Blog articles

SegWit

A VC - 5 hours 13 min ago

There’s an interesting thing going on right now in Bitcoin land. The core developers have released a new version of the core Bitcoin software which includes a number of updates and the “segregated witness” approach to scaling the Bitcoin technology. This release won’t be “confirmed” until 95% of nodes adopt it. That 95% is a choice that the core developers made.

Right now “SegWit” is at roughly 1/3 of nodes (based on this tweet which I have no idea if its valid). The Internet is for fake news after all

Categories: Blog articles

Help Brands Blacklist Sites That Don’t Fit With Their Brand

A VC - December 7, 2016 - 3:33am

One of the issues with the emergence of programmatic and re-targeted advertising is that brands target people not publications with their ad spend. And the result is a brand’s ads end up on sites that they don’t really want them on. Brands can blacklist publishers they don’t want to do business with but they have to choose to opt out. And they need to be notified when this happens.

I saw a cool approach to dealing with this yesterday. Craig Shapiro blogged about a Twitter account called Sleeping Giants.

Here is how it works:

People take a screenshot of an ad running on a site that is likely not appropriate for that brand, they tweet that screenshot to the ad’s parent company to notify them of the placement, and tag Sleeping Giants in the tweet.

Then the word spreads. Sleeping Giants promotes each tweet to it’s 11,000 followers. It also offers simple instructions how to blacklist sites from your ad campaign, so your brand won’t show up on objectionable publishers sites.

I followed Sleeping Giants today and will participate in this community driven effort to help brands keep their ads off objectionable websites. You might want to do that as well.

Categories: Blog articles

Marketing The Blockchain

A VC - December 5, 2016 - 10:00pm

Longtime AVC community member Jeremy Epstein (who launched the first AVC Meetup in the summer of 2008) has been working on bringing marketing to the blockchain sector.

He asked thirty-three leaders of the blockchain sector to write short one or two page descriptions of why blockchains are important.

They are compiled in a free ebook that is available here.

I read the entire ebook (which is roughly 55 pages) over the past weekend and I was struck by how uneven these short blurbs are.

Some, like the ones by Naval and Jake Brukhman are excellent. You really should go read them. They explain some really important things about the blockchain.

Some, like the ones by William and Joel are solid. I have featured their writing and talks on the blockchain here at AVC a number of times.

But many of these short blurbs are awful. They are full of platitudes and jargon and don’t help the reader connect to why this is important to them.

I told all of this to Jeremy and he was disappointed to hear it. But he also recognized that it was an uneven read.

For me, this ebook highlights the challenges of marketing the blockchain. We have done a poor job of it to date and the sector is full of technologists and mostly empty of marketers.

That needs to change. We need more people like Jeremy and William who can popularize deeply technical stuff and make it make sense to the average person.

I’ll know we are getting somewhere when my Mom understands the blockchain and why it is important to her.

We aren’t anywhere near there right now.

Categories: Blog articles

Book Recommendation: Whiplash

A VC - December 5, 2016 - 5:25am

I don’t do this very often, but I am going to break a rule and recommend a book that I just bought and have not yet read.

My friend Joi Ito, along with Jeff Howe, a professor at Northeastern, have written Whiplash. It comes out tomorrow.

Here’s my edited version of the blurb:

The world is more complex and volatile today than at any other time in our history. The tools of our modern existence are getting faster, cheaper, and smaller at an exponential rate, just as billions of strangers around the world are suddenly just one click or tweet or post away from each other. When these two revolutions joined, an explosive force was unleashed that is transforming every aspect of society, from business to culture and from the public sphere to our most private moments. Such periods of dramatic change have always produced winners and losers. The future will run on an entirely new operating system. It’s a major upgrade, but it comes with a steep learning curve. The logic of a faster future oversets the received wisdom of the past, and the people who succeed will be the ones who learn to think differently. In WHIPLASH, Joi Ito and Jeff Howe distill that logic into nine organizing principles for navigating and surviving this tumultuous period. From strategically embracing risks rather than mitigating them (or preferring “risk over safety”) to drawing inspiration and innovative ideas from your existing networks (or supporting “pull over push”), this dynamic blueprint can help you rethink your approach to all facets of your organization. A nine step program to help us survive this world we have unleashed on ourselves. This could not have been better timed. I am going to read it over the holidays. You might want to as well.
Categories: Blog articles

Art Basel

A VC - December 4, 2016 - 6:39am

The Gotham Gal and I just spent four days in Miami at Art Basel, one of the big global art fairs that collectors come to every year.

