Blog articles


A VC - 11 hours 38 min ago

So much of what interests me and consumes the tech industry these days relates to Cryptography, and in particularly public key cryptography. The list would include Heartbleed, NSA spying on citizens, and of course, Bitcoin and Blockhains.

And yet, when I hear people talk about Cryptography or when I read about Cryptography, my eyes tend to glaze over because I never studied Cryptography and am a self taught coder.

So I need to fix this. I want to bone up on Cryptography. Where should I start and what should I read?

Categories: Blog articles

The Business Insider Interview

A VC - April 14, 2014 - 4:41am

A few weeks ago Alyson Shontell came into USV to talk to me. She wanted to talk on background about the NYC tech sector. She recorded our talk which lasted about an hour.

After transcribing the talk, she reached out to me and suggested printing the entire thing as a Q&A. I was nervous about that because I was pretty candid about things in our talk as it was on background.

But after reading the transcript, I understood why Alyson wanted to run it in its entirety. I ran it by the Gotham Gal and my partners and they said it was OK. So I asked her to change one thing where I felt I was not being fair to someone, and that was pretty much the only change.

They ran it yesterday and I just ganked the source code so I could cross post it here. I hope you enjoy it.

fred wilson

Flickr/Benjamin Ellis

It took Fred Wilson 10 years to become what he calls a “half-way decent” venture capitalist. It took him 20 to become a startup legend.

Lately, rumors have swirled that the Zynga, Tumblr and Twitter investor might step away from the firm he co-founded, Union Square Ventures, and retire. The 52-year-old investor has written about his post-Union Square Ventures plans on his popular blog, A VC.

“My daughter Emily asked what I plan to do when I retire in the next ten or fifteen years,” Wilson wrote in December. “I replied that ‘I plan to do what Mom does (angel investing)’. It looks like a lot of fun and I think I might be pretty good at it.”

As Wilson wrote, he doesn’t plan to retire in the next few years. But stepping away from his day-to-day role at Union Square Ventures has crossed his mind. The firm, which was founded in 2003 by Wilson and Brad Burnham, has been grooming successors for the initial partners with more recent hires such as former Delicious President Albert Wenger and Betaworks Co-founder Andy Weissman.

A few weeks ago, we had an hour-long conversation with Wilson about his career, the New York tech scene, and what will happen when, inevitably, Wilson decides his venture capital days are over.

The interview was intended for a longer piece on the New York venture community, but the transcription was so compelling, we asked Wilson if he’d mind us publishing the full interview instead.

Here are the topics we covered (it gets really good half way down, when he starts talking about why 2012 was a difficult year)

  • Why 20-somethings are starting funds straight out of school, and how the investing industry is changing
  • What investments Fred has personally made in the last few years, and what USV’s thesis is
  • Who some of the rising VC stars in New York tech are right now
  • What Fred does when he feels uninspired at work
  • How he handles investments that aren’t going to pan out, plus what happened to Turntable and Brewster
  • Why Tumblr’s sale didn’t feel like a major win for New York tech
  • Why the New York tech scene has seen better days
  • Fred’s retirement plans

Below is the lightly edited Q&A with Fred Wilson:

BUSINESS INSIDER: What’s happening to the world of venture capital? Tools like AngelList make it easier to find deals. Young people are going out and raising funds. Is the industry changing?

FRED WILSON: For somebody who has spent a decade doing venture capital at a big firm to leave and start their own firm, that’s kind of always been the way the venture capital industry has worked. I’m seeing a lot of it even right now, this year. Not in New York as much. But certainly a lot of it is going on in Silicon Valley where partners who are in their late 30s or early 40s are departing the more established, bigger firms and starting new firms.

The reason that’s a pretty good model is because they have been doing venture long enough that they understand how it all works and they go and raise a fund and they put their name on the door. Generally speaking, those funds perform well because you don’t have a legacy portfolio so you’re just working on the new stuff. If the world’s changing and a new thing is coming, you can get on that more quickly sometimes than other people can.

It’s a tried and true mechanism to create new blood, energy and creativity in the venture business. I think that’s something we’ll continue to see happen. Then, you have these other things you mentioned, like AngelList and a lot more angel investing and seed investing activity.

That’s been a big theme for what’s been going on in the venture business over the past five to ten years. I think that is a good thing because it allows more people to participate in the financing of startups. You don’t need to have a $100 million fund to do that. Actually, with the launch of the syndicates feature on AngelList, you can be in business as a venture capitalist with other people’s money without even raising a fund because you just get a bunch of people to follow you on AngelList and effectively, you could marshal up a million dollars of funding without even having to raise that money. I think that will make raising the first round — the seed round for most entrepreneurs — a lot easier. And it has gotten way easier I think, which is why there are so many startups to talk about every day.

BI: You mentioned that it’s always been a trend of people leaving bigger firms to start new ones. What about, for example, Josh Kushner? He raised a fund soon after he graduated from college. Is this something we should expect to see more of?

FW: I think there are a few people in the venture business in New York who come from families that have the resources to start their venture capital careers.

In New York, because of the media industry, the real estate industry and Wall Street, there are a lot of families with large capital bases. It wouldn’t surprise me that we’d continue to see young people getting out of college and deciding that this is what they want to do and having their families support them in that. That could be an emerging trend. In the Bay Area, too. I’m sure something like this has happened in the Bay Area as well.

josh kushner kevin systrom prime minister

Flickr via Number10Gov

The Prime Minister with Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom and Thrive Capital partner Joshua Kushner. At 28, Kushner is a rising star in New York venture capital.

BI: Mike Rothenberg (28), Dave Tisch (32) Joshua Kushner (28), Nikhil Khalghatgi (30) and Mike Brown (30) are all examples of young people who have raised their own large funds. But you’ve said you feel venture capital should be an “old man or woman’s business.” Why?

FW: What I meant by that —

BI: Not that you’re old.

FW: Well, I am 52. I’m pretty old. What I meant by that is there are a lot of people in the venture capital business who used to be entrepreneurs. In fact, if you look at a firm like Kleiner Perkins, Gene Kleiner and Tom Perkins were entrepreneurs and then when they got into the second half of their careers, they moved to become VCs.

The same thing is true with Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen. They were entrepreneurs and when they got into their 40s they thought, “Starting a company is hard work and we’ve done it a bunch. We know a lot about it. Maybe, if we transition to being VCs, we can have hundreds of entrepreneurs become successful with all the things we learned being entrepreneurs.”

I think there’s this classic thing where, when you’re in your 20s and 30s, you’re an entrepreneur. And when you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’re a VC. That’s kind of what I meant by it.

I don’t mean that Josh Kushner or Dave Tisch or Mike Brown — some of the younger VCs in New York — can’t be good VCs. Although, I do think it’s a business that takes a little bit of time to learn. You can learn it much faster if you move from being an entrepreneur into being a venture capitalist 15, 20, 25 years into your career, because you have a network and you have all that experience and a lot of it is transferable.

