Fun Friday: Best Valentines Day Gift

Brandwatch on Twitter says that “chocolates, flowers, and teddy bears” are this year’s favorites

valentines gifts

I am a fan of flowers but this year I’m going in a different direction.

What is your go to gift on valentines day?

23 And Me

A month or two ago our daughter Jessica asked us to get 23andMe kits and get our genes sequenced. Jessica wants to add some information from our results to hers so she can better understand her own genetic makeup. So the Gotham Gal and I did it a few weeks ago and we are now awaiting the results.

The 23andMe process requires that you set up a profile on their web service and answer some questions about yourself before submitting the saliva sample for processing. If you wish, you can give them a full health care profile which is almost exactly identical to the interview a new doctor will give you on your first visit (do you/did you smoke, do you/did you drink, are your parents alive, are they healthy, are you allergic to this and that, etc, etc). I went through the entire process and shared all of my medical history with 23andMe in great detail.

So now 23andMe will have a full medical history/profile of me plus my genetic makeup. That’s pretty cool.

I have some suggestions for them as a user.

First, I wish that I could connect my profile on 23andMe with Jessica’s profile on 23andMe as her father. And I wish that I could connect my profile to the Gotham Gal as her husband. In summary, I would like for us to build a family tree on their service so that the work Jessica wants to do can be done automatically by their software. That seems like an obvious thing to do in a service like 23andMe, but I looked around pretty hard and could not figure out how to do that.

Second, I would like to be able to authorize third party services (starting with my doctor’s Patient Fusion service) to access all of this genetic and medical information I have stored at 23andMe. I found the 23andMe API so that’s a good thing. But I could not find a marketplace of third party apps that connect to 23andMe via its API. That would be really useful.

Another thing I would like to be able to do is sync my 23andMe data with my mom’s genealogy data that she keeps on Ancestry.com. I believe she has some basic genetic information there on herself. That would inform my profile in the same way that my data informs Jessica’s profile.

The bottom line for me is that this data (genetic information and medical history) is really powerful stuff. It should not be held in silos. Users should have the power to move it around, connect it up, and share it with their medical providers, family members, and others who can benefit from this data.

This is a big part of our thesis in health care. Users are starting to get control of their own medical data and decide how it will be used and by whom. That will lead to better outcomes for everyone. I am very excited by the potential of what can happen when this is really happening at scale. And that feels like it is right around the corner now.

If you want to get a 23andMe kit, you can do that here.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

It sure feels like the long awaited headwinds have arrived and the tailwinds are behind us for now. A friend sent me this chart today.

You could create a similar chart out of many tech sectors right now but SaaS is as good of an indicator of what’s happening out there as any.

I welcome this new environment. You might think “of course you do, you can buy things less expensively” but I would remind you that USV has a portfolio of investments that are unrealized at this point and subject to a chart like that.

I think any benefits we might get from a better buying environment are negated by the impact on our current positions.

The real reason I welcome the tougher environment is that it will make all of us better. We will have to make better decisions.  The market won’t bail us out. We will have to earn our returns instead of being handed them.

And I’m not just talking about investors. I’m talking about everyone working in tech startups. The going is getting tougher. Time for the tough to get going.

The Crunchies

I went to the Crunchies last night for the first time. The Gotham Gal was nominated for “Angel Investor Of The Year” and she said, “If by some chance I win and I’m not there to accept, then I would be a jerk.” I agreed with that logic and so we went.

Chelsea Peretti, who hosted, is great. She is very funny. She made fun of tech, SF, and a bunch of other things, but in a good way. I think she is a great choice for host.

Diversity was the theme of the night. The best move was when Slack sent out a number of their female (and african american) engineers to accept one of several awards they won last night. That sent a message to everyone else. If they can do it, so can you. Well played Slack.

But the honest to god truth is most of the winners don’t care about the Crunchies. Not one winner of the big categories showed up to accept their award. So the Gotham Gal would have been in very good company had she not showed up.

And the other honest to god truth is award shows suck. Because there is no single best of anything. No best movie. No best TV show. No best musician. No best comedian. No best VC. No best startup. No best CEO.

And the idea that there is an anathema to me. Which is why I’ve never been to a Crunchies even when I was nominated.

I know I sound like a grump. Award shows are entertainment. People like them. And last night was entertaining thanks to Chelsea and Jordan Crook, who is also quite funny and talented.

But the final thing I will say on this is the reason why award shows exist is because all of the work that everyone does who aren’t nominated and don’t win. So entrepreneurs all over the world are the reason Techcrunch even gets to put on this show. Bill Gurley said as much last night in his gracious and wonderful acceptance speech. And he is right.

Massively Multiuser Feedback

There are a number of companies that have user bases in the millions and operate public networks that encourage their users to share their opinions on everything. These companies face an interesting and challenging issue which is that their users are loud and vocal right inside their product about changes that are being contemplated or that have been made. Operating a business like this presents a unique challenge and opportunity to leverage this feedback channel but not become hostage to it.

I believe that one of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s greatest strengths is that they did not let themselves become hostage to the feelings of their user base. They did what they thought was in the best interest of their users and their service. The first time I saw this was the rollout of the news feed. I don’t recall when that was but I believe it was nine or ten years ago now. The users were furious about the new interface and the revelation of “too much information” being presented and shared in it. The Facebook team hung in there and stayed the course and today the Facebook news feed is possibly the most powerful user interface on the Internet.

