I have had a personal conference calling bridge number since the mid 90s. I know the number by heart. I give it out all the time via email, text, and kik. It does not require a participant code. When I type my host code, we are all connected. I have not found a better model for voice conference calls in the almost twenty years I have been using this number.
But more and more I am doing hangouts instead of calls. And I want the same experience for hangouts. It used to be possible to get a "static URL" for a Google Hangout but this feature was dropped at some point. You can get a permalink for an event but it ends on the date of the event.
What I'd like to do is get a permalink for a Google Hangout that is mine and always mine. Then I will shorten it via the USV link shortener and I can pass it out via email, text, kik, etc and Hangouts will become as easy for me as conference calls have been for the past twenty years.
I am curious if anyone has figured out a way to make this happen.
The New Yorker gives high praise for this web video series called High Maintenance. The episodes are short (~5min) and there are eleven episodes in all. It is about a pot dealer who rides around NYC and meets all sorts of strange and outrageous people. This bit from the lead actor in the New Yorker piece rings true to me after I watched a bunch of episodes last night:
The thing about weed is, we didn’t want to use it as a punch line. Instead, it’s this substance that, like chocolate, causes people to expose their own foibles. People become so human in pursuit of this thing. And the interaction they have with the person bringing it is often tragic, because there are a lot of lonely people out there who order it and then that is their human interaction for the day.
But here's the part of the New Yorker article that has me thinking outloud this morning.
When I spoke with Sinclair and Blichfeld recently, they were on the West Coast signing a script deal with a major network, newly on the path to converting “High Maintenance” into a full-length cable show.
It's a bit upsetting to me that the "major leagues" for filmmakers, writers, and actors who make it on the web is still the cable business. Why can't entrepreneurs build something that will work better for emerging web filmmakers than that? We have investments in Kickstarter and VHX, both of which are changing the game for filmmakers. We are also big fans of Vimeo, where High Maintenance is hosted.
But this High Maintenance story tells me that we haven't yet built enough technology, distribution, and monetization systems so that filmmakers can be truly independent and realize their vision and have the financial sucess that should come with great work.
So there is more to do here.
Yesterday the White House came out in favor of Rep Bob Goodlatte's patent bill. This is a good thing.
The Goodlatte bill doesn't have everything in it that we would like to see in a bill aimed at reducing the pain that patent trolls inflict on the innovation economy, but it is a good start and I think it can get improved in conference with the Senate.
One thing that was taken out of the Goodlatte bill that we would like to see put back in during the conference with the Senate is the broadening of the covered business method patent review process to include all business method patents.
In the five plus years that we have been working to educate government officials about the blight that patent trolls have wreaked on the startup sector, I have seen a huge shift. We have gone from elected officials being ignorant about this issue, to be aware of it, to now being as outraged as we are about the troll issue. That's a good thing and the result, I think, will be better laws and better processes to out bad patents and bad actors in the system. This is long overdue but welcome nonetheless.
Jeff Wise has a piece in this week's NY Magazine about teaching kids to code which features my partner Albert's home school and great programs like Code.org and Girls Who Code. It also talks about the work my colleagues and I are doing to bring CS education to all of NYC's public schools.
Jeff ends the piece with this observation:
Like much tech-world philanthropy, the tech schools are arriving as a fiat from on high, rather than welling up from grassroots demand, and it’s easy to read the education evangelism as motivated, at least in part, by a desire to mainstream techies’ own idiosyncratic way of looking at the world.
Pardon me, but that accusation stings. "A fiat from on high?" "A desire to mainstream our idiosyncracies?"
No good deeed goes unpunished. I know that. But this critique seems so out of left field.
My idiosyncratic view of the world is a place where we all understand how to control the machines that are increasingly controlling our world. It is a place where kids who are headed to flipping hamburgers for a living get an option to do something a bit more stimulating. It is a place where we all have the tools to make things that make our lives better.
Now that I've got that out of my system, I will go do some yoga.
