Blog articles

Two Charts

A VC - 6 hours 32 min ago

What is the capital markets environment for startup tech companies?

I think these two charts tell most of the story:

median pre-money

Seed and Series A is more or less healthy. Series B is getting overheated. Series C and beyond has gone crazy.

public market trends

Public markets are rational. Tech stock performance has been strong but is driven by strong revenue growth and good business fundamentals generally speaking.

The disconnect is entirely between the late stage private markets and the public markets. That’s where things are unstable.

Categories: Blog articles

The right faces in the right places

Beyond Money - 8 hours 10 min ago

There has been a lot of talk lately about placing the face of a notable American woman on one denomination or other of U.S. Federal Reserve note. I strongly support that effort and a number of worthy candidates have been suggested.

The big question is “Which of the present male images will be displaced?” Several people have proposed that Andrew Jackson get the axe. I have a strong opinion to the contrary, and a Andrew-Jackson-The-Twenty-Dollar-Billrecent op-ed in the New York Times prompted me to express it in writing. Unfortunately, the Times chose to not publish my letter, so I offer it here below.–t.h.g.

To the editor, New York Times:

Steven Rattner’s op-ed (NYT, June 20) proposed to “Leave Hamilton Alone” and “Evict Andrew Jackson.” There are compelling reasons to argue the opposite.

Hamilton may well have been a “visionary genius” but his talents were applied largely in the service of anti-democratic and elite interests. He was an avowed monarchist and was “distrustful of ordinary people to rightly judge matters,” siding with those who urged George Washington to declare himself king. According to Thomas Jefferson, “Hamilton was, indeed, a singular character. Of acute understanding, disinterested, honest, and honorable in all private transactions, amiable in society, and duly valuing virtue in private life, yet so bewitched and perverted by the British example, as to be under thorough conviction that corruption was essential to the government of a nation.

Many of the measures that Hamilton proposed, like those employed to encourage loyalty to, and establish and the credit of the federal government, were clearly important in making the fledgling United States better able to stand up to the European imperial powers. But his insistence on establishing a central bank, modeled after the Bank of England, was intended to establish aristocratic rule indirectly by financial means.

Andrew Jackson, on the other hand, despite his many faults, was a champion of “government by the people.” He was devout in his commitment to safeguard the Republic from corrupters and usurpers. This is best exemplified in the so-called “bank war” which pitted him against Nicholas Biddle and the Second Bank of the United States. His 1832 veto of the bill to re-charter the Second Bank saved, for a time, the American republic from an insidious scheme to swindle the American people and to take power from the elected government and hand it over to a self-serving elite who were already entrenched in Europe.

In Jackson’s Veto Message he declared his objections to the Bank which included its monopoly privilege that was to be granted “for many millions less than it is worth,” its “gratuities to foreigners and to some of our own opulent citizens,” and most of all, its establishment of a power that could rival that of the elected government and create “a bond of union among the banking establishments…, erecting them into an interest separate from that of the people.”

While Jackson’s monetary policies may not have been the best, the financial turmoil that followed the closing of the central bank can be blamed on the nefarious work of Biddle in restricting credit, and the period of “free banking” that ensued was actually of great importance in building the American economy. Even former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan has acknowledged that “The perception of the free banking era as an era of “wildcat” banking marked by financial instability and, in particular, by widespread significant losses to noteholders also turns out to be exaggerated.”

Unfortunately, Jackson’s victory was short-lived. The elite forces have, step-by-step, tightened their grip on power, arrogating to themselves, in the name free trade and national security, ever more power until democracy has become a mere charade. The present global interest-based, debt-money, central banking regime has corrupted the political process, drowned all nations and their peoples in ever-increasing debt, and all but completed the creation of a neo-feudal “new world order.”

If for nothing else, Jackson should be honored for taking a stand for democratic government and warning the people of the deceptive schemes that have been, and continue to be employed to undermine and defeat it.

_________________

Thomas H. Greco, Jr., author, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization


Categories: Blog articles

Greece And Bitcoin

A VC - June 29, 2015 - 5:26am

There are some who suggest the mini run in the price of Bitcoin this month is related to the crisis in Greece. I wouldn’t know about those sorts of things.

But one thing is clear to me. Photos like this one from the NY Times showing people lined up outside a closed bank do not produce confidence in the banking system.

greek bank

The hardcore cryptocurrency community wants to control their money themselves, with ownership of the keys to it, and the ability to move it when and where they want.

