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Musings of a VC in NYC
Updated: 4 hours 21 min ago

Preventative Medicine

November 19, 2019 - 5:58am

When I was a young associate in a VC firm in my mid 20s, one of the partners told me I should get an annual physical every year and if I did it in the fall, I should get a flu shot while I was having my physical.

I have done that every year since and this afternoon I will spend an hour with my doctor getting poked and prodded and a needle in my upper arm with whatever mixture of flu vaccine they are giving out this year.

Around the same time, my mother advised me that since I have her fair skin I should find a good dermatologist and have a full body scan twice a year. I have been doing that too ever since.

I have seen the statistics on the relative spending between preventative care and critical care but I don’t remember exactly what they are. I do recall that the vast majority of medical spending in the US is on critical care and a small amount is on preventative care.

That seems wrong to me. We should do more to make sure that we all make the effort and take the time to have regular check-ups, do the required scans (mammograms, prostate exams, etc), and get things that will prevent disease like vaccines.

I suspect that beyond good practice, there are startup and investment opportunities in preventative medicine. It is the kind of thing that personal mobile computing can make a big difference in.

Categories: Blog articles

The Education Transformation

November 18, 2019 - 7:03am

Back in March 2009, USV hosted an event called Hacking Education. It was the beginning of our effort to invest in the transformation of the education sector.

A few weeks ago, USV held its annual meeting, roughly 15 years after we closed our first fund. And our partner Rebecca gave a presentation on our education portfolio, which is now one of the strongest parts of our entire portfolio.

As Rebecca was developing her presentation, I wrote an email to her that said:

when did we do Hacking Education? Was that ten years ago now? That may also be a useful reference, maybe at the start of the presentation

And so she went and pulled some photos of that event to start her presentation.

Today she wrote a blog post on USV.com featuring the big themes of her annual meeting presentation. And she posted a few of those photos, in which we are all looking quite a bit younger.

Rebecca concludes her post with these optimistic words:

Our education portfolio has become a core value driver in our funds. In part, we think this is because we have hit the tipping point in consumers’ interest in self-driven, direct-to-learner education because technology has enabled higher quality education to be delivered at a lower price point, a counter-balance to the inflationary trends we’ve seen to date. Appetite for products and services that reframe what it means to learn – and how to learn – is high, and quickly accelerating.

As Bill Gates famously observed, we overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in a decade. A decade after hacking education, we are working with a bunch of high growth companies that are helping to transform what it means to learn and be educated and we are very proud of that.

Categories: Blog articles

Airpods vs Airpods Pro

November 17, 2019 - 9:39am

Although I am an avid Android fan/user, I am equally fond of Apple’s Airpods. I have used the original and V2 Airpods with great success over the last few years and can’t imagine using anything else to pair with my phone for audio.

I purchased the AirPod Pro a few weeks ago and have been using them exclusively and I am not quite sure if I want to stay with them or go back to the V2 Airpods.

I have never liked headphones with silicone tips. They create an odd feeling of pressure in the inner ear that feels strange to me. And I also don’t love noise cancellation when I am out and about, which is where I use the Airpods.

On planes and in the office, where noise cancellation is something I quite like, I use over-ear Bose headphones with noise cancellation instead of the AirPods.

I also don’t love the larger charging case, which I typically have on me while I am out and about.

And, I don’t think the Bluetooth pairing (which is how they connect to Android phones) works as reliably as the Bluetooth pairing on the V2 Airpods.

I am going to give the Airpods Pro a few more weeks before I make a final call, but I am leaning towards going back to the V2 Airpods right now.

I am curious to hear what others think about these two Airpod products. I wonder if I’m in the minority or the majority on this.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Duolingo On SNL

November 16, 2019 - 9:14am

Our portfolio company Duolingo was the subject of a funny skit on SNL a few weeks ago.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: The Home Roasting Kit

November 15, 2019 - 4:20am

Here’s a Kickstarter for all of you coffee lovers:

Categories: Blog articles

Shadowstalker

November 14, 2019 - 6:39am

Often art can expose issues more clearly than other mediums.

