Blog articles

From The Archives: General Georges Doriot

A VC - April 13, 2017 - 4:15am

I am flying up to Boston today to give the inaugural Georges Doriot lecture at MIT. It’s a great honor to kick off this annual lecture and remember General Doriot, who was the founder of modern venture capital. Here is a blog post I did back in 2008 about General Doriot and a book about him by Spencer Ante. At the time of this post, I had not read Creative Capital, but I did read it and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the early days of the modern venture capital business.

Who is the father of modern venture capital? Surely someone from Silicon Valley in the late 60s and early 70s, right? Wrong.

The father of modern venture capital is General Georges Doriot who helped to form and run American Research and Development, the first modern venture capital firm in Boston right after World War II. Doriot also taught at Harvard Business School and was a mentor and teacher to the first generation of Boston VCs who operated in the 60s and 70s.

With all the focus on the bay area and its history as the center of innovation in information technology, Doriot’s contributions are often overlooked. But now we have a new book and a blog, courtesy of Spencer Ante of Business Week.

Ante’s Creative Capital is about Doriot and the start of the venture capital business here in america post world war II. I haven’t read it yet, but I just ordered it on Amazon. Here’s a short excerpt from the Harvard Business School blog. I suspect the readers of this blog are the perfect audience for this book so you should all go check it out.

Categories: Blog articles

IBM and Microsoft

A VC - April 12, 2017 - 3:54am

As I was watching all of those Watson ads on TV this weekend during the Masters golf tournament, I thought to myself “well look at that, IBM has built the first big AI brand.”

And that is coming from a true dinosaur of the tech business.

Even more impressive in many ways, is what Satya Nadella has done at Microsoft. He slayed the Windows Everywhere albatross that was holding Microsoft back for most of the post Gates era and has made Microsoft relevant again in the world of tech. Windows is enjoying a resurgence, the Office app suite is finally and successfully moving to the cloud, and Microsoft’s cloud offerings are strong and getting stronger. The stock price tells the Nadella story as well as anything else. Here is how the stock has performed since Nadella took the helm of Microsoft in early 2014:

So what’s the point of this post? Well I think it’s worth pointing out that older tech companies can be relevant and competitive in the age of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. It just takes good leadership and the right strategy. As is the case with all companies.

Categories: Blog articles

When The AI Comes To Your Annual Shareholders Meeting

A VC - April 11, 2017 - 4:35am

I was looking at the top twenty shareholders of some public companies last week and saw quite a few “quant funds” on those lists.

With the news that Blackrock is going to move much of its asset management business to models and machines, I think we will see more of this in the coming years.

It’s annual meeting season for public companies and all of this made me think about when the AI shows up to your annual shareholder meeting.

Or when the AI gets your proxy and needs to vote for Directors, executive compensation, and the choice of auditors.

Governance is an important part of being a shareholder.

When the shareholders are all machines, how does governance work?

Categories: Blog articles

A Direct Listing

A VC - April 10, 2017 - 3:57am

I saw this question pop up in my Twitter feed this morning:

@fredwilson would be super interesting to get your thoughts on @Spotify not going through IPO process to avoid “pop” https://t.co/4oQTQVyDjb

— Andreas Mahringer (@mahringer_a) April 10, 2017

I don’t know anything about Spotify’s plans so I am not going to comment on that.

But the idea of doing a direct listing instead of an IPO is a super interesting to me.

Here is what I said to a friend of mine over email on this subject last week:

we don’t need IPOs to raise money anymore

the private markets work great for that now

but we do need a way to allow small investors to own the stock and we need a way to give employees, former employees, early investors, etc liquidity

So the idea of taking the fundraising function out of the going public equation is super interesting to me.

The questions that come to mind to me are; who will make a market in the stock?, who will write research on the stock?, how will companies build an understanding of their company prior to the listing?, will there be a lockup for existing investors?

The “IPO road show”, which is the roughly two week process before the IPO, is both a sales process to raise the money and a great opportunity to build excitement for the stock and understanding of the business. I guess a direct listing could include a road show as well. I think it probably should.

