💡Google goes after higher ed

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Yesterday was the start of daylight saving time. It was also Pi Day and the Grammys went down. We’re still recovering from the confusion.

The big idea
Google school building

Google’s plan to disrupt higher education

Need new job skills, but short on time and money?

Last week, Google announced the details of its professional certification program. Among the highlights, per Inc.:

  • 3 programs, including project management, data analytics, UX design
  • 100k+ needs-based scholarships on offer
  • 130+ corporate partners ready to hire graduates

The programs take up to 6 months to complete and cost ~$240… slightly less than the $38.3k average total tuition for a 4-year public college.

Google started testing the concept in 2018…

… when it rolled out an IT support certificate on the ed-tech platform Coursera (where these new certificates will also be hosted).

That program attracted workers from nontraditional backgrounds:

  • Many students had no degrees
  • 46% came from the lowest income bracket, which reports annual income <$30k

While Google wants to place as many people in the jobs pipeline as possible, the courses — unlike this author’s sociology minor degree — are not meant to be a “walk in the park.”

Each one will have 100+ “rigorous” assessments.

Feeding their own funnel

This announcement is more than just positive optics for a company on the cusp of an antitrust case: Google will purportedly look at the certifications as the equivalent of a 4-year degree in their own hiring process.

Other corporations — including Bayer, Deloitte, Verizon, SAP, Accenture, Intel, and Bank of America — will also consider the certificate in lieu of a traditional degree.

This news comes at the intersection of 2 big trends:

  1. The rise of alternatives to the traditional college experience, and
  2. Rising unemployment due to COVID-19

The opportunities could make a huge difference: median salaries for project managers ($93k) and UX designers ($75k) are far higher than the national median income of $36k across all jobs.

Crucially, Google’s moves tend to echo across tech — from their infamous interview questions to their OKR framework. If the certification program catches on, we may see other tech titans follow suit.

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Snippets
  • Google vs. Microsoft: Google is battling the Australian government over how it compensates publishers on its platform. Microsoft has taken the side of regulators; Google says that Microsoft’s position is “self-serving” and meant to distract from its own hacking scandal. Nice.
  • *DJ Khaled voice* Another one: Short seller Hindenburg (which previously took down EV truck startup Nikola) is back. This time, it says GM-back Lordstown Motors faked preorder numbers for its EV pickup.
  • Air travel is ticking up, according to the TSA. On Friday, the US travel agency screened 1.3m+ passengers, the highest number since March 15, 2020.
  • Apple’s HomePod is no more: Released in 2017, Apple will discontinue its full-size home speaker product. But don’t pour one out just yet: Apple will keep selling the mini HomePod version.
  • South Korean TV bans commercials… so product placement has become a $100m+ industry, per the New York Times. And Subway is one of the biggest spenders (with its product appearing in no less than 17 shows).
  • Fintech startup Stripe raised $600m at a $95B valuation. We’ll have a breakdown tomorrow!
  • Sen. Marco Rubio is backing Amazon warehouse workers in their bid to unionize.
Crypto
bitcoins

Coins made of bit (Source: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

Blockchain funding bonanza

Bitcoin just keeps Bitcoin-ing.

With President Biden signing the $1.9T COVID relief bill into law, expectations for rising inflation (and the $1.4k stimulus checks as a new source of demand) sent BTC over the $60k milestone.

The cryptocurrency is now up ~12x in the last 12 months.

Crypto companies are booming

The biggest fish, Coinbase, is headed for a $100B+ public debut, while last week saw 2 big funding rounds in the space.

First up: BlockFi, which raised $350m at a $3B valuation, per TechCrunch. Billed as a financial services startup for crypto, BlockFi offers products for:

  • Retail investors: Users can buy and sell crypto on an app. But, crucially, BlockFi also offers interest on crypto savings (6%+) and lends money against crypto holdings so people looking for liquidity don’t have to sell their assets (it has lent $10B+ so far).
  • Institutional clients: BlockFi provides trade execution services to help organizations secure large blocks of crypto.

Today, the startup has 265k+ retail and 200+ institutional clients, while monthly revenue has hit $50m (vs. $1.5m a year ago).

Next up is FalconX…

… another crypto trading platform that aims at institutions, and which raised $50m. As Bitcoin surged over the past year, the platform saw its revenue increase 46x.

These funding moves come as crypto is becoming increasingly mainstream. Established players such as PayPal, Visa, and JPMorgan all rolled out crypto-related services in 2020.

Whether or not Bitcoin keeps Bitcoin-ing, crypto looks like it’s here to stay.

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Asia Tech

This Coupang fulfilment center is the part of the company that IS like Amazon (Source: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Coupang is the ‘Amazon of South Korea.’ But there is a key difference.

In South Korea, there is no Amazon. There’s Coupang, which has captured the country’s market with:

  • Branding: Bright and colorful uniforms help it stand out
  • Speed: 99.6% of deliveries are fulfilled in less than 24 hours
  • Ubiquity: It has 200 warehouses across the country — and 70% of South Koreans live within 10 minutes of these locations (more than half the country has the Coupang app)

Last Thursday, Coupang went public and rocketed 40% to a valuation of $80B+. It’s the largest Asian company to IPO since Alibaba in 2014 and the largest IPO to date (sorry, Roblox).

Founded by Harvard dropout Bom Suk Kim in 2010…

… Coupang is in the business of “rocket delivery,” specializing in retail sales and last-mile logistics, much like Amazon.

It has created further innovations in the space, allowing delivery to custom door-side boxes and letting customers leave boxes on doorsteps for returns.

Rapid delivery is wicked expensive, though. Amazon uses profits from its cash machine AWS to support its expanding delivery infrastructure.

As noted by Protocol, Coupang doesn’t have an AWS-equivalent to offset its logistics costs — which ballooned to ~$10B last year.

Right now, Coupang is betting that online retail is enough

South Korea is projected to become the 3rd-largest ecommerce market in the world this year, behind only China and the US.

Coupang is already #1 in South Korea ecommerce, and with the fresh IPO cash, they’re hoping to pull far ahead of its “uptight” competitors.

Although it’s not all sunshine and same-day delivery. The human toll of hyper-speed ecommerce is starting to show. In the recent pandemic-fueled delivery craze, 14 delivery drivers have died of overwork in South Korea.

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Investor of the day

Masayoshi Son checking out the iPhone with Steve Jobs (Source: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Masayoshi Son is on a roll. The billionaire Japanese investor put $3B into Coupang through his Vision Fund — good for a 37% stake. After Coupang’s IPO, that position netted a paper gain of $33B.

Less than 2 years after the WeWork debacle, Masayoshi is sitting on a massive unrealized gain of $50B+ on just 4 investments: Coupang, Uber, DoorDash, and Guardant Health.

The WeWork deal itself may also be salvaged, with the company looking to go public via a SPAC.

For a man that once lost $70B — or 99% of his wealth — during the dot-com bubble, this is just par for the course.

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