That’s a comforting thought when the alternative is to trust a bank.

Here in the US, we have FDIC insured deposits, a relatively safe and secure financial system, and even in the depths of the financial crisis of 2008, bank customers could access their money when they needed it. But there were a few scary moments.

In other parts of the world, none of that is the case. Which is why I continue to think that we will see more rapid adoption of bitcoin in the less developed world first.

Maybe in Greece. Who knows?

Categories: Blog articles

Loyalists vs Mercenaries

A VC - June 28, 2015 - 3:55am

One of the things that entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs obsess over is holding onto their team. When I propose some sort of difficult decision to a CEO, I am often met with the response “the team will freak out and we will lose them.” And I understand where this emotion comes from. You spend so much of your time recruiting, training, and managing a team and getting them into a place where they can execute for you and you can’t imagine having some of all of them walk out the door. Neither can I to be honest.

But teams come in all flavors. There are highly loyal teams that can withstand almost anything and remain steadfastly behind their leader. And there are teams that are entirely mercenary and will walk out without thinking twice about it. I once saw an entire team walk out on a founder. That company survived it, remarkably.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the factors that go into determining whether your team skews loyalist vs mercenary and what you might be able to do about it. Here are some of the most important factors:

1) Leadership. At the end of the day, people are loyal to a leader they believe in. Leading is not managing. Although it is impossible to lead if there is no management. But leading is that special thing. It is charisma, it is strength, it is communication, it is vision, it is listening, it is being there, it is calm, it is connecting, it is trust, faith, and belief. The best founders are great leaders. They may be shitty managers which means they need to find managers to help them. But they are great leaders. One of the things we look for in founders is leadership. If we want to follow them, we believe that others will too.

2) Mission. People are loyal to a mission. I’ve seen super talented people walk away from compensation packages 2-3x what they currently make because they believe in what they are working on and think it will make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. This is why investing in mission driven companies can produce great financial returns. Mission driven companies have something most companies don’t have. They have “why” that keeps the team together through difficult times and when the compensation isn’t close to “market”.

3) Values and Culture. My friend Matt wrote a post about Values and Culture the other day. I read it and responded “values are the house and culture is the furniture”. He thought that was about right. People want to work in a place that feels right to them. They need to feel comfortable at work. In the way that a welcoming home with comfortable furniture is pleasant to be in, a company with good values and culture is pleasant to work in.

4) Location. I spent the past week in europe. In Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Vienna, and Ljubljana. These are very different talent markets that the bay area or NYC. In the Bay Area and NYC, your employees are constantly getting hammered to leave for more cash, more equity, more upside, more responsibility, and eventually it leads to them becoming mercenaries. It is incredibly hard to hold onto a team in the Bay Area and NYC. If you are building your company in Ljubljana, Waterloo, Des Moines, Pittsburgh, Detroit, or Indianapolis, you have a way better chance of building a company full of loyalists than if you are building it in the Bay Area or NYC.

If you mess up any of these dynamics, you can easily turn your team from loyalists to mercenaries. Changing leadership is the most common one. Almost every time I have seen a founder leave and be replaced by a new CEO, I have witnessed a significant exodus of talent from the company. It is better if the new CEO comes from within, but even then I have witnessed a significant exodus of talent. When the CEO comes in from the outside, it is almost always much worse.

If you move your team from Philadelphia to NYC or from Des Moines to the Bay Area, expect more turnover. Expect to turn loyalists into mercenaries. These talent starved locations create mercenaries. It’s the nature of the beast.

So what can you do to build a company full of loyalists instead of a company full of mercenaries? First you must lead. If you think you are a good leader, get better. If you think you are a great leader, you can get better. Get coaching and focus on becoming the best leader you can be.

Second, build a mission driven company. Make sure you are doing something that matters. If all you are doing is trying to make money for yourself, then all your employees will try to do is make money for themselves.

Third, invest in values and culture. Matt’s post is a good starting place for some tips on how to do that.  Build a welcoming home and put comfortable furniture in it. I mean that metaphorically of course. But the office does matter too.

Finally, think about being somewhere other than the Bay Area or NYC. Yes, they are great places to start companies, find talent, and get investment. But they are also places where others start companies, get investment, and find your talent. It’s a ratrace, a treadmill, and it’s grueling. If you can avoid it, you owe it to yourself to try.

There are many reasons why the startup sector feels stretched to me. But possibly the most significant one of all is the increasing amount of mercenary behavior I am witnessing in it these days. Hopefully this post will help you avoid that as much as possible. It’s hard these days.

