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It has been a busy week for me here in Los Angeles, with a trio of scoops about Snap, Twitter, and Meta. I’m sending this from the Upfront Summit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where Adobe CPO Scott Belsky somehow avoided being asked about the Figma deal onstage in front of a bunch of tech VCs.
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In this edition: I have more from inside Meta’s big Reality Labs road map presentation to employees, notes on the latest chaos at Twitter, what tech investors are buzzing about here at Upfront, and more. But first…
Amazon’s return-to-office Slack battle
Internal opposition to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s return-to-office mandate continues to grow. The resistance is exemplified by a swelling “remote-advocacy” Slack channel now totaling about 30,000 employees. A much smaller “rto-advocacy” channel supporting the mandate — which says that employees return to the office at least three days a week starting May 1st — has also sprung up.
After last week’s edition, one of you reached out with screenshots from both Slack channels that tell a fuller story. I’ve also read the internal petition opposing the mandate that now has over 27,000 signatures. It’s worth noting that this advocacy is an uphill battle, and it didn't work elsewhere like Apple. But it seems to be reaching a boiling point inside Amazon now.
“The biggest issue with Jassy’s announcement is that it is essentially the surprise ending of an unexpected bait-and-switch,” an anonymous Amazonian involved in the opposition push told me. Their language echoed messages in the company’s Slack from others who were hired during the pandemic with the promise of being able to indefinitely work from home. Some senior employees are saying they will just flat-out ignore the mandate.
The rto-advocacy Slack channel has far fewer members and, at this point, seems much quieter. Many of the arguments in favor of returning to the office that I’ve seen tend to undercut the channel’s thesis, such as one employee concluding that remote flexibility should probably end up being “unique team-to-team.” Another argues that offices should have onsite gyms and “places for power naps.” For a company whose executives have to pay out of pocket to not sit in economy class, that seems unlikely to happen.
It’s clear that Amazon never thought remote work would last forever. Employees who have been working from home during the pandemic remained designated to a physical office in Amazon’s internal HR system. Now, all remote work requests require approval by an SVP.
My scoop from this earlier week detailing the next four years of Meta’s consumer hardware road map seems to have created quite a stir internally. (Thanks for the name check during Wednesday’s all-hands, Boz. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to all your internal meetings, you know, with needing bathroom breaks.)
In case you missed it, I broke the news on Meta's AR / VR hardware road map through 2027. It includes: a Quest 3 in 2023, a cheaper Quest in 2024, smart glasses with a display in 2025 and a “neural interface” smartwatch to control them, and full AR glasses in 2027.
In my story on The Verge, I promised to share more from Meta’s road map presentation to employees for Command Line subscribers. Here you go:
- This was an unusually large, multiday gathering of Reality Labs leaders at Meta HQ that was also streamed globally for the tens of thousands of people in the sprawling division. Lots of talk about increasing “efficiency,” streamlining processes across divisions, etc. The presentation I wrote about Tuesday seemed mostly intended to rally the troops for the slog that is ahead. And a rally is certainly needed, given that many of the rank and file feel on edge about looming layoffs.
- CTO Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth set the tone by talking about the big-picture metaverse vision. He also announced the decision to can a planned second generation of the recent Quest Pro headset, which has seen poor reviews and underwhelming sales. Later in the day, he did a fireside chat with CEO Mark Zuckerberg in which, you guessed it, efficiency came up.
- This is how VP of VR Mark Rabkin ended his section of the presentation: “Let's buckle down. Let's be more efficient. Let's build great products. And please, let's make the metaverse and VR so obviously successful that my dad stops calling me every week to ask me about it.”
- Meta is really struggling with retaining users for Horizon, its VR social platform. Just one in 10 users return after a month. Fixing that is a top goal for VP Vishal Shah, who wants to improve monthly retention to 20 percent this year. Another goal is to double the people using Meta avatars each day across Facebook, Instagram, and VR to 75 million.
- Horizon is coming to the web and non-VR devices this year, and the expectation is that more than 90 percent of usage will be outside of VR by “sometime” next year. This is the company’s next big social media bet to take on the likes of Roblox, even though right now, it’s thought of as just a VR thing.
- Yes, legs are finally coming to Horizon avatars. Shah: “I promise you this product, legs, will be very exciting, and we will get made fun of for it at the same time.”
Lastly, if you work at Meta and got to play with the AR glasses prototype during today’s demos, I’d love to know what you think. Just make sure to reach out on a non-work phone.
It has been another week of sheer chaos inside Twitter after yet another round of surprise layoffs. This one was the deepest since Elon Musk’s initial cuts, leaving whole teams completely gutted and even hardcore loyalists like Esther Crawford out to dry.
