Posts from November 2013

Video Of The Week: Alex Ljung on Emergent Behavior

I've frequently said on this blog that emergent behavior in a service is a sign to me that the service is scaling into something important and valuable. It is a feature that we look for a lot in our investments. I don't love it when entrepreneurs build services that are too tightly constructed around a single use case. I do love it when entrepreneurs build services that the users can take and do interesting things with.

Here's a short (3min) video where Alex Ljung, founder and CEO of our portfolio company SoundCloud, talks about how that happened in SoundCloud.

Feature Friday: Disqus Thumbnail Ads

Arnold suggested we discuss these ads last week so we are going to do that. But first some background.

Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, offers a free ad-supported service for both commenters and publishers. Their first ad product is promoted discovery which has been a link oriented product for the past year. Publishers opt into promoted discovery and share revenues with Disqus if they opt-in.

Recently, Disqus added the option for publishers who are running promoted discovery to switch from links to thumbnails. I decided to make that switch and turned on thumbnails a week or two ago. The revenue AVC is making has gone up as a result. I use that revenue to buy promoted discovery from Disqus, thereby bringing more readers and community members to AVC.

The promoted discovery ads run at the top of the Disqus comment thread if you are not logged in as a Disqus commenter. The promoted discovery ads run at the bottom of the Disqus comment thread if you are logged in as a Disqus commenter. The ads are very noticeable on a thread that is new or has very few comments on it. The ads are not as noticeable on threads like we have at AVC once there is a lot of discussion activity.

The thumbnail ads look like this:

Thumbnail ads

Promoted discovery is not the only ad product that Disqus is likely to rolll out. It was rolled out first because these kinds of ads are common on blogs and online publications and advertisers are used to them and they are relatively easy to sell. Over time, I expect Disqus to come up with more native advertising models.

But for now, these are the only ads running on AVC. I am curious what folks think of them. If the community really dislikes them, I can easily turn off thumbnails and go back to links. The only cost to me is less promoted discovery for AVC running on the Disqus network.

So, what do we all think of the thumbnail ads?

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I love the John Hughes film starring John Candy and Steve Martin in which the two of them go to great effort to get home from NYC to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I might put it on this morning while the Gotham Gal is cooking in the kitchen.

I thought of that film yesterday as I was coming out of the subway and person after person was coming down the subway stairs with their luggage. On most days you don't see people dragging their luggage into the subway. But the day before thanksgiving is different. Thanksgiving is a day you spend with your family. And so people get on planes, trains, and automobiles and get to their loved ones.

I saw this photo on tumblr this morning.

Airplanes

That was sometime yesterday. Not sure when. Those planes were filled with people heading to family for Thanksgiving.

Fortunately the Gotham Gal's family decided to fly to NYC this year so we are not on planes, trains, and automobiles this weekend. But we will be with family and have been all week. It's a great thing and one of the many reasons why Thanksgiving is a great holiday.

Have a great one with your family today.

Witch Hunts and Public Data

I was reading a thread on Hacker News this morning and came across this gem of a comment:

One of the consequences of a public transaction chain is the great potential for witch hunts. Here's one of the first examples, but it surely won't be the last.

The backstory here is a couple researchers posted a paper suggesting that Satoshi (the inventor of bitcoin that nobody knows) had done a large transaction with the founder of Silk Road. That was picked up by the New York Times last weekend. Well it turns out that was not what happened. What happened in fact was this.

When things are public, like the bitcoin block chain where all the transactions clear, then people can and will look at the public data and speculate on what it means. We saw this happen as well with all the public smartphone photos that were taken and published during the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year.

I realize that the collateral damage from this activity is the potential for reputations to be smeared and real damage to be done to entirely innocent people. But I think radical transparency is, over the long term, a force for good and not evil. And I believe we will see more of it not less.

In our weekly meeting on monday, my partner Brad suggested we start looking for accounting systems that allow businesses that operate entirely on the web and mobile to start publishing their financial data publicly in real time. His assertion was that by making your business totally and completely transparent to users, customers, employees, and suppliers, you will increase trust and that will lead to a more sustainable relationship with all those parties over time. So we are looking for that now. If you have something like that or have seen it, please leave a comment here.

But more than just accounting and payment systems, I think we will see all the systems we use in our lives become more transparent over time and the data that becomes public as a result will provide countless opportunities to be analyzed, optimized, and yes, sensationalized. No good comes without some bad. That's the way forward progress works.

Crowdfunding More Public School Chess

The AVC community will remember back to this summer when we helped to crowdfund a middle school chess team that was struggling to come up with the money to go to the tournaments it had won numerous times over the past decade. That was a huge success for everyone involved. And like most successes, it brought out other similar efforts.