Categories: Blog articles

What A Week

A VC - June 27, 2015 - 7:59am

I’m on an eight hour flight back from Europe today and have plenty of time to write so I’m going to skip video of the week this week (but not entirely) and write down some thoughts about the week that was in the US.

Three important things happened this week.

The first was the Supreme Court rejecting the argument that the Affordable Care Act should be struck down because the federal government was subsidizing health care in states that refused to set up their own insurance exchanges. This was a big legal victory for the Affordable Care Act (the second one at the Supreme Court) and could be the thing that seals the deal for this legislation. The Affordable Care Act is performing much better than most people, even its proponents (including me), thought it would. Many more americans are insured, insurance rates have not skyrocketed, nor has the budget deficit, and it is hard to find any indications of job losses resulting from it. Every year that it remains the law of the land make it more likely that it will remain the law of the land. It has become more popular as it has become better understood and people are actually getting affordable health care insurance when they can’t get it from an employer.

The second was another ruling by the Supreme Court. This one on marriage equality. You could feel this coming for a while now. As more and more gay people have come out of the closet over the past thirty years, more and more people know and love gay people. And we want them to enjoy the fruits of life the way we enjoy them. It is only natural that society would come to this place and it is wonderful that our Supreme Court got there in more or less the same time. If you haven’t read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s closing paragraph in the majority ruling, you should. It says it well.

The third was The President delivering a moving rendition of Amazing Grace at the funeral for Clementa Pinckney.

This wasn’t noteworthy because of the President’s voice. It is good but not great. It was noteworthy because it showed his considerable leadership skills and ability to connect with compassion in a time of national healing. Say what you will about Barack Obama, and it has all been said again and again in the comments to this blog, he is a very talented leader and politician and has grown into the role nicely in his second and final term. He was not just singing for those murdered in a church in Charleston last week. He was singing for America to find a way to come back together and heal the racial wounds that have been front and center in this country for much of the past year.

I particularly like the way he emphasized and paused at the word United as he was saying United States of America at the end of that clip. He was sending a message and I got it loud and clear.

It was a good week for Barack Obama and it was a good week for America. I’m landing in America in a few hours. I’ve missed it. It is my home and I love it dearly, particularly this week.

Categories: Blog articles

TiSA, another secret treaty to obliterate democratic government

Beyond Money - June 26, 2015 - 5:47am

We the people continue to be disempowered as our governments cede ever more control to global banking and corporate elites. TiSA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are the latest and boldest moves in that direction.

The big questions are “How far will we the people allow this process to go before we rebel, what can be done to reverse the damage, and when will it be too late to restore democracy?” Here below is a summary of the situation in so far as TiSA is concerned. –t.h.g.

Wikileaks throws light on an ultra-secret treaty

Marco A. Gandásegui, Jr.* – ALAI

Panama and another fifty countries are engaged in the negotiation of a secret treaty that will put an end to what little is left of democracy and free trade at a world level. North American and European officials advise their counterparts. Everything indicates that this operation is being developed regardless of the laws of the countries involved. At present, the US Congress is legislating to create a juridical framework for the new body. In the case of Panama and the majority of the countries that are taking part in these negotiations, there is no information as to what is being legislated.

Wikileaks is revealing, through a world-wide journalistic network at their disposition, the content of these clandestine negotiations among some 50 governments to establish a neo-liberal planetary alliance, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). The agreement on the interchange of services is not only being negotiated in the most absolute secrecy, but also intends to maintain its secrecy during the first five years of its operation.

The level of concealment of the TiSA – which covers telecommunications, electronic commerce and financial services, as well as insurance and transportation – is superior to that of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement between Washington and their Asian associates. Wikileaks revealed secret documents that expose the construction of a set of norms and rules designed to evade state regulations on the global market.

If the treaty is not to be known for years, the governments that implement it will not need to be accountable. According to well-informed sources, the fraudulent intention of these clandestine negotiations is obvious in view of its unashamed violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Up to now, the Latin American governments involved in the secret negotiations of TiSA include Panama, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. The texts of the secret negotiation of TiSA divulged by Wikileaks show that what is involved is the elimination of all control over financial services. It was precisely the derivatives or CDS (credit default swaps) – nothing less than bets on possible bankruptcies – that generated the stock market bubble that exploded in 2007-2008 and put an end to the capitalist financial system as we have known it. The collapse obliged Washington to inject trillions of dollars from public funds into the biggest banks to avoid bankruptcies.