But if you come into the venture business right out of college or grad school as I did, it takes a long time to learn the business because you’ve got to learn everything.

If you come into the venture business right out of college or grad school as I did, it takes a long time to learn the business because you’ve got to learn everything.

BI: You’ve said it took you 10 years to become a “halfway decent” venture capitalist. Now you’re one of the best-known and admired investors. How did you create your legacy?

FW: I’ve been at it for a long time. I was doing deals here in New York City in 1990, so that’s almost 25 years ago, and there weren’t many people who were doing deals in New York City in 1990. When Jerry Colonna and I started Flatiron Partners in 1996, we were really alone with RRE, one of the two New York-centered venture firms. We were high-profile for some reason. I don’t entirely know why. We certainly didn’t really deserve it. We made a lot of money, but everybody made a lot of money in that period. If you couldn’t make money in the venture business from ‘96 to 2000, you were bad. Just really bad.

We were OK, we weren’t great. But we were good enough and we made a bunch of money. We did some high-profile deals like and The Industry Standard — which was the big magazine at the time —, which was another media-focused thing, so there were a lot of people writing about us. Maybe that’s what it was.

By the time we started USV in 2003 I’d been investing here in New York for over a decade. I think along with Kevin Ryan [Editor's note, Ryan cofounded Business Insider, and is Chairman] and a few other people, I sort of became one of the veterans of the community.

fred wilson

Fred Wilson/Tumblr (taken by Jessica Wilson with her Google Glasses)

Fred Wilson’s computer shows a handful of breakout companies his firm has invested in.

BI: When people think of USV, they think of you. But there are other partners there doing great jobs. Tell me about Albert Wenger. Could he one day run USV?

FW: Albert did the MongoDB deal. I think in some ways MongoDB is one of the most interesting New York success stories of the past decade because it’s the kind of company you wouldn’t expect to find in New York. It’s a hardcore tech company; a database software company. Oracle and MySQL and all the big database companies came out of Silicon Valley. Albert’s a computer scientist and he was really taken with what Dwight Merriman [Editor's note, Merriman cofounded Business Insider] and Elliot Horowitz were building there.

Albert has Foursquare and Edmodo, which is a really big education network platform based in Silicon Valley. He’s got Twilio, which has become hugely successful and Wattpad. He also found Etsy for us.

If you look at the portfolio Albert’s built since 2008 when he joined us from Delicious, he’s made 15–20 investments. I think at least half of them could be billion-dollar companies. A couple of them already are.

He’s probably the best relatively new VC in New York City based on his track record. There are other people you mentioned — Josh Kushner, Dave Tisch and Mike Brown — who could emerge as good or better than Albert, but they haven’t been at it quite as long. I’m really pleased to see the success he’s had because he’s super bright and he’s great to work with.

BI: Why does he fly under the radar?

FW: It’s hard because I have such a big profile and it’s difficult to have multiple front people in a venture firm … Brad Burnham has been an equal partner with me since the very beginning. He should get as much credit for our success as I do. He doesn’t, and that’s not right or fair. It’s because I’ve been more public and more out there with my blog and public speaking. I’d like to try to tone it down as much as possible and push them out into the forefront. But it will take a long time before [the public perception] changes.

albert wenger usv

Flickr/Joi Ito

Albert Wenger is the future of Union Square Ventures. Fred Wilson estimates half of his portfolio companies will be billion-dollar businesses.

BI: What about your newest partner, Andy Weissman? How did you recruit him from the firm he co-founded, Betaworks?

FW: My view of it (and Andy and John Borthwick may have slightly different perspectives) was that Betaworks had one foot in being an incubator and one foot in being a seed investor.

We invested with Betaworks in Tumblr, Kickstarter and a number of other startups. From afar, I felt like John really wanted Betaworks to be more of an incubator and Andy wanted Betaworks to be more of a seed investor. They were struggling to figure out if they should create more startups like Bitly and Chartbeat, or if they should do more investments in Tumblrs and Kickstarters. It felt to me that what John really wanted to do was become more of an incubator — a holding and operating company. I didn’t think Andy was as excited about that path. I approached Andy.

We had already had a lot of experiences with him before we asked him to join us as a partner. We knew how he conducted himself with entrepreneurs. So I said, “We need another partner because we’re doing another early stage fund and we need to have some more capacity. Would you be interested in possibly joining us?” He was.

Then he went and said to John, “Look, I think you want to take Betaworks in more of an incubator direction and I really have my heart set on doing venture, so maybe we can find a nice parting of the ways,” and they did. He joined us for our 2012 fund, which we raised in the final quarter of 2011. He’s been here for about 2 ½ years.

What’s interesting is, we’ve done three early stage funds and we’re about to embark on our next one. The first early stage fund, the 2004 fund, Brad and I essentially made 10 investments each. Then the next early stage fund, Albert joined us. Brad and I made four investments each and Albert made 10. Then our next fund, Brad and Albert and I made three investments each and Andy made eight investments.

That’s kind of how we’ve done it: We’ve invited one new person to come in and that person drives a lot of the new investment activity in that fund because the existing partners have legacy portfolio companies we spend a lot of time on. There’s no way I could make eight investments, for example, in the next three or four years. But when someone comes in here without a legacy portfolio, they can do that. That model has worked really well for us.

Now what’s happened is that Brad and I are coming off of almost all those investments we made in the 2004 round. I’m not on the board of Twitter anymore. Delicious, TACODA, Twitter, Tumblr and most of those companies have exited now. There are a few that haven’t, like Etsy, where I’m still on the board. But now we have all this new capacity that we didn’t have three or four years ago. So our next early stage fund we’re not going to have a new partner come on because Brad and I can collectively be the new partner.

Andy came in and he’s done a bunch of really good investments for us. Unlike Albert, I can’t tell you yet that Andy’s got the greatest portfolio of any VC his age [because he hasn’t been at it for long enough and cycles take about seven years], but I think early signs are quite good for Andy. He has really fit in and helped us make a lot of investments that fit right into our model.

Andy Weissman

Flickr/NYC Media Lab

Andy Weissman is USV’s newest partner.

BI: What were the three startups you invested in during the last fund?

FW: One we’ve not announced. It’ll be the last investment of the 2012 fund and we haven’t closed it yet, but I’m leading that. Then Sidecar and Coinbase.

BI: What is USV’s investment thesis? Social platforms?

FW: What we say is “networks.” Social was the predominant kind of network we invested in during the 2004 fund. That fund had Twitter, Tumblr, Zynga and Delicious in it. The 2008 fund was more things like Kickstarter, Edmodo, Wattpad and SoundCloud, which are networks. They are social, but not like the others.

