Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Ben Horowitz on Crypto

A VC - 12 hours 28 min ago

This is a short clip from a longer conversation that Ben Horowitz did at Disrupt a few weeks ago.

In this clip, Ben describes crypto as a new kind of computing platform that is worse in every way (right now) but one.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Half-Light

A VC - September 21, 2018 - 4:40am

Earlier this week, I backed this project from an artist in Iran.

The project is now over. It was funded with almost $10,000. So her photography book will be made and shared with the world.

It is too bad that I didn’t share this with all of you while the project was live so you could back it as I did.

But this project exhibits all of the things that makes Kickstarter so important to me.

It is from the heart, it is art, it is full of meaning, it is from a person halfway around the world that I don’t know and probably will never know.

And it moved me.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Pixelbook Reactions

A VC - September 20, 2018 - 5:08am

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was getting more interested in a Chromebook.

And I got a ton of great feedback from all of you. Thank you for that.

I purchased a Pixelbook and have been using it at the USV office for the last few weeks.

Here are my initial thoughts on it:

1/ I quite like the lack of a desktop OS in the computer. The Pixelbook boots right into the browser and you do everything there. That is great for me and the way I work.

2/ The keyboard took me a bit of getting used to. I am used to the keyboard shortcuts on the Mac and it’s hard to switch away from them.

3/ I still use a Mac at home so it is a bit strange going from one computer to another and back during the day. But it is not terrible.

4/ I would really appreciate a biometric login, like a fingerprint or a face recognition. Having to enter my long and strong Google password every time I wake the computer back up is a challenge. I have heard that the next Pixelbook will come with biometric login. If so, that would be a big improvement in my view.

5/ The size, shape, screen, and weight are all great. It feels roughly equivalent to a MacBook to me.

I plan to continue to use the Pixelbook at the USV office for the foreseeable future. If Google makes one with biometric login, I will get that one instead.

However, I am not yet ready to move my entire computing experience away from the Mac. That is going to take me getting a lot more used to the Pixelbook and ChromeOS. It could happen, but not yet.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

How Diversity Happens

A VC - September 19, 2018 - 4:49am

Henry Ward, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Carta, wrote a post yesterday outlining the gender inequity on cap tables throughout the startup landscape.

It is a good post and I would recommend you click through and read it.

In it, Henry writes:

When I started Carta I didn’t focus on diversity because I was worrying about staying alive. Then we hit our growth phase and went from 20 employees to 400 in 48 months. I assumed diversity would happen on its own. Of course it didn’t. I didn’t realize how much deliberate focus it takes. I do now.

That is a pretty typical story.

A few years at our annual CEO summit, Scott Heiferman, founder and CEO of Meetup, told a room full of startup CEOs that you have to build diversity into your company from day one because if you don’t, it becomes so much harder later on. He explained that nobody wants to join a company where nobody looks like them. That really hit home and woke quite a few people up.

All companies and people suffer from back burnering things. You focus on what you must get done and everything else takes a back seat.

That doesn’t work when it comes to hiring and diversity. You have to prioritize it and make it intentional.

We have done that recently at USV and we are getting the desired results.

That is very exciting to me.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway

A VC - September 18, 2018 - 5:09am

This post is jam-packed with conflicts. It is about not one, but two, of USV’s portfolio companies. The more the better in my view.

Our portfolio company Cloudflare announced yesterday that they have launched an IPFS Gateway.

IPFS is an open protocol built and supported by our portfolio company Protocol Labs that facilitates a peer-to-peer file system composed of thousands of computers around the world, each of which stores files on behalf of the network.

So why is this a big deal?

Well, here are a few reasons. You can all add more in the comments.

1/ Cloudflare is a massively scaled infrastructure company. By offering a hosted IPFS gateway, none of us need to download and run IPFS software on our computers anymore. Cloudflare will do it for us.

