Flashback: The Lycos NYC Office in 1995

I was taking the subway uptown yesterday afternoon and as I stepped out of the train I thought I saw the word Lycos on the advertisement on the station wall. Upon closer observation, it was not an advertisement for Lycos, but by then I was already thinking about my visit to the Lycos NYC office in 1995 when I first met Jerry Colonna. It was in the building that sits on the north end of Union Square in a dumpy office with the name Point Communications on the door. Point was a web directory (ie at Yahoo competitor) that Lycos had bought in 1995. Jerry told me that Point was driving a lot of the traffic on the Lycos network and I asked him where they hosted it. He pointed to a closet with a PC sitting on the floor with the back opened and a bunch of wires sticking out. “It runs on that thing”, he said. I thought to myself that one of the top trafficked websites on the entire Internet was running in a closet. That was a different time.

Lycos was a web search engine created at Carnegie Mellon that was turned into a business by the Internet holding company CMGI in 1994/1995. Jerry was working for CMGI at the time I met him and CMGI was quickly assembling a portfolio of Internet assets around the Lycos brand to rival Yahoo. CMGI took Lycos public in 1996 and, according to Wikipedia, in 1999 Lycos was the most visited Internet destination.

But easy come, easy go and Lycos was sold to Terra Networks in May 2000, the first in a series of sales to international owners that led to slow and steady decline of the brand.

But back in 1995, Lycos was in the thick of it. It was the east coast rival to Yahoo, which was the leading Internet brand. If you were selling your website (that’s what you did back then), you shopped it to Yahoo and Lycos. And Jerry was right in the middle of all of that. I was thinking of leaving and starting a VC firm to invest exclusively in Internet businesses (ie websites). At that first meeting, I thought Jerry would be a great partner to do that with. And, after a series of meetings, that’s exactly what we did. But that’s another story, longer, and even more interesting.

We’ve come a long way in 20 years. Google eclipsed all of these “web 1.0” properties as search became the dominant way users accessed the web. Facebook showed that the web was going to be a social experience a few years later. And Apple showed that it was going to be a mobile thing a few years after that. And everything has moved off servers in closets to the cloud. Things look a lot differently now. But it helps to go back and think about how it was back then. It gives some perspective.

When Teams Get Hot

Right now the OKC Thunder look unbeatable. They made the Spurs look old and they are now making the Warriors look slow. That’s quite something to accomplish. Let’s see if they can keep this up. It isn’t easy.

I am reminded of the Mets last fall. They went on a hot streak that quickly took out the Dodgers and the Cubs. Then they came back to earth for the series and got beat soundly by the Royals.

How does a team get hot? And how do they stay hot? And is there anything to learn from this phenomenon for teams that operate in the real world?

For the Mets, I think it went all the way back to the walkoff home that Wilmer Flores hit on the last night of July. That combined with the arrival of Cespedes lit that team up and they stayed lit for three solid months.

For the Thunder, something has changed in the playoffs. I’m not entirely sure what changed but I watched a lot of Thunder games this regular season and they were not the same team. Something has changed and very much for the better if you are a Thunder fan like me.

But one thing is for sure. When teams get hot, when they have confidence running through their veins, when they trust each other and know where the other person is going to be great things happen. It’s something to behold.

Experiment and Scandal

We are living in a time of great experiments. They are not happening in the lab. They are happening in the real world. And they are being financed by real people. We are witnessing the de-institutionalization of experimentation. We are returning to a time when anyone can be an inventor and innovator. Some of this has happened because of the explosion of venture capital, both in the US and also around the world. Some of this has happened because entertainment and culture has embraced the world of experimentation and innovation (Shark Tank, Silicon Valley). Some of this has happened because the tools for innovation and experimentation have become mainstream and anyone can use them.

I am not thinking of one thing. I am thinking of many things. I am thinking of The DAO. I am thinking of Bitcoin and Ethereum. I am thinking of Oculus getting financed on Kickstarter. I am thinking of the launch of equity crowdfunding for everyone in the US last week. I am even thinking of things like Theranos.