My friend Bijan tweeted this last week:
One of the hardest things to watch is a company having an identity crisis— Bijan Sabet (@bijan) November 27, 2013
He's right, but I would go further. One of the hardest things to do in the venture business is to stick with a struggling investment.
I woke up thinking about this as I spent yesterday with Josh watching the hapless Jets lose badly to the Dolphins and then heading up to MSG to watch the equally hapless Knicks lose to the Pelicans. It is tempting to stop watching both teams and sell off our seats at MSG for the rest of the year. But we aren't going to do that and we will sit loyally and watch loss after loss at the Garden if that's what comes for the rest of the year. We are fans, even if our team sucks. And they sure do right now.
It is equally tempting to write off a failing investment and stop showing up at board meetings, stop responding to the emails from the founder, and stop thinking about the company. At some point, the company will run out of money, there won't be a reason to put more money into the company, and the investment will fail. Until that happens, as long as the founder is willing to listen to you, I think you have to give your struggling investments your all.
The truth is the investments that are working often don't need that much from an investor. They need more capital, they need recruiting help, and sometimes they need strategy and advice. But the reason they are having success is they are doing the right thing and doing things right. On the other hand, the struggling investment needs a lot of help. And I think the lead investor board member has an obligation to provide that help.
One of the characteristics of USV that I am most proud of is that we stick with our struggling investments. And we have made a lot of them. We have way more of them than our successful ones that are always cited when we are talked about publicly. I think how you treat your struggling investments says more about you than how many billion dollar exits you have had. You need both to be successful in the VC business, of course. The latter metric defines your selection acumen. The former defines your empathy acumen. And when I pick people to work with, I look for the latter. I suspect most people do that.
This is not a new theme. I've written about this here before. But it is an important theme for me and for entrepreneurs and investors. As we headed out last night to MSG Josh said to me, "I am not feeling good about this game". I told him I wasn't either, but all we could do was root them on as hard as we could. We did that. And we will do that again on Thursday when they head out to Brooklyn to play the Nets. We will be there too. That's what fans do and what investors should do too.
Our latest executive election predictions:
Tunisia -- incumbent party win -- 57.7%
Madagascar -- incumbent party win -- 60.3%
Costa Rica -- incumbent party win -- 95.7%
El Salvador -- incumbent party win -- 96.9%
Yemen -- incumbent party lose -- 66.3%
Macedonia -- incumbent party win -- 68.9%
Algeria -- incumbent party win -- 99.2%
South Africa -- incumbent party win -- 98.3%
Panama -- incumbent party lose -- 57.0%
Lithuania -- incumbent party win -- 57.3%
Malawi -- incumbent party win -- 69.6%
Colombia -- incumbent party lose -- 54.2%
Ref: C1, DM1, and DP6
Zander posted this NY Times opinion piece to usv.com yesterday and it's been rattling around in my head since then. The author suggests that big data is coming to health care and bringing with it many issues that will have to be resolved. I am sure that is so. But I also think the intersection of big data and health care and our large networks thesis is likely to produce some interesting investment opportunities for us and some valuable health care services for consumers.
Jason Karlawish, the author of the NY Times opinion piece, writes:
This is a revolutionary shift. Once upon a time, medicine was a discipline based on the nuanced diagnosis and treatment of sick patients. Now, Big Data, networked computers and a culture obsessed with knowing its numbers have moved medicine from the bedside to the desktop (or laptop). The art of medicine is becoming the science of an insurance actuary.
The question is who will control the input of the patient data, the aggregated data sets, and the results the data science produces. If the answer is the current healthcare system; the insurance companies, the hospitals, and the doctors, then we will have missed a big opportunity to reshape healthcare. If, on the other hand, the data is entered by patients, controlled by patients, and benefits patients, then we would have something new, different, and disruptive.
