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Musings of a VC in NYC
Updated: 3 hours 5 min ago

Founder Control

May 3, 2018 - 5:02am

I will start this post by stating that I am very much in the “one share one vote” camp.

That said, I have supported founder control provisions, like the one that Mark Pincus put in place when he took Zynga public back in 2011.

Mark wanted to put those provisions into the Series A deal when we co-led the first venture round at Zynga.

I was not a fan of the idea then, but when the Company got ready to head into the public markets, Mark made a convincing argument that a founder would have the long-term interests of the company at heart, whereas the public investors would not. And so Mark has controlled 70% of the voting stock at Zynga for the last seven years while his actual ownership is now around 10%.

I am telling you all of this because yesterday Mark did something that many thought he would never do.

He converted all of his super-voting shares into common stock and returned Zynga to “one share one vote.”

Mark explained his thinking on that decision here.

I am certain many will read more into this move than is actually there.

What I see in this move is a founder who still cares deeply about the company he started deciding that he doesn’t need to control it anymore.

And so he set it free.

Such a beautiful gesture.

Like I said in my tweet about this yesterday, it is a bold move by one of the boldest founders I know.

Categories: Blog articles

Canada

May 2, 2018 - 7:00am

I’m in Canada today to attend a board meeting. I love Canada. It’s a kindler gentler more welcoming version of the US. And it’s increasingly an important place to be for the tech sector.

About 10% of USV’s active portfolio is in Canada. And 30% of our last ten investments are in Canada. We have portfolio companies in Toronto, Waterloo, and Vancouver. We also know that Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa are attractive places to invest.

Canada has a lot to offer as a home for a tech company or a second office for a tech company.

The government is enthusiastic about tech companies and provides an R&D credit to tech companies. I don’t think this credit is so financially significant that it should determine where you locate your company, but it is a sign of the government’s enthusiasm for tech.

More importantly, the talent pool in Canada is rich. Canadians are well educated and there are a number of very strong engineering schools in Canada. All of our portfolio companies that have engineering teams in Canada claim they get higher quality and retention in those teams than the ones they operate in the US.

And, if course, Canada makes it easy for highly skilled workers to immigrate to Canada. In a time where high skilled immigration to the US has essentially been stopped, Canada is a great option to locate a team and recruit the smartest people in the world to it. What once was the game plan for tech in the US is now the game plan for tech in Canada.

Finally, entrepreneurship is alive and well in Canada. We have met and work with so many ambitious and agressive founders in Canada. And it’s a short plane ride from NYC and SF, depending on where in Canada you want to go.

We also work with a number of great investors from Canada. They are supportive and engaged and very much on top of the important trends in tech.

So I’m bullish on Canada and have been since we started investing here almost ten years ago. And unlike the US, Canada has the wind behind it’s back in tech right now.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — May 9, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Part 3)

Categories: Blog articles

Token Summit III In NYC

May 1, 2018 - 3:49am

On  May 17th, AVC regulars William Mougayar and Nick Tomaino will be hosting the 3rd Token Summit in New York at Pier 36 (aka Basketball City).

There are still a few tickets left but I think it will sell out soon.

The agenda was released a few days ago.

There are some interesting topics on the agenda:

Security Tokens
Token Regulation in the US
Non-Fungible Tokens
The Asian Crypto Landscape
Token Regulation in Switzerland

I will be there and will talk to the CTO of CryptoKitties Dieter Shirley about digital collectibles. My partner Brad Burnham will be on a panel discussing token regulations. And some of our companies will also be speaking, such as Blockstack and Coinbase.

May 14-18 is “Blockchain Week” in NYC and also features the Consensus Conference where I will be doing a fireside chat mid-morning on Wednesday May 16th. If you are in the blockchain/crypto sector, NYC will be the place to be the third week of May.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — May 9, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Part 3)

Categories: Blog articles

Email, Twitter, Blog

April 30, 2018 - 7:23am

I exchanged emails today with someone who wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn.

I told him that “I don’t do LinkedIn.”

I have a profile there and I use it regularly as a resume database to check out people. I keep a profile there so others can do the same.

