Posts from January 2014

A New Look For usv.com

A few weeks ago, Nick came into my office and asked if I thought we could get more engagement out of the new usv.com.  He felt that we’d succeeded on the transition from a blog to a link blog, but we had not succeeded in really stimulating discussions at the new usv.com. He had some ideas on how to address that and we batted them around. I encouraged him to follow his instincts.

He then posted this thread on usv.com and got a ton of feedback on it. And so for the past few weeks, he’s been iterating on the usv.com front page. This past Monday, Nick and Brian did some more work, came up with the “cards” thing and Nick was excited. For the past few days, I’ve been encouraging him to “ship it.” He did that last night.Check it out.

For those of you who did not click on that link, here is what it looks like:

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The big changes are:

– Infinite scroll. This is something I’ve wanted since day one. I am so happy.

– All posts on the front page. No posts hidden behind the new tab anymore.

– Posts are bracketed by days. So each day you can come and see everything that was posted on the previous day to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

– Posts are inside a “card” that shows the poster, tags, comments, bumps, the link, and for the most popular posts, a blurb from the poster about the link.

– The left and right columns have been switched.

– Search is now prominently featured at the top. Yesssss.

So that’s it. I’ve been using this new UI for the past two weeks and I can’t imagine using the old one anymore. I like it way better. I hope you all do too.

Tumblr

I read this in an analyst report published on Yahoo! yesterday:

We believe Tumblr is an underappreciated asset with fast growing user base and engagement levels. We think Tumblr may actually be capable of creating as much value as Yahoo! core.

It’s not clear to me how much value the “Yahoo! core” has so it is not possible to put a number on this statement. But it is telling.

I have been using Tumblr every day for almost seven years now. USV invested in Tumblr in the fall of 2007 and we ceased being investors last year when Tumblr was sold to Yahoo! in May.

I still use Tumblr every day. I think it keeps getting better and better. My feed today is incredible. As it was yesterday and the day before.

The magic of Tumblr is that it sits between Twitter (short form) and WordPress (long form) and fills a gap in the world of blogging that nobody else has managed to capture. There are elements of Facebook and Instagram in it as well. So it’s a lot like all of these apps but in the end it is like nothing else. It has a soul and pulse and a vibe that other social apps don’t have. At times, it is simply magic.

When Tumblr was sold to Yahoo! a lot of people thought that spelled the end of Tumblr. I was not particulalry worried because I knew that David was committed to sticking around and Yahoo! was committed to leaving Tumblr alone. Nine plus months later, I think we can all say that to date the marriage has worked out well for the Tumblr users. The product has never been better and it feels as alive today as it did when I first logged in almost seven years ago.

So I agree with Carlos (the analyst who wrote the line I opened this post with). Tumblr is underappreicated. It always has been. But not by me. I love Tumblr.

Freedom and Innovation

I testified yesterday in a public hearing on Bitcoin as part of two days of hearings put on by the New York State Department of Financial Services. The hearings are being livestreamed here and you can click on the archives and watch yesterday’s two panels.

I got pretty animated during the discussion, which is probably not a great thing to do when testifying in a government hearing. But this kind of thing is really important to me. We were talking about the freedom to innovate in an emerging market that is going to get regulated. I don’t have a problem with regulation per se, but how and when it happens matters a lot.

As our panel was winding down, Superintendant Lawsky asked what countries were doing it right. I didn’t answer that question but instead decided to talk about one that isn’t doing it right and brought up China and noted that a fantastic investment strategy would be to have invested in every Internet servcies that China has blocked. My point being that the services China likes to block are the really important ones that have been built on the Internet.

I then noted that this discussion is really about freedom. Chris McAlary recorded my assertion in this tweet:

Some will say that I was being overly dramatic or romantic with that line. But I really believe it. If you look at the countries around the world where the most innovation happens, you will see a very high, I would argue a direct, correlation between innovation and freedom. They are two sides of the same coin.

