Blog articles

Switching Things Up

A VC - September 29, 2014 - 3:55am

The thing I most want to avoid is to come back from a long break and get right back into my habits and routines. There are exceptions, of course. I can’t wait to get back to my bike rides and my yoga practice. But in other areas, I want to switch things up.

I’m still working through what these new things will be. I have some ideas about the flow of my work week that I want to change.

But the first change I am going to make is to swap my Nexus5 for an iPhone6. I’ll use the iPhone6 until at least the new Nexus6 comes out sometime this fall.

I have an iPhone that I use to try out iOS only apps. But I have not used an iPhone as my every day phone since 2008. I’ve been carrying an Android as my primary phone for at six years.

I figure it’s time to change that, at least for a bit. So I’m going to walk into the T-Mobile store near my office today and buy an iPhone6. I am not really looking forward to learning a new OS and setting the phone up. But no pain, no gain.

I will let you all know how it goes.

Categories: Blog articles

Community currency thriving in Kenya’s slums

Beyond Money - September 28, 2014 - 1:03pm

In the slums of Kenya, money is especially scarce. Still, the residents are productive and have plenty of goods and services to offer one another. American social entrepreneur Will Ruddick, together with hundreds of local enterprisers, has found a way to create supplemental exchange media that enable them to trade with one another despite the lack of Kenyan shillings.

Here’s a new video about their Bangla-Pesa currency that they have created in Bangladesh, a slum area of Mombasa.

http://youtu.be/qNOjVyz7e_4?list=PLPUExzwZAUpZgrTqH55aAV2tjlohT_qlD

And, here’s a recent TV news report, which is described as follows:

Published on Apr 10, 2014. When news of the complementary currency branded Bangla-pesa first broke out, claims arose that it was linked to the proscribed Mombasa Republican Council, MRC, and its secessionist agenda, almost spelling doom for the project. A year later, we returned to Bangladesh slum in Mombasa county where the vouchers were first launched, and discovered that not only has the program grown in leaps and bounds, but plans were afoot to roll it out in different slum in the region.

http://youtu.be/CFlolsjwdWY?list=PLPUExzwZAUpZgrTqH55aAV2tjlohT_qlD


Categories: Blog articles

It’s A Wrap

A VC - September 28, 2014 - 3:53am

The six week break I took from work is ending. The trip through Europe is over. We landed back in the US on friday night and drove up to our kids’ college yesterday for homecoming/parents weekend. It was great to see our kids (two of them) and we’ll see our oldest this afternoon. I’ve missed them terribly and I’ve missed NYC, our dog Ollie, and our bed, shower, kitchen, local coffee shop, etc, etc, etc.

Many people have asked me what the highlight of the trip was. I always give the same answer – spending every waking (and sleeping) hour with Joanne for an entire month. It’s been a long time since we did that. I think the last time was the summer after we graduated from college thirty one years ago. We are the same people who made that trip around the country, just a bit older, wiser, wealthier, and with three wonderful young adults to show for it. It’s good to know that, even if you already knew it.

The trip through Europe was fantastic. We started in Rome and finished in Paris and stopped in a bunch of places along the way. This Foursquare map/list shows the itinerary:

fall trip map

The list has 131 places on it. We visited many more than that, but I only listed the places in Foursquare that I want to remember and let others know about. I wrote a tip on every single one of them.

As you can see our major stops were Lake Como, Cote D’Azur, Provence, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bordeaux, and Paris. Of those, I would say Provence and San Sebastian were probably my favorites. I also loved the Piedmont wine region in Italy (Alba) and the city of Bordeaux and the wine region surrounding it. The best food was in Provence and in the tapas bars in Barcelona and San Sebastian.

The most beautiful place we found ourselves in was on a boat in the middle of Lake Como and staring out into the mediterranean sea from the tip of Cap Ferrat. We mangled three languages along the way and found that english is spoken almost everywhere, particularly if you are nice about it. If you want to learn more about the trip and the places we stayed along the way, the past thirty days of blog posts on GothamGal.com will deliver all of that to you.

I turned off my out of office responder yesterday. It gave me great trepidation to do that. If you ever want to give me a gift, the thing I would most appreciate is a filter from incoming email. I was able to manage all of my email in less than 15-20 minutes a day on this entire trip. I just archived everything that came in that wasn’t from someone that I knew I needed to respond to. The out of office responder sets up that expectation and so I feel absolutely fine doing that. Now that the responder if off, I am back to drinking from a firehose and I am terrified of how that is going to feel.

I’ve never taken an extended vacation or sabbatical from my work before. So all of this is new territory for me. I believe you should take the time away from work to get some distance from it, read, learn, relax. I did all of that and feel like I got what I was looking for from the time off. But it won’t be until I’m back at work that the new perspectives will totally reveal themselves to me. I’m looking forward to that too. Then I will know for sure what this time off taught me and I am eager to find that out.

And, as always, when I figure something out, I will share it with all of you here at AVC.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Fred Ehrsam’s Bitcoin Presentation

A VC - September 27, 2014 - 2:21am

Someone posted this video in the comments a week or two ago. I watched it and liked it a lot. Fred Ehrsam, the co-founder of our portfolio company Coinbase, does a good job explaining what Bitcoin is and why it is important in ten minutes, no small feat.

In other Bitcoin news, the results of the AVC poll on Bitcoin ownership are in. 40% of AVC readers own Bitcoin, 60% do not.

bitcoin poll results

I purposely did not tweet out this pool as I only wanted regular readers of AVC to participate. I think if I had tweeted out a link with the headline “Do You Own Bitcoin?”, that would have skewed the results as Bitcoin fans would have poured in to vote.

Categories: Blog articles

Do You Own Bitcoin?

A VC - September 26, 2014 - 12:28am

As suggested yesterday, we are going to follow up on my Bitcoin post with a poll of the AVC readers today. It’s a simple question: Do You Own Bitcoin?


Do You Own Bitcoin?

If you don’t own Bitcoin and would like to, just head on over to Coinbase and they can help you out if you live in one of these fourteen countries.

Categories: Blog articles

The Bitcoin Hype Cycle

A VC - September 25, 2014 - 12:13am

Most people are familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle. It is a great framework for looking at the development of important technological innovations:

Hype-cycle

It is interesting to look at the price chart of Bitcoin in this context:

btc prices since jan 2012

It sure feels like we’ve been through the technology trigger phase, the inflated expectations phase, and are now well into the trough of disillusionment phase.

What’s more interesting is the question of what will lead us onto the slope of enlightenment? I am thinking that we will start to see native applications of Bitcoin. These would be things that simply could not exist without this technology. Donating money to charity with Bitcoin is awesome, and I do it regularly, but it is not a native application of Bitcoin.

I plan to write more about these native applications because I think they are the key to getting to the next phase in the Bitcoin adoption cycle.

Categories: Blog articles

Photoblogging: Tour Eiffel

A VC - September 24, 2014 - 9:29am

As my extended vacation comes to an end, the question of how I was going to blog during it also comes to an end. For the most part it was the same as usual. There were a few reblogs on the days I didn’t want to blog. And some vacation oriented posts. The photoblogging experiment was largely a failure but I am going to give it one more shot before the vacation is over.

I saw this painting today at the Paris Museum Of Modern Art. It was painted by Robert Delaunay in 1926. It is called Tour Eiffel. I really like it and thought I would share it with all of you. I hope you like it as much as I do.

tour eiffel

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Reblog: Minimum Viable Personality

A VC - September 23, 2014 - 8:46am

There are two guest posts that are essentially tied for the most popular guest post ever on AVC. They are both in the top ten of all posts on AVC since I put Google Analytics on this blog at the start of 2007. They each have seen about 125,000 page views since they were published.

The first is Joel Spolsky‘s guest post on The Management Team.

The second is this post below from Fake Grimlock.

Both are great, but I felt like putting some dino magic on the blog today.

—————————————-

MINIMUM VIABLE PERSONALITY

MOST IMPORTANT STEP FOR BUILD PRODUCT IS BUILD PRODUCT.

SECOND MOST IMPORTANT IS BUILD PERSONALITY FOR PRODUCT.

NO HAVE PERSONALITY? PRODUCT BORING, NO ONE WANT.

BREADORBACON

 

PERSONALITY BETTER THAN MARKETING

WHEN CHOOSE PRODUCT, HUMANS ONLY CARE ABOUT DOES WORK, AND IS INTERESTING.

WORLD ALREADY FULL OF THINGS DO WORK. MOST BORING.

PERSONALITY = INTERESTING. INTERESTING = CARE. CARE = TALK. 

EVERYONE CARE AND TALK ABOUT PRODUCT? YOU WIN.

CAREPLUSTALKISWIN

SELL TO FRIENDS, NOT STRANGERS

PERSONALITY MAKE PRODUCT FRIEND. YOU HELP FRIEND. YOU FORGIVE WHEN FRIEND NOT PERFECT. YOU WANT FRIEND WIN.

BORING STRANGER?… YOU NOT.

PERSONALITY IS API FOR LOYALTY. NO ONE CARE WHICH BORING STRANGER IS NEXT. BUT ALWAYS WANT FRIEND NEXT. 

LOYALTYPORT

PERSONALITY MAKE MEANING

CAN PET ROCK. PET DOG BETTER. PET DOG HAVE MEANING.

BORING PRODUCT IS ROCK. NO HAVE MEANING. INTERACT WITH PERSONALITY DIFFERENT. HAVE MEANING.

INTERESTING PRODUCT THAT GIVE FRIENDS MEANING = MOST WIN OF ALL.

NOTAROCK

HOW NOT BE BORING

HAVE PERSONALITY EASY. ANSWER THREE QUESTIONS:

1. HOW YOU CHANGE CUSTOMER’S LIFE? 

2. WHAT YOU STAND FOR?

3. WHO OR WHAT YOU HATE?

NOW HAVE MISSION, VALUES, ENEMY. THAT ENOUGH FOR MINIMUM VIABLE PERSONALITY.

KEEP IN BRAIN WHEN WRITE, TALK, BLOG, TWEET. ITERATE. IMPROVE WHAT WORK. DELETE WHAT NOT. PERSONALITY GROW.

NO BE CHICKEN

CHICKEN LIVE IN CAGE. NO CAN HAVE PERSONALITY INSIDE CAGE. 

LAST STEP IS SMASH CAGE, LIGHT BARN ON FIRE.

DO THAT, YOU WIN.

CHICKENWIN

Categories: Blog articles

My Current Home Screen

A VC - September 22, 2014 - 1:13am

Screenshot_2014-09-21-18-03-25

here’s the current state of my phone’s home screen.

adds:

– snapchat – which along with Kik is how i stay in touch with my son Josh at college

– audible – which we are using to listen to audiobooks on our trip. i think we will continue to use audible on our drives back and forth to our house in long island so it’s now on the home screen

– wordpress – because i’ve been blogging on my phone a lot on this trip. i think i will continue to do that when we get back. it’s awesome.

to make room for all of these adds I took off the search bar. i find myself just going to Chrome to search anyway and i wasn’t using it

Categories: Blog articles

Audio Books – Late To The Party

A VC - September 21, 2014 - 9:55am

We were driving up the coast of Italy from Rome to Genoa listening to music being bluetoothed from my phone to the car’s audio system and the Gotham Gal said, “let’s listen to some audio books on this trip.” I was dubious but she was adamant. “I tried it on a drive from NYC to Long Island this summer and it is really great”, she said. So I replied “sure.” Later that night in our hotel, using their wifi, I downloaded the Audible app and a few books onto my phone.

We started with Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence. That was awesome. Listening to a book about a place like Provence while driving around Provence is a fantastic experience. That sold me hook line and sinker on this audio book in the car thing.

Then we went for Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In The Boat. We failed to check how long the audio book was before selecting it. This particular audio book is 14 hours 25 minutes. Good thing we were taken with the story. We stuck it out and finished it yesterday. We cheered as the author ended the story. That was a marathon. All that said, it is a great story about the boys from the University of Washington who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 in the eight category.

The strange thing about audio books is the play time of the book and the page length of the book are not directly correlated. Boys In The Boat took 14 hours 25 minutes to listen to and it is 416 pages. A Year In Provence took 2 hours and 52 minutes to listen to and the book is 224 pages. I think it may have to do with the fact that the audio book version of A Year In Provence we listened to is abridged.

In any case, we found that three hours is a great length for an audio book. Fourteen and a half hours felt a bit long, maybe even more than a bit long.

We are now listening to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Given that we are now in Paris having recently been in Barcelona, Pamplona, and San Sebastian, it seemed like the right time to revisit that novel.

The Gotham Gal’s pitch on audio books is that it makes long drives fly by. I am not sure they “fly by”, but I would agree that listening to a great narrator read an interesting story does make long drives a lot more enjoyable.

It looks like we’ve got a new pastime. And I’m happy about that.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: The Visitors

A VC - September 19, 2014 - 11:43pm

We visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao earlier this week. They were exhibiting a video installation called The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson. It’s not easily captured in a YouTube video, but that’s the best I can do for all of you. Basically you walk into a big room and on every wall there is a video playing of a musician and each is playing a part in the song. You walk around and you hear the various musicians playing. It’s awesome. I loved it.

Categories: Blog articles

The Coin Center

A VC - September 19, 2014 - 12:21am

We have found that the best way to deal with policy makers and regulators when something new and threatening and dangerous looking comes around is to educate, educate, educate, educate. You can hire expensive lobbyists, you can try the “ignore and deal with it later” approach, and you can try operating in other more welcoming locations. But in our view the best approach is to take the time and effort to explain things, listen to the concerns, get the best and brightest minds involved to work things out together and come to the right answers.

It is in this spirit that a new organization called the Coin Center has launched. The Coin Center will be led by Jerry Brito who has done some of the best Bitcoin education and advocacy work in his former role at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. So Jerry really won’t be doing anything new here. But he will be able to focus 100% of his time on this work and will have more financial and organization support to do it.

The Washington Post has a good article explaining the Coin Center and who is initially behind it.

I would like to thank Alex Morcos of Chaincode Labs and Balaji Srinivasan of Andreessen Horowitz for all the hard work they did bringing the Coin Center to life. Without their persistence, I don’t think this would have happened.

USV is proud to be a financial supporter of the Coin Center along with a handful of the most active entrepreneurs and investors in the blockchain sector. We will be reaching out broadly to everyone who has an interest in this sector in the coming months to get involved in some way. Technologies such as cryptocurrencies, bitcoin, and the blockchain are important, fundamental, and will foster innovation for decades to come. We must make sure that policy makers and regulators are well educated and informed so that they will put forward policies that will accelerate the development of these technologies, not retard them.

Categories: Blog articles

Search Vs Social

A VC - September 18, 2014 - 10:12am

Back in 2008 and 2009, probably because of our investment in Twitter, I was obsessed with looking at acquisition traffic from search and social and comparing the two. Here’s an example of a post I wrote at that time looking at the two channels and comparing them.

At some point, I became convinced that websites would eventually see more acquisition traffic coming from social than they were seeing from search, which was the king dog of Internet traffic at the time. It was a hotly debated issue but, again maybe because of how long we were on Twitter, I was convinced social would be king some day.

I stopped obsessing about that issue sometime around 2010 and moved on to mobile as the thing I thought about and wrote about the most.

But today, when I was looking to see if the traffic to AVC had declined a lot while I have been away and blogging about all sorts of non work stuff (it hasn’t), I saw this chart of year to date acquisition traffic to AVC.

acquisition channels

Social, and for AVC that means Twitter and Disqus, brings 23% of the visits to AVC. Search brings less than 20%. And it’s been that way for a long time now. Well over three years.

It’s kind of funny to think that we wondered and debated about such things back in 2008 and 2009. It’s not a debate any more and its not something to wonder about. It’s reality now.

Categories: Blog articles

Toshi

A VC - September 17, 2014 - 12:00am

Our portfolio company Coinbase announced something yesterday that went largely unnoticed, but might be one of the most important things to happen in the Bitcoin space in a while.

They put out a bunch of developer tools under the name Toshi, including a full open source version of their Bitcoin node. When you combine Toshi with the core Bitcoin APIs it comes with and the Coinbase APIs, you get a platform for building Bitcoin applications that is unmatched in the market.

The reality is building on top of the Bitcoin Core is not a simple task. There is a lot you need to do to make it work. Coinbase has been building on top of the Bitcoin Core for over two years and has addressed many (most?) of the obvious needs and they are now making all of that technology available to developers who want to build Bitcoin applications but don’t want to get knee deep in the Bitcoin Core.

There is a free hosted version of Toshi, you can download and run Toshi on your own servers, or you deploy Toshi to Heroku with just one click.

If you are building Bitcoin applications or thinking about it, check out Toshi. I think making Bitcoin easier for developers is a big thing and I’m pleased to see Coinbase doing exactly that.

Categories: Blog articles

Burn Baby Burn

A VC - September 15, 2014 - 11:19pm

Andy sent me a WSJ piece with Bill Gurley yesterday. I don’t like to link to paid content so here’s a good Business Insider summary of the article that is open for anyone to read.

Regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of Bill’s. He’s as smart as they come and I generally agree with him on things. As I was reading the WSJ piece, I found myself nodding my head and saying “yes”, “yes”, “yes”.

The thing I like so much about Bill’s point of view is that he does not focus on valuations as a measure of risk. He focuses on burn rates instead. That’s very smart and from my experience, very accurate.

Valuations can be fixed. You can do a down round, or three or four flat ones, until you get the price right.

But burn rates are exactly that. Burning cash. Losing money. Emphasis on the losing.

And they are indeed sky high all over the US startup sector right now. And our portfolio is not immune to it. We have multiple portfolio companies burning multiple millions of dollars a month. Thankfully its not our entire portfolio. But it is more than I’d like and more than I’m personally comfortable with.

I’ve been grumpy for months, possibly for longer than that, about this. I’ve pushed back on long term leases that I thought were outrageous, I’ve pushed back on spending plans that I thought were too aggressive and too risky, I’ve made myself a pain in the ass to more than a few CEOs.

I’m really happy that I’m not alone in thinking this way. At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor’s capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way. We have a number of companies in our portfolio that do that. And I love them for it. I wish we had more.

Categories: Blog articles

Doubling Down On Ridesharing

A VC - September 15, 2014 - 9:30am

Back in February, I wrote about our investment in Sidecar. At that time, Sidecar had recently launched a marketplace model where riders can choose the drivers they want to ride with. That model has proven very popular and Sidecar’s ride volumes grew significantly after it launched. Sidecar followed up that innovation with the launch of Shared Rides this summer and is already matching thousands of shared rides every week in San Francisco.

The tech industry has grouped many different apps under the label ridesharing. The name comes from the idea that anyone can be a transportation provider by taking out their car and giving rides via an Internet network powered by mobile apps in both the driver’s and rider’s hands. That is not really how most of these networks work. In reality, what we have seen develop is a new form of a limo service powered through technology. That isn’t really ride sharing.

And to take it a step further, if there is only a single passenger in the car, that’s not really ridesharing either. True ridesharing would be me taking out my car from my garage, powering up my Sidecar driver app, and accepting rides in which as many people as possible pile into my car and I take them all where they want to go. That’s the most efficient and highest form of utilization for my car and my time and will lead to the lowest cost rides for the passengers (and the most money for the drivers).

If we really want to reduce the number of cars on the road and make ridesharing a game changer in the transportation market, we need to see a model develop where anyone can be a driver whenever they want to drive and as many people as is safe and comfortable can get in the car with the driver and get where they want to go.

That is what Sidecar is building. That is the vision they had when they started the Company, that is the vision they had when we invested last year, and that is the vision they continue to pursue.