But beyond that, I don’t do LinkedIn.

So to everyone who is sending me messages via LinkedIn, please know that I am not reading them. I suspect that is obvious to anyone who has tried that approach more than a few times.

The same is true of many social platforms. I have profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and a bunch more social platforms. But I don’t use them.

For me, the trifecta is email, twitter, and this blog.

That is a pretty large surface area via which folks can connect with me.

Email is hit or miss. I get hundreds of emails into my “Important” inbox on Gmail and hundreds more than don’t get into “Important” and thus don’t get read by me. Though I try to read every message and actually do respond to hundreds every day, I don’t get to all of my email.

I am better with Twitter. I read every notification that I get and respond to many.

And this blog is yet another place people can reach me.

I understand that it is frustrating to reach me and that I can be unresponsive.

But if you stick to email, twitter, and this blog, you have the best chance of getting a response from me.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — May 7, 2018
World After Capital: Getting Past Capital

Categories: Blog articles

Keep The Degree Of Difficulty Down

April 29, 2018 - 6:35am

In many sports, like diving, gymnastics, skating, etc, the way to win is to perfectly execute a high degree of difficulty move.

In startups, I advise founders to avoid that way of thinking and try to execute a simple dive and hit the water perfectly.

I have sat through numerous pitches where I am listening to the founder explain their technology and go to market plan and I think “this is going to be a reverse triple somersault with two twists in pike and there is no way they are going to land it.”

There is plenty of risk in doing a startup. People quit their good paying jobs and take equity in lieu of cash, investors risk capital, customers are asked to try something new that might not work. Amplifying all of that risk with a high degree of difficulty product roadmap or go to market plan is crazy.

Unlike sports like diving or skating, you don’t have just one or two of three attempts to win. In startups, you get to show your stuff every day, all the time.

So the better approach is to pick something simple to execute, nail it, then build on it with another relatively simple move, nail that too, and keep going.

When, ten years later, you look back at what you and the team accomplished, it may well look like a reverse triple somersault with two twists in pike, and it will have been exactly that, and you will have won the prize too. But you will have done it by doing the easier things perfectly thousands of times instead of the hard thing just once.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — May 7, 2018
World After Capital: Getting Past Capital

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Digital Art On The Blockchain

April 28, 2018 - 6:53am

About 3:15 into this video Chris Burniske asks an interesting question about how the CryptoKitties team thought about designing the kitties and the next ~four minutes are a revealing discussion about how blockchains may change the way digital art is created and sold in the future.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Eyeglass Frames Made From Recycled Water Bottles

April 27, 2018 - 4:36am

I backed this project today and bought myself a new pair of eyeglasses in the process.

Categories: Blog articles

The Scratch Effect

April 26, 2018 - 3:37am

Last night the Gotham Gal and I attended the annual benefit for the Scratch Foundation which provides financial support to the Scratch programming language and learning environment.

Mitch Resnick, founder of Scratch and leader of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab (I love that name so much I had to find a way to get it into this post), shared some numbers with the attendees last night:

In the last year, over 200 million people have used Scratch to make something, share something, or learn something.

I realize that not everyone who uses Scratch is a child, but the vast majority of them are.

There are roughly 2bn children on planet earth, so that means roughly 10% of our children used Scratch last year.

Think about that.

At our table, there were four high school students who I had invited to join us at the event. Two of them are ninth graders, just starting to learn to code and they are learning with Scratch. Two of them are seniors, experienced programmers who are experts in Java and a number of other languages. Four years ago, they learned to code on Scratch.

Scratch is the one ramp to learning to code. There really isn’t anything better to engage, excite, and inspire children to code something up and share it with the world.

And, right now, in 2018, 10% of our children are using it. I am confident that in a few years that number will be 30-50%, and I pray that some day it will be 100%.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — May 4, 2018
Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb (Book Review)

Categories: Blog articles

FINOS

April 25, 2018 - 5:27am

In December I wrote about the Symphony Software Foundation as it was launching the NYC Open Source Fintech Meetup.

Yesterday the foundation announced a new name: FINOS.

