Posts from December 2017

Break The Internet Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I am going to take AVC offline to show the FCC what the Internet will look like if they repeal the Net Neutrality rules.

It is part of a collective action called Break The Internet.

If you want to join me in this protest, you can get what you need here.

Hopefully, the Verizon shill who runs the FCC will get the message.

Proceed With Caution

The CEO of Coinbase, a company that I am on the Board of, wrote a note to all of their customers on Friday. That note, which he also posted to his blog,  urged caution in the trading of crypto assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

This is a quote from that note:

Over the course of this year we have invested significant resources to increase trading capacity on our platform and maintain availability of our service. We have increased the size of our support team by 640% and launched phone support in September. We have also invested heavily in our infrastructure and have increased the number of transactions we are processing during peak hours by over 40x.

There may be downtime which can impact your ability to trade

Despite the sizable and ongoing increases in our technical infrastructure and engineering staff, we wanted to remind customers that access to Coinbase services may become degraded or unavailable during times of significant volatility or volume. This could result in the inability to buy or sell for periods of time. Despite ongoing increases in our support capacity, our customer support response times may be delayed, especially for requests that do not involve immediate risks to customer account security. 

The reality is that much of the infrastructure that has been built up over the past seven years to support the trading of crypto assets is struggling to handle the load that the recent excitement over Bitcoin and crypto in general has put on their systems. It reminds me of the days in the mid 90s when all of a sudden everyone wanted to get online and AOL could not handle the massive increase in dial-up customers who wanted to log onto the Internet.

Of course eventually everything got sorted out and we have highly scaled systems that can support the roughly 3 billion people who “go online” every day. But that took some time to happen.

I think we are going through a similar phase of growing pains with crypto/blockchain. And things will be messy for a while. So proceed with caution, don’t get too far out over your skis, don’t invest more than you can afford to lose, and be prudent.

Video Of The Week: Samir Desai at Slush

One of the most impressive startup executions I have witnessed in the past ten years is what the team at Funding Circle has pulled off. They have gone from a team of friends with an idea to the largest non bank lender in the western world.

In this interview at the Slush Conference, CEO Samir Desai explains how they pulled that off.

CS Education Week In NYC

All over the city this week, students in NYC’s public schools have been celebrating CS Education Week by doing events and hackathons to showcase their coding skills.

Through NYC’s CS4All program, over 1000 teachers have been trained to teach CS classes in their schools. That is over 500 schools to date. Over the course of the ten-year CS4All program, over 5,000 teachers will get this training so that all 1700 school buildings in NYC will have at least one CS teacher and many will have two, or three, or even four.

Most of these 500 schools, and many others around NYC, participated in CS Education this week. I was out in the schools along with my colleagues at the Department of Education, CSNYC, and the companies that support us, including Google, Accenture, and Alexandria Real Estate.

I met this eighth grader up in the Bronx at In-Tech Academy, a 6-12th grade school that specializes in STEM education and mostly pulls from the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. He told me that he wants to be a game designer when he grows up. I told him he was well on his way and that he just needed to keep up his schoolwork and his excitement for coding and making things.

But it wasn’t just me out in the NYC public schools this week.

A bunch of Google engineers went out to the schools and helped with the hour of code. Google has developed a K12 CS Ed curriculum called CS First and Stephen Bloch was helping a student do a lesson from that curriculum.

The thing that most excited me this week was to meet all of the NYC public school teachers who have been trained under the NYC CS4All program to teach CS to their students.

This is a photo of a teacher named Ms Calise from Horace Mann, PS90Q in Queens, where a bunch of teachers have taken advantage of the CS4All program to learn how to teach CS skills to their students.

So, needless to say, this week has been very gratifying for me. CS Education is seeping into hundreds of school buildings in NYC and will continue to do so for the next few years until it is in every school building in NYC.

I am so thankful for the generous support of corporations and non-profits like Google, Accenture, Alexandria Real Estate, Hearst, AOL, Two Sigma, Wachtell Lipton, Math For America, Robin Hood, Hutchins Family Foundation, Paulson Family Foundation, and many many others, without whom this work could not happen.

If your company or non-profit wants to join this group and help bring CS to all students in NYC, please email me or leave a comment in this blog post and I will contact you.

Un-Super-Vised

My partner Andy and I were playing with the latest crypto craze, cryptokitties, this weekend and he suggested we sire a USV kitty.

So he contributed a parent from his collection and I contributed a parent from my collection and with the addition of some Ethereum, which I paid from my Coinbase account, we made a new kitty.

Since it is a USV kitty, we asked the USV team to send in name suggestions and Jacqueline won that contest with the wonderful name of Un-Super-Vised.

