Posts from November 2007

Failure

I wrote a couple posts on the Union Square Ventures weblog over the past couple days on the subject of failure rates and why startups fail.

These two posts were inspired by a talk I gave to Jeff Jarvis’ class on entrepreneurship in journalism on Wednesday. I’d like to thank all of Jeff’s students for being an inspiration and I hope that none of them fail.

Bug+SF Meetup Last Night

Our portfolio company Bug Labs did a meetup in SF last night. I was there and saw a lot of friends and met a bunch of readers of this blog. Thanks for everyone who came up and introduced themselves. It’s always great to put a face to a name.

My favorite part of the night was  watching Ken swap modules in and out. His hand speed was reminiscent of the rubik’s cube wars we had back in my college days at MIT.

Bug_swapping_modules

Facebook and The Privacy Backlash

For those of who don’t know (ie you don’t read techmeme, techcrunch, and their ilk), Facebook has been the subject of a mini privacy backlash over its ‘beacon’. Just yesterday Facebook made a move to attempt to alleviate some of the privacy concerns

We’ve seen this before. Doubleclick’s acquisition of Abacus in the late 90s caused a huge backlash. We’ve seen Google come under privacy scrutiny as well. The fears expressed in these various privacy backlashes are always overblown.

My view, for those who haven’t been reading this blog for a long time, is that all of this privacy stuff is way over the top. You need to disclose what you are doing and Facebook has done that. You need to give users a way to opt out and I believe but am not sure that Facebook has done that. Certainly the partner sites that are runnning Facebook’s beacon need to disclose and provide an opt out

But beyond that, tracking what we do and reporting it to our friends and using that data to target advertising and content is a good thing. In fact, its why the Internet is getting better and better every day

When the internet knows who you are, what you do, who your friends are, and what they do, it goes from the random bar you wander into to your favorite pub where your friends congregate and the bartender knows your drink and pours it for you when you walk in the door

I would like my friends to know that I just bought tickets to see Daft Punk in early December. It would be great if that news was provided in my mini feed with a link to where my friends can buy tickets the same show

It would be great if the information that I bought a handmade scarf on Etsy allowed a friend to buy me a matching knit cap and send it to me as a gift. You all get the picture

These privacy backlashes do some good though. They keep big companies like Google and Facebook sensitized to the issue. And so we hope that they ‘do no evil’ with this data they are collecting

My point is that there is way more good to be done with this data than evil. I am happy when I see the beacon popping up on my screen these days

The Data GPS

For several years, I’ve been kind of obsessed by the idea of a software and data-based GPS. I was introduced to the idea by Cyril Houri, a NYC-based entrepreneur who build a service called Navizon that works on Blackberries, iPhones, and a number of other mobile phone devices. I have Navizon on every Blackberry and iPhone in our home.

The idea behind Navizon is to map every cell tower and wireless access point (using the GPS enabled phones of its users) and then offer a data-GPS system on any device. Navizon does not require a hardware GPS. One less chip in your phone. And anyone can have geolocation services on their phone regardless of whether they have GPS hardware in their phones.

There’s another company that does something like this called Skyhook, based in Boston. I believe they only do wifi access point location, whereas Navizon does both cell towers and waps.

The reason I like this idea so much (particularly Navizon) is that it’s a peer produced database that provides a great service to all of us. Anyone that has GPS on their phones is mapping cell towers and wifi access points so that the rest of us can get geolocation on our phones when we need it. And since the database is peer produced, it will get updated when a new cell tower or wifi access point  is set up.

Yesterday this concept went mainstream when Google introduced "my location" services into their mobile google maps service. I just went to Google’s mobile maps service on my blackberry browser and updated my google maps service on my blackberry.

