Feed aggregator

Escape from prison and oppression

Beyond Money - May 18, 2017 - 12:07pm

In this video below, Professor Jem Bendell of Cumbria University (UK) interviews South African Tim Jenkin about his anti-apartheid work in the 1970s and his more recent alternative exchange activities. Jenkin briefly recounts how he assisted the African National Congress (ANC) in their struggle to end apartheid, work that resulted in his 1978 imprisonment and subsequent remarkable escape. The escape story is soon to be made into a major motion picture, “Escape From Pretoria,” that will star  Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Tim Jenkin. The film is scheduled to begin production on location in South Africa in early 2018, but you need not wait to get a detailed account of the escape, you can read Jenkin’s autobiography, Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Central Prison, or view the existing documentary film, also titled, Escape from Pretoria.

Later in the interview, Jenkin describes his more recent efforts to demonstrate how people can make a similar escape from the bondage of political money and the global debt-money regime by means of a simple ledger system that records the value of what people give and receive from one another. His Community Exchange platform  currently hosts 921 local exchanges in 86 countries.


Categories: Blog articles

Bloomberg TV Appearance

A VC - May 18, 2017 - 4:22am

Yesterday, I did a fireside chat with my friend David Kirkpatrick at his Techonomy Conference in NYC. On my way out, a Bloomberg camera crew asked me if I would talk with Emily Chang and I did, for about ten minutes. It aired yesterday evening.

Here it is:

Categories: Blog articles

Big Bad Wolves

A VC - May 17, 2017 - 4:10am

Some good friends of ours are making a film called Big Bad Wolves.

It is about a group of girls who turn into a vigilante gang because of a sexual assault on one of them.

So it is a serious topic, but it also a fun film about young people growing up in NYC.

The team is starting with a short film that kicks off the story and will use that short film to introduce the four young women who are at the heart of this story and to build support and audience for the larger feature they plan to make over the next year or two.

When our friends approached us about helping them make this short film, we both said “Do A Kickstarter!” and so that is what they did.

Here’s the Kickstarter “trailer” for it:

If you would like to join us in supporting this film, you can back it on Kickstarter.

Categories: Blog articles

Using Your Data To Make Your Product Better

A VC - May 16, 2017 - 4:03am

One of my favorite uses of AI is to use the data in your product to make your product better. I am talking about making a better UI using AI on your data.

Our portfolio company Quizlet did just that and wrote about it here.

They used the ~150mm study sets that their users have put into Quizlet over the last ~12 years to predict suggested definitions during the create study set mode.

Here is what it looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think this is super cool and a great way to make your product better.

Categories: Blog articles

Grit

A VC - May 15, 2017 - 3:45am

Last week during our CEO Summit, we had the opportunity to hear my partner Albert interview Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit.

Angela is a Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania and founder and Scientific Director of The Character Lab.

Angela has the ability to make complex concepts simple and combines her expertise in human behavior with a wicked sense of humor.

She is a great public speaker and everyone enjoyed hearing her talk to our group.

Her book Grit is about the power of perseverance.

It explains why some people have grit and how you can recognize it in people.

She also explains why grit is more important than talent in many cases.

If you hire and manage people, if you run start and run companies, if you invest in people and their projects, then Grit is a book you should read.

Categories: Blog articles

Rare Pepe

A VC - May 14, 2017 - 6:41am

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing around with a digital asset collecting game called Rare Pepe. My partner Andy tipped me off to it a while back and it took me a while to wade into it.

Rare Pepe is based on an internet meme called Pepe The Frog that has been around since 2005 and became popular on 4chan.

Rarepepes are digital trading cards that are traded as counterparty (XCP) assets on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Andy and I were talking about this yesterday on Twitter and my friend Jason asked what we were “nerding out” over.

@Jason @aweissman about the coolest thing ever. what happens when you combine a crypto-asset with a meme and a trading card. https://t.co/6ZJLoeTZiQ

— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) May 13, 2017

I responded that rarepepes are “about the coolest thing ever” which may be a bit of an overstatement but isn’t that what Twitter is for?