Exemplifying the madness is what happened to VP Chris Riedy, the company’s most senior face left for the advertiser community. I’m told he was initially on the laid off list — Musk apparently thinks there are still too many managers in sales — and had his access to internal systems shut off, and then somehow convinced Musk not to give him the boot. It’s unclear what exactly he’s doing now, and his reports managing sales for key markets are reporting to Musk directly. (If you saw Chris during his meetings with top Twitter advertisers in New York City this week, get in touch.)
Musk has yet to share the reasoning for the cuts last week, other than a brief email I published saying that those remaining will receive “significant” stock awards in the new company later this month. The speculation among remaining tweeps is that the timing of the cuts had to do with the new vesting window that started for a lot of people on March 1st. Those who are still there have been getting cash payouts for the value of their remaining Twitter stock as it vests, and the thinking is that Musk wanted to avoid paying out more than he absolutely had to for the new vesting window that just started.
I’m at the Upfront Summit to see a bunch of the top tech venture capitalists. I’ve been going for several years and always find that I come away with a better sense of what is top of mind for the people funding the tech industry.
Here is some chatter I’m hearing in the hallways and onstage:
- AWS doesn’t have enough compute capacity to meet the demand from startups launching AI features. It’s a big barrier to startups getting their products out into the world.
- Lots of chatter about Stripe’s big funding round and whether it’s actually a sexy deal to be in when it’s just being used to pay a massive tax bill. There is also some cynicism that Goldman Sachs is making 8 percent off the money it’s trying to raise on Stripe’s behalf.
- The Adobe / Figma deal potentially falling apart due to antitrust scrutiny is freaking everyone out, considering it could mean no more huge acquisitions of VC-backed startups for the foreseeable future.
- TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas previewing the company’s legal argument if the US does decide to ban the app: “At best, this is political theater. At worst, this is an attack on our fundamental right in the constitution for free expression.”
- Alexis Ohanian: “A good number of my tweets every day are generated with assistance, if not fully by AI.”
- Vinod Khosla: “I’m not a big fan of governance. I can’t honestly say I don’t remember ever voting against a management team.”
- David Marcus on his new fintech startup Lightspark: "We chose the Lightning network because we think it's going to be the winning protocol for moving money on the internet."
- Peter Chernin: “I’m hugely bullish on Netflix.”
A couple of startup investing stats
In keeping with the theme of being at Upfront this week, I wanted to share a few interesting startup funding stats that the folks at AngelList shared with me exclusively:
- Series B valuations are down 50 percent YoY.
- The number of crypto deals in 2023 is already 50 percent off last year’s pace, but interestingly, valuations haven’t materially decreased.
Elon Musk is talking with ex-DeepMind researcher Igor Babuschkin about forming a competitor to OpenAI.
Elizabeth Hamren, the former COO for Discord, has joined Amazon to be CEO of its Ring division. Jamie Siminoff is going to stay on as “chief inventor.”
Arun C Murthy, who co-founded Hortonworks and was CPO of Cloudera, has joined Scale AI as its chief product and tech officer.
Meta VP Ahmad Al-Dahle is leading a new generative AI product group reporting to CPO Chris Cox.
Linktree made a trio of senior hires: Monica Austin from Calm is now CMO, Sam Rogoway is joining from Headspace as CPO, and Farnaz Azmoodeh, a longtime engineering leader at Snap, is now its CTO.
Apple has reportedly hired Lauren Fry, the former CRO of Simulmedia, to build its video advertising business.
Graham Mudd and Brad Smallwood, two ex-Meta execs, have launched their privacy-minded ads attribution startup.
- Angela Wise, Twitter’s former VP of product management, is Instagram’s new senior director of product management for recommendations.
- Notion has hired Lauryn Isford as its head of product growth.
- Clubhouse’s head of monetization, John Milinovich, has left.
Marc Andreessen is reportedly joining Character.AI’s board of directors.
OpenAI released its developer API, which is significantly cheaper to use at scale and also includes its speech-to-text model called Whisper. And OpenAI says it will stop automatically using customer data to train its models.
- Meanwhile, Snapchat released its own version of ChatGPT for paid subscribers. “The big idea is that in addition to talking to our friends and family every day, we’re going to talk to AI every day,” CEO Evan Spiegel told me for my story on The Verge.
Bluesky, the decentralized alternative to Twitter incubated by Jack Dorsey, has arrived in the App Store. (Sorry, still an invite-only beta.)
Neeva released a new AI search app that looks really interesting.
That’s all for this week! I hope you enjoyed this packed edition. If you did, please don’t hesitate to forward it to a friend.
I’ll be back next Thursday. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or off-the-record tips, respond to this email, and I’ll get back to you. You can also reach me directly at +1 502-572-8619 on Signal or just about any messaging app.