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Musings of a VC in NYC
Updated: 2 hours 6 min ago

Citibike

3 hours 18 min ago

In a time when there are so many options for getting around the urban landscape (walking, subway, e-bikes, e-scooters, Yellow Cabs, Uber, Lyft, Juno etc), you would think that the six year old Citibike service in NYC would be “old hat.”

But it remains one of my favorite things about living in NYC. The addition of bike lanes all over lower Manhattan (where I live and work) has made biking a lot safer and pedestrians are increasingly aware of the bike paths and the bikers on them.

The kiosk system, vs the dockless system that many of the newer offrrings use, has some challenges around trying to dock in a full kiosk at the end of your ride, but it is much preferable for the tidy/neat nature of the bikes.

Citibikes are particularly great for the one to two mile journey that would take 20-30mins to walk but 5-10 mins to bike.

I did that this morning from this kiosk in the west village to the Union Square neighborhood.

It took me 7 minutes and I was early enough to my meeting that I had time to get a cup of coffee before the meeting.

I honestly don’t think there is a better way to get around NYC for short distances on a lovely spring day. It is one of the things that makes living in NYC so enjoyable.

Categories: Blog articles

Custody, Trading, Staking

May 20, 2019 - 4:35am

In our talk at Consensus last week, we talked about security in crypto land.

There are a few highly trusted custody services in crypto, including the popular consumer and institutional custody services offered by our portfolio company Coinbase.

These companies have invested tens of millions, sometimes more, in building highly secure storage systems to keep their customer’s crypto assets secure.

There are also exchanges all over the world that people can use to trade crypto assets. While they may be great places to trade, they are often not great places to custody your assets.

And then there is “staking” which is a term I am using for all sorts of validation services that crypto holders are increasingly doing to secure networks that use proof of stake and other approaches to consensus. There are and will be more staking services that crypto holders can use to participate in these services and get paid for doing that.

Again, these staking services many not be great places to custody your assets.

What is emerging are different services that specialize in different parts of the crypto economy.

There will be best of breed offerings in each sector and there will be a few, like Coinbase, that will offer leading services across all of these sectors.

The nice thing about crypto is it is programmable money. It should be possible, and I think it will be possible, to use one service for custody, another for trading, and a third for staking.

But it has to start with custody. If you own crypto assets, you need to secure them. And that is often not at the place you trade them.

Categories: Blog articles

Cheeze Wizards

May 19, 2019 - 9:35am

Our portfolio company Dapper Labs, the maker of the popular crypto-collectible game CryptoKitties, is back with their second game, called Cheeze Wizards, also built on the Ethereum blockchain.

Cheeze Wizards is in “pre-sale” mode right now. You can “summon” your wizard in anticipation of the game which will be played this summer.

I summoned a wizard this morning from the fire wizards region. I spent a bit more than half an ETH on it and I am ready to rumble.

Dapper built this game for crypto enthusiasts who will be drawn by the large prize pool (322.6 ETH right now and growing) and that is why some of the most powerful wizards (like mine) are quite expensive. That said, you can summon a “neutral” wizard for 0.07 ETH right now which is less than $20. The focus on a smaller number of higher value players fits with where Ethereum is right now in its scaling efforts.

The best way to play Cheeze Wizards is to add the Dapper wallet to your browser. You can do that here. Then send some ETH to it from your Coinbase account (or any other place you hold crypto). Then go to Cheeze Wizards, you will log in with your Dapper wallet, and you are ready to summon your wizard.

The folks at Dapper wrote a great blog post explaining why they made Cheeze Wizards, how it works, and what they hope will happen with it. That post also reveals a lot about where Dapper is heading with CryptoKitties, Cheeze Wizards, and all of the other games they have under development right now.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Consensus 2019

May 18, 2019 - 4:33am

This past Wednesday, I appeared on stage at Consensus 2019 with Paul Vigna of the Wall Street Journal and Brian Armstrong, CEO of our portfolio company Coinbase.

The topic we were supposed to discuss was why crypto has been so full of bubbles and crashes. We did talk about that but we also talked about a lot more. The discussion is about a half hour.