And the underwriters, who make a big commission on the IPO, commit to trade the stock and write research on the company in return for “being on the cover.” There needs to be some other way to get the investment banks involved in the stock to ensure that there is a market for the stock and research is done on the stock.

Finally, you wouldn’t want the entire cap table to come into the market on the first day of the direct listing. So that means there would need to be a lockup of some sort for the existing investors. But if there is no primary raise, then you would need some shares to trade, so maybe you let some of the existing cap table off of lockup on the direct listing and the rest over time.

I suppose this has been done before. If that is true, then there is a history of prior listings to look at to understand how this is done and how it worked. But as I said earlier in this post, I am super interested in this idea and I would like to see some big companies that don’t need capital but want a public stock try this.

Categories: Blog articles

Decentralized Self-Organizing Systems

A VC - April 9, 2017 - 6:56am

Mankind has been inventing new ways to organize and govern since we showed up on planet earth. Our history is a gradual evolution of these organization and governance systems. Much of what we are using right now was invented in ancient Greece and perfected in western Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

I have been thinking for some time that we are on the cusp of something new. I don’t know exactly what it will be but I think it will be inspired by the big technological innovations of the late 20th century and early 21st century and it will be based on decentralized and self-organizing systems.

The Internet is, at its core, a scaled decentralized system. Its design has been a resounding success. It has scaled elegantly and gradually to well over 2bn users over fifty years. No central entity controls the Internet and it upgrades itself and scales itself slowly over time.

Open source software development communities are also an important development of the past fifty years. These communities come together to create and maintain new software systems and are not financed or governed by traditional corporate models. The goals of these communities are largely based on delivering new capabilities to the market and they don’t have capitalist based incentive systems and they have shown that in many instances they work better than traditional corporate models, Linux being the best example.

And, for the past decade or so, we have seen that modern cryptography and some important computer science innovations have led to decentralized blockchain systems, most notably Bitcoin and Ethereum. But there are many more to study and learn from. These blockchain systems are pushing forward our understanding of economic models, governance models, and security models.

I think it is high time that political scientists, philosophers, economists, and historians turn their attention to these new self-organizing and self-governing systems. Maybe they have and I am not familiar with the work. If so, please point me to it. If not, maybe this post and others like it will be an inspiration for the liberal arts to catch up to the computer scientists and mathematicians or at least work closely with them to figure out what is next, to articulate it and put it in the context of other governance and economic systems. From that work can come progress that mankind needs to move beyond the current systems, which work, but have many flaws and are becoming stale and in need of an upgrade.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Building A Career On Kickstarter

A VC - April 8, 2017 - 5:01am

Adam Poots has built a career on Kickstarter over the past five years. Here is his story:

Categories: Blog articles

Fun Friday: The Digital Dance

A VC - April 7, 2017 - 5:45am

Last week at the Annual NYC Computer Science Fair, I got to judge a student coding project showcase. The team that won was 50 young women from the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria Queens.

These young women choreographed a dance routine using software and hardware engineering. The used LED lighting strips and Sphero robots to animate their dance routine and they wrote the software code that synchronized the music and dance routine with the hardware.

Here is the dance performance:

And here is how they made it happen:

I love this for so many reasons, but here are a few of them:

  1. Young women have not been as interested in software and hardware engineering because we have not made it relevant to their interests. This is an example of how to do that.
  2. The Digital Dance has now become an annual event at this school, the next one is coming up this spring, so another 50 or so young women will be exposed to hardware and software engineering each year.
  3. This is something that other schools can and should do. It could become a “thing” and I hope it will.
  4. It’s awesome.
Categories: Blog articles

Toxic Comments

A VC - April 6, 2017 - 4:10am

We are fortunate here at AVC. We have mostly civil and respectful conversations. People behave themselves here. That is sadly not the case everywhere.

I don’t know what the people who post comments like this are feeling and thinking. It is horrible. Awful. Hateful. Hurtful. Painful. Disgusting. Disturbing. And a lot more.