FINOS is about supporting open source software efforts across the financial services industry.

Financial services has often lagged other industries in adopting open source software related development practices, but that situation is changing quickly. Quantitative trading firms like Jane Street have built entire businesses based on open source. And perhaps there is no better example of the degree to which open source is impacting financial services (and other industries of course) than bitcoin, ethereum, and other crypto projects.

FINOS Executive Director, Gabriele Columbro, described the FINOS mission as follows:

In the industries where open source has succeeded, independent entities such as foundations and trade organizations have played a critical role in fostering success. They have facilitated cooperation among players (often hard to do between fierce rivals) and encouraged dialogues necessary to solving common problems. This is precisely the role FINOS is playing in financial services.

Many of FINOS’ members are large global finance and tech companies such as Goldman Sachs, UBS, JP Morgan, GitHub, Thomson Reuters, and Red Hat. The accelerating adoption of open source in fintech is important not just for major financial institutions but also for emerging startups and younger companies looking to service incumbents or compete against them (or both). Examples among FINOS members include OpenFin and NodeSource.

Because financial services has always had an oversized impact on tech here in NYC, this is likely a huge boost to the NYC open source ecosystem too.

If you’re working in fintech I encourage you to get engaged with some of FINOS’ programs, either by just evaluating and checking out some of the work, or by getting actively involved by contributing code to a working group. If you’d like to hear more about FINOS and its work, you may want to attend their FinTech in Open Source Event Series this evening at 6:30pm where Gabriele Columbro will be interviewed by Spencer Mindlin of the Aite Group.

Finally, fintech is no different than any other “tech” sector in that we need more women, people of color, and other traditionally underrepresented communities at the table. The transparency and contribution models of open source projects can be a great on-ramp for anyone interested in a particular technology or problem domain. Together with K-12 CS education for all, open source can increase access to careers and opportunities historically all but closed to large segments of our society.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Lauren Maz — May 2, 2018
Lauren @ USV

Albert Wenger — May 2, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Cont’d)

Categories: Blog articles

The Brave Browser

April 24, 2018 - 8:47am

A number of USV folks are using the Brave browser on their phones and thinking about using it on desktop too.

We are not the average internet users at USV. We tend toward early adopter.

So I polled my twitter followers (which also skews early adopter) to see how many of them are using the Brave browser:

I am curious to get a sense of the adoption of the Brave browser: https://t.co/qSXLwnryBj

— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) April 24, 2018

I don’t want to bias anyone who wants to complete the poll, so if you want to see the current results, pls complete it and you will see the results after you do that.

It’s interesting. I will say that much.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Lauren Maz — May 2, 2018
Lauren @ USV

Albert Wenger — May 2, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Cont’d)

Categories: Blog articles

The AVC Audience

April 23, 2018 - 4:40am

As I slowly heard toward moving the WordPress instance that hosts AVC to another provider, I was asked how large the audience was.

So I went and looked for the first time in a long while and sent that info to a potential new provider.

And I figured you all might be interested too.

So here are some screenshots from Google Analytics:

This is the total usage over the last twelve months.

 

 

This is active users (28 day, 7 day, one day) over the past year.

 

And here is a bit more about where you all come from and what kind of device you use to read AVC.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — May 2, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Cont’d)

Albert Wenger — April 30, 2018
World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Overview, Population)

Categories: Blog articles

Google Finance

April 22, 2018 - 5:06am

Google Finance and Yahoo Finance are two web services I have used daily since the early days of the Internet.

I have used Yahoo Finance since it first launched in January 1997.

But after Google Finance launched in 2006, I started using Google Finance more and eventually, it became my default finance site on the web.

Sometime in the last month or two, I can’t remember exactly when, Google revamped Google Finance.

The UI is cleaner and the service is much simpler.

But a lot of the power user features I had come to rely on in my daily work are either gone or buried so deeply that I can’t find them.

I also find it hard to search for a price quote now, which is kind of the most basic feature one would want in a service like this.

Anyway, I have switched a lot of my usage back to Yahoo Finance as a result.

But I am hoping that Google realizes that they messed some stuff up in the revamp and are working on fixing it.

