Reblogging

So we are heading off for four weeks in Europe this evening. I’m going to start reblogging a lot of older stuff as a way to keep AVC fresh while I’m not posting every day.

So I thought about what posts would be the most worthwhile to dust off and bring back. I went to Google Analytics and looked at data from the past two years to see what posts that are older than that (ie written before August 2012) got the most traffic during that time.

It’s an interesting list. There’s a lot of MBA Mondays content in there, particularly around employee equity and valuation questions. And there are a few really popular guest posts, like this one from Fake Grimlock. And there are a few classics like this one.

I am going to queue up a bunch of them to autopost over the next few days while I figure out what my blogging routine is or isn’t going to be in Europe.

I’m curious to get everyone’s suggestions on this. I’ve written over 6,500 posts at AVC so I can’t just wade through them to find the best ones. I need some sort of algorithm. Another that comes to mind is most commented. I’ll take a look at that later today. Any other ideas for surfacing the best stuff to reblog?

The Personal Blog

There’s a bit of a renaissance of real personal blogging here in NYC. Two of the original NYC bloggers have, after years of writing professionally and editing others, returned to their own blogs.

It started with Lockhart Steele, the founder of Curbed, Racked, and Eater, who started that media business on his personal blog.

Then the next day, Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor/blogger at Gawker, dusted off her blog and started writing on it again.

It feels so good to link to both of them.

There was a comment on Elizabeth’s kickoff post that suggested she go to Medium. She replied:

I already write for (and on) Medium. My most recent piece is here. But I don’t think it’s quite the same thing as maintaining a personal blog, where you control all of the visual elements and maintain a custom URL.

I wanted to reply to that comment, but could not for the life of me, log into WordPress to leave it. So I’ll blog about it instead.

There is something about the personal blog, yourname.com, where you control everything and get to do whatever the hell pleases you. There is something about linking to one of those blogs and then saying something. It’s like having a conversation in public with each other. This is how blogging was in the early days. And this is how blogging is today, if you want it to be.

When I started blogging here at AVC, I would write about everything and anything. Then, slowly but surely, it became all about tech and startups and VC. It is still pretty much that way, but I feel like I’m heading back a bit to the personal blog where I can talk about anything that I care about.

Today, that thing is the fact that the Gotham Gal and I are taking our youngest child, Josh, to college. As my friend Bob told me over email last week about sending his son off:

I am surprisingly emotional at least to me ……….. Sending Josh off as your last must be something.

Yeah, it is something. I’ll miss him a lot.

Opting Out For The Kids

Our daughter Emily is working on a senior thesis this coming year. She’s studying the choices women make to balance their careers and families. This is a subject Emily has some personal experience with having watched The Gotham Gal quit her job when our son Josh was born and make a number of other career sacrifices so she could care for our young family.

Emily wants to capture real stories from real women and has built a website she calls Opting Out For The Kids where women can share their stories with her and the world.

It’s a pretty basic website. Anyone can read the stories and upvote them. But you need to log in with Facebook if you want to post a story. Once you log in, you will see a link that says POST and that’s how you write a post to tell your story.

Emily alpha launched this website at the start of the summer but it had some quirks and she recently fixed them and is now re-launching it.

If you are a woman who has an “opting out for the kids” story to tell, please go here, login with Facebook, and tell it.  And if you have followers on Twitter or Facebook who might be women with these kinds of stories, please post a link to Opting Out For The Kids so that other women can find this website and tell their stories.

And, as I mentioned, anyone can read and upvote these stories and I would encourage everyone to do that.

Emily will appreciate it and so will I. And I will ask Emily if I can post the results of her research here next spring when it’s completed.

Dream, Girl

For the past four years, The Gotham Gal and her friend Nancy Hechinger have been running a conference called The Women’s Entrepreneur Festival. The goal of the conference is to showcase successful women entrepreneurs to other women. As Marian Wright Edelman famously said, “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.”

But even as The Women’s Entrepreneur Festival gets bigger and bigger each year, it can never scale to reach all women who might want to be an entrepreneur and it certainly can’t reach young girls who might be inspired to become entrepreneurs.

So that’s why I backed Dream, Girl this morning after seeing this Gotham Gal tweet:

Here’s the Kickstarter video:

I hope you’ll be inclined to back this project as well after reading this blog post.

Hyperlocal Mesh Networks

The NY Times has a post up this morning about a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Red Hook where they have built a hyperlocal mesh network to service the entire neighborhood, from housing projects to townhouses.

