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Musings of a VC in NYC
Updated: 2 hours 16 min ago

Consumer Learning

October 3, 2018 - 8:06am

I listened to this IBM podcast with Matt Glotzbach, CEO of our portfolio company Quizlet, this morning.

Matt explains that edtech, a long-standing term for the market for software and technology sold to the education market, is fundamentally different from the newer and exciting market for consumer learning.

We agree with Matt and our approach to investing in education, a core part of our thesis 3.0, is about delivering learning tools directly to the student and bypassing the traditional education system.

That does not mean that consumer learning is in opposition to the traditional education system, though.

We see students and teachers adopting tools like Quizlet, Duolingo, Codecademy and many others to improve learning outcomes in the classroom and at home.

But consumer learning starts with the learner and is focused on serving them as the customer, not institutions, districts, schools or other “enterprises.”

I think a learner-centric model will produce better learning outcomes than an enterprise-centric model and I also think these consumer learning companies will be better businesses too.


Bethany Crystal — October 12, 2018
Frequent flier fangirl

Albert Wenger — October 12, 2018
Criticism Should be Welcome: Roubini Crypto Edition

Bethany Crystal — October 11, 2018
Tech talent transfusions

Categories: Blog articles

The Apps=>Infrastructure=>Apps=>Infrastructure Cycle

October 2, 2018 - 3:47am

My view has been, and is, that we are in the “infrastructure phase” of the crypto market development cycle.

To elaborate, I believe that we need better infrastructure (e.g. better base chains, better interchain interoperability, better clients, wallets and browsers) before we can see a robust application development environment and so I have stated many times that right now is a time to focus on building (and investing in) that infrastructure. That view has been the prevailing wisdom inside of USV for quite a while now.

Well a couple of our colleagues at USV decided to poke holes in that argument and spent a few weeks doing research and then writing this post.

The post is called “The Myth Of The Infrastructure Phase” and it was researched and written by Dani and Nick.

I have a feeling that this post may be headed to similar territory as Joel‘s now famous Fat Protocols post because, like that one, it takes a conventional wisdom and turns it on its head.

Dani and Nick argue that there are no distinct phases but in fact, a virtuous cycle of apps>infrastructure>apps>infrastructure that brings a new market/technology into its own.

Read the post, as this argument is well researched and well made.

However, as much as I agree with their arguments, I continue to believe that for investors, the best bets right now are infrastructure bets. It remains too hard, too expensive, and too frustrating, to build decentralized apps and the big value unlock will come when that changes. I think the returns on investment on infrastructure will be higher in the phase we are in right now. There will come a time when apps development will have a better ROI, but I do not think we are there right now.

USV has made investments in decentralized apps, like OB1 and CryptoKitties, and we will continue to do that. But our primary focus is on infrastructure right now.


Bethany Crystal — October 11, 2018
Tech talent transfusions

Albert Wenger — October 10, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: The Trouble with Slow Risk (Climate Change)

Bethany Crystal — October 10, 2018
The sweet spot

Categories: Blog articles

Converting ICS files to Google Sheets

October 1, 2018 - 3:25am

It’s that time of year for NBA season ticket holders.

Preseason is upon us and the regular season is around the corner.

For me, that means splitting up our games between our various family members.

The way we do this requires a bit of a hack that I thought I would post about this morning in hopes that any of you out there know a better way.

Step 1 – Go to your team’s website, find the schedule, and select “add to calendar” or something like that. This is the page on the Knicks website.

Step 2 – Choose “other” or “download” to get an .ics file downloaded to your computer.

Step 3 – Use this free web app to convert the .ics file you downloaded to a .csv file.

Step 4 – Import that .csv file into Excel or Google Sheets.

The thing I always get stuck on is the Knicks schedule is published in GMT time and so the dates and times for the games always come in incorrectly. Which requires me to either write a script to convert them or just fix them manually. I have not found a way to download the .ics file in EST, which would be a huge benefit.

In any case, I am excited for the NBA season to begin. I am not expecting much from the Knicks this year as they are in full rebuild mode (including the knee of our franchise player).

