Blog articles

Seizing an Alternative, Pomona College, June 4-7 – Free Plenary Sessions, Scholarships, and other reasons to participate.

Beyond Money - 9 hours 35 min ago

Here’s a portion of the latest informational brief about the upcoming conference. You’re invited:

Don’t stay away!

(I mean, really, when is the next time you’ll be able to get together with hundreds and hundreds of people rethinking civilization from the ground up?)

            Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization             June 4-7, Pomona College, Claremont, CA

ATTEND FREE PLENARY SESSIONS at Bridges Auditorium, Pomona College, Claremont, CA:

THURSDAY, June 4
Bill McKibben: 7:00 p.m. Opening Night

FRIDAY, June 5
John B. Cobb, Jr.: 9:00 a.m.
Vandana Shiva: 7:00 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 6
Herman Daly-John B. Cobb, Jr. discussion moderated by PRI’s Warren Olney (recorded):
  9:00 a.m.
Sheri Liao: 7:00 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 7
Wes Jackson: 9:00 a.m.

Southern California Edison makes ADDITIONAL STUDENT SCHOLARSHIPS (limited) available. To apply, write to info@PandoPopulus.com.

Read More…


Categories: Blog articles

Beam

A VC - 18 hours 2 min ago

We got something in our office last month that is a game changer. It’s a Beam Telepresence Robot that allows anyone who is authorized to take control of the robot, drive around our office, attend meetings, or pop into someone’s office for a conversation.

The use case I like best is attending meetings with the Beam. We have had a big screen in the front of our conference room with various videoconference applications on it for years. It works well but it never feels like you are sitting around the table with the rest of the group. With the Beam, you get that exact feeling. It’s the closest I’ve felt to being in the room from a remote location.

I also like being able to grab the Beam and take a quick trip around the office and check in with people while I’m away.

Here’s a video that shows four use cases. You will get a sense of it and how it works from the video.

We have the Beam+ which is really fine for our office. It’s $2000 and I am thinking we should get another so we can have two remote people in our conference room at one time.

We haven’t yet had entrepreneurs use the Beam to pitch us, but I’m sure that will happen soon. And I think it will be a better experience than coming in over the big screen in the front of the room.

Categories: Blog articles

What Can It Be Worth?

A VC - May 26, 2015 - 4:45am

The thing I always think about when making an investment is not what it is worth, but what can it be worth. To determine what something is worth, you can look at comps (which I posted about here), or you can let the market tell you what it is worth by running a process.  But the really interesting number is not what it is worth today, but what it can be worth.

For this, you need to use your imagination. When we invested in Twitter, we had to imagine that hundreds of millions of people around the globe would use Twitter to find out what was going on, and that Twitter would be able to build an advertising business around that behavior that would result billions of dollars of annual revenue, and that Twitter would be able to generate positive cash flow on that revenue, and that the public markets would welcome Twitter and value it as a multiple of those revenues and that operating cash flow. We did imagine that, although to be honest, we did not imagine as big of a success as evidenced by the fact that we stopped investing in Twitter after three rounds, which was a mistake that, in part, led to the creation of our Opportunity Fund.

So when valuing a venture stage opportunity, you have to imagine the product can scale to be used by many more people, or companies, or both, than are using it now. For that exercise, you need to study the product, the roadmap, and the use cases and be sure that your imagination is possible and not delusional. You also need to figure out what an annual revenue per user (ARPU) might be and apply that to the potential size of the market. Then you need to study the economics of the business and figure out how much of that potential revenue might flow to the bottom line.

Finally, you need to figure out how the market might value that cash flow. That’s where a comps analysis might be valuable. But you have to factor in that the market might not be valuing companies when you exit in the same way they are now.

After you figure out what it might be worth, you need to discount that back by 3x, or 5x, or even 10x, to discount for the risk that none of this might happen.

When you do all of this work, in today’s environment, it’s hard to make an investment. Because often the math doesn’t work. Which tells me that many people aren’t doing this work.