The truth is rarepepes are a bit complicated to buy and collect. First you need a Rare Pepe wallet which you can get here.  Then you need to transfer in some Bitcoin from somewhere like Coinbase. Then you need to buy some Pepe Cash (yet another crypto asset) which you can buy here, but only after transferring in some more Bitcoin. Then you transfer the Pepe Cash to your Rare Pepe wallet and then you can buy the digital trading cards. But you need to spend BTC to send these cards around because that is what powers the Counterparty system. You can also publish your Rare Pepe wallet address on Twitter and maybe someone will send you some. I did that yesterday and it worked.

Here are some of my cards:

So why do I think this is interesting?

Well for one, it shows the utility of a blockchain in action. You can buy, sell, hold, and transfer digital assets and they have value and are traded for other digital assets (like BTC) in an online global marketplace. Anyone can make one of these cards and if they are determined to be “rare” they become digital assets with value attached to them.

It also shows how a game can be built on a blockchain with virtual goods and characters and more.

And it shows how clunky this stuff is for the average person to use. Just playing around with this over the last few days showcases to me all of the technical challenges that blockchain technology still has to overcome before it can become mainstream. I would like to think that if this sort of game were built on Ethereum instead of Counterparty/Bitcoin, and if it ran inside something like the Token messenger that I blogged about a few weeks ago, it might be a lot simpler and easier for the average user to access. So there is real progress happening on this front right now.

Rare Pepe itself has a fair bit of baggage. It’s a meme popularized by the alt-right and attached to a lot of ideas that I personally find difficult to take.

But putting all of that aside, I find it encouraging that people are building things that are comprehensible to the average person on public blockchains. Rare Pepe may not be the killer app that public blockchains are waiting for, but something like it may well be.

And, of course, you can speculate on/invest in this, as my partner Andy showed me yesterday:

@fredwilson pic.twitter.com/u23HCIfFkF

— Andy Weissman (@aweissman) May 13, 2017

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Rutger Bregman on Basic Income

A VC - May 13, 2017 - 8:55am

A lot of people were buzzing about Rutger Bregman‘s talk on Basic Income at this year’s TED. While that talk is not yet online, here is Rutger’s talk from a TEDx a couple years ago.

Categories: Blog articles

Fun Friday: Spurs Warriors

A VC - May 12, 2017 - 3:45am

The Cavs and the Warriors sure look like they are headed for yet another epic finals.

But I am wondering if we should not look past the semi-final series, in particular, the Spurs Warriors series that starts on Sunday.

Does anyone out there think that the Spurs can beat the Warriors in a seven game series?

And if not, how many games will the Spurs take from the Warriors?

Categories: Blog articles

Path Forward

A VC - May 11, 2017 - 5:22am

Path Forward is an organization that helps employers (large and small) run “returnship” programs in which people who have left the work force to care for a family or a parent have a structured and supported way to return to work.

In this podcast, the Gotham Gal talks about Path Forward with Tami Forman who is the Executive Director of Path Forward.

Categories: Blog articles

Learning From Others Vs Figuring Things Out By Yourself

A VC - May 10, 2017 - 4:41am

Today is the annual USV CEO Summit. Once a year we ask our portfolio CEOs to gather at our office in NYC and spend the day talking to each other about what they have learned and are learning about building and leading companies. This is not a novel idea. Many/most VC firms do this sort of thing. We have been doing it for something like ten years now. We will have about sixty CEOs in our offices today.

I often think about the founder/CEO who has five or six VC firms invested in their company. They get invited to attend five or six of these a year. And participate in five or six networks. That’s a lot of networking with other CEOs. I sometimes wonder if there is a point of marginal utility for them in all of this “learning from others.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think there is so much founders/CEOs can learn from their peers. I encourage the CEOs I work with to join CEO groups, talk frequently with their peers, get peer CEOs on their boards, and do whatever else they can to learn from the experiences of others. Our CEO Summit today will be yet another great opportunity to do this.

But at some point, you have to learn things yourself. You can talk to peers until you are blue in your face about how to hire a great VP Engineering or CFO. But making a bad hire or two in these roles will teach you a lot more about it than talking to others. At some point, you are going to have to figure things out by yourself. There is no substitute for direct personal and painful experience. That’s just how life works.

So I like to think of learning from others as a way to steepen the learning curve. You can get there faster if you talk to others and are open to lots of feedback and advice. But no amount of feedback and advice will make you an amazing leader on your first day as a newly minted CEO. That comes with time and the scars and pain that result from your bad decisions. I have many of them myself and wear them as a badge of honor.