We have been collecting art as a hobby since we were in our mid 20s. We got a bit more serious about it in our mid 30s and have been collecting emerging artists ever since.

We have never sold any of our art and I doubt we ever will. We don’t approach art as an investment or a business. We approach it as something we enjoy doing together and enjoy having around us. We also enjoy knowing the artists and watching them develop their craft over time. We also have gotten to know and like a number of dealers over the years. 

Our focus on emerging artists is much like the angel investments the Gotham Gal makes or the VC investments my partners and I make at USV. We like to meet artists as they are starting their career and follow them, and collect them, as their careers develop.

We have bought art at shows that art students have done in undergraduate and graduate school. We have bought art at edgy underground galleries and shows where new artists and new styles emerge. I feel like these are like seed investments in some ways. 

We mostly like to buy art from the galleries that specialize in emerging artists and the art fairs that cater to this market. These are like Series A and Series B investments in some ways.

We have not participated in the more established artist sector even when the artists we have collected get there. We maybe should change that. Like USV did with our Opportunity Fund.

Over the past thirty years we have bought some wonderful pieces. We have them around us, in our offices and homes. And we get joy from them every day.

We bought some new work this week at Basel and may buy some more of what we saw in the weeks and months ahead as we think more about it.

Yesterday as we worked our way through one of the most edgy fairs down here, I asked the Gotham Gal about a sculpture we had seen about twenty minutes previously. She said “I have moved on from it”. But both of us were still thinking about another work we had seen around the same time. We ended up purchasing the latter one.

The same is true of seed and early stage investments. Sometimes when you meet a company and you like what you hear but a day or two later you aren’t enthusiastic about it. Other times you can’t stop thinking about the opportunity for days and weeks after the meeting. That’s how you know what early stage investments to make and the same is largely true with art, at least in the way that we collect it.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Jeff Lawson on Having Conviction

A VC - December 3, 2016 - 6:28am

I came across this talk by Jeff Lawson, Founder/CEO of our portfolio company Twilio. It is about having conviction and not relying completely on things like A/B testing to make decisions. It’s very good (and only 18 mins long).

Categories: Blog articles

Feature Friday: Muting People On Twitter

A VC - December 2, 2016 - 6:49am

I think Mute is one of the most underused features on Twitter, second only to Unfollow. I went on a bit of a rant about this on Twitter last week.

@johnolilly try unfollowing or muting the people who are filling your feed with noise. It’s amazing what it feels like to be rid of them

— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) November 28, 2016

and

@bijan @andrewparker mute and unfollow are two of Twitter’s most underrated and under used features. They should make them easier to use

— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) November 28, 2016

Here is how you mute someone on Twitter:

My friend Lock has a great Twitter, but when he watches the hated Red Sox and the Patriots, I just can’t take it. So I need to mute him. Here is how you do that on the web.

  • Go to the profile and click on the little gear (settings) next to the Following button

lock-profile

  • Then you get this dropdown list. Select the Mute option.

lock-settings

  • Then you get this mute button next to the follow button on that person’s profile

lock-muted

  • Which you can toggle on and off from now on

lock-unmuted

If you follow people on Twitter that you just need to turn off every now and then set up the mute option and use it when necessary. It makes Twitter such a better experience.

Categories: Blog articles

Urgency

A VC - December 1, 2016 - 6:49am

One of the things I often press for in my role as a board member and investor is a greater “sense of urgency” in our portfolio companies. The founders and CEOs, it turns out, are hungry for that even more than I am. It is a collective frustration.

So when I hear a suggestion on driving urgency, I take notice. I got this one from a CEO who I’ve worked closely with for years.

I find many business books to be fairly useless or at best irrelevant to my situation but I read John Kotter’s book “A Sense of Urgency” over the weekend and it was excellent. I highly recommend it. 

The best thing about the book is that it creates a common definition of what “urgency” and “complacency” mean and even cautions against creating “false urgency,” which is a lot of anxious frenetic activity without no forward motion. False urgency is just as bad as complacency. I plan to read this book and if you are hungry for more urgency in your organization, I suggest you do as well.
Categories: Blog articles

Ticket Bots

A VC - November 30, 2016 - 6:04am

New York State put a law on its books this week making operating “ticket bots” illegal:

using ticket bots, maintaining an interest in or control of bots, and reselling tickets knowingly obtained with bots constitutes a class A misdemeanor. As such, violators could face substantial fines and imprisonment

As someone who has often lost out on tickets and was forced into the secondary market at double the price (or more), I appreciate the effort here to curb this abuse of the system.

