Blog articles

World Order

A VC - 17 hours 40 min ago

I’m sitting at the breakfast table while Gotham Gal does the NY Times Crossword puzzle and we are looking at this

image

That’s Lake Como.

I’m reading “the paper” on my phone and sipping coffee and enjoying the scenery.

This op-ed by Henry Kissinger in yesterday’s WSJ caught my attention.

It certainly seems true that the world order of the past 70 years is fading fast and that we are facing a search for a new world order.

Kissinger has some suggestions in his op-ed and his new book which the op-ed is an advertisement for.

I think my partner Albert’s thoughts on the changes facing society are also quite relevant to this discussion.

It is a bit strange to be reading about and thinking about all the strife and dislocation in the world in such an idyllic setting but that’s what I am doing this morning.

Categories: Blog articles

Fuel Efficiency

A VC - August 31, 2014 - 8:29am

Well the photoblogging experiment yesterday was mostly a failure. I posted images I took on my phone via my phone and they came out too large and loaded too slowly. The whole point of the experiment was to see if I could post quickly and easily from my phone and avoid the laptop entirely. I was seeking efficiency and did not find it.

But one place where we have found efficiency on our trip is our car. We got this Peugeot convertible for our trip.

image

It is a stick shift and takes diesel gas. The tank was almost empty when we got it so we filled the tank at the start of our trip. That cost 85 euros (roughly $110) but we’ve driven almost 500 kilometers so far and we still have over half a tank left. So we are getting roughly 900-1000 kilometers on a tank of gas which is 500-600 miles.

I’ve never owned a diesel car and finding diesel in the US isn’t easy and with the move towards electric, I suppose diesel will never be a thing in the US.

But I’m impressed with the fuel efficiency you get with diesel. It’s kind of amazing that you can drive almost 600 miles on a single tank of gas.

Categories: Blog articles

Photoblogging

A VC - August 30, 2014 - 7:12am

Several people suggested I do some photoblogging on my vacation. So here’s my first attempt. If it goes well there will be more.

We woke up to this

image

And then did this

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Then this

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That took all of twenty seconds on my phone. Very efficient. Now back to vacation.

Categories: Blog articles

Reblog: The Future Of Media

A VC - August 29, 2014 - 8:10am

I wrote this post almost nine years ago, before our investments in Twitter, Tumblr, Wattpad, SoundCloud, Kickstarter, and a host of other bottoms up media businesses.

I can remember the moment. I was in my home office in our old home at 11 West 10th Street. That was a sweet office, top floor, with windows facing front and back. I wrote it on my laptop on the conference room table that I took from Flatiron’s offices when we shut that firm down. I have no idea what happened to that table. I’m going to find out what happened to it.

I recall the feeling of writing this post. I was filled with inspiration. It was as if I was Moses and God had just handed me the ten commandments, but there were (and are) only four.

I still think it’s one of my best posts. I hope you agree.
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I have seen the future of media and it looks like this:

Mashed Up Blog Posts at tech.memeorandum

Mashed Up Funny Videos at delicious

Mashed Up Playlists at webjay

Here is the future of media:

1 – Microchunk it – Reduce the content to its simplest form. Thanks Umair.
2 – Free it – Put it out there without walls around it or strings on it. Thanks Stewart.
3 – Syndicate it – Let anyone take it and run with it.  Thanks Dave.
4 – Monetize it – Put the monetization and tracking systems into the microchunk.Thanks Feedburner.

Leaving aside the rights issues, which I know are large, if I were a television executive right now, I’d take my content, microchunk it, put a couple calls to a video ad server in the middle of it, and let it go whereever it wants to go, safe in the knowledge that whenever the show is viewed, I’ll get to run a couple 15 second spots in the middle of it (which I could change whenever I wanted to and which I could measure).

This is where media is going and its not going to be stopped.

I know that Jason Calacanis hates the really simple stealing that goes on with Engadget or Autoblog posts.  But you know what?  He’s not going to stop it.  What he should do is monetize each and every post with an ad of some sort and a tracking mechanism of some sort and let the content flow.