Edmodo is a really good example of what I mean by networks. Edmodo is a Facebook-like network that public school teachers use. It’s free, so any teacher can just say, “We’re going to be using Edmodo in this class this year.” Then the teacher invites the students to connect to her on Edmodo, and in their timelines they get all their homework assignments, their reading assignments, their practice tests and all that. When they go home it’s all in their Edmodo. It’s a network, teacher-to-teacher, then teacher-to-student … It’s social, but not in the way Instagram is social. It’s social in the pursuit of education; like Wattpad is for writing and reading; or SoundCloud is for making and listening to music.

The 2004 fund had these big horizontal social platforms. In the 2008 fund, it was more vertically-oriented networks that had a social component to them. In the 2012 fund, it’s really been more marketplaces. So Funding Circle, Kitchensurfing and Sidecar. We’re still doing “networks,” but we’ve been looking more for transactional networks where there’s money exchanging hands. It’s not that we wouldn’t do something purely social, but we haven’t so far.

BI: Is that because all the social platforms and networks have been built already?

FW: No. I think it’s just that we invest in what’s interesting to us. We maybe suffer a little bit from from been-there-done-that and want to move on to whatever’s next. I do think that being first to something is often better. If you think about the big social platforms, LinkedIn and Facebook were started in 2004, and Twitter was started in 2006, and they are as big, or bigger than, any other social platform out there. I think Instagram may be as big as Twitter now, but the next wave of social platforms have in general been a little smaller: Tumblr and Pinterest and Foursquare.

The next wave of social platforms didn’t quite get to the same scale. I think that oftentimes the first of a category ends up being the biggest of a category. Then as the category matures and there become more segments, those segments might not be as big, so we tend to like to try to be in the first wave. In crowdfunding, Lending Club and Kickstarter I think are going to be bigger than the next wave of crowdfunding things, which are more constrained and more niche. It doesn’t mean that those aren’t going to be good, but I think getting there first is oftentimes the best.

BI: You said Instagram is as big as Twitter. In terms of active users?

FW: I think it is. Not in terms of revenues. But I think in terms of active users they’re probably as big as Twitter. It’s easier to post a photo than it is to write a Tweet.

NYSE birds eye twitter executives dick costolo


Fred Wilson was a Twitter investor and board member.

BI: It’s all about the selfie craze, too.

FW: Although the selfie craze has really moved to Snapchat, right? It feels to me like photo sharing went from Facebook to Instagram. Then with the arrival of Snapchat, there’s now the stuff that I really want people to see and then there’s the stuff that I really only want my friends to see.

A lot of the stuff that was on Instagram has now moved to Snapchat. It doesn’t mean that people are not using Instagram, but if I go back and look at my Instagram feed a year ago versus today, there’s a lot of people who were in my Instagram feed a year ago who aren’t there today. They’ve been replaced by brands.

So now my Instagram feed is full of things like the New York Knicks and restaurants posting amazing photos of food. The young Facebook user base who left Facebook to go to Instagram has now seemingly moved mostly to Snapchat and my generation plus brands are what’s on Instagram now. That’s in the U.S. I think outside the U.S. might be a very different story.

BI: Do you think trends like ephemerality and anonymity are here to stay? 

FW: I think social is here to stay. The idea that people use the Internet to connect and share with other people is, I think, a forever phenomenon.

I think a lot of what we’re seeing is a reaction to Facebook and how Facebook was so dominant as a social platform for the past 5-10 years. The things that Facebook forced you to do — to use your real name, to post something publicly that everybody could see … these are things that people ultimately had a bad reaction to.

We use the word ephemeral, but to me, part of Snapchat is the fact that it’s controllable. It’s more about the control than the ephemerality. With Snapchat, I know who’s going to see this and I know it’s not going to move out beyond that place.

We use the word ephemeral, but to me, part of Snapchat is the fact that it’s controllable. It’s more about the control than the ephemerality.

With anonymity, for a long time it was all about real names. Mark Zuckerberg was like, “Real names is it, and anonymous is bad.” Now all of a sudden we see a lot of innovation happening with people using anonymity. I think all of this might be just a phase we’re going through.

The Democrats controlled the White House and Congress for 20 years and we got The Great Society, and then Republicans came into control in the Reagan-Bush era and we got a new model, which was a reaction to that. Now it seems like the public is moving back a little bit away from that and we’ve had Democrats in the White House now for most of the past 20 years. Public mood shifts. They go this way and they go that way.

I think a lot what we’re seeing now is because the Facebook model was the dominant model for a long time and I think a lot of people now are interested in these other models. But I think they’ll have their run and then it’ll be something else.

BI: Switching gears a bit: 2012 was not the best year for you, if I recall a blog post I read.

FW: Yeah, 2012 was a bad year for me because I had too much on my plate. A lot of it was dealing with companies that weren’t going to succeed and I knew they weren’t going to succeed, yet I had to spend a lot of time on them. It got in the way of being able to make new investments.

I also wasn’t particularly inspired by the things I was seeing. I talked a little bit about been-there-done-that. The whole world of social wasn’t particularly interesting to me. It was a combination of all of that, really. 2013 was better. I made two investments and found this other one, which we’re going to close in another week or two. We were much more productive in terms of new investments.

With Bitcoin and the blockchain, I found something that got me excited again.

fred wilson

Flickr/Lachlan Hardy

2012 was a tough year for Fred Wilson, who felt uninspired and spent a lot of time helping portfolio companies softly land.

BI: How do you deal with feeling uninspired? Even if you get in a rut, you don’t seem like someone who will ever retire.

FW: There’s a question about what’s the right thing for USV. With Andy and Albert, there’s a next generation here that at some point needs to become front and center. I’ve got to figure out a way to allow that to happen and not be hogging the limelight.

Maybe an answer is to go from being the lead founding partner to more of a lower profile so their profiles can rise. But I really like working with entrepreneurs and finding new things, new technologies, new business models, new things to get excited about. I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t be doing this work in some way. But I don’t know that it will be in exactly the same way that I do it now. I’ll figure that out as it goes.

We just raised two new funds, which we’re going to start investing in at some point this spring, and Brad and I signed up to be full partners in those funds. That means we’re committed to continuing our involvement at USV in the same way that we’ve been involved for the past ten years for another three or four years, minimum, because that’s how long it takes to invest a new fund. Then there’ll be another fund and then we’ll have that same decision to make.

If you come back here in three years, we can talk about whether or not I’m going to sign up for another early stage fund. Right now, I’m all in.

BI: What made you personally decide to go through with this new fund?

FW: Part of it was feeling a lot better about the fact that there were things I wanted to invest in. There were also four or five investments that we either sold or wrote off or wound down in one way or another in the past year-ish that I was the lead investor on.

BI: Turntable comes to mind.

FW: Turntable and Canvas and Boxee.

BI: What about [once-buzzy contact app] Brewster?

FW: No, Brewster’s still going. Brewster’s doing okay. There was TargetSpot, which we sold to Radionomy. Boxee sold to Samsung. Turntable wound down. Canvas wound down. I think there’s one other, but I can’t think of which one it is right now.