A show opened at The Shed this week called Manual Override. It is about the increasing power of technology in our lives and our inability to control it.

There is a piece in the show by the artist Lynn Hershman Leeson (whose Electronic Diaries form the spine of the show) called Shadowstalker.

In Shadowstalker, you enter your email address

And the work showcases your “digital shadow”:

Here is what my digital shadow contains:

Of course, none of this will surprise most people. We all know the Internet knows an awful lot about us.

But Lynn has managed to express it vividly in art and that has a powerful effect.

If you are in NYC, stop by The Shed and see Manual Override. The entire show is great. And try to see the Agnes Denes show too. It is also terrific.

Categories: Blog articles

Philanthropy

November 13, 2019 - 4:27am

This is a week full of philanthropy for The Gotham Gal and me. We are attending two fundraisers for organizations we support and throwing one for an organization we started.

I woke up thinking about giving back and how important it has become to us. Neither of us grew up in environments that were deep in philanthropy but somehow we were drawn to it in our thirties.

The Gotham Gal got involved in MOUSE when it was formed and became the Board Chair a few years later. That was where we learned that we could bring others into things that mattered to us and help make a difference on those things.

We also learned that we could create our own family foundation and contribute stock to it. We have been doing that for almost twenty years now.

That foundation has allowed us to support causes that speak to us and to start philanthropic organizations where we thought there was a need and nobody was filling it.

A big part of doing philanthropy is engaging others in it. Philanthropic organizations need financial support and that need is never-ending. And no matter how generous one can be, it is never enough. So finding ways to introduce causes you care about to others and then convincing them to support them becomes the thing.

At first, I didn’t like making the ask. Then I tolerated it. Only recently have I learned to enjoy it.

I ask readers to support things on AVC all the time. If there is a business model for AVC, that is it. And I appreciate all the generosity that this community has shown over the years.

I hope all of you appreciate and enjoy giving back as much as we do. It is an amazing thing to be able to help others.

Categories: Blog articles

No Shenanigans

November 12, 2019 - 11:49am

I was talking to a friend today about company values and how important they are but also how lame so many of them are.

I told him that some of my favorite company values come from our former portfolio company Twilio (which in the spirit of full disclosure I am still a large shareholder of).

Twilio’s founder and CEO Jeff Lawson gave a great talk on company values at USV a few years ago and explained how he approached them. This blog post (and audio post) is about a similar talk he gave at First Round.

Twilio’s company values are shown below:

My favorite of them is “No Shenanigans” which translates to “Be thoughtful. Always deal in an honest, direct, and transparent way.”

It is such a great value. It is memorable. It is broadly applicable. It is interpretable. And I can imagine team members running their decisions against it and getting a helpful result that guides them.

That is what company values are all about at the end of the day – helping people make decisions that everyone in the company will be proud of and supportive of.

Like most things that are incredibly valuable, values are not easy to get right, but they are worth investing a lot of time and energy in.

Categories: Blog articles

Pixel 4XL

November 11, 2019 - 4:04am

I got a new Pixel 4XL phone a week ago and it took me most of the week (it was a busy one) to migrate over to it. I wrote a bit about how I’m careful about the migration last week.

I like to upgrade to the new Pixel flagship phone every fall when Google tends to ship them. It generally means longer battery life, better camera, and some other nice things.

Last year, we got fingerprint biometrics.

This year, we got face recognition, something iOS users have had for at least a year now.

Face recognition is super nice. I already love it.

This new Pixel 4XL also has something called MotionSense which allows a user to control the phone without actually touching the screen. You wave across the phone with your hands.

For now, MotionSense only silences interruptions and skips songs on many popular music apps. Hopefully, Motionsense can be incorporated by third-party apps. If that is the case, I can see this becoming a really useful thing.

The Android UI has changed a bit on the Pixel 4XL and it has taken me a few days to get used to the new ways to get around the phone but I am quickly getting there.

I’m glad I made the upgrade even though the migration was a real effort. Many readers suggested better ways to do 2FA with easier migration. I got the message and that is on my to-do list now. Thanks.

