My Current Home Screen

Screenshot_2014-09-21-18-03-25

here’s the current state of my phone’s home screen.

adds:

– snapchat – which along with Kik is how i stay in touch with my son Josh at college

– audible – which we are using to listen to audiobooks on our trip. i think we will continue to use audible on our drives back and forth to our house in long island so it’s now on the home screen

– wordpress – because i’ve been blogging on my phone a lot on this trip. i think i will continue to do that when we get back. it’s awesome.

to make room for all of these adds I took off the search bar. i find myself just going to Chrome to search anyway and i wasn’t using it

Audio Books – Late To The Party

We were driving up the coast of Italy from Rome to Genoa listening to music being bluetoothed from my phone to the car’s audio system and the Gotham Gal said, “let’s listen to some audio books on this trip.” I was dubious but she was adamant. “I tried it on a drive from NYC to Long Island this summer and it is really great”, she said. So I replied “sure.” Later that night in our hotel, using their wifi, I downloaded the Audible app and a few books onto my phone.

We started with Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence. That was awesome. Listening to a book about a place like Provence while driving around Provence is a fantastic experience. That sold me hook line and sinker on this audio book in the car thing.

Then we went for Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In The Boat. We failed to check how long the audio book was before selecting it. This particular audio book is 14 hours 25 minutes. Good thing we were taken with the story. We stuck it out and finished it yesterday. We cheered as the author ended the story. That was a marathon. All that said, it is a great story about the boys from the University of Washington who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 in the eight category.

The strange thing about audio books is the play time of the book and the page length of the book are not directly correlated. Boys In The Boat took 14 hours 25 minutes to listen to and it is 416 pages. A Year In Provence took 2 hours and 52 minutes to listen to and the book is 224 pages. I think it may have to do with the fact that the audio book version of A Year In Provence we listened to is abridged.

In any case, we found that three hours is a great length for an audio book. Fourteen and a half hours felt a bit long, maybe even more than a bit long.

We are now listening to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Given that we are now in Paris having recently been in Barcelona, Pamplona, and San Sebastian, it seemed like the right time to revisit that novel.

The Gotham Gal’s pitch on audio books is that it makes long drives fly by. I am not sure they “fly by”, but I would agree that listening to a great narrator read an interesting story does make long drives a lot more enjoyable.

It looks like we’ve got a new pastime. And I’m happy about that.

Video Of The Week: The Visitors

We visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao earlier this week. They were exhibiting a video installation called The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson. It’s not easily captured in a YouTube video, but that’s the best I can do for all of you. Basically you walk into a big room and on every wall there is a video playing of a musician and each is playing a part in the song. You walk around and you hear the various musicians playing. It’s awesome. I loved it.

The Coin Center

We have found that the best way to deal with policy makers and regulators when something new and threatening and dangerous looking comes around is to educate, educate, educate, educate. You can hire expensive lobbyists, you can try the “ignore and deal with it later” approach, and you can try operating in other more welcoming locations. But in our view the best approach is to take the time and effort to explain things, listen to the concerns, get the best and brightest minds involved to work things out together and come to the right answers.

It is in this spirit that a new organization called the Coin Center has launched. The Coin Center will be led by Jerry Brito who has done some of the best Bitcoin education and advocacy work in his former role at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. So Jerry really won’t be doing anything new here. But he will be able to focus 100% of his time on this work and will have more financial and organization support to do it.

The Washington Post has a good article explaining the Coin Center and who is initially behind it.

I would like to thank Alex Morcos of Chaincode Labs and Balaji Srinivasan of Andreessen Horowitz for all the hard work they did bringing the Coin Center to life. Without their persistence, I don’t think this would have happened.

USV is proud to be a financial supporter of the Coin Center along with a handful of the most active entrepreneurs and investors in the blockchain sector. We will be reaching out broadly to everyone who has an interest in this sector in the coming months to get involved in some way. Technologies such as cryptocurrencies, bitcoin, and the blockchain are important, fundamental, and will foster innovation for decades to come. We must make sure that policy makers and regulators are well educated and informed so that they will put forward policies that will accelerate the development of these technologies, not retard them.

Search Vs Social

Back in 2008 and 2009, probably because of our investment in Twitter, I was obsessed with looking at acquisition traffic from search and social and comparing the two. Here’s an example of a post I wrote at that time looking at the two channels and comparing them.

At some point, I became convinced that websites would eventually see more acquisition traffic coming from social than they were seeing from search, which was the king dog of Internet traffic at the time. It was a hotly debated issue but, again maybe because of how long we were on Twitter, I was convinced social would be king some day.

I stopped obsessing about that issue sometime around 2010 and moved on to mobile as the thing I thought about and wrote about the most.

But today, when I was looking to see if the traffic to AVC had declined a lot while I have been away and blogging about all sorts of non work stuff (it hasn’t), I saw this chart of year to date acquisition traffic to AVC.

acquisition channels

Social, and for AVC that means Twitter and Disqus, brings 23% of the visits to AVC. Search brings less than 20%. And it’s been that way for a long time now. Well over three years.

It’s kind of funny to think that we wondered and debated about such things back in 2008 and 2009. It’s not a debate any more and its not something to wonder about. It’s reality now.

Toshi

Our portfolio company Coinbase announced something yesterday that went largely unnoticed, but might be one of the most important things to happen in the Bitcoin space in a while.

They put out a bunch of developer tools under the name Toshi, including a full open source version of their Bitcoin node. When you combine Toshi with the core Bitcoin APIs it comes with and the Coinbase APIs, you get a platform for building Bitcoin applications that is unmatched in the market.