Bitcoin Tuesday

There are at least three Bitcoin events that I know of in NYC today. I do not think any of them are public events but the fact that there are three in a single day is interesting to me.

This morning, NYC’s Economic Development Corporation is hosting a Bitcoin breakfast with some of the leading banks and financial services companies in NYC to discuss Bitcoin. My partner Albert will be attending that.

Also in lower manhattan, Ben Lawsky, New York State’s Superintendant of Financial Services, will be holding hearings about Bitcoin.  I have been asked to testify and will do so, at 11:30 along with Barry SilbertJeremy Liew, and maybe a couple others, in a panel of investors.

Then at 6pm this evening, in the USV event space, Wells Fargo is hosting a discussion about Bitcoin. My partner Albert will be part of the expert panel. I plan to attend the first part and then duck out to see the Knicks play the Celtics in the battle for the cellar in the east. This is a public event, but it has been sold out for weeks and if you are not already attending, unfortunately you can’t.

It certainly feels like there is a whirlwind of attention and discussion and debate about Bitcoin in the air in New York City. Last week Marc Andreessen penned a piece in the New York Times titled “Why Bitcoin Matters.” Later in the week, JP Morgan’s CEOdismissed Bitcoin on CNBC. And over the weekend, well known NYC Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem, shown in this AVC post from this summer, was arrested for knowingly transacting in Bitcoin with drug dealers (or something close to that, the complaint is here).

So there is a lot going on at the intersection of the Bitcoin world and the world of finance and money and regulators right now. I am happy that USV is engaged and involved in these discussions. They are important and necessary.

Humans Of New York

I have a new favorite blog and I thought I’d share it with all of you.

I found it via the Gotham Gal’s blog (which in and of itself is kind of embarassing. We sleep together and I found this via her blog).

It’s called Humans Of New York. I follow it on Tumblr.

Every day I get two to five posts. Each post is a picture of a new yorker or two. And something that was said by the subject of the photo.

It’s like riding the subway, but even better. You get to see all kinds of people and learn a little bit about them.

Sometimes it is sad.

Sometimes it is funny.

Sometimes it is upsetting.

Sometimes it makes you smile.

But rarely does Humans Of New York fail to make me feel something.

And that is great art at work. And that is Tumblr at work. Tumblr is great art and so is Humans Of New York. I love both of them.

This For That

My partner Brad, who is the conscience of USV, said something in one of our recent monday team meetings that has been rattling in my brain ever since. It was a throwaway line for him. He probably doesn’t even remember it. But I do.

We were talking about some investment opportunity and one of us turned to him and asked him what he thought. He said, “I generally can’t get excited about anything that is this for that.”

What he meant by “this for that” is Airbnb for boats, or Snapchat for emails, or Dropbox for videos.

What Brad is talking about is derivative works. There is nothing wrong with them, of course. But he was saying that it was hard for him to get excited about them.

We’ve made a few of these investments and some of them have worked out pretty well.Edmodo is Facebook for classrooms. SoundCloud is YouTube for audio.

If you are going to do a “this for that” investment, the first thing you need to make sure is the iconic company (this) is not going to go after this other market (that) themselves. Then you need to make sure the other market (that) is very large. And finally, you need to make sure that the founders are doing the startup for the right reasons.

Nic and Jeff, the founders of Edmodo, were tech administrators in local school systems. They were frustrated with the tools teachers were using to distribute information to their students. So they built a new way to do it, influenced by Facebook for sure, but different in some important ways.

Alex and Eric, the founders of SoundCloud, were musicians and sound engineers. They were frustrated by the tools that were available to them and their friends to put the sounds they were making out onto the Internet. They may have been influenced by YouTube (I honestly don’t know that they were), but their drive to make SoundCloud was most certainly to scratch an itch, just like Nic and Jeff.

