Posts from February 2014

Fun Feature Friday: Featured Comments

Some of you may have noticed that Disqus rolled out a feature for publishers/bloggers sometime in the past ten days. It is called Featured Comment and it allows me to feature a comment above the comment box. I’ve done it once or twice and Daniel did it once on my blog without me knowing as a way to roll it out here.

This is a feature I’ve wanted for a long long time. There are awesome comments here every day. The best you can do is get upvoted to the top of the thread. Now you can get some more recognition by having it featured. I would love it if a blogger could opt to have the featured comment get onto the main page and above the comments link. That would be even more recognition.

So we are going to have some fun with this feature today. I can feature and un-feature a comment. So I will start doing that today as the comments roll in. I don’t have a ton of free time on my calendar today but I plan to try to feature a few of the best comments for a few hours at a time throughout the day. Feel free to comment about anything you want. This should be fun.

A Letter To Senator Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin wrote a public letter to financial regulators asking them to “take appropriate action to limit the abilities of this highly unstable currency.” The letter in its entirety is here.

What follows is a letter from me to the Senator.

Bitcoin is a powerful new technology platform that, like the Internet itself, is not controlled by anyone or any company. It is a globally distributed network of computers that allow financial transactions to flow seamlessly and at a much greater efficiency than current methods. A bitcoin is the store of value in the system and it acts a bit like a currency or a commodity. This store of value is actively traded for fiat currency at a number of exchanges around the world.

Bitcoin is already regulated in the US and it is becoming more regulated every day. And the regulatory environment in the US has dampened the amount of innovation around Bitcoin that has developed here in the US. All the major Bitcoin exchanges have been built outside of the US and a significant amount of the venture capital investment in the Bitcoin ecosystem is happening outside of the US. This is a direct response to the stricter regulatory oversight and requirements here in the US versus other countries.

The volatility of Bitcoin relative to fiat currencies should be expected in a nascent and emerging technology. What is amazing, however, is its resiliency in the face of massive scrutiny, company failures, fraud, theft, and a host of other challenges it faces as it becomes mainstream and mature. The value of a Bitcoin at this stage of its development should move up and down more like a hot technology stock than a stable currency. In time, as Bitcoin’s market value grows and transactional activity  and liquidity develops, the value will stabilize and act more like a traditional currency.

When something as new and as different as Bitcoin emerges, it is tempting to want to “put the Genie back into the bottle” and protect ourselves from it. But thankfully the US did not do that with the Internet. The impact of the commercial Internet on the US economy and our society as a whole has been massive and overwhelmingly positive over the past twenty years. We should approach Bitcoin in exactly the same way and if we do, I expect the benefits we will see will be equally important, impactful, and beneficial to our economy and our society.

Bringing fredwilson.fm Back To Life

Now that AVC has moved from Typepad to WordPress and been cleaned up (thanks again Nathan), it is time to turn my attention to another of my web properties that has been languishing, fredwilson.fm. Here is a chart of the fredwilson.fm audience over the past four years:

fredwilsonfm traffic

Sometime in the past year, the streampad player that powers fredwilson.fm broke on the soundcloud embeds in my tumblr and the whole thing stopped updating. You can still get an audio stream there, but it is the same one time after time after time. No wonder hardly anyone goes there anymore.

But I have a plan. I’ve moved most of my audio listening to SoundCloud in the past few years and I’ve built up a really great feed of liked tracks there. So I am now going to make my SoundCloud likes the basis for fredwilson.fm. I should be able to get it back up and running in a few days.

Until then, here’s an embed of my SoundCloud liked tracks for your listening pleasure. It will soon be available all the time on fredwilson.fm.

Mt Gox

Rumors are swirling that Mt Gox is in trouble. The top three stories on Coindesk right now are about Mt Gox.

If the rumors are true, it’s a sad day for the Bitcoin sector as Mt Gox was the first Bitcoin company I transacted with and probably was for many of us.

But the wonderful thing about a globally distributed financial network is that if one of the nodes goes down, it doesn’t take the system down. Bitcoin’s architecture is similar to the Internet’s architecture. There is no centralized control point. No single point of failure.

Our portfolio company Coinbase and a bunch of the other leading platforms in the Bitcoin sector put out a joint statement last night. You can read it on the Coinbase blog. Here is the critical paragraph of the statement:

Bitcoin operators, whether they be exchanges, wallet services or payment providers, play a critical custodial role over the bitcoin they hold as assets for their customers. Acting as a custodian should require a high-bar, including appropriate security safeguards that are independently audited and tested on a regular basis, adequate balance sheets and reserves as commercial entities, transparent and accountable customer disclosures, and clear policies to not use customer assets for proprietary trading or for margin loans in leveraged trading.

There is a lot of venture capital being invested in the Bitcoin sector right now. Much of that investment is going into the infrastructure, processes, and technology to provide the kind of safeguards that are mentioned in that paragraph. We are witnessing the maturation of a sector and part of that will inevitably be failures, crashes, and other messes. Almost every technology that I’ve watched come into a mass adoption has gone through these sorts of growing pains. One big difference is that in addition to technology, we are also talking about people’s money when we talk about Bitcoin. To me, that doesn’t change the discussion and the implications, but it sure does amplify the emotions around it.

