Posts from 2017

A Better Way To Do Bike Share

I’m a big Citibike user in NYC. I take it to and from work sometimes. I take it to and from the ferries a lot. And I use it to get twenty or thirty blocks in 5-10 mins when I don’t have the time to walk it.

But one thing I don’t like about Citibike is the anxiety around having an empty docking spot at your preferred destination kiosk. If there are no empty docks, you have to go to the nearest one in search of an empty dock. I’ve sometimes had to try three or four kiosks which is very frustrating.

Here in Shanghai, they do things a bit differently, and I think a bit better.

The bike share bikes are everywhere that we’ve been in Shangahi but they don’t dock in kiosks. They just lock up when you end your ride and the next person unlocks them with an app on their phone.

Here are what the bikes look like when they are waiting for someone to take them out.

Sometimes they are lined up almost like a Citibike kiosk.

And sometimes they are just dropped off a bit more randomly.

And here is the QR code you read into an app on your phone to get the code to unlock the bike.

I sure hope that the NYC Citibike system moves to this approach as soon as practical. It would make the system a lot better.

Southeast Asia

We spent the last nine days in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. If you want the play by play version of our trip, head on over to the Gotham Gal’s blog where she does that and has has done for every trip we’ve taken over the last fifteen years.

As an aside, if you ever want travel tips to many destinations around the world just Google for the city and add gothamgal.com to the end of the search query and there’s a good chance you will find a host of blog posts that she has written about that location.

But I digress.

Throughout our trip in Southeast Asia over the last nine days, I was struck by the palpable feeling of economic growth and entrepreneurship. It felt like a region that is pulling itself out out of poverty by it’s bootstraps.

There is a long way to go for sure. Annual per capita GDP in Vietnam is roughly $7000US, that number is roughly $6000US in Laos, and roughly $4000US in Cambodia.

But there is a vitality everywhere you go. People are on the go. Construction projects abound. Commerce is everywhere. People have phones and motor scooters.

Most of all you see children and young adults. This is a region that lost much of my generation to war and genocide. But they are regenerating their families and societies. In Vietnam, 50% of the population is under 30. In Cambodia, 70% are under 22.

The people are nice. They welcome the tourists and understand the economic support it brings to their cities and country.

So I’m very optimistic about these countries. They are on the move. It was exciting to see that.

Crypto Asset Allocation

Coindesk did me a disservice with this blog post:

It made it seem like I was predicting an imminent crash which I was not.

But just as bad, it has led to a lot of tweets like this one suggesting that I also said that people should have 10-20% of their net worth in crypto:

What I did say is that “true believers” in crypto might want to have 10-20% of their net worth in crypto assets. For many of these true believers that would be down from 80-100%.

So, what do I think is a reasonable asset allocation to crypto for the average investor?

Well to start, as I mentioned in that blog post, The Gotham Gal and I have about 5% of our net worth in crypto assets, across a number of vehicles; direct holdings, USV funds, token funds, etc. We have a fairly diversified crypto portfolio, likely much more diversified than most folks could do on their own.

I think that’s likely at the high end of what the average person should have, but I also think its not a ridiculous number for the average person to have.

Many endowments, pension funds, etc allocate 3-5% of their portfolio to venture capital. They know its a risky asset but it has the potential for outsized returns. The largest allocation I have seen to venture capital from a big endowment or pension fund is 10%. So that gives you a sense of what sophisticated investors do with risky asset classes.

If you had to pin me down on a number, here is where I would end up:

  • young, aggressive risk taker – 10% of net worth in crypto
  • sophisticated investor seeking a high performing portfolio – 5% of net worth in crypto
  • average investor, slightly conservative, but with some appetite for risk – 3% of net worth in crypto
  • retiree seeking to preserve portfolio value and generate income – 0% of net worth in crypto

Hopefully this will set the record straight. It makes me very nervous when I see folks tweeting out “advice” that I did not give.

Managing Time Zones

I find managing time zones really hard when the differences are large.

Eleven or twelve hours is particularly difficult for me. I have missed a couple of scheduled calls this week because I thought they were happing at entirely different times of day.

I am curious what tips and techniques all of you use to manage this sort of thing? I’m really struggling with it.

AP Computer Science Exams In NYC

The NYC Department Of Education announced yesterday that almost 4,000 high school students took an AP Computer Science exam in the school year that ended in June. This news was part of a larger announcement that total NYC students taking AP exams increased 7.5% last year to almost 50,000.

The NYC public school system is the largest school system in the country with about 1.1mm students, about one third of which are in high school. So moving the needle in a system that big is hard but when you do it, you can really have an impact.

