Tech Caucus 1/13: Is Peach the Fruit of the Month? And What Will Be Silicon Valley’s Buzzword in 2016?

(Adapted from the 1/13 Tech Caucus newsletter. Subscribe to get the Tech Caucus in your inbox first.)


Welcome to the first edition of the Tech Caucus, a newsletter that gauges the pulse of the tech industry. It’s a little experiment I’ve wanted to try for a while.

Every week, this newsletter polls 30 to 60 of the tech industry’s leading investors, entrepreneurs, journalists and execs (the “Tech Caucus”) to find out what’s on the collective mind of tech’s leaders. This newsletter is for anyone who wants the inside track on what the tech industry’s leaders are talking about.

The Caucus members are public for full transparency, but their responses, quotes, and votes are always anonymous. Even I don’t have access to how each member of the Tech Caucus voted, and that’s on purpose — I want the Caucus members to respond freely, candidly, and without external pressure. The only edits I ever make to their quotes are for grammar.

If you’re not familiar with me, your curator, there’s more about me here and here. The only other thing I will say about me here is that I occasionally have conflicts of interest because of my investing and advising in various startups. When those relationships might present a conflict, I will disclose them.

You’ll find a complete list of the Tech Caucus at the end of every email. If you have a question you want me to ask me or the Tech Caucus, if you have a suggestion for a new member of the Caucus, or if you want to sponsor the Tech Caucus, you can reply to this newsletter or email me directly:

With the pleasantries out of the way, let’s get to the content:

1) Are We All Going to Be Eating Peach Pie?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock without cell service, you probably have heard about Peach, the hot new social networking app from Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann and his team at Byte. Peach is already a top 10 social networking app, but its rise — especially among the tech gliterati — is reminiscent of the rapid rise of Secret (dead) and Highlight (what happened to them anyway?).

So I asked the Tech Caucus a simple question: is Peach just a flavor of the month, or could it actually have legs? Right now, the Caucus thinks it’s too early to tell:

I asked the Caucus why they think Peach is getting so much hype and traction. “Peach wouldn’t have blown up if it weren’t for the fun name and branding,” says one member of the Caucus. “Combine that with the inescapable attention on Twitter, tech press, and Product Hunt, many flocked to the app out of curiosity alone.” Another member of the Caucus agrees: “It’s co-founder created Vine. Dom is well respected and he’s made ‘it happen’ before. You will pay attention to it.” Other Caucus members also expressed this sentiment, or believe “Tech FOMO” is a factor in Peach’s rise.

Some think Peach’s traction is due to the app’s unique features. “Magic words are ‘secrets’ that make peach more interesting to play with,” says a different member of the Caucus. From another: “This reminds me a lot of the features of MessageMe and some of the other messaging apps that team was testing.”

I’m going to end this section with a quote I agree with. The bolded part is my personal emphasis: “A famous founder and article on every tech blog will draw every tech insider to ‘give it a go,’ but it doesn’t mean they’ll stick. The real secret is if they can move beyond people trying out Peach to actually finding value out of using it to connect with their friends. Tech insiders are the most fickle audience, so they will also want to grow beyond that in a real way.”

We’ll have to just wait and see.

2) CES 2016: And the Winner Is…

CES happened again. I was there for an interview, but I got to see some cool stuff as well. So did the Tech Caucus. Here were some of the products that got them excited:

  • “Every major car company had a concept car that was all electric and automated. Also, the connected home stuff was pretty rad.” (The car companies really killed it at CES this year. Except Faraday Future… that’s another story.)
  • “The smart bed.” (The Sleep Number connected bed is indeed awesome.)
  • The Memento Smart Frame, which “looked like a framed picture on the wall. Then it changed to a new picture.”
  • But the winner of the Tech Caucus CES poll, by far, was the EHang 184 drone, which the majority of Caucus members mentioned without prompting. “It’s far from commercialized but at scale it, or something like it, could change the way we travel and transport things,” one Caucus member believes. For those who haven’t seen it, it can carry a person and is basically a personal helicopter. It even has air conditioning! EHang, if you read this, send me one!
Image credit: Elizabeth Pierson at Mashable

3) What Will Be the Buzzword in Silicon Valley in 2016?

2015 was defined by one buzzword: unicorn. Sure there were others, but c’mon, it was all about the unicorns. I asked the Tech Caucus which word the buzzword of Silicon Valley would be in 2016. Some of their responses were hot tech sectors: VR, drones, AI, electric cars, and blockchain all made appearances. Virtual Reality was mentioned by more than 1/3 of the Caucus. If CES was any indication, VR is going to be a dominant force this year.

But there was also another trend in the buzzwords suggested by the Caucus — a lot predicted we’d be talking about financial difficulty for startups in 2016. “Bubble” and “market correction” were suggested by the Caucus. So was “revenue”. But my favorite, by far, was “unicorpse,” which was mentioned by three of the members of the Caucus. (Thank you Aileen for yet another memorable buzzword.)

One caucus member doesn’t like the impact buzzword culture is making on the tech industry. “I don’t believe in buzzwords and won’t contribute to the culture it brings about in Silicon Valley,” this Caucus member explained.

4) Yahoo Is Down, But Is It Out?

The Caucus is not bullish on Yahoo. Two thirds (66.6%) of the Tech Caucus believe Yahoo will not be an independent company three years from now. Caucus members weren’t shy with their reasoning. “Yahoo can’t figure out how to be relevant. They serve no clearly articulable need. So they should either bet big on something that will define them going forward, or they should sell.”

