WWN#37 – SendGrid’s IPO Soars on Debut


What’s Been Happening?

SendGrid, a Colorado tech company in the United States, was founded in 2009 by three developers: Isaac Saldana, Jose Lopez and Tim Jenkins. Only one of its three founders (Saldana) still has a big enough stake in SendGrid to be among the shareholders who own 5% or more of the company.

It is a cloud-based email delivery service that assists over 55,000 paying customers (e.g. Uber, Spotify & Airbnb) to send more than 30 billion emails every month.

SendGrid manages transactional email such as purchase receipts, password resets, account creation in addition to email marketing in the form of promotions and email newsletters.

In November 2016, they had a venture capital raising that amounted to $33 million, bringing its total venture funding to $80 million.

What Now?

SendGrid IPO Debut

On the 16th of November, the company made its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: SEND). SendGrid said earlier this month that it planned to sell 7.7 million shares, priced between $13.50 and $15.50 per share. Prior to going public, it increased both those figures, ultimately offering 8.2 million shares at $16. The stock popped 14% to $18 on its first day of trading, giving the company a market capitalisation of $734 million.

What’s Next?

Despite the success of its IPO, SendGrid is still very much a “show me” story as it isn’t profitable yet. Although its revenues have risen year on year with sales hitting $80.2 million in its first nine months of 2017, net losses also grew to $4.7 million in the same period.

At the current share price, the company’s risk profile is too high and banks too much on the staying power of email, like its competitors MailChimp and SparkPost. But for now, with 54% of the planet (3.7 billion people) still using email, it’s hard to imagine a world that is without email anytime soon.


WWN#32 – Kenya’s August Election Ruled Invalid! Kenyatta vs. Odinga

What’s been happening?

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected in August amid accusations of election fraud by the opposition. The opposition leader Raila Odinga has claimed the results were rigged, echoing claims made against Kenyatta in the 2013 elections. In 2013, Kenyatta won with a wafer-thin margin of 50.03 percent, a result that Odinga disputed unsuccessfully but peacefully in court.

Official results this time around show that Kenyatta won by a comfortable margin of 1.4 million votes (54.27%). However, Odinga and his opposition party immediately rejected the results and appealed to the Supreme Court for a new election.

What Now?

Kenya’s Supreme Court has declared Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the presidential election last month invalid. The six-judge bench ruled 4-2 in favour of a petition filed by Odinga who had claimed the electronic voting results were hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent. A new vote is to be held on October 17 after the Court found there were “irregularities and illegalities” in the election.

Hours after the Supreme Court ruling, President Kenyatta addressed the nation, saying that he respects the court’s decision but personally disagreed with the decision. However, he has called for peace and respect for the rule of law. “Amani, Amani, Amani! (Peace, peace, peace!)” – Kenyatta

Odinga and his party welcomed the decision but said that they preferred the new election to take place later on October 24 or 31 in order to provide the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with enough time to fix its problems.

What’s Next?

More will be revealed when the full judgment of the court is released within 21 days of the ruling. In the meantime, a weakening currency and plunging stock market indicate that the extended political uncertainty will inevitably have a negative impact on the country’s economy.

Organising another election will also be costly. The original vote cost around $500 million and involved more than 300,000 temporary workers. Now the IEBC has to repeat it and under heavier pressure to prove that results are reliable and accurate.

Another election is likely to mean more violence on the horizon. After a flawed presidential election in 2007, more than 1,000 people died and half a million people were displaced in the post-election violence and street protests. If Odinga loses this election as well, it is possible that he may challenge the results again or worse still, incite his supporters to take action through violent means.


WWN#31 – An Ongoing Conflict in India: Aadhaar Cards & Privacy

Aadhaar Card ExampleSource

What’s Been Happening?

In 2009, the Indian government introduced identity cards known as an Aadhaar card and rolled out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. An Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric data such as finger prints and eye scans and demographics. It is the world’s largest biometric ID system with over 1.1 billion enrolled members as of 15 August 2017. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the regulatory body that oversees the Adhaar project and does not charge any money for any stage of the registration.

