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What in the world is going on?

Beyond Money - May 2, 2017 - 12:37pm

Here is a presentation titled, War and Peace in the Age of Trump, by former Congressman and Budget Director in the Reagan administration, David Stockman, in which he points out some “inconvenient facts” and explains “the warfare state” and the “false narratives” that it promotes to shape public opinion.

Among other things, Stockman point out that there is no existential threat to the United States that would justify the massive U.S. military-industrial-intelligence complex, the policy of regime change, and interventions in the Middle-east, Africa, and all around the world. Even the the recent acts of terrorism and the refugee crisis in Europe are blowback from the mayhem that the U.S. and NATO have been unleashing in those regions.

Edit: Paul Craig Roberts adds some further important details to the picture.


Categories: Blog articles

Some Thoughts On Net Neutrality

A VC - May 2, 2017 - 4:07am

Yesterday a federal appeals court declined to rehear a challenge to the Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality rules.  This was yet another victory for the fans of a neutral Internet, me included.

But Ajti Pai, the new FCC Chair, is hellbent to decimate these rules and everyone expects him to try to do just that.

Which led to a Twitter exchange with my friend Tom Evslin yesterday:

@tevslin if the incumbents want #netneutrality gone, they should stop using lobbyists and laws to protect them. got to have one if you want the other

— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) May 1, 2017

Tom argues that tightly regulating ISPs will only help incumbents and hurt innovators in the access sector. That has not been our experience. We have backed a number of alternative access providers, in fiber and in wireless, over the last few years and they are not struggling one bit with Net Neutrality regulations. They are struggling with all sorts of barriers that the incumbents have convinced elected officials to erect on their behalf.

The inability to use existing telephone poles that I mentioned on Twitter is just one of many of the things that the big telcos have done to stop innovative young companies from entering their business.

Here’s my thinking on Net Neutrality. We only need it because of the corruption that exists between large telcos and elected officials. If we had an entirely open playing field, we would not need regulations in the least. Competition would solve all of our problems. But not if you can’t compete.

Categories: Blog articles

Investor VCs and Operator VCs

A VC - May 1, 2017 - 3:45am

The Venture Capital business is full of great firms that were founded by entrepreneurs/operators who became investors mid/late career. From Gene Kleiner and Tom Perkins in the early 70s to Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz at the end of the 00s, this is the iconic model of the venture capital firm and the formula that built Silicon Valley into what it is today.

When young people ask me what the best way to get into the venture capital business is, I tell them “go work in startups in your 20s and 30s, and then turn to venture capital in your 40s and 50s.” That is certainly the best way to do it. You build domain expertise, operating experience, and relationships/networks that help you win deals and help entrepreneurs by doing it this way.

The only problem with that advice is that is not how I did it. And it is not how Mike Moritz did it. And it is not how Jim Breyer did it. And it is not how Bill Gurley did it. And it is not how Peter Fenton did it. And it is not how most of my partners at USV did it. It is not how many/most of the top venture capitalists in the business did it. And I have been mulling over this fact since coming to that realization a while ago. I ruminated a bit on it in the Q&A after the lecture I gave at MIT a few weeks ago.

I think there are a bunch of reasons why many of the best VCs, at least of my generation, were not entrepreneurs and operators before becoming VCs.

First on my list is “avoiding the temptation to operate.” Jerry Colonna tells a story about one of the first Boards he joined at Flatiron. Jerry had been an operator before leaving to form Flatiron Partners with me. He joined the Board of an early stage company and on it were a couple experienced VCs. Every time the Company struggled with an issue, Jerry jumped in and tried to help. Eventually, one of the experienced VCs pulled Jerry aside and said “You aren’t an operator anymore Jerry. You have to let them run the Company.” I have never had that issue. I am not an operator and have never worked in a startup or a company, other than a short stint in an engineering firm the first two years out of college. I wouldn’t know how to manage a team, run a business, lead a company. But I know how to manage the people who do know how to do that. There is a huge difference and I think that VCs who aren’t handicapped by operating experience bring great respect for operators. And that helps a lot.

The second reason on my list is “a strategic mindset.” I think of strategy as the opposite of execution. Strategy is about setting the stage for execution. Many of the best strategic minds I know aren’t operators. They are consultants, analysts, investors, pundits. I don’t know exactly why brilliant strategists often make terrible operators but I see it all the time. And all of the best venture capitalists I know are brilliant strategists. They understand where value is going to be in an emerging market, they understand how to get to the best strategically positioned companies first, and they understand how to guide those companies toward a strategy that wins the market.

