Riskgaming

A Pod is Born, Alife is Funded, and A Decade is Defined

Description

In Episode 0 of “Securities” by Lux Capital, Danny Crichton and Chris Gates talk about why the world needs another podcast; Deena Shakir joins to discuss the future of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and a company she funded called Alife Health, and Danny discusses the global challenges that tech must confront in the 2020s. This is Episode 0 — named for the best movie in the Star Wars franchise and where it all begins.

Transcript

This is a human-generated transcript, however, it has not been verified for accuracy.

Danny Crichton:
So I think the key is securities. What is that? And why the quotes?

Chris Gates:
And why the quotes? I actually don't understand the quotes, so ... Okay, that sounds good. Let's just start it off when I count in. Just tap, tap, tap.

Danny Crichton:
Okay.

Chris Gates:
Okay, ready? Deep breath in, three, two, one.

Danny Crichton:
Hello? Is this on? Hello? Is this on?

Chris Gates:
Yeah. Yeah, I can hear you, Danny. Danny, can you hear me?

Danny Crichton:
Hey Chris, how are you?

Chris Gates:
Yeah, I can hear you.

Danny Crichton:
Oh, great. That's awesome.

Chris Gates:
This is unbelievable.

Danny Crichton:
Look at this, the audio equipment is actually working. Do you believe that? This is amazing.
So Chris, the last time I saw you, I want to say was October 31st. I was the managing editor at TechCrunch. You were the audio producer for Equity, which I was a co-host along with Alex Wilhelm and Natasha Mascarenhas. Good friends of ours. And then I didn't see you for a long time.

Chris Gates:
This is true because you left. You left and joined Lux Capital.

Danny Crichton:
So in my career, started in venture capital, went to TechCrunch, went to Venture Capital, back to TechCrunch, now back to Venture Capital again. So the VC to TC, to VC to TC, to VC career Path. Good one. And yet, you are here, and why are you here?

Chris Gates:
Danny, I'm here to make some shows. I'm here to produce some podcasts with you.

Danny Crichton:
So here we are reconstituting a good pairing, at least for now, Chris Gates over here on the production equipment, me, Danny Crichton as co-host, or I guess host because there's no one else here in the building right now.

Chris Gates:
Yeah, and so I have a couple questions about that. So why Lux?

Danny Crichton:
I joined Lux Capital and mostly because of the portfolio here. So over the last 20 years, Lux focused on deep tech, focused on hard sciences, and focused on inventions and technologies that really transform the power of people to do stuff. And across the board, so everything from defense tech to medical and healthcare, biomedical, into every part of higher sciences. Nuclear. One of the first companies out of the portfolio was actually focused on nuclear cleanup and was involved in Fukushima back in 2011/2012, when the disaster hit almost 10 years ago. So when I kind of heard and reached out from the recruiter who was like look, here's what they want to do, which was go bold, do something original and build a media brand that was connected to the firm but separate. And that became securities with the subtitle of science, technology, finance, and the human Condition.

And so my goal with the newsletter and with this podcast is to really explore all aspects of all the complexities that go into our modern world of security. So everything from national security, think like Ukraine, think of all the drones from Turkey and other countries that are transforming the future of warfare and battle. Financial security, looking at jobs, labor markets, all the remote work, all the challenges that come with a globalized society as jobs are switching from one country to the next. Health security, being able to connect with doctors easier, being able to get the services you need. And then I oftentimes include other forms of security, climate security, the ability to feel wellness and mental agility, the idea of having education and having knowledge and the security of knowing things that's going on in the world. That set the focus of Lux, name for light, and to me it's bringing enlightment to some of the most complex issues that are going on in the world today.

So unlike a lot of other podcasts and a lot of other newsletters which are focused on portfolio and are sort of content marketing, my number one criteria for any job leaving TechCrunch was I will never do content marketing, get the F away from me, and here I am. So, so far we've talked about nuclear fusion in the newsletter, we've talked about war and peace, we've talked about the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, we've talked about drones, we've talked about climate change, we've talked about betting and how much I'm against the whole betting world going on these days in the startup world. So many different topics. And we have occasionally mentioned Lux portfolio companies when we've been able to do so, but for the most part, the focus has always been on trying to elucidate the most challenging problems going on in the world today.