If you operate a large social media service like Twitter, Facebook, or Disqus, you get to see stuff like this every day, hundreds of times a day. It is a view of humanity that is deeply upsetting.

Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, where I serve on the Board, and which operates the comment service here at AVC and at millions of other websites around the globe, has been working on scaleable solutions to this problem.

They posted an update yesterday on what they are doing to combat this problem.

Here are some excerpts from that post:

The Disqus Platform supports a diversity of websites and discussions; with such a large network of publishers and commenters, having a policy against hateful, toxic content is critical. While we do periodically remove toxic communities that consistently violate our Terms and Policies, we know that this alone is not a solution to toxicity. Oftentimes these communities simply shift to another platform. Ultimately, this does not result in higher quality discussions, and it does not stop the hate. In order to have a real, lasting impact, we need to make improvements to our product. Which is why, if at all possible, we work with publishers to encourage discourse (even unpopular or controversial discourse!) while helping to eliminate toxic language, harassment, and hate.

Over the past several months, many passionate folks have reached out to us about severe violations of our Terms of Service. With the help of our community, we’ve been able to review and enforce our policy on dozens of sites.

We appreciate all of the help and feedback we’ve received and we are excited to continue to partner productively with users and organizations that are passionate about fighting toxic content and hate speech. To improve our efforts, we’ve built a Terms of Service Violations Submissions form. This form is a way for users to explicitly share with us when they’ve found a community to be in violation of our terms. In addition to reporting individual users (which helps moderators know who in their community is perhaps exhibiting toxic behavior), you can now report directly to us when you think there’s a publisher/site we should take a look at. When we are made aware of potential violations, we review them internally and make a decision about whether or not to allow the site to remain on our platform.

This isn’t a small scale matter; we know that to have a meaningful impact across our network, we need to build solutions into the product. With that in mind, we’re committed to building tools to make the moderation experience easier and better for publishers (and commenters, too).

Here are some things that we’re working on:

  • More powerful moderation features. We’re working on two features right now, Shadow banning and Timeouts, that will give publishers more options for managing their communities. Shadow banning lets moderators ban users discreetly by making a troublesome user’s comments only visible to that user. Timeouts give moderators the ability to warn and temporarily ban a user who is exhibiting toxic behavior.

  • Toxic content detection through machine learning. We are working on a feature to help publishers identify hate speech and other toxic content and then handle this more effectively.

  • Commenting policy recommendations. While we already provide suggestions for how to create community guidelines, we’ve realized that we can be more proactive and more assistive to our publishers. We’re working on helping our publishers expose their custom commenting and community guidelines by making them more visible to their readers and commenters.

  • Advertiser tools: Just like publishers do not want toxic content on their sites, we know that advertisers do not want their content to display next to toxic comments. Leveraging our moderation technology, we will provide more protection for advertisers, giving them more control over where they display their content.

If you think this is a simple problem to solve, you are sadly wrong. And if you think that Disqus and USV and I don’t care about solving this problem, you are wrong about that too.

Categories: Blog articles

Polychain

A VC - April 5, 2017 - 4:26am

We invested in a hedge fund that only invests in cryptotokens recently called Polychain. I wrote about that when we did it.

Here’s a conversation between Olaf Carlson-Wee, the founder of Polychain, and Chris Dixon where they talked all about tokens, protocols, and Polychain.

Categories: Blog articles

2017 Spring Newsletter

Beyond Money - April 4, 2017 - 1:17pm

In this edition

  • October 2016 Tour Report
  • 2017 June Workshop in Greece
  • Global monetary system is headed over the cliff—An Open letter to Jim Rickards
  • Solar Dollars
  • Geopolitics

__________________________________________
October 2016 Tour Report

During my October 2016 tour, I gave three presentations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was a panelist at the Mitzas Festival in Sardinia, Italy. Two of the Malaysia presentations were at the International Forum on Inclusive Wealth, and 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. The latter can be seen in its entirety on YouTube at https://youtu.be/8BejigzDAVY. The audio only can be found here, and the slide show used in my talk can be viewed here.