Wikileaks had access to internal notes on the negotiations with Israel and Turkey for their adhesion to the secret treaty, something that was denied to China and Uruguay when they requested them, probably due to a fear that they might have leaked the contents when they discovered what was involved. The list of Latin American governments taking part in TiSA is revealing. They are all faithful allies of the United States. The ALBA countries, as well as Brazil, Argentina and others in which Washington does not confide, are excluded.

The most incredible aspect of the TiSA is that total transparency will be demanded of countries that are not part of the secret treaty. The countries that are not part of the intimate circle, must reveal ahead of time and open to discussion all the regulations and rules that that they propose to apply, thus ensuring that the big corporations have time to counter, modify or prevent these sovereign decisions in accord with their interests.

TiSA will take into account all the demands of the financial industry of Wall Street and the City of London, as well as the interests of the big global corporations, for whom the treaty is not secret but a product of their own creation. According to the Professor of Law of the University of Aukland (New Zealand), Jane Kelsey, ‘the great danger is that TiSA will prevent governments from strengthening the rules to control the financial sector”.

Designed in close consultation with the capitalist financial sector on a global scale, the TiSA will oblige the signing governments to strengthen and widen the stock market deregulation and liberalization that sparked the crisis. In addition, governments will be deprived of the right to maintain and control financial data in their territories. Moreover, they will be obliged to accept toxic credit derivatives and be prevented from adopting measures to avoid other crises created by neo-liberalism. And all this will be imposed by secret agreements, so that public opinion will be unable to find out what are the true causes of the ruin of their countries.

(Translated by Jordan Bishop for ALAI).

*Marco A. Gandásegui, Jr., professor of Sociology, University of Panama and researcher associated with the Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos Justo Arosemena (CELA). www.marcoagandasegui14.blogspot.com . www.salacela.net

 


Categories: Blog articles

Fun Friday: Airbnb vs Hotel

A VC - June 26, 2015 - 12:29am

The Gotham Gal and I have been on two weeks of overseas travel. We’ve been in four hotels and one apartment over that time. And I must say the apartment is much more relaxing than the hotels.

Which leads me to the question of where folks like to stay when they travel. In the title of this post I called it Airbnb vs Hotel, but what I really mean is do you like to stay in someone’s apartment/home or in a hotel? The former category could include VRBO, Homeaway, Airbnb, a friend’s apartment, or something else.

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://avc.com/wp-content/plugins/polldaddy/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));
Categories: Blog articles

Profits vs Growth

A VC - June 25, 2015 - 7:28am

One of the things I’ve always struggled with as an investor in high growth tech companies is the tension between getting profitable vs growing more quickly. It has become a central tenet of tech growth investing (in both the public and private markets) that growth is more valuable than profitability and you can always focus on profits once you have “captured the market.” This leads to behaviors like investing heavily in sales and marketing to increase the growth rates of a business beyond what it can grow at “organically.”

A few months ago, I blogged about a formula I came across at a board meeting a while back that says your year over year growth rate plus your pre-tax operating margins need to be at least forty percent. Meaning you can grow at 100% per year and have operating margins of -60%. Or you can have flat growth and have 40% operating margins. Or you can grow at 20% per year and have 20% operating margins. There is no magic to the forty percent target, but I do like establishing some relationship between acceptable levels of profitability (or losses) and growth. Too many times I have seen companies invest in growth for growth sake without having any constraints or sanity checks on that investment and the losses that result from that investment.

We have worked with/invested in a few super high quality companies over the past decade that did not make this tradeoff. They got profitable early on in the life of their company and then were able to use their profits to reinvest in the business and continue to grow at very high year over year growth rates without having to burn money and raise capital. Indeed.com is probably the best example of this group but we have had a number of them and they are all special companies that I have enormous respect for.

These experiences lead me to question the orthodoxy in the world of technology that says if you are not investing heavily in growth (and losing money), then you are not maximizing the potential value of your business over the long haul. It doesn’t have to be that way. Now maybe you need to have a very special company that has real structural competitive advantages in the marketplace to avoid this tradeoff. Or maybe you just need to be a really sharp and experienced business person to be able to do this (that’s how I would describe Paul and Rony, the founders of Indeed.com, for example).