Those — let’s call it five because I’m pretty sure it was five — were probably collectively taking up half of my time. Now I don’t have to work on any of those, so that frees me up for a lot. Working on companies that aren’t going to be successful is, I think, an important part of being a VC because you say to the entrepreneur, “Take my money because we’re going to bring my time and our resources to help you be successful.” Just because they’re not successful doesn’t mean you can just bail on them. Eventually, these things wind themselves down and move on, but you have to be there through that whole process.

It’s like having a kid, right? You can’t decide to have a kid and then at age 10 just say, “Okay, I’m out of here.” You’ve got to get the kid into college.

We pride ourselves on that here at Union Square Ventures. I’ve written about this a lot, but our ratio is about a third, a third, a third. Meaning that about a third of the things we invest in literally don’t work out at all, things like Turntable and Canvas. A third of the things we invest in work out, but don’t work out very well. They lead to some kind of a sale, but it wasn’t a very successful outcome. Only a third of the things we invest in actually turn into the Twitters and Tumblrs and Etsys and Zyngas of the world.

That means that two-thirds of the things you’re spending time on are things that aren’t going in the right direction, which is kind of a bummer.

fred wilson seth goldstein

YouTube/Seth Goldstein

Fred Wilson with Turntable co-founder Seth Goldstein. Wilson helped wind down Turntable last year.

BI: Investing in a startup like Turntable has to be hard. You put money in and it seems like a rocket ship — then all of a sudden it tanks. What’s that like?

FW: Well, I think we made a bunch of mistakes there, some of which I would blame on the board and some of which I would blame on the company. But in general I think we did not react to the data. The problem with that service was people churned out of it very quickly.

People would come in, fall in love with it and then six to eight weeks later, they were done with it. We knew that pretty early on, but it was hidden by the fact that the number of people who were coming on board every day was higher than the number of people who were churning out. It looked good, but we actually knew that there was something about the service.

I think the problem was that it was too demanding. You had to be in it. It was too social of an experience. What I think we could have done, if we had moved quickly, is that we could have created a passive listening experience. The reality is, if you’re into electronic music or Indie Rock music or Hip Hop or whatever, there were Turntable rooms that were creating as good of a passive listening experience as anything you could get on the Internet, with these super-engaged small groups of users who were creating the streams. If there was a way to just put a Turntable room on and listen to it in the background, I think we could have built an interesting business. But we didn’t move to do that. We just stuck with it too long and it fizzled out.

BI: Spotify came out pretty soon after and stole some of the thunder.

FW: Spotify had been around. I think Spotify launched in the U.S., though, in a big way. I think those are different things. I don’t feel that that was the problem. Someone told me a long time ago that 80% — and this number has been true since the dawn of recorded music — 80% of listening is when someone’s playing the music for you and 20% of listening is when you’re playing the music for yourself.

Vinyl records, CDs, MP3, iTunes and Spotify are experiences where I get to control what I’m listening to and Pandora or AM radio or FM radio is when someone plays the music for me. I think there’s a huge market out there for, “I don’t really want to think about it. I just want to listen.” Pandora is huge.

I think with Turntable we just got that mix wrong. But it was good while it lasted.

BI: USV was in Tumblr. Tumblr had a billion-dollar exit to Yahoo, but it didn’t get the New York scene excited like Instagram did in Silicon Valley. They were both the same sale price, both sold to big companies. Why did their sales caused different reactions?

FW: Some of it might be the narrative. Instagram came out and when it was super hot, Facebook bought it. Their whole thing happened in the span of 24 months. Tumblr, we invested in in 2007 and it exited in 2013, so it was a six-year experience.

I think people understood that the sale of Tumblr in some ways was a reflection of the fact that Tumblr struggled to become a business.

The product is still hugely successful. If you look at the numbers in terms of number of active participants on the network and pageviews, all of that keeps going up even after Yahoo bought it. It’s never, ever slowed down.

But Tumblr really struggled to build a business, a sustainable business that could make it an independent company the way that Twitter successfully did, the way that LinkedIn successfully did, the way that Facebook successfully did. The sale to Yahoo in some ways was, I think, a reflection of the fact that they ran out of time on that.

The sale price was awesome and David made a great outcome for himself personally and we did really, really well on our investment. But I do think that the narrative there wasn’t quite the same thing. It was maybe a little bit like what could’ve been, had Tumblr been able to figure out how to make itself a stand-alone business. Maybe it could’ve ended up going public and being worth five or 10 times what it sold for.

By the way, the same thing’s true with Instagram. If Instagram had stayed independent, it would be worth a lot more than $1 billion, no question. Both of those companies probably sold too cheap, relative to what they could’ve been had they remained independent companies. But I think the Tumblr story is different because they gave it a shot, whereas Instagram never even tried.

David Karp Tumblr

Satya Murthy

David Karp, founder of Tumblr

BI: What’s happening in the New York City scene? Is there something happening here that makes the startup scene less exciting than in years past?

FW: What I was thinking as you were asking the question is that I’d love to look at the data. We make about eight investments a year, maybe 10. It would be interesting to look at the percentage of those investments that are in New York vs. outside of New York and to see if that’s changed.

I feel like the percentage of investments that we make in New York, out of the total that we make every year, has come down, and that we’re making more investments in other places like Europe, Silicon Valley, Waterloo, Toronto (Kik is in Waterloo and Wattpad is in Toronto). …

I think a couple things are happening in New York. I think that there are a bunch of companies that have been around for a while in New York. Tumblr is an example of that. Foursquare is an example of that. Etsy’s an example of that. Kickstarter’s an example of that. Gilt could go on and on and on. These are not new stories and haven’t been new stories in a long time. They’re doing really well and soaking up a lot of the talent.

But what’s an example of a company in New York that has come out of the gate in the last few years and really made a name for itself? Another company’s Warby Parker, but Warby Parker’s been around for four, five years. I’m just trying to think. It feels like the breakouts that we were having in New York in the 2008, 2009, 2010 period produced a lot of interesting companies.

Kickstarter’s going to be 100 employees probably by the end of this year. Etsy’s going to be 500 employees. MongoDB, Foursquare have 200 employees. So these are all big companies now. Has there been a breakout? I don’t know.

BI: Not that I can think of.

FW: You would know. Let me just look quickly at some data and see [pulls up computer screen]. The companies we’ve invested in in New York …

There’s Codecademy, Shapeways and Stack Exchange. Now Stack Exchange is amazing. It’s a huge company. People don’t write about it, but Stack is an unbelievable success. But because it’s like GitHub, it’s a service for geeks, people don’t write about it.

We had three companies in 2010 in New York. In 2011, there was Skillshare, Codecademy, Brewster, and then Canvas and Turntable, which are no longer. In 2012 we did Behance, which got sold. Then in 2013, we did Kitchensurfing, VHX and Splice. Those are all three interesting companies, but they haven’t broken out yet. I think all three could do amazing things, but they haven’t yet, so I don’t know. But we continue to invest in New York: Three out of eight is not a bad number. That’s 40%.