Categories: Blog articles

A Hopeful Thought On Memorial Day

A VC - May 25, 2015 - 4:52am

Much has been written about the potential to replace menial and dangerous jobs with machines. One of those dangerous jobs that is already being replaced by machines is the foot soldier. Over the past decade the US has ramped up its drone program and reduced the number of men and women we put in harms way in service of our foreign policy and national security goals.

It’s worth a national discussion about the morality and legality of using machines to take out our enemies. We haven’t had that as far as I can tell. And we should.

But the truth is we are fighting more and more of our warfare with unmanned machines and the trend is clearly in that direction. It’s hard for me to see how we turn around and go back.

So while it is not entirely clear to me how this plays out over time, it does suggest that we may be burying less of our young men and women in military cemeteries in the coming years. Which is a hopeful thought on this memorial day in which we remember our fallen soldiers.

Categories: Blog articles

Wave of Action to focus on central banks

Beyond Money - May 24, 2015 - 9:53am

 

There are instances where demonstrations can be useful, at least in raising public consciousness. Most people in Western countries are still delusional about money and politics. As David DeGraw puts it “democracy” is an illusion for propagandized minds.

The reality is that our political systems have been captured by elite bankers who are bent on concentrating ever more power and wealth in their own hands. DeGraw is calling for a worldwide Wave of Action to focus attention on central banks, the institutions that are the primary instruments of control over money and economics. He says, “On June 20th, we will rally at US Federal Reserve banks, the Bank of England and central banks worldwide to focus mass consciousness on the crimes against humanity perpetrated by global bankers.”

Read his call and join the ‘wave” here.


Categories: Blog articles

Rinse And Repeat

A VC - May 24, 2015 - 5:58am

I’d like to call out a really great blog post (and talk) my colleague Nick Grossman delivered last week. He called it Venture Capital vs Community Capital, but to me its about the endless cycle of domination and disruption that plays out in the tech sector. This bit from the post rings so true to me:

So there’s the pattern: tech companies build dominant market positions, then open technologies emerge which erode the the tech companies’ lock on power (this is sometimes an organized rebellion against this corporate power, and is sometime more of a happy accident).  These open technologies then in turn become the platform upon which the next generation of venture-backed companies is built.  And so on and so on; rinse and repeat.

So, all that is to say: this is not a new thing.  And that seeing this as part of a pattern can help us understand what to make of it, and where the next opportunities could emerge.

Nick wrote the post and did the presentation for the OuiShareFest, an international gathering of folks interested in the peer economy. Nick starts out noting that the early enthusiasm for the peer economy has moderated with the understanding that a few large platforms have emerged and have come to dominate the sector.

Nick’s presentation and post, therefore, was a reaction to those emotions and a reminder that what goes around comes around eventually. That is certainly what I have observed in the thirty plus years I’ve been working in tech. Rinse and repeat. Same as it ever was.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: The New York Public Library Bitcoin Discussion

A VC - May 23, 2015 - 5:48am

Last week we had a discussion at the New York Public Library about Bitcoin. Andrew Ross Sorkin moderated a discussion between Nathaniel Popper, author of Digital Gold, Bitcoin Chief Scientist Gavin Andresen, and me. Here it is:

Categories: Blog articles

Followup Friday: The Results of the Apple Watch Followup Survey

A VC - May 22, 2015 - 5:46am

Here are the results of the survey we did on AVC yesterday (click on the image to see it in a larger format). These are very good numbers for the Apple Watch.

apple watch followup survey

Categories: Blog articles

The Apple Watch – How Is It Doing?

A VC - May 21, 2015 - 4:46am

Continuing my obsession with the Apple Watch, a device I don’t own and don’t intend to own, I’m curious how its doing.

I read a report yesterday that suggested the early sales are disappointing and that a respected research firm has cut first year sales projections to 15mm watches although Morgan Stanley still has their estimate at 36mm watches.

But more than how it is selling, I am curious how it is doing with those of you out there that bought it.

If you own an Apple Watch, please complete this short survey. I appreciate it. I will post screenshots of the results as they come in.