RSS is a new medium.  It’s not like the web any more than the web was like print.  Remember back in the late 90s when the media execs tried to use the web to sell more papers?  It doesn’t work.  Content wants to be consumed in the media its delivered in. 

So RSS content is not going to be used to send people to the web.  It’s going to be consumed in the RSS medium, whatever that turns out to be.

The data is pretty clear about this. The publishers that put only an excerpt of their posts/stories in their feeds get pretty low click thru on those excerpts. Those that put the full post in get a lot more readership.

So the trick is to figure out how to monetize RSS right in the medium, not as a way to send traffic back to the web where it can be monetized with the traditional web techniques.

Why did I decide to write this post today?  Because in the last week I have gotten between five and ten requests to use my RSS feed in some sort of syndicated and mashed up RSS or web service.  I’ve told all of them to go for it.

Here is the deal with my RSS feed. Anyone is free to use my RSS feed to produce whatever content they want to produce with the following exceptions.  I do not want and will not allow my content to be used in pornographic or hate related properties.  And the posts must be shown in their entirety with any advertising and tracking tools that I decide to use in them.  And I must be given attribution for my work.

Other than that, go for it.  Take it.  And build something great with it.

Categories: Blog articles

Reblogging

A VC - August 28, 2014 - 4:35am

So we are heading off for four weeks in Europe this evening. I’m going to start reblogging a lot of older stuff as a way to keep AVC fresh while I’m not posting every day.

So I thought about what posts would be the most worthwhile to dust off and bring back. I went to Google Analytics and looked at data from the past two years to see what posts that are older than that (ie written before August 2012) got the most traffic during that time.

It’s an interesting list. There’s a lot of MBA Mondays content in there, particularly around employee equity and valuation questions. And there are a few really popular guest posts, like this one from Fake Grimlock. And there are a few classics like this one.

I am going to queue up a bunch of them to autopost over the next few days while I figure out what my blogging routine is or isn’t going to be in Europe.

I’m curious to get everyone’s suggestions on this. I’ve written over 6,500 posts at AVC so I can’t just wade through them to find the best ones. I need some sort of algorithm. Another that comes to mind is most commented. I’ll take a look at that later today. Any other ideas for surfacing the best stuff to reblog?

Categories: Blog articles

The Personal Blog

A VC - August 27, 2014 - 4:15am

There’s a bit of a renaissance of real personal blogging here in NYC. Two of the original NYC bloggers have, after years of writing professionally and editing others, returned to their own blogs.

It started with Lockhart Steele, the founder of Curbed, Racked, and Eater, who started that media business on his personal blog.

Then the next day, Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor/blogger at Gawker, dusted off her blog and started writing on it again.

It feels so good to link to both of them.

There was a comment on Elizabeth’s kickoff post that suggested she go to Medium. She replied:

I already write for (and on) Medium. My most recent piece is here. But I don’t think it’s quite the same thing as maintaining a personal blog, where you control all of the visual elements and maintain a custom URL.

I wanted to reply to that comment, but could not for the life of me, log into WordPress to leave it. So I’ll blog about it instead.

There is something about the personal blog, yourname.com, where you control everything and get to do whatever the hell pleases you. There is something about linking to one of those blogs and then saying something. It’s like having a conversation in public with each other. This is how blogging was in the early days. And this is how blogging is today, if you want it to be.

When I started blogging here at AVC, I would write about everything and anything. Then, slowly but surely, it became all about tech and startups and VC. It is still pretty much that way, but I feel like I’m heading back a bit to the personal blog where I can talk about anything that I care about.

Today, that thing is the fact that the Gotham Gal and I are taking our youngest child, Josh, to college. As my friend Bob told me over email last week about sending his son off:

I am surprisingly emotional at least to me ……….. Sending Josh off as your last must be something.

Yeah, it is something. I’ll miss him a lot.