__________________________________________
2017 June Workshop in Greece

It’s time to get on board for my 2017 summer workshop, Monetary and Financial Innovation for the New Economy. The workshop will run from 16 to 23 June, 2017 at the Alexandros campus of the Kalikalos Holistic Summer School on the beautiful Pelion peninsula in Greece. This is a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the principles of reciprocal exchange, basis of currency issuance and credit allocation, and to engage with like-minded peers to explore innovative designs and strategies for their implementation. All of this while enjoying gourmet quality vegetarian meals, fresh mountain air, and Aegean beaches at bargain prices.

I will again have the assistance of Matthew Slater, and there will be a guest appearance by Prof. Jem Bendell of Cumbria University (UK).

Space is limited so register now at http://www.kalikalos.com/community/x/exchange-finance-new-economy-thomas-greco/.

__________________________________________
Solar Dollars

 If you’ve so far missed hearing about it, you might want to have a look at my Solar Dollar white paper. It describes a way to create more liquidity in a local economy while at the same time providing incentives for a local utility company to generate and sell more energy from renewable sources. Solar Dollars are a win for the environment, a win for the utility company, and a win for the local economy. The implementation of a Solar Dollar currency will involve a partnership with an electric utility company somewhere and the support of local merchants, but by issuing Solar Dollars in the way that we prescribe, their value and general acceptability as a payment medium will be unquestioned. The full description can be found at https://beyondmoney.net/2016/08/26/solar-dollars-a-private-currency-with-multiple-benefits/.
SolarDollarChart

One of my long-time colleagues in Germany was so impressed with the Solar Dollar proposal that he graciously took the trouble to translate the white paper into German. We’ve retitled the German version, Sonnen-taler (meaning “sun thaler,” the thaler being a silver coin that circulated in Europe for over 400 years and from which the word “dollar” is derived). That translated document, in Word format, can be found at https://beyondmoney.net/recent-articles/sonnen-taler/; the PDF version is at http://wp.me/a43RA-Kf.

___________________________________________________________
Global monetary system is headed over the cliff—An Open letter to Jim Rickards

Here is a letter I recently wrote to well-known author and investment advisor, Jim Rickards.

Hello Jim,

I’ve recently read your books, Currency Wars and The New Case for Gold. Your analysis of the global situation and financial instability are largely consistent with my own views, and your perspectives based on your high level contacts in government, banking and finance have been helpful.

I strongly agree with your conclusion that “the global monetary system is headed over the cliff” and that there seems to be, in “policy circles,” little cognizance of it or willingness to embrace solutions. Quite clearly, the control of money has enabled the centralization of power and concentration of wealth that is now reaching extreme proportions. That is why I have devoted most of my energies over the past 35 years to developing private, market-based, innovative systems for mediating reciprocal exchange and providing equitable and sustainable approaches to finance. I believe that reform of the global money system is not possible so we must create exchange mechanisms that do not involve banks nor require payment in dollars, euros, yen or any other political currency. There are established precedents that can be optimized and scaled up to eventually replace the present system that we agree is not sustainable.

In the face of imminent collapse of the global financial system it is not enough to try to preserve whatever wealth a few of us may already have, we must find ways to ameliorate the negative impacts of collapse and develop replacement systems before the crisis reaches the panic stage. The coming breakdown of global finance can also be the opportunity to install decentralized systems that are stable, sustainable, and work for the benefit of everyone. The most promising strategy in my opinion is to bring to market sound private and community currencies and to establish networks of direct credit-clearing circles that enable traders to create their own liquidity for themselves and their communities based on the real value of the goods and services they produce and sell.

Many such circles already exist in the form known as “Trade Exchanges” or “Barter Exchanges.” These enable businesses to trade with one another without using conventional money but instead by allocating sufficient credit to members within each circle to offset their purchases against their sales. So long as a business remains a member of the circle there is no need to settle their accounts provided that their balance remains within proper bounds and there is a reasonable flow through their accounts. One such trade exchange, The WIR Economic Circle Cooperative, founded in Switzerland in the midst of the Great Depression in 1934 as a self-help organization, has been operating successfully for more than 80 years (It is now called the WIR Bank and has added conventional banking services to its activities).

