Posts from 2017

Blockstack – A New Internet

The founders of our portfolio company Blockstack are ambitious.

What they have built and are announcing today is effectively a new Internet, powered by the blockchain.

This is what the Blockstack team is after:

A new internet needs to have security and safety as a core of its DNA. Applications and services cannot be owned and controlled by remote third-parties. We can build a digital world of truly peer-to-peer internet utilities not maintained by corporations, but collectively, by the people. We can build a digital world that encodes property rights, where we can own our data, and where the people are powerful.

Here is their blog post announcing the Blockstack Browser.

And here is my partner Albert’s blog post on the USV blog explaining why this is important.

Writing and Speaking

I got a lot of comments about the two videos I posted last week suggesting that I have nailed the art of public speaking.

I don’t know about that, I am my harshest critic.

But I do believe that writing regularly makes it so much easier to speak publicly in unscripted situations.

Writing forces you to work out your views and articulate them clearly and concisely.

Then when you are asked a question related to those views, you have already worked out the answer.

It is in the brain, waiting there to come out crisply and concisely.

I’ve been writing daily for going on fourteen years so that is a huge body of work, opinion, thought, and insight to be able to pull from.

My views have evolved over the years and so not all of that content is relevant at this point, but most of it is.

So if you have to speak publicly a lot, particularly in unscripted situations, I would suggest you write publicly regularly as well.

They work incredibly well together.

Can Do Vs Must Do

Over the past few months, I’ve been reminded about the difference between “can do” and “must do” and how companies often confuse the two.

With the abundance of capital sloshing around the tech sector, our portfolio companies often have the resources to do more than they can and should do. They greenlight a bunch of projects that are “can do” projects but not “must do” projects. And a number of not so great things happen when they do this, including but not limited to:

  • Core resources (like infrastructure, security, payments, design, product management) get stretched supporting so many efforts.
  • The team loses sight of the mission and strategy as so many projects are being tackled at the same time
  • Senior leadership gets pulled in many directions and loses alignment as a result
  • Projects slip or don’t ship at all, leading to malaise and morale issues
  • Headcount grows quickly to support all of these efforts, creating more management issues

I saw a presentation recently with a “plan” that had ten “near term focus items” on it. I told the person presenting the plan to me that I don’t think a plan should have more than three things on it. I am a big fan of the rule of three. I am not sure where I heard it but it says that you should not tackle more than three big things at one time, no matter how large your organization is.

But regardless of whether you have two, three, or four big efforts this year, you should test all of your initiatives agains the “must do” vs “can do” test. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve written about the importance of strategy and saying no. Strategy isn’t saying no. It is figuring out what is the most important thing for your company and deciding to focus on it and say no to everything else.

In order to figure out what the most important thing is, you need to understand your products, your customers, your market position, where things are going, and where you want to be in three to five years. Once you have figured all of that out, you can figure out what are the most important things you need to do in order to get there.

It is also true that the “most important thing” changes. My partner Albert told me that he thinks doing a startup is like playing a video game. Each level requires you to master one thing and once you do that, you level up and then there is a new thing to master.

I like that metaphor a lot even though it trivializes the company building process a bit. It is a very clarifying view on how you must think about things and prioritize things.

So if you are frustrated by the pace of development (and not just engineering development) at your company, I would suggest you think about how many things you are trying to do at the same time. If it is a lot, then run them by the “can do” vs “must do” test and kill all the things that are not “must dos”. That might even mean parting ways with people you don’t need, which is painful but often helpful.

Executing well on all of the “must do” things is the hallmark of a well run company. And that usually means that there aren’t many “can do” things on the roadmap at the same time.

Video Of The Week: My Talk With David Kirkpatrick at Techonomy

Last wednesday morning, I went to Techonomy NYC and talked with my friend David Kirkpatrick for about 30mins.

That conversation is below.

There is one gross misrepresentation in the talk. David and I were talking about my efforts to ignore Trump and I said that the Gotham Gal spends “two to three hours a day on that stuff” which is not anywhere close to accurate. She reads the NY Times religiously in paper form every day and does pay a lot more attention to Trump than I do, but it’s not anywhere near two to three hours. I apologize to her for suggesting such nonsense.

Funding Friday: Coinlist

Some interesting developments that we have been working on came public yesterday.

  1. Protocol Labs, a company that builds blockchain-based protocols laid out its ambitious roadmap and finally got around to announcing the seed investment USV and others made in it last year. My partner Brad Burnham wrote a blog post on USV.com explaining why we are so excited about Protocol Labs.
  2. Protocol Labs will be launching a token offering soon for Filecoin which powers a blockchain based storage network on top of its IPFS protocol.
  3. The Filecoin offering will be managed on a new platform called Coinlist which was built by Protocol Labs and AngelList.
  4. Coinlist will utilize a new kind of security called a SAFT (Simple Agreement for Future Tokens) that has been constructed to comply with existing securities regulations.

While all of these are interesting developments, particularly the architecture and roadmap that Protocol Labs laid out, I thought I would talk a bit about Coinlist given that it is “Funding Friday.”

