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Exclusive: Slack goes solo for future-of-work VC fund

Slack is earmarking $50 million from its balance sheet to launch a new venture capital fund aimed at broadening Slack-backed investments beyond its own platform.

Why it matters: This is Slack's first solo turn at the VC game after a $25 million fund in collaboration with several of its own investors. With the pandemic confining many workers away from in-person interactions, countless companies are having to navigate a new way to operate—and new workplace apps are in the spotlight like never before.

Driving the news: The fund will focus broadly on promising work-related tools and companies, whether or not they're built to work with Slack, Jason Spinell, who heads Slack's venture arm, tells Axios.

  • That's a departure from the earlier venture fund, which Spinell said focused solely on "kickstarting the developer ecosystem on Slack." That fund, announced in 2015, initially got $80 million in commitments but was later scaled back to $25 million to better fit the size and cadence of investments, according to a Slack spokesperson.

Between the lines: Workplace chat apps have become the central hub of employees’ day-to-day communication and tasks as much work has shifted online during the pandemic.

  • So while there’s no requirement that startups even integrate with Slack, a growing number of them are already integrating with various chat apps to distribute information to clients’ employees. The new fund will help Slack forge ties with just such firms.

Yes, but: Investors and companies have to be mindful of whether workplace tools are fostering or reinforcing healthy habits and cultures, says Spinell, though he acknowledges that's not something his team explicitly considers when weighing investing decisions.

Of note: While Slack recently announced it's selling to Salesforce, its venture arm will continue to operate unchanged.

1 2020 thing: "This has been the busiest year that we’ve had," says Spinell of the investments Slack has already made. "We made 15 net new investments this year and we’ve made more follow-on investments."

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.

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Why fears of a SPAC bubble may be overblown

The SPAC surge continues unabated, with 10 new ones formed since Wednesday morning. And that's OK.

Between the lines: There are growing concerns that retail investors are about to get rolled, with smart sponsors taking advantage of dumb money.

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Schumer says Democrats are "delighted" Ron Johnson is forcing relief bill to be read out loud

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of going to "ridiculous lengths" to show his opposition to a COVID relief package widely supported by the American public, after Johnson demanded that the entire 600-page bill be read on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Johnson's procedural move will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate, during which Republicans will propose amendments to force uncomfortable votes for Democrats. Schumer promised that the Senate will stay in session "no matter how long it takes" to finish voting on the $1.7 trillion rescue package.

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Why gas prices are back up

Data: EIA and FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Gas prices are hitting new post-pandemic highs across the country, but this isn't a story of America reopening. It's really just a function of the price of oil going up.

By the numbers: Gasoline cost $2.71 on average as of Monday, per the Energy Information Administration. The highest average price was $3.59 in Los Angeles, while the lowest was $2.33 in Houston.

  • All of these prices represent the highest level seen since 2019.

The big picture: The price of crude oil reflects more than half of the cost of a gallon of gasoline. (The rest is refinery costs, distribution costs, and taxes.)

  • Demand for oil has actually been declining, per the New York Fed, but supply has been falling even faster, with the result that prices have now topped $64 for a barrel of Brent crude.

What central bank digital currencies mean for crypto

Central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs,represent the ultimate ratification of digital finance: Its adoption by the most venerated guardians of the international monetary architecture.

Why it matters: Crypto-evangelists often talk about CBDCs in awed terms. But it's far from clear that the bitcoin-and-ethereum crowd would ultimately benefit from money going digital.

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Capitol Police asks for National Guard to stay on-site for two more months

U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday asked that the National Guard remain on-site for an additional 60 days due to ongoing security concerns surrounding the building, AP reports.

Why it matters: While many lawmakers are eager for security measures surrounding the Capitol — including fencing and an increased law enforcement presence — to be lightened, the request by Capitol Police reflects concerns about ongoing threats.

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Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

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Leaked government documents spotlight Biden's child migrant dilemma

Fresh internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show how quickly the number of child migrants crossing the border is overwhelming the administration's stretched resources.

Driving the news: In the week ending March 1, the Border Patrol referred to HHS custody an average of 321 children per day, according to documents obtained by Axios. That's up from a weekly average of 203 in late January and early February — and just 47 per day during the first week of January.

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