Take Our Survey
Categories: Blog articles

CSNYC At Two

A VC - May 20, 2015 - 4:27am

Next Wednesday night, at Civic Hall in New York City at 6:30pm, CSNYC will celebrate its second anniversary. For those that don’t know, CSNYC is a non-profit dedicated to the idea that every child who goes through the NYC public school system should encounter computer science along the way, in elementary school, in middle school, and in high school, and those that want to do a deep exploration of computer science should be able to do that before they graduate high school. The idea is not to turn every student into a software engineer, although it would be good if a bunch of students decided to do that. The idea is that every career will require a working knowledge of coding in the world we are heading into and that we ought to make sure our children have that.

In two years, we have increased our school coverage from one to over 120 schools. We are very proud of that accomplishment and will be showcasing those schools, the programs that are in them, and the students who are benefiting from this effort next Wednesday night. This event is also a fundraiser since we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Though we are in 120 schools, there are 1700 in the NYC public school system. At its core, CSNYC is funding teacher training and development. The only scalable way to get all children to learn computer science is to train the best teachers out there how to teach computer science. I figure it will require somewhere between 3500 and 4000 teachers trained in teaching computer science in order to reach all 1700 schools in NYC and achieve our goals. That will require a fair bit of money.

If you would like to attend CSNYC at Two next wednesday night, go here and RSVP. Individual tickets are $250. But if you have the means, you could also buy a $1000 ticket that is for two guests, or a table for $10,000, $25,000, or $50,000.

It’s going to be fun, optimistic, and exciting evening. I hope to see some of you there.

Categories: Blog articles

Digital Gold

A VC - May 19, 2015 - 4:43am

Nathaniel Popper‘s Digital Gold, a history of the people who built Bitcoin into a global distributed transaction network that is not controlled by any person or any company, is available for purchase today. I’ve been reading it and enjoying it very much. Even though I have been involved in and closely following the sector since 2011, I did not know all the details of the early days and Nathaniel captured them well.

In celebration of the book being out, The New York Public Library is hosting a conversation between Nathaniel, Gavin Andresen, and me tonight. It will be moderated by Andrew Ross Sorkin. The event is sold out and has been for a long time, but the details are here. The livestream for the event tonight is here.

A lot of people ask me “are you still bullish on Bitcoin” and that question irritates me. Because it suggests that Bitcoin is simple. Bitcoin is not simple, it is not going away, and it continues to fascinate me more than almost anything out there in the tech sector. I’m excited to have a chance to talk about it in public with people who understand it better than I do.

Categories: Blog articles

Women Entrepreneurs

A VC - May 18, 2015 - 5:25am

There is gender bias in the startup sector. Anyone who believes otherwise has their head in the sand. And yet there are vast numbers of women entrepreneurs out there. The Gotham Gal has been profiling one a week on her blog (Women Entrepreneur Mondays) for five years and never has a shortage of women entrepreneurs to profile. So the truth is women are starting companies every day and participating in the startup sector. But it isn’t easy to be a women entrepreneur and they face a set of challenges that is unique to their situation.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and a former Google executive, surveyed a bunch of successful women entrepreneurs and penned a post with all that she learned from that work. It’s a good read and full of stats about the differences between men and women entrepreneurs. It also has a great list of actions we can all take at the end to make things a bit easier for women in startup land.

Through the work of women, like Sukhinder and Sheryl Sandberg, and my favorite – The Gotham Gal – women are making their voices heard in startup land and things are changing for the better. But there is still a lot of work to be done and Sukhinder’s list is a good place to start if you want to help make a difference on this issue.

Categories: Blog articles

What Will Make Solar Take Off?

A VC - May 17, 2015 - 7:28am

Our house in LA where we spent two and a half months this past winter has a solar panel on its roof. That panel generates enough electricity to heat and cool the house and charge the Tesla we own so that when I’m driving around LA, I’m using non-carbon based energy to get around. I would bet a lot of electric car owners in Southern California charge their cars with solar energy.

I have told this little tidbit to many people since this winter because I feel like its a glimpse into the future. And the reaction I often get is “that is awesome. I want to do that.”

If electric cars are the future, will they also be the thing that finally makes solar take off? Or will there be some other catalyst?

