Signing My Name

I sign my name a lot. When we close deals, I sign the documents. When things change in our companies and they need consents, I sign them. I sign tax returns, filings, permits, and a host of other documents all the time.

As I have written here before, I have a hard time with what they used to call “penmanship” in school. It’s something about my dexterity (or lack thereof) in my hands. My hands get tired quickly and my handwriting gets illegible just as quickly.

Technology has been a godsend for me in this regard. Computers (and word processors before them) saved me from having to write by hand before I got out of high school. Phew.

The same has been true over the past few years when it comes to signing documents. I still do it by hand way more than I’d like but services like Docusign are being adopted by more and more companies and it seems like I Docusign now as much or possibly more than I physically sign.

My colleague Nick needed me to sign something last week. I said “please docusign it.” He did and within a few minutes the documents were signed. I sent him an email saying “that was so great, i wish everyone did it that way.” So this is a plea to everyone out there to skip the paper and go electronic when signatures are needed.

But as good as Docusign is, and it is really good, my all time favorite signing experience is on the Square checkout app. I’m not sure what it is, maybe its the angle (vertical but with a slight slope), or maybe it is the size of the signature box, or maybe it is the iPad’s screen, but whatever it is, I absolutely love signing my name on a Square checkout. If every signing experience was like that, I’d be a very happy man.

Taxis, Ubers, and Subways

Nate Silver published an interesting post on Taxis, Ubers, and Subways this past week.

This graphic is from that post:

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What you can see from this graphic is that most New Yorkers don’t use taxis or Uber. They use the subway, and to a lesser extent buses.

This is from Nate’s post:

How big is the for-hire car market in New York? Our data set includes 93 million taxi and Uber rides over a six-month period in 2014. Double that and round up,7 and you get to about 200 million rides per year. By contrast, the New York subway provided 1.75 billion rides in 2014, about nine times as many. There were also almost 800 million MTA bus rides8 in 2014.

If you add subways and buses together, mass transit is 12x larger than for-hire cars.

It is true that Uber and the other on demand car services have changed the game in the for-hire car market. Taxis will either respond (and be allowed to respond) to the competition from the new entrants or they will be replaced. But in a big city like NYC, the real transportation action is in mass transit. That has been the case for the past hundred years and will likely be the case for the next hundred years as well.

Feature Friday: Mayorships

I love the new version of the Swarm app from our portfolio company Foursquare so much that I fired off a tweetstorm about it earlier this week.

Among the many great replies I got was this one:

To which I replied:

I know gamification has been overdone and many are tired of it. But there is something about playing the mayorship game that never gets old for me.

Just today I checked in at my favorite coffee shop in Amagansett and got this notification:

Screenshot_2015-08-28-06-43-36

Somehow Brian slipped in and grabbed that mayorship away from me a few weeks ago and I’m trying like hell to get it back. That drives business for Jack and brings a little more fun and playfulness to my life each day.

And its not just Jack’s where I’m on the cusp. Here are all the places I’m close.

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That’s a list of places I’m likely to go to as I make my plans each day.

When Foursquare separated the core Foursquare app into two apps, Foursquare for venue search, recommendations, and tips, and Swarm for the social checkin and game play, they left mayorships and the leaderboard out of Swarm. That was a big mistake. It’s back and better than ever and I’m loving it.

The New Reassurance

My friend Steve observed something to me this week that speaks to the changing dynamic in the world of business, finance, and markets.

He pointed out to me that a decade or two ago, when the financial markets tumbled, the Secretary of Treasury would arrange a press conference, stand behind a podium with some official looking seal on it, and make reassuring comments about the economy in hopes of reassuring investors and the markets.

Now, the Treasury Secretary has been replaced by Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, the reassuring comments are delivered via an emailed letter to Jim Cramer, and the whole thing is reported on Twitter.

Apple has the largest market cap of any publicly traded company and may be the most widely held stock (I don’t actually know), so reassurances from Apple’s CEO matter. Twitter is the world’s real time news channel, and Jim Cramer has a high a profile as any market commentator out there. So it makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Mapping A Mission

USV invested in Dronebase earlier this year but I had not used the service personally so I decided to change that this past week.

The Gotham Gal and I are working on a real estate development project in Brooklyn and we need to make some decisions in partnership with our architects. An aerial view of the property would help us make our decisions.

