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Musings of a VC in NYC
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Practice

July 5, 2019 - 9:02am

When I started writing this blog in 2003, I was not a strong writer. Sixteen years later, I am a better writer. Doing something every day is the best way to improve at something.

I’ve been doing yoga for roughly the same number of years as I’ve been writing this blog. But I am not as religious about yoga as I am about writing.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been doing the exact same yoga practice (the Mysore style) three mornings a week and today I noticed that I was able to do some things I could not do before.

I have a long way to go before I can do yoga the way that most of the people in the yoga studio with me can do it, but the mere fact that I am noticeably improving gives me great satisfaction.

Practice means doing something again and again in an effort to improve. But it also means a way of doing something (a law practice). The two are really the same thing. A lawyer who has been practicing law for thirty years is likely a better lawyer than someone who is right out of law school.

It is easy to watch a basketball player like Steph Curry hit three pointer after three pointer and think “that is raw talent” and surely that is true. But it is also true that he has probably practiced those shots for endless hours in the gym perfecting the shot and stroke.

I think everyone can improve at things they are not good at and become competent, even excellent, at them. I am not going to win a Pulitzer Prize, but I can write well and have become a strong communicator by practicing it routinely. Practice really works.

Categories: Blog articles

The American Dream

July 4, 2019 - 5:23am

It has been 243 years since our founding fathers signed the Declaration Of Independence and the great American experiment began.

These words form the moral backbone of our country and represent our core values:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

We have not always lived up to these values. Slavery and the treatment of the Native American Indians are glaring examples. And there certainly have been other moments where America has not lived up to these values.

However, it has been my experience, over fifty-seven years living in the US, that we try to live to these values and that the notions of freedom and equality are deeply rooted in the culture of America.

Which leads me to the American Dream, the notion that there is economic opportunity for all, regardless of who you are and where you come from.

That has been my experience personally. I worked my way through college, arrived in NYC at the age of 21 with not a penny to my name, but with a job waiting for me, and I made the best of that.

It is also my experience in the venture capital business. I have seen people without a college education pursue their dream and come out a winner. I have seen people with broken English make it with hustle and ingenuity.

But again, there are gaps in this record of opportunity. It is not as easy for a young black woman growing up in Brownsville to find economic opportunity as it is a young white man growing up in Palo Alto. There are many parts of America where life has gotten harder for the current generation relative to their parent’s generation.

But what makes America special is that we believe that isn’t right and it should be addressed. And I see it being addressed in my work on the education sector and beyond. I am hopeful that we will see a meaningful dent in many of these opportunity gaps in my lifetime.

It is fashionable these days to bemoan what is wrong with America and there is much that is wrong. But I prefer to stare at what remains right about America and celebrate it, particularly on our birthday.

Categories: Blog articles

A Blast From The Past

July 3, 2019 - 5:23am

I saw this in my twitter feed today.

Almost a decade ago, my friend John Heilemann interviewed John Doerr and me at Web 2.0.

It is interesting to go back a decade and see what we were talking about then.

Some of the same issues exist today. Some of the questions we debated have been answered now.

It’s about forty minutes long.

Categories: Blog articles

Oculus Quest

July 2, 2019 - 8:19am

If there is a technology that has overpromised and underdelivered more than AR/VR over the last five years, I am not sure what it is.

Facebook paid $2bn (or possibly more) for Oculus in the spring of 2014 and maybe a couple million Oculus headsets have been sold since then. And Facebook is reportedly continuing to spend billions more on Oculus.

So when is all of this investment going to pay off? Maybe sooner than people think.

Oculus Quest is a wireless (untethered) VR headset that shipped this spring and sells for $399 to $499 depending on how much memory you want.

In the past few weeks, a number of friends of mine have suggested I get a Quest (which I will do but have not yet done) and that I will be impressed by it.

I have long thought that an untethered headset that can deliver real VR experiences are what we need to unlock the VR market.

There aren’t many games or experiences for the Quest yet. Hopefully that will change soon.

Most technologies go through a cycle in which the promise is hyped up, followed by the reality setting in and going through a downturn. That has certainly been the case for AR/VR.

But it may well be that the technology is finally catching up to the promise in AR/VR. At least that is what the smartest people I know in this sector are telling me right now.

Categories: Blog articles

Disappointment

July 1, 2019 - 4:25am

Being a Knicks fan teaches you a lot about disappointment. At one point this spring, we thought we were going to get a couple top free agents and the first pick in the draft. We ended up with a lot less.