Large networks of patients coming together to do this data science together and benefit together feels like its around the corner and coming fast. Maybe some enterprising entepreneur will take this "Omnibus Risk Calculator" put it into a clean and simple web service, allow us to connect our phones and connected devices to it, and peer produce a service that we can, together, use to manage our cardiovascular health. Maybe someone has already done that.
I've frequently said on this blog that emergent behavior in a service is a sign to me that the service is scaling into something important and valuable. It is a feature that we look for a lot in our investments. I don't love it when entrepreneurs build services that are too tightly constructed around a single use case. I do love it when entrepreneurs build services that the users can take and do interesting things with.
Arnold suggested we discuss these ads last week so we are going to do that. But first some background.
Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, offers a free ad-supported service for both commenters and publishers. Their first ad product is promoted discovery which has been a link oriented product for the past year. Publishers opt into promoted discovery and share revenues with Disqus if they opt-in.
Recently, Disqus added the option for publishers who are running promoted discovery to switch from links to thumbnails. I decided to make that switch and turned on thumbnails a week or two ago. The revenue AVC is making has gone up as a result. I use that revenue to buy promoted discovery from Disqus, thereby bringing more readers and community members to AVC.
The promoted discovery ads run at the top of the Disqus comment thread if you are not logged in as a Disqus commenter. The promoted discovery ads run at the bottom of the Disqus comment thread if you are logged in as a Disqus commenter. The ads are very noticeable on a thread that is new or has very few comments on it. The ads are not as noticeable on threads like we have at AVC once there is a lot of discussion activity.
The thumbnail ads look like this:
Promoted discovery is not the only ad product that Disqus is likely to rolll out. It was rolled out first because these kinds of ads are common on blogs and online publications and advertisers are used to them and they are relatively easy to sell. Over time, I expect Disqus to come up with more native advertising models.
But for now, these are the only ads running on AVC. I am curious what folks think of them. If the community really dislikes them, I can easily turn off thumbnails and go back to links. The only cost to me is less promoted discovery for AVC running on the Disqus network.
So, what do we all think of the thumbnail ads?
I love the John Hughes film starring John Candy and Steve Martin in which the two of them go to great effort to get home from NYC to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I might put it on this morning while the Gotham Gal is cooking in the kitchen.
I thought of that film yesterday as I was coming out of the subway and person after person was coming down the subway stairs with their luggage. On most days you don't see people dragging their luggage into the subway. But the day before thanksgiving is different. Thanksgiving is a day you spend with your family. And so people get on planes, trains, and automobiles and get to their loved ones.
I saw this photo on tumblr this morning.
That was sometime yesterday. Not sure when. Those planes were filled with people heading to family for Thanksgiving.
Fortunately the Gotham Gal's family decided to fly to NYC this year so we are not on planes, trains, and automobiles this weekend. But we will be with family and have been all week. It's a great thing and one of the many reasons why Thanksgiving is a great holiday.
Have a great one with your family today.
One of the consequences of a public transaction chain is the great potential for witch hunts. Here's one of the first examples, but it surely won't be the last.
The backstory here is a couple researchers posted a paper suggesting that Satoshi (the inventor of bitcoin that nobody knows) had done a large transaction with the founder of Silk Road. That was picked up by the New York Times last weekend. Well it turns out that was not what happened. What happened in fact was this.
When things are public, like the bitcoin block chain where all the transactions clear, then people can and will look at the public data and speculate on what it means. We saw this happen as well with all the public smartphone photos that were taken and published during the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year.
I realize that the collateral damage from this activity is the potential for reputations to be smeared and real damage to be done to entirely innocent people. But I think radical transparency is, over the long term, a force for good and not evil. And I believe we will see more of it not less.
In our weekly meeting on monday, my partner Brad suggested we start looking for accounting systems that allow businesses that operate entirely on the web and mobile to start publishing their financial data publicly in real time. His assertion was that by making your business totally and completely transparent to users, customers, employees, and suppliers, you will increase trust and that will lead to a more sustainable relationship with all those parties over time. So we are looking for that now. If you have something like that or have seen it, please leave a comment here.