The third reason on my list is “being a portfolio player.” Operators work on one thing all the time. VCs work on many things at the same time. In one day, I can be trying to win a deal with one company, working an M&A situation for another company, doing a strategy offsite for a third company, helping a fourth company develop its compensation plan, and sitting in a board meeting for a fifth company. That’s a typical day in the VC business. You have to love having your hands in multiple things all the time and the diversification that comes from that. You aren’t all in on anything but you are all in on all of it.

I am not saying that entrepreneurs/operators don’t make good VCs. Obviously, they do. The entrepreneur oriented mindset that firms like Kleiner Perkins brought to the VC business is why Silicon Valley emerged as the best place in the world to do startups. And being too financially oriented is why Boston failed to keep pace with Silicon Valley in the 70s and 80s.

What I am saying is that there is something about the other pathway into VC, via investing, consulting, writing, that works equally well, or better in some cases. And all you have to look at are the top investors in the business to know that.

Categories: Blog articles

AVC – Issues With The Site

A VC - April 30, 2017 - 4:57am

As many of you know, AVC was down for most of yesterday. We were experiencing what WordPress folks call the “white screen of death” issue. This issue emerged just after I posted the video of the week around 6:45am ET.

I was in Philly goofing off all day with some friends and couldn’t work on it until I got back early evening. Bill Soistmann was very helpful and we got the site back up by making some changes to the header code.

But as of now, the main page header is missing, and there are no comments.

I plan to work on this some more today with Bill and I expect we will get everything working before the end of the weekend. I appreciate everyone’s patience while we work through this today.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Why Toddlers Are Smarter Than Computers

A VC - April 29, 2017 - 4:44pm

I saw Gary Marcus give a talk at the NYU AI Event I blogged about this past week. In that

In that talk, he suggested that Deep Learning wasn’t going to get us all the way to where we want to get in AI.

I thought it was an interesting take on AI, particularly right now when the buzz and hype is so high.

This TedX talk makes the same argument and so I am sharing it with you.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: Wines Of The French Alps

A VC - April 28, 2017 - 4:13am

I woke up this morning to find this tweet in my feed:

Projects worth funding: Wink Lorch’s Kickstarter project: Wines of the French Alps https://t.co/zfp6uytR5u @kickstarter #wine

— awaldstein (@awaldstein) April 28, 2017

And I immediately knew what I was gonna do. Back the project and feature it on Funding Friday.

I love Arnold, wines from the French Alps, and Kickstarter. Nothing more to say.

Watch the video and back the project.

Categories: Blog articles

The AI NexusLab

A VC - April 27, 2017 - 3:55am

NYC is an emerging hub for AI and AI startups. That is because of the large number of mathematicians, scientists, and programmers trained in AI who work on wall street, because of leading institutes like NYU’s Courant School that work on cutting-edge science in the field, and because of a number of programs aimed at AI startups here in NYC.

A few weeks ago I was at the Future Labs AI Summit to hear about AI from Yann LeCun, Gary Marcus, and many others. Below is a short highlight video of the summit.

Here is a short highlight video of the summit.
 

 
The Future Labs at NYU Tandon are now accepting applications for the second cohort or the AI NexusLab to find AI companies to support.

Applications for the next AI NexusLab cohort close Wednesday, May 3rd and conclude with the next Future Labs AI Summit in November.
 
If you are and AI startup or you are familiar with any early stage artificial intelligence startups who you think could benefit from our program, please have them apply at www.nexuslab.ai/
 
Accepted companies receive
• $100K in funding
• An NYU student fellow for the duration of the program
• mentorship from leading AI faculty and industry experts
• Access to papers and academic research
• Access to data sets
• Partner opportunity to pilot partners (the last cohort included Daimler, Tough Mudder, Quontopian, and others)
• More than 400K worth of support and services.
• Present at the next Future Labs AI Summit (last speakers included Yann LeCun, Gary Marcus, and others)

The Future Labs are also hosting office hours this Friday, April 28th from 1:00pm-5:30pm for teams who have questions about the program at the Data Future Lab – 137 Varick Street, 2nd Floor.

Categories: Blog articles

Etsy Studio

A VC - April 26, 2017 - 3:23am

Yesterday was a big day for Etsy, a company that I have been invested in for eleven years and on the board of for ten of them.