The economics of solar has always been challenging. Ten year paybacks are not the path to rapid adoption. I believe that the cost of solar has come down a lot and that might reduce the payback times but energy costs have also come down a lot too so I don’t know if we’ve really seen payback times decline that much.

We don’t invest in cleantech at USV so I am not particularly well versed in this topic. But instinctively it feels to me that wide adoption of solar is inevitable and we just need a catalyst to make that happen.

Maybe that will be electric cars. Or maybe it will be something else. I’m interested in what folks here at AVC think about this question.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: TechCrunch Disrupt Interview

A VC - May 16, 2015 - 6:43am

Ron Conway and I did an interview with Kim-Mai Cutler on stage at Disrupt a couple weeks ago. Here it is:

Categories: Blog articles

What VC Can Learn From Private Equity

A VC - May 15, 2015 - 1:56pm

It is friday and that usually means a fun friday or a feature friday but I’m stuck on a plane flying back from a week on the west coast and have the time and inclination for a longer post. So we will return to our regularly scheduled friday programming next week.

I spent a week in Europe a few weeks ago with our friend Eric who is a managing partner in a private equity firm. We talked a lot about his business and our business that week and I’ve been ruminating on it since. I’ve also had the pleasure of working on a board of one of our portfolio companies with a private equity investor who is making a few minority investments. I’ve been able to learn a fair bit from watching how he thinks about investments and works on them. Finally, the first venture capital firm I helped start, Flatiron Partners, was backed by and initially housed inside a private equity firm, Chase Capital Partners, and Jerry and I learned a lot from attending their weekly investment meetings and listening to them talk about their business.

Venture Capital and Private Equity are very different investment disciplines. Both are purchasing stock in privately held businesses with the hope that you can sell the stock at higher prices in a merger/sale transaction or a public offering. Both involve investors taking board seats to monitor and manage their investment. That is about where the similarity ends. I’ve seen venture capital firms morph into private equity firms over time so there are clearly some skills that translate from one investment discipline to the other. But even so, I think they are fundamentally different investment disciplines and here are some of the biggest contrasts:

1/ Private equity is control investing. Venture Capital is minority investing.

2/ Private equity can’t afford to lose money on an investment. Venture Capital requires it.

3/ Private equity generates leverage from financial engineering. Venture Capital generates leverage from technology driven disruption and the opportunities that presents.

So what can Venture Capital learn from Private Equity? Here are a few things that have struck me as I’ve thought about it over the past few weeks.

1/ Many venture capitalists and venture capital firms go “along for the ride” with the entrepreneur and don’t do much to change the trajectory of the investment. Some VCs don’t even take board seats on their investments. There is a lot of talk about “value add” from VCs but often that is just for show during the process of winning the deal. The number of VCs who actually add a lot of value to their investments is much smaller than you would think. Private equity, on the other hand, is all about adding value to the business. For one thing, the private equity firm owns the business. If the business gets messed up, it’s on them and nobody else. The buck stops there at the partners desk. This mindset is refreshing for me to witness. The level of care and attentiveness to the business is very high in the private equity business. The firms and partners that are good in private equity are fantastic operators and game changers for the companies they work for/on. After my week with Eric, I made a mental note to do more of that for our companies. It’s powerful.

It is easy to cop out and say “well we don’t control the business. we don’t have the ability to change management if we want to. we don’t want to get sucked into operating the companies we invest in.” And I agree with all of that. But you don’t need to control a business to be able to meaningfully impact its management team, its strategy, and its operations. I believe if you are trusted by management, if you are there for them when they need you (and when they think they don’t), and if you have done the work to truly understand the business, the team, the market, and the opportunity, that you can by force of intellect and will have a very substantial impact on the business. I want to do more of that with my time and energy and I think all VCs should do that.

2/ Private equity firms don’t normally invest in syndicates. A single firm makes the investment and takes responsibility for making it work. This one is not so cut and dried for me as the first observation. Syndicates, when they are functional and small, are quite powerful. But many times syndicates are large, unwieldy, and dysfunctional. And then there is a ton of finger pointing, or worse, abdicating responsibility to another director. For the CEO, there is often a question of who to listen to, what to do with conflicting direction from the investors, and how to manage this unwieldy mess. The beauty of one firm calling all the shots makes me jealous of the private equity world at times. It is helpful for everyone to know who is the boss and who is making the calls. Venture capital syndicates and board often suffer from a lack of that clarity and if you have a weak or inexperienced CEO, it is a really bad combination.

