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Filing: Discord is raising up to $140M at a valuation of up to $7B

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The world of virtual communications continues to hold a central place in our socially-distanced lives, and today it looks like one of the companies reaping some of the spoils is also reaping some funding out of it. Discord, the chat and communications platform wildly popular with gamers and, increasingly, many others, is raising up to $140 million in a Series H round, at a valuation that could be as high as $7 billion, according to paperwork filed by the company and unearthed by Prime Unicorn Index. We have attached the documentation at the end of this article.

The analysts’ report appears to confirm our own reporting from some weeks ago. At the end of November, sources had confirmed to us that the company was raising at a valuation of up to $7 billion.

This latest fundraising has been rumored for a while, and some have described it as a “pre-IPO round” for the privately-backed startup. Prime Unicorn notes that Discord’s most recent price per share in the documentation is $280.2487, with the Series G priced at $144.1809.

It’s not clear who is in this Series H, but previous investors in the company have included Greylock, Index Ventures, IVP, Spark Capital, Tencent and Benchmark, among others. With an extra $140 million, the total amount raised by the startup would stand at $420 million.

We have reached out to spokespeople for the company and will update as and when we hear back.

The fundraise, and the size of it, is a testament not just to how virtual communications tools continue to be an important part of our lives these days; but to the growth of Discord itself.

Discord made its name originally as a communications channel that could exist in an easy way alongside popular online games — a byproduct, perhaps, of how it first came into existence. Discord was started by Jason Citron and Stanislav Vishnevskiy as part of their Hammer & Chisel gaming studio as a way for them and their teams to communicate tactics and other details to each other while playing games (their own games, other people’s games, all games).

It proceeded to get lots of traction on Twitch and with e-sports players, environments where it might be especially interesting for both players and spectators to have a place to provide running commentary on what is going on.

But just as the biggest games and gameplay has mass-market, even casual, appeal, so can the platforms that gamers use to communicate. Discord’s growth has exploded in recent years, with monthly active users almost doubling to 120 million this year with 800,000 downloads a day.

That’s in part down to Discord’s use alongside newly, virally popular games like Among Us; but also because it’s being used for more than just games.

The company had already raised $100 million on a $3.5 billion valuation earlier this year, and at the time Citron and Vishnevskiy noted that the platform had already outgrown — or at least made room for much more than — its gaming roots:

“It turns out that, for a lot of you, it wasn’t just about video games anymore,” they noted, describing Discord as “a place designed to hang out and talk in the comfort of your own communities and friends… a place to have genuine conversations and spend quality time with people, whether catching up, learning something or sharing ideas.”

That growth among “communities” hasn’t been without its teething pains. Discord has had a high profile, ongoing battle with unsavory elements like white supremacism on its platform. The company claims that this is on the wane, and that the platform is also a home for Black Lives Matter organizers, less politicised social media influencers, and more. Some are not so convinced, so perhaps it’s a problem that not a finished story and will continue to need to be tackled, much as it is on any social platform.

“Discord is always on and always present among these groups on the far-right,” Joan Donovan, the lead researcher on media manipulation at the Data & Society Research Institute, told Slate some years ago. “It’s the place where they do most of the organizing of doxing and harassment campaigns.”

It’s interesting that this latest $140 million of funding — that is if it closes — is coming so swiftly on the heels of the last round, just six months later. The company and its investors have some clear ambitions to build out not just more, better and efficient  tools for gamers, but for people online at large, and that’s not cheap.

Some of that is happening already: witness yesterday’s news of Discord’s screen share functionality getting extended finally beyond desktop to iOS and Android (an interesting area, considering Twitter’s recent acquisition of Squad).

“Rather than throwing raw content at you, like Facebook, [Discord] provides a shared experience for you and your friends,” said Danny Rimer of Index Ventures, which led the $100 million round earlier this year. “We’ll come to appreciate that Discord does for social conversation what Slack has done for professional conversation.”

Prime Unicorn note that the terms in the Series H include “a pari passu liquidation preference with all other preferred, and conventional convertible meaning they will not participate with common stock if there are remaining proceeds.”

