If you haven’t heard of Kano, you are missing out. This is so cool. I funded it the day the project launched. They are a little bit more than half way to their goal of $500k.
Our portfolio company Meetup was launched in June of 2002. We invested five years later, in 2007, when the company was already profitable and was approaching double digit revenues. Nine years later they are 3x the size when we invested in revenues, meetups, and more. But the founder and leaders of Meetup feel like they are just beginning to scratch the surface of their mission which is to get people out of the house and into the real world doing things they enjoy with other like minded people.
This video, which they created as part of their re-launch this week, shows the range of things people use Meetup to do with others:
Many people associate Meetup with night time events where people with name tags on them walk around and introduce themselves to others. Those sorts of things happen on Meetup for sure. But the more common uses are runners using Meetup to schedule group runs, moms using Meetup to hang out with other moms, and, apparently, jugglers using Meetup to juggle together.
So Meetup is relaunching the Company this week, fourteen and a quarter years after its initial launch. This means a new logo (the name badge is gone), new mobile apps that use deep learning to understand what you want to do and encourage you to do more of it, a new team (with women leaders in both product and engineering) with lots of new engineers and data scientists, and a sharper focus on marketing.
If you want to see what the new Meetup is all about, download the new app (iOS and Android) and check it out. Maybe you will find yourself juggling in the park this weekend. I sure hope so.
- visual search
- train your own model
Visual search is super cool:
But I am even more excited about the train your own model feature.
Clarifai says it well on their blog post announcing these two new features:
We believe that the same AI technology that gives big tech companies a competitive edge should be available to developers or businesses of any size or budget. That’s why we built our new Custom Training and Visual Search products – to make it easy, quick, and inexpensive for developers and businesses to innovate with AI, go to market faster, and build better user experiences.
Machine learning requires large data sets and skilled engineers to build the technology that can derive “intelligence” from data. Small companies struggle with both. And so without machine learning as a service from companies like Clarifai, the largest tech companies will have a structural advantage over small developers. Using an API like Clarifai allows you to get the benefits of scale collectively without having to have that scale individually.
Being able to customize these machine learning APIs is really the big opening. Clarifai says this about that:
Custom Training allows you to build a Custom Model where you can “teach” AI to understand any concept, whether it’s a logo, product, aesthetic, or Pokemon. Visual Search lets you use these new Custom Models, in conjunction with our existing pre-built models (general, color, food, wedding, travel, NSFW), to browse or search through all your media assets using keyword tags and/or visual similarity.
If you are building or have built a web or mobile service with a lot of image assets and want to get more intelligence out of them, give Clarifai’s API a try. I think you will find it a big help in adding intelligence to your service.
If I think back to all the Presidents I’ve known in my lifetime; LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, Bush Junior, and Obama, the one thing they all had in common was a Presidential temperament. Putting aside all of their differences, they were solid, steady, measured, calm, and collected, at least in their public presences.
Last night in the first Presidential Debate we saw an incredible contrast in temperament.
Hillary Clinton, a difficult candidate to love, passes this presidential temperament test in spades. Think about the pressure she was under last night. I don’t think I could have even gotten up there with the stakes so high on the singular goal of her life. And yet she delivered a masterful performance.
Donald Trump is, for many, an easier candidate to love. He’s a character. He’s a successful entrepreneur and businessman who brings a different, and, at times, refreshing perspective to our political discourse. But on the temperament issue, he is a non-starter. He’s immature, impetuous, angry, hostile, and given to bouts of rambling like a mad person.
I don’t think last night’s debate settled this election. This race is close and may well go down to the wire. But it settled something for me. Donald Trump does not have the temperament to be President and Hillary Clinton does. She is by far the better choice to lead our country for the next four years. If there was any question on this issue, let me settle it once and for all. I am with her.
I wrote about this on Friday. I think Twitter is going to be a great way to watch the debate tonight.
Here’s how you can get Twitter on your big screen and watch the debate on Twitter:
- if you have a “fourth generation” AppleTV, you can add the Twitter app to it using the AppleTV app store
- if you have an older AppleTV, you can mirror your phone to your TV and watch the debate on your phone’s Twitter app
- if you have an Xbox One, you can add the Twitter app to it
- if you have an Amazon Fire, you can add the Twitter app to it
- if you have an iPad, you can watch on the Twitter app on your iPad
The debate video will be front and center in the Twitter TV apps.
On the Twitter smartphone app, you can go to the Moments tab and the live video of the debate will be there.
For an event as important as this one is, I think having Twitter side by side with the live video is the way to go.
I went on a walk through the Chelsea Art Gallery district yesterday afternoon. One of the galleries I visited was the Petzel Gallery and they have a show up by the New Zealand artist Simon Denny. The show is called Blockchain Future States and it compares Blockchain efforts like Ethereum and Digital Asset Holdings to the board game Risk.
Given the comparison to Risk, I thought the name Blockchain Nation States would be more appropriate for the show.
But given the context of what I had just seen, this one particularly got my attention and I replied to it.
7/ Nation states that embrace blockchains will realize a windfall. Their devs & miners are the creators & maintainers of the next Internet.
— Naval Ravikant (@naval) September 24, 2016
@naval are there specific nation states that seem to be doing the best job of this right now?
— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) September 24, 2016
I agree with Naval that open protocols and the blockchains that underly them will be the driver of the next big wave of technology and that they will force big changes that will ultimately impact the global economy. That’s a big statement and I don’t make it casually. I do believe this.
The questions in my mind about this are when it will happen, which blockchains and protocols will emerge as the most important and valuable, and which nation states will embrace this and which nation states will not.
Sitting here in the US, I think the US is not likely to be one of the winners in this next big technological wave because our government and institutions are captured by the incumbent economic system and companies that define it. So many of the blockchain companies we invest in are forced to seriously consider leaving the US or get bypassed by companies and technologies that are being developed more freely outside of the US.
So what nation states are playing this game (of Risk?) better? That was the question I asked in my tweet reply and I got a lot of replies. Here are some of the top suggestions:
- China (2)
- Hong Kong (2)
- Canada (2)
- Japan (2)
It is revealing that the big conferences where entrepreneurs, developers, and computer scientists gather to discuss the latest in blockchain technology are not often in the US. Last week, many in the blockchain world, including two people on our team, were in Shanghai to discuss the latest developments around the Ethereum blockchain. It does seem like China and its environs are emerging as an important center of gravity for blockchain technology.
It is not too late for the regulators in the US to change their tune and become more open to these new technologies and the capabilities of them. But, like the game of Risk, large pools of talent are being built on other continents and countries now and eventually they will be unbeatable.
The statistics offered by the government and the FED are not to be trusted. We’ve long known that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is manipulated in ways that are intended to mask the increases in the true cost of living for the average American. The same is true of the unemployment numbers. Amidst all the happy talk of economic recovery, wages (in real terms) continue to decline and debts continue to mount up. Charles Hugh Smith in his recent post, What If We’re in a Depression But Don’t Know It?, provides some eye-opening charts and convincing narrative that makes it plain that economic depression is the current reality for all but the top 5%.
But it’s not only the U.S. that is in trouble, the depression is worldwide. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was only the beginning of what some call “the great unraveling” There are any number of commentators that provide further arguments on that score, including Thom Hartmann (The Crash of 2016) and Gerald Celente.
But no one besides myself is pointing out the underlying cause of all these problems. It is the monopolization of credit by a banking cartel, in collusion with top government officials, that creates money based on interest-bearing debt, a formula that centralizes power and concentrates wealth in the hands of what Hartmann calls economic royalists.
By their control of the monetary machinery they are able to lavishly fund weapons, war, and the global corporatocracy, while making money scarce for everyone else. Further, this system is not sustainable because the interest burden causes debts to grow continually with the passage of time. Central governments have assumed the role of “borrower of last resort,” to keep the money supply pumped up and the banks from failing. This cancer has metastasized and the end is near. –t.h.g.
Regular readers know that I am a big fan of Bill Gurley. He and I are in the same generation of VCs. We started our careers in the PC era and learned VC in the first generation of the Internet era. Bill and I also bring a “fundamental investor mindset” to our work which is not the only mindset in the VC business. We’ve never worked together on an investment, which is too bad, but I have tremendous respect for Bill and all of the partners at Benchmark.
I am super excited to watch the Presidential Debates on Twitter. I wrote this yesterday afternoon:
— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) September 22, 2016
I know the Bloomberg Politics team. John Heilemann is a good friend of mine. They have two excellent TV shows, With All Due Respect which runs on Bloomberg TV every day after the market closes, and The Circus on Showtime on Sunday Nights. They understand this presidential race as well as anyone, they know the candidates, the issues, the campaigns, the pundits, and the people as well as anyone. I am really looking forward to how they do “Twitter play by play” during the debate.
So I tweeted out this poll today.
How will you watch Monday’s Presidential Debate?
— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) September 23, 2016
How do you plan to watch the debate?
I’ve been in board meeting blitz since the summer ended. Many of the companies I work with are well past the startup phase and are well into or even past the growth/scaling phase. And the thought that keeps occurring to me as I go from board meeting to board meeting is the key to success when you are past the startup/product market fit stage comes down to two things, team and strategy.
You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.
This sounds so simple. But it is not.
Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.
The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.
These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.
My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.
Danah Boyd has a nice post up about what it was like to live on the block that the second bomb was placed this past weekend in NYC. But the post is really about something way more important. It is about the fact that we are increasingly letting the trolls drive us nuts. The trolls are the people who do these acts of terrorism intended to turn us into a scared and terrified society. And she is right, they are succeeding in that effort, aided by the media making a bigger deal out of these things than they should.
I heard about the bombing on saturday night at a party in Brooklyn. It was upsetting but it did not impact us much that evening. We continued to celebrate our friends birthday and anniversary. We took an Uber back to Manhattan. We went out for a late dinner and then went to bed. The next day was more of the same. We did not let this nutjob impact how we live and what we do. My friend Jerry asked me on Monday how I was doing. I said fine. He brought up the bombing. And I had already forgotten it. I said “nobody died Jerry, a few people got hurt. It sucks.”
I am more upset by the massive increase in homelessness on the streets of NYC, I am more upset by the fact that the Hudson river comes close to coming over its banks every time there is a big storm, I am more upset by the fact that young black men get killed by the police for no good reason.
I am with Danah. Fuck the trolls. The police and the other security apparatus can and will deal with them. I am going to go about living my life and not thinking about them.
This table shows the different character of the biggest cities on Kickstarter:
- NYC over indexes for film, theater, and dance.
- LA over indexes for film in a big way.
- SF over indexes for art, design, and tech.
- Chicago over indexes for publishing and theater.
- Seattle over indexes for music, publishing, design, and theater.
Even more fun are the bubble charts that they created for all of the major locations on Kickstarter:
Nashville is almost all red because its a music city. Atlanta produces some huge game projects.
You can learn some interesting things.
Here are the places that over index for table top games:
And here are the places that over index for comics:
The Polygraph blog post is super interactive (unlike this post) and if you want to dig into the data, you can do it there.
Creativity is alive and well all over the world and you can learn a lot about it by studying what goes on on Kickstarter.
Here’s something great your company can do to help inner city kids, engage your employees in rewarding volunteer work, and do all of this inside the four walls of your office.
These classes are held once a week throughout the school year in the offices of ScriptEd’s company partners. Classes typically last for 2 hours and are held in the late afternoon (usually 4-6pm). Volunteers teach in teams of four, supported by a ScriptEd Program Manager. Training and curriculum is also provided.
This year, classes will take place at Etsy, Salesforce, and HBC Digital, amongst others. ScriptEd is still looking for a couple more companies to host classes. This is a great opportunity to do skills-based volunteering without having to leave the office. It’s also a way for your company to create opportunity for a group of students, and to make a meaningful contribution to diversity in tech.
If you think your company might be a good fit for a ScriptEd Advanced Class, please contact Corporate Partnerships Manager Kate Holzman at email@example.com.