The company launched Etsy Studio, an entirely new marketplace dedicated to craft supplies.

Craft supplies have always been available on Etsy and still are. But they are a category and, while they make up a material amount of the total volume sold on Etsy every year, they are not front and center in the buyer experience. Etsy thought they could do better for buyers of craft supplies and so, about a year ago, they went about making an entirely new marketplace dedicated to craft supplies.

Etsy Studio leverages all of the considerable investments Etsy has made in its technology stack over the years; search, discovery, checkout, promoted listings, machine learning, and more.

Etsy Studio launches with over 8 million items, compared to something like 200,000 to 300,000 at a typical craft store.

In addition, Etsy Studio features project-based shopping.

You find a project you want to do, like this paper flower spring wreath, and Etsy Studio will allow you to fill a shopping cart with everything you need to make it.

If you are a crafter and are looking for a better way to buy craft supplies and find new projects to do, check out Etsy Studio. I think you will find it to be a delightful experience.

Categories: Blog articles

My Talk At MIT

A VC - April 25, 2017 - 4:51am

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to give the first annual Georges Doriot Lecture at MIT.

I traveled up to MIT on April 13th and gave this talk. I really enjoyed doing it and I want to thank MIT for doing it.

Categories: Blog articles

Starting Is Easy, Finishing Is Hard

A VC - April 24, 2017 - 4:22am

Starting a company has gotten much easier over the past decade.

The capital requirements to get started have come way down in both software and hardware businesses.

The supply of seed and venture capital has increased dramatically as well.

And there are all sorts of programs aimed at helping entrepreneurs get started.

All of this has caused a rapid expansion of entrepreneurship, startups, and innovation.

This is all great.

The one thing that has not gotten appreciably easier in the last decade is finishing.

Finishing can be anything that ends a startup project.

It can be an M&A exit, becoming a sustainable business, becoming a public company, or it could also be failing and shutting down.

None of those have gotten easier in the last decade.

There was a period where the “acquihire” was a thing and many companies that could not figure out how to become a business got bought for their talent.

But it feels like that wave has come and gone.

And so entrepreneurs and the investors who support them are back to grinding it out, trying to get to the finish line.

And, for many, that finish line feels like it is moving farther and farther away every step you take.

Startups are not for the faint of heart, both on the founder and investor side.

It takes great tenacity to see things through. And I think that may be truer today than ever.

Categories: Blog articles

What Facebook Can Tell Us About Us

A VC - April 23, 2017 - 8:53am

Stephen Wolfram wrote an interesting post back in 2013. I just stumbled upon it today (via Twitter).

I like this chart a lot:

The blue line is men, the red line is women.

A few of these results surprised me.

I would have thought women are more interested in books than men. At least that is how it is in our family.

I would have thought interest in travel would increase significantly in late middle age.

I would have thought interest in music would tail off more steeply with age.

Fascinating stuff.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: The GothamGal NewCo Shift Interview

A VC - April 22, 2017 - 6:56am

The GothamGal sat down with our friend John Battelle last week and here is the result:

Categories: Blog articles

Token

A VC - April 20, 2017 - 4:19am

Our portfolio company Coinbase opened the doors yesterday to a project they have been working on for a long time.

It is called Token and its a mobile browser for Ethereum apps. But it is also a messenger (based on the Signal Protocol from Whisper Systems) and an Ethereum wallet.

The plan is to set Token up as a separate business:

Our plan is to build it out as a separate legal entity and brand, separate from Coinbase. Similar to what we’re doing with GDAX.

— Brian Armstrong (@brian_armstrong) April 20, 2017

“In the same way a web browser allows you to access web pages, Token allows you to access third party Ethereum applications.”

The Ethereum ecosystem is emerging quickly and there are a lot of interesting things going on in it.

Token is about giving developers a canvas to showcase their Ethereum apps, with a wallet and a messenger connected to it.

The goals of the Token project are to:

  1. Provide financial services to the ~2B people in the developing world who have a cell phone, but don’t have access to a bank account.
  2. Make it dramatically easier for people to build and use Ethereum applications.
  3. Shift digital currency from being just a speculative investment to being a payment network for useful goods and services.

Token is in a public developer beta. It is operating on a testnet so no real money is in use yet:

We’re releasing the developer preview of Token today. It is still early days, and you can expect some bugs (so please be kind in your reviews). For today’s launch, we are using testnet Ethereum, so there is no real money to lose if you encounter an issue. We plan to continue shipping updates approximately every week, and move to mainnet in the coming months for a wider release.

