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.

Public Writing and Community Building

I realized this morning that many of the biggest changes in Startups and VC over the past ten years (2004-2014) have come about in part because of public writing and community building.

I would put the YC and 500 Startups movements in that camp, and the emergence of vibrant startup hubs in NYC, LA, and Boulder, and the juggernaut that is A16Z.

If you want to make a splash and create  something new, writing publicly and building a community around that is one important part of the playbook.

Do You Unplug

I’m working on unplugging during my six weeks off. I’m doing a decent job but I am not totally unplugged and it is possible that I won’t totally unplug.

I saw this chart in the WSJ (via Twitter) this morning:

unlug

So almost half of us don’t ever unplug.

Do you, and if so, how often?

Trolling

The New York Times has a post on Trolls and Trolling today. It cites an academic named Whitney Phillips who has written a book about Trolls.

Whitney says “As long as the Internet keeps operating according to a click-based economy, trolls will maybe not win, but they will always be present.”

We’ve had our fair share of Trolls here at AVC over the years. They are most notable whenever I write something negative about Apple.

But we also get them on posts that are more personal in nature.

Yesterday I got a Kik from William who helps me moderate AVC.

trolls

The comment in question was a tasteless comment about the Gotham Gal. William deleted it as I would have.

Had it been a tasteless comment about me, I would more likely have let it stand as I’m inclined to let everyone see how warped these trolls are.

I think Whitney is right that we are unlikely to have an open Internet without trolls. They are annoying, as is comment spam and many other things, but I’d rather have an open forum where anyone can comment, than close things down and lose all that comes from the freedom to say and do what you want.

Trolls are annoying but I am certainly happy to live with them given the alternatives.

An Extended Vacation

Starting tomorrow and for the next six weeks, the Gotham Gal and I will be on an extended vacation.

Every year I take the last two weeks of the summer at the beach with my family to celebrate my birthday and take advantage of the last days of the summer. I will be doing that starting tomorrow.

Then in late August, we drop our youngest child, Josh, off at college. That moment will mark the end of a very important part of our lives, the active in-person parenting phase, and the start of another phase where it will be mostly the two of us living together without our children at home.

Neither of us wanted to just drop Josh off at college and go back to work like nothing changed. We want to acknowledge this new phase and kick it off with an event of some kind. So we are going to spend most of September traveling together, just the two of  us, in southern Europe. We will be back in late September, with a new living situation, and hopefully refreshed and energized for this new phase of our lives.

We will refrain from working on this extended vacation unless something very important comes up. I will turn on an out of office responder at some point in the next 24 hours and when you email me you will get a reply saying that I’m away until the end of September and, unless its urgent, please contact me then.

I do plan to have something new up here at AVC every day during this period. That may be reblogging the Gotham Gal who plans to blog our trip in Europe, it may be reblogging some old posts that should get the light shined on them again (like I did earlier this week), it may be more videos (like saturdays), or it may be new posts if I am inspired to write something new and original. It will probably be a mix of all of that.

I’m super excited to be taking this time off. It was eleven years ago that Brad and I started USV and twenty four years ago that the Gotham Gal and I started our family. Both have been incredible and successful efforts, but they have required a lot of work. It’s time to take a break and smell the roses, together. And that is what we intend to do.

Graffiti

I love Graffiti. I realize that at some level, graffiti is vandalism and represents disrespect of property rights. And it doesn’t feel great when our building gets tagged.

But there’s something about sitting outside eating on the street staring at street art. This was our view on Monday night.

street art

Graffiti is creativity expressed in public, for all to see. It’s rebellious. It’s leaving your mark on the world.

I feel most at home in cities and neighborhoods that are filled with Graffiti.

I think there’s a linkage between creativity, innovation, and rebellion. And graffiti sits right in the middle of all of that.

Reblogging An Old Post: The Word Bubble

I wrote this in 2011. I think it’s as true today as it was then. It’s interesting that Marc Andreessen, in the video I posted over the weekend, also links the word Bubble in his mind to the Internet bubble that we all lived through. I guess for a certain cohort of investors, that is a very definitive moment in our lives that we will always be scarred by.

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In all the posts over the past year or so outlining my thoughts on the financing and valuation environment in the internet sector, I’ve avoided using the word Bubble. It is intentional. For me Bubble will always be inexorably linked to what went down in 1999 and 2000 in the internet sector. And I agree with Mike Arrington that what is going on now is different. I do not think we are in a Bubble per se. That is why I don’t use the word.

But I am equally sure that we are in the glass is half full part of the cycle. Investors are focusing on the upside and ignoring the downside. That part of the investment cycle lasts for a while and then things change and investors focus on the downside and ignore the upside. Markets are defined by greed and fear. We are in the greed mode right now.

I don’t view this as whining. There is nothing to whine about. Investors are making money hand over fist. Why would I whine about that? But I do think it is important to point out the inevitability of the market cycles. There will come a time when the environment we are in will be in the rear view mirror. And entrepreneurs should be crystal clear about that. This is a time to raise money and sock it away for a rainy day. Because it will rain.

And investors should recognize that the current valuation environment will not exist at some point in the future. The companies we invest in will need to grow into these valuations or we will face writedowns and writeoffs. We should not let the greed emotions cloud our judgement. Yes, that hot deal sure looks damn good right now. But deals are actually companies and most venture investments are held for five to seven years. I’ve likened them to marriages over the years. Don’t let the lust for the deal lead to a bad marriage that you have to be in for the next decade.

I’ve made all of these mistakes. I know what happens. I am prepared for it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t investing in this cycle. We are as active as we’ve ever been. But we are investing at this stage of the cycle with our eyes wide open. And I’m writing about it in the hopes that others do the same.