Categories: Blog articles

Priorities

November 10, 2019 - 6:06am

It is planning season when management teams work to develop the roadmap for the coming year.

The truth is that it is hard to do more than two or three big things at a time, no matter how large you are.

So it is important to put all of the things that the business needs or wants to do on the table and have a vigorous debate about them and then pick a few priorities to focus on.

Saying no to things that you really want to do is the telltale sign of a good planning process. Saying yes to too many things is the telltale sign of a poor planning process.

What makes this process particularly hard is that there are often a few things that the business has to do and there is no way to delay them. These must do efforts can often crowd out the should do projects and that leads to a lack of forward progress.

The lens through which I evaluate plans is as follows. First there should be a few well defined priorities. I like two or three but four can work. Five starts to be a problem. At least one and possibly two should be must do things the existing business requires and cannot be put off. And there should be at least one big new effort that will move the business forward.

Planning is so important. When you get the plan right, execution becomes so much easier. I have found that poor execution is most often a function of poor planning and trying to do too much without clear priorities. Even the strongest operators struggle in a situation like that.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Mike Bloomberg Talks Climate Crisis At MIT

November 9, 2019 - 7:12am

This spring, Mike Bloomberg gave the commencement speech at my alma mater MIT. He talks about moonshots, engineers, and the looming climate crisis. It is a great talk and one that shows what kind of leader I would like to see in this country.

I start the video below at 3:24 in so you don’t have to watch the traditional commencement platitudes. If you want to watch the entire thing you can do that here. The video below is about 18mins in total and I strongly recommend everyone find the time to watch it this weekend.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Mochi Robot

November 8, 2019 - 4:15am

I’m a huge fan of toys and other things that can get young kids engaging in instructing machines what to do. I think that in the world these children are going to grow up into, that is going to be super important to them as adults.

And so toys like Mochi Robot are great for parents, teachers, and caregivers who want to provide that to their children.

Categories: Blog articles

How To Beat A Patent Troll

November 7, 2019 - 5:03am

Our portfolio company Cloudflare posted yesterday about the two and a half year war it waged against a patent troll called Blackbird.

This was the battle plan that Cloudflare came up with:

After we were sued by Blackbird, we decided that we wouldn’t roll over. We decided we would do our best to turn the incentive structure on its head and make patent trolls think twice before attempting to take advantage of the system. We created Project Jengo in an effort to remove this economic asymmetry from the litigation. In our initial blog post we suggested we could level the playing field by: (i) defending ourselves vigorously against the patent lawsuit instead of rolling over and paying a licensing fee or settling, (ii) funding awards for crowdsourced prior art that could be used to invalidate any of Blackbird’s patents, not just the one asserted against Cloudflare, and (iii) asking the relevant bar associations to investigate what we considered to be Blackbird’s violations of the rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

I will give away the story in case you don’t want to go read the post. Cloudflare’s plan worked in all three ways.

It is tempting to settle with patent trolls if you can settle for less than litigation costs. Our portfolio companies do it all the time and it is rational behavior.

But patent trolls are a tax on innovation and I love it when some of our portfolio companies decide to stand up to them and fight them. Like Cloudflare did.

Categories: Blog articles

A Decentralized Archive

November 6, 2019 - 4:03am

The Internet Archive and Wayback Machine are awesome.

You can see that in 1998, AVC.com was pointing to something called Fishnet that looked like this. And you can see what AVC looked like in September 2008.

There are many archives, some of them quite specialized, in the physical and digital world. But they all suffer from the same problem, which my colleague Dani explained yesterday:

Archives are extremely important: the survival and ongoing availability of knowledge helps with the continuation of human progress. While there are existing digital archival projects out there, they are mostly donation-based and face the risk that their funding could run out, their hosting provider could one day go out of business or a government could force them to remove files.

Dani wrote that yesterday in our blog post welcoming Arweave to the USV portfolio. Arweave is a decentralized protocol that enables archiving and the funding to support it at web scale.