PrimeUnicornIndex_Discord_COI_12112020

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Elon Musk says Tesla Semi is ready for production, but limited by battery cell output

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s 2020 Q4 earnings call that all engineering work is now complete on the Tesla Semi, the freight-hauling semi truck that the company is building with an all-electric powertrain. The company expects to begin deliveries of Tesla Semi this year, the company said in its Q4 earnings release, and Musk said the only thing limiting their ability to produce them now is the availability of battery cells.

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said. “If we were to make the Semi right now, and we could easily go into production with the Semi right now, but we would not have enough cells for it.”

Musk added that the company does expect to have sufficient cell volume to meet its needs once it goes into production on its 4680 battery pack, which is a new custom cell design it created with a so-called ‘tables’ design that allows for greater energy density and therefore range.

“A Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for, so it kind of would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. “But it will absolutely make sense for us to do it as soon as we can address the cell production constraint.”

That constraint points to the same conclusion for the possibility of Tesla developing a van, Musk added, and the lifting of the constraint will likewise make it possible for Tesla to pursue the development of that category of vehicle, he said.

Tesla has big plans for “exponentially” ramping cell production, with a goal of having production capacity infrastructure in place for a Toal of 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2022, and a target of being able to actually produce around 40% of that by that year (with future process improvements generating additional gigawatt hours of cell capacity  in gradual improvements thereafter).

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Pro-Trump Twitter figure arrested for spreading vote-by-text disinformation in 2016

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The man behind a once-influential pro-Trump account is facing charges of election interference for allegedly disseminating voting disinformation on Twitter in 2016.

Federal prosecutors allege that Douglass Mackey, who used the name “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, encouraged people to cast their ballot via text or on social media, effectively tricking others into throwing away those votes.

According to the Justice Department, 4,900 unique phone numbers texted a phone number Mackey promoted in order to “vote by text.” BuzzFeed reported the vote-by-text scam at the time, noting that many of the images were photoshopped to look like official graphics from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Some of those images appeared to specifically target Black and Spanish-speaking Clinton supporters, a motive that tracks with the account’s track record of white supremacist and anti-Semitic content. The account was suspended in November 2016.

At the time, the mysterious account quickly gained traction in the political disinformation ecosystem. HuffPost revealed that the account was run by Mackey, the son of a lobbyist, two years later.

“… His talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the alt-right’ white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails,” HuffPost’s Luke O’Brien reported.

Mackey, a West Palm Beach resident, was taken into custody Wednesday in Florida.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth D. DuCharme said.

“With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes.”

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Tesla is willing to license Autopilot and has already had “preliminary discussions” about it with other automakers

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Tesla is open to licensing its software, including its Autopilot highly-automated driving technology, and the neural network training it has built to improve its autonomous driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed those considerations on the company’s Q4 earnings call on Wednesday, adding that the company has in fact already “had some preliminary discussions about licensing Autopilot to other OEMs.”

The company began rolling out its beta version of the so-called ‘full self-driving’ or FSD version of Autopilot late last year. The standard Autopilot features available in general release provide advanced driver assistance (ADAS) which provide essentially advanced cruise control capabilities designed primarily for use in highway commutes. Musk said on the call that he expects the company will seek to prove out its FSD capabilities before entering into any licensing agreements, if it does end up pursuing that path.

Musk noted that Tesla’s “philosophy is definitely not to create walled gardens” overall, and pointed out that the company is planning to allow other automakers to use its Supercharger networks, as well as its autonomy software. He characterized Tesla as “more than happy to license” those autonomous technologies to “other car companies,” in fact.

One key technical hurdle required to get to a point where Tesla’s technology is able to demonstrate true reliability far surpassing that of a standard human driver is transition the neural networks operating in the cars and providing them with the analysis that powers their perception engines is to transition those to video. That’s a full-stack transition across the system away from basing it around neural nets trained on single cameras and single frames.

To this end, the company has developed video labelling software that has had “a huge effect on the efficiency of labeling,” with the ultimate aim being enabling automatic labeling. Musk (who isn’t known for modesty around his company’s achievements, it should be said) noted that Tesla believes “it may be the best neural net training computer in the world by possibly an order of magnitude,” adding that it’s also “something we can offer potentially as a service.”

Training huge quantities of video data will help Tesla push the reliability of its software from 100% that of a human driver, to 200% and eventually to “2,000% better than the average human,” Musk said, while again suggesting that it won’t be a technological achievement the company is interested into keeping to themselves.

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