But there is nothing like a close game in the fourth quarter at MSG and I’m hoping we get some of those this year.


Albert Wenger — October 10, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: The Trouble with Slow Risk (Climate Change)

Bethany Crystal — October 10, 2018
The sweet spot

Nick Grossman — October 9, 2018
Plans vs. Routines

Categories: Blog articles

Working Weekends

September 30, 2018 - 9:13am

My friend Brad Feld takes a digital sabbath. No email, internet, phone for 24 hours from Friday night to Saturday night.

I’ve not been willing or able to do that but I do try to work less on the weekends.

I don’t go to the office under any circumstances on the weekends and I don’t take business meetings on the weekends either. I have told that to a few people over the years and they responded “I didn’t think I was business”. Oh well. I do not mean to offend.

I do generally spend Saturday morning in my home office catching up on personal/family work which I try not to do much of during the week. I remember my Dad doing the same when I was growing up. I did not consciously model that behavior after him but I do know where I got the idea.

The rest of the weekend is largely time off for me. I like to spend Saturday afternoons out and about with the Gotham Gal and Sunday mornings on a bike ride with my daughter, which I did today, or playing golf with friends, which I did last Sunday.

I also try like hell to get an afternoon nap in on both Saturday and Sunday.

And Sunday evenings is almost always a family meal with our kids. I look forward to that so much now that they don’t live with us anymore.

I could have titled this post “Not Working Weekends” but the truth is I do work on the weekends. I often will catch up on email on the weekends when the inbound is slower. It is the only time of the week I can seem to make a dent in my inbox.

And I will do calls on the weekends when it is necessary which is frequently.

But slowing it down for a couple days a week is a great habit and one that I’ve gotten a lot better at over the years.

I do believe that a rested body and mind is a better body and mind and the best time to make that happen is on the weekends, particularly a gorgeous fall weekend like we are having in NYC right now.


Nick Grossman — October 9, 2018
Plans vs. Routines

Bethany Crystal — October 9, 2018
Talking about diversity

Bethany Crystal — October 8, 2018
The Cat Thread

Categories: Blog articles

Audio Of The Week: The Changing Nature Of Women’s Healthcare

September 29, 2018 - 5:53am

One of the themes we are deeply bought into at USV in our approach to healthcare investing is the opportunity in women’s health care, particularly providing care to young and healthy women. Our portfolio companies Nurx, Clue, and Modern Fertility are all doing that.

This podcast, which I listened to earlier this week, is a discussion of exactly that opportunity and features Hans Gangeskar, CEO of Nurx, and Carolyn Witte, CEO of AskTia.


Bethany Crystal — October 8, 2018
The Cat Thread

Albert Wenger — October 8, 2018
World After Capital: Economic Freedom (Intro, Universal Basic Income)

Bethany Crystal — October 7, 2018
Fans and foes

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Names Are Bullshit

September 28, 2018 - 3:23am

I backed this documentary project on Kickstarter this week:

This film is about a bunch of things that get me going; entrepreneurship, the unlikely winner, rock, reggae, and live music.

I can’t wait until it is made and I can watch it.


Bethany Crystal — October 7, 2018
Fans and foes

Bethany Crystal — October 6, 2018
Color coding your clothes

Categories: Blog articles

Competing To Win

September 27, 2018 - 4:31am

This question came up in the comments yesterday:

It got me thinking about whether a competitive investment is a better investment.

Most of the time we are in a competitive process when we consider an investment.

But that is not always the case.

Sometimes, we are the only investor at the table.

That could be because we got there before anyone else.

Or it could be because nobody else wanted to invest.

We have had big wins in all of these scenarios.

I am not big on social proof. I think it is among the dumbest notions in all of investing.

If you can’t figure out why you want to make an investment on your own, you should not be investing.

But it is true that you have to be able to win competitive situations in order to be a top-tier venture investor.

It may, in fact, be the signature trait of a top-tier venture investor.

When I started out in the VC business, I was with a firm that struggled to win competitive deals.

