Posts from September 2011

Feature Friday: Offline Gmail

I was talking with my partner Albert and my friend Matt the other day. I was saying that the thing I miss most about flying without wifi is the ability to clean out my inbox. And Albert said that he'd always know when I had landed because his inbox would get a flood of incoming email from me. Matt laughed and said he was well known for doing the same inside his company.

I think I am going to fly across the country today without wifi so I'll get the opportunity to clean out my inbox and I'm going to use a relatively new feature to do that.

Google has released a Chrome app for offline gmail. It allows you to load gmail in Chrome when you are offline. When you do that, it looks like this:

Offline gmail

I've had this app installed in Chrome for a few weeks now but I've not had the chance to test it out. I think I'm going to get to do that today. I'm curious if any of you are using offline gmail and if so, how well it works.

 

Minimum Viable Personality

Today we have a special guest post. There have been a few guest posts here at AVC. Maybe a half dozen in total. One of my favorites was this one by JLM during the financial crisis of 2008/2009. But this one today may top that gem.

It's from our favorite Giant Robot Dinosaur and it's about Minimal Viable Personality, something I have referred to as "voice" in pior posts. The Grimster is so right that this is critical to building a successful product.

One final note. If you want to tweet out one or more of the many awesome quotes in here, please add the hashtag #grimlockquotes. I'd like to watch them come in. Because you know they will.

————

MINIMUM VIABLE PERSONALITY 

MOST IMPORTANT STEP FOR BUILD PRODUCT IS BUILD PRODUCT. 

SECOND MOST IMPORTANT IS BUILD PERSONALITY FOR PRODUCT. 

NO HAVE PERSONALITY? PRODUCT BORING, NO ONE WANT. 

BREADORBACON

 

PERSONALITY BETTER THAN MARKETING 

WHEN CHOOSE PRODUCT, HUMANS ONLY CARE ABOUT DOES WORK, AND IS INTERESTING. 

WORLD ALREADY FULL OF THINGS DO WORK. MOST BORING. 

PERSONALITY = INTERESTING. INTERESTING = CARE. CARE = TALK.  

EVERYONE CARE AND TALK ABOUT PRODUCT? YOU WIN. 

CAREPLUSTALKISWIN

SELL TO FRIENDS, NOT STRANGERS 

PERSONALITY MAKE PRODUCT FRIEND. YOU HELP FRIEND. YOU FORGIVE WHEN FRIEND NOT PERFECT. YOU WANT FRIEND WIN. 

BORING STRANGER?… YOU NOT. 

PERSONALITY IS API FOR LOYALTY. NO ONE CARE WHICH BORING STRANGER IS NEXT. BUT ALWAYS WANT FRIEND NEXT. 

LOYALTYPORT

PERSONALITY MAKE MEANING 

CAN PET ROCK. PET DOG BETTER. PET DOG HAVE MEANING. 

BORING PRODUCT IS ROCK. NO HAVE MEANING. INTERACT WITH PERSONALITY DIFFERENT. HAVE MEANING. 

INTERESTING PRODUCT THAT GIVE FRIENDS MEANING = MOST WIN OF ALL. 

NOTAROCK

HOW NOT BE BORING 

HAVE PERSONALITY EASY. ANSWER THREE QUESTIONS: 

1. HOW YOU CHANGE CUSTOMER'S LIFE?  

2. WHAT YOU STAND FOR? 

3. WHO OR WHAT YOU HATE? 

NOW HAVE MISSION, VALUES, ENEMY. THAT ENOUGH FOR MINIMUM VIABLE PERSONALITY. 

KEEP IN BRAIN WHEN WRITE, TALK, BLOG, TWEET. ITERATE. IMPROVE WHAT WORK. DELETE WHAT NOT. PERSONALITY GROW. 

NO BE CHICKEN 

CHICKEN LIVE IN CAGE. NO CAN HAVE PERSONALITY INSIDE CAGE.  