BI: Going back to your 2012 rut and coming out of it: Discovering Bitcoin seemed to lift your investing spirits. Why?

FW: I first heard about Bitcoin in 2011. It was in the winter, so maybe January or February of 2011. I bumped into my friend who was the founder of our portfolio company, Covestor, in the Garment District.

I said, “What are you up to?”

He said, “I’m starting a Bitcoin company.”

I’d never heard of Bitcoin, so I said, “What’s that?”

And he said, “I’ve got to tell you about this. It’s amazing.”

He came in and told me about it. We thought about investing in his company, but everybody here at USV was like, “I don’t know if we can do this. This thing is sketchy. There’s all kinds of weird stuff going on here.” So we spent about a year, and it was mostly me and Albert, doing our homework on Bitcoin. By the middle of 2012, we felt like we should invest in something. That’s when I bet on the Coinbase guys.

They were at Y Combinator. I immediately knew I wanted to invest in Coinbase, but they were coming out of Y Combinator and they did a seed round, and frankly it wasn’t really a good fit for us in terms of how much they were raising.

About six months later, in early January of last year, Brian reached out to me and I said, “Yeah, we want to invest.” I guess we were interested in Bitcoin for a long time and Coinbase was the first company we saw that was built on top of Bitcoin that we thought was a good investment. It’s turned out to be a great investment. The fundamentals of the business are great in terms of their revenues and their users. They have over a million hosted wallets now — that’s like a million bank accounts basically — which is amazing. It’s a million people.


Fred Wilson Joanne Wilson

Instagram/Fred Wilson (taken at the Etsy pop up shop in Soho)

Fred and Joanne Wilson met in college and they moved to New York City so Joanne could pursue a career in fashion. Both are now investors and bloggers.

BI: I think the majority of the world still has no idea what the heck Bitcoin is, so to have a million that quickly is impressive.

FW: And they’re in the U.S. If you don’t live in the U.S., you are less likely to use Coinbase because it’s a U.S.-dollar centric investment, U.S.-banking centric. The thing about Bitcoin is that Bitcoin’s like this global system. What service was your first email account on?


FW: Good. I was afraid I was going to date myself. In the early days, you would have AOL email, or Compuserve email or Prodigy email. Then SMTP came on as this underlying protocol and all of a sudden, if you are on AOL, you could email someone who was on Prodigy. It changed everything.

The thing about Bitcoin is Bitcoin is like SMTP, so you have the Chinese banking system and you have the German banking system, which is really the EU now, and you have the Brazilian banking system and you have the U.S. banking system. They all kind of sit on top of Bitcoin, but if you want to do Bitcoin in the United States, you’ve got to use a Bitcoin provider that’s connected into the U.S. banking system or there’s no way for you to get your money in and out of Bitcoin.

What’s happened is, these companies that have gotten built up on top of Bitcoin tend to be geography-focused. So is really Western Europe-focused and BTC China is focused on China and Coinbase is focused on the U.S. What’s interesting about Coinbase is they have a million customers in the United States, so it’s not even a global customer base. If they go to Europe, which I hope that they will do, they could potentially double in size just by opening up a new market for them.

I just really like the technology of Bitcoin. The thing that I believe in more than anything is that when you have technologies that open up markets, lots of good things happen.

The thing that was always amazing about the Internet is that anybody could put a Web server on the Internet and then anybody anywhere in the world could open up their browser and connect to that Web server and nothing else had to happen. That was the only thing that had to happen. Bitcoin’s kind of the same way. It’s a completely open system. Nobody controls it. It’s not owned by a company. It just is. It’s Bitcoin.

I think as a platform to build stuff on, the way that the Internet was in the early ‘90s, it’s just amazing. I think the architecture with these blockchains is going to get replicated for lots of different applications. It won’t be Bitcoin. It’ll be Namecoin for identity, it’ll be Mastercoin for exchanges. There’s all these new blockchains that are coming up that support different use cases. I think this architecture is really, really important. That’s what got me excited about it.

BI: Final question just to bring this conversation full circle: To clarify, no retirement plans anytime soon? You’re in venture capital for at least a few more years and even if you were to take a step back, USV would go on?

FW: I can’t imagine a time when I’m not going to be part of USV, but I can imagine a time when one of my partners — Andy or Albert or both of them — are the people.

People say, “Oh yeah, go talk to Fred at USV.” It’ll be, “Go talk to Andy at USV,” or, “Go talk to Albert at USV.” They’ll become front and center in people’s minds when people think about USV. I think that’d be a good thing.

That’s what happened at Kleiner Perkins. Gene Kleiner and Tom Perkins passed the business to John Doerr and Vinod Khosla. That would be a good thing for us to do as well.

Fred Wilson dog

Instagram/TheGothamGal (that’s me and Ollie)

If Wilson ever retires, will it look like this?

Categories: Blog articles

Workshop on Github on April 15 at noon (CCNR @ Northeastern)

Complexity and Social Networks Blog - April 13, 2014 - 12:30pm

Please join us for this workshop on Github.

GitHub Basics
Tuesday, April 15
Center for Complex Network Research
Dana Building, 5th Floor
12:00-1:30 pm

with Navid Dianati (LazerLab, Northeastern University)

Come review the basics of the popular and open source revision control software Git, as well as the free online hosting service GitHub. Through examples, see how Git may be used for source code documentation and revision control in single-author and collaborative projects.

Categories: Blog articles

A WordPress Plugin For A Books List?

A VC - April 13, 2014 - 5:26am

The Gotham Gal moved to WordPress this week. I mentioned it in a post mid week.

She maintains a book list on her blog. She’s a huge reader, at least a couple books a week, many times more than that.

And she lists her favorite reads for all to see. It used to be a TypePad widget on the sidebar but in the new UI, it’s an entire page linked to off the main header.

On TypePad, she could enter a book name, an ASIN, or an ISBN and the book and link to Amazon would automatically be added to the list (with her Amazon Affiliate ID attached).

I spent about an hour yesterday trying to replicate that functionality on WordPress via a plugin. I tried about five or six plugins without any success.

Has anyone come across a WordPress plugin that does this? If so, we’d love to know about it. Thanks.


Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Jeff Lawson on Software People

A VC - April 12, 2014 - 7:29am

Jeff Lawson is the founder and CEO of our portfolio company Twilio.

We had the pleasure of watching him present at a USV event yesterday. Jeff has this notion of “software people” that is a big part of what his vision is for Twilio and it was a big part of his talk yesterday.

So I thought I’d share a video from last summer where Jeff talks a lot about this notion of “software people”. It’s good.

Categories: Blog articles

Fun Friday: Hangover Cures

A VC - April 11, 2014 - 5:20am

Once a year we host the leadership of our entire portfolio for a one day CEO Summit at USV’s offices. There is always a fun evening event. Last night we went to The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club (the Gotham Gal is an investor there). And then afterwards, in what has become a tradition, I take anyone who wants to go out to a night on the town. It is a lot of fun.

