The Five Best Things: Mar 20, 2021

Winner winner chicken dinner

The Five Best Things

  1. TechCrunch: Hugging Face raises $40 million for its natural language processing library

    • Continuing the theme of broadening access to AI/ML in the last few weeks, I want to spotlight HuggingFace - a startup whose claim to fame is maintaining an open source library of popular transformer models (BERT, RoBERTa, T5 etc.). They are also known for distilling large transformer models (which run in huge clusters of machines in centralized cloud data centers) into smaller, lighter-weight versions for running on mobile devices.

    • The company is also interesting for their monetization strategy, using an “open-core” business model. This model is where the core product remains open source to build community credentials, but enhanced versions and enterprise-grade support are only offered to paid tier customers. Most notable company in this genre is Red Hat, acquired by IBM for $34B a couple years ago. Not bad for “free” software 🤗

    • Fun fact, the company’s seed round came from Basketball player Kevin Durant.

  2. The Economist: A billion-plus covid-19 shots in 2021. Can Serum Institute do it?

    • An interesting read about the history and ambitions of the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing about half of the world’s Covid-19 vaccine supply. Since the company specializes in low-cost, the vaccines being manufactured here do not require ultra cold storage, such as the Oxford Astra-Zeneca and Novavax. Thus this company could be solely responsible for ending the pandemic in the developing world.

    • A private, family-owned company, it was started in the 1960s to breed horses to create antibody serum for treatment of snake bites and tetanus. 50 years on, the company has 6000 employees, annual revenues of $735MM with 70% of it coming from international governments.

  3. The Generalist: Unity is Manifesting the Metaverse

    • This is an excellent, albeit slightly older piece (published in September 2020) with a tear down of Unity’s S-1 filing at the time of its IPO. Unity, similar to Epic Games, created and operates a gaming engine called Unity3D. By some estimates, 71% of the top 1000 mobile games are built with Unity’s engine. The company has two core product lines - Create, which allows game developers to create new games, and Operate, which provides monetization tools for these games.

    • Two things I found particularly useful here - market size numbers (Gaming TAM - $12B, construction - $17B), and an elaboration of how the core gaming-targeted product can evolve for non-gaming use cases. I love a good Nvidia analogy.

      That's likely a key reason the company is channeling its inner-NVIDIA in seeking new frontiers, as discussed previously.

  4. WSJ: Trading Chicken Parts Is Going Digital

    • This article covers a New Zealand based startup - Nui - which aims to bring transparency to the global meat and dairy markets by building an electronic trading platform. Another firm, called Urner Barry dubs itself the Bloomberg of this market. Some very interesting notes in this article -

      For agricultural giants like Tyson Foods Inc., moving millions of pounds daily of meat and poultry products from farmers to vendors world-wide still requires phone calls, spreadsheets and personal relationships with middlemen who take a cut. Brokers fees can add up, and it is hard to get reliable up-to-the-minute pricing information. Unlike other markets, inventory and supply aren’t available on a centralized database.

    • You know an industry is waiting to be gobbled up when fax machines are still used for transactions. For some more interesting knowledge about how the wholesale meat and restaurant industries work, I recommend this podcast with Nick Kokonas, owner of Chicago restaurant Alinea.

  5. Axios: The winners of the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search

    • It is so much fun to read about the winners of the National science talent contest! This year’s winner Yunseo Choi studied matching algorithms and published a video (warning, goes to facebook) about her work!

      The Science Talent Search has run every year since 1942, and its alumni — who include prominent scientists like geneticist Eric Lander and physicist Lisa Randall — have gone onto win 13 Nobel Prizes and 22 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, among other major science prizes.

    • Matching algorithms are a pet interest, and have been used in such diverse areas as dating sites, kidney matching, medical residency allocation etc. Read more from the father of matching markets, Dr. Alvin Roth here and here!

    • Maybe the meat markets need more teenage geniuses.

Honorable Mentions

  • This week’s shootings in Atlanta are heavy on my mind, and this profile of the victims and their families is gutting.

  • A profile of Corey Quinn, a cloud computing billing expert, whose takes on AWS products are super funny. Case in point

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not represent my employer.