So on Saturday afternoon, we went to Dronebase.com, clicked the big blue “get started” button, and found ourselves staring at a map. I typed in the address of the property and was shown a satellite map of it.

We then used the mapping tool to highlight the fly zone in blue. We then placed the camera icon over the specific points of interest we wanted to get close up views of.

Then we used the mapping tool to cover the neighboring buildings in a red “no fly zone.”

That produced this map of the mission we wanted:

dronebase

Then we hit the green continue button, completed a few fields of information, chose which of the “images and video” or “maps and surveys” packages we wanted. We chose the $399 “basic” images and video package. Then we entered our credit card, verified that we owned the property or had permission from the owner to fly over it, and we were done.

A few minutes later we received an email stating that a drone pilot had been engaged and would be flying the job the next day (sunday).

On monday, we got a dropbox folder full of video and images including this edited summary video of the job:

We then shared that dropbox folder with our architects and a few days later we had a decision that we are all happy with.

I know I am biased by our investment in and ownership interest in Dronebase, but this experience was kind of magical. For $399 and a few minutes of work on the computer we got exactly the views we wanted to see. All of our questions and concerns were answered with the footage we purchased.

I can see how drone based services are going to change a lot of things. Hiring a drone pilot is simple, easy, fast, and not particularly expensive. If you have a job you want done on your property or the property of someone you know who will authorize it, go to Dronebase and check it out. It’s a super cool and useful service.

Diversity In The Bitcoin Community

There’s a sense that the bitcoin community is a fairly homogenous group, mainly white and mainly male.

And the MIT Media Lab and Coindesk are doing something to try to change that.

They are providing 50 “diversity scholarships” to Coindesk’s Consensus 2015 conference in NYC on September 10th. Details are here.

The target group for these scholarships are “people of colour and women between 18 and 25 years of age.”

If you fit this profile and want to attend Consenus 2015 for free, you can apply here.

Why Capital Markets Matter

On a day when it is likely that the US stock markets will open down and Asian markets are in free fall, it is worth taking a second and talking about why capital markets matter and why they don’t.

If your business consumes capital and needs more of it, then changes in capital markets can affect you.

If your business produces cash flow and you can finance your business, then changes in capital markets are not likely to affect you.

This is one of many reasons that I like to see our portfolio companies get to break even and ideally producing cash flow.

I don’t remember when I said this, but I am glad I did.

Winback Campaigns vs New Customer Acquisition

One thing I’ve been pushing hard in my conversations with entrepreneurs, CEOs, and management teams I work with is the efficacy and capital efficiency of winback campaigns vs new customer acquisition campaigns.

Every company wants to grow their user base and increase retention.

As mobile becomes a more difficult environment to grow in (maturing market, more competition, growing dominance of the leaders), we see companies spending more and more money on new customer acquisition. While that is necessary, it is not likely the most capital efficient way to grow. Winning back churned out users can be a lot more cost effective if done right.

I like to ask these questions:

  • how many downloads have we had on our app in total?
  • how many of those users who downloaded our app are still active every month?
  • how many of those apps are still on a user’s phone?
  • can we notify those users?
  • can we email those users?

Generally speaking, an app that has been in the market for 3-5 years will have an active user base that is 10-30% of the total downloads. There are a few exceptions where that number is a lot higher, but those are exceptions (and great apps).

So that means that 70-90% of the people who have downloaded your app are not using it.

Some of them will still have the app on their phone and can be notified.

Most of them will be reachable via email.

So that is the winback opportunity.

You can’t just spam those users with notifications or emails that say “hey, try out our app again.” That won’t work and will lead to users quickly uninstalling your app if they haven’t already done that.

But you can look for targeted opportunities to tell these churned users something useful to them and invite them back to get more useful stuff.

This could be an offer for a big discount if you have an e-commerce related app. This could be a geotargeted offer/insight if you have an app that is location oriented. This could be the fact that a close friend is active on the app and an invite to join them.

These winback campaigns, if done properly, can be incredibly effective.

If you aren’t doing winback campaigns, you should be.

If you are doing them, think about how you can do them better and do them more frequently.

This is about the lowest hanging fruit out there in the mobile app growth landscape.