Etsy, a company I am on the Board of and have been an investor in for ten years now, has always had a very lively community discussion board system for its sellers (and buyers). The sellers who hang out in this community service have often been critical of Etsy’s product and policies. Sometimes these boards turn very hostile and I have watched Etsy struggle with how to both internalize and manage this feedback. On one hand it has made Etsy more sensitive and responsive to the needs of its seller community (which is a very good thing and at the core of why Etsy works) but it has at times made Etsy defensive and hesitant to make necessary changes to its product and policies. I think the Etsy team has gotten to a good place over the years on this issue but it took a lot of learning and a good deal of pain to get there.

Of course, the reason I am choosing to write about this now is the latest uprising of the Twitter user base over the algorithmic feed. The hashtag , #riptwitter, conveys both the power of the community and the hostility that it can take towards a company. 

I have been a private (before leaving Twitter’s board) and public (long after) proponent of adding an algorithmic news feed to Twitter. I know that many users and most of the hard core users prefer the reverse chronological order of the Twitter timeline. I don’t and never have. My favorite feature on Twitter is “what you have missed” and I am in love with and completely dependent on gmail’s priority inbox. For some of us, having a service surface what is most important to us is incredibly valuable. For others, it is an invasion of their control and ability to determine that for themselves. It is like conservatives and liberals. There is no right way to view the world. There are many ways and we have to appreciate that what works for some of us doesn’t work for others.

Twitter has had the technology to provide an algorithmic feed for years. They acquired a company called Julpan in the fall of 2011 which had much of the tech that was necessary to produce an algorithmic news feed. Twitter’s technology in this area is much better today than it was four or five years ago. And maybe that is why they have waited so long to roll it out. But they could have, and I would argue should have, rolled it out years ago. And, of course, they could have and should have (and will) release it with an option to keep reverse chronological order as the default timeline for those who prefer it.

Gmail doesn’t force priority inbox on its users. You can get everything in your inbox or just what gmail thinks you want to see. I prefer the latter but many don’t. 

So those Twitter users who were tweeting #riptwitter last week should chill out and understand that the company is not going to take their believed reverse chronological timeline away from them. And Twitter should both respect and acknowledge these loyal and passionate users (which Jack did) and should also have the courage to do what is right and frankly long overdue.

Finding the right balance between listening to your users and becoming hostage to them is hard. When you operate a large and public channel for these users, it is even harder. Being a CEO requires great listening skills, the ability to really hear and internalize opposing views, and then, ultimately, the courage to make the decision and go with it. That is true in terms of managing your team and your company and it is also true in terms of managing your user base.

The Dan Primack Interview

Dan Primack and I did a fireside chat at the Upfront Summit this past week. It generated a few news stories that went a bit viral. It is easy to take a few comments out of the context of an overall discussion and turn them into more than they were. I think that is what happened with this interview. But it’s online now and so people can come to their own conclusions about that. Here it is in its entirety. It is about 25mins.

Feature Friday: Track Stations

Our portfolio company SoundCloud quietly launched something this past week that has quickly become my go to music discovery experience. It is called “track stations” and the concept is not new but they have applied it a bit differently. Like Pandora, you can enter a song you like and get a radio like listening experience.

The difference is that SoundCloud has something like 110 million tracks in it versus something like 2 million tracks in Pandora. That’s important because it means that there are way more tracks to start stations with but even more importantly, the track stations give you access to a long tail of content that you can’t really access any other way. Using algorithms and data science to take you from the head of the curve content to the long tail is an interesting idea across many content categories, but it is particularly interesting in music and podcasting.

I started a track station one morning this past week in my car and within 30 minutes, I had added five or six tracks to my favorites. And I didn’t know any of the artists who made any of the tracks I favorited.

It works like this. You open the SoundCloud app on iOS or Android and search for a track you know and like:

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Then you click on the track to start playing it:

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On the lower left are three dots. If you click them, you get:

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And if you click on “start a track station”, you get:

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If you go to your collections in the app, you will see all the track stations you listen to regularly:

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But here’s where it gets really interesting. You can use the same technique to find new podcasts to listen to. If you start a track station with a podcast you like, like this one:

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You can swipe through to find similar podcasts like these:

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So that’s it. If you have SoundCloud on your iPhone or Android, find a track you like and start a track station. It’s a great way to find new things to listen to.

Right now, track stations is only available on SoundCloud’s mobile apps. It will be coming to their web app and other apps soon.

The Brooklyn Queens Connector

As the NYC tech sector grows, it has been moving beyond Manhattan and into the outer boroughs. And the most popular destinations have been the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront neighborhoods like Dumbo, Williamsburg, Long Island City, The Navy Yard and Gowanus. But getting to and from these locations by mass transit has not been easy and has slowed down this movement of tech companies to embrace the outer boroughs.

Mayor de Blasio will announce a very important initiative in his State Of The City speech today called The Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) that will do a lot to solve this mass transit problem. It’s a light rail system that runs along existing streets from the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods to the Queens waterfront neighborhoods. It will look like this:

sreetcar

And here is the proposed route:

bqx

This is a big deal for NYC and a big deal for the NYC tech sector. Fixing the transportation problems into these developing neighborhoods will bring people and jobs and new vitality to these waterfront neighborhoods. This is such a good idea. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for his leadership on this issue and look forward to riding the BQX from a board meeting in Sunset Park to a board meeting on the Cornell Tech Campus in a few years.

Biggest Technology Change In The Next Five Years

The Upfront Summit is happening here in LA over the next two days. The folks at Upfront asked a number of well known VCs (me included) a bunch of questions. One of them was “What will be the biggest technology change over the next five years?”. Here are the answers in a short two minute video.