Posts from January 2017

10,000 Commercial Drone Flights

Two years ago, on January 30th, 2015, Dronebase founder Dan Burton flew a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone over a quarry in southern Orange County California and captured a TNT explosion in the quarry that turned big rocks into little rocks.

Dan was paid $300 by the quarry owner to do the mission.

And thus, our portfolio company Dronebase was created. USV invested a few months later as Dan and his partner Eli were doing Y Combinator.

In a remarkable coincidence, two years later to the day, a drone pilot in Boston named Michael K completed Dronebase’s 10,000th mission, flying a DJI Inspire One Pro drone over a construction site.

The first 100 missions took eight months to complete, the next 900 flights took nine months to complete, and the last 9,000 flights took 10 months to complete. As I told Dan over email yesterday, I am expecting the 100,000th flight before year end. He groaned. Growing at log scale is hard. But that’s what they are doing.

The key insight that Dan had was that a network of freelance drone pilots all over the world working on a platform designed to to get drone pilots working within hours of a job coming in would drive that kind of scale. And it has. In addition, Dronebase is committed to delivering commercial grade drone flights at prices that customers can afford.

If you are paying more than a few hundred dollars for a commercial grade drone mission, you are paying too much. By driving down the cost of drone missions, Dronebase has brought a lot of work to its pilots an has paid them over $1mm over the last two years and that number is now scaling rapidly. Driving down the cost of drone missions also opens up applications that are not cost effective at higher prices. And that scales the size of the available market for drones.

It’s the classic story of the power of networks. Dronebase is a network of drone pilots doing commercial missions all over the world. And I’m convinced that is the winning model in the commercial drone services sector.

Dan wrote a really great post yesterday celebrating their 10,000th mission with a lot of interesting details on the first and 10,000th mission. You can read it here.

Congratulations to Dronebase and all of its pilots on completing 10,000 missions. I’m looking forward to writing about the 100,000th flight soon.

AVC, Gotham Gal, and Feld Thoughts Communities Rally $100,000+ For The ACLU

Reposted from Feld.com

Sunday morning Fred Wilson put up the following blog post: A $20,000 Match Offer On ACLU Donations Today. Joanne Wilson put up a similar post titled A $20,000 Match Offer On ACLU Donations Today on her blog.

It came after a flurry of emails that started with one from me at 7:41am.

“Inspired by Chris Sacca, Amy and I are considering doing an ACLU grant with a 100% match”

Joanne, Fred, Amy, and I were all distressed by Trump’s executive order on immigration, which Fred wrote about in Make America Hate Again and I wrote in Unsettled and Disgusted. We had seen the ACLU already jump into action so we collectively decided to do something about it by supporting it.

Fred’s partner Albert Wenger and his wife Susan Danzinger had already started a match for $15,000 so we (Fred, Joanne, me, and Amy) agreed that when they maxed out they’d hand the ball to us to match for another $20,000.

Jet lag then ate my soul and I went to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up, Amy said “we did something good while you were asleep.” I had well over 100 tweets with ACLU receipts, Fred had started a spreadsheet of all the matching gifts, and we had blown through our $20,000 match. By the end of the day, we were over $90,000 of matches with more coming in so we stopped counting and, with our $20,000, were easily over $100,000 to the ACLU in one day, which started with Fred’s blog post.

By the end of the day it had picked up enough speed to become a TechCrunch article: Some tech executives are matching ACLU donations amid immigration ban protests.

We know more executive orders on immigration are expected. Bloomberg is hinting Trump’s Next Move on Immigration to Hit Closer to Home for Tech. Regardless of how this plays out, I’m hopeful that Congress will step up and do their job at this point, rather than just let executive orders slide by, create chaos, and get litigated in court. Remember – Congress makes the laws and the President is supposed to execute the instructions of Congress.