I also think the profit motive, generating more revenues each year than the expenses you are spending to do that, is a really valuable constraint on a management team. It forces them to think creatively and logically about the investments they want to make. It roots out bad investments in people, product, sales, marketing, and elsewhere in the business and helps to maintain a lean and mean highly functioning organization. If you don’t need to make money because there is plenty of capital available to fund your losses and you are “investing in growth”, then you can also avoid making the hard decisions that focus an organization and insure a high quality team where everyone is pulling their weight.

I don’t want to come off as a positive cash flow freak. It is our business to invest in companies to allow them to run operating losses in order to get a product in market, grow the business and team, and create value for the founders, management, and shareholders. Most of our portfolio companies lose money and we are used to reading income statements with lots of red on them and staring at runway calculations showing when the money runs out.

But I’m a bit sick and tired of the objective of every operating plan I see is to get the business to a point where it can raise money at a much higher price. That’s nice and it’s how the VC/startup game is played. But at some point I’d prefer to see an operating plan that has the objective of getting to sustainable profitability. And I do mean sustainable.

Because, as I said earlier, some of the very best companies we have worked with at USV got profitable early on in their life and maintained profitability while revenues grew100% year over year for a number of years. It can be done. Maybe the reason that many entrepreneurs don’t think it can be done is nobody is telling them it can. So I’m doing that.

Categories: Blog articles

Does It Tell A Story?

A VC - June 24, 2015 - 3:52am

The Gotham Gal and I were having breakfast today and talking about a pitch deck one of her portfolio companies had sent her for a critical review before going out on the road to raise money. She told me that she made a bunch of suggested changes because it “needed to tell a story.”

Her point was, and is, that a pitch deck is like any other marketing document, it has to have a narrative and a storyline. The receiver needs to be drawn into the story and enjoy it and be moved by the ending.

Too many decks (and pitches) are full of facts and figures but lack a cohesive narrative that makes them compelling. Dressing the deck up with beautiful visuals can help, but even if you do that and you don’t “tell a story” you are not putting your best foot forward.

So when constructing your pitch and deck think about the story you want to tell. It’s probably not your personal history although that can be part of the story. It’s more likely the story of a problem and a market that you have an idea of how to change. Walk the reader up that mountain and show them the promised land on the other side. That story, when told well, generally does the trick most times.

Categories: Blog articles

Google Photos Magic

A VC - June 22, 2015 - 10:48pm

The new Google Photos is a much needed improvement over the prior version. My favorite feature is what I call “magic” but they call it something else. Every once in a while I will get a notification that Google has created a new enhanced version of a photo I took and when I click on it, the photo is much improved.

But yesterday, they took this magic to another level.

We arrived in Vienna late in the day, checked into our room, I opened the door to what looked like a balcony, it was, I stepped out and shot three pictures of our view. That was that.

A few minutes later I got a notification that Google had enhanced the photos and when I clicked on it, Google had stitched all three into this panorama.

panorama

Now there is nothing special about stitching three photos together to make a panorama. That technology has been around for years.

What is special is that a machine decided that my three photos were suitable for making a panorama and did it for me.

In case you are curious, here are the three photos I took.

shot 1shot 3shot 2

That green roofed building is the Opera House. We are going to see an Opera there tonight. It’s not our normal thing to go to Opera but we figured it would be a nice thing to do in Vienna.

Categories: Blog articles

Technology In Istanbul

A VC - June 22, 2015 - 4:48am

The Gotham Gal and I are winding up a four day weekend in Istanbul. She likes to blog about the places we go and things we do so if you want to read about all that visit her blog. I expect the posts on her blog will be all about Istanbul for the next few days.

There is something about the uptake of technology in Turkey that is somewhat unique. Facebook blew up in Turkey fairly early in its international phase. Foursquare’s Swarm is so popular in Turkey that you would think the product was started here. We’ve seen similar stories in other USV portfolio companies and also companies that have pitched us. So one of the things I’ve been looking at while we’ve been here are clues to the behaviors that make this happen.

The most obvious thing you see is the almost total obsession with mobile phones. Everyone has one and everyone is using them. You might think using mobile phones during meals or conversations is rampant in the US, but in Turkey it is way more rampant. It is clearly the social norm to be on your phone at the same time you are hanging out with other people.

It also seems that the phones are cheap and there also seem to be a number of wireless carriers active in the market. We got good data service everywhere we went in Istanbul. The speeds were great and the data was reliable and abundant. Phones and prepaid cards are sold everywhere. I haven’t looked deeply at any reports on this but on the surface it seems that the wireless industry (carriers and handsets) have done a good job of competing vigorously and bringing price points down and service quality up. Maybe the US could learn a thing or two from Turkey.