Fortunately, I have learned a lot about disappointment in three decades of backing early-stage startups. Our business is one where a third of things we do don’t work out at all and another third deliver a lot less than we had hoped when we pulled the trigger. Only a third of our investments deliver on what we expected when we made them.

Fortunately about ten percent of the investments we make so vastly outperform our expectations, that they make up for everything else we do.

So we live with a lot of disappointment. And one of the questions I struggle with is how much of that disappointment do we share with the founders and teams we work with.

Certainly feedback helps founders. But if the feedback is too negative and too downbeat, it is not helpful and can also lead to tune-out.

So I have found that many times I need to bite my tongue and take the disappointment in stride and chalk it up to the cost of doing business in early-stage investing. You have to be an optimist to make early-stage investments and you can’t let the disappointments take that optimism out of you.

Which takes me back to the Knicks. It has been twenty years since the Knicks had a winning culture. That is a lot of losing to endure. But I keep buying the seasons tickets in hopes that things will change. I am going to stay positive and hope for the best.

Categories: Blog articles

The 5G Conundrum

June 30, 2019 - 5:33am

Christopher Mims has a good post on the 5G headaches that are in store for those of us in the US as we roll out 5G:

The Downside of 5G: Overwhelmed Cities, Torn-Up Streets, a Decade Until Completion

As carriers launch their 5G networks, the promise of superfast wireless is clashing with the reality of the rollout; ‘the real onslaught has not yet begun’https://t.co/j4LXxxf7yv

— Christopher Mims

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: What Is Web3?

June 29, 2019 - 4:58am

Juan Benet, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Protocol Labs, developer of the IPFS and Filecoin protocols, gave this talk last fall.

I like Juan’s statement, about 10mins into this talk, that “what Bitcoin did to money, Web3 does to everything.” That is obviously a very big statement/ambition, but I agree with it.

Here is Juan’s talk:

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Everybody Counts

June 28, 2019 - 4:20am

I backed this Kickstarter project earlier this week.

It has about one more day to go.

Categories: Blog articles

AI and Health Care

June 27, 2019 - 7:43am

David Kelnar sent me this deck that he did on the state of AI. It is very good.

This slide got my attention:

It is interesting, and not totally surprising, that the sector that AI-focused entrepreneurs are targeting more than any other is health and wellbeing.

It seems like there is so much opportunity to improve our collective health and wellbeing with data science and machine learning. This is a big part of our thesis around healthcare at USV.

Categories: Blog articles

Graduation Season

June 26, 2019 - 4:52am

If you are feeling a little low on energy and want a pick me up, go to a high school graduation. You could simply crash any graduation, you don’t need to know anyone graduating. They are such feel good events.

I went to the AFSE graduation yesterday.

This is the fourth class that has graduated from AFSE and I think I have been able to attend every graduation. It really is such a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I like the procession music, I like the faces on the students as they walk in. It is a mix of apprehension, pride, and excitement.

I like the speeches by the students. I like the speeches by the teachers and school leaders.

I like the handing out of the diplomas.

I like the joyous hugs from proud family members after the ceremony is over.

There really is nothing quite like the sense of opportunity, promise, and achievement that pervades high school graduations. If you have an opportunity to attend one this week, I strongly recommend it.

Categories: Blog articles

New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act

June 25, 2019 - 7:39am

The lawmakers in Albany have passed legislation known as the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) and it is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.

There is plenty of debate on whether CCPA is good policy or bad policy. All you need to do is Google “New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act” and read the NY Post (against) and the NY Daily News (for) and you will see the various sides of the debate.

What this bill does is commit New York State to some of the most agressive goals of any city, state, or region:

This is a legally binding legislative act to achieve an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a goal of net zero.

My view is that we need ambitious goals like this and penalties for not reaching them (the stick).

But we also need new policies and new funding/investment to allow us to reach them (the carrot).

Most of the “green new deal” style legislation that is getting passed in NYC, NYS, and elsewhere, and being proposed in many other places, is long on sticks and short on carrots.

I believe CCPA is a good first step for NYS and I hope the Governor signs it into law.

But legislators and activists and the business community should not stop there. We need to follow these goal setting/penalty setting laws with more work around how we get there and there are many good ideas floating around on how to do that.

As hard as if has been to get CCPA done, I think the hard work is just starting because reaching these goals will require creativity, innovation, new technology, and a massive amount of investment and the willpower to see it through.

We really don’t have a choice. So let’s go.

Categories: Blog articles