2/ IPFS is awesome. It decentralizes file hosting, which has historically been a centralized affair on the internet. The Cloudflare post has a really great primer on IPFS in it so go there if you want to learn more.

3/ We are one step closer to the decentralized blogging platform that I have long wanted. From the CloudFlare post, “Using Cloudflare’s gateway, you can also build a website that’s hosted entirely on IPFS, but still available to your users at a custom domain name. Plus, we’ll issue any website connected to our gateway a free SSL certificate, ensuring that each website connected to Cloudflare’s gateway is secure from snooping and manipulation.”

And yesterday’s announcement is just day one of “crypto week” at Cloudflare where each day they will be announcing support for a new technology that uses cryptography to make the Internet better. I love that. I love Cloudflare. I love Protocol Labs. And I love IPFS. /fin


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Creative Prompts

A VC - September 17, 2018 - 4:02am

The Gotham Gal and I listened to the recent Howard Stern interview of Paul McCartney yesterday on a drive from long island to NYC.

It’s a great interview, about 1 1/2 hours long, with incredible stories and lots of music.

Howard picks out songs, plays them, and Paul talks about how each one came about.

If you are a SiriusXM subscriber, you can listen on the web or SiriusXM mobile app.

I highly recommend it.

Near the end (1 hour 17 mins into the interview), Paul tells a story about being challenged by Dustin Hoffman at a dinner party to write a song “about anything.”

Paul accepts the challenge and so Dustin and the other guests decide Pablo Picasso’s last words should be the thing to write a song about.

Those words, as Picasso was heading to bed, were “drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore.”

And so Paul wrote this song to those words.

And as he was telling this story to Howard, Paul says “I kind of like it, it puts you outside your comfort zone for an hour.”

I can totally relate to that.

This blog is that way.

I wake up every morning not knowing what I am going to write and before heading off to the gym or work, or both, I have written something and posted it.

Most frequently I wake up with something on my mind that leads to the post of the day.

Which, coming back to Paul McCartney, is how many of Paul’s songs happened. He would wake up with a song in his head and then he’d get out the guitar or sit at the piano and play it.

The creative process is hard to comprehend, but working with what is on your mind, challenging yourself, and getting outside of your comfort zone are three tricks that have worked for me and apparently also Paul McCartney, arguably the greatest songwriter of our time.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Marathon Man

A VC - September 16, 2018 - 5:24am

The New York Times has a piece up on Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s best marathon runner.

I read it with interest yesterday as I like to think of startups as marathons and I am always on the lookout for ideas and insights that can help entrepreneurs and investors.

Eliud is an impressive person and, as you might expect, he is extremely disciplined.

He says in the piece:

Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.

That rings so true to me.

It is true in investing, where I like to have a framework and stick to it and not let my emotions get in the way.

But it is also true in building companies.

Being focused on the long game and what you want to achieve is the best way to get there.

I see many teams looking around at what others are doing and it makes them crazy.

And I see a few teams heads down, executing their plan, and it makes them calm.

In the short run, it can often seem like nothing is getting done, and your competitors are passing you by.

But, like the marathon runner, it is never the sprinter that wins the race, it is the dogged and determined that is there at the end with the trophy in hand.

Eliud just broke the world record in Berlin today. He finished in 2 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds.

He’s an inspiration to all of us.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Brian Armstrong at Disrupt

A VC - September 15, 2018 - 6:06am

There is a narrative in crypto land that you are either in the “crypto is money” camp or the “crypto is tech” camp. This blog post from Erik Torenberg sums that up pretty nicely.

The interview below is from TechCrunch Disrupt a week or so ago. Brian Armstrong, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Coinbase, was interviewed by Fitz Tepper.

There are a couple points in this interview where Brian is presented with a version of that narrative. For example Fitz asked Brian “are you a tech company or a finance company.”

I like how Brian acknowledges that framework but ultimately concludes that the answer is neither, that Coinbase is a crypto company and that crypto is both tech and money.