LAST STEP IS SMASH CAGE, LIGHT BARN ON FIRE. 

DO THAT, YOU WIN.

  CHICKENWIN

Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And Venture Capitalist (continued)

Earlier this year I blogged about this book. The authors, Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, will be in NYC next week to talk about it. They are doing an event at the offices of venture law firm Cooley next Thursday. Here are the details:

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2011
Discussion: 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm  |  Reception: 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
COOLEY LLP The Grace Building, 1114 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY

If you want to attend, you can RSVP via email.

MBA Mondays: Cap Tables

Cap Tables (short for capitalization tables) are spreadsheets that show how much everyone owns of the company. You can get a stockholder ledger from your lawyer that will list all the stockholders and show how many shares or options they have, but I don't consider that a cap table.

For the past 25 years, I've used a simple form, mostly given to me by the partners I worked for when I first entered the venture capital business in the mid-80s, but with a few modifications by me over the years. It looks like this (click on the image to enlarge):

Cap table

Last night I put together a public read-only google spreadsheet that shows you a basic cap table in the format I like to use. You can check it out here.

The basic outlines of this cap table are:

1) it shows all the major stockholders of the company listed down the left side. it also shows the major option holders and buckets of option holders

2) it shows all of the classes of stock and how much was paid for them across the top of the columns

3) for each investor, you show how much of each class was bought and how many shares of that class they own as a result

4) you total up the cost and shares and then calculate ownerships on a fully-diluted basis (which means you include the options, whether issued or non-issued or vested or non-vested).

I like this presentation for its simplicity and because it shows the progression of financing activity. It also has the benefit of showing how much each investor has put in on a cost basis, which many cap tables leave out.

If you want to make a cap table for your company, feel free to replicate this format. If you have angel investors, put them in the angel section. I would include the largest ones and bucket all the rest into "other angels."

If you've got any questions about this cap table, or cap tables in general, feel free to ask them in the comments. I will answer them (maybe not until late today or tomorrow -I've got a crazy day today). And I bet the community will answer them too (probably well before me).

Moneyball For Startups

Dan Frommer wrote an interesting post on SplatF yesterday talking about the possibility of a quantitative assessment of founders/founding teams, like they use in baseball. Bottom line is that Dan talked to some leading VCs and none of them use quantitative methods to measure teams. It seems like gut instinct is alive and well in VC land.

Dan quoted me on the topic:

“We have not been able to quantify it. We haven’t even tried. Although I am sure someone could do it and they might be very successful with it.

To us, the ideal founding team is one supremely talented product oriented founder and one, two, or three strong developers, and nothing else. The supremely talented product oriented founder should have been obsessed about a product area/idea for a long period of time and just has to build something to satisfy their passion/curiosity. That’s about it. Joshua Schachter/Delicious, Jack Dorsey/Twitter, Dennis Crowley/Foursquare are the iconic examples of this kind of person in our portfolio.”

We very much engage in pattern recognition but not number crunching. There just aren't that many stats out there on entrepreneurial talent. But we sure like to think that when a great entrepreneur walks into our door, we will recognize him or her as such.

Feature Friday: DJs Needed

Richard F has been urging me to talk about features I love every friday. I am not committing to make this a weekly feature (no pun intended). One weekly committment is enough. But I will try to run posts about features I love and new features on Fridays under this moniker.

Today, I'd like to talk about something Turntable added this week that I really like. They launched a new lobby page. It looks like this (at 6:30am eastern before most of the US has woken up):

Turntable lobby

We are looking at the view called "DJs needed". This view lets you quickly see the busiest rooms in the service where there are DJ spots available.

Before this feature was released, all you would see in the lobby was the busiest rooms. But the real thrill of Turntable is getting up on stage and seeing if you can deliver the goods. I do it at least three of four times a week. It's a kick.