Because I do prefer Google Finance. At least I did.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 30, 2018
World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Overview, Population)

Nick Grossman — April 30, 2018
just_work = true

Categories: Blog articles

Slideshare Of The Week: State of Tokens

April 21, 2018 - 6:21am

AVC regular William Mougayar posted a slide deck he calls State Of Tokens this week.

I like the deck a lot, particularly slide 34 (it’s a 36 slide deck), where he posits a timeline for the development of the blockchain ecosystem and where we are right now.

Here it is:



State of Tokens by William Mougayar – April 2018 from The Business Blockchain
USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 30, 2018
World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Overview, Population)

Nick Grossman — April 30, 2018
just_work = true

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Saving Brinton

April 20, 2018 - 4:33am

I backed this project today to bring a film about saving some of the earliest movies made to the big screen.

Categories: Blog articles

I Can’t Do Math In Prose

April 19, 2018 - 3:38am

I wrote those words to a friend of mine yesterday. We are working on a project together.

He wrote me an email listing a whole bunch of investments to be made and where we are on them.

I read it and understood it, but it didn’t really register with me.

So we are going to make a spreadsheet with a few columns, total some stuff up, and look at it together.

The Gotham Gal calls that a “fredsheet” because I do better with numbers in a spreadsheet.

This is an example of presenting information in context.

I feel that how information is presented is often more powerful than the underlying data.

And when you want someone to understand what you are saying, it is best to put that information in the format that person is most comfortable in.

For me, that is often a sheet.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 27, 2018
Trump, Irrationality and Game Theory

Categories: Blog articles

Earn.com

April 18, 2018 - 3:51am

The news broke earlier this week that our portfolio company Coinbase has acquired Earn.com.

A lot of the press attention was centered around the fact that Earn’s CEO Balaji Srinivasan is becoming Coinbase’s CTO and the backstory about how Earn came out of a pivot from a failed Bitcoin mining company called 21.

But an overlooked aspect of this transaction is that Coinbase has acquired a business that is the crypto version of Mechanical Turk or, perhaps, Task Rabbit.

Earn.com allows a user to create a profile and earn Bitcoin by doing tasks. The tasks right now are centered around the crypto sector (analyze a white paper, accept an incoming email from a recruiter, etc). But if you squint, you can imagine how this mechanic could be extended to all sorts of other tasks.

Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s founder and CEO, tweeted about this yesterday:

It is not enough for all of us to be buying, selling, and holding crypto assets. Earning them is a very important function in the development of an ecosystem. So I am excited to see Coinbase supporting and investing in a business where users can earn crypto assets and my hope is that this becomes something as meaningful as what Amazon has done with Mechanical Turk over the years.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 27, 2018
Trump, Irrationality and Game Theory

Albert Wenger — April 25, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs

Categories: Blog articles

The Employee Equity Project

April 17, 2018 - 5:19am

In the fall of 2010, I wrote a series of nine blog posts about Employee Equity as part of MBA Mondays.

You can read all of them at the links below:

Most of what is in those posts remains valid today.

But the final post, How Much, is very much out of date as the talent market has moved in favor of employees a lot in the past eight years.

That has been particularly true of the top executives and some key talent categories.

Most of the movement has been on the equity side of the comp package.

The How Much post is one of the top posts on AVC.

Though I wrote it 7 1/2 years ago, it was the seventh most popular post on AVC (sixth if you don’t count the home page) in the last year with almost 10k page views.

So I have been concerned that this blog (aka me) is spewing out of date information to a lot of people every day.

And so we are on a mission to fix that.

I have enlisted my colleagues Bethany and Zach on this project and this is what we in the process of doing:

We have collected data on employee equity grants from USV portfolio companies. Many of our portfolio companies use a reporting tool called Advanced HR and through it, we have been able to access anonymized data on every grant that these participating companies have made. Since these are our portfolio companies, we know what their equity is valued at and what it has been valued at over the years. We also understand the context behind many of the outlier grants.

So we have been normalizing the data and bucketing it and looking at distribution curves and understanding it.

We are mostly through all of this work and it is my hope we can publish the data before the middle of May.