While your investment advice may be beneficial to the relative few who have a nest-egg to protect, survival in the face of chaotic breakdown of social, political, and financial structures (including markets), will require more comprehensive strategies based on cooperative, decentralized, peer-to-peer approaches to reciprocal exchange and finance. Are you willing to apply your significant abilities and resources to developing and implementing them? The very survival of civilization is at stake.

__________________________________________
Geopolitics

Snowden, the movie.

Snowden, the movie, is more than just another expose about government malfeasance. It is an alarm, sounding loud and clear that our government has gone far astray from its founding principles and Constitutional restraints. The story goes way beyond mass surveillance.

Read Brian Wright’s review here, watch Snowden’s 10 minute presentation at https://youtu.be/Fp1q2kv8zQw, then go see the movie, it’s entertaining as well as informative.

World War is Underway

Why is U.S. power being deployed to bring about regime change in so many countries, and to what end? Why is Russia being ring-fenced by the U.S. and NATO? Why is Putin being vilified in the media? Investigative journalist Robert Parry cuts through the propaganda machine to report significant unreported facts that reveal a much different picture. Do We Really Want Nuclear War with Russia? http://ccisf.org/really-want-nuclear-war-russia/

What’s at the root of the Syrian Crisis?

Leaked e-mails from the private US intelligence firm, Stratfor, revealed notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials which confirmed that as of 2011, US and UK special forces’ training of Syrian opposition forces was well underway. The goal then was to bring about the “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.” Read it here.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Having read his earlier work, I was eager to get my hands on John Perkins’ new version titled, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. In this book, Perkins adds his voice to many others in demolishing the myth of the United States being the global champion promoting freedom and democracy throughout the world. Instead, he reports how the “Corporatocracy” has spread around the world using subtle methods of seduction and cooptation to persuade national leaders to lead their people into the debt trap from which they have no hope of escape; and when those methods fail to work, threats, intimidation, subversion and destabilization follow; and if those methods also fail, more overt military interventions are employed. Perkins recalls numerous well-know U.S.-led coups over the years, including the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, in which the CIA has acknowledged its complicity; the 1954 overthrow of democratically elected President Jocobo Arbenz in Guatemala; the 1973 coup that deposed Chilean President Salvador Allende, as well as others. Reading this book will dispel any illusions you might still have about the purpose of more recent U. S. interventions in other sovereign countries. Besides providing a vast amount of information about the geo-political facts-of-life, Perkins’ story is deeply personal and as engaging as any well written spy novel.

______________________________________________________

Spring is the time when many forms of life emerge anew from their dormant state. The results of last November’s elections in the U.S. seem to have generated enough “heat” to stir Americans from their complacency about the state of our democracy. Let us hope that their actions will lead to better mutual understanding and cooperative actions that promote fundamental human values.

Thomas


Categories: Blog articles

Proxy Servers

A VC - April 4, 2017 - 4:47am

In reaction to the Trump Administration selling us all out to the big telcos, I am dedicating this blog post to proxy services, which we should all start using.

A proxy server is a computer (in the cloud) that redirects your Internet browsing and other traffic away from your ISP to a specialized service that can do a lot of things for you.

Here is how you configure Chrome to proxy your traffic to something other than your ISP.

Here is how you configure OSX to proxy your traffic.

And you will need to select a proxy service. There are plenty of free ones out there. But you get what you pay for. If you want to have a proxy that is reliable and won’t sell your data, you should consider paying for a proxy service.

Here is a good roundup of some popular proxy services.

I am sure that many AVC regulars are using one or more proxy services and I encourage all of you to share with us your favorites.

Categories: Blog articles

The Machine Will See You Now

A VC - April 3, 2017 - 3:34am

Siddhartha Mukherjee has a good long read in The New Yorker about machine learning and medical diagnosis this week.