Token Offerings have been going on for quite a while now. There are over 800 tokens listed on Coin Market Cap.

But US domiciled companies have not had a good way to raise money in token pre-sales and comply with existing securities laws. This forced a number of promising blockchain projects to domicile outside of the US, often in Switzerland, and organize as Foundations for tax reasons. A US domiciled company can wait until the token is live and functioning and sell it then, because at that point it is not a security, it is a token. But if you want to raise funds in a pre-sale for a US domiciled company, there has not been a good way to do that.

Enter Juan Benet, founder of Protocol Labs, and Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList. They collaborated on CoinList and, with the help of a number of venture law firms and their investors, including USV, came up with the SAFT structure.

Naval put it like this in a Forbes piece yesterday on all of this:

ICOs are obviously a new and interesting form of funding for blockchain-based protocols. But it’s not clear that all of them comply with U.S. securities laws or that all of them are companies that have good native use cases for new coins. So, we wanted to use a high-quality coin and team to trailblaze a legal and compliant ICO.

If you are an accredited investor and want to participate in token pre-sales, check out Coinlist.

Big Bad Wolves

Some good friends of ours are making a film called Big Bad Wolves.

It is about a group of girls who turn into a vigilante gang because of a sexual assault on one of them.

So it is a serious topic, but it also a fun film about young people growing up in NYC.

The team is starting with a short film that kicks off the story and will use that short film to introduce the four young women who are at the heart of this story and to build support and audience for the larger feature they plan to make over the next year or two.

When our friends approached us about helping them make this short film, we both said “Do A Kickstarter!” and so that is what they did.

Here’s the Kickstarter “trailer” for it:

If you would like to join us in supporting this film, you can back it on Kickstarter.

Using Your Data To Make Your Product Better

One of my favorite uses of AI is to use the data in your product to make your product better. I am talking about making a better UI using AI on your data.

Our portfolio company Quizlet did just that and wrote about it here.

They used the ~150mm study sets that their users have put into Quizlet over the last ~12 years to predict suggested definitions during the create study set mode.

Here is what it looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think this is super cool and a great way to make your product better.

Grit

Last week during our CEO Summit, we had the opportunity to hear my partner Albert interview Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit.

Angela is a Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania and founder and Scientific Director of The Character Lab.

Angela has the ability to make complex concepts simple and combines her expertise in human behavior with a wicked sense of humor.

She is a great public speaker and everyone enjoyed hearing her talk to our group.

Her book Grit is about the power of perseverance.

It explains why some people have grit and how you can recognize it in people.

She also explains why grit is more important than talent in many cases.

If you hire and manage people, if you run start and run companies, if you invest in people and their projects, then Grit is a book you should read.

Rare Pepe

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing around with a digital asset collecting game called Rare Pepe. My partner Andy tipped me off to it a while back and it took me a while to wade into it.

Rare Pepe is based on an internet meme called Pepe The Frog that has been around since 2005 and became popular on 4chan.

Rarepepes are digital trading cards that are traded as counterparty (XCP) assets on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Andy and I were talking about this yesterday on Twitter and my friend Jason asked what we were “nerding out” over.

I responded that rarepepes are “about the coolest thing ever” which may be a bit of an overstatement but isn’t that what Twitter is for?

The truth is rarepepes are a bit complicated to buy and collect. First you need a Rare Pepe wallet which you can get here.  Then you need to transfer in some Bitcoin from somewhere like Coinbase. Then you need to buy some Pepe Cash (yet another crypto asset) which you can buy here, but only after transferring in some more Bitcoin. Then you transfer the Pepe Cash to your Rare Pepe wallet and then you can buy the digital trading cards. But you need to spend BTC to send these cards around because that is what powers the Counterparty system. You can also publish your Rare Pepe wallet address on Twitter and maybe someone will send you some. I did that yesterday and it worked.

Here are some of my cards:

So why do I think this is interesting?

Well for one, it shows the utility of a blockchain in action. You can buy, sell, hold, and transfer digital assets and they have value and are traded for other digital assets (like BTC) in an online global marketplace. Anyone can make one of these cards and if they are determined to be “rare” they become digital assets with value attached to them.

It also shows how a game can be built on a blockchain with virtual goods and characters and more.

And it shows how clunky this stuff is for the average person to use. Just playing around with this over the last few days showcases to me all of the technical challenges that blockchain technology still has to overcome before it can become mainstream. I would like to think that if this sort of game were built on Ethereum instead of Counterparty/Bitcoin, and if it ran inside something like the Token messenger that I blogged about a few weeks ago, it might be a lot simpler and easier for the average user to access. So there is real progress happening on this front right now.

Rare Pepe itself has a fair bit of baggage. It’s a meme popularized by the alt-right and attached to a lot of ideas that I personally find difficult to take.

But putting all of that aside, I find it encouraging that people are building things that are comprehensible to the average person on public blockchains. Rare Pepe may not be the killer app that public blockchains are waiting for, but something like it may well be.

And, of course, you can speculate on/invest in this, as my partner Andy showed me yesterday: