In the midst of terrible news all over the place comes a wonderful hopeful heartwarming mania sweeping the nation.
Everyone is pouring ice buckets over their heads in a social viral fun outpouring of generosity to find a cure for a disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short.
The most famous victim of ALS was Lou Gehrig and for that his name will be forever associated with this disease.
ALS is a horrible disease. If we could find a cure for it, that would be an incredible thing.
It looks like the Ice Bucket Challenge will raise over $50mm for ALS research and possibly a lot more. That is real money that can fund real science.
I’ve been “challenged” a few times on Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks and instead of pouring ice water over my head and then calling out additional people, I decided to donate $500 to ALS research via Ben Huh’s Ice Bucket Challenge on CrowdRise.
I am sure some of you will be disappointed that I “chickened out” and did not choose to get doused, but to me the important thing is the generosity that the Ice Bucket Challenge has unlocked.
That’s what I want to participate in, that’s what will ultimately make the difference, and I would encourage everyone to donate even if you have not been challenged.
For creators, there are three offerings, Partner, Pro, and Premier. Anyone can be a Partner. For a small monthly fee, you can upgrade to Pro. And if you are really serious, then you can become Premier and make money on SoundCloud.
Every time you see or hear an ad, an artist gets paid
There will also be a subscription offering that will be ad free and offer other features for listeners.
For brands, SoundCloud becomes a popular social platform where they can engage with creators and listeners. Here’s more on SoundCloud’s offerings for brands.
Here’s the thing that many people miss about SoundCloud. It’s not like iTunes, or Spotify, or Pandora. It’s a peer network with a social architecture that emphasizes engagement and sharing.
Like Twitter and Tumblr and a number of other popular social platforms, SoundCloud treats everyone as peers in its network. My profile is almost identical to an artist’s profile on SoundCloud. I can do the same things they can do and they can do the same things I can do. The same is true of a brand’s profile.
This social architecture encourages engagement, sharing, commenting, and favoriting. It’s like the artists, listeners, and brands are all hanging out together at one big party.
These social peer networks treat advertising very differently. The ads are native. On Twitter, the advertising is a Tweet. On Tumblr, the advertising is a post. On SoundCloud, the advertising is a track. You see the ads in your feed and you choose to engage with them if they are inviting. In the best case, you enjoy them so much that you favorite or reblog/retweet them. And brands can sponsor/promote tracks from other users. Think of Red Bull sponsoring and promoting artists on SoundCloud.
The New York Times has an article today about On SoundCloud. It covers all the challenges that SoundCloud has overcome in getting to this place. It’s been a ton of work for the team at SoundCloud to get this launched, and there is certainly a lot more ahead of them as they undertake to get every artist On SoundCloud.
I am very optimistic that will happen because this network of 175mm mobile listeners all over the world connected together and sharing the audio they love with each other is too powerful to ignore.
Another year, another birthday.
For the past fifteen years, I’ve been spending my birthday on the beach with my family. That seems like the ideal way to do it. I hope that tradition lasts as long as I do.
The weather has been spectacular on the east end of long island this week and we spent most of yesterday afternoon on a boat in Sag Harbor.
Today, I plan to do some yoga, play some golf with my son, and have a family dinner tonight.
I don’t really enjoy receiving presents. The best present for me is to be somewhere awesome surrounded by my family. I’ve already received that present.
But if you feel that you must send me something, please make a small donation to CSNYC here. I would appreciate that very much.
One of the things I am going to do on this extended vacation is go back into the archives and reblog posts that I think are still fresh and relevant. I’ll start with this one from Feb 2012.
I met with a group of very experienced and sophisticated investors yesterday who make up the investment committee of a large charitable foundation that is an investor in USV. I gave them a two minute brief on our macro investment thesis (large networks of engaged users that can disrupt big markets) and then took them on a tour of some of these large networks (Lending Club, Kickstarter, Etsy, Twitter, and Codecademy). Then I took questions.
This group doesn’t spend a ton of time on AVC, Techmeme, Hacker News, or the tech industry in general. And yet the questions they asked me were as good as I ever get. I guess four decades of investing teaches you a lot.
One of the best questions I got was “when do you decide to sell?”. Such a great question and such a hard one to answer. I’ve got scars from this one.
I explained that first and foremost, we generally don’t make that call. The entrepreneur and her management team generally makes that call and the board is asked to ratify it.
But when and if we get to weigh in on the timing of the exit, my view is that you look to exit your weakest investments as soon as you can and you let your winners run as long as you can.
USV 2004 is instructive. Between 2004 and 2008, we made investments in 21 companies. So the youngest portfolio company in that portfolio is four years old now. Most are five to six years old. And a few, like Meetup and Return Path, are ten years old or more. We’ve exited six of the 21 investments, you can see them here, under past investments at the bottom.
We still have fifteen investments active in that portfolio including Zynga and Twitter and we own large blocks of stock in both of those companies. We own stakes in thirteen other portfolio companies most of which we believe are super strong companies that are building large and sustainable businesses. We will likely exit a few weaker investments in that portfolio over this year and next. But there are at least ten companies in the USV 2004 portfolio that we would be happy to own for the rest of this decade.
This does create a bit of an issue in that we raise ten year venture capital funds. So we are supposed to wind things up in the 2004 fund in another two years. But I am fairly sure that my partners and I and our limited partners will be happy to let this fund play itself out over a longer period of time.
I’ve made the mistake of exiting investments too quickly. Back in the middle of 2007, my previous firm Flatiron exited our investment in Mercado Libre at the IPO selling our entire position for about a 10x gain. In the almost five years that MELI has been public, it has gone up 5x. So had we held our position for another five years, we’d have made 50x instead of 10x. That stings. Lesson learned.
When you have portfolio companies that are category creators, category leaders, who are well managed, and growing 50% per year or more and delivering 20-30% pre-tax margins (or more), and who have no existential threats to their market leadership, you might want to hang on to them for a bit. They may be just getting going on the valuation creation thing.
I realized this morning that many of the biggest changes in Startups and VC over the past ten years (2004-2014) have come about in part because of public writing and community building.
I would put the YC and 500 Startups movements in that camp, and the emergence of vibrant startup hubs in NYC, LA, and Boulder, and the juggernaut that is A16Z.
If you want to make a splash and create something new, writing publicly and building a community around that is one important part of the playbook.
I’m working on unplugging during my six weeks off. I’m doing a decent job but I am not totally unplugged and it is possible that I won’t totally unplug.
I saw this chart in the WSJ (via Twitter) this morning:
So almost half of us don’t ever unplug.
Do you, and if so, how often?
I watched this video earlier this week. Jerry talks about the Five Challenges Of Leadership and Being Fierce. Like everything Jerry does, this is great.
Whitney says “As long as the Internet keeps operating according to a click-based economy, trolls will maybe not win, but they will always be present.”
We’ve had our fair share of Trolls here at AVC over the years. They are most notable whenever I write something negative about Apple.
But we also get them on posts that are more personal in nature.
Yesterday I got a Kik from William who helps me moderate AVC.
The comment in question was a tasteless comment about the Gotham Gal. William deleted it as I would have.
Had it been a tasteless comment about me, I would more likely have let it stand as I’m inclined to let everyone see how warped these trolls are.
I think Whitney is right that we are unlikely to have an open Internet without trolls. They are annoying, as is comment spam and many other things, but I’d rather have an open forum where anyone can comment, than close things down and lose all that comes from the freedom to say and do what you want.
Trolls are annoying but I am certainly happy to live with them given the alternatives.
Starting tomorrow and for the next six weeks, the Gotham Gal and I will be on an extended vacation.
Every year I take the last two weeks of the summer at the beach with my family to celebrate my birthday and take advantage of the last days of the summer. I will be doing that starting tomorrow.
Then in late August, we drop our youngest child, Josh, off at college. That moment will mark the end of a very important part of our lives, the active in-person parenting phase, and the start of another phase where it will be mostly the two of us living together without our children at home.
Neither of us wanted to just drop Josh off at college and go back to work like nothing changed. We want to acknowledge this new phase and kick it off with an event of some kind. So we are going to spend most of September traveling together, just the two of us, in southern Europe. We will be back in late September, with a new living situation, and hopefully refreshed and energized for this new phase of our lives.
We will refrain from working on this extended vacation unless something very important comes up. I will turn on an out of office responder at some point in the next 24 hours and when you email me you will get a reply saying that I’m away until the end of September and, unless its urgent, please contact me then.
I do plan to have something new up here at AVC every day during this period. That may be reblogging the Gotham Gal who plans to blog our trip in Europe, it may be reblogging some old posts that should get the light shined on them again (like I did earlier this week), it may be more videos (like saturdays), or it may be new posts if I am inspired to write something new and original. It will probably be a mix of all of that.
I’m super excited to be taking this time off. It was eleven years ago that Brad and I started USV and twenty four years ago that the Gotham Gal and I started our family. Both have been incredible and successful efforts, but they have required a lot of work. It’s time to take a break and smell the roses, together. And that is what we intend to do.
I love Graffiti. I realize that at some level, graffiti is vandalism and represents disrespect of property rights. And it doesn’t feel great when our building gets tagged.
But there’s something about sitting outside eating on the street staring at street art. This was our view on Monday night.
Graffiti is creativity expressed in public, for all to see. It’s rebellious. It’s leaving your mark on the world.
I feel most at home in cities and neighborhoods that are filled with Graffiti.
I think there’s a linkage between creativity, innovation, and rebellion. And graffiti sits right in the middle of all of that.
I wrote this in 2011. I think it’s as true today as it was then. It’s interesting that Marc Andreessen, in the video I posted over the weekend, also links the word Bubble in his mind to the Internet bubble that we all lived through. I guess for a certain cohort of investors, that is a very definitive moment in our lives that we will always be scarred by.
In all the posts over the past year or so outlining my thoughts on the financing and valuation environment in the internet sector, I’ve avoided using the word Bubble. It is intentional. For me Bubble will always be inexorably linked to what went down in 1999 and 2000 in the internet sector. And I agree with Mike Arrington that what is going on now is different. I do not think we are in a Bubble per se. That is why I don’t use the word.
But I am equally sure that we are in the glass is half full part of the cycle. Investors are focusing on the upside and ignoring the downside. That part of the investment cycle lasts for a while and then things change and investors focus on the downside and ignore the upside. Markets are defined by greed and fear. We are in the greed mode right now.
I don’t view this as whining. There is nothing to whine about. Investors are making money hand over fist. Why would I whine about that? But I do think it is important to point out the inevitability of the market cycles. There will come a time when the environment we are in will be in the rear view mirror. And entrepreneurs should be crystal clear about that. This is a time to raise money and sock it away for a rainy day. Because it will rain.
And investors should recognize that the current valuation environment will not exist at some point in the future. The companies we invest in will need to grow into these valuations or we will face writedowns and writeoffs. We should not let the greed emotions cloud our judgement. Yes, that hot deal sure looks damn good right now. But deals are actually companies and most venture investments are held for five to seven years. I’ve likened them to marriages over the years. Don’t let the lust for the deal lead to a bad marriage that you have to be in for the next decade.
I’ve made all of these mistakes. I know what happens. I am prepared for it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t investing in this cycle. We are as active as we’ve ever been. But we are investing at this stage of the cycle with our eyes wide open. And I’m writing about it in the hopes that others do the same.
If you had read Satoshi’s white paper back in October 2008, you would have said “there is no way this can work.” There were literally hundreds of reasons Bitcoin could not and would not emerge as a new form of money.
Coming up on six years later, Bitcoin has overcome many of those issues and every day looks more and more like some form of financial value. What remains unclear, though, is if Bitcoin will predominantly be a store of value (like gold) or a medium of exchange (like the dollar), or both (the best case for Bitcoin bulls).
And one important factor in determining what happens with Bitcoin is taxation policy.
In the US, the IRS has issued guidance that places Bitcoin very much in the store of value column. The IRS has said that in their eyes Bitcoin is “property” and will be treated like stocks and bonds for tax purposes. In some ways this is good as the IRS is treating Bitcoin seriously and telling everyone how to report Bitcoin transactions to them. That’s progress. But sadly, treating Bitcoin as property makes it less likely that Bitcoin will become a medium of exchange in the US. That’s because consumers and business don’t normally transact in property. It would be a massive pain to keep track of “cost basis” and “sale price” for every dollar you received and parted with in the course of a day, week, or month. The good news is that because Bitcoin is “programmable money”, it is possible to do this programmatically for consumers and the companies providing payment infrastructure for Bitcoin are slowly but surely doing just that. However, in the long run, it would be much better for the IRS to treat Bitcoin as a currency, and my hope is they will do that as soon as possible.
An even more problematic issue for Bitcoin is VAT tax policy in countries where that is the norm. Right now, Canada is considering applying VAT tax to the purchase of Bitcoin. VAT can be as high as 15% in Canada, so that would mean every purchase of Bitcoin would cost up to 15% more than the current market price. And then when you turn around and purchase something with Bitcoin (as I did yesterday with seats for Tuesday night’s Met game), you would be taxed another up to 15% on that transaction. That’s double taxation which, in my mind, is always terrible tax policy. If Canada goes with this approach, it is my view that Bitcoin as a medium of exchange in Canada is a non-starter.
It is also true that VAT tax on the purchase of Bitcoin would be problematic for the store of value use case. Most investors aren’t going to pay a tax of up to 15% on the acquisition of investment property (like stocks and bonds). So why would they do that with Bitcoin?