Categories: Blog articles

Opting Out For The Kids

A VC - August 26, 2014 - 4:06am

Our daughter Emily is working on a senior thesis this coming year. She’s studying the choices women make to balance their careers and families. This is a subject Emily has some personal experience with having watched The Gotham Gal quit her job when our son Josh was born and make a number of other career sacrifices so she could care for our young family.

Emily wants to capture real stories from real women and has built a website she calls Opting Out For The Kids where women can share their stories with her and the world.

It’s a pretty basic website. Anyone can read the stories and upvote them. But you need to log in with Facebook if you want to post a story. Once you log in, you will see a link that says POST and that’s how you write a post to tell your story.

Emily alpha launched this website at the start of the summer but it had some quirks and she recently fixed them and is now re-launching it.

If you are a woman who has an “opting out for the kids” story to tell, please go here, login with Facebook, and tell it.  And if you have followers on Twitter or Facebook who might be women with these kinds of stories, please post a link to Opting Out For The Kids so that other women can find this website and tell their stories.

And, as I mentioned, anyone can read and upvote these stories and I would encourage everyone to do that.

Emily will appreciate it and so will I. And I will ask Emily if I can post the results of her research here next spring when it’s completed.

Categories: Blog articles

Dream, Girl

A VC - August 25, 2014 - 7:07am

For the past four years, The Gotham Gal and her friend Nancy Hechinger have been running a conference called The Women’s Entrepreneur Festival. The goal of the conference is to showcase successful women entrepreneurs to other women. As Marian Wright Edelman famously said, “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.”

But even as The Women’s Entrepreneur Festival gets bigger and bigger each year, it can never scale to reach all women who might want to be an entrepreneur and it certainly can’t reach young girls who might be inspired to become entrepreneurs.

So that’s why I backed Dream, Girl this morning after seeing this Gotham Gal tweet:

Let’s redefine what it means to be a boss & teach girls to dream big by donating to Dream, Girl http://t.co/dUQo6z5884

— joanne wilson (@thegothamgal) August 25, 2014

Here’s the Kickstarter video:

I hope you’ll be inclined to back this project as well after reading this blog post.

Categories: Blog articles

Hyperlocal Mesh Networks

A VC - August 24, 2014 - 7:32am

The NY Times has a post up this morning about a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Red Hook where they have built a hyperlocal mesh network to service the entire neighborhood, from housing projects to townhouses.

Red Hook is a cool place. We were there last night to sample Hometown Bar-B-Que‘s massive beef ribs and a bunch of other great stuff. Red Hook is isolated from the rest of Brooklyn by the BQE Expressway and sits right on NY Harbor. It has a collection of different housing situations, from single family homes, to factory lofts, to housing projects. The only public transportation in Red Hook are bus lines into downtown Brooklyn and the occasional Ikea Ferry. It’s a neighborhood all to itself in many ways.

Red Hook was badly flooded in Hurricane Sandy and living there in the weeks after the storm was dicey. The neighborhood has bounced back strongly however and there are construction jobs seemingly on every block. In the wake of Sandy, a local group called the Red Hook Initiative led an effort to build a hyperlocal mesh network throughout Red Hook.

For those that don’t know the difference between a mesh network and a traditional network, the big thing to focus on is that the nodes (think of them like public wireless access points) talk to each other and form a network that operates even if its is not connected to the public Internet. Most mesh networks are connected to the public Internet, but if that connection goes down, the local mesh continues to work. In Red Hook that means that you could make voice calls (over IP) from your housing project to the local hardware store to see if its open. Or you could email a friend who lives in the neighborhood.

If every neighborhood in Brooklyn had a public mesh like Red Hook has, and if they were all meshed with each other, then Brooklyn would have its own local Internet of sorts.

At USV, we think this is an important part of how we (meaning the entire world) get a mobile Internet that is not controlled by the large mobile telcos. We have made one investment in this area (which I don’t think we have announced yet) and we are looking to find other smart ways to invest in this trend.