In it, he explores whether machines are going to replace radiologists, dermatologists, etc or help them do their jobs better.

He concludes with this observation:

The word “diagnosis,” he reminded me, comes from the Greek for “knowing apart.” Machine-learning algorithms will only become better at such knowing apart—at partitioning, at distinguishing moles from melanomas. But knowing, in all its dimensions, transcends those task-focussed algorithms. In the realm of medicine, perhaps the ultimate rewards come from knowing together. 

We are very excited about the possibilities of using machine learning to help diagnose medical conditions early when they can be treated successfully. We have made a number of investments in this area and I expect we will make many more.

I believe that this is the future of medicine and the sooner we get to it the better off everyone, including the practitioners, will be.

Categories: Blog articles

Earthjustice

A VC - April 2, 2017 - 4:34am

We are doing a $40k match offer this weekend for Earthjustice. It was $30k as of yesterday morning, but this tweet changed that number yesterday afternoon:

@fredwilson @Earthjustice @susandanziger @albertwenger @abatchelor @bfeld @thegothamgal Great idea, great org. Never been a more important moment to fight for the planet. I’ll add another $10k to the match, Fred!

— Edward Norton (@EdwardNorton) April 1, 2017

So we are now matching up to $40k in donations to Earthjustice this weekend. If we fill up the entire match, we will raise $80k for Earthjustice this weekend.

So what is Earthjustice?

It is an organization that pursues legal cases against those who are doing things against the interest of our planet.

Here are some examples:

  1. Earthjustice recently won cases in New Mexico and Nevada in which utility companies were trying to reduce the amount of money they pay consumers for their solar power.
  2. Earthjustice litigation led to the shutdown of the Big Sandy coal plant in Kentucky.
  3. In 2014, Earthjustice helped to secure a landmark Supreme Court ruling that upholds the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution.
  4. Earthjustice is currently litigating to halt illegal dumping of oil waste into California’s water supplies.

These are just a small sampling of the legal work that Earthjustice does. You can read more here.

If not Earthjustice, who would file and work on these cases? The interested parties, the polluters, utilities, carbon industry, etc have massive balance sheets that allow them to work the system in their favor. Society needs well funded organizations to fight back for all of us. And that is what Earthjustice does.

Our match offer is good all weekend. If you want to participate, please do so today.

Here is how you can do that:

  1. Go to our EarthMatch page on Crowdrise and give any amount (minimum is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, tweet your donation out using the blue Tweet button on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt by following the instructions on the post donation page. Tweeting is much better though as it will amplify the campaign.

And please post this match offer [https://www.crowdrise.com/EJMatch] on social media and wherever else you might find people who want to support Earthjustice.

Categories: Blog articles

EarthMatch

A VC - April 1, 2017 - 5:38am

It’s time again for our monthly match, our once a month team match offer for a cause that is helping to protect the country and the world from the current administration.

It was hard to pick a cause this month because the administration has done so many awful things recently (executive order rolling back climate change efforts, working to defund Planned Parenthood and Meals On Wheels, etc, etc). But we’ve landed on climate change because our team this month, Susan, Albert, Amy, Brad, Joanne, and me, feel that our planet needs our help right now and we are going to do something for it today. Plus its going to be Earth Day soon. It is April. And this is no April Fools except for the fool in the White House.

Our cause this month is Earth Justice, an organization whose tag line is “the earth needs a good lawyer” and god knows it does now with these carbon lovers running things in the US.

We are putting up a combined $30,000 match ($5k from each of us) to raise money for Earth Justice this weekend.

Here is how it will work:

  1. Go to our EarthMatch page on Crowdrise and give any amount (minimum is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, tweet your donation out using the blue Tweet button on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt by following the instructions on the post donation page. Tweeting is much better though as it will amplify the campaign.

All of us will be posting and tweeting about this campaign today. Please join us in doing that to get the word out. And please donate to EarthJustice. We will match your donation up to $30k of total donations this weekend.