That’s a handsome cat but the thing I like most is its “lucky stripe.” God knows we need that in the startup business.

In the wake of all that excitement, Jacqueline posted her thoughts on this craze. If you want to know what to make of all of this, I’d suggest giving that a read.

Disqus and Zeta

Today, our portfolio company Disqus, which makes the software that powers the comments on this blog, is announcing that they have joined the Zeta Global empire.

Zeta Global operates the largest independent marketing cloud for enterprises. Zeta competes with companies like Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, IBM, and others to provide enterprises the marketing services they need to grown and sustain their businesses.

Zeta Global has grown mostly by acquisition and they operate many different businesses that they have bought over the years. They will continue to operate Disqus as an independent service and brand. The Disqus management team have joined the Zeta organization and I will be joining the Zeta Advisory Board in connection with this transaction.

The Zeta management team understands that community is part of the marketing equation and they understand that Disqus powers more communities on the Internet than any other tool, by a wide margin. I expect that Zeta will continue to invest in the Disqus comment system to sustain it as the best community tool out there.

Personally, I am happy that the Disqus founders and team have found a transaction that allows them an exit while finding a good home for the Disqus comment system in the process. They have been building Disqus since the summer of 2007, over ten years. They have done a great job staying focused, winning the market, getting profitable, and now finding a great exit. It has been a pleasure to have a front row seat to that ride.

Do An Hour Of Code

It is CS Education Week, which happens at this time every year to celebrate and energize the growing K12 CS Education movement.

The highlight of CS Education Week is the Hour Of Code, in which students, teachers, parents, and community members all do an hour of code during the school week.

I would like to encourage everyone in the technology business to find a school this week, maybe it is your child’s school, maybe it is the school building in your neighborhood, or maybe it is a school where a friend teaches, and volunteer to lead an Hour Of Code.

It is really quite easy to do this.

Here is a guide on how to help a local school

Here are some activities you can do for your hour of code

Here are some ways to volunteer.

I’m on my way now to a school in the Bronx.

The Early Stage Slump

I tweeted out this article from Techcrunch in the middle of last week:

And the response from the Twittersphere was a desire to hear my views on it.

The data is pretty clear. The seed and early stage investing market has cooled substantially in the past few years.

On a dollar basis, the cooling off has been mild.

On a deals basis, the cooling off has been dramatic and looks to be getting worse.

So what is going on?

When I talk to my friends who do a lot of angel investing, I hear that they are being more selective, licking some wounds, and waiting for liquidity on their better investments.

When I talk to my friends who started seed funds in the past decade, I hear them thinking about moving up market into larger funds and Series A rounds.

You can see that in the data. Less deals and bigger deals.

Here is the thing. Seed is really hard. You lose way more than you win. You wait the longest for liquidity. You lose influence as larger investors come into the cap table and start throwing their weight around.

It is where most people start out. Making angel investments, raising small seed funds. They learn the business and many see better economics higher up in the food chain and head there as soon as they can.

If you hit one or two right, you can make a fortune in seed. But those bets take a long time to get liquid. And if you don’t hit one or two right, you end up with a mediocre portfolio.

The Facebook IPO in May 2012 was a real boon to the angel and seed markets. A lot of instant millionaires re-invested their gains back into startups (just as BTC and ETH instant millionaires are re-investing their gains into ICOs right now). Many startup people reinvented themselves as angel investors, AngelListers, seed VCs, and early stage VCs. As I quoted Techcrunch in my tweet “2012-2016 was a bubble in early-stage funding.” I think the bubble actually started letting out air in mid 2015.

You could see all of this in the pricing of seed rounds. For most of my career, seed rounds were sub $1mm and they bought 15-25% of the company ($4-6mm post money). At the peak of the seed bubble, uncapped notes of $3-5mm were the norm for seed rounds. That wasn’t going to work. It was unsustainable.

So where does that leave us now?

For entrepreneurs just starting out, it will be tougher to raise your first rounds. That is how it always has been so it is a return to normal. It is not great news, but it is the reality. If you price your seed round appropriately and have a good team and plan, you can raise money. But it will be harder.

For investors, it means seed rounds are going to be the place to be. When others leave the market, it is time to get in. The uncapped note will turn into a priced $1mm round at $4mm pre/$5mm post. This is as it should be. The risks of seed investing are so significant that the valuations need to be reasonable. When you lose on 60-80% of your investments, you really need the ability to make 10-20x on your winners. And getting the entry pricing right is part of how that happens.

You can tell where there is too much money and too little money by looking at valuations. When valuations are extended, that means there is too much money. That was seed in 2014, growth in 2015/2016, and ICOs in 2017. The trick is to get into these sectors before the money shows up and get out when it does. And then get back in after it leaves. And not get burned along the way.