We did not have a brand, we did not have a strong market position.

So when I left and we started Flatiron, I was all about fixing that.

We did that at Flatiron and we did that at USV.

You have to be able to win the deals you want to win and price is not going to do it all by itself.

The market has a way of getting everyone more or less to a clearing price and then the entrepreneur will make her choice.

And in that moment, you have to have something they want.

It could be your brand.

It could be your passion.

It could be your network.

Most likely it is all those things and more.

So being able to ask in and get in is a very big part of succeeding in the venture business.


Bethany Crystal — October 5, 2018
What makes us similar

Albert Wenger — October 5, 2018
Interoperability and Competition (for Scooters, Bikes, etc)

Bethany Crystal — October 4, 2018
Religion and politics

Categories: Blog articles

Knowing What You Are Looking For

September 26, 2018 - 4:05am

There are many different styles of investing. At USV, we choose to be thesis-driven investors. This is our current thesis.

When an opportunity shows up that is right down the middle of our strike zone, we generally jump on it.

It really helps to know what you are looking for.

I told this story yesterday to Rebecca as we were talking about a current opportunity that fits our current thesis like a glove:


When Brad and I were raising the first USV fund in 2003 and 2004, we spent most of our time on the road, pitching investors to invest in our fund.

On the road, we would talk a lot about what we would invest in once the fund was closed.

We wanted to invest in the applications layer of the Internet and we were seeing search and social turning into interesting opportunities.

One day Brad said to me “What if job listings worked like search? Instead of posting your jobs to a site like Monster, you just post them to your company website and buy traffic to them?”

Brad has always been fascinated by business model disruption and the power of moving to a new model.

We thought about it and talked about it a fair bit and concluded that if something that looked like that showed up, we would jump on it.

Right after we held our first closing of USV 2004 (which happened in November 2004), I read this blog post on my friend John Battelle‘s blog.

John was writing his book on Google at the time and was obsessed with the search business.

I ran into Brad’s office and said “your search engine for jobs is here, it is called Indeed.” I showed him John’s post.

So we reached out to Paul and Rony, the Indeed founders, and told them we wanted to invest in Indeed.

They weren’t so sure about that. They were self-funding Indeed after selling their previous company and did not need our money.

But we kept after them and eventually, in the fall of 2005, we did invest.

I wrote this blog post on usv.com explaining why we invested in Indeed.

The rest is history. Indeed was possibly the best company we ever invested in at USV.

There have been bigger returns as Indeed chose to sell to Recruit instead of staying independent and going public.

Had they done that, I bet they would be worth north of $10bn now and we owned a lot of it.

But that’s another story.

This one is about knowing what you are looking for and jumping on it when you see it.

It is usually a recipe for success.


Bethany Crystal — October 5, 2018
What makes us similar

Albert Wenger — October 5, 2018
Interoperability and Competition (for Scooters, Bikes, etc)

Bethany Crystal — October 4, 2018
Religion and politics

Categories: Blog articles

The Post-Sale Stay-Period

September 25, 2018 - 4:36am

There is a lot of chatter on Tech Twitter and elsewhere about the Instagram founders leaving Facebook six years after selling their company to Facebook.

All I can say about that situation is they gave Facebook way more of their time and energy than most founders would have.

Of course there are cases where founders stay at the buyer for many years, sometimes even rising to become CEO

But that is rare.

Way more common is the founder bailing after a year or less.

When companies that I am on the board of acquire founder-led companies, I advise them to highly incentivize the founders to stay (usually with a combination of cash and stock that is time based) but prepare for them to leave (by having a clear succession and transition plan in place right away).

The truth is that many entrepreneurs don’t make for great corporate citizens. Entrepreneurs like to be in charge, to be able to move quickly without a lot of friction, and they like to feel a deep sense of ownership in what they are working on.

That is often hard to find in a corporate environment where teamwork, collaborative decision making, and checks and balances are the norm.

I am a big believer in acquisitions as a path for wealth creation (for both the seller and buyer) and as a logical exit for most startup founders. And staying for some period of time is required to make the acquisition work for both parties.

