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Venture Capital’s Midlife Crisis — And A Way Out

Dani Davis



It had a good thing going for a long time, but in the last decade it has lost some of its identity and direction.

What happens to people at inflection points in their lives?

You start questioning who you are, whether you should be doing something different and if you can possibly keep up with a changing world.

Maybe you quit your job, cut unwanted obligations and chase every shiny object that catches your eye.

I believe venture capital is in a similar kind of moment. The system is no longer functioning as it once did, and it’s got a lot of people asking, “Where do we go from here?”

This is not a dig at VCs. I count many of them as friends and people I highly respect. I talk to them about these issues all the time and they nod their heads eagerly in agreement!

My goal is not to criticize, but to raise awareness so we can all work together to get the system running smoothly again.

What Happened To Venture Capital?

Several unfortunate trends have emerged in the startup world that we need to acknowledge and address, because they’re costing all of us in terms of a loss of checks and balances, overblown valuations and overly risky investments.

The Old VC Checks And Balances Are Gone

New companies used to have to prove themselves to progress through increasing rounds of funding. Series B investors counted on their Series A buddies to hand them deals that had gone through the appropriate hurdles.

That changed after Facebook went public with a $100+ billion valuation, starting a trend of high-valuation IPOs. Wall Street lost its former IPO “pop,” so it went to Silicon Valley and started pumping money into earlier-stage companies, counting on the power of big numbers to pay off.

These days, founders with nothing more than a PowerPoint are getting millions!

The median pre-investment valuation for a Series A round of funding has increased sixfold to $37 million since 2010. Too much money going into startups too soon is ruining companies, and it’s putting VCs in a tough position.

Valuations Over Value (Obsessed With Unicorns)

With so much money pouring into the startup world, valuations across the board have gone crazy.

I feel sorry for a lot of young entrepreneurs because they’ve been misled into thinking fundraising is the goal. They tell me excitedly, “I’m going to be the next decacorn!”

There are many factors that go into valuations, and they can have more to do with massaging investment terms than any true indication of value.

You can have the best valuation in the world and still be in the startup graveyard in two years.

Founders don’t realize the negative impacts of accepting so much money so early. It can force you to focus on the wrong things, and you always lose some control. You can easily end up in a high-pressure job rather than being the master of your own destiny that you envisioned.

High-Dollar, High-Risk Investments

In this environment of overvaluations, VCs, needing to deploy capital, are having to fight for deals by making big bets on unproven companies.

Yet, funding terms haven’t adapted to match the changing reality.

While VCs are often passive capital, they’re used to locking founders into a fixed path with little flexibility to learn, iterate or pivot.

This was never an ideal approach, but it worked fairly well for proven startups. However, if you’re investing in something that’s just an idea, chances are that kind of rigidity will kill it before it ever becomes anything more.

The sad thing is we’ve become OK with throwing money into 10 companies knowing nine of them won’t work, as long as that last one explodes. It’s part of a “unicorn or bust” mentality that steers founders in the wrong direction and leaves tremendous opportunity on the table.

The results?

Wasted resources, damaged relationships, potentially great companies wrecked, stress all around and too little value created.

There has to be a better way. And there is.

How Venture Capital Can Get Its Mojo Back

Here are the top strategies I’m embracing in my corner of the startup world to bring the ecosystem back into balance.

Restore Checks And Balances

We need to get back to vetting early-stage companies before significant venture investment. Most ideas can and should be tested for a fraction of what people are pumping into them today.

Doing this early on gives us the freedom to be objective as we test and iterate ideas. We can avoid the mindset of, “This has to work.” What ends up working is rarely what we think in the beginning. Let’s go in expecting that, figure out quickly and cheaply whether there’s a viable path, and then decide if it merits further funding.

This will help us all get back in our lanes, so series A, B and C investors can come in with appropriate levels of funding when the company actually deserves it.

Expand Access

From the beginning, venture capital has been an exclusive club that most people don’t have access to.

New technologies and funding systems are radically changing the game.

Crowdfunding is making it possible for anyone to make small investments in lots of early-stage companies. Blockchain technology is enabling creators and founders to take this a step further — crowdfunding their ideas using NFTs without even needing a “middleman” platform.

With the rise of low-code/no-code platforms, the costs to start businesses and create products are dropping fast.

These developments are fueling an explosion of great businesses coming out of non-traditional regions and populations. VCs need to pay attention and embrace this democratization of entrepreneurship and access to capital.

Focus On Value

Let’s get back to the essence of business, which is creating value and improving people’s lives.

The Great Resignation should be a wake-up call.

People want not only flexibility and freedom, but meaning and purpose in their work, and they’re no longer willing to settle.

Talent will be the battleground for business for the next couple of decades. Companies that fulfill this need have a major advantage.

Entrepreneurs are supposed to be problem solvers and visionaries. There are too many problems in this world, and too many great ideas that need support, for us to be continuing on the path we’ve been on. It’s time to reassess our priorities and refocus on meaningful work.

