Hi from Amsterdam, where the FT is taking part in sister publication The Next Web's TNW2019 conference and #techFT is officially launching in its refreshed format. Later on today, we'll get Uber pricing its shares ahead of its IPO tomorrow. But first, those Silicon Canals:
The last time I reported on tech from Amsterdam was nearly 20 years ago when I visited GorillaPark, an ambitious venture set up by serial entrepreneur Jerome Mol to create a Silicon Valley start-up environment in leading European cities. His incubator here nurtured some good companies, but its aspirations were curtailed by the dotcom bust as funding dried up.
Two decades on and Silicon Valley's VC spirit has still not been captured by Europe. I attended a TNW lunch today, organised by the British embassy, where UK government officials shared and compared notes with their Dutch counterparts on the state of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The UK appeared to be in a much stronger position in terms of access to funding and a big presence in key verticals such as fintech. In the Netherlands, there seems little appetite for risk and we were told it was very “unDutch” to be comfortable with debt and running up big losses in the pursuit of eventual profit.
Dutch banks and pension funds are cautious on lending to or investing in tech start-ups, capital raising through the public market is muted, and one important task of the foreign ministry is to help homegrown companies find external funding.
And yet, Holland has created the occasional unicorn, such as payments platform Adyen, and it has moved up to second in the Global Innovation Index, ahead of the UK in fourth and the US in sixth.
That standing has been helped by business collaborating with universities, big companies like Philips and ASML enabling spinouts of good ideas, start-ups exploiting Dutch specialisms such as logistics and the government encouraging incubators and accelerators in cities outside Amsterdam.
I'll have more from TNW on Friday and this is a good segue into . . .
Sifted — the European tech start-up week
Facebook is making a push into payments on its WhatsApp messaging service, announcing this week it will hire 100 people in London. But it is late to the party, with Swedish start-up Truecaller already amassing 140m users across India and other emerging markets with its messaging-cum-payments app. Sifted looks at this little-known Facebook rival, which is on track to become Europe’s latest unicorn.
Elsewhere, Sifted examines the start-ups tackling the $40bn sleep-tech market and discovers some rather eccentric sleep “solutions”. For example, one company makes a bit of tech to keep a pillow chilled at night so users always get that “cool side of the pillow” feeling. There is also the latest chapter in the ride-hailing saga, as a start-up moves its focus from crowded western markets to Africa.
The Internet of (Four) Things
1. Uber IPO price bottoming out
The final price for Uber's public share offering is expected to be set later this evening at or below the midpoint of its indicated $44-to-$50 range, reflecting the recent pullback in the US stock market and the dismal performance of rival Lyft. Shannon Bond in San Francisco and Nicole Bullock in New York report that, at $44, the company would raise just under $8bn and achieve a fully diluted valuation of $80.4bn. Nicole also has a nice profile of Pete Giacchi, the Citadel Securities employee who will open trading on Uber on Friday.
2. SoftBank's Uberoptimistic profits
SoftBank’s founder Masayoshi Son confirmed preparations were under way for the launch of another $100bn investment fund, reports Kana Inagaki from Tokyo, as the group’s operating profits more than tripled in the latest quarter. As Lex points out, the 81 per cent rise to ¥2.4tn ($22bn) was largely due to higher investment valuations. A big chunk came from a $3.8bn gain on a stake in Uber,
3. Disney's Vice-like snip
Vice has lost a lot of its lustre, the media group that is, and Disney may have lost a lot of its investment as a result. It has announced a $353m writedown of the value of its stake, following a $157m writedown in November. Anna Nicolaou in New York also reports on how theme parks helped Disney beat expectations in its latest quarter, while higher ad revenues have lifted profits above consensus at Fox.
4. Intel's three CFOs in a tub
Despite having ex-CFOS as chief executive and chairman, along with its current finance director, an ex-Qualcomm CFO, Intel can't seem to hit its numbers, Richard Waters points out in his Inside Business column. CEO Bob Swan admitted at its analyst day that the chipmaker would probably suffer anaemic revenue growth and slipping gross profit margins over the next three years, and find itself in “a little bit of a bathtub” as it slogged through to the end of 2021. Also, Kathrin Hille in Taipei has the story of a struggle over strategy at SMIC, China’s largest chipmaker.
Tech tools — Nike’s perfect sneaker fit
Nike is to introduce an augmented reality feature in its app later this year that will allow customers to figure out an accurate shoe size for its range of sneakers. Engadget says it will offer advice such as “You are a 10.5" in an Air Max sneaker, giving extra information such as "80 per cent of people with similar feet to you purchased this size” or “This shoe runs slightly small.” Yes, they can always try them on as well if they're in the store.
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