Red Hook is a cool place. We were there last night to sample Hometown Bar-B-Que‘s massive beef ribs and a bunch of other great stuff. Red Hook is isolated from the rest of Brooklyn by the BQE Expressway and sits right on NY Harbor. It has a collection of different housing situations, from single family homes, to factory lofts, to housing projects. The only public transportation in Red Hook are bus lines into downtown Brooklyn and the occasional Ikea Ferry. It’s a neighborhood all to itself in many ways.

Red Hook was badly flooded in Hurricane Sandy and living there in the weeks after the storm was dicey. The neighborhood has bounced back strongly however and there are construction jobs seemingly on every block. In the wake of Sandy, a local group called the Red Hook Initiative led an effort to build a hyperlocal mesh network throughout Red Hook.

For those that don’t know the difference between a mesh network and a traditional network, the big thing to focus on is that the nodes (think of them like public wireless access points) talk to each other and form a network that operates even if its is not connected to the public Internet. Most mesh networks are connected to the public Internet, but if that connection goes down, the local mesh continues to work. In Red Hook that means that you could make voice calls (over IP) from your housing project to the local hardware store to see if its open. Or you could email a friend who lives in the neighborhood.

If every neighborhood in Brooklyn had a public mesh like Red Hook has, and if they were all meshed with each other, then Brooklyn would have its own local Internet of sorts.

At USV, we think this is an important part of how we (meaning the entire world) get a mobile Internet that is not controlled by the large mobile telcos. We have made one investment in this area (which I don’t think we have announced yet) and we are looking to find other smart ways to invest in this trend.

But the biggest investments that will be made in mesh networking will be made by local groups like Red Hook Initiative. It is not terribly expensive to construct one of these mesh networks and every neighborhood ought to be thinking of doing something like this. If everyone did this, the mobile Internet would look a lot different than it does today.

Video Of The Week: A Lunchtime Talk In Larkin Square, Buffalo

A few weeks ago, I spent most of the week in the upper midwest. I started out on Tuesday in Buffalo, NY, the location of my first venture capital investment, Upgrade Corporation of America. I did office hours at the Z80 accelerator and then did a lunchtime Q&A in the beautifully renovated Larkin Square with Eric Reich.

This is a video of that talk. If you want to skip all the intros, go ten minutes in. The talk is about 40mins long.

Q&A With Fred Wilson and Eric Reich – Aug 2014 from Z80 Labs Technology Incubator on Vimeo.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Ice Buckets, and Generosity

In the midst of terrible news all over the place comes a wonderful hopeful heartwarming mania sweeping the nation.

Everyone is pouring ice buckets over their heads in a social viral fun outpouring of generosity to find a cure for a disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short.

The most famous victim of ALS was Lou Gehrig and for that his name will be forever associated with this disease.

ALS is a horrible disease. If we could find a cure for it, that would be an incredible thing.

It looks like the Ice Bucket Challenge will raise over $50mm for ALS research and possibly a lot more. That is real money that can fund real science.

I’ve been “challenged” a few times on Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks and instead of pouring ice water over my head and then calling out additional people, I decided to donate $500 to ALS research via Ben Huh’s Ice Bucket Challenge on CrowdRise.

I am sure some of you will be disappointed that I “chickened out” and did not choose to get doused, but to me the important thing is the generosity that the Ice Bucket Challenge has unlocked.

That’s what I want to participate in, that’s what will ultimately make the difference, and I would encourage everyone to donate even if you have not been challenged.

On SoundCloud

Today, our portfolio company SoundCloud is announcing its content partners program, called On SoundCloud.

For creators, there are three offerings, Partner, Pro, and Premier. Anyone can be a Partner. For a small monthly fee, you can upgrade to Pro. And if you are really serious, then you can become Premier and make money on SoundCloud.

For listeners, there will be two tiers. A free, advertising supported offering that values artists. As Alex Ljung, founder and CEO of SoundCloud says here:

Every time you see or hear an ad, an artist gets paid

There will also be a subscription offering that will be ad free and offer other features for listeners.

For brands, SoundCloud becomes a popular social platform where they can engage with creators and listeners. Here’s more on SoundCloud’s offerings for brands.

Here’s the thing that many people miss about SoundCloud. It’s not like iTunes, or Spotify, or Pandora. It’s a peer network with a social architecture that emphasizes engagement and sharing.