Categories: Blog articles

Rebalancing

A VC - May 9, 2017 - 6:15am

Two of my favorite techniques in investing are dollar cost averaging (when buying and selling) and rebalancing.

The early stage venture capital business has dollar cost averaging built into its buying model. You build up a position over multiple rounds and years. That is a great thing. I also try to exit investments, particularly public stocks, via this technique. But when a company is sold in an M&A transaction, you generally have to sell everything at once.

In public stocks and other marketable assets, these techniques are particularly important. I believe you can spot a long term trend and ride it. But I do not believe you can spot a market bottom or top until it is in the rear view mirror. So that is why I like to average into and out of a position over time.

Rebalancing is even more important. If you have a position that has worked incredibly well and it starts to become a very large portion of your overall portfolio, it is wise to take some of that position off the table and reinvest it in other attractive assets. This gives you more diversification, which I believe is generally a good thing, and also de-risks your portfolio from a big selloff in the largest position.

The reason I mention this is that I have been rebalancing my crypto portfolio. I got into BTC early and have held a highly concentrated position in BTC for the past five years. As other crypto assets have developed enough liquidity and maturity that they become attractive holdings, I have been taking profits on my BTC portfolio and reinvesting, mostly in ETH for now. But I am also looking around at other crypto assets to start buying.

The macro thesis around crypto has been building for the last six years that I have been investing and following it. I think it is certainly time to have a diversified portfolio and start using best practices for investing in marketable assets in this sector.

Categories: Blog articles

Token Summit NYC May 25th

A VC - May 8, 2017 - 4:59am

AVC regulars William Mougayar and Nick Tomaino are putting on an exciting event in NYC on May 25th called Token Summit.

I blogged about it a while back but I thought an update was in order because:

1) I am going to do the wrap-up session with William at 5pm. That should be fun.

2) The agenda has been published and it looks great.

3) AVC wine geek Arnold Waldstein and William are doing a talk on natural wines at an event for attendees the night before.

This is the closest thing to an AVC meetup that I know of since the 10th anniversary party back in 2013.

It should be a fun couple of days in NYC.

Categories: Blog articles

Seeing Through The Fog

A VC - May 7, 2017 - 4:22am

I was talking to my friend Simon yesterday and he observed that the essential skill of entrepreneurs and early stage VCs is to “be able to see through the fog of an emerging market and pick out the winning idea.”

And of course, I agree with that. It is something that we have done pretty well at USV over the years.

But how do you do that? Is seeing through the fog a skill that can be learned?

I think seeing through the fog can be learned but it takes time and practice.

Some people are innately good at it and they seem to be able to do it naturally.

But I was not that person. It took me years to be able to do it well and I think there are a few things that helped me a lot.

  1. Focusing on a sector and dedicating yourself to it helps a lot. I have been investing almost exclusively in Internet-based businesses since 1993 and that has helped me understand the dynamics, economics, and unique characteristics of doing business on the Internet. That framework helps me see through the fog.
  2. Doing the upfront work to have a thesis before investing in a sector is important. My partner Brad taught me this trick back when we started USV in 2003. He insisted that we have a thesis before we raised our first fund and started investing. That thesis has evolved a lot over the years but we have always had one. When we wanted to start to invest in verticals, like financial services, healthcare, and education, almost ten years ago now, we took deep dives on those sectors and developed a thesis about how they would emerge, where the value was going to be, and  where we wanted to focus before making a single investment in these verticals. That has served us incredibly well as we have built/are building fantastic portfolios in all three verticals.
  3. Avoiding the noise is particularly important. This is hard to do unless you have a thesis. But even if you have a thesis, there is often a ton of noise around other things that you have to ignore. Otherwise, it will pull you in all sorts of directions, waste a ton of your time, and possibly lead to bad investments. I like to think of having blinders on when we are starting to invest in a new area. It is critically important to not let the hype and bluster and bullshit misdirect you.
  4. Using the technology of the emerging sector really helps. That is often not easy. I remember when I first started playing around with Bitcoin in 2011, it wasn’t simple to get a wallet, mine some Bitcoin, use an exchange. But I did it because I wanted to use the technology and understand how it worked. Getting your hands dirty by using the technology as early as you can will you help to see through the fog. I strongly recommend it.
  5. Reading everything that is written on an emerging sector is critical. I am not talking about books, they usually come too late. I am talking about academic/research/white papers and blog posts written (often poorly) by the leading technologists in the sector. There are sometimes early observers/pundits in these nascent sectors and some of them can be quite good. Find them and follow them.
  6. Meeting with as many people working in the emerging sector as you can will help a lot. I don’t just mean entrepreneurs but you should meet as many of them as you can. I mean everyone and anyone who is working in the sector, investing in the sector, writing about the sector, and engaging in the sector. It’s a lot of work (and travel if you don’t live in a place people come to a lot), but it is invaluable.