One that I am particularly fond of is at the Park Slope Elementary and Middle School (aka PS/MS 282) in Park Slope Brooklyn. At PS/MS 282, every student learns chess and 50 of the students are selected to represent the school in the state and national championships. Last year, PS/MS 282 won the National Championships in the K-5 category for Under 900.

Royal panthers

In order to raise the funds to send the kids back to the state and national championships this year, PS/MS 282 is doing a Donors Choose campaign right now. I have given to the campaign and I thought I'd let everyone here at AVC know about it too. If you want to support public school chess and help these kids defend their title, you can support them here.

I am a big fan of teaching chess to youngsters. I think it teaches struggling, persevering, thinking ahead, and getting ahead. I would like to see more of it in our public schools.

The New Freedom

There's a great Andy Serwer interview of Marc Andreessen up on Fortune. I would recommend everyone go give it a read. Marc expresses many of the same things my partners and I are seeing and feeling right now.

But the ending of the article is really great. Andy asks him why driverless cars are so great when everyone loves owning and driving a car. And Marc answers with this gem:

Ask a kid. Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they'd rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right?

Today, ask kids if they'd rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There's a huge social behavior reorientation that's already happening. And you can see it through that. And I'm not saying nobody can own cars. If people want to own cars, they can own cars. But there is a new generation coming where freedom is defined by "I can do anything I want, whenever I want. If I want a ride, I get a ride, but I don't have to worry. I don't have to make car payments. I don't have to worry about insurance. I have complete flexibility." That is freedom too.

A smartphone can get you a ride but a car can't get you a date. The smartphone wins.

A Note About Bitcoin

Yesterday I received an email from a reader who wanted to know why I was hyping my position in Bitcoin. It's a fair question and one that I feel like responding to publicly as well as privately.

USV does not own any Bitcoin. I don't know for sure, but I suspect my partners own very little, if any Bitcoin. I own a total of 7.39 Bitcoin spread between several hosts.

I own these Bitcoin to be able to use them when I want to try new things. I have purchased approximatly 175 Bitcoin over the years and have spent or given away almost all of it.

I don't have a view on what the ultimate value of a Bitcoin will be nor do I care. I am interested in Bitcoin plain and simply because I believe it can be and possibly will be the financial and transactional protocol for the global Internet. That's where my interest lies and that is where my positions will lie. We have one so far, which is Coinbase, and I hope and expect we will make other Bitcoin related investments.

My partner Albert's post on Bitcoin lays out where we are looking to make investments in this sector. Buying and speculating on Bitcoin is not one of them.

Feature Friday: Two Factor Authentication

With everything in the cloud now, it is important to protect your most sensitive information. I like two factor authentication for doing that. Bad people can steal passwords, but stealing your password and your phone at the same time is not as easy. And under the theory that being harder to rob than your neighbor is often enough, I feel pretty comfortable with two factor auth security and use it on as many online services as I can.

But having a dedicated piece of hardware, or a dedicated mobile app like Google Authenticator, for every web service is also a pain.

I've been watching a company called Authy for the past few years attempt to solve this problem. And I think they are getting there. I use their app as my primary way to get two factor codes on my phone. They support Google Authenticator codes as well as a host of other web services. They have an API so other developers can easily add Authy support to their apps.

So I have two recommendations.

1) If you are a user, see if you can set up two factor autentication on the web services that host your most sensitive information. And see if they support the Authy app.

2) If you are a developer, think about adding Authy two factor support to your app.

And if you have logged in sensititve information on your phone, use a pin to lock it down.

I am far from paranoid. If anything I am too trusting and prefer convenience over security in most cases. But when things should be protected, you need to protect them.

DrawQuest for iPhone

I blogged about DrawQuest for iPad earlier this year. DrawQuest is the creation of our portfolio company Canvas. Since it launched DrawQuest has been featured several times in the iPad app store and has developed a large community of people who draw the daily quests. The quality and creativity of the drawings is really incredible. Here's a feed of the drawings that have made their way to twitter.

So here's the big news. DrawQuest is now available on iPhone. You can now participate in the DrawQuest community via tablet or phone (and iPod touch). And DrawQuest now includes the ability for a user to create a new quest. Until now, all the quests came from the company and they came once a day. There will still be a quest of the day but users can now publish quests as well to their friends. So there's more to draw and more to do.

The new DrawQuest was designed from the ground up for iOS7 and looks and feels great in your hand. So if you like to draw or want to draw more, please download DrawQuest and start drawing and engaging in the community.