In the mean time, thanks to everyone who contributed to the ACLU match yesterday. We helped the ACLU raise $24 million since Saturday morning. For perspective, the ACLU typically raises a total of $4 million in a year. Amy and I have been long time ACLU supporters and I expect they will have an outsized and important role in our democracy in the next four years.

A $20,000 Match Offer On ACLU Donations Today

Brad, Amy, Joanne, and Fred have been inspired by Chris’s $150,000 match offer yesterday and Albert and Susan’s $15,000 match offer today. So we are joining together (the four of us) and joining the movement they started and doing a $20,000 match offer on ACLU donations today.

And in the interest of keeping this thing we’ve got going, we are committing to run a $20,000 match offer for ACLU donations every month of 2017 on the first of the month.

Our hope is that by raising almost $250,000 during 2017, we will help the ACLU continue the legal and moral fight against the Trump Administration’s effort to institutionalize and legalize hatred, racism, and bigotry.

To participate in this match offer, just send us a receipt of your ACLU donation today. You can do that by tweeting your ACLU donation receipt to any one of us:

Brad

Amy

Joanne

Fred

Update: We maxed out on our match after about an hour this morning. Patrick Collison picked it up and will match until he maxes out. You can tweet your receipts to him here. Thanks to everyone who participated. It felt good, really good, to do something like this.

Make America Hate Again

I’ve kept my mouth shut about President Trump since he was elected in early November.

I figured there were other things to focus on where I could have an impact and so I did that.

But friday’s executive orders are too much for me.

Trump is institutionalizing hatred, bigotry, and racism with these orders.

They have absolutely nothing to do with policy.

They were not even vetted by the relevant governmental organizations who will have to implement them.

Make no mistake about this. These orders are not policy. They are politics. They are the politics of hate.

And we must rise up as a country against them.

The ACLU has already succeeded in obtaining a stay of deportations of immigrants and refugees trapped in airports and I suspect and hope that they are just getting started.

So I’ve just become a member of the ACLU. I’ve never been tempted to join this organization before, but Trump pushed me there and I’m glad he did.

Every month, I will be donating a nice chunk of change to the ACLU so they can fight the institutionalized hatred, racism, and bigotry that this administration is foisting upon us.

I hope you will join me in taking this action. You can do so here.

And I’m done with keeping my mouth shut too.

Update: Brad, Amy, Joanne and I are doing at $20,000 ACLU match offer today and plan to do another one every month for all of 2017. You can read about the details of the match here.

Second Update: Our $20,000 ACLU match offer filled up in about an hour. So Patrick Collison picked it up and he’s doing a match offer now. You can tweet your ACLU receipt to Patrick here until he maxes out.

Video Of The Week: Femtech

We have had fintech and now we have femtech.

Ida Tin, founder/CEO of our portfolio company Clue, explains it in less than two minutes.

USV has several femtech investments and we would love to make even more.

Feature Friday: Capturing Live Video

Livestreaming is everywhere. Twitch, YouNow, YouTube, Periscope, Snapchat, Facebook, and many many other services allow you to broadcast what you are doing to the world and let anyone and everyone watch it.

But how do you discover the best live content when there is so much of it and the streams can last hours, if not longer?

Enter our portfolio company Oddshot.tv.

Oddshot allows anyone who wants to capture the last 40 seconds of what they are watching on their computer and share it with the world. Oddshot recently released a desktop app for Windows that makes this super easy. They also have browser plugings for Chrome and Firefox and mobile apps for iOS and Android. You can get these downloads here.

The front page of Oddshot.tv is like Reddit for livestreams. You can quickly scan what has happened and watch the clip. If you like the clip, you can go watch the stream or follow the streamer.

If you are into livestreaming or want to get into it, check out Oddshot.tv.

From The Archives: The Board Chair

One of the things I am spending a lot of time on these days is Board leadership. That usually means Board Chair, but can also mean “Lead Director.” If you have a Board of five or more and are struggling with managing your Board, get a Board Chair or a Lead Director asap. Here’s a post from the archives about this.