You can install the Token app on Android and iOS today.

If you’re a developer you can read through our developer documentation.

I’m fredwilson on Token in case you want to message me there:

I expect this general idea (a developer platform, combined with a mobile messenger, combined with cryptocurrency for payment) is going to be a powerful combination. The blockchain sector has been waiting for its “Netscape moment.” The web browser made the world wide web understandable and accessible by mainstream users. I think something like Token can do the same for blockchain applications and I expect we will see a number of different approaches to this general idea.

Categories: Blog articles

Kickstarter’s Request For Projects

A VC - April 19, 2017 - 5:13am

Our portfolio company Kickstarter published a blog post yesterday requesting certain kinds of projects in the Design and Technology category:

as part of our endless quest for projects, we’ve decided to try something new. Inspired in part by Y Combinator’s requests for startups, we’re going public with a list of the things we’d love to see more of on Kickstarter. We hope this inspires creators who are working in these areas to get in touch. If your project fits the bill, we can help make it shine and spotlight it for our community of 13 million backers.

The three areas they are most interested in are:

  1. Tools For Creating Things
  2. Boundary Pushers
  3. Delightful Design

If you are a creator who works in the Design and Technology category, please read this post and if you have a project in these areas, please consider doing a Kickstarter for it.

Categories: Blog articles

Change Creates Information

A VC - April 18, 2017 - 4:52am

My partner Albert likes to say that “change creates information.”

I have seen this a lot recently in our portfolio.

A change in leadership, a change in strategy, a change in cost structure.

Doesn’t really matter what it is, it can tell you a lot about what is going on in your company.

Making changes is painful and so it’s understandable that we all avoid change.

But if you can’t understand what is going on and you want some more visibility, make some changes.

You will learn a lot.

Categories: Blog articles

Machine Learning For Beginners

A VC - April 17, 2017 - 3:42am

So you are hearing a lot about machine learning these days.

You are hearing words like models, training, forks, splits, branches, leafs, recursion, test data, and overfitting, and you don’t know what any of them mean.

Well I have some help, courtesy of my colleague Jacqueline who shared this scrolling lesson in machine learning with her colleagues at USV (me included) this weekend.

This scrolling machine learning lesson was made by Stephanie and Tony. It is great work. Thanks!

Categories: Blog articles

Hyphenation

A VC - April 16, 2017 - 4:39am

I have been hearing complaints/suggestions that I turn off hyphenation on AVC.

This twitter conversation is an example:

Anyone else notice something weird (archaic even) about the typography here?https://t.co/c6lHBIHaaR@fredwilson pic.twitter.com/BC1ZHZvBoX

— Mark Rogowsky (@maxrogo) March 23, 2017

I am curious to hear more from readers on this topic.

  1. do you notice the hyphenation?
  2. do you think it is off putting?
  3. would you encourage me to remove it?

To be honest, I can’t figure out how to find the CSS code in my WordPress setup to do this, but if I get a resounding “please turn it off” I will do the work to find the code and remove it.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: The MIT Bitcoin Experiment

A VC - April 15, 2017 - 4:52am

Two and a half years ago, MIT gave every undergraduate enrolled at the school $100 of Bitcoin. I helped to fund this experiment at that time. I thought it was a great way to “infect” young engineers with blockchain enthusiasm.

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini has studied the ~3,500 MIT students who took the $100 Bitcoin offer and looked at what they ended up doing with it.

Here is a talk he gave last fall in which he discussed the results of his research.

Categories: Blog articles

Feature Friday: Twitter DM

A VC - April 14, 2017 - 4:30am

I was with a friend this week and was DM’ing with someone on my phone.

He said “do you DM on Twitter frequently?” I said “yes, I use it all the time.”

Twitter DM is like any other messenger, particularly on the phone. It has the advantage of not needing to know the person’s phone number or handle on a messenger service. If you follow them and they follow you, you can DM them and chat like any other messenger.

It has the advantage of not needing to know the person’s phone number or handle on a messenger service. 

I like it a lot for that one feature – not needing to know the person’s contact info beyond their Twitter handle.

If you use Twitter a lot but don’t use DM, you should give it a try.

It’s super useful in a pinch when you need to reach someone and don’t know how.

Categories: Blog articles
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