All of these things are great experiments that will produce great benefit to society if they succeed. But by their nature experiments often fail. They need to fail. Or they would not be experiments.

And one of the challenges with the de-institutionalization of experimentation is that some of these failures will be spectacular. Combine that with the idea that these experiments are being funded by real people and the idea that the world of media/entertainment/culture has injected itself right in the middle of this brave new world and you have the recipe for scandal. And scandal will naturally result in efforts to put the genie back in the bottle (Sarbanes Oxley, Dodd Frank). And these regulatory efforts will naturally attempt to re-institutionalize experimentation.

I find myself wishing we could keep the dollars invested and hype down when we do these massively public experiments. But the dollar/hype cycle is a natural part of being human. Some dollars are invested. We get excited about this investment. We talk it up. More people find out about it and more dollars are invested. More of us get excited about this investment and we talk it up more. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat and you get unicorns and distributed autonomous funding mechanisms entrusted with hundreds of millions before anything has even been funded. Eventually some of that gets unwound and the tape is full of red.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for distributed autonomous organizations and the innovation behind them and in front of them. There isn’t much out there that I am more excited about. But I am also very fearful that this could end badly. And even more fearful of what may be foisted on us by well meaning regulators when that happens.

So let’s celebrate this incredible phase of permissionless innovation we are in. And let’s all understand that we will have many failures. Some of them spectacular. Money will be lost. Possibly hundreds of millions or billions. Let’s expect that. Let’s build that into our mental models. So when that happens, we can suck it up, deal with it, and keep moving forward. Because an open permissionless world of innovation that everyone can participate in is utopia in so many ways. The good that will come of it will massively outweigh any bad. But bad there will be. I can assure you of that.

Video Of The Week: My Coin Center Talk

A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote at the Coin Center Annual Dinner in NYC. I previously posted the text of that speech but it showed up on YouTube this week and so I am posting the video of it here today:

Feature Friday: GBoard

Quite a few friends and family members of mine are loving Google’s new GBoard third party keyboard for iOS. I am currently on Android and Google has not released GBoard for Android. So unlike most feature fridays, I am not going to be able to explain why I like this feature so much. I expect there are plenty of AVC community members who can do that in the comments.

At USV, we have looked closely at the third party keyboard market. It’s a big opportunity to get in between a user and the two dominant mobile operating systems. There could be a lot of value in doing that. But we ultimately determined that the mobile keyboard market was likely to be dominated by Apple and Google for a bunch of reasons. The emergence of GBoard only reinforces that view in our office.

But you can understand the strategic importance of Google gaining market share in the iOS keyboard market. Every key that is typed on a mobile phone is information for Google’s machine learning algorithms. So getting prime real estate on iOS is super strategic. It is also a smart way to defend their search franchise on mobile.

It sounds to me that Google has delivered a fantastic third party keyboard for iOS. If you have used or are using GBoard, I’m interested in your thoughts on it in the comments.

Google I/O 2016

I was in meeetings all day the past couple days and missed all the news coming out of Google’s big event.

So I am getting my friends Bijan and Nabeel to explain it all to me.

You can do that too by hitting the play button below.

When You Have Concerns

I hear this said all the time – “when you have concerns about an employee, it almost always means you will need to make a change.” I hear execs lament that they tend to wait too long to admit that they made a hiring mistake and act on it. I hear them wish they trusted their gut more. And it is not always a hiring mistake. It is often a case of someone doing great in a role or an organization at at time and then failing as the org or the culture changes around them. In this latter scenario, loyalty and appreciation for contributions made loom large.

And yet that conflicts with the idea that you can grow and develop talent and you can coach people to evolve and change.