Chris Gates:
It's amazing to me that you were able to find a place that kind of brought to life what you had been writing about at TC. You had this amazing series around disaster tech, tech that really came into the meat space and were solving problems for a future that feels really unknown. I think it's really interesting that you found a place that is putting that theory into practice.

Danny Crichton:
Well, and when you look at the future, I mean, when I think about the decade ahead, and we're going to talk about this a little bit at the end of the episode, but societal resilience to me is the theme of the next 10, 20, 30 years. You've seen this in supply chains, we've seen this in agriculture, we've seen this with war, we've seen this with borders and migrants, as millions of people in Ukraine are moving both inside the country and outside of it. We're living in an extremely stressful, chaotic time. And to my mind, when you think about technology, it's not enough to just be another SaaS business making the lives of accounts easier. That's fine, and we do have some of those companies in the Lux portfolio, so include them as well. Very fine, but to me the power of what we're doing here and the goal is really to say what are the transformative technologies that if we had those today, we could change entire fields of knowledge, we could empower billions of people globally to improve their lives and do more?

To me, that is so exciting. And as we start this podcast, this is episode zero, very much barely an infant. We're not even out of the womb yet. We're barely ... We're a zygote that has just been fertilized with the two of us, which doesn't really work, so let's not extend that metaphor too far. But while we are on the subject of zygotes and getting fertilization and babies born, I want to start with actually an amazing announcement today. And to talk more about that, we have Deena Shakir on the program. Deena, welcome.

Deena Shakir:
Thanks, Danny. But you've got to learn to pronounce my last name. It's Shakir.

Danny Crichton:
It's Shakir. I have been told repeatedly ...

Deena Shakir:
At least you didn't say Shakira.

Danny Crichton:
So it's great to know for folks not listening that I have been here four and a half months and I still don't know anyone's names, which is both a function of, I think Covid times because we've just been allowed into the conference room for the first time, I think, what? Two, three weeks ago in Menlo Park.

Deena Shakir:
So am I still excused if I call you Danny Crichton instead?

Danny Crichton:
It's okay. I literally flew to the University of Colorado last week and that's exactly what happened, and I was like I feel like if you fly 10 hours, someone should spend the 10 seconds to learn your name, but no comment there. But we're not here to talk about names. We're here to talk about startups and founders. And Deena, one of your companies just had a big announcement this morning. What is the news and what do they do?

Deena Shakir:
Alife is a technology company that is advancing the future of fertility care, using really sophisticated AI to create vertical software and actually make it easier for families to start to conceive and ultimately to have viable pregnancies.

Danny Crichton:
And when we talk about IVF, I mean, obviously people are trying to get pregnant, do it as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible, but the technology has been around for a long time. So I'm curious, when you think about what Alife is sort of improving in that particular marketplace, what does all that AI do for the end patient?

Deena Shakir:
Since the invention of IVF several decades ago, there has been very little innovation in the space of fertility care. And if for anyone who's gone through that journey, it is incredibly analog. It is still humanized looking into microscopes. It is pads of paper and pen. It is clear there is not only a big opportunity for technology to play a role here to make it more effective, to make it more efficient, and frankly, to make it more equitable as fertility is not just a problem for the 1%, it is in fact actually the underserved and marginalized communities who are often facing fertility challenges more than the broader population.

Danny Crichton:
And obviously, folks have children later in life as well. More and more folks are taking advantage of sort of IVF services as well, so there's been this sort of secular trend increase in the number of people getting IVF treatments

Deena Shakir:
That's been shown not only in the U.S. but globally in countries like Norway and Japan. The number of families that are using IVF has increased exponentially, and I think that will only continue to be the case, not only to your point around demographic trends with the advanced age of initial conception, but other issues around sperm count and declining rates. I think Elon Musk himself tweeted out this is going to be a global crisis. There are some economists like [inaudible] over at Brown who are predicting the end of humanity as we know it. So hyperbole aside, this is definitely a major issue and one in which we're really excited to be investing in the best tech out there.

Danny Crichton:
And part of the special package here is the CEO Paxton, CEO and Co-Founder and I'm curious how your paths ran into each other.