Full disclosure: I bought a little Bitcoin today. Not much. But I always feel good buying when there is blood in the streets in any market. It is my favorite time to buy.

Online Identity and Brand

In celebration of the return of my avatar to the front page of AVC (and now integrated into the AVC logo), I thought I’d post about online identity and brand today.

I really like this slide from Disqus‘ presentation materials.

disqus slide

Obviously any slide with Fake Grimlock in it is a good slide. But beyond that, the idea that all three of these types of people can co-exist in an online community is important. I would argue that a healthy online community will, by definition, have all three types in it.

Pseudonyms like Fake Grimlock most obviously lead to the use of an avatar. Real names often come with a photo of the person. But I’ve always liked the idea of a real name (I am fredwilson on almost every service out there) plus an avatar. I think it builds brand in a way that a name and a photo cannot.

Like most things, I came to all of this without a lot of advance thinking. I was an early user of AOL and went with fredwilson for my username there. I still maintain [email protected] for some reason, but I never check my mail there. And when the web came along, I started using fredwilson everywhere. I’ve continued to do that and as long as I can get to a service early, I can get that username. It’s an incentive to get to services early which can be an advantage in my business.

The avatar was also an unplanned thing. I’ve posted the story of it here before and you can go read it if you’d like. But over time, I just started using it everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Including LinkedIn.

The combination of my name and my avatar is now my online identity and brand. It could, of course, be faked. And Twitter’s verified accounts are a nice way to deal with that sort of thing. But when you come across a comment, a profile, or some other object online with my username and my avatar next to it, you can pretty much assume that its me. And that’s a really good thing. Because systems need some sort of identity to flourish over the long term. And users benefit from the brand they can build up around their identity over time. The two go hand in hand and work together to make a large global distributed system like the Internet work better for everyone.

What Comes Next?

Andy posted this fascinating Playboy interview with Nick Denton on usv.com yesterday. I read it this morning over a Cortado at Kava. I loved every bit of it. Nick is opinionated, intelligent, and interesting.

Here is one part of the interview that got me thinking.

PLAYBOY: What will be the life-changing or society-changing technologies that we’re just starting to see now?

DENTON: The internet is it for this century, maybe the next one too. People ask what comes next too quickly. To the extent there is some kind of message in the valuation that the market has given Twitter, it is that communication, information and media are at the heart of this phase, this cycle, and it’s a long, long cycle that could last 50 or 100 years. When you have an innovation as profound as the networking of sentient beings.… Those delusional futurists who talked about Gaia, the planetwide intelligence? They were spot-on. It’s totally happening, and everything else comes out of that.

PLAYBOY: By “everything else,” do you mean wearable computing, self-driving cars and that stuff?

DENTON: Who gives a fuck about wearable computing? That’s just a detail. I mean improvement in biotech, curing cancer, efficient travel into orbit, better device storage, solving carbon emissions. All these other problems will be solved by the internet by harnessing the collective intelligence. Everything else will fall out with that.

PLAYBOY: That definitely sounds utopian. To be clear, you just said the internet is going to solve global warming, correct?

DENTON: Yeah. Intelligence connected to human beings will achieve rates of technological progress that would have been impossible in previous eras. Of course we’ll solve problems more quickly.

I wake up most mornings thinking “what comes next?”. That is the business we are in. We’ve gotten it more or less right on social networking, mobile, crowdfunding, and maybe bitcoin.

But, as Nick points out, these are not the “next things”. These are just the ongoing evolution of the Internet and all that it opens up in terms of innovation. And Nick goes on to suggest that the way our society will solve cancer, space travel, and environmental issues is “intelligence connected to human beings”. Collective intelligence at work. That’s a big assertion but he may well be right.

At USV, we don’t invest in health care, but we are certainly, and increasingly, interested in the way networked humans can impact health care. We don’t invest in clean tech either. But we are certainly, and increasingly, interested in the way networked humans can impact the environment.

I hope Nick is right that “the Internet is it for this century, and maybe the next one too”. That means our investment strategy has a lot of legs.

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Video Of The Week: Benedict Evans InContext Keynote

Arnold and Andrew suggested I watch this last week. I finally got around to it and it is great.

I think everyone knows how much of a Benedict Evans fan I am. This video covers a lot of the most important topics of the time we are in.

Feature Friday: Tech Circle and Editorial Assistant

Some of you noticed that Zemanta Tech Circle did not make the cut in the new AVC redesign. That’s sort of true and sort of not true.

Zemanta’s oldest product, the one that got me to invest in the company, is a compose window assistant that they now call Editorial Assistant.

On Typepad, I used a broswer plugin to get Editorial Assistant. On WordPress.org, it’s available as a WordPress plugin.

So the way I am bringing back tech circles as a default feed in my Editorial Assistant. You will see thumbnails at the end of the post with related links.