“I think it will merge with another large conglomerate to survive. Or at least it needs to,” says another Caucus member. From a different member: “Yahoo has become useless. It’s value on the market is negative if you remove the Alibaba shares.”

“Great companies are defined by future growth,” starts a long response from another Caucus member. “Right now, Yahoo has no future growth in its current core products. To find future growth, it needs a new line of products that can spring board off of its diminishing brand and traffic. Whenever you’re focusing on future growth and product creation, it’s best done as a private company and as a startup. For Yahoo to operate like this, it has to go private. This is the bull case. Realistically, there’s too much baggage and no one is going to make a gutsy move like that. It will be chopped into pieces and sold off for minimal value. The Yahoo media properties will be the only thing that remains of the brand and they’ll wither away.”

Yet, despite the doom and gloom, a third of the caucus thinks Yahoo will survive, but for wildly different reasons. “I don’t think there is a private equity fund that would take it private,” one says. “I’m an optimist and Yahoo has a big opportunity despite its challenges,” says another.

I personally believe Yahoo will be around in three years from now. Yahoo’s a Silicon Valley institution that has survived every crash, every bubble burst, and every activist investor. Marissa and Maynard will figure it out. 2015 must have been a humbling experience for Marissa, though.

5) Suggestions for How to Fix the Women in Tech Problem

This piece in Re/Code about women in tech caught my attention. 60% of women in tech have been harassed, and 84% have been told they were too aggressive, according to a new survey of women in the industry. That’s just unacceptable and anyone who tells you Silicon Valley doesn’t have a women in tech problem is delusional or on a lot of shrooms.

I asked the Caucus what the tech industry should be doing to fix this problem. The solutions they propose had similar themes. “Create work environments where women feel comfortable,” suggests one Caucus member. “A big part of that is having women in senior leadership roles.” On the topic of sexual harassment, one had strong words: “F*CKING STOP IT. And SHAME YOUR FRIENDS WHO DO IT.”

Others shared these sentiments. I’m just going to quote a few of the members here, because their suggestions deserve to be aired:

“Men need to be better actors in the workplace. Aggression, or perceived aggression, surfaces when the wronged party is not being acknowledged or listened to. To fix the problem, I think we need to reframe the solution: Leaning In is one example of this. Zuck’s comments about being the nerd instead of dating the nerd is another. It’s leadership instead of being bossy. Framing the situation better will help all involved.”
“Get more women in leadership positions. Celebrate successes and experimentation. Right now, there feels like a witch hunt where good intentions can backfire dramatically in the face unrealistic critics.”
“Recognize the inherent gender bias within. Even people who’ve told me they are feminists have a hard time recognizing the bias in themselves. Also help women stand out for their accomplishments. Highlight their work more.”
“Companies need team players. Uber aggressive employees that don’t work well with others eventually harm company culture and don’t push work forward. Hire more women in executive positions that are valued at Tech Startups.”

One member even suggested appointing Sheryl Sandberg as “Gender Czar”. Would that be a government position?

In general, the Caucus members believe men need to be more aware of their bias, companies need to do more to recognize and promote women, and aggression shouldn’t be constantly rewarded. But a lot of members also said they have no idea how we should tackle the problem, which may be part of the core reason why women continue to be underrepresented in the tech industry. We need more actionable steps for men, women, and companies to take.

It won’t be easy, that’s for sure.

6) If you won the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot…

I always ask a fun question in each edition of this newsletter. I knew this week’s question had to be about the impending $1.5 (and rising) Powerball jackpot. Even my multi-millionaire friends are snatching up tickets.

So, what would the tech industry’s leaders do with an extra billion or so? 76.5% said they would invest some of their newfound wealth in startups. 64.7% said they would travel the world. 52.9% said they would give it to their families. 35.3% of the Caucus members said they would buy themselves some “really nice things.” (I have some suggestions.)

One Caucus member said they’d use the money to help others pay off their student loans (awesome idea). And only 11.8% said they’d donate most of their winnings, which may reflect a Silicon Valley sentiment that building and investing in startups is a more efficient way to change the world than charitable giving.

Feel free to email me fun questions you’d like me to ask the Tech Caucus — I’m always looking for suggestions!

Interesting Links of the Week:

That’s it for this week! Share this newsletter with your friends! Next week’s edition will be the “official” launch.
~ Ben

This week’s sponsor is The Little Mermaid, the film that teaches young women that if they look pretty and shut up, they’ll marry a rich dude who murders their rivals and live happily ever after!

(But really, you know who to email if you want to sponsor The Tech Caucus.)

Have a question you want me to ask the Tech Caucus? Have a suggestion for a new member of the Tech Caucus or an Interesting Link of the Week? Reply to this email or email me directly:

The Tech Caucus: Jason L. Baptiste, Megan Berry, Sarah Buhr, Vanessa Camones, Tracy Chou, Julie Crabill, Paige Craig, Adam Draper, Josh Elman, Daire Hickey, Ryan Hoover, David Hornik, Olivia June, Richard Kerby, Aileen Lee, Loic LeMeur, Doug MacMillian, Jesse Middleton, Nat McNamara, Nathalie Nuta, Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Saad, Raju Sagiraju, Matt Schlicht, Jon Swartz, Jennifer Van Grove, Kurt Wagner, Robin Wauters, Mike Weiksner, Brian Wong, Michelle Zatlyn.