The worst kind of “this for that” startup is one where you can tell that the founders have no intrinsic desire to build a solution for a recognized problem, but instead they are opportunists being influenced by the latest hot startup. We certainly try to avoid those sorts of things and comments like Brad’s certainly helps us do that.

Feature Friday: Google Maps Shortlinks

In the google maps android app, if you search for a place, you can click the share icon and send that location to anyone via a wide assortment of apps. I did that last night and emailed this to myself.

Buvette

http://goo.gl/maps/7dzMz

I absolutely love this feature and use it all the time. I email places to people, I kik places to people, I text places to people, I tweet places to people.

But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to do this on the web. When I locate a place on Google Maps on the web and select Share, the only option I get is to share the place via Google+ which is the one way I would not want to share it.

Does anyone know how to locate a place on Google Maps on the web, pin it, and then share it out via a shortlink in email or otherwise?

I am sorry for turning back to back feature fridays into Google Apps help requests, but I love these features and then they go and change them on me and I can’t figure out how to get them back.

When Siri Takes Over Your Phone

One morning earlier this week, I came down early and was working in our family room/kitchen area. My oldest daughter was charging her iPhone in the kitchen and it was randomly playing music. I would get up, turn off the music, and then a few minutes later, it would start again. Eventually I turned off the phone.

A bit later, when my daugher came down, she was in shock, her phone had randomly called dozens of her contacts on its own over the night.

So I took a look at her phone and it seemed that voice control had taken over her phone. I googled around to see what could be done and came up with this support forum thread. It explained that we could turn off voice dialing which we did, so that she would stop randomly dialing her contacts. But we were not able to turn off voice control entirely.

She’s in Park City this week so when she gets back to NYC, she will take the phone into the genius bar and get it fixed. But until then, Siri is controlling her phone. Randomly playing music when she doesn’t want it. Randonly facetiming people she doesn’t want to talk to. It’s a glimpse of the future to when AI goes haywire on us. It is not pleasant.

Telling Like It Is

I told a Rob Kalin story yesterday and I am going to start this post with another one. When Rob left Etsy for the second time, it fell to me to tell everyone what was happening at the company’s all hands meeting. I asked Rob what he wanted me to tell the several hundred employees who would assemble to hear the news. Often there is a story concocted about the founder or CEO wanting to step back, take more time with their family, needing a break, etc. And so I wanted Rob to tell me how he wanted this story told.

Rob said “Tell them you fired me. They will know anyway. You might as well tell them the truth.” So that’s what I did, with empathy, respect, and appreciation for Rob and his work. It went well. The team was happy that I was being straight with them. I then handed the stage to Chad who took it from there and has been doing a great job ever since.

I don’t tell that story to bring up old unhappy times. Although it may for some. I tell it because Rob had the courage to allow me to tell it like it is.

And yesterday Chris Poole told it like it is. With a blog post that is simple, honest, and sad. He made the decision that our portfolio company Canvas has failed. Running out of money is always the thing that brings this moment of reality. But so often an acquihire is arranged, or the company is put on mothballs, or you just stop hearing about the company. The story of failure is buried.

I prefer the way Chris did it. We tried, it didn’t work, we failed.

The truth is, as Chris explained in his post, that the first product Canvas was a failure. The pivot to DrawQuest came too late, took too long, and now DrawQuest is a succeeding product inside a failing company. I know that Chris is going to try to find a way to keep DrawQuest going. It’s got 400,000 people who use it every month and 25,000 people who use it every day. But it has not monetized particularly well and the Company hasn’t found a good way to inject virality into the product so it can spread without expensive marketing dollars. If you know of a good home or a good steward for DrawQuest, email me. There is a contact link in the footer of this blog that will send me an email.

Chris says he is going to blog about the things he learned from this experience. Chris hates writing. But I think he will do this, as therapy for him, and as a post mortem for him and everyone else. So pay attention to his blog, subscribe to his RSS, or follow it on Tumblr.

Like his post yesterday, I expect Chris will continue to tell it like it is.