Continuing our series on The Board Of Directors, this week I’ll talk about the role of the Board Chair.

The Board Chair runs the Board Of Directors. He or she is a Board member with the same roles and responsibilities as the other Board members. But in addition, the Board Chair is responsible for making sure the Board is doing its job. The Board Chair should make sure the Board is meeting on a regular basis, the Board Chair should make sure the CEO is getting what he or she needs out of the Board, and the Board Chair should make sure that all Board members are contributing and participating. When there are debates and disagreements, the Board Chair should make sure all opposing points of view are heard and then the Board Chair should push for some resolution.

The Board Chair should be on the nominating committee and should probably run that committee. I do not believe the Board Chair needs to be on the audit and compensation committees, but if they have specific experience that would add value to those committees, it is fine to have them on them. Either way, the Board Chair needs to be on top of the issues that are being dealt with in the committtees and making sure they are operating well.

Small boards (three or less) don’t really need Board Chairs. In many cases the founding CEO will also carry the Chairman title, but in a small Board, it is meaningless. Once the Board size reaches five, the Board Chair role starts to take on some value. At seven and beyond, I believe it is critical to have a Board Chair.

It is common for the founder/CEO to also be the Board Chair. I am not a fan of this. I think the Chair should be an independent director who takes on the role of helping the CEO manage the Board. The CEO runs the business, but it is not ideal for the CEO to also have to run the Board. A Chair who can work closely with the CEO and help them stay in sync with the Board and get value out of a Board is really valuable and CEOs should be eager to have a strong person in that role.

When a founder/CEO decides to transition out of the day to day management but wants to stay closely involved in the business, the Board Chair is an ideal role for them, assuming that they were responsible for recruiting or grooming the new CEO. If the founder is hostile to the new CEO, then this is a horrible idea.

When Boards get really large, like non-profit boards, the Board Chair is even more important. I’ve been on a few non-profit Boards over the years. I don’t really enjoy working in the non-profit world, but I do it from time to time. I have had the opportunity to watch a couple amazing Board Chairs at work and I’ve learned a ton from them. The partnership between Charles Best and Board Chair Peter Bloom at Donors Choose is a thing of beauty. Same with the partnership between John Sexton and Board Chair Marty Lipton at NYU. For profit CEOs and Board Chairs could learn a lot from watching these masters at work.

When it works, the Board Chair role is hugely impactful. It allows the CEO to spend their time and attention running the business and not worrying about the Board. The Chair will manage the Board and when the CEO has issues with the Board, the Chair will be clear, crisp, and quick with that feedback and will help the CEO address those issues.

Many CEOs find working with a large group of people who have oversight over their work and performance challenging. It makes sense. Who has ever worked for six or more people at the same time. How do you know where you stand with all of them? How do you know what they want you to do? How do you know what is on their minds? The Board Chair’s job is to give the CEO a single person to focus on in dealing with these issues.

The Board Chair job is hard, particularly when the company is in crisis, but it is also extremely gratifying. It is an ideal job for entrepreneurs and CEOs to take on when they are done starting and running companies and want to move into something a little less demanding. I’m always on the lookout for people who can take on this role in our portfolio companies. The good ones are few and far between and worth their weight in gold.

From The Archive: Employee Equity – How Much

I’m skiing this week. It’s snowed two feet in the last two days. So we will continue to dip into the archives until I come up for air, later this week.

I saw this tweet exchange yesterday about my employee equity post.

 So I’ve reposted it here below.

___________________________

The most common comment in this long and complicated MBA Mondays series on Employee Equity is the question of how much equity should you grant when you make a hire. I am going to try to address that question in this post.

First, a caveat. For your first key hires, three, five, maybe as much as ten, you will probably not be able to use any kind of formula. Getting someone to join your dream before it is much of anything is an art not a science. And the amount of equity you need to grant to accomplish these hires is also an art and most certainly not a science. However, a rule of thumb for those first few hires is that you will be granting them in terms of points of equity (ie 1%, 2%, 5%, 10%). To be clear, these are hires we are talking about, not co-founders. Co-founders are an entirely different discussion and I am not talking about them in this post.