As part of that, I will rewrite the How Much post and I will go back and edit the original post with an update section at the end clarifying that the data has changed (a lot).

We also plan to publish a calculator that will help a founder/CEO/HR team understand how to use the numbers we are going to publish.

So stay tuned for this update. It has been a fair bit of work to do this update right and we are excited to get the data out there so all of you can use it.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 25, 2018
Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs

naomi shah — April 25, 2018
Hi Everyone

Categories: Blog articles

Are We Decentralized Yet?

April 16, 2018 - 4:17am

My friend Chris Burniske told me about this site last week and then tweeted about it last night:

So the answer to the question posed by the name of the website is “not really.”

But that doesn’t mean we won’t be someday.

This chart also shows the issues with highly valued chains like Ripple, Stellar, and NEO.

These chains offer some things, but certainly not decentralized consensus.

It is still very early days in the development of decentralized consensus systems and there is a lot more work to do.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 23, 2018
World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Needs)

Categories: Blog articles

Time And Money

April 15, 2018 - 6:00am

One of the least discussed aspects of investing in startups is the value of the time commitment one makes to a company they invest in.

The money part is pretty simple; you invest capital into a business and get an equity participation in the upside. Both sides of that deal can analyze that transaction and understand it fairly well. Of course neither side knows what the ultimate payoff will be, but one can handicap it.

The time piece of the transaction is way more complicated.

Consider:

1/ The founder doesn’t know if they will actually get the investor to deliver on the promises made to add value and spend a lot of time on the investment. A founder can reference an investor and get a better sense of this but there is nothing written into an investment agreement that binds either party to make a specific time commitment to an investment.

2/ An investor doesn’t know for how long they may need to contribute to an investment. Will it be three years, five years or fifteen years?

3/ A founder doesn’t know how much of their time they will have to spend managing their investor group. Will the group be invasive and annoying or will it be value adding and helpful, or both?

4/ An investor doesn’t know if they will have to shore up a weak team with a ton of day to day support or if the team will be largely self sufficient and only need occasional advice and counsel.

I could continue with these examples but I think you get the idea.

Time is a valuable resource for all parties and it should be a factor that both sides include in the deal making analysis. But it often is not.

A good example of where it is explicitly considered is a late stage financing where a company specifically seeks out “passive capital.” In that scenario, both sides are choosing to largely remove the time equation from the investment analysis and simply treat the deal as an exchange of capital for equity. That is clean and simple and well understood.

Contrast that with a hotly contested seed transaction where a founder has demand for 5x what they want to raise. Every investor is promising to add value to get into the deal. The founder has to assign some value to the time each investor will contribute along with capital but has very little information to do so. The truth about these situations is a few seed investors will massively over deliver and the rest will massively dissapoint.

As an early stage VC who typically invests at the seed and Series A stage, I feel that the time piece of the equation in our deal making is the hardest part to get right. We should price our time into the investment math. We should pay a premium valuation for an investment that will require less time from us. And we should get a discount for an investment that will require a lot of our time.

We do consciously think about this in our deal making but we don’t have a crystal ball and we get this part wrong a lot. I have spent huge investments of time on situations that have not moved the needle for us and likely won’t. And I have been involved in companies that have delivered fantastic returns to us and our partners with very little effort on our part.

If one has time to evaluate the time commitment issue as part of an investment process, it becomes a bit easier for both sides to get this right. A rushed financing makes it harder and can lead to miscalculations on both sides.

Like everything in business (and life), you learn about this by getting it wrong. Founders and investors with a lot of experience understand the importance of this and factor time heavily into their investment decision making. And that leads to a healthier dynamic for everyone.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — April 23, 2018
World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Needs)

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Filecoin

April 14, 2018 - 6:11am

One of the crypto projects I am most excited about is Filecoin, which comes from USV portfolio company Protocol Labs, which also produced the popular hypermedia protocol IPFS.

In this talk, from the Blockstack Berlin conference last month, Protocol Labs founder/CEO Juan Benet talks about Filecoin, why they are building it, and how it will work.

Categories: Blog articles