Let’s go.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Pleistocene Park

A VC - March 31, 2017 - 4:21am

I backed this Kickstarter project a few weeks ago and they are 60% of the way to their goal with nine days left. I hope they make it.

Categories: Blog articles

Scratch’s 10th Anniversary

A VC - March 30, 2017 - 5:01am

The Scratch programming language and community is ten years old and we celebrated that last night at a gala in NYC where the Scratch Foundation raised funds to support their work and they chose to honor me for our K12 CS Ed work in NYC.

Here’s what I said to those who were there, I thought it would be nice to share it with the world.

If you want to be filled with joy, take off the morning, head off to one of hundreds of middle school or high school buildings in NYC, and check out an introduction to software engineering class. Or go visit an elementary school home room where the teacher is doing a computing module in a history or science lesson.

Here is what you will see. Roughly thirty young students, slightly more than half girls, and a rainbow of race, religion, and means. You will see girls in hijabs, boys with afros, kids who speak Spanish or some other language at home, all sitting together working on some sort of creative project, often in teams, solving problems, getting excited, and doing something that challenges them and interests them.

And there’s a good chance that the software they are running on their computers will be Scratch, a visual programming language that makes building software as easy as building a Lego project. But Scratch is way more than a programming language. It is a community, free for everyone to use, now more than 70mm large, where the software creators share what they made with others and let others reuse and remake what they made. It is remix culture for making stuff on a computer.

Scratch is also a gateway drug to serious software engineering. I know many young adults who started on Scratch and now work on some of the most serious programming challenges in computer science at big tech companies, startups, and the top research labs and universities.

Scratch is a gift to the world from Mitch Resnick and his team of colleagues at the MIT Media Lab. You all know the saying, “don’t give someone a fish, teach them to fish”? Well that is what Mitch and his colleagues are doing with Scratch and they are doing it for tens of millions of people all around the world. I suspect the magnitude of this gift they have given the world is on the order of things like the personal computer, the smartphone, and the web. It’s that big.

When I got interested in making sure every young person in the NYC public school system could learn to instruct a machine about seven or eight years ago, I didn’t really know how we were going to make that happen. Like most things I do, our organization, called CSNYC, just threw ourselves at the problem, listened and learned from those, like Mitch, who had been working on the problem for a long time, and we tried lots of things.

One of the things we tried early on at The Academy For Software Engineering was Scratch. AFSE is a new public high school we started five years ago where students learn computer science and which has a few students in attendance tonight. And it has become an essential tool in our CS4All curriculum all over NYC. I see it in elementary school classrooms, I see it in middle schools, and I see it in high schools. I don’t know of a better way to get a student programming a computer than firing up the browser and pointing it to scratch.mit.edu.

There are certainly other tools that are used to teach programming in K12 classrooms across NYC and across the country and the world. Scratch can’t teach everything. But it can get the student going, excited, productive, and hooked. And that is the biggest step.

So while I am honored to be recognized this evening for the work we are doing in NYC and around the country, I want to make sure that everyone knows that our work would be impossible without the fundamental building blocks that have been put in place over the last 15-20 years, and Scratch is right up there at the top of that list.

So thank you to the Scratch Foundation for this honor but mostly thank you for doing what you do and let us all help them keep doing that.

PS – Michael Preston, who runs CSNYC, sent me this photo of the students who sat with us at our table last night and Sean Stern who left a good paying job writing software for Amazon to teach them. A picture tells the entire story.

Categories: Blog articles

Climate Change

A VC - March 29, 2017 - 5:11am

Yesterday brought us an executive order rolling back much of the (meager) progress we’ve made reducing the US’ reliance on carbon energy and the resulting impact on climate change.

The New York Times has a good editorial piece today on this and other moves this administration has made in its short tenure to protect the carbon energy industry.

I am of two minds on this. On one hand, I am pissed off, annoyed, irritated, upset, and dismayed that we have such a luddite in the White House that he can’t see what carbon energy has done, is doing, and will do to our planet. But on the other hand, I am well aware of the progress that wind and solar and other clean energy technologies have made in the last couple decades and I believe that market forces are on the side of our planet and against the carbon fuel industry and that these market forces are getting stronger every day.