I am of that view as well and I am glad to see leaders in the crypto sector articulating it.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: The Reflection Ritual

A VC - September 14, 2018 - 4:42am

A friend of a friend is doing this project to make a workbook that can help us step back and take measure of our lives, what they are, and what we want them to be.

It’s a neat idea and I think it can be quite helpful, particularly if you feel stuck right now.

I backed it earlier this week and you may want to do the same.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

Voting

A VC - September 13, 2018 - 4:02am

Today is primary day in New York State. The polls open at 6am and stay open until 9pm.

There are primary races for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General as well as a bunch of statewide races for State Senate and State Assembly.

In NYC, and to a lesser extent in New York State, the primary can be the election as the city and state lean left.

So I encourage everyone in New York State to go out to the polls and vote today.

It all comes down to voting in a democracy. Marching feels great. Tweeting feels great. Polls make the news. But voting is the political action that really counts unless you can give gobs of money to candidates which most voters cannot and don’t do.

I plan to get to my polling place early on the way to an early start to the workday.

I always feel great pulling that lever. I hope you do too.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Categories: Blog articles

The Unbundling Of Health Care

A VC - September 12, 2018 - 4:16am

Naomi Shah, one of our analysts at USV, has been doing a deep dive on health care since she joined us this past spring.

She has started to publish a series of blog posts on what she has learned and what she thinks is investable at the intersection of healthcare and consumer tech.

Kind of like putting our playbook on display before we have even implemented it.

But that is how we roll at USV.

At least this way, we get feedback and input on these sector theses which ultimately make them even better.

And we get a lot of incoming pitches from entrepreneurs working in our target areas as a result of making our playbooks public.

She starts off her series with a post on the unbundling of health care and compares it to what has happened in financial services.

Naomi ends this post with this observation:

these observations seem to indicate some unbundling of the existing large, monolithic systems in healthcare towards a more open, local, independent and transparent model, with control residing with individual users. And ultimately, this could change the way healthcare is delivered to consumers.

“A more open, local, independent and transparent model, with control residing with the individual users” sounds exactly what we like to invest in at USV so expect to see more investing in health care from us and more posts from Naomi. You can find her posts on USV.com and/or follow Naomi here.
USV TEAM POSTS:

Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Nick Grossman — September 21, 2018
Fear

Albert Wenger — September 20, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Fear and Acceptance

Categories: Blog articles

Remembering 9/11

A VC - September 11, 2018 - 5:52am

On Sunday morning, I rode my bike by the memorial in lower Manhattan where the twin towers used to stand.

They have done a wonderful job rebuilding that area and the memorial itself is inspiring in just the right way, somber and reflective and serious.

Seventeen years is a long time.

Children, like ours, who were just old enough to know what happened and why, are now adults, living their own lives, going to work every morning.

Life moves on, the wounds heal.

But the scars are still there, in our hearts, our minds, and on the ground where it happened.

I am taking some time today to remember that day and the people we lost.

This post is part of that.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — September 20, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Fear and Acceptance

Categories: Blog articles

Farsighted

A VC - September 10, 2018 - 6:54am

My friend Steven Johnson has a new book out called Farsighted.

After attending a book talk he did on Thursday night, I put it on my Kindle and started reading it last night.

The book is about decision making, specifically “life-altering decisions” with long-term consequences.

In classic Steven fashion, he combines a detailed look at academic research and science on the topic with stories and real-world examples.

For example, he kicks off the book with the decision NYC made to fill the Collect Pond in 1811, which ultimately led to the creation of one of the most famous ghettos, the Five Points neighborhood.

We all make big and important decisions in our lives and in our business. So this is a topic that should be relevant to everyone.

I am already enjoying reading it and I suspect you all will too.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Bethany Crystal — September 18, 2018
States in Limbo

Categories: Blog articles

Reinventing Education

A VC - September 9, 2018 - 5:26am

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has announced that he plans to retire at age 54 and turn his attention back to education. He started his career as an English teacher.