The reality is building on top of the Bitcoin Core is not a simple task. There is a lot you need to do to make it work. Coinbase has been building on top of the Bitcoin Core for over two years and has addressed many (most?) of the obvious needs and they are now making all of that technology available to developers who want to build Bitcoin applications but don’t want to get knee deep in the Bitcoin Core.

There is a free hosted version of Toshi, you can download and run Toshi on your own servers, or you deploy Toshi to Heroku with just one click.

If you are building Bitcoin applications or thinking about it, check out Toshi. I think making Bitcoin easier for developers is a big thing and I’m pleased to see Coinbase doing exactly that.

Burn Baby Burn

Andy sent me a WSJ piece with Bill Gurley yesterday. I don’t like to link to paid content so here’s a good Business Insider summary of the article that is open for anyone to read.

Regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of Bill’s. He’s as smart as they come and I generally agree with him on things. As I was reading the WSJ piece, I found myself nodding my head and saying “yes”, “yes”, “yes”.

The thing I like so much about Bill’s point of view is that he does not focus on valuations as a measure of risk. He focuses on burn rates instead. That’s very smart and from my experience, very accurate.

Valuations can be fixed. You can do a down round, or three or four flat ones, until you get the price right.

But burn rates are exactly that. Burning cash. Losing money. Emphasis on the losing.

And they are indeed sky high all over the US startup sector right now. And our portfolio is not immune to it. We have multiple portfolio companies burning multiple millions of dollars a month. Thankfully its not our entire portfolio. But it is more than I’d like and more than I’m personally comfortable with.

I’ve been grumpy for months, possibly for longer than that, about this. I’ve pushed back on long term leases that I thought were outrageous, I’ve pushed back on spending plans that I thought were too aggressive and too risky, I’ve made myself a pain in the ass to more than a few CEOs.

I’m really happy that I’m not alone in thinking this way. At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor’s capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way. We have a number of companies in our portfolio that do that. And I love them for it. I wish we had more.

Doubling Down On Ridesharing

Back in February, I wrote about our investment in Sidecar. At that time, Sidecar had recently launched a marketplace model where riders can choose the drivers they want to ride with. That model has proven very popular and Sidecar’s ride volumes grew significantly after it launched. Sidecar followed up that innovation with the launch of Shared Rides this summer and is already matching thousands of shared rides every week in San Francisco.

The tech industry has grouped many different apps under the label ridesharing. The name comes from the idea that anyone can be a transportation provider by taking out their car and giving rides via an Internet network powered by mobile apps in both the driver’s and rider’s hands. That is not really how most of these networks work. In reality, what we have seen develop is a new form of a limo service powered through technology. That isn’t really ride sharing.

And to take it a step further, if there is only a single passenger in the car, that’s not really ridesharing either. True ridesharing would be me taking out my car from my garage, powering up my Sidecar driver app, and accepting rides in which as many people as possible pile into my car and I take them all where they want to go. That’s the most efficient and highest form of utilization for my car and my time and will lead to the lowest cost rides for the passengers (and the most money for the drivers).

If we really want to reduce the number of cars on the road and make ridesharing a game changer in the transportation market, we need to see a model develop where anyone can be a driver whenever they want to drive and as many people as is safe and comfortable can get in the car with the driver and get where they want to go.

That is what Sidecar is building. That is the vision they had when they started the Company, that is the vision they had when we invested last year, and that is the vision they continue to pursue.

I am very excited by the potential of Shared Rides. I don’t really see any other way that regular people who can spend a few dollars, but not tens of dollars, every day to get to work, can take advantage of ridesharing. The leaders in this market can subsidize prices and cut fees for their drivers as much as they want. But that’s not sustainable. What is sustainable is increasing the utilization of the car as much as possible. That’s Shared Rides.

At USV, we are very excited about Shared Rides and Sidecar’s commitment to rolling out Shared Rides in every market they operate in and then expanding the markets they operate in. We’ve co-led a round with our friends at Avalon and Richard Branson which the company has announced today.

Eating As A Contact Sport

We drove early this morning from Barcelona to San Sebastian. To be more accurate, the Gotham Gal drove and I sat in the passenger seat amazed at the vastness of the landscape where for large parts of the drive there was 20 to 30 kilometers between towns. It was desolate and a bit depressing for someone used to seeing a new person every ten feet in NYC.

We got to San Sebastian in time for lunch. After checking into our hotel, we walked to the beach where there were boat races going on, and then walked into the old part of town in search of lunch.

It being Sunday afternoon, the streets were mobbed.
street crowd

We found a few tapas bars that looked good and pushed our way in, and I do mean push. Eating in these bars on a sunday afternoon is a full contact sport. I was thinking I could have used some shoulder pads.

Here’s a selfie I took in one of the bars we pushed our way into.

selfie in bar

In each bar, we got a beer to split and one or two tapas.

While it was work, and we had to push and shove a few times, the payoff was well worth it.

pulpo

We got this Pulpo A La Planxta Con Membrillo in the first bar we went to.

gambas

And we got this grilled shrimp bruschetta (although they call it something slightly different here) in the second one we went to.

We are going back to the bars tomorrow night for more contact sport. I have to say it’s a lot of fun.

Video Of The Week: The Progression Of Joan Miro

We visited the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona today. He was an amazing artist. We spent over an hour gazing at his work and then watching a short film about him.

It made me want to know more about him and his work. So I went on YouTube and found this

We visited the Picasso Museum this afternoon so we got quite a dose of Spanish painters of the 20th Century today. It was very enjoyable.