But I do wonder if there are technical or market based solutions that would be more effective. And I wonder how New York State is going to enforce this new law.

A market based solution could be some sort of auction mechanism that effectively sells the tickets at “market value” and takes the profit out of scalping. Of course the effect of that might be to increase the cost of tickets to everyone and that might not be ideal. If that were paired with some sort of discount for fans and/or fanclub members, you might be able to keep the prices affordable for real fans and take the profits out of the scalping business.

Anyway, I am not griping about this new law. It could help at the margin. But I do yearn for a more elegant and market based solution that fixes the issue more systemically.

Categories: Blog articles

Keep It Simple

A VC - November 29, 2016 - 5:31am

I like this advice from John Lilly, a serial CEO and now a partner at Greylock:

I didn’t understand the role of simplicity and messaging early on. One of the things that happened at one of my start-ups was that I would get bored saying the same thing every day. So I decided to change it up a little bit. But then everybody had a different idea of what I thought because I was mixing it up.

So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.

The number one cause of employee unhappiness and unwanted departures is “I don’t understand where we are going.” That is a failure of leadership on the CEO’s part. I agree with John, keep it simple and repeat often and don’t mix up your messages. It is critical, particularly as the organization grows in size.

Categories: Blog articles

Videos For The Hour Of Code

A VC - November 28, 2016 - 4:06am

The Hour Of Code has become a big deal in K-12 schools around the US and around the world. It happens this year during the week of Dec 5th to Dec 11th, which is Computer Science Education Week. Schools find an hour during that week and offer students the ability to do coding exercises for an hour. Students love it.

Many schools ask parents who are software engineers to come to school and help out with the Hour Of Code. My friend Dan Malven is doing that in his children’s school this year. He sent me an email with a question for the AVC community. He wants suggestions for videos to show the students that will help them get excited about learning to code. Here is how Dan explains it:

My goal in the presentation is to show how software is affecting the things they care about. The message I’ll be giving is that not everyone will have the desire and skills to be a professional coder. But everyone does need to understand software because its affecting everything. I want to show how software is (and will) affect sports, music, entertainment, medicine, politics, etc. Basically whatever 8th graders care about. I want them to understand that software is affecting all the things they care about so if they want to have an impact on the things they care about they better learn software.

So, if you know of any videos, ideally publicly available on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc that Dan can use, please share them in the comments.

And, of course, if you are going into a school in a couple weeks to help with the Hour Of Code, please feel free to use any of the suggested videos with the students in your school.

Categories: Blog articles

Google Pixel XL

A VC - November 27, 2016 - 8:46am

When Google announced their Pixel smartphone a few months ago, I bailed on my plans to move from the Nexus 6P to the iPhone 7 and instead ordered the Pixel XL. This marks the end of several years of going back and forth between Android and iOS. I may start doing that again. Or I might just stay on Android. It’s hard to know. Other than iMessage, there is not much I prefer about iOS these days.

The Pixel XL was backordered and I finally got mine last week. I spent the past few days configuring the Pixel and logging into all of my primary mobile apps. I swapped the SIM card a couple days ago and have been fully on the Pixel for the past two days.

Here is what my Pixel XL looks like:

pixel-xl

Here is the back of the phone:

pixel-xl-back

So here is the thing. I really like the Pixel XL. But it’s not really much different than the Nexus 6P that I’ve been using since this past spring when I went back to Android from iOS. They both have a fingerprint sensor in the upper back of the phone. They both have a large 5.5″ display. They both have really nice cameras, good battery life, and are snappy.

Maybe there is something I will discover about the Pixel XL that will make me appreciate it a lot more than the Nexus 6P. Or maybe one high end Android smartphone is more or less the same as another one.

For me what matters most is the Android software, the Google application suite, and the camera, battery life, and fingerprint unlock. That combo is hard to beat. And that’s why I am sticking with an Android phone this winter instead of going back to iOS.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: A Crypto Economy

A VC - November 26, 2016 - 7:08am

AVC community member William Mougayar traveled to Amsterdam a couple weeks ago, along with some USV folks, to attend SteemFest. He delivered this talk in which he sketches out a vision of an economy powered by blockchain technology. It’s a fairly concise but expansive vision of what is possible to build with open public blockchains.