It seems, from reading the piece I linked to and a few other news reports, that Jack Ma is inspired by what Bill and Melinda Gates have done.

So am I.

Bill Gates attended AFSE, a school that the Gotham Gal and I helped to start seven years ago, this spring and he wrote this recently about that experience.

Many have criticized the work that the Gates Foundation has done in education over the years.

But my view is different.

Bill and Melinda are investing, learning, evolving, and adapting their efforts.

Just like we all do in life.

Bill’s visit to AFSE showed him something he liked. He was inspired by it, wrote about it, and I suspect it will influence the way he thinks a bit.

Like Jack Ma, Bill and Melinda are relatively young and have so much capital to invest in education and their other target areas.

The impact people like Bill, Melinda, and Jack can and will have on education around the world is immense.

And we need it.

Education is provided very unevenly on planet earth.

A high-quality education is easy to come by if you are wealthy and/or live in a wealthy country.

But even in the US, a very wealthy country, we have much of our population receiving a poor or uneven education at best.

I see this in the NYC public school system where I do most of my education philanthropy.

We have 1.1 million public school students here in NYC and many of them are not getting the education they need and deserve.

The reasons for this are many and the solutions are hard.

But I see amazing things happen in the middle of this mess and I know that we can help more kids get a better education and we are doing that.

Reinventing education requires not just working inside the established systems, it means working outside of them and ultimately rethinking them and replacing them.

But all of this has to happen in parallel. We cannot let the existing systems falter and fail our children while we are busy finding better ways.

At USV, we have a number of exciting portfolio companies that are rethinking how education should work. Companies like DuoLingo, Quizlet, Codecademy, Skillshare, and Top Hat.

Part of the answer is backing entrepreneurs like the ones behind these companies to come up with better, less expensive, and more available education solutions for our globe.

And part of the answer is changing the way employers think about education. At USV, we do not require any sort of degree to work for us. But we require skills, knowledge, and curiosity. Many larger companies are starting to do the same.

The internet and technology writ large are making it a lot easier for someone to learn something. But we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Twenty-five years after the emergence of the web browser and the commercial internet, education still works largely like it did back then.

That is going to change, is changing, and I am very excited for it to happen.

And I am happy that massively successful people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Jack Ma are focusing their capital and productive energy in this area.

I am too.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Bethany Crystal — September 18, 2018
States in Limbo

Albert Wenger — September 17, 2018
World After Capital: Enhancing Freedom

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Elon Musk on Joe Rogan Experience

A VC - September 8, 2018 - 7:33am

I have never been as obsessed with Elon Musk as many are in the tech sector. We own two Tesla cars. We pre-ordered Tesla’s solar roof tiles several years ago but have not yet received delivery of them. I appreciate his ingenuity and creativity and we like the Tesla products we own. We are not and have never been shareholders of Tesla or SpaceX.

With all of that disclosure, I want to share the video of Elon’s appearance on Joe Rogan Experience as the video of this week. Much has been made of Elon’s decision to take a puff on a tobacco/weed joint on the show. I don’t make too much of that. I’ve been around people smoking pot since I was a teenager and I think it is a lot like alcohol. I believe it is fine if it is done responsibly and appropriately and I am pleased that it is becoming legal in many states around the country.

What is more interesting to me in this video is how introspective and thoughtful Elon is in this interview, particularly about the role of AI in our society and the likely impact of AI on our world in the coming years. It is a lengthy conversation, but worth watching if you have some time this weekend.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — September 17, 2018
World After Capital: Enhancing Freedom

Categories: Blog articles

Feature Friday: Android Smart Notifications

A VC - September 7, 2018 - 4:13am

With the new version of Android comes intelligence around mobile notifications.