From Crisis To Opportunity

Psychologists are beginning to recognize that a midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a completely negative experience. It’s an inflection point that can be a natural period of transition — uncomfortable, but useful — paving the way for new awareness and growth.

Despite these recent imbalances in the venture capital world, I’ve never been more excited about the prospects ahead.

The emerging possibilities for meaning, fulfillment and reward are beyond anything imaginable a decade ago. As we enter this new era, we all have a choice: we can be obstacles, or we can be stewards. I choose the latter.

Mark S. McNally is the founder and chief nobody of Nobody Studios, a globally distributed high-velocity venture studio bringing together investors, founders and creatives to forge companies with purpose, real-world value and a human connection. For more information, visit

Business & Finance

Kazakh President Fires Rare Criticism At Predecessor After Unrest

Dani Davis



Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued rare criticism of his long-ruling predecessor Tuesday, and said he expected Russian-led forces to leave the troubled Central Asian country in the next 10 days.

The oil-rich country’s descent into chaos has laid bare infighting at the top of a government once dominated by Tokayev’s mentor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The older man retains the constitutional status of “Leader of the Nation” despite stepping down from the presidency in 2019.

Addressing lawmakers in a video conference broadcast live, Tokayev fired an eyebrow-raising broadside at Nazarbayev as the post-Soviet country reels from unprecedented violence that began with peaceful protests over an energy price hike.

Tokayev, 68, said Nazarbayev’s rule had created “a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards”.

Dozens died in the unrest and 10,000 people have been arrested Photo: AFP / Alexandr BOGDANOV

“The time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis,” Tokayev added, noting that “very profitable companies” would be asked to pay money into a state fund.

“The current system is oriented towards major structures and is based on the principle: ‘everything for friends and laws for everyone else’,” he said.

Both Kazakhstan and Russia have framed last week’s unrest that left dozens dead and almost 10,000 people arrested as a coup attempt assisted by foreign “terrorists”, but have provided little supporting evidence.

Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Photo: SPUTNIK via AFP / Yevgeny BIYATOV

Following a request from career diplomat Tokayev, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) deployed troops to bring about order and shore up the authorities.

On Tuesday, Tokayev announced “a phased withdrawal” would begin in two days and take “no more than 10 days”.

“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed,” he said.

The CSTO mission of more than 2,000 troops was deployed at the peak of the crisis, after armed clashes between government opponents and security forces and a looting spree trashed parts of the largest city Almaty.

The decision was a first for the CSTO, often touted by Moscow as a NATO equivalent but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in Central Asia, a region with long historical ties to Russia.

Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of 'Leader of the Nation' Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of ‘Leader of the Nation’ Photo: AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM

Concern has mounted that Moscow could leverage the mission to entrench its influence in Kazakhstan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.

Tokayev appeared to further bolster his position by backing acting prime minister Alikhan Smailov to take on the job permanently on Tuesday — a nomination that won the unanimous support of lawmakers.

Former national security committee chief Karim Masimov — a key Nazarbayev ally viewed as perpetuating the retired president’s influence over the government — was arrested on treason charges Saturday in connection with the unrest.

Even if Nazarbayev — the son of shepherds who rose through the communist party’s ranks — is now being sidelined politically, dislodging his family’s extensive interests in Central Asia’s largest economy may take time.

In a significant move Tuesday, Tokayev announced plans to bring an end to a widely criticised private recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, 41.

“This should be done by a state organisation, like in other countries,” he said of the scheme.

But middle daughter Dinara and her husband Timur Kulibayev control Halyk, the largest commercial bank, and are among the richest people in the country. Kulibayev is moreover a key player in the flagship oil sector.

Oldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva’s political career, mainly in the rubber-stamp legislature, has been marked by a series of controversial statements and perceptions of an abrasive style.

The 58-year-old’s reported business interests are also rumoured to be extensive.

Leaks of offshore financial data and a High Court challenge in London have meanwhile revealed the extent of her family’s foreign property holdings — part of a trend of capital leaving that country that Nazarbayev officially discouraged while president.

Many residents of Almaty credited the CSTO as a stabilising force that had helped Tokayev gain control over the situation after spending several days inside as gunfire echoed around the city.

Roza Matayeva, a 45-year-old English teacher, got used to tuning in to her radio during the five-day internet blackout in Kazakhstan’s financial hub that ended briefly Monday morning before the city of 1.8 million went offline again at lunchtime.

News that the Moscow-led bloc had agreed to Tokayev’s request to send a detachment “brought relief and hope that the situation will be decided for the best in the near future,” she told AFP.

“I welcome cooperation with Russia. I think there is no threat to our sovereignty.”

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Business & Finance

Here’s How Apple CEO Earned 500% More In 2021

Dani Davis




  • Tim Cook received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021
  • The sum included $82.35 million in stock awards, a $12 million bonus tied to performance targets and a $3 million base salary
  • He reportedly earned $14.8 million in salary in 2020

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s compensation ballooned to nearly $100 million in 2021, a sixfold increase from the prior year.