But getting the founders to stay for six years is an amazing accomplishment and quite rare in my experience.


Bethany Crystal — October 4, 2018
Religion and politics

Albert Wenger — October 3, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: To Know or Not to Know?

Bethany Crystal — October 3, 2018
The nuance of bias

Categories: Blog articles

Conversations Versus Interviews

September 24, 2018 - 3:01am

I’ve been interviewed many times and while interviews are OK, what I enjoy a lot more are public conversations between two people.

Listening to two people talking as friends and peers is more enlightening to me.

My friend Chris Dixon was in NYC a few weeks ago and he came by my office and we talked about stuff for about an hour.

I told him it would be fun to do the same thing but record it and put it up online.

So I went over to the A16Z offices in NYC a few days later and we did that.

And this is an hour-long conversation between the two of us about what we are thinking about right now.

I hope you enjoy it.


Albert Wenger — October 3, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: To Know or Not to Know?

Bethany Crystal — October 3, 2018
The nuance of bias

Bethany Crystal — October 2, 2018
Being the Duck

Categories: Blog articles

Fifteen Years

September 23, 2018 - 3:08am

Fifteen years ago, I sat down in front of a website called Typepad and wrote this post.

I ended that short post (six brief paragraphs) with this:

I read blogs a lot. And i think they are great. So i am starting a blog. I have no idea if i’ll write a lot in my blog or rarely. I hope its a lot, because i have a lot to say. But we’ll see about that.

Well, we did see about that. I do have a lot to say. As a hater commenter said here a few weeks ago, I talk too much.

But out of all of that writing has come a few gems that still are as good as the day I wrote them, a series of blog posts called MBA Mondays that people continue to come across and read from start to finish, and a connection to a readership that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

For me, I have gained a daily practice that starts me off with a wide-open mind, that makes me think and articulate that thinking, that has led to numerous spectacular investments and has honed my ability to communicate, not just in the written word, but also in many other ways.

In those fifteen years, I have posted 8,033 times. That is way more than 15*365 because, in the early years, I would post multiple times a day. I settled on once a day about five years in and that has become my practice since.

I regularly get people coming to me and asking me to write a book. I always pass because I can’t imagine writing in a format that has an end. I can’t imagine writing in a format that doesn’t provide instant feedback. I can’t imagine writing in a format that requires a structure. I can’t imagine writing in a format that isn’t a stream of consciousness. I can’t imagine thinking about what I am going to write more than ten minutes before writing it. I can’t imagine killing trees to carry my words. So I will continue to write a blog. It’s the perfect format for me. AVC is way more than a book. It is a living breathing thing that sustains me and that is me.

When this blog turned ten, we had a big party. Many people traveled long distances to attend. It was a lot of fun. I met many AVC readers for the first time.

Five years later, I am in a different frame of mind on how to celebrate the anniversary. I want to acknowledge the moment and then move on. I am trying to contain what this blog is to keep it manageable for me. There are many times it has tested those limits. Lately, I have gotten it in a good place where it is working well for me. And hopefully for you too.

Happy fifteenth birthday, AVC.


Bethany Crystal — October 2, 2018
Being the Duck

Nick Grossman — October 1, 2018
The Adjacent Possible

dani.grant@usv.com — October 1, 2018
The Myth of The Infrastructure Phase

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Ben Horowitz on Crypto

September 22, 2018 - 5:46am

This is a short clip from a longer conversation that Ben Horowitz did at Disrupt a few weeks ago.

In this clip, Ben describes crypto as a new kind of computing platform that is worse in every way (right now) but one.


Nick Grossman — October 1, 2018
The Adjacent Possible

dani.grant@usv.com — October 1, 2018
The Myth of The Infrastructure Phase

Bethany Crystal — October 1, 2018
Rebound jobs

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Half-Light

September 21, 2018 - 3:40am

Earlier this week, I backed this project from an artist in Iran.

The project is now over. It was funded with almost $10,000. So her photography book will be made and shared with the world.