We also found wifi to be offered in most venues in Istanbul. I have been using WifiMap (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) and you can get wifi in almost every place you walk into around town. So for people on mobile data plans who want to offload to wifi when possible, Istanbul is a good place to do that.

Turkey also seems economically quite vibrant so most people apparently have the means to afford the basics (phone and mobile data) and yet they are not developed enough that they made massive investments in the last generation internet infrastructure (desktops, laptops, wired internet, etc). So it’s a place where social, mobile, local, messaging can take off as well as anywhere in the word and doesn’t necessarily have other older solutions to these needs.

Here is a slide I found on the Internet that is from early 2014:

turkey slide

Mobile penetration in Turkey was 84% in early 2014, likely higher now, and that is about the world average. But given the size of Turkey, the total mobile population was 68mm in early 2014, as big as many european countries.

So Turkey is a place where technology, particularly mobile, has taken off. It’s a big market and one that seems to adopt things early on. It’s a good market to pay attention to when you think about international strategies and it is also likely a good place to start companies that focus on mobile products and services.

Categories: Blog articles

The Coming Change In Monetary Policy

A VC - June 21, 2015 - 4:47am

Janet Yellen, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has been signaling to the financial markets that the Fed is going to raise rates towards the end of the year. If this happens, it will be the first time in nine years that the Fed has raised rates in the US. And it will be the end of an extraordinary period of near zero interest rates that resulted from the financial crisis of 2008. The near zero interest rate policy allowed banks and brokerage firms to replenish their balance sheets, work off their book of toxic assets, and regain their health. It also allowed the US economy to rebound from the effects of the financial crisis, it allowed homeowners to hold onto homes through difficult financial times, and it allowed businesses to borrow and raise capital at very attractive rates.

A side effect of this period of cheap money is that the tech sector, venture capital, and startups have enjoyed a valuation environment that has been extraordinarily friendly. I wrote about this in March of last year and said:

It is the combination of these two factors, which are really just one factor (cheap money/low rates), that is the root cause of the valuation environment we are in. And the answer to when/if it will end comes down to when/if the global economy starts growing more rapidly and sucking up the excess liquidity and policy makers start tightening up the easy money regime.

Yellen has also been signaling that the Fed does not plan to make rapid and large increases in rates. So the valuation environment in the tech and startup sector may not change quickly. But it will change. And so will the valuation environment in the stock market. This is because valuation multiples are inversely correlated to interest rates. When rates rise, valuation multiples fall.

So, I am going to watch the Fed’s moves and the market reaction with interest. This may have an impact on the venture capital market and startup valuations so it’s not something to ignore.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Gotham Gal at Columbia

A VC - June 19, 2015 - 10:31pm

Last month the Gotham Gal gave a keynote at the Columbia University’s #StartupColumbia Festival. Here it is.

It’s also our 28th wedding anniversary today. We are celebrating it in Istanbul. Off to the Grand Bazaar to work on our negotiating skills.

Categories: Blog articles

Feature Friday: Instant Exchange

A VC - June 19, 2015 - 3:15am

Our portfolio company Coinbase launched a new feature this week, that when combined with their local currency wallets, basically creates a global Venmo or Mpesa.

It is called Instant Exchange and here is how it works:

Coinbase offers  US Dollar, Euro, or Pound accounts. You can keep your funds in your local currency on Coinbase. They have had this feature for some time.

So let’s say that I owe a friend in Berlin money for dinner last night.

I could go to my US Dollar Coinbase account, do an Instant Exchange Send which takes dollars out of my account and sends bitcoins to my friend, he does an Instant Exchange Receive in his Coinbase account which instantly converts them to euros and then keeps those funds in his Coinbase Euro account or transfers them out to his bank account. Coinbase will apply its standard exchange fees to the Instant Exchange transactions.

I believe this kind of thing will be incredibly useful, especially in the Coinbase mobile app. Sending money to and receiving money from friends around the world using Bitcoin as the “rails” for money transfer no longer needs to expose either side to exchange rate risk.

As Coinbase expands its business around the world, and offers Instant Exchange and local currency accounts in every part of the world, it can build a global Venmo or Mpesa using Bitcoin as the underlying money transfer protocol.