I got home at 2am last night and need to be at the USV offices for another annual event at 8am. I’m up and I’m in pain.

My trusted technique is a lot of water, Advil, a hot shower, and an espresso.

I’m curious to hear some other approaches.

Categories: Blog articles

Heartbleed: What Is The Correct Response?

A VC - April 10, 2014 - 4:40am

My friend Stephen emailed me and said he’s changing all of his passwords in the wake of the Heartbleed bug.

I thought about that and wondered to myself “what is the appropriate response to this?”. So I thought I’d blog about it today and generate a discussion. I am sure I will learn something from it. And hopefully all of us will.

Is the correct response, as Stephen suggests, to change passwords on every site and app you have a stored password for? Is that even possible? What about that podcasting service I signed up for eight years ago? I can’t even recall what is is called anymore.

Or is it correct to respond to password change requests from the services that recommend that? I just did that on a bunch of services that notified me via email that I should do that.

Or is it correct to scour the Internet for suggestions, like this post on Mashable, and follow their advice?

Or is this the time we should all move to 1password, or something like that, to manage our passwords?

If you use two factor auth, as I do on many services, does that mean you don’t need to change those passwords?

There are a ton of super smart and technical folks who read this blog. What are you doing and what would you recommend we all do?

Categories: Blog articles

Newsletter – April, 2014

Beyond Money - April 9, 2014 - 11:07am
Flight MH370
Shortly before midnight on March 6 I departed Kuala Lumpur on board a Boeing 777 bound for Tucson, via Tokyo and Los Angeles. That was just 26 hours ahead of the mysterious flight MH370 which departed from the same airport just after midnight on March 8 and has become the object of a massive search and equally massive speculation. I get an uneasy feeling when I consider how close I came in time and circumstance to being on that plane. Now, more than a month later, the mystery of the flight’s disappearance seems no closer to being solved.Given the changing and contradictory news that has been provided by Malaysian authorities and others involved in the search, I can’t help but wonder if the news is being manipulated and crucial information is being withheld from the public. Why haven’t we heard more about the passengers? Who they are and what might they have been involved in? One tantalizing fact that is no longer mentioned is that 20 of the passengers were employees of Freescale Semiconductor, which according to the Express (UK) “makes powerful microchips for industries including defence.” The Express article, Malaysian plane: 20 passengers worked for ELECTRONIC WARFARE and MILITARY RADAR firm, reveals some facts about the company’s ownership that raise suspicions and ought to be fully investigated. A casual search of the internet will bring up plenty of other possible scenarios and explanations of what might have happened to flight MH370.
Russia, Ukraine, and the New world Order
While still in Malaysia I picked up a copy of The Star (March 4 edition), one of Malaysia’s leading daily newspapers. One of the main articles had to do with the crisis in the Ukraine. The headline read: Ousting democratically-elected leaders, with the sub-head, The ousters of democratically-elected leaders have often been carried out directly or indirectly by champions of democracy themselves, thus suggesting how hypocritical and disingenuous western politicians have been in any number of cases where regime change has been the intended result. The article was written by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, who is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). You can read it here.As western leaders vilify the Russian leadership and the media beat the drums for “sanctions,” it is important to keep in mind that the Ukrainian government of PresidentViktorYanukovich was democratically elected in 2010, and he was forcibly removed by a coalition that includes neo-Nazis and fascists, backed by western countries intent on bringing Ukraine into the EU orbit and NATO.If the United States and EU are really interested in a negotiated settlement, they will need to seriously consider the Russian point of view and address the legitimate concerns of the Russian government. Floyd Rudmin’s recent article in Counterpunch, Viewing the Ukraine Crisis From Russia’s Perspective, provides some fundamental background facts that provide a more complete picture.
It’s Time to Put Money Out of its Misery
Last month I wrote an article for publication in Transformation as part of their 9 article series on money. Now, editor, Michael Edwards has provided a wrap-up piece, It’s time to put money out of its misery. Read it here.
Traveling with Children
One curious thing I noted during my recent visits in Southeast Asia is the number of  young adults that I saw traveling with small children. In one instance I happened to be on a motor coach going from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. Among the passengers were two Scandinavian couples in the company of two infants and one toddler. This experience put me in mind of a very acute observation made by some long forgotten sage (it might have been Ogden Nash, but I can’t swear to it): The definition of a baby–“An alimentary canal with a loud noise at one end and a foul odor at the other.”

Actually, I think it’s wonderful that so many young people are willing and able to balance child rearing with their search for adventure, but it’s too bad the children will have little of it to recall.
Sharing the Commons
One thing that seems certain to me is that the new paradigm society will come about through radical sharing and a major shift of our collective energies toward projects that promote the common good. On the Commons has just announced the offer of their new e-book Sharing Revolution: The essential economics of the commons by Jessica Conrad. You can download the free e-book here. I’ve not yet read it, but I’m confident that it will prove to be a major resource in “helping people connect and collaborate to advance the common good and develop greater economic autonomy.”

#     #     #

Categories: Blog articles

Gotham Gal 3.0

A VC - April 9, 2014 - 3:27am

The Gotham Gal has followed me from TypePad to WordPress and given her blog a refresh. Check it out here.

We both use the same designer, Nathan Bowers, so our blogs have always had a similar look and feel. They look even more similar now, particularly on the phone.

I love the elegance and simplicity of both blogs on my phone. It has become my primary reading device and it’s where I read AVC and Gotham Gal (and comment) most frequently.

I think Gotham Gal looks particularly good on the tablet. I’m a bit jealous of that. I may have to talk to Nathan about that :)

Anyway, we have both now gone through the typepad to wordpress conversion and all that entails, we’ve got new his and her blogs, and we are pretty happy about all of that.

Thanks Nathan.

Categories: Blog articles

The Mobile Downturn

A VC - April 8, 2014 - 3:45am

I woke up to this post by Chris Dixon in my Tumblr. Chris states:

Apps have a rich-get-richer dynamic that favors the status quo over new innovations.

He’s right about that and he’s right about a bunch of other things in his post as well.

We did a portfolio review at USV yesterday. We spent two hours staring at our portfolios on the big screen in our main conference room. We have three early stage vintages that are fully invested, 2004, 2008, and 2012. We talked about the macro environment during which we invested and developed these three portfolios and there was a palpable sense that the wide open period of innovation during which we invested the 2004 and 2008 funds was not as present in the 2012 fund investment period. We have a bunch of great investments in the 2012 fund, but we took safer bets and the result will likely be more wins and less strikeouts but also less home runs. Did we change our appetite for risk in our most recent early stage fund? It wasn’t conscious. We didn’t change our investment strategy. We didn’t tell each other that we wanted to take less risk. But it sure feels like we did.