Most of the time, they will be tech circles bloggers with related content. Occasionally I will mix in other bloggers if their related content is highly relevant.

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The New AVC

As I promised to do months ago, we have moved AVC from Typepad to WordPress.org. We is Nathan Bowers with some direction from me. We also did a redesign which you are all seeing in action. The goal of the redesign was to optimize for mobile, clean up the page, and make the content and comments front and center and eliminate everything else. The only widget that survived was the usv.com widget which is now placed between today’s post and yesterday’s post.

We moved search back to Google site search because it simply works better for me. And I am sure I search AVC more than anyone else. We’ve added a table of contents for MBA Mondays to the Archive section and improved that a bit too. I made some changes to the About page, and Subscribe Via Email is no longer buried so deep it’s remarkable that anyone ever found it.

AVC is now just one column. That works best for mobile and mobile will soon be the way most of you access AVC. We’ve also eliminated the <div> element that made Disqus work poorly on mobile for all of you. I’m sorry it took me so long to fix that.

I am sure there are some things that aren’t working right. Please let us know what they are in the comments and we will fix them. And I am sure many of you will dislike the redesign. Feel free to tell us that too, although I don’t expect we will fix that.

I have wanted to move off of Typepad for many years. I was hesitant for a whole host of reasons, a few valid and most not. I am really happy to have finally made the move and now I can work with an open source CMS that has plugins galore and is evolving and improving constantly. It was long overdue. I want to thank Nathan for making this move easy on me and getting it done.

Sidecar

While we believe in network effects and the defensibility and leverage that comes from them, we have never subscribed to the popular theory that one single company can leverage network effects to “run the table” on a large market on the Internet and Mobile.

Certainly Google has largely done that in search and yet there are still several smaller players in the search market in the US, there are a number of regional search leaders around the world, and there are search engines, like our portfolio company DuckDuckGo, that compete on the basis of privacy or some other vector that Google chooses not to compete on.

In e-commerce, many think that Amazon is a force that cannot be reckoned with. And yet there are many successful e-commerce companies that have been built over the years. And there are new e-commerce companies being started every day.

In social networking, many believed that Facebook would be the only social network that mattered. As far back as 2007, I argued on this blog that we would see many social networks emerge offering different social graphs, user experiences, and use cases. We successfully invested in some of them, including Twitter and Tumblr.

In the mobile transportation market, which we believe will be a very large global market opportunity, many believe that Uber will run the table. And it certainly looks like they are doing that right now. It reminds me of the juggernaut that Facebook looked like five years ago when everyone thought they had won the social networking market.

But we believe that there will be a number of meaningful companies built in the mobile transportation market, just like there have been a number meaningful companies built in all of the really large markets that have developed on the Internet and mobile.

We have had an investment in one of these meaningful mobile transportation companies, Hailo, for a couple years and they have leveraged the existing taxi cab market to build a very large mobile transportation company operating in some of the largest cities in Europe and the eastern US, where taxi services are well established and work well.

And last summer, we made a second investment in this sector, in Sidecar. At the time of that investment, Sidecar was planning a significant change to their strategy and product to deliver a true marketplace experience to the mobile transportation market. We agreed with the company that we would keep our investment private until they were ready to launch the new product and strategy.

Well today, Sidecar has launched its new product and strategy and with that, we are announcing that USV is an investor in Sidecar. We are very excited about the marketplace model and what it can bring to drivers and riders in the mobile transportation market.

Om Malik wrote a post on GigaOm a few weeks ago that foretold this new strategy, although I don’t believe he knew about it or had been briefed on it. He wrote:

But this efficiency over the human touch is also an opportunity for Uber’s rivals

The human touch means not turning car owners who want to make a bit more money into limousine drivers. The human touch means allowing a driver to choose when and where they drive. The human touch means allowing drivers to market themselves in the app with a picture and a little bit about them and their car. The human touch means allowing the drivers to change their pricing whenever they feel like it.

The human touch means allowing riders to see the drivers in app and choose the one they most want to ride with. The human touch means giving the rider a real fixed price instead of some multiplier that goes up whenever you most need a ride.

When Sunil Paul, Sidecar’s founder and CEO, laid this out for me and my partners last summer, I immediately thought of Etsy vs Amazon. I use Amazon all the time. It’s a great service. I get the lowest price, quick delivery, and confidence. That’s the Uber model. But I also use Etsy all the time. At Etsy, I get something unique and personal. I get to buy directly from the seller. I get to have a conversation with them. I can favorite/follow them and get notified whenever they post new stuff.

Amazon is efficient and Etsy is personal. There is room for both of them to build big businesses in e-commerce. Uber is efficient and Sidecar is personal. And we believe that there is room for both of them to build big businesses in mobile transportation.

If you live in the the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, or Charlotte, you can try out the new Sidecar marketplace experience.Download the app and give it a try. It won’t be for everyone, but I bet there are a lot of people out there who will really enjoy the human touch of Sidecar and use it frequently.