It is too bad that I didn’t share this with all of you while the project was live so you could back it as I did.

But this project exhibits all of the things that makes Kickstarter so important to me.

It is from the heart, it is art, it is full of meaning, it is from a person halfway around the world that I don’t know and probably will never know.

And it moved me.

Categories: Blog articles

Pixelbook Reactions

September 20, 2018 - 4:08am

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was getting more interested in a Chromebook.

And I got a ton of great feedback from all of you. Thank you for that.

I purchased a Pixelbook and have been using it at the USV office for the last few weeks.

Here are my initial thoughts on it:

1/ I quite like the lack of a desktop OS in the computer. The Pixelbook boots right into the browser and you do everything there. That is great for me and the way I work.

2/ The keyboard took me a bit of getting used to. I am used to the keyboard shortcuts on the Mac and it’s hard to switch away from them.

3/ I still use a Mac at home so it is a bit strange going from one computer to another and back during the day. But it is not terrible.

4/ I would really appreciate a biometric login, like a fingerprint or a face recognition. Having to enter my long and strong Google password every time I wake the computer back up is a challenge. I have heard that the next Pixelbook will come with biometric login. If so, that would be a big improvement in my view.

5/ The size, shape, screen, and weight are all great. It feels roughly equivalent to a MacBook to me.

I plan to continue to use the Pixelbook at the USV office for the foreseeable future. If Google makes one with biometric login, I will get that one instead.

However, I am not yet ready to move my entire computing experience away from the Mac. That is going to take me getting a lot more used to the Pixelbook and ChromeOS. It could happen, but not yet.

Categories: Blog articles

How Diversity Happens

September 19, 2018 - 3:49am

Henry Ward, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Carta, wrote a post yesterday outlining the gender inequity on cap tables throughout the startup landscape.

It is a good post and I would recommend you click through and read it.

In it, Henry writes:

When I started Carta I didn’t focus on diversity because I was worrying about staying alive. Then we hit our growth phase and went from 20 employees to 400 in 48 months. I assumed diversity would happen on its own. Of course it didn’t. I didn’t realize how much deliberate focus it takes. I do now.

That is a pretty typical story.

A few years at our annual CEO summit, Scott Heiferman, founder and CEO of Meetup, told a room full of startup CEOs that you have to build diversity into your company from day one because if you don’t, it becomes so much harder later on. He explained that nobody wants to join a company where nobody looks like them. That really hit home and woke quite a few people up.

All companies and people suffer from back burnering things. You focus on what you must get done and everything else takes a back seat.

That doesn’t work when it comes to hiring and diversity. You have to prioritize it and make it intentional.

We have done that recently at USV and we are getting the desired results.

That is very exciting to me.

Categories: Blog articles

Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway

September 18, 2018 - 4:09am

This post is jam-packed with conflicts. It is about not one, but two, of USV’s portfolio companies. The more the better in my view.

Our portfolio company Cloudflare announced yesterday that they have launched an IPFS Gateway.

IPFS is an open protocol built and supported by our portfolio company Protocol Labs that facilitates a peer-to-peer file system composed of thousands of computers around the world, each of which stores files on behalf of the network.

So why is this a big deal?

Well, here are a few reasons. You can all add more in the comments.

1/ Cloudflare is a massively scaled infrastructure company. By offering a hosted IPFS gateway, none of us need to download and run IPFS software on our computers anymore. Cloudflare will do it for us.

2/ IPFS is awesome. It decentralizes file hosting, which has historically been a centralized affair on the internet. The Cloudflare post has a really great primer on IPFS in it so go there if you want to learn more.

3/ We are one step closer to the decentralized blogging platform that I have long wanted. From the CloudFlare post, “Using Cloudflare’s gateway, you can also build a website that’s hosted entirely on IPFS, but still available to your users at a custom domain name. Plus, we’ll issue any website connected to our gateway a free SSL certificate, ensuring that each website connected to Cloudflare’s gateway is secure from snooping and manipulation.”