When something new comes along, like the Internet in 1993, Web 2/Social in 2003, Mobile in 2007, or Blockchain in 2011, initially it is opaque, like mist, as Simon said to me. But amazing business opportunities will emerge from that mist and those entrepreneurs and early stage investors who jump onto the right ones will be rewarded greatly. It takes a prepared mind to do that and you have to do the work before the opportunities start emerging from the mist. That is how you get the clarity to see the best ideas through the fog.

Categories: Blog articles

Video Of The Week: Ethereum In 25 Minutes

A VC - May 6, 2017 - 7:06am

Ethereum (ETH) has exploded in the first half of 2017, with its dollar exchange rate going from $8.29 to $93.65, resulting in a current market cap of $8.6bn.

We can (and do) argue all day long about whether these numbers are crazy or not.

But I always like to think that where there is smoke, there is fire.

So it might make sense to try to understand Ethereum a bit better.

And nobody is better to do that than Vitalik Buterin, the inventor/founder of Ethereum.

Here is his take from Ethereum DevCon2 last fall in Shanghai.

Categories: Blog articles

Funding Friday: #istandwithpp

A VC - May 5, 2017 - 4:38am

UPDATE: This campaign has been fully funded. Thanks everyone who donated and shared on social media.

Our monthly match campaign for Planned Parenthood, which we launched yesterday late morning has raised half of its target as of this morning.

The match offer is open until midnight pacific time tonight or until we reach our $30k goal.

Please go make a donation and tweet it out to be matched.

Thanks!!!

 

Categories: Blog articles

Monthly Match: Planned Parenthood

A VC - May 4, 2017 - 8:15am

The House is planning to vote today on a bill that will repeal Obamacare.

Included in that bill is a provision that would prohibit Medicaid from paying for services from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to women’s reproductive health and more broadly women’s healthcare.

It does fantastic work and provides treatment for women who cannot get it otherwise.

Our monthly match efforts are designed to combat the efforts in Washington to undo things that are near and dear to us.

And Planned Parenthood and low cost/free women’s reproductive health care is one of those things.

So today, we are launching a $30k match offer for Planned Parenthood.

Amy, Susan, Joanne, Brad, Albert and I will collectively match $30k of donations made to Planned Parenthood.

Our match offer will end when we reach $30k of collective donations or Friday night at midnight pacific time (May 5th).

Here is how the monthly match works

  1. Go to our match offer page and click the big Donate button
  2. Select any amount (min is $10) and click the big Donate button again
  3. Enter your payment credentials and click the big Donate button again
  4. Click the big Tweet Your Donation button
  5. Once you have done all of that your donation will automatically be matched
  6. If you don’t have Twitter, forward your email receipt to MatchMe@crowdrise.com

I hope you will join us in supporting Planned Parenthood on this difficult day for all who care about women’s reproductive health and women’s health more broadly.

Categories: Blog articles

Being Public

A VC - May 3, 2017 - 4:23am

Two former USV portfolio companies had tough earnings calls last night.

And you look at that and you might say “why would any company want to go public?”

But here is the thing. Being public is about being transparent, accountable, and owning up to the issues and dealing with them.

I think it makes companies better.

If you are losing your biggest customer, you have to tell the world and deal with the consequences.

If you are making a leadership change, you have to tell the world and deal with the consequences.

Both of those companies are great companies, in which the Gotham Gal and I are a very large shareholder, and in which we believe in totally and completely.

Nothing is always up and to the right, even though you might want it to be.

The great companies are the ones that have the guts to bare it all and keep building.

Which is why I think being public is a good thing for the companies we work with that are large enough and have unique and differentiated businesses and business models.

I think more tech companies should be going public and I have been saying that for quite a while now and last night doesn’t change my views one iota.

Categories: Blog articles

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
Syndicate content