Like Twitter and Tumblr and a number of other popular social platforms, SoundCloud treats everyone as peers in its network. My profile is almost identical to an artist’s profile on SoundCloud. I can do the same things they can do and they can do the same things I can do. The same is true of a brand’s profile.

This social architecture encourages engagement, sharing, commenting, and favoriting. It’s like the artists, listeners, and brands are all hanging out together at one big party.

These social peer networks treat advertising very differently. The ads are native. On Twitter, the advertising is a Tweet. On Tumblr, the advertising is a post. On SoundCloud, the advertising is a track. You see the ads in your feed and you choose to engage with them if they are inviting. In the best case, you enjoy them so much that you favorite or reblog/retweet them. And brands can sponsor/promote tracks from other users. Think of Red Bull sponsoring and promoting artists on SoundCloud.

The New York Times has an article today about On SoundCloud.  It covers all the challenges that SoundCloud has overcome in getting to this place. It’s been a ton of work for the team at SoundCloud to get this launched, and there is certainly a lot more ahead of them as they undertake to get every artist On SoundCloud.

I am very optimistic that will happen because this network of 175mm mobile listeners all over the world connected together and sharing the audio they love with each other is too powerful to ignore.

Fifty Three

Another year, another birthday.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve been spending my birthday on the beach with my family. That seems like the ideal way to do it. I hope that tradition lasts as long as I do.

The weather has been spectacular on the east end of long island this week and we spent most of yesterday afternoon on a boat in Sag Harbor.

Today, I plan to do some yoga, play some golf with my son, and have a family dinner tonight.

I don’t really enjoy receiving presents. The best present for me is to be somewhere awesome surrounded by my family. I’ve already received that present.

But if you feel that you must send me something, please make a small donation to CSNYC here. I would appreciate that very much.

Reblog: Let Your Winners Run

One of the things I am going to do on this extended vacation is go back into the archives and reblog posts that I think are still fresh and relevant. I’ll start with this one from Feb 2012.

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I met with a group of very experienced and sophisticated investors yesterday who make up the investment committee of a large charitable foundation that is an investor in USV. I gave them a two minute brief on our macro investment thesis (large networks of engaged users that can disrupt big markets) and then took them on a tour of some of these large networks (Lending Club, Kickstarter, Etsy, Twitter, and Codecademy).  Then I took questions.

This group doesn’t spend a ton of time on AVC, Techmeme, Hacker News, or the tech industry in general. And yet the questions they asked me were as good as I ever get. I guess four decades of investing teaches you a lot.

One of the best questions I got was “when do you decide to sell?”. Such a great question and such a hard one to answer. I’ve got scars from this one.

I explained that first and foremost, we generally don’t make that call. The entrepreneur and her management team generally makes that call and the board is asked to ratify it.

But when and if we get to weigh in on the timing of the exit, my view is that you look to exit your weakest investments as soon as you can and you let your winners run as long as you can.

USV 2004 is instructive. Between 2004 and 2008, we made investments in 21 companies. So the youngest portfolio company in that portfolio is four years old now. Most are five to six years old. And a few, like Meetup and Return Path, are ten years old or more. We’ve exited six of the 21 investments, you can see them here, under past investments at the bottom.

We still have fifteen investments active in that portfolio including Zynga and Twitter and we own large blocks of stock in both of those companies. We own stakes in thirteen other portfolio companies most of which we believe are super strong companies that are building large and sustainable businesses. We will likely exit a few weaker investments in that portfolio over this year and next. But there are at least ten companies in the USV 2004 portfolio that we would be happy to own for the rest of this decade.

This does create a bit of an issue in that we raise ten year venture capital funds. So we are supposed to wind things up in the 2004 fund in another two years. But I am fairly sure that my partners and I and our limited partners will be happy to let this fund play itself out over a longer period of time.

I’ve made the mistake of exiting investments too quickly. Back in the middle of 2007, my previous firm Flatiron exited our investment in Mercado Libre at the IPO selling our entire position for about a 10x gain. In the almost five years that MELI has been public, it has gone up 5x. So had we held our position for another five years, we’d have made 50x instead of 10x. That stings. Lesson learned.

When you have portfolio companies that are category creators, category leaders, who are well managed, and growing 50% per year or more and delivering 20-30% pre-tax margins (or more), and who have no existential threats to their market leadership, you might want to hang on to them for a bit. They may be just getting going on the valuation creation thing.