The AP CS news was particularly gratifying to me as I have been working for most of this decade to get computer science broadly offered in the NYC public school system. I see this work as an important investment in the children of NYC and in the NYC economy and business community too.

When I started this work, about 600-700 students from the NYC public school system would take the AP CS exam each year. And most of them were from the top schools in the system (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech). That number slowly grew, to 926 students in 2015, and to 1,137 in 2016.

So what happened this year to cause an almost 4x expansion in one year?

Well first and foremost, the The College Board added a second AP CS exam, called AP Principles of Computer Science. That opened up the AP CS population to students who are not deeply skilled/schooled in Java (which is a big part of the AP CS exam).

But equally important, the CS4All program in NYC, which is bringing CS to every school and supporting 40 middle schools and 40 high schools to offer full multi year programs in CS, is starting to kick in. Over 90,000 NYC public school students studied CS in their school last year. That is starting to have an impact.

So where do we go from here? Well I expect we will see over 10,000 NYC students take an AP CS exam within another few years and that number will get even larger before the ten year CS4All program is fully deployed in 2025.

We are also seeing the AP CS test taking population starting to more closely mirror the demographics of the NYC public school system. More girls are taking it. More black and hispanic students are taking it.

AP CS exams put students on a path to attend college and study CS. They will do that in NYC where the local colleges, including CUNY, are upping their CS game significantly. And they will do that at leading engineering schools around the country.

And that, in the end, leads to a more diverse set of skilled talent for our economy, both locally in NYC and around the US, in the coming years. And god knows we need that. Badly.

CS4All is a public private partnership between the city government which is putting up half the funds for it and private donors who are putting up the other half in a $40mm capital campaign that I chair. If you know of a person, a foundation, or a company that would like to support this work, please have them contact me or my colleague Jennifer Klopp who is the Director of the CS4all Capital Campaign. We will gladly come talk to them about our work and how they can support it.

Swinging For The Fences

A number of our portfolio companies use scoring systems to prioritize projects on their roadmaps. I like this one called RICE (reach, impact, confidence, effort). There are similar versions of this out there. The important thing about these systems is that you need to include probability of success in your analysis. Just looking at effort and impact isn’t enough.

But one thing I’ve seen about these scoring systems is that they can lead your team to do lots of low and medium impact things that have a very high probability of working.

I generally would like to see our portfolio companies taking at least one or two big swings a year. These are high impact, often high effort, and often low confidence. They don’t score that well as a result.

But if you aren’t going for it with at least some of your resources, you can get mired in a rut of small wins and that can be a problem for your growth trajectory, morale, and overall business mojo.

So while I like it when our portfolio companies use scoring systems, I generally suggest they add a requirement to take at least one big swing a year. Over the course of several years, they will get at least one of these right and it can make a huge impact on the business.

The Conversational Pitch

Lately I have noticed an increase in entrepreneurs coming into USV (or videoing into USV) and talking to us about their business without the use of a deck.

I don’t know what to make of that to be honest.

But I like it for a bunch of reasons.

It allows for more conversation and less presentation.

It also shows that a founder or a team can talk about their business intelligently without the “crutch” of a deck.

I am NOT recommending that anyone take this approach. I like to see our portfolio companies use decks when they raise rounds and we help them improve these decks as part of helping with the fundraise process.

But as a receiver of pitches, I do like the unscripted conversation.

It tells me a lot about the team.

Locked and Unlocked Phones

We landed in Vietnam yesterday and immediately got a text from TMobile that they don’t offer data roaming in Vietnam. They do offer basic voice and SMS.

So we bought two 10GB data only SIM cards in the airport for 300,000 dong (about $13 US) each.

I took out my TMobile SIM of my Google Pixel and inserted the 10GB SIM and was good to go. I can use data for voice and messaging so the data only thing is no big deal to me.

I did the same on the Gotham Gal’s iPhone and after going through a restart of some sort it reported that the SIM card was not supported on the phone. I suspect her iPhone, which she got from TMobile a couple years ago, is locked.

So she’s doing the voice and SMS only thing and I’m roaming on a super cheap data plan.

I know I’ve written about this issue dozens of times here at AVC but I find the idea that the phone provider can somehow dictate what SIM you put into it is nuts.

I also know that it’s easy to buy an unlocked iPhone these days and it is easy to get an iPhone unlocked post purchase. But even so, it seems crazy that this is how the phone market works in this day and age.

Our friends who we are traveling with are on a different carrier, either ATT or Verizon I suspect, and they too are not getting data roaming in Vietnam from their provider.

So if you plan to travel to Vietnam from the US, bring an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card at the airport. The coverage and speed on my data only SIM is great so far and it seems like a bargain, like most everything here in Vietnam which is an amazing country.