3/ Private equity firms make the call when to sell. In VC, entrepreneurs will make the call when they are in charge or the board will when they are not. In any case, a VC firm is rarely in a position to make the call on when to sell. Marc Andreessen makes the claim in the recent Tad Friend profile of him in The New Yorker that Accel wanted to sell Facebook to Yahoo! for $1bn but Mark Zuckerberg really didn’t want to (and that Marc Andreessen urged him not to). I’m not sure if that is accurate or revisionist history (which the startup sector is full of), but in any case it is sometimes for the best that the VC firm doesn’t make the call on when to sell. A lot of big independent public companies would not exist if VCs made the call on when to sell. However, that is really only true when the investment is a breakout success. There are many venture portfolios (ours included) full of good but not great companies that would be best sold to a consolidator so that everyone, the entrepreneurs, the employees, and the investors can move on to other things. That doesn’t happen as much in VC because no one person can make this call all by themselves.

4/ Private equity firms are great at digging into the business and figuring out what is broken and how to fix it. We don’t do so much of that in the VC business. For one, the CEOs feel that we are being disruptive when we do that. And also, VC firms don’t normally have the armies of associates and junior partners who do that work in private equity firms. I’ve watched a private equity partner engage in a minority growth investment and I am impressed by the insights they can provide the management when allowed to do a deep dive on the business. VCs often lose interest as a company grows and turns into a big operating company, when this kind of “consulting” work is most valuable, whereas private equity gets its juices flowing on these sorts of situations.

I’ve come to realize that I need to be more attentive to this phase of a company’s development because our returns mostly come from the big breakout companies and if we can help make them 2-3x more valuable (as a private equity firm would seek to do), that can drive our returns on these big winners from 50x to 150x. And that’s a huge difference. So while I don’t see myself equipping myself with an army of analysts and consultants and doing deep dives on our biggest companies, I do see myself trying to ask harder questions and force more instrumentation into the businesses so that the boards I am on can add more value.

The main thing I’ve come away with from this several week long rumination on private equity is the value of having very clear lines of responsibility, crisp decision making, clarity of who is calling the shots, and, mostly, a deep feeling of ownership and responsibility for the businesses we invest in. It’s not possible for one VC partner to do this for more than about eight to ten companies, and most VCs take on way more portfolio companies than that in an effort to scale their businesses and get to better economics. But I think we can learn a lot from what works so well in private equity. I think we can borrow some of their tactics to produce better outcomes for the entrepreneurs we back and the companies they create.

Categories: Blog articles

Seizing an Alternative-sign up now

Beyond Money - May 14, 2015 - 5:40pm
Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization
June 4-7, Pomona College, Claremont, CA This promises to be the conference of the year. Get all the details and register here.
Categories: Blog articles

The No Stack Startup

A VC - May 14, 2015 - 7:21am

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years that the “full stack approach” is the future of startups. My friend Chris Dixon articulated the reasons for going “full stack” very well in this post from last year. But like many things, the best approaches are at both ends of the spectrum. Either go “full stack” or go “no stack.”

My partners Andy and Albert have been writing about the no stack approach this past week and it is the topic of the week at usv.com.

At USV we have never been excited by the full stack approach. It is well suited to investors who have unlimited amounts of capital to invest and a need to put all that cash to work. We aren’t that kind of investor. We like low capital requirements and low burn rates and extremely high rates of return on invested capital. So no stack seems like it will suit us well.

Our partner Brad said in an internal email about this today, “We need to think through defensibility, margin sustainability, and not having control of some infrastructure.” So that’s what we are doing now. And if anyone would like to weigh in on this, the comments here at AVC is a good place as is the usv.com topic of the week conversation.