But the biggest investments that will be made in mesh networking will be made by local groups like Red Hook Initiative. It is not terribly expensive to construct one of these mesh networks and every neighborhood ought to be thinking of doing something like this. If everyone did this, the mobile Internet would look a lot different than it does today.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: A Lunchtime Talk In Larkin Square, Buffalo

A VC - August 23, 2014 - 4:39am

A few weeks ago, I spent most of the week in the upper midwest. I started out on Tuesday in Buffalo, NY, the location of my first venture capital investment, Upgrade Corporation of America. I did office hours at the Z80 accelerator and then did a lunchtime Q&A in the beautifully renovated Larkin Square with Eric Reich.

This is a video of that talk. If you want to skip all the intros, go ten minutes in. The talk is about 40mins long.

Q&A With Fred Wilson and Eric Reich – Aug 2014 from Z80 Labs Technology Incubator on Vimeo.

Categories: Blog articles

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Ice Buckets, and Generosity

A VC - August 22, 2014 - 4:35am

In the midst of terrible news all over the place comes a wonderful hopeful heartwarming mania sweeping the nation.

Everyone is pouring ice buckets over their heads in a social viral fun outpouring of generosity to find a cure for a disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short.

The most famous victim of ALS was Lou Gehrig and for that his name will be forever associated with this disease.

ALS is a horrible disease. If we could find a cure for it, that would be an incredible thing.

It looks like the Ice Bucket Challenge will raise over $50mm for ALS research and possibly a lot more. That is real money that can fund real science.

I’ve been “challenged” a few times on Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks and instead of pouring ice water over my head and then calling out additional people, I decided to donate $500 to ALS research via Ben Huh’s Ice Bucket Challenge on CrowdRise.

I am sure some of you will be disappointed that I “chickened out” and did not choose to get doused, but to me the important thing is the generosity that the Ice Bucket Challenge has unlocked.

That’s what I want to participate in, that’s what will ultimately make the difference, and I would encourage everyone to donate even if you have not been challenged.

Categories: Blog articles

On SoundCloud

A VC - August 21, 2014 - 5:29am

Today, our portfolio company SoundCloud is announcing its content partners program, called On SoundCloud.

For creators, there are three offerings, Partner, Pro, and Premier. Anyone can be a Partner. For a small monthly fee, you can upgrade to Pro. And if you are really serious, then you can become Premier and make money on SoundCloud.

For listeners, there will be two tiers. A free, advertising supported offering that values artists. As Alex Ljung, founder and CEO of SoundCloud says here:

Every time you see or hear an ad, an artist gets paid

There will also be a subscription offering that will be ad free and offer other features for listeners.

For brands, SoundCloud becomes a popular social platform where they can engage with creators and listeners. Here’s more on SoundCloud’s offerings for brands.

Here’s the thing that many people miss about SoundCloud. It’s not like iTunes, or Spotify, or Pandora. It’s a peer network with a social architecture that emphasizes engagement and sharing.

Like Twitter and Tumblr and a number of other popular social platforms, SoundCloud treats everyone as peers in its network. My profile is almost identical to an artist’s profile on SoundCloud. I can do the same things they can do and they can do the same things I can do. The same is true of a brand’s profile.

This social architecture encourages engagement, sharing, commenting, and favoriting. It’s like the artists, listeners, and brands are all hanging out together at one big party.

These social peer networks treat advertising very differently. The ads are native. On Twitter, the advertising is a Tweet. On Tumblr, the advertising is a post. On SoundCloud, the advertising is a track. You see the ads in your feed and you choose to engage with them if they are inviting. In the best case, you enjoy them so much that you favorite or reblog/retweet them. And brands can sponsor/promote tracks from other users. Think of Red Bull sponsoring and promoting artists on SoundCloud.

The New York Times has an article today about On SoundCloud.  It covers all the challenges that SoundCloud has overcome in getting to this place. It’s been a ton of work for the team at SoundCloud to get this launched, and there is certainly a lot more ahead of them as they undertake to get every artist On SoundCloud.

I am very optimistic that will happen because this network of 175mm mobile listeners all over the world connected together and sharing the audio they love with each other is too powerful to ignore.

Categories: Blog articles

Fifty Three

A VC - August 20, 2014 - 4:24am

Another year, another birthday.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve been spending my birthday on the beach with my family. That seems like the ideal way to do it. I hope that tradition lasts as long as I do.

The weather has been spectacular on the east end of long island this week and we spent most of yesterday afternoon on a boat in Sag Harbor.

Today, I plan to do some yoga, play some golf with my son, and have a family dinner tonight.

I don’t really enjoy receiving presents. The best present for me is to be somewhere awesome surrounded by my family. I’ve already received that present.

But if you feel that you must send me something, please make a small donation to CSNYC here. I would appreciate that very much.

Categories: Blog articles

Reblog: Let Your Winners Run

A VC - August 19, 2014 - 4:13am

One of the things I am going to do on this extended vacation is go back into the archives and reblog posts that I think are still fresh and relevant. I’ll start with this one from Feb 2012.

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I met with a group of very experienced and sophisticated investors yesterday who make up the investment committee of a large charitable foundation that is an investor in USV. I gave them a two minute brief on our macro investment thesis (large networks of engaged users that can disrupt big markets) and then took them on a tour of some of these large networks (Lending Club, Kickstarter, Etsy, Twitter, and Codecademy).  Then I took questions.

This group doesn’t spend a ton of time on AVC, Techmeme, Hacker News, or the tech industry in general. And yet the questions they asked me were as good as I ever get. I guess four decades of investing teaches you a lot.

One of the best questions I got was “when do you decide to sell?”. Such a great question and such a hard one to answer. I’ve got scars from this one.

I explained that first and foremost, we generally don’t make that call. The entrepreneur and her management team generally makes that call and the board is asked to ratify it.

But when and if we get to weigh in on the timing of the exit, my view is that you look to exit your weakest investments as soon as you can and you let your winners run as long as you can.

USV 2004 is instructive. Between 2004 and 2008, we made investments in 21 companies. So the youngest portfolio company in that portfolio is four years old now. Most are five to six years old. And a few, like Meetup and Return Path, are ten years old or more. We’ve exited six of the 21 investments, you can see them here, under past investments at the bottom.

We still have fifteen investments active in that portfolio including Zynga and Twitter and we own large blocks of stock in both of those companies. We own stakes in thirteen other portfolio companies most of which we believe are super strong companies that are building large and sustainable businesses. We will likely exit a few weaker investments in that portfolio over this year and next. But there are at least ten companies in the USV 2004 portfolio that we would be happy to own for the rest of this decade.

This does create a bit of an issue in that we raise ten year venture capital funds. So we are supposed to wind things up in the 2004 fund in another two years. But I am fairly sure that my partners and I and our limited partners will be happy to let this fund play itself out over a longer period of time.

I’ve made the mistake of exiting investments too quickly. Back in the middle of 2007, my previous firm Flatiron exited our investment in Mercado Libre at the IPO selling our entire position for about a 10x gain. In the almost five years that MELI has been public, it has gone up 5x. So had we held our position for another five years, we’d have made 50x instead of 10x. That stings. Lesson learned.

When you have portfolio companies that are category creators, category leaders, who are well managed, and growing 50% per year or more and delivering 20-30% pre-tax margins (or more), and who have no existential threats to their market leadership, you might want to hang on to them for a bit. They may be just getting going on the valuation creation thing.

Categories: Blog articles

Public Writing and Community Building

A VC - August 18, 2014 - 5:15am

I realized this morning that many of the biggest changes in Startups and VC over the past ten years (2004-2014) have come about in part because of public writing and community building.

I would put the YC and 500 Startups movements in that camp, and the emergence of vibrant startup hubs in NYC, LA, and Boulder, and the juggernaut that is A16Z.

If you want to make a splash and create  something new, writing publicly and building a community around that is one important part of the playbook.