In 2015, a Supreme Court order had ruled that the registration for Adhaar was a purely optional program and that it could not become mandatory. In 2016 however, parliament passed the Aadhaar Act which allowed the government to require identification for government services.

Citizens have been notified that they will need to prove their identity using this card to be eligible to use certain services such as:

  • Filing income tax returns and having a permanent account number (PAN). This is similar to Australia’s requirement of a unique tax file number (TFN) for every individual that is lodging their tax return.
  • Subsidised fuel services
  • Hassle-free passport services
  • Concessional rail ticket booking
  • Hassle-free pension services

As the card was rolled out, concerns arose about privacy and data security, with the former becoming a hot topic as the government argued that privacy isn’t protected by India’s constitution in its attempt to make the national identity cards mandatory. The matter was taken to the Supreme court of India in 2012.

What Now?

A nine-member bench of India’s Supreme Court announced that individual privacy is a fundamental right, a verdict that will impact the way companies handle personal data and the roll out of the Adhaar card.

The court ordered that two earlier rulings by large benches that said privacy was not fundamental in 1954 and 1962 be overruled and declared privacy as “an intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty” and “part of the freedom guaranteed” by the constitution.  Those opposed to the growing demand for Aadhaar data cheered the ruling.

India’s Law Minister Ravi Prasad stated that the ruling was an affirmation of the government’s stance that privacy is a fundamental right but subject to reasonable restrictions. He said that it was not a setback to the government’s plans for Aadhaar and notes that the court is separately looking into the legality of the Aadhaar Act.

What’s Next?

The latest ruling means that the government may not have as much leeway to make signing up for the ID program mandatory. While the validity of the Aadhaar Act is still being challenged, this latest verdict will empower those already challenging the biometric platform by petitioning for a stay on the various ways in which Aadhaar is currently being used and where the government is trying to compel the use of Aadhaar (e.g. opening bank accounts with Aadhaar).

Apart from Aadhaar, the government’s power to collect and handle data will consequently be diluted and subject to change. Although a battle has been won, the war is far from over.


WWN#29 – Sydney’s Tent City is coming to an end

What’s Been Happening?

In June, police and council workers dismantled a homeless camp in Martin Place, Sydney CBD which houses about 50 people in tents. The so-called “tent city” has been a subject of debate between the State Government and Sydney Council for months as both sides have accused the other of shunting responsibility over tent city (State vs. Local).

Since then, many residents have returned with some of them having been on the streets for a few months while for others it has been decades. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian claims that the homeless people have been offered accommodation and are simply refusing to help themselves. The residents have countered that the offered accommodation is “not safe, nor affordable, nor acceptable”. Some of them say that the accommodation is only offered on a temporary basis as well. So far negotiations between the City of Sydney and the homeless tent dwellers to vacate the Martin Place campsite have failed.

What Now?

A bill that was introduced by the government on Tuesday was passed in the upper house without amendments on Wednesday evening. The bill authorises police to remove people from crown land if the land minister deems there to be a public safety issue. The legislation only affects crown land within City of Sydney and does not extend to other councils. It effectively resolves the long-running stoush between the government and the city albeit by employment of force.

Following the change in legislation, the residents of the controversial tent city in Martin Place prepared to leave the site today. The NSW Police are monitoring the exodus which has remained peaceful although some residents admitted that they are “traumatised by what’s going on, and had no idea of where they would go”.

What’s Next?

Although the bill is seen as progress towards a solution, it is certainly not the end solution with more steps to come. The lack of affordable housing in the city is the underlying issue here and forcing the tent city dwellers to leave Martin Place will only result in them relocating to another public place.

It is also likely that some residents will remain opposed to leaving a place that has been known to them as a safe haven for many months or years. Some residents will have to be forcibly evicted by police, a move which the Premier said she was reluctant to do.

Lanz Priestly, dubbed the “mayor of tent city”, has said that they are considering all options, including the lodgement of a last minute legal appeal to allow the residents to stay. Having consulted three different groups of lawyers, the law introduced to NSW Parliament was reviewed as weak and therefore they might decide to challenge the law.


WWN26# – PM Sharif and Family: Forgery and Calibri

What’s Been Happening?

Last year, the infamous Panama Papers were leaked. 11.5 million documents from a Panama law firm called Mossack Fonseca were released to the public which included details of eight offshore companies that have ties to the family of Nawaz Sharif, the incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The controversy surrounds the purchases made by these offshore accounts, one of which were luxury apartments in London’s exclusive Mayfair area. In the subsequent trial that has taken months so far, opposition leaders have alleged that the money used for the real estate purchases was obtained through corruption.

After some months of deliberation, it was determined by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that further investigation needs to be conducted into corruption allegations. As a result, a six member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed under the supervision of a three-member special implementation bench on 20 April 2017

What Now?

On the 10th of July, the JIT presented a scathing 275-page report that charged Sharif and his family members of engaging in irregular finances, forgery and perjury. It also recommended that the Sharifs be tried for corruption.

Some documents that were submitted by Sharif’s family appeared to be tampered with:

  • A trust deed provided by the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and executed in 2006 was written in Calibri font which was not commercially available till 2007. It was also notarised from an office in London on Saturday which is officially an off day, raising concern about the authenticity of the document.
  • The documents of Gulf Steel Mills provided by the prime minister’s son Hussain Nawaz were confirmed to be forged by the government of Dubai as they held no record of those documents.
  • A letter sent by a Qatari Royal supposedly verifying the business dealings of the Sharif family is alleged to be fake. Further supporting this allegation is the failure of the key witness to agree to record his statement via video link to JIT and was unwilling to visit the Pakistan embassy in Doha.

It is a criminal offence to falsify documents which carry a penalty of up to seven years of jail if the person is found guilty. Sharif dismissed the JIT report as the “sum of hypotheses, accusations and slander”. Upon the release of the report, the opposition leader Imran Khan hopes that next week will be (Mr Sharif’s) last week.

What’s Next?

The report highlights the failure of the Sharif family in providing a money trail for its London apartments.  All eyes will be on the Supreme Court who may disqualify him as Prime Minister. Another scenario could be that the Supreme Court expresses no confidence in the findings released through the damning JIT report. At this stage, it is very unlikely that Nawaz Sharif will step down as Prime Minister as he is adamant that no wrongdoing has been proven and so the case continues…


WWN#23 – Wanted: New Uber CEO as Travis Kalanick Resigns

What’s Been Happening?

In February, a 3000 word blog post was written by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler which detailed Uber’s toxic company culture. It’s a story of a company that was portrayed as a global start up success in public but revealed as an organisation in complete, unrelenting chaos by the author. She alleged that there was constant harassment and discrimination and when she raised the issue with management, they were dismissed.

Around the same time, a video emerged of Mr Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver about lowering prices for its black car service. He later issued a profound apology in which he stated that he must “fundamentally change as a leader and grow up”. It was a bit too late though, as the damage was done.

In the wake of controversies, a number of senior Uber staff resigned in March, including Uber President Jeff Jones, SVP of engineering Amit Singhal and Uber VP product and growth Ed Baker.

Earlier this month, Mr Kalanick said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence. One of the reasons cited was the loss of his mother in a recent boating accident. Another reason could have been to facilitate the transition of responsibilities from Kalanick to other members of senior management, in line with recommendations issued by US Attorney General Eric Holder in his report to Uber to overcome its ethics and leadership troubles.

What Now?

A shareholder revolt led by five of Uber’s most prominent investors has resulted in Kalanick agreeing to resign. In a letter titled, “Moving Uber Forward” the investors wrote to the CEO that he must immediately leave and the company needed a change in leadership. In addition, improved oversight was requested by filling two of the three empty board seats with independent directors and that a new CEO and experienced CFO be found immediately. Although Travis has resigned, he will remain on Uber’s board of directors and still hold a significant stake in the company.

What’s Next?

As the search for a new CEO commences so does speculation. One rumour is that US Ex-President Barack Obama may become the new CEO and may be just what Uber needs to stop the company from completely falling apart. There has already been speculation that Obama wanted to enter the tech industry and a connection between Obama and Uber is David Plouffe who was the campaign manager for his 2008 presidential campaign. Later on, he became a policy advisor for Uber.

Sheryl Sandberg is another name that is on the candidate list for CEO of Uber. Sandberg has extensive experience in the tech industry, having served nine years as COO at Facebook. Uber directors, including Arianna Huffington, are increasingly convinced that a woman at the helm would be well suited to fix Uber’s mess. However, sources close to Sandberg say that she’s not interested and will be staying with Facebook.

The search for the CEO and the CFO is more complicated than it would seem, as finding the right individual with experience leading a disruptive business model like Uber’s is far and few between. Once the leadership team has been restructured, Uber may have a chance of being in the spotlight again for all the right reasons instead.


WWN21# – The Qatar Crisis: Trump Talks & Saudi Arabia Listens


What’s Been Happening?

A few weeks ago, President Trump made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia where he delivered an address to at least dozens of Arab and Muslim-majority countries at the Arab Islamic American Summit.

His speech focused on the long-standing fight against extremists as he urged Middle East nations to do more. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.”

Later on though, his speech turned to harsh criticism of Iran as a government that speaks openly of mass murder, with vows to destroy Israel, America and other nations in the room. The anti-Iran language is likely to resonate well with Saudi Arabia being a largely Sunni Muslim population as opposed to Iran who is the region’s Shia Muslim power.


What Now? Operation Isolate Qatar Commences

Trump’s speech seems to have successfully galvanized some Arab nations into action as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen simultaneously severed diplomatic ties with Qatar for supporting terrorism.

Some action points:

  • Saudi Arabia has closed its land border with Qatar through which the tiny nation imports most of its food.
  • All countries have ordered their citizens to leave Qatar and for Qataris abroad to return to their country within 14 days.
  • Diplomatic staff from the Arab nations will be withdrawn from Qatar and Qatar’s diplomats will be ejected.

All nations plan to cut air and sea traffic with some regional airlines having already announced that they would suspend services (e.g. Etihad, Emirates, Air Arabia, Bahrain’s Gulf Air).

Trump congratulated Saudi Arabia and himself, taking some credit for the action by tweeting on Twitter: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off… they said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar”.

All of this however, is actually a big problem for the United States who happens to maintain its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East,at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base in its fight against ISIS. It needs everyone getting along for its operations to continue smoothly. U.S Intelligence Officials have said that they believe the diplomatic crisis could instead be the result of a Russian hack involving the planting of a fake news story with Qatar’s State News Agency. The false news item reportedly carried false remarks from Qatar’s ruler that were friendly to Iran and Israel.

What’s Next?

Trump’s twitter messages is likely to worsen the dispute between Qatar and the other countries. In fact, it only adds further to his own credibility crisis as the messages seem to directly contradict his previous praise of Qatar during the summit as a strategic partner in the war on terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Saudis will certainly be hoping that Qatar acquiesces to its demands including: curb its State news agency Al-Jazeera, agree to Saudi positions on various conflicts in Eygpt, Israel-Palestine, Libya and Syria, and most importantly, take a harder stance towards Iran. The last one would be the most difficult to achieve as Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest independent gas field beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf and have played at being friendly neighbours with each other in the past.

In the case of Qatar, they are more than likely hoping for some help from the international community in defusing the dispute and restore diplomatic ties with everyone. It seems that much of it may be up to Trump – whether he will walk the talk or simply talk the talk.