My partner Brad hypothesized that it had something with the rise of native mobile apps as the dominant go to market strategy for large networks in the past four to five years. So Brian pulled out his iPhone and I pulled out my Android and we took at trip through the top 200 apps on our respective app stores. And there were mighty few venture backed businesses that were started in the past three years on those lists. It has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser.

Chris mentions something else in his post that, to me, is a big bright spot on the horizon:

Most worrisome: they reject entire classes of apps without stated reasons or allowing for recourse (e.g. Apple has rejected all apps related to Bitcoin)

Let’s go back and revisit the big innovations on the commercial Internet over the past twenty years. TCP/IP, HTTP, The Browser, Search, Social, Mobile, Blockchains. Each one of those innovations drove an investment cycle. Our 2004 fund was built during social. Our 2008 fund was built during social and the emergence of mobile. Our 2012 fund was built during the mobile downturn. And our 2014 fund will be built during the blockchain cycle. I am looking forward to it.

My friend Adam tweeted this in the wake of my The Search For The Next Platform post. I don’t know if it was a reaction to it, but that’s how I interpreted it. I agree completely with Adam.

I'm glad that most disruptive and exciting new platform (no, not Oculus) – the blockchain – is open source and not for sale.

— Adam Ludwin (@adamludwin) March 26, 2014

In tech investing, we get booms when a new cycle emerges and downturns as it matures and consolidation of economics happens (think Microsoft in the late 80s/early 90s). The downturn is always followed by something radical and new that starts on the fringe and becomes mainstream. Timing all of these things is hard. But it is what we have to do.

Categories: Blog articles

SHIP @ St Joseph’s – A Summer Coding Program In NYC

A VC - April 7, 2014 - 5:14am

The godfather of K-12 computer science education in NYC is Mike Zamansky. Almost 25 years ago, Mike left a programming job at Goldman Sachs and become a NYC public school teacher. A few years later, in the mid 90s, he started the CS program at NYC’s Stuyvesant High School. The NY tech sector is full of software engineers who got their first taste of coding in Mike’s classes at Stuy. He’s an inspiration to me and one of the unsung heroes of the NYC tech sector. The raw material of any tech sector is talent and Mike creates home grown talent. They might leave NYC to go to college, but many of them come home to start their careers. We need more of this and that’s what CSNYC is all about. And Mike was instrumental in getting me to take this thing on a few years ago when I saw what he had built at Stuy.

Anyway, Mike is running a summer coding program at St Joseph’s College in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn. It is called SHIP @ St Joseph’s. It’s a four week program that lasts the month of July. I believe it is focused on high school students but it could be available to a wider range of students. If you are interested in learning more, go here. If you want to apply, go here.

Categories: Blog articles

My Nightmare

A VC - April 6, 2014 - 4:47am

I don’t normally remember my dreams but I remember my dream last night. We were celebrating the sale of a company in which the founders and investors had done very well. During the course of the celebration the founders explained that they sold the company because they have a bigger and better idea that they plan to do next. I asked them if they would allow us to invest in their company and they said they would consider it but that the seed round was going to be priced at $140mm pre money. I had a tantrum and stormed out. That was when I woke up.

I don’t really know what that says about the state of my mind or the anxieties I experience. But it felt like a betrayal. A slap in the face. We had worked closely together and had gotten to a very successful outcome and now the result was a crazy price that we would have to pay to stay in business together. It pissed me off.

Valuation is just a number. It’s the price you pay for your shares. You don’t know if you got a good deal for a while, but eventually you will know. But valuation is also a psychological thing. It says how much you value a person. How much an entrepreneur is valued in the market. And how much an investor is valued in the market. The clearing price reflects both sides of the transaction.

I guess that’s why that dream woke me up.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Gary Vaynerchuck

A VC - April 5, 2014 - 6:51am

I had lunch this week with my friend Gary Vaynerchuck. He’s got such great energy and hustle. It made me think “I should post a Gary video this weekend”

So I watched a bunch of them on YouTube and I liked this one the best. It’s about 40mins long.

Categories: Blog articles

Feature Friday: Voice Search For Your TV

A VC - April 4, 2014 - 4:30am

So Amazon launched its over the top TV device this week called Amazon Fire TV. I took some time today to look it over.

It looks a lot like the AppleTV and Roku devices that many of us have.

But there is one  feature that Amazon Fire TV has that AppleTV and Roku don’t have and that is voice search.

voice search

It is unlikely that any of us have this device in our homes yet, but I thought it might make for an interesting discussion today.

Does talking to your TV sound like a better experience than picking up a remote and pointing it at the TV? Will the experience actually work. Or will it be another Siri that is more frustrating than helpful?

I am going to get one and try it out. But I’m curious what folks think about this voice search feature.

Categories: Blog articles

Some Thoughts On Tweeting Vs Blogging

A VC - April 3, 2014 - 5:37am

I thought for a second on April 1st about writing a post that said I was giving up blogging in favor of tweeting. I held back because its closer to the truth than I want to admit. And one should not dance too close to the truth on April 1st.

Tweeting is easier than blogging. It was that single insight that led me to email Evan Williams back in the spring/summer of 2007 and ask him if he’d allow USV to invest in Twitter. Thankfully he responded to that email and Ev and Jack did allow us to do that.

I had been blogging for almost four years at that point and was completely sold on the huge benefits that come from publicly sharing your insights, opinions, and decisions. I would advocate blogging to everyone. And folks would try it. And that vast majority of them (way greater than 90%) would not be able to sustain it. So when tweeting showed up, I thought “well this has most of the benefits of blogging but is at least 10x easier”. And then I wrote the email. Most good investment decisions are not more complicated than that.

So why have I continued to blog every day when plenty of people have moved to tweeting and get similar benefits? Well for one, I am a creature of habit and routine and hate breaking things that are working for me. And second, I like to work things out on the page. It’s a puzzle to me. 140 characters is a challenge but ten paragraphs is a bigger challenge. And finally, because you can express yourself more fully in a blog post than a tweet (or a tweet stream).

I see blogging as fodder for my twitter activity. I write the post, tweet it out, and, just like the comments at the end of this post, stuff comes back at me. Like these from the past week:

“The things that Facebook forced you to do…are things that people ultimately had a bad reaction to.”-My friend @fredwilson, 3/31/14

— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) April 2, 2014


Great post by @fredwilson: The Value Of An Engineering Degree | @NYUPoly

— Frank Rimalovski (@rimalovski) March 31, 2014



Great post on First Robotics Join me at the New England Championship, its amazing @fredwilson

— Rich Miner (@richminer) March 30, 2014


I really like feedback and discussion. When I give a talk, the first thing I do after the talk  is look at the tweetstream to see what resonated with the audience. It’s like a comedian working out her best material. You get immediate feedback on what was good. I always assume the rest was not.

So I could move from blogging to tweeting. And god knows I’ve been tempted many times over the years. But I don’t think I will, at least anytime soon. I’ve come up with a mechanism to make both work for me, together, and I think that combination is more powerful than using either of them solo.

