Relaunching At Age Fourteen

Our portfolio company Meetup was launched in June of 2002. We invested five years later, in 2007, when the company was already profitable and was approaching double digit revenues. Nine years later they are 3x the size when we invested in revenues, meetups, and more. But the founder and leaders of Meetup feel like they are just beginning to scratch the surface of their mission which is to get people out of the house and into the real world doing things they enjoy with other like minded people.

This video, which they created as part of their re-launch this week, shows the range of things people use Meetup to do with others:

Many people associate Meetup with night time events where people with name tags on them walk around and introduce themselves to others. Those sorts of things happen on Meetup for sure. But the more common uses are runners using Meetup to schedule group runs, moms using Meetup to hang out with other moms, and, apparently, jugglers using Meetup to juggle together.

So Meetup is relaunching the Company this week, fourteen and a quarter years after its initial launch. This means a new logo (the name badge is gone), new mobile apps that use deep learning to understand what you want to do and encourage you to do more of it, a new team (with women leaders in both product and engineering) with lots of new engineers and data scientists, and a sharper focus on marketing.

If you want to see what the new Meetup is all about, download the new app (iOS and Android) and check it out. Maybe you will find yourself juggling in the park this weekend. I sure hope so.

Machine Learning As A Service

Our portfolio company Clarifai introduced two powerful new features on their machine learning API yesterday:

  • visual search
  • train your own model

Visual search is super cool:

image-search

But I am even more excited about the train your own model feature.

Clarifai says it well on their blog post announcing these two new features:

We believe that the same AI technology that gives big tech companies a competitive edge should be available to developers or businesses of any size or budget. That’s why we built our new Custom Training and Visual Search products – to make it easy, quick, and inexpensive for developers and businesses to innovate with AI, go to market faster, and build better user experiences.

Machine learning requires large data sets and skilled engineers to build the technology that can derive “intelligence” from data. Small companies struggle with both. And so without machine learning as a service from companies like Clarifai, the largest tech companies will have a structural advantage over small developers. Using an API like Clarifai allows you to get the benefits of scale collectively without having to have that scale individually.

Being able to customize these machine learning APIs is really the big opening. Clarifai says this about that:

Custom Training allows you to build a Custom Model where you can “teach” AI to understand any concept, whether it’s a logo, product, aesthetic, or Pokemon. Visual Search lets you use these new Custom Models, in conjunction with our existing pre-built models (general, color, food, wedding, travel, NSFW), to browse or search through all your media assets using keyword tags and/or visual similarity.

If you are building or have built a web or mobile service with a lot of image assets and want to get more intelligence out of them, give Clarifai’s API a try. I think you will find it a big help in adding intelligence to your service.

Temperament

If I think back to all the Presidents I’ve known in my lifetime; LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, Bush Junior, and Obama, the one thing they all had in common was a Presidential temperament. Putting aside all of their differences, they were solid, steady, measured, calm, and collected, at least in their public presences.

Last night in the first Presidential Debate we saw an incredible contrast in temperament.

Hillary Clinton, a difficult candidate to love, passes this presidential temperament test in spades. Think about the pressure she was under last night. I don’t think I could have even gotten up there with the stakes so high on the singular goal of her life. And yet she delivered a masterful performance.

Donald Trump is, for many, an easier candidate to love. He’s a character. He’s a successful entrepreneur and businessman who brings a different, and, at times, refreshing perspective to our political discourse. But on the temperament issue, he is  a non-starter. He’s immature, impetuous, angry, hostile, and given to bouts of rambling like a mad person.

I don’t think last night’s debate settled this election. This race is close and may well go down to the wire. But it settled something for me. Donald Trump does not have the temperament to be President and Hillary Clinton does. She is by far the better choice to lead our country for the next four years. If there was any question on this issue, let me settle it once and for all. I am with her.

How To Watch Tonight’s Debate On Twitter

I wrote about this on Friday. I think Twitter is going to be a great way to watch the debate tonight.

Here’s how you can get Twitter on your big screen and watch the debate on Twitter:

  1. if you have a “fourth generation” AppleTV, you can add the Twitter app to it using the AppleTV app store
  2. if you have an older AppleTV, you can mirror your phone to your TV and watch the debate on your phone’s Twitter app
  3. if you have an Xbox One, you can add the Twitter app to it
  4. if you have an Amazon Fire, you can add the Twitter app to it
  5. if you have an iPad, you can watch on the Twitter app on your iPad

The debate video will be front and center in the Twitter TV apps.

On the Twitter smartphone app, you can go to the Moments tab and the live video of the debate will be there.

For an event as important as this one is, I think having Twitter side by side with the live video is the way to go.

