Getting Feedback and Listening To It

When you are VC, you live in this protected environment. You sit in your office in a glass conference room with lovely views and entrepreneurs walk in and pitch you and you get to decide who you are going to back and who you are not. People tell you what they think you want to hear. That you are so smart. That you are so successful. They suck up to you. And it goes to your head. You believe it. I am so smart. I am so successful.

You have to get out of that mindset because it is toxic. My number one secret is the Gotham Gal who brings me down to earth every night, makes me do the dishes, walk the dog, and lose to her in backgammon. Actually I have not lost to her in backgammon in over twenty years because she used to beat me so badly that I couldn’t take it anymore.

But blogging is another helpful tool in reminding yourself that you are not all that. Marc Andreessen said as much in his excellent NY Magazine interview which was published yesterday. I loved the whole interview but I particularly loved this bit:

So how do you, Marc Andreessen, make sure that you are hearing honest feedback?

Every morning, I wake up and several dozen people have explained to me in detail how I’m an idiot on Twitter, which is actually fairly helpful.

Do they ever convince you?

They definitely keep me on my toes, and we’ll see if they’re able to convince me. I mean, part of it is, I love arguing.

No, really?

The big thing about Twitter for me is it’s just more people to argue with.

Keeping someone on his or her toes, making them rethink their beliefs, making them argue them, is as Marc says “fairly helpful.” That’s an understatement. It is very very helpful.

That’s the thing I love about the comments here at AVC. I appreciate the folks who call bullshit on me. There are many but Brandon, Andy, and Larry are common naysayers. They may come across as argumentative, but arguing is, as Marc points out, useful.

The comments are also a place where people play the suck up game. It isn’t necessary to do that and I don’t appreciate it. It makes me uneasy.

So I would like to thank the entire AVC community for being a sounding board for my ideas, for pushing back when I am off base, and for resisting the suck up whenever the urge presents itself. I appreciate it very much.

The Personal Cloud

Benedict Evans coined the term “personal cloud” in his writeup of WWDC in June. He said:

what you might call the personal cloud – the Bluetooth LE/Wifi mesh around you (such as HealthKit or HomeKit)

I like to think about what’s next.

Paul Graham said, “If you think of technology as something that’s spreading like a sort of fractal stain, almost every point on the edge represents an interesting problem.”

And in that context, the personal cloud is a particularly interesting “point on the edge” to me. It includes the following things:

1) NFC and other technologies that will turn the mobile phone into your next credit card

2) Phone to phone mesh networking like we saw with Fire Chat in Hong Kong a few weeks ago

3) Wearables like the watch, necklace, and earbud

4) Personal health data recording (HealthKit) in which your phone has a real time and historical chart of your heartbeat, blood chemistry, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and much more.

5) Airplay and Chromecast and other technologies that will turn the mobile phone into both the next settop box and remote

I could probably go on and list another five things that fit into the personal cloud, but I will stop there.

If the first wave of the mobile phone’s impact on the tech sector was driven by applications running on the phone, the second wave will be driven by the phone connecting to other devices, including other phones.

I am particularly fascinated about what happens when our phones connect to other phones in dense environments and form meshes that don’t need the traditional Internet connectivity to power them. Mesh networks don’t just solve the problem of lack of traditional connectivity (Hong Kong), they also produce a solution to the last mile connectivity duopoly in wireline and oligopoly in wireless. In the future we may just opt out of those non-competitive markets and opt into a local mesh to get us to the Internet backbone, both in our homes and when we are out and about.

And phone to phone meshes form local “geofenced” networks that are interesting in their own right. A nice example of this is the peek feature in Yik Yak where you can see the timeline at various universities around the US. These Yik Yak peeks are not powered by mesh networking, they are just using the geolocation feature on the phone. But they could be a collection of mesh networks operating in various universities around the country. And so that example is enlightening to me.

I wanted to end this post with an image of a person walking down the street surrounded by their personal cloud and all the devices that are connected to it. But a quick image search did not produce it for me. That in and of itself is telling. That’s our future. But right now we are still in the imagining phase of it.

The Robotic Taxi Driver

Yesterday morning I made the mistake of leaving my apartment without my Citibike key. When I got to the Citibike station, I realized it and hailed a taxi instead. I got in the taxi and told the driver where I was going which was 6th Avenue and 13th Street. He started to enter the destination into the GPS on his phone which was mounted above the dash to the left of the steering wheel. I told him that wasn’t necessary as all he had to do was go a few blocks down Washington to 10th, make a left on 10th, then across 10th to 6th, then a left on 6th. So he took off down Washington and the preceded to blow right past 10th. At which point, I told him that he had missed 10th and he should make the next left onto Christopher, which he then drove right past. After a couple more missed turns, I told him to stop and got out of the taxi and told him that he should learn a bit about getting around the city before getting behind the wheel of a taxi cab. Then I tweeted this out.