If you tend to swipe away notifications from a particular app, Android eventually asks you this:

I told Android to keep showing these project updates to me even though I tend to swipe them. I like to see these but don’t often click on them.

I would say that most of the time, I select “Keep Showing” but some of the time I do choose “Stop Notifications.”

I love the idea of a smart operating system that learns how you want to use it and adapts to that versus forcing you to do the configuration manually and that is where Google is clearly going with Android.

You can really see it in the latest version of the OS.

Categories: Blog articles

Investment Risk Tolerance By Gender

A VC - September 6, 2018 - 12:57pm

Our portfolio company Stash, which offers a super simple mobile investing app and has roughly 2.5mm users, did some analysis on male and female users to see if there was a material difference in risk tolerance between men and women on their service.

The conventional wisdom is that men are risk takers and women are more conservative.

Stash found that there really isn’t much difference between male and female users of their service when it comes to risk tolerance.

And they found that women are more tolerant of the highs and lows that come with being an investor.

Check out the data here.

Categories: Blog articles

Retaining vs Deleting Emails

A VC - September 5, 2018 - 6:54am

Conventional wisdom is that deleting old emails regularly is the best way to avoid issues down the road.

My experience has been different.

I’ve been involved in a few legal matters over the years where email discovery has been done.

Going back and re-reading emails you sent years ago is a pretty enlightening experience.

What I have found is if you have the right intentions and act reasonably and responsibly, old emails often show that to everyone and can be valuable.

Being able to go back over old emails is also a great way to jog a foggy memory.

So while I understand the challenges with having a lot of written and discoverable emails “on file”, I would argue they they often can be quite valuable.

Categories: Blog articles

Back To School

A VC - September 4, 2018 - 4:41am

Growing up, I always enjoyed the up and down patterns of work and play.

Back to school in the fall, a solid winter break, back to school for winter and spring, and then a long summer break.

Just as you were getting burnt out on school, a break would come along.

By the end of the summer, you were ready to go back to school and there was an excitement about it.

That doesn’t exist so much in the adult work environment unless you live in parts of the world where a long summer break is part of the picture.

As The Gotham Gal and I have moved beyond our child-rearing years, and found a way to work from wherever we are, we are recreating that childhood rhythm for ourselves.

We are wrapping up our summer today and heading back to the fall season in NYC.

It’s a bit like that back to school feeling, with a new lunchbox, some new clothes, the possibility of some new friends, and an excitement about all of that.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — September 12, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: The Unknowable Alternative Life

Categories: Blog articles

Human Capital

A VC - September 3, 2018 - 5:00am

Today is Labor Day in the US. It is a day to celebrate labor, the union movement, and the role of the worker in our economy and our society.

I have always struggled with the idea that labor and capital are intrinsically opposed to each other.

It is obvious that workers have been taken advantage of by employers since the dawn of an industrialized society and possibly/probably for much longer than that.

But does it have to be that way?

In the tech sector, we typically issue between 15% and 25% of the company’s stock to the employees and we keep granting this equity as the company grows and expands.

And it is also the case that the tech sector is largely a non-unionized industry.

There are large portions of a tech company’s workforce that are in short supply, most notably software engineers and other technical positions where demand outstrips supply and has for as long as I have been working in this sector.

So there are things about the tech sector that are different from other large industries and I’ve always felt that human capital (as we like to call the people in the tech sector) is more valued in tech companies than traditional industries.

But when a tech company stumbles and starts bleeding cash, one of the first things to go is headcount.

Capital demands that a company have a profitable outlook or it will not flow to a company.

So there are fundamental economic realities that put capital and labor in opposition to each other at times.

But both capital and labor want sustainable companies that grow and prosper.

So it can be the case that labor and capital work together and succeed together.

And that has largely been the case in my career in the tech sector and I enjoy that feeling of shared success.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — September 12, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: The Unknowable Alternative Life

naomi.shah@usv.com — September 11, 2018
Unbundling Healthcare

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