But more than just accounting and payment systems, I think we will see all the systems we use in our lives become more transparent over time and the data that becomes public as a result will provide countless opportunities to be analyzed, optimized, and yes, sensationalized. No good comes without some bad. That's the way forward progress works.
The AVC community will remember back to this summer when we helped to crowdfund a middle school chess team that was struggling to come up with the money to go to the tournaments it had won numerous times over the past decade. That was a huge success for everyone involved. And like most successes, it brought out other similar efforts.
One that I am particularly fond of is at the Park Slope Elementary and Middle School (aka PS/MS 282) in Park Slope Brooklyn. At PS/MS 282, every student learns chess and 50 of the students are selected to represent the school in the state and national championships. Last year, PS/MS 282 won the National Championships in the K-5 category for Under 900.
In order to raise the funds to send the kids back to the state and national championships this year, PS/MS 282 is doing a Donors Choose campaign right now. I have given to the campaign and I thought I'd let everyone here at AVC know about it too. If you want to support public school chess and help these kids defend their title, you can support them here.
I am a big fan of teaching chess to youngsters. I think it teaches struggling, persevering, thinking ahead, and getting ahead. I would like to see more of it in our public schools.
There's a great Andy Serwer interview of Marc Andreessen up on Fortune. I would recommend everyone go give it a read. Marc expresses many of the same things my partners and I are seeing and feeling right now.
But the ending of the article is really great. Andy asks him why driverless cars are so great when everyone loves owning and driving a car. And Marc answers with this gem:
Ask a kid. Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they'd rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right?
Today, ask kids if they'd rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There's a huge social behavior reorientation that's already happening. And you can see it through that. And I'm not saying nobody can own cars. If people want to own cars, they can own cars. But there is a new generation coming where freedom is defined by "I can do anything I want, whenever I want. If I want a ride, I get a ride, but I don't have to worry. I don't have to make car payments. I don't have to worry about insurance. I have complete flexibility." That is freedom too.
A smartphone can get you a ride but a car can't get you a date. The smartphone wins.
Yesterday I received an email from a reader who wanted to know why I was hyping my position in Bitcoin. It's a fair question and one that I feel like responding to publicly as well as privately.
USV does not own any Bitcoin. I don't know for sure, but I suspect my partners own very little, if any Bitcoin. I own a total of 7.39 Bitcoin spread between several hosts.
I own these Bitcoin to be able to use them when I want to try new things. I have purchased approximatly 175 Bitcoin over the years and have spent or given away almost all of it.
I don't have a view on what the ultimate value of a Bitcoin will be nor do I care. I am interested in Bitcoin plain and simply because I believe it can be and possibly will be the financial and transactional protocol for the global Internet. That's where my interest lies and that is where my positions will lie. We have one so far, which is Coinbase, and I hope and expect we will make other Bitcoin related investments.
My partner Albert's post on Bitcoin lays out where we are looking to make investments in this sector. Buying and speculating on Bitcoin is not one of them.
A little over a month ago I went down to NYU Stern and did a public discussion with Richard Florida about the urbanization of tech. This is a 5 minute long highlight reel of that talk. I don't believe the full talk is online. If it is, I will link to it here.
With everything in the cloud now, it is important to protect your most sensitive information. I like two factor authentication for doing that. Bad people can steal passwords, but stealing your password and your phone at the same time is not as easy. And under the theory that being harder to rob than your neighbor is often enough, I feel pretty comfortable with two factor auth security and use it on as many online services as I can.
But having a dedicated piece of hardware, or a dedicated mobile app like Google Authenticator, for every web service is also a pain.
I've been watching a company called Authy for the past few years attempt to solve this problem. And I think they are getting there. I use their app as my primary way to get two factor codes on my phone. They support Google Authenticator codes as well as a host of other web services. They have an API so other developers can easily add Authy support to their apps.
So I have two recommendations.