Yet another post about something I supposedly don’t actually care about
AVC regular Rob Underwood sent me this video a couple days ago:
This happened at a Community Board 6 (Cobble Hill Brooklyn) meeting this week. Here’s a news report that explains the context of what happened here.
I am posting this for several reasons.
I am a huge Citibike fan and user. I’ve already used it three times today and its only 8:30am
Citibike has made living in the city so much better for me in so many ways. So I am thrilled that Citibike is expanding in NYC and becoming available to new neighborhoods and providing Citibike access to new neighborhoods.
But I realize that not everyone is a fan of bikes, bike lanes, and bike stations. This man certainly is not.
The anger and resentment this man is feeling is an example of how many are feeling in the US (and the world) right now. Things are changing around him and not for the better, at least for him. It’s worth mentioning that he was initially set off because there were no american flags on display at the community board meeting. If you want to understand the appeal of Donald Trump, this man might help you do that.
Finally, a suggestion. Why doesn’t Citibike offer free monthly passes for all residents of homes and buildings that are next to a Citibike station? And why doesn’t Citibike allow these homes and buildings request a Citibike station next to their building so that they can obtain this benefit?
Rob has a Citibike station in front of his house and he is mostly happy about it. I would love a Citibike station in front of my house. I realize not everyone feels this way. But if you provide some incentives for having one, the folks that are open to it would compete for it and the folks that are not open would likely not have to have one. It would be worth trying this in a new neighborhood and seeing if it works.
Local government and politics is not easy. But finding ways to move forward in ways that people can accept and get behind is the work that must be done. Staying put is certainly not the answer, as much as some would like to do that.
Last night was a revelation for me. I’m not joking. I wasn’t really expecting to be blown away by the experience of watching football on Twitter. I was.
I installed the new Twitter app on our AppleTV and watched the entire Jets Bills game on Twitter last night. It looks like this on the TV in our family room:
I was talking to folks on Twitter throughout the game and many said that they don’t understand the difference between having the tweets flowing up on the screen vs on your phone.
For me, it’s a huge difference. You can watch the game and follow the conversation about it without having your head in your phone.
But there is so much more Twitter can do to make this experience even better.
For starters, I would like to be able to log into the Twitter AppleTV app and then have options to only see tweets from people in my timeline or to have those highlighted or prioritized.
And, I would like to be able to use the Twitter app on my phone to control the AppleTV Twitter app like the Apple Remote app controls the AppleTV. Then I could tweet from the AppleTV app and be able to reply and engage right up on the screen.
I expect Twitter to showcase all sorts of live sports in the coming months in their apps. You can watch these events on your phone in your Twitter app. Or you can watch them on AppleTV and XBox and, I think one other device. I expect Twitter to add apps for other devices as well.
Everyone here at AVC knows I am a huge fan of Twitter and very long on the stock. So take all of this in that context. I think the addition of live content to Twitter is a game changer for them. It amplifies what is unique and different about Twitter and the experience is fantastic. Well done Twitter.
Over the past couple years, it has become apparent to school districts across the country, particularly in inner city schools, that teaching computer science to ALL students (CS4All or CS For All) is a good idea and must be done. I am proud to have been one of the people pushing this idea for the last decade and I am even more proud of how far we have come in NYC highlighted by Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of NYC’s CS4All effort a year ago this month.
Earlier this year the White House realized that getting all of these CS For All efforts around the country connected and communicating was a good idea and the President announced a national CS For All in January of this year.
The thing that is so great about this CS For All movement it has been “bottom up” instead of “top down.” The elected officials are getting on the bandwagon and providing funding and other resources for it (not anywhere near enough yet) but CS For All has emerged from the classrooms, from the students and teachers, aided by a bunch of computer science and education researchers in higher education. There are literally hundreds of organizations, almost all non-profits, that have built the curriculum, professional development, and other tools and resources that together make up the CS For All movement around the country. There have been some unsung heroes, many of them women interestingly, like Jane Margolis, who started working in the LA public schools a decade ago and wrote a book about that which woke a lot of people up, including me, and Jan Cuny at the NSF who has funded a lot of the curriculum development work over the past decade, and many others who have been working for a long time to make this happen.