Categories: Blog articles

The Blank Screen

A VC - June 17, 2015 - 11:48pm

I was at dinner last night with some entrepreneurs and VCs in Berlin and we got talking about my ritual of blogging every day. I told them that many days I stare at the blank screen and think “ugh, what am I going to write about today.”

blank screen 2

They asked if there was any correlation to knowing what I am going to write about and the quality of the post. I told them that I don’t think so. The best posts come out in real time and often they start with me staring at the blank screen. Same with the worst posts.

Posting every day isn’t easy for a host of reasons but for me the hardest is that much of what I work on every day is off limits. I wake up thinking about a drama unfolding in one of our portfolio companies and I can’t blog about that. I wake up thinking about a new product one of our portfolio companies is going to launch and I can’t blog about that. I wake up thinking about a neat company we just met and I mostly can’t blog about that.

So on a typical morning, I run through four or five ideas, tossing each out for a variety of reasons, before settling on something, and then I start writing and I go from there. I enjoy the real time nature of this approach to writing. I often don’t know what the gist of the post is going to be until I write that last line and hit publish.

Sometimes this process produces great insights for me and possibly others. Sometimes it produces garbage. But I’ve come to realize that the daily post, and its quality or lack thereof, is not really the thing. It is the ritual, the practice, the frequency, the habit, and the discipline that matters most to me. And, I would suspect, the same is true of the readers and commenters who frequent this blog.

Categories: Blog articles

Steph

A VC - June 16, 2015 - 10:59pm

A few years ago, my friend Jonathan Klein asked me to come speak to a strategy offsite for his company Getty Images. A few days later, I got a thank you note and he asked me to pick any image from their website for a thank you gift.

I picked this one and he was shocked. He asked me, “of all the famous and important images on our website, why would you pick that one?” I told him this story.

On March 23, 2008, our beloved Georgetown was playing in the NCAA regional finals against Davidson. My son Josh and I were certain this was going to be Georgetown’s year. We had big Roy Hibbert in the paint and a bunch of scoring guards and a tenacious defense. We sat down for the big game expecting a win and a trip to the final four.

Instead we got our first glimpse of Steph Curry. He pretty much singlehandedly beat Georgetown that game and by the second half Josh and I were rooting for him. He was that good and that fun to watch. We knew then that he was going to be something special.

Then in 2009, we watched with horror as the Warriors picked Steph with the 7th pick when we were sure our Knicks were going to get him with the 8th pick. MSG would be a different place with Steph on the floor every night in a Knicks uniform.

I missed last night’s game. We are in Berlin and I had to be up early for a board meeting. So when I got up and checked my phone and saw that Steph and his Warriors teammates had won game six and the NBA title, I was pleased.

LeBron may be the best player in the game right now, and he showed why in this series, but Steph and KD are my favorites. They play the game with an elegance and beauty that I appreciate.

I am really happy that Steph got his ring last night. Josh and I saw it coming 7 years ago when we first saw him in action.

Categories: Blog articles

La Ruche qui dit Oui!

A VC - June 16, 2015 - 4:28am

La Ruche qui dit Oui! (the hive that says yes) is a marketplace that connects farmers to people who want farm fresh food in their kitchens and on their tables. We got to know the company last winter when my friends Simon and Toby from Mosaic introduced me to Marc-David Choukroun, one of the two founders of La Ruche. The Gotham Gal and I were in Paris and we met up with Marc-David at a Ruche on a saturday morning. We sipped coffee and talked to the farmers and customers who were stopping by to pick up their weekly supply of meat, cheese, milk, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and bread. We were smitten.

For years, USV has been on the hunt for a way to invest in the “farm to table” market sector. As you all know very well, we believe in the power of networks to solve the challenging problems of our time. And making high quality farm fresh quality food available at a reasonable price to everyone is certainly one of those challenging problems. The most affordable food is also the most mass produced and, generally, the most unhealthy food. How can we get back to a time when the food we eat is produced nearby, is high quality, and is healthy?

One way is to use the power of the network to connect farmers and consumers. And many entrepreneurs have been working on this problem over the past twenty years. We have met with most of them. Unfortunately, not many of them, until recently, met our test of a lightweight, peer to peer, capital efficient, people powered network. We call these “thin networks” and we are drawn to them as investors and as consumers.

La Ruche has been operating in France and Belgium for the past four years. Their marketplace connects farmers, consumers, and, most importantly, hosts together to form communities (Ruches or Assemblies) that come together once a week to exchange products, feedback, and friendships. These are communities in the truest sense of the word. My colleague Nick went to a Ruche in Paris last month and there was live music playing and people were hanging out enjoying the lovely spring day. A community is the thing that La Ruche’s marketplace software helps people create.