1) If you are a user, see if you can set up two factor autentication on the web services that host your most sensitive information. And see if they support the Authy app.
2) If you are a developer, think about adding Authy two factor support to your app.
And if you have logged in sensititve information on your phone, use a pin to lock it down.
I am far from paranoid. If anything I am too trusting and prefer convenience over security in most cases. But when things should be protected, you need to protect them.
I blogged about DrawQuest for iPad earlier this year. DrawQuest is the creation of our portfolio company Canvas. Since it launched DrawQuest has been featured several times in the iPad app store and has developed a large community of people who draw the daily quests. The quality and creativity of the drawings is really incredible. Here's a feed of the drawings that have made their way to twitter.
So here's the big news. DrawQuest is now available on iPhone. You can now participate in the DrawQuest community via tablet or phone (and iPod touch). And DrawQuest now includes the ability for a user to create a new quest. Until now, all the quests came from the company and they came once a day. There will still be a quest of the day but users can now publish quests as well to their friends. So there's more to draw and more to do.
The new DrawQuest was designed from the ground up for iOS7 and looks and feels great in your hand. So if you like to draw or want to draw more, please download DrawQuest and start drawing and engaging in the community.
Longtime readers will know this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I did a whole MBA Mondays series on this topic and I followed that up with a Skillshare class on the topic.
So I was excited to see that First Round Capital featured a blog post by Andy Rachleff on this topic yesterday. Andy was a founding partner at Benchmark and knows his way around a startup cap table. Andy included this slide deck in his post and I will reblog it here.
Wealthfront Equity Plan from Wealthfront
You will notice that Andy's plan differs a bit from my plan. But not by much. The important similarities are that Andy and I both encourage companies to not only grant equity at the start date but also on an ongoing basis so that employees' equity ownership grows as their tenure and contributions grow. This is critical.
Where Andy and I differ a bit is how to calculate how much equity should be granted. Andy suggests using market comps. I don't like doing that because 0.1% of one company can be worth a lot more or less than 0.1% of another company. I prefer to issue equity based on a multiple of current cash comp divided by the current valuation of the business. I lay that all out in my Skillshare class.
While I don't call out promotion and performance bonuses specifically in my Skillshare class, I am a big fan of both.
It is so great that folks like Andy are taking the time to lay out an approach and model to this issue. It is something literally every startup we work with struggles with. Getting it right is hard, but worth it.
Everyone focuses on the price of Bitcoin these days and it is no wonder why. But for Bitcoin to be anything more than a store of value, we need to see a transactional ecosystem develop. When the citizens of the world will be able to buy and sell from each other and from retailers of all shapes and sizes via Bitcoin, then we will have truly realized the potential of a global digital currency.
Furthermore, transactions can help stabilize what is a very volatile currency today. There is an imbalance of supply and demand right now. If there was as much transactional activity as there is speculative activity, there would be more supply of Bitcoins in the market (as retailers who recieve them turn them into their local currencies).
So everyone who wants to see Bitcoin succeed should want to see transactional activity rise and the sooner the better. This holiday season is a great time to make that happen. We have been involved in a campaign called Bitcoin Black Friday to encourage buyers and sellers to transact in Bitcoin this holiday season.
If you have products to sell and you accept Bitcoin go here and sign up.
If you want to buy your holiday gifts this year with Bitcoin, go here and sign up.
The idea is very simple. Sellers list their products and buyers get alerted when the deals go live and big retailers sign up. I plan to do my holiday shopping with Bitcoin. I hope you all will join me.
I have written about the Fintech Innovation Lab here before. It's one of the first vertical accelerator programs that have cropped up in NYC and its one of the best. They take a handful of promising fintech companies each year and give them introductions to the top execs at the leading financial services companies in NYC.
If you are running a fintech startup and feel like you could use some mentoring, visibility with investors, and above all, some intros to potential customers, you should think about applying.
The application deadline is in three weeks, December 6th. Details and the application page are here.