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Funding Friday: The Collective Museum of Private Collections

May 17, 2019 - 4:52am

I like this project and backed it earlier this week.

You can back it here.

Categories: Blog articles

Public Speaking

May 16, 2019 - 6:54am

I don’t do as much public speaking as I used to. Fortunately my colleagues at USV have picked up the slack and we are still out there telling the world what we believe in and why. I think that is critical to building the brand of an investment business.

Because it is Blockchain Week in NYC, I have done a number of public speaking events this week and have two more today. I also did something up at Columbia University last week for a friend and do a fair number of public appearances for the K12 CS Education work I do.

All of that has had me on a stage a lot in the last week and reminded me that there is an art to public speaking. I have also witnessed a lot of people doing it poorly this past week.

I have three main rules that I try to live by:

1/ Be brief. It is possible to make a point in less than a minute. But many take five or ten minutes to do it. In a world where people take their phones out the minute they are bored, you simply can’t take a long time to make a point.

2/ Be bold. Stake out positions that will stimulate debate and get people talking. I am not suggesting that you should take a position you don’t believe in. But I do think it is important to go out on a limb from time to time.

3/ Have fun. Show your personality. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy it. The audience will pick up on that and it will make it more fun for everyone.

I have also taken to doing a lot of interviewing lately. When I get asked to make an appearance, I often ask if I can do the interview instead of being interviewed. I usually turn those into public conversations and that is a lot of fun and, I think, works for the audience too.

I am interviewing Olaf Carlson-Wee, the founder of the Polychain token fund, today at The Token Summit. I plan to have fun and will work to keep it snappy and provocative.

Categories: Blog articles

Crypto Spring?

May 15, 2019 - 5:17am

On Monday, I wrote:

With the crypto winter seemingly coming to an end and spring on the horizon,

So why do I think winter is behind us and spring is on the horizon?

Well you can see in the chart of the entire crypto market that there has been a meaningful move off of the bottom in the last five months.

The entire crypto market hit the low point in mid December at roughly $100bn and has rallied over the winter and spring to almost $250bn. While there is no guarantee that we won’t go back and test those lows, I do think we hit rock bottom in December.

It is also worth noting that the daily trading volumes are now higher (almost double) than they were at the height of the crypto bubble in January 2018. Investors are back in the market and pushing it higher.

And this is not just about Bitcoin. Here is the total market minus Bitcoin:

It is a very similar chart with very similar volume activity.

The most exciting thing to me is what you don’t see in these charts and that is the fact that many projects have been quietly building out their systems over the last 18 months and we will start to see new public blockchains and protocols go live over the next 6-12 months that will show the power of new ideas and new technologies that are coming to market.

I love spring.

Categories: Blog articles

Exploring An Investment Thesis

May 14, 2019 - 12:22pm

I remember back in the 2005/2006/2007 time frame when blogging and social media was coming of age, I used this blog as a petri dish to explore ideas like influencer marketing, social advertising, and virality that have become critical parts of a growth marketer’s playbook a decade later.

That “hacking around in social media” taught me so much that I could not have learned reading or talking to people. Of course, I did those things too, but getting my hands dirty with the technology and ideas helped me understand them and see the power of them and invest in them before others did.

So it is always great to see when other investors are doing the same thing.

Dani, one of our awesome analysts at USV, has been exploring the area of “free learning.” She has been writing about it. And she has been hacking around in it too.

Yesterday she launched a free learning game you play via text message.

I built a game this weekend that you can play over sms. If you text +1 (575) 223-1415 it will enter you into the game and send you some number puzzles. Enjoy and good luck. pic.twitter.com/oX6SVprfCQ

— Dani Grant (@thedanigrant) May 13, 2019

She built it on “twilio/node/express/firebase.” I know she also built a version on the Kin Testnet to see how cryptocurrency rewards could impact how students stick with a game like this.

I just played a couple rounds of Numberline on my phone and thankfully I got the first two correct. I am quitting while I am ahead. If there was some Kin involved though…….