The 61-year-old executive, who reportedly earned $14.8 million in 2020, received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021, according to an SEC filing published Thursday. The company’s fiscal year began in September 2020 and ran through September 2021.

Of this amount, $82.35 million came from stock awards. The sum also included a base salary of $3 million and a $12 million bonus for hitting Apple’s performance targets.

Cook also received $1.39 million in other compensation, including $712,488 in personal air travel, $630,630 in security, a $17,400 contribution to his 401(k) plan, $2,964 in life insurance premiums and $23,077 in vacation cash-out.

Despite the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, Apple reported 33% revenue growth and more than $365 billion in sales. The increase in annual sales reportedly stemmed from the strong demand over the past two years as consumers working from home splurge on upgrades. 

Cook became CEO of Apple in August 2011 after the company’s late founder Steve Jobs stepped down. Jobs died of pancreatic cancer that October.

In 2021, Apple marked the 10th anniversary of Cook’s leadership as CEO.

In September last year, Cook reportedly received 333,987 restricted stock units, in his first stock grant since 2011 as part of a long-term equity plan. He will be eligible to receive additional units in 2023.

A report by Reuters noted that Cook’s 2021 pay was 1,447 times that of the average Apple employee. 

In 2021, the median pay for employees was $68,254. In 2020, the median pay was $57,783, 256 times Cook’s salary, according to the publication. 

Cook, who has already donated tens of millions of dollars to various charities, previously stated he plans to give away most of his fortune before he dies.

Cook’s net worth was $1.5 billion as of Tuesday, according to a Forbes estimate.

Prior to being named CEO, Cook was Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. At the time, he was earning $500,000 per year. When he became CEO of Apple in 2011, Cook’s salary increased to $900,000 per year. 

Between 2011 and 2020, Cook reportedly received $963.5 million in total compensation.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends Apple’s “Ted Lasso” season two premiere event red carpet at the Pacific Design Center, in West Hollywood, California, July 15, 2021 Photo: AFP / VALERIE MACON

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Business & Finance

UN Wants $5 Bn Aid For Afghanistan In 2022

Dani Davis



The United Nations said Tuesday it needed $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and offer the ravaged country a future after 40 years of suffering.

In its biggest-ever single-country appeal, the UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan, while a further $623 million was required to support the millions of Afghans sheltering beyond its borders.

The UN said 22 million people inside Afghanistan and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in five neighbouring countries needed vital relief this year.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms. My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

“Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death.”

Since the Taliban hardline Islamist movement seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the country has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.

Washington has frozen billions of dollars of the country’s assets, while aid supplies have been heavily disrupted.

Afghanistan also suffered its worst drought in decades in 2021.

Without the aid package, “there won’t be a future”, Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

The Taliban authorities said the aid appeal for suffering Afghans was “very needed”.

“But at the same time I would like to say the need is for all this assistance approved in the past to be delivered during this harsh winter,” senior Taliban leader and the group’s designated UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, told AFP.

He said the inflow of funds would also help in the functioning of the now dilapidated banking system, adding that any cash coming into the country will help rein in the inflation.

The UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan to avert humanitarian disaster Photo: AFP / Mohd RASFAN

“The banks are not working properly so there is also a need to control the inflation and that can be controlled when dollars … hard currency come to Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.

Griffiths said the appeal, if funded, would help aid agencies ramp up the delivery of food and agriculture support, health services, malnutrition treatment, emergency shelters, access to water and sanitation, protection and education.

An estimated 4.7 million people will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022, including 1.1 million children with severe acute malnutrition.

Griffiths said that without humanitarian aid, distress, deaths, hunger and further mass displacement would follow, “robbing the people of Afghanistan of the hope that their country will be their home and support, now and in the near term”.

However, if international donors come forward, “we will see the opportunity for an Afghanistan which may finally see the fruits of some kind of security.”

Griffiths said the security situation for humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan was probably better now than for many years, adding that the staff in the ministries in Kabul largely remained the same as before the Taliban takeover.

He said the UN Security Council’s move in December to help humanitarian aid reach desperate Afghans, without violating international sanctions aimed at isolating the Taliban, had made the operating environment for donors and humanitarians on the ground much more comfortable.

The money will go to 160 NGOs plus UN agencies delivering aid. Some will be used to pay frontline workers such as healthcare staff — but not via the Taliban administration.

Around eight million children could miss out on their education because teachers largely have not been paid since August, Griffiths said.

UN refugees chief Filippo Grandi said the aid package’s goal was to stabilise the situation within Afghanistan, including for internally displaced people, thereby preventing a further flood of migrants fleeing across the country’s borders.

“That movement of people will be difficult to manage, in the region and beyond, because it will not stop at the region,” he said.

“If those efforts are not successful, we will have to ask for $10 billion next year, not $5 billion.”

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