Categories: Blog articles

Well That Sucked

A VC - May 13, 2015 - 9:47am

I just wrote a longish post on the plane to SF this morning, hit publish, and lost everything.

Normally WordPress autosaves the post when an error happens but it did not this time.

So I’m not going to have time to rewrite that post today.

So maybe we can talk about the topic instead.

I wrote about the best legal/tax structure for social entrepreneurs. I am seeing more and more social entrepreneurs adopt the for profit corporation for their social enterprise. With innovations like the B Corporation for aligning interests, and with more investors understanding that financial returns and social impact are not mutually exclusive, it seems like this may be the better structure for social enterprises that can create a sustainable business model.

Categories: Blog articles

The PATENT Act

A VC - May 12, 2015 - 7:44am

Regular readers know of my longstanding concerns and frequent posts on the topic of patent trolls. They are a scourge on the startup sector, where patent trolls wreak havoc, and the innovation sector more broadly. The Senate has been working to address these issues via a non-partisan bill called the PATENT Act and a companion House bill called The Innovation Act. These are both good bills and everyone in the startup sector should support them enthusiastically. Julie Samuels of Engine wrote an excellent post about the PATENT bill in the Senate and I’m going to cut and paste it below instead of trying to do better (because I can’t).

————————–

Today, Sens. Grassley, Leahy, Cornyn, Schumer, Lee, Hatch and Klobuchar introduced the PATENT Act, an important piece of legislation targeting a serious patent troll problem. Engine is proud to support that bill.

The PATENT Act, and the Innovation Act, its House counterpart, are effective because they are comprehensive in scope. Each contains a package of incentives that, taken together, insert balance back into patent litigation, giving troll targets the tools to fight back and ensuring that patent holders act responsibly. Importantly, they are carefully crafted to ensure that a patent holder with a high-quality patent and a legitimate claim of infringement will face no barriers to making that claim.

To understand the way these bills work, you have to understand a bit about the patent troll problem. Patent trolls are primarily armed with two weapons: low-quality, impossible-to-understand patents and the outrageous costs of patent litigation, which can easily cost a defendant well into the millions of dollars. So imagine you are a small startup, cash-strapped and hungry, and you get a patent demand from a company you’ve never heard of, claiming it owns some seemingly basic technology. (This really happens. Often. See here, here, here, and here, for example.) Your choices are: hire a lawyer and spend valuable time dealing with the problem or pay the troll to go away, usually for a sum far smaller than what it would cost to hire that lawyer or go to court.

The good news is that the Supreme Court has been busy trying to fix the problem of low-quality patents. The bad news is that we still have a long way to go. Patent litigation remains outrageously expensive and one-sided, giving a patent owner who is willing to take advantage of loopholes in the system the ability to run roughshod over defendants.

This is where Congress, and specifically today’s introduction of the PATENT Act, comes in. Its provisions help right the imbalance in patent litigation through a series of reforms:

  • Transparency and Heightened Pleading: Currently, someone can file a patent suit without providing almost any basic details about his or her case, information like how a patent is infringed, what products allegedly infringe it, and even who owns that patent. This information is easily known to any patent holder at the outset of a case, especially those who engage in a responsible amount of due diligence prior to filing a case. However, getting this information can cost a party being sued tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The PATENT Act would fix that, requiring patent holders to provide this basic information at the outset of litigation and also require patent holders to tell the Patent Office when they transfer a patent. Only with this basic information can parties make informed decisions about how they should proceed. If a party legitimately cannot find some of this information after making a “reasonable inquiry”, it may still file a suit, an important caveat protecting the responsible patent holder.
  • Fee-shifting: Currently, little incentive exists for a party to defend itself in court. After years and millions of dollars spent litigating, a successful party will often be sent on its way with nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. The PATENT Act remedies this by awarding fees to a winning party when a court determines that a losing party’s position was not “objectively reasonable”. This provision carefully strikes a balance between deterring those who bring crappy, unsubstantiated lawsuits and those who bring reasonable, good-faith cases. It also includes important provisions that would effectively end the practice of using shell companies with little or no assets to avoid responsibility. Specifically, a party who doesn’t make or sell anything with its patents will have to show that it can pay for fees if they are awarded. Only with this incentive can many startups afford to take on a troll threat, discouraging those trolls from bringing frivolous cases.
  • Demand Letter Reform: Currently, trolls send vague demand letters full of legalese, targeting small businesses and even individuals. Because this takes place before a lawsuit is even filed, there is no public record of how often it happens. We know it is common practice, so we also know that we can’t even properly understand the scope of the entire patent troll problem. The PATENT Act will help fix this by requiring that such letters include certain basic information about the infringement claim and that they do not make false claims about the patent holder’s rights with regard to the patent. Only with these requirements will startups be able to make informed decisions about whether they should respond to or ignore a demand letter and whether they should hire a lawyer.
  • Discovery Reform: Currently, discovery is by far the most expensive part of litigation for any party facing suit. For a patent troll who doesn’t make or sell anything, the cost of discovery is next to nothing. However, it can use abusive discovery practices to drive the costs of litigation even higher than they already are. The PATENT Act would curb some of the worst of these practices by staying discovery until a party has had a chance to try to have a case dismissed. It also makes further recommendations to shift some of the discovery burden from the party producing information to the party requesting it. Only with these reforms can small companies and startups afford to litigate.
  • Customer Stay: Currently, trolls love to target a company’s customers, claiming that by using off-the-shelf technology those customers are liable for infringement. This can put enormous pressure on companies that provide products and services (e.g., every company). The PATENT Act provides tools to both the customers and the companies in this dangerous situation, allowing the company to fight the litigation on behalf of its customers. Only with this provision will startups be able to protect their customers.

To be certain, the PATENT Act is not perfect. There are a number of areas where the bill could be made stronger. For instance, we wish the discovery reforms went farther, clearly providing in-statute limits on discovery to those documents directly related to the litigation and requiring a party seeking documents to cover the costs of getting those documents. We’d also like to see the bill more directly address venue and make it easier for parties to move a case out of the Eastern District of Texas, where so many cases are brought and where judges are notoriously plaintiff-friendly. Likewise, we remain concerned that the current customer stay provision only kicks in when the manufacturer is already involved in litigation. We think improvements could be made to make it any easier for that manufacturer to actively step in on behalf of its customers. Finally, we think the bill could also make it easier and cheaper for parties to challenge low-quality patents at the Patent Office through a process called inter partes review (IPR). For many parties, seeing a case all the way through to a final decision is not an economic reality, even with the above-discussed reforms. IPR provides a valuable means for a startup or party with limited financial resources to invalidate or narrow the scope of an otherwise overly broad patent.

All that said, we remain proud to support this bill. The heart of it—the litigation reform provisions—represent a hard-fought compromise, spearheaded by Sens. Schumer and Cornyn, who tirelessly worked to get this done. We will continue to work to improve the PATENT Act where we think it needs improvement, and fight off any efforts to water down its provisions. We look forward to seeing this become law.

Categories: Blog articles

Volunteering

A VC - May 11, 2015 - 7:56am

Philanthropy is most often seen as giving money to a cause and that is something we should all celebrate and do within our means to do so. But giving your time is just as important and it is something that way more of us can do.

This weekend I attended the ScriptEd Hackathon in the Google Cafeteria in the Google NYC offices. ScriptEd runs in-school and after-school coding classes in something like 15 NYC public schools.

These schools sent students to the Hackathon where they formed teams and built software projects around the theme of music.

In this photo I took of the event you will see people wearing blue shirts and orange shirts. The blue shirts are the students and the orange shirts are the volunteers.

image

There were almost as many volunteers as students at this event. Maybe that’s why the hacks were universally so good.

The winning team made a space invaders style game that dropped beats from Soundcloud tracks and the players needed to grab them as they came raining down.

Here is a photo of the winning team pitching me on their project.
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I love Hackathons because they teach multiple things at the same time; building something quickly, working in teams, and pitching. That latter thing, explaining what you built, is such an important life skill and these kids are learning it in high school.

If you have some free time that you can volunteer, I highly recommend it. If you want to help kids learn to code, ScriptEd and Teals are two great programs to work with. They are doing important work.

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