Categories: Blog articles

Blockchain Week NYC

May 13, 2019 - 4:37am

It is that time of year again, when the entire crypto sector comes to NYC. It is called Blockchain Week NYC and there are a dozen or more industry events like the Coin Center Annual Dinner, The Third Annual Token Summit, Consensus, Women On The Block, and many more.

There will also be breakfasts, dinners, company sponsored events, etc, etc.

I will be at many of these events, speaking at a few of them, and am excited to see the crypto sector live and in person this week in NYC.

With the crypto winter seemingly coming to an end and spring on the horizon, it is a great time to take stock of the sector and get excited about it again. Except that I never lost my excitement. Sometimes you just need to hibernate for a year and last year was a good one to do that.

Finally, I am so pleased that NYC was able to secure the spot where the crypto industry comes together once a year. It makes sense that crypto would be big here, given the financial services talent, engineering talent, and commercial sensibility that has always been resident in this town.

If only our regulators in NYS would be as excited about crypto as I am and everyone who is coming to NYC this week is.

Categories: Blog articles

Repost: The Maternal Instinct

May 12, 2019 - 6:08am

I wrote this three years ago, on Mothers Day, and I remembered it this morning. So I am reposting it. Happy Mothers Day to all of the mothers out there.

It’s Mothers Day, a time to celebrate motherhood and moms. I woke up thinking about the maternal instinct and it’s effect on business.

I was talking to a friend last night about the challenges of working on troubled or failed investments. We were debating whether it is even worth the time to try and save a troubled investment versus moving on and focusing on a new one. This is the endless debate in venture capital. It can be applied to managing people as well. Should you work to develop a talented employee who is struggling or just move on and find someone new for the role?

As we were debating the point on whether to fight for a troubled investment or just move on, the Gotham Gal walked by. And I turned to my friend and said “she never gives up on any of her investments and she has 10x the number that I do.” I’ve cautioned her many times that she can’t fix every company, every CEO, every business plan. But she just keeps trying. It’s why I love her so much.

There is something about the maternal instinct. It’s a powerful thing. It is about protecting and caring for someone or something. It is innate in women and they do bring it with them into the world of business. This is one of many reasons why gender diversity in a team is important. Men and women bring different perspectives and instincts to a situation. Debating it out and finding common ground can be quite valuable.

Surely there is a limit to the maternal instinct in business. You can’t make every hire work. You can’t make every project work. You can’t make every investment work. That’s what I frequently tell the Gotham Gal. But that doesn’t stop her from trying. And I understand why.

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there. You care for us and we love you for it.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

May 11, 2019 - 8:01am

We have had an order in for Tesla Solar Roof Tiles for almost two years, since they were announced back in 2017. Production delays and other issues have meant that we still don’t have them on our roof.

And they are more expensive than a regular roof plus traditional solar panels on the roof. But they look a lot better in my view.

This video explains all of that, and more, along with some helpful cost comparisons.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: The Open Orchard

May 10, 2019 - 5:13am

I really like this project. I hope it reaches its goal and gets funded.

Categories: Blog articles

Teaching Geometry With Javascript

May 9, 2019 - 3:35am

When I started my now ten-year journey down the “let’s teach computer science in our public schools” path, I knew that getting students to instruct machines would open up new methods of teaching and learning. But I did not understand just how powerful that would be.

It is good and necessary to offer dedicated classes in computer science to students. It is even better to use computer science to teach complex concepts in subjects like math, science, art, music, literature and more. When you do both, you can really impact student’s learning and comprehension.

I was in a high school class in the Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx yesterday. They were doing geometry lessons in Javascript.

They started with a lesson on the translation function and how it could be used to move objects around. This is a photo I took of the smartboard at the front of the classroom as the students discussed how this function works.

After this lesson, the students played a game of Battleship in Javascript with each other on their laptops.

This is a photo of the Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr, playing Javascript Battleship with one of the students in the class.

Writing and editing code on a machine allows the student to see how geometric functions (and many other functions) work in a fun and interactive way and takes complex notions and makes them real and tangible to them. This is important and powerful.

I now believe that introducing computer science into the elementary, middle, and high school curriculum will not only help students master computational thinking but it will also help them master many other complex concepts and allow them to be better students and better adults.

