Pedro are probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever😳😳 HIS idea not MINE🙈

— Monalisa Perez (@MonalisaPerez5) June 26, 2017

Authorities in Minnesota agreed a plea deal with Perez, which stipulated a 180-day term of confinement. She will spend 10 days in prison then 10 days under house arrest until the sentence is over.

She has also been permanently banned from owning firearms.

The sentence is below the usual minimum guidelines, but was allowed to stand on the grounds that the stunt was mostly Ruiz’s idea.

SEE ALSO: A teenager allegedly shot her boyfriend who was trying to catch a bullet with an encyclopaedia for YouTube

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Alibaba is reaping the rewards of skyrocketing online sales in China (BABA)

Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group, speaks during the Computing Conference in Yunqi Town of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer


E-commerce is skyrocketing in China, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said Thursday, and Alibaba is reaping the rewards.

Online retail sales in the country grew 37% in the first two months of 2018, NBS reported, up from 32% growth the prior month. Meanwhile, traditional retail sales grew just 9.7% — falling just short of the expected 9.8%.

“Taking into consideration normal seasonality pattern, this gives us a higher level of comfort in our Alibaba’s FY18 GMV growth estimate of c.30% with potential upside,” Jefferies analyst Karen Chan said in a note to clients Thursday, reiterating her buy rating and $325 price target.

Jefferies is one of the Alibaba’s biggest bulls, with a price target 41% above the Wall Street consensus of $230 per share. 

“We believe the strong online retail sales in spite of weak seasonality could be attributed to: 1) a longer-than-usual shopping window prior to Chinese New Year holiday; 2) increased rural consumption spending over CNY from post-80s with smart home electronics and imported fresh goods showing fast growth; 3) step-up in online-offline promotional efforts, e.g. red packets, Taobao-RTmart (SunArt) promotion; 4) enhanced logistics service for fresh goods, e.g. Hema,” Chan said.

The Wall Street Journal also reported early Thursday that the company was seeking to move its stock listing home to mainland China, citing people familiar with the matter. Alibaba has traded on the New York Stock Exchange ever since it went public in 2014 in the world’s largest IPO.

Shares of Alibaba are up 4% in early trading Thursday and 85% in the past year.

SEE ALSO: Alibaba wants to dominate food delivery in China

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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.

Airtable

“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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