Dinner with Ben Thompson and GGV Capital

FullSizeRenderLast night, we hosted a small dinner @ Hakkasan to welcome Ben Thompson of Stratechery to town. In my work with GGV Capital, which for many years has been investing cross-border between Asia and the U.S., listening to Thompson speak over dinner was both expansive and current — in my opinion, he is the single best technology analyst out there today, so we were lucky to have his time. It was a long dinner and many friends of GGV’s showed up (thank you for coming!), here are some of the brief points the discussion created:

  • The effect of Asia-based messaging apps: I kicked off the discussion to focus on a topic I’ve been wrestling — what should we expect our U.S. messaging apps to do given what’s been going on in Asia? Thompson pointed out that since SMS is mostly free in America, there hasn’t been the glaring need for apps in the same way that consumers felt it in Asia. As a result, he postulates the evolution of functionality in our own messaging apps may not move quickly as SMS is good enough for many use cases.
  • Peer-to-peer and on-demand services in Asia vs U.S.: Thompson pointed out that the sheer density of many cities across Asia make it so that the things citizens need is often no more than 5 minutes from their houses, whereas the U.S., is very spread out and built mostly around a car culture. This makes sharing and on-demand more likely, whereas there’s less need in his region of the world, relatively speaking.
  • What to expect from Apple Watch: I’m getting so excited about this. come Monday it is really going to dominate chatter and change the conversation in a big way. Thompson made a number of nuanced points about Apple Watch — the battery life will depress it out of the gate, but Apple’s core audience will give it enough lift to experiment. Thompson also pointed out that, just like the iPod was a very visible device to others, many people will see others with the Watch and start looking at it, start thinking about buying on. It will foster curiosity. The Apple Watch will also help Apple leverage its various APIs like HealthKit, CarPlay, WatchKit, etc.
  • Global battlegrounds: Thompson remarked the Chinese companies will own China, and Apple will do well there, too; while in the U.S., obviously Apple, Google, and Facebook reign supreme. The new battleground for these companies will be in developing countries.
  • On Xiaomi: Thompson believes Xiaomi’s scrappiness will afford it a massive advantage as it figured out a way to bring high technology to even poor geeks in China — not just the upper classes — and that this DNA will afford them the opportunity to expand their reach in China and places like India, for instance.
  • Facebook is the most underrated company in the Valley: Someone asked about Internet.org, and Thompson pointed out just how aggressive Facebook is being in other parts of the world, essentially giving away bandwidth and cutting zero-rating deals with carriers to essentially become the company which controls media consumption, which in turn helps them control advertising. When you think about it this way, it makes $200b as a market cap seem small for $FB.

Thanks again to Ben for sharing his thoughts so openly, to GGV for organizing and hosting, and to all the guests who showed up for a great evening.