If you click on that tweet and look at all of the replies, you will find an interesting discussion of the current state of the taxis and ride sharing services in NYC, Chicago, London, and a bunch more cities. It seems that my experience of getting into a car and the driver having no idea where they are and where they are going is not unique. It’s happening to lots of people in lots of places.

Now you might say, “well you should have let the driver use the GPS” and you would be right about that. But in that tweet reply stream there are plenty of stories about drivers using GPS and still getting terribly lost. When you have no idea where you are and no idea where you are going, the GPS isn’t as useful as it would seem. And then there are the issues of road work, closed streets, traffic, and other sorts of things that requires experience and local knowledge to navigate. There is a huge difference between an experienced driver who knows their way around a city and a driver just off the plane from somewhere else driving around NYC using a GPS in lieu of that local knowledge.

What has happened in NYC and apparently in many other places is the arrival of ride sharing services has increased the demand for drivers and the best drivers are moving from taxis to the higher end services and new drivers are being recruited to drive the cabs and the lower end ride sharing services. These new drivers have no training and have no idea where they are going without the GPS. And they are totally and completely reliant on the GPS. It makes me feel like the autonomous car has arrived in the form of the robotic taxi driver.

I told this story to my friend Jeremy last night and he observed that the right answer is to use the higher end ride sharing services where all the experienced drivers are now working. He said “price and quality are lining up as you would expect in a market economy.” Of course the other option is to not forget my citibike key or walk or take the subway. Which is looking like a better option more and more these days.

Feature Friday: SoundCloud Cards On Twitter Mobile

Yesterday afternoon I was in a meeting at our portfolio company SoundCloud and I got a Kik from Kirk who said “did you see the new SoundCloud cards running inside Twitter?”

When we had a break in our meeting, I replied and said “No, but I saw the buzz on the feature on Twitter” and then asked him to Kik me a Tweet I could look at on my phone.

He kik’d me this one and I played it on my phone from inside Twitter (open that link on your phone in Twitter if you want to see it in action).

The really cool thing about this new card is you can minimize the SoundCloud card (like you can minimize a video on YouTube) and then keep listening to the music while you move away from the tweet.

That’s a big deal because most SoundCloud tracks are 2-5mins long and you wouldn’t want to keep that tweet open on your phone for 2-5mins if you could avoid doing that just to hear the entire track.

Apparently this feature (called Twitter Audio) will be available to other audio partners. This is a great move for Twitter and a great thing for SoundCloud and other audio companies too.

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

I saw on The Verge that HBO is finally going to make its excellent HBO Go service available “over the top” (sometime in 2015)

This is something I’ve wanted for a long time and have written about a bunch here.

It isn’t that I don’t have a cable subscription. I have many.

It is that I want a direct subscription relationship with HBO Go. I don’t want one subscription to be dependent on another.

That is also why I don’t like subscribing to services on my phone via carrier billing.

When its time to end a relationship with a carrier or a cable company, I don’t want to have to think about what other relationships I might be ending.

Direct relationships are best and I’m thrilled to become a direct subscriber to HBO Go.

Well done HBO.

A Problem

I use gmail’s priority inbox to sort my mail into stuff I need to see and stuff I don’t. The reality is that I don’t see anything that does not go into my priority inbox unless I do a search (which I do quite often).

Google launched priority inbox four years ago and I have been using it from almost day one. And it has worked well and reliably for me until recently.

Sometime this summer (mid/late summer I think), I started noticing that emails from people that I dialog regularly with (including people at USV!) were not getting into my priority inbox. So I started wading into the “everything else” section of my inbox and finding those emails and manually tagging them as “important”. I did that for a week or two religiously and then went back to my habit of just looking at the priority emails and ignoring everything else.

But the problem continues to manifest itself. I am not entirely sure what happened. It feels like google has changed its priority sorting algorithm and it’s not working as well for me as it used to. Has anyone else experienced this issue recently?

And to everyone who used to get regular and rapid replies from me and now never hears back, I apologize. It’s not me. It’s google :)

A Great Job At CSNYC

As many of you know, CSNYC is  a non-profit I helped start a few years ago along with some colleagues. We are attempting to bring computer science education to the 1.1 million children in the NYC Public School system.

The organization is still quite small but has been growing slowly and steadily since we formed it. There are five or six people working at CSNYC depending on if you count people working on it part time.

We are doing a lot with a small crew and this year there will be over 100 public schools in NYC (high school, middle school, and even a few elementary schools) with CSNYC funded classes in them. We do this by partnering with the very best computer science programs around the country and funding them to come to NYC and train teachers and get their curriculum into classrooms.

We also do a bunch of other things and possibly the most impactful of all the things we do is community development. We run meetups and other events to bring NYC public school teachers (and other teachers too) together to talk about how they are using computer science and programming in their classrooms.