And yesterday’s announcement is just day one of “crypto week” at Cloudflare where each day they will be announcing support for a new technology that uses cryptography to make the Internet better. I love that. I love Cloudflare. I love Protocol Labs. And I love IPFS. /fin


Albert Wenger — September 26, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Grit and Purpose

Categories: Blog articles

Creative Prompts

September 17, 2018 - 3:02am

The Gotham Gal and I listened to the recent Howard Stern interview of Paul McCartney yesterday on a drive from long island to NYC.

It’s a great interview, about 1 1/2 hours long, with incredible stories and lots of music.

Howard picks out songs, plays them, and Paul talks about how each one came about.

If you are a SiriusXM subscriber, you can listen on the web or SiriusXM mobile app.

I highly recommend it.

Near the end (1 hour 17 mins into the interview), Paul tells a story about being challenged by Dustin Hoffman at a dinner party to write a song “about anything.”

Paul accepts the challenge and so Dustin and the other guests decide Pablo Picasso’s last words should be the thing to write a song about.

Those words, as Picasso was heading to bed, were “drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore.”

And so Paul wrote this song to those words.

And as he was telling this story to Howard, Paul says “I kind of like it, it puts you outside your comfort zone for an hour.”

I can totally relate to that.

This blog is that way.

I wake up every morning not knowing what I am going to write and before heading off to the gym or work, or both, I have written something and posted it.

Most frequently I wake up with something on my mind that leads to the post of the day.

Which, coming back to Paul McCartney, is how many of Paul’s songs happened. He would wake up with a song in his head and then he’d get out the guitar or sit at the piano and play it.

The creative process is hard to comprehend, but working with what is on your mind, challenging yourself, and getting outside of your comfort zone are three tricks that have worked for me and apparently also Paul McCartney, arguably the greatest songwriter of our time.


Albert Wenger — September 26, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Grit and Purpose

Categories: Blog articles

Marathon Man

September 16, 2018 - 4:24am

The New York Times has a piece up on Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s best marathon runner.

I read it with interest yesterday as I like to think of startups as marathons and I am always on the lookout for ideas and insights that can help entrepreneurs and investors.

Eliud is an impressive person and, as you might expect, he is extremely disciplined.

He says in the piece:

Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.

That rings so true to me.

It is true in investing, where I like to have a framework and stick to it and not let my emotions get in the way.

But it is also true in building companies.

Being focused on the long game and what you want to achieve is the best way to get there.

I see many teams looking around at what others are doing and it makes them crazy.

And I see a few teams heads down, executing their plan, and it makes them calm.

In the short run, it can often seem like nothing is getting done, and your competitors are passing you by.

But, like the marathon runner, it is never the sprinter that wins the race, it is the dogged and determined that is there at the end with the trophy in hand.

Eliud just broke the world record in Berlin today. He finished in 2 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds.

He’s an inspiration to all of us.


Nick Grossman — September 24, 2018
Getting the Chills

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Brian Armstrong at Disrupt

September 15, 2018 - 5:06am

There is a narrative in crypto land that you are either in the “crypto is money” camp or the “crypto is tech” camp. This blog post from Erik Torenberg sums that up pretty nicely.

The interview below is from TechCrunch Disrupt a week or so ago. Brian Armstrong, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Coinbase, was interviewed by Fitz Tepper.

There are a couple points in this interview where Brian is presented with a version of that narrative. For example Fitz asked Brian “are you a tech company or a finance company.”

I like how Brian acknowledges that framework but ultimately concludes that the answer is neither, that Coinbase is a crypto company and that crypto is both tech and money.

I am of that view as well and I am glad to see leaders in the crypto sector articulating it.


Nick Grossman — September 24, 2018
Getting the Chills

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: The Reflection Ritual

September 14, 2018 - 3:42am

A friend of a friend is doing this project to make a workbook that can help us step back and take measure of our lives, what they are, and what we want them to be.

It’s a neat idea and I think it can be quite helpful, particularly if you feel stuck right now.

I backed it earlier this week and you may want to do the same.


Nick Grossman — September 22, 2018
The Utility Infielder

Categories: Blog articles