Categories: Blog articles

Crypto Fashion

May 8, 2019 - 3:33pm

Two of the more interesting and “out there” trends in tech are NFTs (non fungible tokens) and virtual celebrities.

So it was only a matter of time before developers started to work at the intersection of them

Virtual celebrities are characters made out of software that exist in games, social media, streaming audio and video, etc who have large and rabid fan bases. Here is an example of one.

Miquela

NFTs are crypto-assets that are unique and can only be owned by one person at a time. A well-known example is a CryptoKitty.

So I find it interesting that today an instagram celebrity (a real one) has chosen to wear an outfit that is actually an NFT and can be sold and owned by one of her fans.

The celebrity Johanna Jaskowska is wearing a dress that is actually a unique crypto-asset. It is “the world’s first couture digital outfit on the Ethereum blockchain.” She announced that today on her Instagram channel.

This is Johanna wearing crypto fashion:

I am interested to see if this idea takes off. The worlds of gaming, social media, AR/VR, and crypto are going to get richer and more lifelike over time. So I suspect something like this will eventually work and go mainstream.

Categories: Blog articles

Coinbase Custody

May 7, 2019 - 4:15am

Our portfolio company Coinbase has been building an institutional grade regulated custodial service for crypto assets over the past 18 months. It is called Coinbase Custody and it is a qualified institutional custodian which means that investors that are regulated can use it to satisfy their custodial requirements.

Coinbase has been providing safe and trusted custody for crypto assets for most of its seven year history. It has led the industry in developing secure storage of crypto assets. So it is the obvious place for institutions to turn to custody their crypto assets.

Yesterday, Coinbase Custody announced that they now support custody of over 30 of the most popular crypto assets.

Coinbase Custody operates as a standalone, independently-capitalized business. Coinbase Custody is a fiduciary under NY State Banking Law. All digital assets are segregated and held in trust for the benefit of their clients.

If you want to learn more about using Coinbase Custody as your institutional custodial solution, you can reach out here.

Categories: Blog articles

More Sellers Than Buyers

May 6, 2019 - 7:41am

I worked for a VC named Bliss McCrum early in my career. He had been on wall street for about twenty five years before getting into VC mid/late career. He loved investing. He taught me technical analysis/charting and a lot of other things about stocks.

I used to ask him “why did that stock go down yesterday?” and he would always respond “more sellers than buyers.”

I loved that response and sometimes would ask him the question just to hear that answer.

What I really wanted to know was the underlying reason for more sellers than buyers. Did the company post weak earnings? Did a competitor enter their market? Was the CFO fired?

But Bliss would never take the bait.

Just “more sellers than buyers.”

His point, I think looking back after thirty years, was that markets are markets and you need to treat them as such and respect them as such. They are not always rational but the supply/demand for the stock doesn’t lie.

This week we are finally getting an Uber IPO. Its competitor Lyft’s stock has been weak post its recent IPO.

I don’t have a view on either stock but we will get to see if there are more buyers than sellers or the other way around.

I think this is a good thing, for those companies, for their shareholders, and for the entire tech and startup sector. We should let markets work. They do their job very well.

Categories: Blog articles

YouTube TV

May 5, 2019 - 4:58am

Last summer I threw out our twenty year old satellite dish and decided to finally go over the top. I put a bunch of video streaming apps on our AppleTV to replace the “linear television” that we had been getting with the dish.

Almost a year later, I’ve removed all but two of them and the clear winner has been YouTube TV.

YouTube TV is pretty much everything you’d want in a linear television service (except for one thing which I will get to) and the UI is more or less perfect.

The thing I like most about it is that I can run the app with my Google login on all of the AppleTVs in our house plus on our phones and we have the exact same experience, with the exact same library, on all of them.

That seems like a little thing, but after almost sixty years of living with set top boxes that are device specific, it is a big thing.

I’m writing this on my cell phone. Just before starting to write I was sitting in my office thinking that I want to watch the Sixers Raptors game this afternoon but we are going to be uptown at the TEFAF Art Fair.