But happen it has. CS For All is expanding all over the country at a very rapid pace.
And yesterday, at the White House Summit on Computer Science Education, the CS For All Consortium was announced. The CS For All Consortium will serve as a hub for families, schools, and districts looking for resources that match their needs, including content by grade level and target audience. The consortium website at http://www.csforall.org/ will help connect members of the national CS education community, provide an avenue for disseminating their work, and track our collective progress toward the goal of providing every student with the opportunity to learn CS.
For now, our CS For All organization in NYC, CSNYC, that I co-founded a few years ago will be leading this effort. A lot of our work in NYC has influenced the national movement. We believe in a bottom up approach where there is not one standard curriculum or one standard pathway for a student to study CS. We have fostered an approach in NYC where literally dozens of computer science education organizations are active helping the NYC school system get CS in every school in the city (>1700 of them). We have built a big tent that allows all schools, all students, all teachers, all parents, all curriculums, all approaches, and all volunteers to participate. Literally CS for All.
And we are excited to bring that approach to the national effort. Michael Preston and Leigh Ann Delyser of CSNYC have been leading this work and I am very appreciative of their efforts to make this a reality. If you are a teacher, a student, a parent, a principal, or anyone else who wants help getting CS for all of your students, you can visit the CS For All consortium website and find resources that can help you do that. I encourage you to do that.
comScore released its annual US mobile app report yesterday. The data comes from a large mobile panel of US smartphone users that comScore maintains.
The story is one of maturity and consolidation, themes we have visited a lot on AVC in the last few years.
This is the most interesting slide in my view:
If I am reading this chart correctly, digital media time spent across desktop web, mobile app, and mobile web only grew 2% in the last year. That is a significant slowdown from prior years when time spent spent was growing 20% per year or more driven by very large growth in mobile.
Again, this is US data only. The US is among the most saturated markets in the world. But even so, this is a pretty significant slowdown.
This is the second most interesting slide in my view:
Ten of the top twenty-five mobile apps (also ten out of the top twenty mobile apps) by UV are owned by Facebook, Google, and Apple. That’s not new news. The number was similar last year. But this level of consolidation in a maturing market is quite telling.
So is there a ray of hope anywhere in the comScore report? If there is, it is with Millennials who use all of these top apps frequently, but are also drawn to a different set up apps that are younger and less mainstream:
Snapchat is the poster child for an app (and a company) that has taken a different approach and built a lasting and defensible mobile franchise in the process. There are some other names on this list that I think are heading in a similar direction and three of them are USV portfolio companies (SoundCloud, Wattpad, and Kik).
I really had no agenda with yesterday’s post other than to let all of you know that I am well aware of the reliability issues but don’t have any plans to address them at this time.
But when I walked out of our weekly team meeting yesterday afternoon I had three unanswered phone calls to my cell phone from the same number in Utah. I returned the call and got Bluehost, the web hosting company for AVC.
I have not talked to Bluehost yet, but I will.
It seems that they are more eager to fix this issue than I am.
It would be even more awesome if they could just fix it instead of calling me. But I understand that I may need to do something on my end.
So I will talk to them and maybe these reliability issues will get fixed after all.
For a number of years, AVC has been plagued by nagging reliability issues. There are times when the page won’t load. Regular readers are familiar with this issue. William sent me a screenshot this morning of one typical issue:
Here is another typical error message:
I have come to believe this issue is related to my web host, Bluehost, and CloudFlare which provides a host of services for AVC.
My goal in posting about this is not to try to fix it although I know the comments will be filled with suggestions and that I will get a ton of email suggestions too. Thank you in advance for that.
The truth is I am not particularly compelled to fix this issue. If it was magically fixed, I would be thrilled. But I’ve come to view it like some of the annoying things about me that the Gotham Gal puts up with on a regular basis. It’s all part of the relationship I have (and you have) with AVC and I’m OK with it.