Categories: Blog articles

Do You Unplug

A VC - August 17, 2014 - 7:16am

I’m working on unplugging during my six weeks off. I’m doing a decent job but I am not totally unplugged and it is possible that I won’t totally unplug.

I saw this chart in the WSJ (via Twitter) this morning:

unlug

So almost half of us don’t ever unplug.

Do you, and if so, how often?

Categories: Blog articles

Jerry Colonna On Being Fierce

A VC - August 16, 2014 - 5:48am

I watched this video earlier this week. Jerry talks about the Five Challenges Of Leadership and Being Fierce. Like everything Jerry does, this is great.

The Spark Sessions: Being Fierce with Jerry Colonna from Danya Cheskis-Gold on Vimeo.

Categories: Blog articles

Trolling

A VC - August 15, 2014 - 6:44am

The New York Times has a post on Trolls and Trolling today. It cites an academic named Whitney Phillips who has written a book about Trolls.

Whitney says “As long as the Internet keeps operating according to a click-based economy, trolls will maybe not win, but they will always be present.”

We’ve had our fair share of Trolls here at AVC over the years. They are most notable whenever I write something negative about Apple.

But we also get them on posts that are more personal in nature.

Yesterday I got a Kik from William who helps me moderate AVC.

trolls

The comment in question was a tasteless comment about the Gotham Gal. William deleted it as I would have.

Had it been a tasteless comment about me, I would more likely have let it stand as I’m inclined to let everyone see how warped these trolls are.

I think Whitney is right that we are unlikely to have an open Internet without trolls. They are annoying, as is comment spam and many other things, but I’d rather have an open forum where anyone can comment, than close things down and lose all that comes from the freedom to say and do what you want.

Trolls are annoying but I am certainly happy to live with them given the alternatives.

Categories: Blog articles

An Extended Vacation

A VC - August 14, 2014 - 4:29am

Starting tomorrow and for the next six weeks, the Gotham Gal and I will be on an extended vacation.

Every year I take the last two weeks of the summer at the beach with my family to celebrate my birthday and take advantage of the last days of the summer. I will be doing that starting tomorrow.

Then in late August, we drop our youngest child, Josh, off at college. That moment will mark the end of a very important part of our lives, the active in-person parenting phase, and the start of another phase where it will be mostly the two of us living together without our children at home.

Neither of us wanted to just drop Josh off at college and go back to work like nothing changed. We want to acknowledge this new phase and kick it off with an event of some kind. So we are going to spend most of September traveling together, just the two of  us, in southern Europe. We will be back in late September, with a new living situation, and hopefully refreshed and energized for this new phase of our lives.

We will refrain from working on this extended vacation unless something very important comes up. I will turn on an out of office responder at some point in the next 24 hours and when you email me you will get a reply saying that I’m away until the end of September and, unless its urgent, please contact me then.

I do plan to have something new up here at AVC every day during this period. That may be reblogging the Gotham Gal who plans to blog our trip in Europe, it may be reblogging some old posts that should get the light shined on them again (like I did earlier this week), it may be more videos (like saturdays), or it may be new posts if I am inspired to write something new and original. It will probably be a mix of all of that.

I’m super excited to be taking this time off. It was eleven years ago that Brad and I started USV and twenty four years ago that the Gotham Gal and I started our family. Both have been incredible and successful efforts, but they have required a lot of work. It’s time to take a break and smell the roses, together. And that is what we intend to do.

Categories: Blog articles

Graffiti

A VC - August 13, 2014 - 6:09am

I love Graffiti. I realize that at some level, graffiti is vandalism and represents disrespect of property rights. And it doesn’t feel great when our building gets tagged.

But there’s something about sitting outside eating on the street staring at street art. This was our view on Monday night.

street art

Graffiti is creativity expressed in public, for all to see. It’s rebellious. It’s leaving your mark on the world.

I feel most at home in cities and neighborhoods that are filled with Graffiti.

I think there’s a linkage between creativity, innovation, and rebellion. And graffiti sits right in the middle of all of that.

Categories: Blog articles
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