No problem. I opened the YouTube TV app on my phone, searched for the Sixers Raptors game, and hit the plus sign.

When I turn on any of our TVs in our home, that game will be in the library waiting for me to watch it.

The one app, one subscription, any device thing is pretty cool too. We have a number of AppleTVs in our home but pay for only one subscription.

If you have a ski house, or a beach house, or some other form of second home, you can use your single YouTube TV subscription there too.

So what’s the one thing that’s not perfect about YouTube TV?

They don’t have the Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) on the service. If that Sixers Raptors game was being broadcast on CSN Philadelphia it would not have been on YouTube TV. Thankfully it is the playoffs and it is on ABC.

I talked to a friend of a friend who works at YouTube TV and the RSNs will not sell their content to YouTube TV on a subscriber by subscriber basis. If YouTube TV wants MSG Network on it’s service, it has to pay for it for everyone. And who other than die hard Knicks fans would want to pay to watch the Knicks this year?

So we also have a subscription to FuboTV which seems to have at least some of the RSNs including MSG Network. We have a family plan subscription to FuboTV which allows three of us (me and two of our kids) to have FuboTV in our homes which makes it a bit less expensive to have two streaming services.

I tried a bunch of other services over the last year but I found YouTube TV to be superior in almost every way.

Google did an amazing job with this product. If you put YouTube TV on your televisions (there are a bunch of ways you can do that), you can throw out that set-top box once and for all like we did.

And you will get a bunch of capabilities that you never had with cable. It’s great.

Categories: Blog articles

Audio Of The Week: A Chat With My Partner John

May 4, 2019 - 4:48am

John Buttrick has been a partner at USV for almost a decade. He mostly focuses on financial services but also does a few other things for us.

In this chat with John Siracusa, John talks about how he ended up at USV, our investing thesis, and a number of financial services investments he has made and manages for us.

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Funding Friday: Sweet Thing

May 3, 2019 - 5:38am

I backed this film project this morning. It looks great.

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The Long Game

May 2, 2019 - 5:22am

Entrepreneurship and startup investing is a long game. It requires patience, resilience, capital, commitment, and much more.

But even so, the average life of a venture capital investment is seven to ten years. It is rare for it to go longer than that. But it can happen.

Yesterday marked the end of an almost twenty-year relationship between me and what was once a startup and is now a fairly large company called Return Path. We announced yesterday that Return Path is being acquired by Validity.

My former venture capital firm, Flatiron Partners, that has not been actively investing since 2000, made its final investment in Return Path in mid-2000. I joined the board shortly after that and have been working with the founder and CEO Matt Blumberg ever since.

In many ways, this company and this entrepreneur define my career more than any other. Matt and I stuck with this company and each other for almost twenty years and in the process built an incredibly trusting, supportive, and, ultimately, profitable relationship.

We had partners in this long game. Brad Feld and Greg Sands joined the board a year or two after I did and they are among my closest friends in the venture business now. And we have had incredible independent directors like Scott Petry, Jeff Epstein, and Scott Weiss. The management team has turned over something like a half dozen times in twenty years but a few leaders have stuck it out including Jack Sinclair, George Bilbrey, and Ken Takahashi. All of these people are responsible for an incredible journey that I have gone on for the last twenty years with this company.

Matt and I have been through a lot together. We had a least four or five near death experiences when we should have lost the company but did not. We had a deal to sell the company fall through the night before the closing. We sold lines of businesses, we bought lines of businesses, we did several large reductions in force, we did several big expansions. We hired and parted ways with many executives.

Through all of that, we celebrated with each other, yelled at each other, cried with each other, annoyed each other, frustrated each other, and supported each other. Matt has made me a much better investor. He has taught me so much about supporting entrepreneurs, building and leading a great board, and hanging in there against long odds for a very long time.

When you see me do something, say something, explain something, here or elsewhere, my approach and philosophy comes from my experiences and nowhere did I get more experience than my time working with Matt and Return Path. So if you are getting any benefit from me, you are getting that benefit from Matt too.

I hope to work again with Matt and his team on another company or two or three. Hopefully they won’t all take twenty years.

Categories: Blog articles