The key innovation is a sustainable funding model for archives which Dani explained in her post:

Arweave had to invent a new method of paying for storage, one where you can pay once, and store forever. While that sounds almost too good to be true and took us a long time to wrap our heads around, it will be true provided the cost of storage continues to decline at a predictable rate. Machines that provide storage to the network get paid out in small increments over time as they continue to prove that they have held onto archived files. 

Decentralized infrastructure is one of our favorite investment themes in crypto (Filecoin, Helium, Arweave, and at least one unannounced investment) because of the resiliency and sustainability of decentralized infrastructure (just look at bitcoin mining for an example of that).

We think infrastructure will tend to move to decentralized models over time and archives are a great example of that.

Categories: Blog articles

The DuckDuckGo Browser

November 5, 2019 - 1:08pm

I just started using our portfolio company DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser.

Honestly I didn’t even realize they had one until last week.

It looks like this on my phone:

And AVC looks like this in it:

I guess AVC is only a B+ when it comes to privacy. I hope to fix that and get to an A when I push the new design, hopefully next month.

If you want to start using the Duck Duck Go mobile browser, you can get it here.

Categories: Blog articles

Calling All Founders

November 4, 2019 - 3:48am

NYC’s Partnership runs some outstanding accelerator programs.

There is the flagship Fintech Accelerator which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. In this program, founders are connected to the CIOs of the top banks, brokerages, and insurance companies in NYC as they work on their products and pitches. Over the past decade, 69 graduates of the Fintech Accelerator have raised over $1bn. I have written about this program frequently. It is an example of something that you could not do anywhere other than NYC.

And then there is the newest one, the Transit Tech Accelerator, where founders who are building transit companies are connected to the leading transit systems in the NY Metro area while they work on their products and pitches. The MTA is piloting four technologies they found in last year’s program and there are six more transit systems involved this year.

If you want to apply to the Fintech Accelerator, do so here.

If you want to apply to the Transit Tech Accelerator, do so here.

Categories: Blog articles

Upgrading To A New Phone

November 3, 2019 - 8:22am

I got the new Pixel 4 XL and am in the process of copying over all of my data and apps and other stuff.

Apple and Google make it so easy these days to sync a new phone with an old phone that it is easy to think you are done once the sync is over.

But that is unfortunately not the case.

The biggest “gotcha” that I worry about is moving all of my two-factor codes over from my old phone to my new phone. For that reason, I keep my old phone around for a few weeks just to make sure I’ve got it all moved over to my new phone.

And then there is the hassle of logging into all of my apps and signing into them all over again. I have and use a lot of apps on my phone so that takes me several hours over the course of a few days to do that. And that is another reason to keep my old phone around for a while to make sure I’ve got everything.

Increasingly Apple and Google and other providers want you to trade in your older phone for a discount on a new one. While that is an attractive offer, it encourages wiping and sending the old phone back.

And I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do until you are sure you’ve got everything you need off of your older phone.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Filecoin and Web3

November 2, 2019 - 7:08am

In this video, Juan Benet, founder of our portfolio company Protocol Labs, talks about how Web3 is coming together and what Filecoin and IPFS’s role in it will be.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: The Electronic Frontier Foundation

November 1, 2019 - 2:16am

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF.org) has been fighting for and helping to protect our online rights for twenty-eight years. Their primary focus areas are online privacy and free speech.

They spend about $12mm a year on legal interventions and policy work. Most of their funding comes from small donations from people like us who value the work they do on our behalf.

I signed up for an annual membership this morning and will be contributing $2500 a year to this amazing organization. I also got this awesome EFF ski hat.

I would like to encourage all of you get to read what I think free of censorship to support their work as well. You can make a one-time payment of as little as $25 or as much as I did and you can also make that a recurring payment, as I did.

You can do all of that here.

Categories: Blog articles

The World Is Messy And There Are Ambiguities

October 31, 2019 - 2:56am

I’ve been wanting to say something like this here at AVC for several years and have held back for a host of reasons, mostly because it’s a sensitive topic and it would be misunderstood.

But after watching Obama say this, I had to repost it. I could not agree more.

Categories: Blog articles