The UK went down this path with Bitcoin and VAT last year and then, after careful consideration, the HMRC decided that VAT would not apply to Bitcoin acquisition, but VAT would be applied when Bitcoin was used to purchase goods and services, just like the British Pound.
If we had to pick a country that has taken the most thoughtful and helpful policy toward Bitcoin, it would be the UK. In fact, last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an effort to make the UK the leading center of Bitcoin innovation in the world. That’s forward thinking. That’s what the US and Canada should be doing. But they aren’t. Instead they are stifling innovation in and around Bitcoin with their taxation and other policy initiatives.
I am sure many policy makers would prefer to see the Bitcoin genie put back in the bottle. But that’s not going to happen. Not only is Bitcoin alive and well, it is a global phenomenon, so even if you stifle it in your country, it can and will grow and thrive in other parts of the world. And so you are eventually going to have to deal with Bitcoin, what it means, and what it enables.
It is my view that treating Bitcoin like a currency is the most helpful approach. That will allow Bitcoin to find its best use cases without overly burdensome taxation and other regulatory requirements. I’m very pleased that the UK has found it’s way there and my hope is other major economies like the US and Canada will follow suit as soon as possible.
There is only one company to date that the Gotham Gal has made an angel investment and subsequently USV has invested in and that is Kitchensurfing. I was not involved in either investment decision. The Gotham Gal made the angel investment herself. And because I was conflicted, by virtue of her investment, I recused myself from USV’s investment decision. So I don’t know as much about this company as many others in the USV portfolio.
But I know this much, it’s a fantastic service. Last night we had a dozen people at our beach house. The Gotham Gal is a great cook but she wasn’t really down with the idea of cooking and cleaning up for that large of a group. So we went with Kitchensurfing.
We wanted to eat healthy, lots of farm fresh foods, cooked without any heavy sauces or spices. We selected Chef Warren and he came through for us. He picked up some chicken at the local chicken farm. And he brought all sorts of fresh vegetables.
He grilled everything up to perfection, served it buffet style, and cleaned up everything and left the kitchen and grill as he found it.
I tweeted this out as dinner was served:
— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) August 10, 2014
If you find yourself in a similar situation, with a house full of guests, without a desire to cook and clean, and are willing to spend what you’d spend if you went out to eat, try Kitchensurfing. It’s great.
Living the New Economy is a major event slated for Oakland, California October 23-26.
LNE Oakland is designed to be different from any event you’ve attended before. Drawing inspiration from hackathons, conferences, networking events, festivals, and jams, the result is a unique event that has components of each. More than a conference, this is a convergence.
The first two days will be provide opportunities for you to “hear about thriving New Economy projects, identify gaps and opportunities, and find out how you can plug into the New Economy on a personal level.” During the second two days the New Economy principles will be explored and “participants will collaborate in teams to develop a business idea, program, art project, or anything that supports the transition to a New Economy.”
Get tickets NOW to receive substantial early bird discounts available until August 15. Register and get tickets here.
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Last week I came into the USV office after being away for most of the prior week and Lauren said “I’ve got some photos of you on my desk.” I wasn’t expecting any photos so I was curious. She handed me a manilla envelope and it was from Euclid Partners, the first venture capital firm I worked at. I guess they were cleaning up their files and found some old marketing materials and sent over the photos of me.
This is me in 1988 or 1989.
I was 27 or 28 and the Gotham Gal and I were just married. I worked in Rockefeller Center (you can see some of the Rock Center buildings in the background). I wore a suit and tie to work every day. And the device behind me is the Information Appliance, built by Jef Raskin, who designed the original Macintosh before Steve Jobs pushed him out of Apple and took over the project. Euclid Partners was one of the VCs behind Jeff’s startup, Information Appliance, and I had one of them on my desk. I would have preferred if Euclid had sent me that computer. It would be a mighty fine addition to my collection of failed devices. But this picture isn’t too bad either.
Since it’s friday, let’s do a fun friday and post throwback photos of all of us in the comments. This should be a blast.
I will be giving a free presentation in Tucson on August 18 to show local small businesses how to create liquidity based on their own capacity to produce desired goods and services.
Details can be found at: https://beyondmoney.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/2014-tucson-flyer-local.pdf
Even if you don’t live anywhere near Tucson, I’m sure this will be of interest to many in your network so please help to get the word out. Our communities cannot afford to be complacent. We need new creative approaches to economic development, and locally controlled exchange alternatives are a key requirement to future prosperity, resilience, and a sustainable world.