This feature was among the most commonly requested things users have asked for since the Turntable service launched. Harking back to yesterday's post about focusing on your loyal users, I believe one of the keys to success early in a company's life is listening closely to the users and then delivering quickly on the things they ask for. That creates trust and loyalty, two important traits in an early user base.

So now when you visit Turntable, click on the DJs needed icon in the lobby, and go into a room and start showing your stuff. I think you'll enjoy it. I certainly do.

After The Hype

Loic Le Meur has a great post up where he talks about what happens after the initial wave of hype wears off. He wrote it in response to some negative posts about G+ but the situation Loic describes is something we see in almost all of our portfolio companies.

The shiny new toy syndrome lasts a month or two at best these days and then the hot new app crowd moves on. In the wake of that you will have built a base of loyal users who will be a fraction of your total users. 30% is a good number. If you kept more than that, you are doing great. If you kept 10% or less, you’ve got serious problems. In between those numbers is where most entrepreneurs land after the hype is over.

The thing to do is focus on those who remain, service them incredibly well, and start building from there. Forget about the hot app crowd. They may or may not be back. Your loyal users will.

This is one area of business building where being a startup helps. You have nothing else you can do. You can be laser focused on your product and your users. Big companies can lose patience and focus and kill things off before they have had a chance to develop.

USV invested in Twitter, Tumblr, and Zynga the same summer (2007). Zynga and Twitter took off fast. Tumblr was a slow build. They are all Juggernauts now. Fortunately the USV team were all active loyal users of Tumblr. We loved the product then and now. So we were patient and comfortable in our committment to the business. As were the founding team.

The hot companies come and go. You can’t create lasting value on hype. It can give you a boost for sure but at the end of the day product wins and that is where all entrepreneurs must focus, particularly when the hype cycle ends.

In Situ Content

I've been working on a prezi for a talk I'm giving next monday at OMMA Global (here's the high level outline of the talk). It's a work in progress. I started it last weekend. I do a bit more each morning. I hope to have it done before I walk on stage monday at 9:10am.

I like to use visuals when I give a talk. I use them as eye candy for the audience. And they are the cues for me to move through the concepts I want to cover. It's like a visual outline. I don't use notes. I just hit next and I'm reminded about the flow I want to use.

For many years, I used Powerpoint to create the visuals for these talks. Then I'd post the slides to Slideshare and share the visuals on this blog and elsewhere to get feedback. It was a fine system.

But in my effort to move everything I do to the cloud, I've ditched Powerpoint for Prezi and started creating the visuals right on the web. So I can link out to a work in progress without any need to upload anything. And when I walk onto the stage, I pull up a browser, go to a URL, and I'm good to go.

I really like content systems where everything happens "in situ". The more I use systems like this, the more I think they are the future. I alluded to this in my "there will be no files in the cloud" post, but I think this goes beyond files vs no files.

So much of what I do, what I think about, what I am learning is informed by the daily act of writing this blog. I write in a browser. I bring all these web services I'm using right into the post via links, images, embeds, etc. And then I hit publish. You load up a browser, go to AVC.com, and start reading. Using Disqus, we talk about what I've written. I learn, you learn, and then it's tomorrow and a new post. This is all happening in one system (or two connected systems – typepad and disqus). It is all happening in a browser. And we are all connected to each other via the web.

So when I look at doing visual presentations, I want a similar system. Prezi is in situ. Powerpoint isn't.

When I look at creating and publishing audio, SoundCloud is in situ. iTunes insn't.

When I look at creating and publishing novels, Wattpad is in situ. Kindle isn't.

When I look at creating and publishing documents, Google Docs is in situ. Word is not.

When I look at remixing images, Canv.as is in situ. Photoshop is not.

I'll stop there. You get the point by now. There is so much to be gained when content is published and consumed in the same service where engagement is encouraged, measured, and leveraged to improve the experience for everyone. These are the content systems of the future.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Disqus, SoundCloud, Wattpad, and Canv.as are USV portfolio companies. What is the point of learning if you don't leverage what you learn?