Among other things, we will be doing our monthly match this weekend for a climate change focused non-profit and I hope you all will join us to raise money for climate change and stand up against these outrageous acts.

We are considering the following organizations:

350.org

Natural Resource Defense Counsel 

Earth Justice

Sierra Club

Nature Conservancy

Environmental Defense Fund

We may add others to this list. If you have any thoughts on these organizations or want to propose others, please do that in the comments.

Categories: Blog articles

Brain Computer Interface

A VC - March 28, 2017 - 3:53am

The WSJ reported yesterday that Elon Musk is developing yet another company, this one based on neural lace technology, to create a brain computer interface.

Neural lace technology, as I understand it, involves implanting electrodes into the brain so that the brain can control machines directly without the need for an IO device like a mouse, keyboard, or voice interface.

I have no idea how advanced this technology is and whether it is ready for commercialization or if this is basically a research project masquerading as a startup.

But in some ways that doesn’t matter if you believe that at some point someone or some group of scientists and medical professionals will figure out how to directly connect our brain to machines without the need of an IO device.

There are so many times that I have thoughts that I don’t do anything with. They sit idle and maybe go nowhere. But if my brain passively passed those thoughts onto a machine for storage or some other action that could lead to a more productive train of thought that could be incredibly valuable. Or it could drive me insane.

I generally subscribe to the theory that all progress is good as long as we understand the negatives of the technology and we (society) engineer controls and the proper repoanes to it (nuclear weapons being​ an example).

But every time something as mind bending as the idea of connecting our brain to external processing, storage, and communication infrastructure comes before me I do have to pause and ask where this is all going.

At times like this it helps to have a belief system (progress is good). I am all for pushing the envelope of progress as long as we spend an equal amount of time and energy thinking through what might go wrong with things like this.

Hat tip to Niv Dror who read yesterday that I wasn’t sure how I was going to post today and encouraged me to write about this topic.

Categories: Blog articles

A Return To Eastern Time

A VC - March 27, 2017 - 2:05pm

For the past few months, I’ve been living and posting from the west coast, as has become our routine during the winter months. Regular readers have likely noticed that new posts show up around 9am/10am ET instead of 6am/7am ET. This will be the last post from the west coast this winter as we are returning home to NYC this afternoon.

I am not entirely sure how I’m going to get a blog post in tomorrow morning as we arrive late and I’ve got an early breakfast, but I always seem to find a way. It certainly will have to be posted by 7:30am ET before I start my day. Maybe I will write it on the plane home this evening.

The winter out west routine works really well for me. It gets me away from the hustle and bustle of NYC and in a bit more reflective and relaxed mood. It’s not a vacation. I work ten hour days, but I start them at 5am and end them mid/late afternoon, in time for a bike ride or a late afternoon yoga class.

I am going to miss all of our friends and family in LA and the incredible weather, vegetation, sights, and smells. Here’s a photo I took from a sunset walk on the bluff with my friend Mark last week.

I will miss this place, but I’m also eager to get back to the big apple.

Categories: Blog articles

Board Feedback

A VC - March 26, 2017 - 7:50am

One of the most frustrating things about Board meetings is that it is difficult for founders and CEOs to get feedback on them.

I’ve seen some interesting approaches to addressing this problem lately.

Some companies are sending around post meeting feedback forms and asking all attendees to fill them out.

Some CEOs have asked their Board members to send emails to them summarizing their thoughts and take aways after the meeting.

I am a fan of anything that produces meaningful feedback for management from Board meetings.

My preference is to build the feedback function right into the meeting with a post meeting executive session between the CEO and directors where the feedback is delivered face to face in real time.

The big challenge with the post meeting executive session is that all Board meetings seem to run over on time and the end of the meeting is a time crunch.

So making time for the executive session is often challenging. But it is worth it in my view.

Regardless of what technique you are using, if you are running Board meetings and not getting feedback on them, you are doing it wrong.

Categories: Blog articles
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