Categories: Blog articles

Teaching Computer Science To High School Students On The Way To Work

A VC - April 2, 2014 - 5:54am

Last year I posted an almost identical title and the result is that about half of the software engineers working in the TEALS program in NYC were recruited from this blog. That makes me feel great and I would like to thank those 20 or so software engineers who read that blog post and went through the entire TEALS onboarding process and are now in a high school classroom teaching CS.

Here is a quick reminder of how TEALS works. A high school decides they want CS in their curriculum. They decide if they want an Intro to CS or an AP CS class or both. The school selects some of their teachers to formally teach this class. Those teachers are then paired with software engineers who volunteer their time (usually twice a week, first period, on their way to work) to actually teach the class. The pairing of the working software engineer and the professional teacher is the genius of the TEALS program. It is a hack on the system that gets the software engineer, the subject matter expert, into the classroom without having to deal with teacher credentialing. It also means the software engineer can deliver the lessons without having to deal with classroom management, homework, testing, etc. And, most importantly, in most cases the professional teacher who is paired with the software engineer is able to teach the class on their own after a couple years of pair teaching the class with the software engineer.

Here are some facts and figures on TEALS in NYC:

TEALS partnered with 9 high schools in NYC in 2013-2014, serving nearly 300 students.
40 NYC volunteers from 30+ companies including Google, Etsy, NYTimes, Kickstarter, Yext and Amplify.
Based on our 1st semester data:
Before the course, 87% of TEALS NYC students reported they were not proficient in any programming language.
After the 1-semester intro course, 90% of TEALS NYC students reported they felt they had average or above average programming skills.
All or almost all partner schools will return, half of them adding a 2nd course
Blog Post from one of our NYC schools about TEALS:

I love the TEALS program and our non-profit, CSNYC, is helping the TEALS program expand in NYC by providing financial and other assistance.  We hope to significantly grow the number of students and high schools in NYC that are participating in TEALS and so we need another 40+ software engineers to volunteer. If you are so inclined, well thank you, and here is how to learn more:

Info Session #1: Tuesday 4/15 @ Relay GSE –

Info Session #2: Thursday 4/24 @ Microsoft –

Volunteer Info:

Volunteer Application:

I know there are a lot of software engineers in NYC who read this blog. I am very grateful for all that you do for the companies you work for (including many, maybe all, NYC based USV portfolio companies). So it’s hard to ask you to do even more. But I can promise you this. Teaching kids to code is rewarding. It is important. It makes me feel good. And I think it will make you feel good too.

Categories: Blog articles

April 1 Executive election predictions

Complexity and Social Networks Blog - April 1, 2014 - 5:07pm

Another month, another set of predictions...

costa rica - incumbent party lose - 70.0%
guinea bissau - incumbent party win - 79.1%
macedonia - incumbent party win - 97.3%
afghanistan - incumbent party win - 55.9%
algeria - incumbent party win - 99.2%
south africa - incumbent party win - 98.3%
panama - incumbent party win - 98.9%
lithuania - incumbent party win - 93.6%
malawi - incumbent party lose - 55.5%
colombia - incumbent party win - 97.5%
ukraine - incumbent party lose - 70.3%
indonesia - incumbent party lose - 77.9%
turkey - incumbent party lose - 75.1%

Ref: C1, DM1, and DP10

Categories: Blog articles

Fads and Phases

A VC - April 1, 2014 - 4:39am

Alyson Shontell quoted me in a BI story yesterday. The quote was exactly what I said:

I think a lot of what we’re seeing is a reaction to Facebook and how Facebook was so dominant as a social platform for the past 5-10 years. The things that Facebook forced you to do — to use your real name, to post something publicly that everybody could see…these are things that people ultimately had a bad reaction to. I think all of this might just be a phase we’re going through…I think the public mood shifts, I think that a lot of it was the Facebook model was the dominant model for a long time and I think a lot of people are now interested in these other models. I like to think [trends like anonymous apps] will have their run and then there’ll be something else.

I guess its up to interpretation whether I called this a “phase” or a “fad” but I most certainly don’t think these anonymous apps are a fad. Chat Roulette was a fad. Facebook was a phase. These anonymous apps are more likely a phase than a fad.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, I can go to yoga.

Categories: Blog articles

The Value Of An Engineering Degree

A VC - March 31, 2014 - 5:16am

Six years ago, in the summer of 2008, NYU and Polytechnic University came together to create NYU Poly, NYU’s engineering school in downtown Brooklyn. When I saw the news, I called NYU President John Sexton and asked for a meeting. He agreed and I went down to Washington Square to meet with him. I told him he had just acquired a jewel, but a jewel that had fallen on hard times. I told him he needed to invest in bringing that jewel back to it’s former luster and that if he did, it would be an incredible thing for NYU, for Poly, for Brooklyn, and for NYC. In typical John Sexton fashion, he got up, gave me a big smile and a big hug, and said “I will do it but I need your help”. And that is how I found myself on the board of NYU Poly and NYU.

Here’s the thing I know. Engineering schools and engineering degrees are the most valuable degrees you can issue in higher ed. Here is the data:

20 year ROI on education

You might be surprised to see Stevens Institute and NYU Poly on that list. But I am not. NYC is starved for the kind of technical, quantitative, and analytical minds that engineering schools generate. Combine a big urban center with a top engineering school and you have a recipe to print money. And you have a recipe to change lives. Many of the kids who go to NYU Poly are from immigrant families and are graduates of the NYC public school system. They are smart and work hard. And with an engineering degree and a big city like NYC, they can earn more in a year than their parents earn combined.

The value of a diploma is set by the marketplace, by the laws of supply and demand. There are more technical jobs open than qualified candidates to fill them. It is the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak employment picture. We need to be investing in our engineering schools and we need to be investing in a K-12 education that gets our children ready to go to these schools.

When I am not working at USV and/or hanging out with friends and family, I am working on this problem. It is an important one. I plan to post more on this topic in the coming weeks. I have been looking at enrollment data and we are seeing some really interesting things. It is very encouraging and exciting to me.

Categories: Blog articles

Global debt soars; no end in sight

Beyond Money - March 30, 2014 - 6:36pm

I have often pointed out, but almost no economist is willing to admit, that central governments play an essential role as “borrowers of last resort” to keep a flawed system of money and banking from collapsing. In their collusive arrangement with the banking elite, government’s debts will be monetized through the actions of their respective central banks. This is the process of currency inflation, which is now euphemistically called “quantitative easing.”

The empirical data makes this plain to anyone who cares to look at it and put two and two together. The Bank for International Settlements has just reported that global debt has increased more than 40 percent in just the past six years. You can find more details about that in this recent Bloomberg article: Global Debt Exceeds $100 Trillion as Governments Binge, BIS Says.

When debt growth, fueled by compound interest, hits the wall of physical reality, something’s got to give.

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