Our largest meetup, the CSNYC Education Meetup, has almost 600 teachers in it and has quadrupled in size in the past year. My great hope is it will quadruple in size again this year. Each monthly meetup has a theme, such as Careers in Computing, CS Across Disciplines, Showcase of teacher resources and student work, etc. There is a meetup today actually. It is a meetup today about Teaching the Next Generation of Tech, a symposium led by panelists from ScriptEd, TEALS, AFSE and Flatiron School. Anyone who is interested in learning more about CSNYC, the programs we fund, our teacher meeetups, or teaching computer science to K-12 students is welcome to attend.

So that is a long lead-in to this job opportunity. We have opened another job at CSNYC and this role will be dedicated to running and coordinating all of our meetups, our events, and our communications efforts, including our website and social media efforts. The job posting is here.

This is a great opportunity for the right person. You will get to meet and work with hundreds of teachers who are embracing computer science and bringing it into their schools and classrooms. The right person will enjoy meeting new people, and will be organized, web savvy, and passionate about the CSNYC mission. If you are all of that, and more, please send an email to [email protected].

And if you know someone who would be great at this job, please send an email to [email protected].

This is an important effort that is doing great work and I’m proud to have been part of making it happen. If you would like to support it financially, you can do so here.

Some Initial Thoughts On iPhone6 and iOS8

I got my new iPhone6 from T-Mobile on Thursday. I spent Thursday evening setting it up and putting all the Android apps I regularly use on it. I’ve been using it as my primary phone since Thursday night and after three full days on it, I have some early observations.

1) The TouchID service is pretty great. I secure my phone with a password and although its a little thing to simply be able to hold your thumb down instead, little things sometimes are the biggest things and TouchID is like that. I really like it.

2) I miss the three buttons at the bottom of an Android phone. I’m never sure how to get back to a previous screen on iOS. I’ve come to realize that by tapping at the top of the screen, I can often get back to the previous screen. But it is super nice to have a back button that works identically on every app and I miss that.

3) I don’t like having two maps services on the phone. Some apps default to Apple Maps and I prefer Google Maps. Maybe its possible to change the defaults so that all the apps go to Google Maps but I’m not sure how to do that.

4) I don’t understand why Google doesn’t make GCal for iPhone. I really dislike the native mail and calendar programs for iOS and wish I could use the native google apps for both mail and calendar. This is probably the number one reason I will most likely go back to Android. Mail and Calendar and Maps are three huge things for me and I’m not comfortable with the Apple versions of those products.

5) Notifications on iOS works a lot like Android now. But I miss getting the notifications across the top of my home screen. Having to swipe down to see them is one step more than I’d like to have to do. I realize you get a notifications count on the app icon, but if that app is not on the home screen, I don’t see it.

6) I like the “today” tab in the notifications service. Its a lot like what Google has done with Google Now. I think Google should copy Apple and put Google Now into the notifications service.

As I am writing this it occurs to me that I am trying to use iOS like I use Android. I’ve set up my iPhone home screen to be as identical to my Android home screen as I can. I’m trying to make iOS work the way I am used to working. I realize it would be better to fully embrace iOS and go with the flow. But I’m not sure I can do that. I am a creature of habit even though my move to iOS was all about getting out of my comfort zone.

It is interesting to me that the two dominant operating systems are becoming more similar as Apple copies the best parts of Android (notifications being a prime example) and Google copies the best parts of iOS. It was not that hard to move from Android to iOS (other than downloading all of those apps and configuring them). When I go back to Android in three to six months, I don’t think that change will be particularly hard either.

We have a duopoly in mobile operating systems and that seems how the mobile market will operate, at least in the near future. Both Apple and Google are spending huge sums of money to stay competitive with each other. Both make fantastic mobile operating systems that work really well. As I’ve said before, mobile has matured. Maybe if I’m looking to get outside of my comfort zone, I need to be looking somewhere else for a new and different experience.

Incremental Innovation

Early this summer I walked into my parking garage and saw that they had installed two Chargepoint electric vehicle charging stations. I turned around, walked back to our apartment building, and went upstairs and told the Gotham Gal that the moment I had been waiting for had come and I wanted to get a Tesla. That weekend we took a trip up to the Tesla showroom in the art gallery section of Chelsea and bought one. It came last week and we are enjoying driving a car built by software people. We may be late to this party but we are happy to be at it now.

This past week Tesla announced a software upgrade that offers Autopilot features. I’ve been wondering for a while now how self driving technology would come to market. Google has been working on this technology for close to a decade and I’ve seen driverless cars on 280 heading from San Francisco to Palo Alto. But who wants to get into the back seat of the first self driving car and let the car do its thing? Not me.

On the other hand if self driving technology comes to market feature by feature, the way Tesla seems to be approaching things, we can get used to it bit by bit and someday we will happily get into that back seat without thinking twice about it.

It sounds like it will start with things like highway lane changes and parallel parking (if there ever was a thing that machines can do better than humans that would be it). And over time we will get more and more autopilot features. And at some point the car will be driving itself and we will be fine with that.

This makes a ton of sense to me. Sometimes incremental innovation is better than doing the whole thing at once. When you want to change behavior on something as game changing as driverless cars, I think the incremental approach makes a ton of sense.