Blue_dot_mylocation_2
Now google maps puts a little blue dot on the map where I am.
I don’t need to tell google maps where I am anymore. This is a big deal. I suggest everyone who has a mobile phone that can run google maps go get this new version. Google’s "my location" service is using cell tower location, not wireless access point location, so the accuracy is a little less than Navizon and Skyhook. But I think it’s pretty good. And this comment in the Google blog post leads me to believe Google is also using peer production to update its database:

First, although accuracy and coverage may vary, both will improve over time as more and more people use Google Maps for mobile

It will be interesting to see what else google has up it’s sleeve for its "my location" services. Is there an API? Can twitter plug into this service so it can know where I am at all times? Can outside.in plug into this service so that when I visit outside.in from my phone’s browser I see what’s going on right around where I am right now?

Location based services need geolocation as a foundational element. And now the big gorilla in mapping on the web and phones has delivered geolocation. And they’d done it with a peer produced data-based GPS. Google continues to impress me. Long GOOG.

Fear and Loathing Is Not A Great Brand Image

I know Apple is one of the most loved companies in the world. I know that my girls and my friend Howard have ridden Apple’s stock from pre-split $20s to 10-15x returns I know that the Apple lovers will hate me and flame me for what I am about to say.

My brand image of Apple these days is fear and loathing. I am afraid to upgrade to a new version of iTunes because it might make my music and video unusable or it might brick my iPhone. I am afraid to upgrade to Leopard because it might brick my MacBook.

I have a brand new iPhone sitting right next to me on my desk that I can’t figure out how to unlock and jailbreak now that it comes pre-loaded with 1.1.2 firmware. So it just sits there on my desk making me hate Apple more every day

Cable+itunes logo means I'm screwed-damn

Apple is an old school company. Instead of forcing Verizon to open up like Google does, they make a sick consumer unfriendly deal with AT&T here in the states and then proceed to replicate it around the world. Thank god there are governments in other parts of the world that are willing to stand up for the rights of the consumer

I fear Apple and I hate them. As much as Microsoft. Who I’ve hated for years.

Long GOOG. Not Long AAPL or MSFT

The Open Mobile Network

I guess it’s big news that Verizon is opening its network to "any device and any app." It’s particularly big news because Verizon is a CDMA network meaning it’s not as easy to move from one device to another on its network.

I’ve been running whatever device I want on T-Mobile’s GSM network for years. I can run any phone we have in our house on my T-Mobile SIM card; Emily’s iPhone, Josh’s Sidekick, my Curve, Jessica’s old school blackberry, or any one of several older phones that we still keep around in case one of our phones dies.

"Any app" is a bigger promise although honestly I’ve not had any issues downloading third party apps to my Curve. The reason "any app" is a bigger promise is that getting on Verizon’s deck means being able to plug into their billing system.

Can I build an amazon app that lets me buy stuff on Amazon and put the charges on my Verizon bill? Well that would be a truly open network where all the functionality is made available to anyone who wants to run on their network.

I kind of doubt that’s where their head is at right now. But they’ll get there. Open is the new closed.

Should I Be A Fan Of Sequoia If It’s Not Really Their Page?

You don’t need to be Union Square Ventures to create the Union Square Ventures page on facebook. Fortunately I was the one who created it and so it’s a non issue.

It turns out that the Sequoia page I linked  to yesterday wasn’t created by Sequoia. I thought that might be the case when I looked at it, but I needed the hook for my post yesterday so I went with the link anway. They have gone from 4 fans to 224 fans in one day. I think that speaks to the value of their brand and the power of a link on AVC!

The Sequoia page was created by a guy named Peter and his friend Sam created the Kleiner Perkins page. Sam’s been creating pages for brands like Ralph Lauren and the tv show 24.

What is someone to make of these "bogus" company pages? Should Facebook take them down? Or should the rightful owner be able to claim them as their own (if they want to)?

This reminds me of the early domain name wars when brands woke up and found out that the .com domain name for their brand was owned and operated by someone they had no relationship with. They then had to sue and/or buy the domains.