Blockchain Nation States

I went on a walk through the Chelsea Art Gallery district yesterday afternoon. One of the galleries I visited was the Petzel Gallery and they have a show up by the New Zealand artist Simon Denny. The show is called Blockchain Future States and it compares Blockchain efforts like Ethereum and Digital Asset Holdings to the board game Risk.

img_20160924_133520

Given the comparison to Risk, I thought the name Blockchain Nation States would be more appropriate for the show.

As I was walking out of the gallery, I saw a tweetstorm come through on my phone from Naval Ravikant. It’s a good one, talking about how open protocols are going to change a lot of things.

But given the context of what I had just seen, this one particularly got my attention and I replied to it.

I agree with Naval that open protocols and the blockchains that underly them will be the driver of the next big wave of technology and that they will force big changes that will ultimately impact the global economy. That’s a big statement and I don’t make it casually. I do believe this.

The questions in my mind about this are when it will happen, which blockchains and protocols will emerge as the most important and valuable, and which nation states will embrace this and which nation states will not.

Sitting here in the US, I think the US is not likely to be one of the winners in this next big technological wave because our government and institutions are captured by the incumbent economic system and companies that define it. So many of the blockchain companies we invest in are forced to seriously consider leaving the US or get bypassed by companies and technologies that are being developed more freely outside of the US.

So what nation states are playing this game (of Risk?) better? That was the question I asked in my tweet reply and I got a lot of replies. Here are some of the top suggestions:

  • China (2)
  • Hong Kong (2)
  • Canada (2)
  • UK
  • Japan (2)
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Singapore
  • Switzerland
  • Rwanda
  • Zimbabwe
  • Barbados

It is revealing that the big conferences where entrepreneurs, developers, and computer scientists gather to discuss the latest in blockchain technology are not often in the US. Last week, many in the blockchain world, including two people on our team, were in Shanghai to discuss the latest developments around the Ethereum blockchain. It does seem like China and its environs are emerging as an important center of gravity for blockchain technology.

It is not too late for the regulators in the US to change their tune and become more open to these new technologies and the capabilities of them. But, like the game of Risk, large pools of talent are being built on other continents and countries now and eventually they will be unbeatable.

Audio Of The Week: Kara Swisher Talks To Bill Gurley

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of Bill Gurley. He and I are in the same generation of VCs. We started our careers in the PC era and learned VC in the first generation of the Internet era. Bill and I also bring a “fundamental investor mindset” to our work which is not the only mindset in the VC business. We’ve never worked together on an investment, which is too bad, but I have tremendous respect for Bill and all of the partners at Benchmark.

Kara Swisher got Bill to do her Recode Decode podcast recently and they cover a lot of super interesting territory on it. Here it is:

Fun Friday: How Will You Watch Monday’s Presidential Debate

I am super excited to watch the Presidential Debates on Twitter. I wrote this yesterday afternoon:

I know the Bloomberg Politics team. John Heilemann is a good friend of mine. They have two excellent TV shows, With All Due Respect which runs on Bloomberg TV every day after the market closes, and The Circus on Showtime on Sunday Nights. They understand this presidential race as well as anyone, they know the candidates, the issues, the campaigns, the pundits, and the people as well as anyone. I am really looking forward to how they do “Twitter play by play” during the debate.

So I tweeted out this poll today.

How do you plan to watch the debate?

Team and Strategy

I’ve been in board meeting blitz since the summer ended. Many of the companies I work with are well past the startup phase and are well into or even past the growth/scaling phase. And the thought that keeps occurring to me as I go from board meeting to board meeting is the key to success when you are past the startup/product market fit stage comes down to two things, team and strategy.

You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.

This sounds so simple. But it is not.

Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.

The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.

These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.

My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.

Feeding The Trolls

Danah Boyd has a nice post up about what it was like to live on the block that the second bomb was placed this past weekend in NYC. But the post is really about something way more important. It is about the fact that we are increasingly letting the trolls drive us nuts. The trolls are the people who do these acts of terrorism intended to turn us into a scared and terrified society. And she is right, they are succeeding in that effort, aided by the media making a bigger deal out of these things than they should.

I heard about the bombing on saturday night at a party in Brooklyn. It was upsetting but it did not impact us much that evening. We continued to celebrate our friends birthday and anniversary. We took an Uber back to Manhattan. We went out for a late dinner and then went to bed. The next day was more of the same. We did not let this nutjob impact how we live and what we do. My friend Jerry asked me on Monday how I was doing. I said fine. He brought up the bombing. And I had already forgotten it. I said “nobody died Jerry, a few people got hurt. It sucks.”

I am more upset by the massive increase in homelessness on the streets of NYC, I am more upset by the fact that the Hudson river comes close to coming over its banks every time there is a big storm, I am more upset by the fact that young black men get killed by the police for no good reason.

I am with Danah. Fuck the trolls. The police and the other security apparatus can and will deal with them. I am going to go about living my life and not thinking about them.