A friend of mine told me yesterday that “you have to pay attention to the key moments” when you are evaluating an employee that you have questions about. She suggested that concerns always exist and it is not true that when you have concerns, it almost always leads to making a change. And she said that culture matters a lot and can’t be sacrificed when making these calls.

I don’t do a lot of hiring and firing personally, only at the highest levels. But I do observe executives in our portfolio companies struggling with these decisions and have gone back and forth on how to advise them in these situations. I tend to like action, decisiveness, and a willingness to make a mistake over inaction, pondering, and a desire to get everything right. And so I generally coach executives to make a call and move on when they have concerns.

But the conversation with my friend yesterday gave me pause. I wonder if my advice to make a call and move on is always the right advice. I am curious how the AVC community thinks about these things. Because these are the things that matter most of all in building, managing, and leading a business.

The “Yes And” Slack Bot

I wrote a blog post a while back about collaborating on a list in Google Sheets. At USV, we do a lot of list making in Google Sheets. But Sheets doesn’t have a great conversational interface for coming up with new entries for the list. So we use email to do that but the process is clunky. In that post, I suggested that we might write a slack bot that takes a conversation in a slack channel and turns it into a list in Google Sheets.

A few days later, I got an email from Alex Godin who had built exactly that bot. We tried it out at USV, made a bunch of suggestions on how to make it better, and the result is the “Yes And” Slack Bot. It was approved yesterday by Slack and is now in their app store.

If you and/or your company uses Slack and Google Sheets a lot, you should give it a try. Details on how to do that are here.

I love it when a blog post at AVC turns into something. It happens a lot actually.

From The Investor’s Perspective

I’m still not feeling great. So I’m taking the day off and posting a video from Disrupt featuring my partner Andy, Josh Kopelman (one of my favorite VCs), and one of Josh’s limited partners Chris Douvos. They discuss the challenges of operating in an environment with rising valuations and decreasing liquidity.

Balance

Since we came back from Los Angeles six weeks ago, I have been going harder than any time that I can remember. I’ve had many days when I start with a breakfast at 7am and end with a dinner that wraps at 11pm. Two weeks ago, I gave speeches at three evening events. Last week, I had dinner functions four nights in a row. My workout routine is in shambles and I am not getting enough sleep. I am posting less thoughtful stuff here at AVC. I am three weeks behind on email. Even the CEOs of our portfolio companies are not getting replies from me. That never happens and cannot happen. This weekend I got the notice from my body that I need to slow down. It always happens to me when I’m going too hard. I feel like I’ve got the flu even when I don’t.

Some of this is because I put off a number of things when we were in LA and I’ve been trying to make them up now that I’m back in NYC. I’ve been doing a lot more meetings at USV, I’ve been doing a lot more fundraising for CS4All. I’ve been catching up with business relationships that I didn’t see when I was in LA.

Some of this is because I’ve taken on a bunch of new projects without closing down any. I’ve done this a number of times in my career and it always bites me. I should say no to new things unless and until I can wrap up old things. But I have a bias to say yes and I sometimes break this rule. And then I pay the price.

Finding balance is hard for me. I have tried blocking out slots in my schedule. And then I override them and use these slots to book last minute meetings that come up. I have tried working from home on fridays. And then I allow myself to get scheduled back to back to back on calls and videoconferences. I have tried to not work on weekends. But then the stuff I couldn’t get to during the week finds itself on my to do list on the weekends. I have tried to not do work stuff at night. And then I get talked into doing it.

I am committing myself to getting things back in balance. I am going to get back on my workout routine. I am going to cancel a bunch of evening events. I am going to cut down or cut out public speaking. I am going to sleep longer and better. And I am going to start going to the beach where I always find and keep down time.

I tell you all of this because writing it down publicly will help me commit to it. And because you may get a no from me when you ask to meet me or get me on a call. And because you might see less of me out and about, talking, speaking, being.

My friend (and AVC community member) Kirk calls dieting “lockdown”. I am going on lockdown on work/life balance and I’m going to find more life and a bit less work. I need to.