Categories: Blog articles

Shop Differently This Holiday Season

A VC - November 25, 2016 - 6:34am

It’s Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Here at AVC, we recommend shopping where you can find unique items that allow you to express your individuality. Etsy.com, of course.

Categories: Blog articles

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

A VC - November 24, 2016 - 11:18am

pie

Categories: Blog articles

A World Without Money and Interest

Beyond Money - November 23, 2016 - 6:00am

During my October tour, I gave three presentations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and another in Sardinia, Italy. Two of the Malaysia presentations were at the International Forum on Inclusive Wealth, but I do not yet have recordings of those. The third was an extended presentation and discussion (on October 10) at the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies titled, A World Without Money and Interest: A pathway toward social justice and economic equity. Here below is the video of the proceedings, or you can watch it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/8BejigzDAVY. The audio only is here, and the slides that were used in that talk can be viewed here.


Categories: Blog articles

The Creative Independent

A VC - November 23, 2016 - 5:18am

In a world full of click bait media and fake news, it is harder than ever to find authentic and meaningful content on the Internet. The utopian early days of blogging in the early 2000s, when this blog was started, seem long gone.

But the Internet is a vast place and there is quality content on it. Podcasts are a particularly bright spot right now and remain largely unpolluted.

The most exciting new entrant into my daily reads this year is The Creative Independent which quietly started publishing in late September.

The Creative Independent is a publication by artists for artists and is funded entirely by Kickstarter PBC and is advertising free. 

Their mission is to “is to educate, inspire, and grow the community of people who create or dream of creating.”

Each day a new post appears that is about a particular artist and it’s dives into something specific about them and their work. I follow The Creative Independent on Twitter and am taken into the world of art and artists every day. 

If you are looking for something a bit more meaningful to read every day or if you are an artist or have an appreciation for artists and their work, you may enjoy The Creative Independent as much as I do.

Categories: Blog articles

The New Improved Kik

A VC - November 22, 2016 - 6:03am

Our portfolio company Kik quietly pushed out a new improved version of its popular mobile messaging app yesterday. The only press was a short blog post.

But if you are a frequent user of Kik, as I am, you will immediately notice that its cleaner, faster, and lighter. It practically hums in your hand.

For years, Kik has focused on its bot platform and apps that run in its messenger. That continues. I believe that Kik has more bots on its platform than any other messaging platform.

But over the past few months, Kik has been doubling down on its core messenger to address some lingering issues. Now there is less spam and more speed.

If you haven’t been on Kik in a while, give it a shot. I think you’ll agree that they did a nice job with the new version. You can download it here by clicking on the blue download button.

Categories: Blog articles

Prepare to be poorer

Beyond Money - November 21, 2016 - 8:50am

Michael Hudson is one of the few academic economists who is worth listening to. He understands how bankers and politicians of both major parties have been deceiving and fleecing the people and he is willing to expose it. In this video he explains how it works and how both Trump and Hillary have planned to continue (and intensify) the fleecing

Michael Hudson: Donald Trump Wants to Make the 1% Even Richer


Categories: Blog articles

It Is All Spam

A VC - November 21, 2016 - 8:30am

My friends Jeff Jarvis and John Borthwick wrote a thoughtful post about the fake news issue and put forward fifteen suggestions for the platforms and news organizations that are struggling with it.

This suggestion got my attention:

Create a system for media to send metadata about their fact-checking, debunking, confirmation, and reporting on stories and memes to the platforms.

It reminds me of the efforts in the email sector to create metadata around email messages to help the mail platforms identify what is spam and what is not. Examples of such efforts are DKIM and SPF.

If you think about the guts of the Internet, you have these simple protocols like TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, etc that allow information to flow from one computer to another. These systems are inherently open, often radically open. Anyone can publish anything to anyone. That has largely been a good thing because it has allowed an open communication network to develop globally without a lot of interoperability worries and work.

But when you do that, you allow all sorts of bad things to happen. And the people who build and manage internet technologies have been trying to figure out elegant solutions to all of this bad behavior for the past twenty five years (or possibly longer).

For me, the first example of this was email spam. And then search spam. Email and web search were two of the first wide open systems that were plagued with all sorts of bogus information and messages. And twenty years later, these two systems have largely been cleaned up through massive investments across multiple dimensions.

So when I hear of some new bad thing like fake news, I immediately think of spam. And I think of the things that have been done to manage and mitigate spam. There is a roadmap for mitigating and managing this sort of thing. It seems like we need to replicate it around fake news. And we should.

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