Once you have assembled a core team that is operating the business, you need to move from art to science in terms of granting employee equity. And most importantly you need to move away from points of equity to the dollar value of equity. Giving out equity in terms of points is very expensive and you need to move away from it as soon as it is reasonable to do so.

We have developed a formula that we like to use for this purpose. I got this formula from a big compensation consulting firm. We hired them to advise a company I was on the board of that was going public a long time ago. I’ve modified it in a few places to simplify it. But it is based on a common practive in compensation consulting. And it is based on the dollar value of equity.

The first thing you do is you figure out how valuable your company is (we call this “best value”). This is NOT your 409a valuation (we call that “fair value”). This “best value” can be the valuation on the last round of financing. Or it can be a recent offer to buy your company that you turned down. Or it can be the discounted value of future cash flows. Or it can be a public market comp analysis. Whatever approach you use, it should be the value of your company that you would sell or finance your business at right now. Let’s say the number is $25mm. This is an important data point for this effort. The other important data point is the number of fully diluted shares. Let’s say that is 10mm shares outstanding.

The second thing you do is break up your org chart into brackets. There is no bracket  for the CEO and COO. Grants for CEOs and COOs should and will be made by the Board. The first bracket is the senior management team; the CFO, Chief Revenue Officer/VP Sales, Chief Marketing Officer/VP Marketing, Chief Product Officer/VP Product, CTO, VP Eng, Chief People Officer/VP HR, General Counsel, and anyone else on the senior team. The second bracket is Director level managers and key people (engineering and design superstars for sure). The third bracket are employees who are in the key functions like engineering, product, marketing, etc. And the fourth bracket are employees who are not in key functions. This could include reception, clerical employees, etc.

When you have the brackets set up, you put a multiplier next to them. There are no hard and fast rules on multipliers. You can also have many more brackets than four. I am sticking with four brackets to make this post simple. Here are our default brackets:

Senior Team: 0.5x

Director Level: 0.25x

Key Functions: 0.1x

All Others: 0.05x

Then you multiply the employee’s base salary by the multiplier to get to a dollar value of equity. Let’s say your VP Product is making $175k per year. Then the dollar value of equity you offer them is 0.5 x $175k, which is equal to $87.5k. Let’s say a director level product person is making $125k. Then the dollar value of equity you offer them is 0.25 x $125k which is equal to $31.25k.

Then you divide the dollar value of equity by the “best value” of your business and multiply the result by the number of fully diluted shares outstanding to get the grant amount. We said that the business was worth $25mm and there are 10mm shares outstanding. So the VP Product gets an equity grant of ((87.5k/25mm)  * 10mm) which is 35k shares. And the the director level product person gets an equity grant of ((31.25k/25mm) *10mm) which is 12.5k shares.

Another, possibly simpler, way to do this is to use the current share price. You get that by dividing the best value of your company ($25mm) by the fully diluted shares outstanding (10mm). In this case, it would be $2.50 per share. Then you simply divide the dollar value of equity by the current share price. You’ll get the same numbers and it is easier to explain and understand.

The key thing is to communicate the equity grant in dollar values, not in percentage of the company. Startups should be able to dramatically increase the value of their equity over the four years a stock grant vests. We expect our companies to be able to increase in value three to five times over a four year period. So a grant with a value of $125k could be worth $400k to $600k over the time period it vests. And of course, there is always the possiblilty of a breakout that increases 10x over that time. Talking about grants in dollar values emphasizes that equity aligns interests around increasing the value of the company and makes it tangible to the employees.

When you are doing retention grants, I like to use the same formula but divide the dollar value of the retention grant by two to reflect that they are being made every two years. That means the the unvested equity at the time of the retention grant should be roughly equal to the dollar value of unvested equity at the time of the initial grant.

