Why Tesla’s former CTO is crazy about the battery biz


September 3, 2020

Plus: Would you invest in a psychedelic shroom IPO?
September 3, 2020
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Our head of content, Brad, is still out on “vacation,” but we have another theory: he secretly moonlights as a professional cyclist and is racing in the Tour de France this week.

Right about now, he’s probably chugging up Mont Aigoual with a fistful of EPO-laden blood bags.

The Big Idea

Why Tesla’s former CTO is crazy about the battery recycling industry

Tesla’s meteoric stock rise has overshadowed a big development in the electric vehicle (EV) space.

In July 2020, EV and hybrid vehicles hit a record 18% of total car sales in Europe. Globally, Bloomberg estimates that EVs will make up nearly 3 out of every 10 new car sales a decade from now. By 2030, they estimate worldwide EV sales will jump from 1.7m to 26m units.

Creating enough batteries — which rely on inputs of nickel, cobalt and lithium — to meet this demand is an environmental disaster in the waiting. 

As things stand now, going green isn’t fully clean. 

Enter JB Straubel, Tesla’s former chief technology officer

Last year, Straubel left Tesla to focus full time on his materials recycling startup, Redwood Materials.

Per the WSJ, the Wisconsin native met Elon Musk in the early 2000s, shortly after the South African entrepreneur had scored a 9-figure payday with his Paypal exit. 

One thing led to another and Straubel became an early hire at Tesla. He made such significant contributions (e.g. the lithium-ion battery powertrain) that Musk “considers him a co-founder” of the EV car company.  

The recycling of lithium-ion batteries is no joke

Traditionally, sourcing the raw materials for EV batteries has involved the exploitation of foreign resources, child labor, and squalid working conditions.

Straubel wants to reduce this dependence by extracting metals from old batteries — a process that involves powderizing them in industrial ovens heated to 2.7k degrees F.

The company is also looking into saving the 10% of raw materials wasted by battery manufacturers in the cell-making process.

The WSJ article notes that raw materials now account for 50%-75% of the cost of an EV battery, making recycling services like Redwood Materials an attractive business opportunity. 

A recent $40m series B infusion will turbocharge efforts 

Straubel’s investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a clean energy fund supported by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. The funding will help Redwood perfect its battery-recycling process

Though Straubel is still friendly with his former employer, he has not taken an investment from Tesla. He wants to create a solution for “the entire automotive industry”, meaning for any battery and car design, not a single automaker.

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Snippets
  • Show your support: The artist funding platform, Patreon, is now worth $1.2B after a $90m funding round. 
  • Bumble, the world’s second largest dating app, is planning to go public at a valuation between $6B and $8B.  
  • Amazon posted — then pulled — a controversial job listing to investigate union activity among its workers. 
  • The Last Dance memes are blowing up again… because Michael Jordan just became a part-owner of the sports gaming platform, Draftkings. 
  • And you thought murder hornets were the last straw: Scientists have discovered a rare collision of 2 black holes, producing a single entity 142x more massive than the sun
Outta My Mind

Get ready for the shroom IPOs

Here’s something trippy: Magic mushrooms are illegal almost everywhere in the US. But soon, you can buy stock in the psychedelics on Wall Street.

The London-based Compass Pathways just filed to go public in the US — and it’s likely to be the biggest shroom trip yet to hit the stock market. 

Since 2016, the company has raised $116m+ from investors like Peter Thiel. 

Compass has researched shrooms as a depression treatment, and it thinks it can dramatically improve symptoms after just one dose. 

So how legal are shrooms, exactly? 

Federally, shrooms are a schedule I drug in the US, meaning they’re generally not approved for medical treatment

But there are a few exceptions to this:

  • If you have a terminal illness, you can take certain otherwise illegal drugs (meaning all the mushrooms you want) under the Right To Try Act.
  • Denver and Oakland have both decriminalized psilocybin, the substance that puts the “magic” in “magic mushrooms.” 
  • This November, Oregon will vote on whether to allow people to buy and sell psilocybin for therapeutic reasons. 

Compass is not the first shrooms seller to ring in the stock bell

Earlier this year, a small psychedelics company called MindMed listed on the Canadian markets, racking up $24m+. Field Trip Health ($19.5m raised) has announced plans to follow suit.

In the US, the mushroom market is gaining steam, and even has its own lobbying body, which is fighting to normalize therapeutic use.

Back in 2019, a group of pros teamed up to create the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education… yes, SPORE for short. 

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Now Streaming

New track from your favorite artist sound weird? It could be a Spotify scammer

Did your favorite rapper just drop a single that makes a totally inexplicable turn toward EDM? Consider this: it might not actually be their song. 

On Spotify, every singer has their own artist page, complete with a well-displayed “Latest Release” tab. 

But scammers have figured out that “Latest Release” pages aren’t well monitored — and that if they want to catapult their bedroom beats to a mass audience, all they have to do is tag a big-name artist.

Messing with the metadata pays off

The first version of this scam is focused on features. When they upload their songs, scammers will list a more established artist as “featured” on the track. 

Do it right, and the song just might show up on that artist’s Spotify page.

One rapper, Wali Da Great, has gotten his songs on the pages of bigger names like Blueface and Tay-K. 

But you can even pass off your song fully as someone else’s

That’s what happened to the indie band TV Girl. At the end of June, the group watched as Spotify listed an EDM song called “Grasp” as their latest release.

The song wasn’t theirs. But Spotify told them that, because they don’t own the copyright to the name TV Girl, anyone can list a song by “TV Girl.” 

Spotify eventually yanked it from the real TV Girl’s page — but for 2 weeks, fans were confused by the indie band’s sudden genre shift.

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The Curious Case of the Missing Email

Why Amazon stopped including purchase info in order confirmations

If you’re a regular Amazon shopper, you’ve probably gotten used to the ‘ping’ of an order confirmation hitting your inbox after you buy something.

But in recent months, you may have noticed that these emails no longer include item details — just your order total and the date of purchase.

Why the sudden change?

According to Adrian Hon, the CEO of game developer Six to Start, Amazon may have removed the purchase details from these emails in an attempt to protect its data. 

Specifically, it could be an effort to prevent services such as Edison Mail and Cleanfox from “scraping” user inboxes and gleaning key insights from purchase histories. 

Amazon (which did not publicly announce this change) presumably wants to keep this valuable information to itself.

The arrival of augmented reality (AR) will make scraping ubiquitous 

This is what Hon calls “worldscraping.” Any perceived data point can be captured by AR glasses and quickly turned into a valuable database. 

Here’s an example: MyFitnessPal was able to build a data moat from years of user-submitted food calorie information. Hon tells us that the same database could be put together “100x faster” in an AR world, decimating MyFitnessPal’s data advantage. 

This obviously raises a ton of questions: Who owns the data? How can a company protect itself? It’s too soon to tell, but the answer won’t be as easy as modifying an email. 

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