The business model is simple. Consumers order the food they want to pick up in advance and pay for it. The farmer comes to the community at the designated time, sets up next to the other farmers, and delivers his or her products in person. The farmer keeps most of the money, but the host and La Ruche split a small take rate for facilitating the transaction. It is a win/win/win. Farmers make more money selling directly, consumers get high quality products at reasonable prices, and the hosts make money for their effort to create the community, recruit the consumers, and curate the farmers. For many hosts, the income they get from creating and running these communities helps pay the bills, in the same way that selling on Etsy can help a family make a little extra money each month to make ends meet.

La Ruche has expanded to the UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy recently. The communities are known as La Ruche qui dit Oui! in France and Belgium; The Food Assembly in the UK and Germany, ¡La Colmena que dice Si! in Spain, L’alveare che dice Si! in Italy and Boeren & Buren in flemish Belgium. With its recent expansion in Europe, the network now has 100,000 active customers, 4,500 local producers, 700 communities. The company has 70 employees operating in six countries.

Over the past six months, USV has worked with Marc-David and his partner Guilhem Cheron to put together the right investor group to help La Ruche with their european expansion. La Ruche is a socially conscious mission driven organization that values farmers and communities and the needs of both as much as (or more than) the pure profit motive. In the US, they would be a B Corporation. And so they needed an investor group that was aligned on that. I am pleased and proud to say that they have succeeded in finding that investor group and USV is part of it. Our partners in this adventure are Frederic Court of Felix Capital, existing investor Rodolphe Menegaux and Xange, Eric Archambeau and Aymeric Jung of the social venture capital fund Quadia, and a few angel investors who are aligned with the company and its mission.

If you find yourself in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, or the UK in the coming months, go to La Ruche and find a Ruche or Assembly and stop by and check it out. It’s something to see. Here’s a map that will help you find one near you.

Categories: Blog articles

Banks and Brokerages Should Be Mining The Blockchain

A VC - June 15, 2015 - 4:55am

The biggest new trend I am seeing in bitcoin/blockchain is the emergence of a number of companies building systems on the blockchain (including the NASDAQ) to handle the backoffice issues that banks and brokerage firms have to manage. The blockchain is an ideal platform to build these sorts of applications (clearing, settlement, etc) on.

One concern I hear, though, is that banks like to know who is managing their infrastructure and they are uncomfortable with miners they don’t know, located in parts of the world that make them nervous, providing the transaction processing infrastructure for these applications being built on the blockchain.

To me, that is the perfect reason for banks and brokerage firms to take a bit of their data processing infrastructure and point it to the blockchain and start mining it. They could even create a mining pool among the large money center banks. And it is relatively simple for a blockchain application to route its transactions to certain miners to process.

If you think of the blockchain as an open source, peer to peer, massively distributed database, then it makes sense for the transaction processing infrastructure for it to evolve from individuals to large global corporations. Some of these miners will be dedicated for profit miners and some of them will be corporations who are mining to insure the integrity of the network and the systems they rely on that are running on it. Banks and brokerage firms are the obvious first movers in the second category.

I wonder if the CIOs of the large money center banks are already doing this. If I was in their jobs, I would be all over this.

Categories: Blog articles

A Blast From The Past

A VC - June 14, 2015 - 7:00am

I’ve been assisting with a project that is attempting to document the history of tech in NYC since Samuel Morse helped to bring the telegraph to market in the 1830s. I can’t help much with what went down in the 19th and early 20th century. But I can help with what happened at the very end of the 20th century. And in the course of doing that, I came across this video of Pseudo Entertainment’s offerings in the late 90s.

What is interesting is the similarity in many respects to the services that our portfolio company YouNow and Meerkat and Periscope have in the market today. The broadcast and consumption devices have changed (from PC to mobile) but the user experience is remarkably pretty much the same.

There’s something important in that realization.

Along the same lines, this conversation between Mark Suster and Ryan Hoover, starting at 8mins, is quite relevant. I love how they take it back to the early days of Howard Stern.

Categories: Blog articles

Video of the Week: Nick’s OuiShare Fest Talk

A VC - June 13, 2015 - 3:40am

My colleague Nick Grossman went to the OuiShare Fest this year and delivered a talk he called “Venture Capital vs Community Capital”

Here it is:

Categories: Blog articles
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