Deena Shakir:
I'm a card carrying member of the Paxton fan club. Paxton was a rising star at Orus Health, one of Lux's portfolio companies that actually even predates my tenure here. And so the team had an eye on him for many years. Started this company when he was at HBS and actually won the startup pitch competition. In parallel, I had started at Lux. I had started to develop a thesis around the opportunity infertility. I met dozens of companies in the space while I wooed Paxton to take a meeting with me, and he really made me sweat for it with that initial round. And I told him very frankly, "Paxton, I'm going to meet all the companies out there and it's going to either get me to conviction around investing in you, or it's going to open my eyes up to an opportunity that exists."

And indeed it did the former, and it made me realize just how exponentially transformative the potential of what Paxton was building is. And it's been an absolute privilege to watch the company grow since that initial financing and the talent that he's brought around the table, as well as these new investors that we're super excited to be co-leading $22 million series A, which is in co-led, not only by us here at Lux, we invested in the prior round, but also by our friends over at USB and Maveron.

Danny Crichton:
Well, perfect. Well, Deena, thank you so much for joining the show.

Deena Shakir:
Thanks for having me.

Danny Crichton:
When I think about the thesis of securities, this show that you're listening to and/or the newsletter that you subscribe to, I think of companies like Alife, companies that are combining artificial intelligence and in vitro fertilization, or Gameto, which is combining new therapeutics and medical advancements with improvements to ovarian aging. We're about to enter, I think one of the toughest decades the globe has ever faced. We are facing more chaos and crises and disasters than ever before. You can look at the Ukraine to see one of the largest humanitarian crises going on. You can look in Africa and Land America and Southeast Asia where hunger and food security is a huge issue for millions and millions of people every single day. Each year we have more wildfires, more hurricanes, more droughts than ever before, and not only do we have more quantitatively, but qualitatively, these disasters are affecting more and more people every year.

And that puts incredible stress on our governance, on our societies, and on our politics because all those disasters, all that chaos creates feedback loops that put more stress, more pressure, more anger into our systems as opposed to taking them out. And so part of what I think technology has to do in the 2020s is not to focus on decadence or make it easier to have more entertainment or to make more bets, but rather to create resilience, a better stable society that improves the lives for all people in all countries of all faces around the world. But there is going to be challenges, namely that people are going to want to leave, that they're going to want to exit all of the problems and challenges, that they don't want to stick up for all the sacrifice that's going to be required this decade.

There is an urge to escape, urge to create charter cities, to leave our current governance, to leave our countries, to go to the metaverse, to go into the digital world, to leave space. And those are fine, people should go to the metaverse and enjoy the entertainment that goes there. We should be going into space, but it doesn't mean that we should ignore what's happening in our very lives. We should be focused on what's happening in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our states and our countries, and throughout our earth. Because we are in a climate emergency, we are in a sustainability emergency, and we are in a context in which if we want to continue to exist, if we want to avoid the existential risks that are in the coming years, we have to work at a totally different level of technology development. It's not enough to just make a website. It requires so much more. And that's part of the reason why there's so much cynicism about technology.

I used to debit the two PhD problem. You actually, in many of these spaces, much like an Alife or Gameto, need artificial intelligence and medical science or artificial intelligence and pharma, you need to bring together different massive specializations in order to find the high-hanging fruit in our economy because we've extracted most of the low-hanging fruit over the last couple of decades. There has been immense conversations in the economics world about peak growth, whether the best times are behind us, whether that America and the world have sort of reached the end of what we can do as a civilization. Whether we can't extract more, build more, create more products and services and that everything is sort of over.

And I don't believe that, but I do believe that the toughest challenges are still ahead of us, that we're not going to solve for the kinds of problems that we need to solve for, things like Alzheimer's, things like pandemics, quantum computing, rebuilding chips to get ever smaller and faster to power more devices with less electricity, to completely redo our transportation system around electricity and EVs, and to create the kind of infrastructure that empowers that world, to build fusion reactors so that we have cheap energy. None of that is going to be easy. None of that is going to go without PhDs, hard and deep tech, deep science, and a lot of financing. And to me, that is the thesis of "securities". It is the power of bringing together science, technology, and finance to completely transform the human condition. That's why we're here. This is episode zero. There's so much more to come. Please hang on.

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