This presentation will be recorded and made available on this website following the event.
Thomas H. Greco
….along comes Sevin Kystrom, he only cares about looking at photos of teeth. he unbundles photos from denstry.com by creating a standalone app called teethagram. users love it. he sells it back to dentistry.com for $1bn
I kind of flipped out when I saw that comment because it describes our most recent investment, Figure1, which my partner Andy blogged about at usv.com yesterday. We had closed but had not yet announced the Figure1 investment when LIAD made that comment.
Figure1 is “instagram for doctors.” It’s not for dentists, as LIAD’s fictional company teethagram is, but other than that, and the sale for $1bn, the story is pretty much the same.
We have believed that simple, easy to use, photo centric apps on mobile have the potential to become very large businesses for a host of reasons. First and foremost, as Brian Watson taught me, photos are the atomic unit of mobile. It’s easier to snap a photo and post it/send it, than it is to do anything else, including write something. And, as the old adage explains, a picture tells a thousand words.
A doctor can say “I’ve got a patient with a very rapid A-fib” or she can send this to her colleagues:
There’s a hell of a lot more info in that EKG than a doctor could type into a text message or email.
But the even better thing is the conversations that instantly develop around these images, like this one:
I think it’s rapid a-fib. I think the ischemic changes are due to the rate. Give them some #Amiodarone and see what happens when the rate sloes down.
Instagram is a powerful product. And most people know how to use it and the value of the interactions around photos that it produces. Like our portfolio company Edmodo, which took the Facebook UI and applied it to teachers and students in K-12 education, Figure1 takes a popular and effective UI and applies it to an industry in desperate need of change.
I’m super excited about the value Figure1 provides to doctors and their patients and I am really pleased that the Figure1 team agreed to work with USV as they build their business.
Today our portfolio company Foursquare is launching the all new Foursquare. You can download it here.
There’s a really interesting lesson for entrepreneurs and developers in the Foursquare story. The initial product was very innovative and it brought to market the notion of checkins, being able to see where your friends were, recommendations of places by your friends instead of strangers, and a social feed based on location.
Since Foursquare launched, over 50 million people worldwide have checked into a place on Foursquare, creating over 6 billion checkins, and millions of new checkins are created every day. And yet for many, the initial Foursquare was a challenging product. Last year, the Foursquare team took a step back and analyzed why such a groundbreaking product was so challenging for so many.
This analysis told them a few important things:
1) Foursquare had to support two separate privacy models. While you probably want every Foursquare user to see your tips and recommendations, you definitely don’t want them to all know where you are. So that required two privacy models. Most users find two privacy models in one app to be quite confusing.
2) A hard core of Foursquare users love to checkin. I am one of them. I want to database my life, the places I go, and what I see and do there. I have checked in a total of 6,342 times since I started using Foursquare.
3) Most Fourquare users don’t want to checkin. Like Twitter, where many users don’t tweet (or don’t tweet often), many Foursquare users don’t checkin. They use the app to find a place to go based on where they are and what they like to do.
So those key learnings and many more told the Foursquare team that they had two primary use cases and they needed two apps to satisfy them. Foursquare for everyone. And Swarm for those users who like to checkin. The all new Foursquare has the Twitter privacy model (default public). And the Swarm app has the Facebook privacy model (default private).
Foursquare and Swarm are an “app constellation.” They work tightly with each other if you have both of them. If you only have Foursquare, then it’s a different and lighter experience.
If you are like most people and don’t want to checkin but do want to know where to go and what to do when you are somewhere new and different or just looking for some inspiration, download the new Foursquare. It’s powered by those 6bn and growing checkins. It has incredible data based on “what they do instead of what they say” and the recommendations are great. I’ve been using the new Foursquare in tandem with Swarm for the past month and I love the combo and what each brings to my life.
I’ve always thought of myself as a lucky person. I’ve had a tremendous amount of good fortune in my life; a happy marriage, great kids, a fantastic job, several great partnerships, and lots of financial success.
So it was with interest that I read this post about some research a psychologist named Richard Wiseman did on lucky and unlucky people. Wiseman concludes that luck (and unluck) is a function of state of mind (positive vs negative), being open minded, and trusting your gut.
Here’s the money quote from the post:
My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
I have heard similar things over the years and these findings certainly resonate with me. I can’t stress enough the importance of the last point – “a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” If you always look on the bright side of life, to quote Monty Python, you will have much greater success.
And, of course, it turns out you can learn to be lucky. Wiseman ran a “luck school” and less than a month he turned unlucky people into lucky people. So if you aren’t feeling it, get lucky. You can do it.