This will be easier since Facebook owns the name space inside Facebook and can easily sort out these issues. But Sequoia and KP should wake up and grab their fan pages before the people who are operating them do something with them that’s not to their liking.

Should we all undo our fandom of Sequioa? Not yet. Hopefully they’ll claim their page and we can be fans of the real firm.

And while I am on the subject of  what Facebook needs to do with business pages, I’d like them to add  Notes to the business pages so we can import the Union Square Ventures blog into our facebook page like I do with this blog on my personal profile. Lot’s of businesses have blogs these days and they will surely want a way to easily publish them into Facebook.

Why I Am A Fan Of Sequoia Capital

This weekend I became a fan of Sequioa Capital on Facebook. They only have 14 fans, so if you are a fan like me go join their page.

Why am I a fan of Sequoia? Because they are simply the best venture capital firm in the business right now. They are doing it right. And it’s impressive to watch.

On that subject, I wrote a post on the Union Square Ventures weblog this morning talking about why the best firms in the venture capital business have an advantage over everyone else. If you invest in venture capital funds or take money from them, it’s worth reading and commenting on.

How Will Tougher Economic Times Impact The Web?

The front page of the NY Times Week In Review section today looks like this above the fold:

Recession

The associated article by  Peter S. Goodman talks about how a US economic downturn might play out in the worldwide economy. I’ve gotten a lot more emails recently from readers who want to know what I think about the economy and what impact a slowdown would have on the web and web startup scene.

First, I have been concerned about the US economy for a while. My post yesterday about oil based trade imbalances is part of my concern. I am also concerned by large and sustained budget deficits. The twin budget and trade deficits have put the US dollar and US dollar denominated securities under pressure. Huge wealth buildups are occuring in other parts of the world, most notably the middle east, russia, china, india, and other rapidly developing economies. To date, that wealth has been reinvested in the US. But that may not continue.

Add to this primary concern the secondary concerns related to our housing and mortgage mess and the inability to lower rates much more to stimulate the economy and it certainly looks like we are in for some tough times here in the US in the coming years.

I suspect these tough times will be reflected in our capital markets. Certainly they will be felt in the public markets for US equities and I believe we are already seeing that. Last week saw the pulling of a number of public offerings that were planned for the fourth quarter. The IPO market is weak for sure.

The buyout/private equity market is also undergoing some changes. Debt offerings have become much more difficult in the wake of the subprime mortgage mess. Banks are focused on risk and risk management, as they should be. Buyout valuations are coming down as a result.

Will the venture market see the same choppy waters? It’s hard to say. There is a lot of money that has yet to be put to work in venture funds right now. Venture deals are not dependent on loans so the debt market is not likely to be a factor. It is true that silicon valley is starting to get more cautious. I’ve seen a number of stories lately that firms such as Kleiner Perkins and Draper Fisher Jurvetson are taking a more cautious stance toward web applications and services (web 2.0 in the vernacular). That’s a good sign. If silicon valley can self correct without a meltdown like last time, we are all so much better off.

There’s something else at work however. The web itself continues to be a major economic force, both in the positive and the negative. The web is disrupting and wiping out margins in industries like music, film, newspapers, and increasingly sectors like personal finance and software. But the web is having an equally positive effect in sectors like advertising and direct marketing. We (me and my colleagues at Union Square Ventures) believe that the web is accelerating its transformative power and that businesses built around a web foundation will continue to take share of the worldwide economic pie.

So I suspect that there will continue to be a healthy supply of capital targeted at web applications and services for as far as I can see. Capital chases returns. And the web appears to be an increasing returns economy at this point in time.

What is probably going to happen is the hype cycle will die down. The capital markets, including possibly the M&A market that has been driving returns in the web sector, will be less attractive. And we’ll have to build our companies for the long haul. Which is as it should be. Venture capital is long term capital and those that are patient and are prepared to hang in there through up and down markets will be rewarded.