We have a very sophisticated spreadsheet that Andrew Parker built that lays all of this out for current employees and future hires. We share it with our portfolio companies but I do not want to post it here because it is very complicated and requires someone to hand hold the users. And this blog doesn’t come with end user support.

I hope this methodology makes sense to all of you and helps answer the question of “how much?”. Issuing equity to employees does not have to be an art form, particularly once the company has grown into a real business and is scaling up. Using a methodology, whether it is this one or some other one, is a good practice to promote fairness and rigor in a very important part of the compensation scheme.

From The Archives: Turning Your Team

I’m on a short vacation in Utah for the next few days and so I’m going to pull an oldie but goodie out of the archives. I’ve been seeing a lot of “turning the team” in our portfolio as of late so I thought it would be good to give this a re-run.


A serial entrepreneur I know tells me “you will turn your team three times on the way from startup to a business of scale.” What he means is that the initial team will depart, replaced by another team, which in turn will be replaced by yet another team.

I have been closely involved with over 150 startups in my career and since roughly 1/3 of the startups we back get to real scale, that means I’ve seen the “startup to scale movie” over fifty times in my career and I can tell you this – my friend is right.

The people you need at your side when you are just getting started are generally not the people you will need at your side when you have five hundred or a thousand employees. Your technical co-founder who built much of your first product is not likely to be your VP Engineering when you have a couple hundred engineers. Your first salesperson who brings in your first customer is not likely to be your VP Sales. And your first community person is not likely to be your VP Marketing.

Likewise, the first VP Engineering who figured out how to manage the unwieldy team left by your technical co-founder is not likely your VP Engineering when you have five hundred engineers. Your first VP Sales who built your first sales team is not likely the person who can manage a couple hundred million dollar quota. Companies scale and the team needs to scale with it. That often means turning the team.

The “turning your team” thing probably makes sense to most people. But executing it is where things get tricky and hard. How are you going to push out the person who built the first product almost all by themselves? How are you going to push out the person who brought in the first customer? How are you going to tell the person who managed your first user community so deftly that their services are no longer needed by your company?

And when do you need to do this and in what order? It’s not like you tell your entire senior team to leave on the same day. So the execution of all of this is hard and getting the timing right is harder.

This is where serial entrepreneurs have a real leg up on first time entrepreneurs. They have seen the movie too and they played the starring role. So they know what the next scene is before it even starts. They know the tell tale signs of the company scaling faster than their team. And so they move more quickly to move the early leaders out and new leaders in. One of the signature faults of a first time founder is they are too loyal to their founding team and stick too long with them.

If it is any consolation, the founding team makes most of the money when a company becomes successful. That technical co-founder who built the first product will likely end up with tens of millions of dollars, if not a lot more, if a business they helped start gets to five hundred or a thousand people. The VP Engineering of a five hundred person company will not likely have an equity package that is worth anywhere near that much.

So I generally advise entrepreneurs to be open and honest about all of this. Tell your early team that they may not make it all the way to the finish line but they will be handsomely compensated with equity and if you are successful, they will be too. And when it is time for them to go, think about how much they brought to the company and consider vesting some or all of their unvested stock on the way out. Also think about compensating them to stick around during the transition. And always make sure they leave the company with their head high feeling like the hero that they are.

Here’s the thing. Turning a team is not the same as firing someone for weak performance. You are firing someone for doing their job too well. They killed it and in the process got your company off to a great start and growing to a scale that they themselves aren’t a great fit for. They may not be right for the job at hand, but they are a big part of the reason that the company is successful. That’s the narrative that you need to have in your mind when you turn your team.

All of this is very hard, particularly if you are doing it for the first time. So get some mentors, advisors, and board members who have lived through this before. And listen to them about this. You may not want to listen to them too much about product and market stuff. Maybe you understand that better than they do. But when it comes to scaling a management team, those who have had to do it before will generally be right about the issues you are facing with your team. So their advice and counsel is worth a lot and you should pay close attention to it.