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COVID-19 & Impact on Startups, Venture Capital & Public Markets

Jason & Chamath intro David and check in on each other's quarantines and discuss directives & statistics, a potential covid19 treatment & policy changes that we need to have in order not to succumb to the Great Depression. Chamath explains the circumstances of recording a podcast while the Stock Market tanks in real-time and what it means for for startups & venture capital.

Updated on March 19
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Key Smash Notes In This Episode

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Health: We need to ramp up testing to get a better idea of who is infect and how the virus is spreading.

Policy: It is frightening. If we keep with the status quo, 20-30% of American workforce will be unemployed by this summer.

Market: The world lives on 30 day food supply. If we isolate borders and stop food production, we are going to have a real food shortage crisis.

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There are several data points that are showing us that there may be an unexpectedly high number of people that get this disease and don't have any symptoms and show it.

A paper published showed that in China, up to 86% of people did not realize that they were sick or they were unreported. They had mild symptoms. If you take that high level, you take that low level.

All that means that the death rate from this virus is much-much lower, which means our policy decisions, based on a rather high death rate, might need to be adjusted.

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We have not done proper medical studies to validate if these drugs actually work and what we have is anecdotal evidence collected by doctors on the front-lines. We don't know what the short and long-term side effects are.

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The Wu Han data was estimated to be 1.4% of the infected population, and Wu Han was the worst data out of China. The rest of China is still estimated at about 0.16% ~ 0.14%. Italy was over 7%, but they are an outlier due to various other issues.

It seems that there may be a high correlation with severity of the disease and obesity, and U. S has one of the highest obesity rates of any country in the world, and highest diabetes rates.

We may therefore have a large population at a high risk, as compared to other countries.

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It's a nuanced question and it should be a little bit more involved in terms of treatment, testing and containment strategy. And it doesn't need to be so binary.

It may be that we need a more nuanced policy where you say, let's keep people over 65 years old, and give them a strong recommendation to stay home. Make sure that you distribute helpful drugs to doctors around the country. As soon as elderly people start having symptoms, they maybe get some treatment. But, you know, that's kind of an option. You keep 65 year olds at home, you do random test general population for antibodies. And once you hit a certain percentage of the population having been exposed to this thing, it may be that at that point you say, okay, the over 65 limit is lifted. You also do it with medicine being distributed.

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Chamath - "Now we have to decide that a short term suspension of typical civil liberties is worth the trade off. Now, it's not worth it under the normal course, under any, any imaginable way. But if we have to trade off some of those civil liberties in the short course so that we could get back to normalcy, I think most of us at this point and definitely all of us after another week or two of home isolation will do it.

What I think it would entail is setting up zones that we would understand to be uninfected. And what that means, people that don't have it or people that have antibodies, eventually allowing those owns to reopen so that we can actually have some amount of economic activity."

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Some advice to startup founders on what to do, in order to remain alive.

@Jason: If you've got a deal on the table, take the money. Assume no money will get raised for 3-6 months. Take salary cuts and extend your runaway. Get everybody to safety. Make sure your company is alive. "Take the medicine."

@Friedberg: Figure out where your customers are heading, and adjust your strategy. Stop focusing on growth and focus on sustainability.

@Chamath: Venture capitalists and their limited partners are currently over-leveraged in their other investments. As they are trying to stay afloat, they will force venture investments to a lower capitalisation, to preserve their overall portfolio thesis. As a result, startups need 36-months of runaway, in order to stay alive. Don't take the risk, if you don't have to.

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It is not representative. We are looking at different time series, where the number of people that died yesterday are, in fact the number of people that died yesterday. The number of people that tested positive yesterday though doesn't tell you as much because the test results take four days to get, they are delayed, and then maybe the patients did not show symptoms for 10 days before they even got test. So the testing data significantly lags the infected population, and may not represent much of anything.

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If the big business use this money to buy-back their own shares, the companies will look fantastic on paper, but it won't do much for the economy. Under current circumstances we need to let some of these companies fail, and reinvest these dollars into individual Americans, in a form of cash grants for the duration of the shut down.

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Chamath think this is a great time to reset your view of the world.

Chamath: "I think conspicuous consumption is unimportant, helping each other is important taking unnecessary vacations because it drives your instagram follower feed is fucking stupid, making sure that we can contribute the incremental dollar we have so that other people could get tested and get back to work, that's a good use of money."

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