I am very excited by the potential of Shared Rides. I don’t really see any other way that regular people who can spend a few dollars, but not tens of dollars, every day to get to work, can take advantage of ridesharing. The leaders in this market can subsidize prices and cut fees for their drivers as much as they want. But that’s not sustainable. What is sustainable is increasing the utilization of the car as much as possible. That’s Shared Rides.

At USV, we are very excited about Shared Rides and Sidecar’s commitment to rolling out Shared Rides in every market they operate in and then expanding the markets they operate in. We’ve co-led a round with our friends at Avalon and Richard Branson which the company has announced today.

Categories: Blog articles

Eating As A Contact Sport

A VC - September 14, 2014 - 6:36am

We drove early this morning from Barcelona to San Sebastian. To be more accurate, the Gotham Gal drove and I sat in the passenger seat amazed at the vastness of the landscape where for large parts of the drive there was 20 to 30 kilometers between towns. It was desolate and a bit depressing for someone used to seeing a new person every ten feet in NYC.

We got to San Sebastian in time for lunch. After checking into our hotel, we walked to the beach where there were boat races going on, and then walked into the old part of town in search of lunch.

It being Sunday afternoon, the streets were mobbed.
street crowd

We found a few tapas bars that looked good and pushed our way in, and I do mean push. Eating in these bars on a sunday afternoon is a full contact sport. I was thinking I could have used some shoulder pads.

Here’s a selfie I took in one of the bars we pushed our way into.

selfie in bar

In each bar, we got a beer to split and one or two tapas.

While it was work, and we had to push and shove a few times, the payoff was well worth it.

pulpo

We got this Pulpo A La Planxta Con Membrillo in the first bar we went to.

gambas

And we got this grilled shrimp bruschetta (although they call it something slightly different here) in the second one we went to.

We are going back to the bars tomorrow night for more contact sport. I have to say it’s a lot of fun.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: The Progression Of Joan Miro

A VC - September 13, 2014 - 5:56am

We visited the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona today. He was an amazing artist. We spent over an hour gazing at his work and then watching a short film about him.

It made me want to know more about him and his work. So I went on YouTube and found this

We visited the Picasso Museum this afternoon so we got quite a dose of Spanish painters of the 20th Century today. It was very enjoyable.

Categories: Blog articles

Feature Friday: Crowdfunding Filters

A VC - September 12, 2014 - 12:29am

Our portfolio company CircleUp, a crowdfunding market for equity investments in consumer products companies,  launched something this week that I think is a something we will see more and more in the crowdfunding world going forward.

They have added filters to the left side of their company discovery page. It looks like this:

circleup filters

I decided to filter for food companies in New York that have more than $500k of annual revenue. That got me three results:

food companies in NYC > $500k

Whether it is equity for consumer products (CircleUp), equity for tech startups (AngelList), consumer lending (LendingClub), small business lending (Funding Circle), philanthropy (CrowdRise), or creative projects (Kickstarter), all of these crowdfunding marketplaces have a tremendous amount of things to fund. Drilling down to find exactly what you want to fund is becoming harder and harder. Discovery tools are becoming critical to the user experience.

So I think CircleUp is showing one good way (another is social discovery which Kickstarter does a good job with) to help funders find the things they want to back. My bet is we will see more of these kinds of tools cropping in up in the marketplaces in the coming year(s).

Categories: Blog articles

9/11 — the Myth and the Reality

Beyond Money - September 11, 2014 - 9:25pm

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is a man with impeccable credentials. Besides having been affiliated with a half dozen universities and think tanks, he served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan administration.

In his latest web post, he recalls the events of 9/11, 2001, debunks the official story, and sums up the changes that have transformed the United States into a “warfare/police state.”–T.H.G.

9/11 After 13 years

Paul Craig Roberts

The tragedy of September 11, 2001, goes far beyond the deaths of those who died in the towers and the deaths of firefighters and first responders who succumbed to illnesses caused by inhalation of toxic dust. For thirteen years a new generation of Americans has been born into the 9/11 myth that has been used to create the American warfare/police state.

The corrupt Bush and Obama regimes used 9/11 to kill, maim, dispossess and displace millions of Muslims in seven countries, none of whom had anything whatsoever to do with 9/11. .. More..


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