Funding Friday: The L-Ternative Bridge

Every day 300,000 people take the L train to and from work. I am not sure if that is 300,000 people or 150,000 people going in and out, but either way, it’s a lot of people.

And the MTA is going to shut down the L train for 15 months, starting in April 2019.

So this is a big deal for NYC, and a big deal for NYC tech companies. In an informal and unscientific poll I took this week of NYC tech company CEOs, about 20-25% of the employees of NYC tech companies in Manhattan take the L train to work.

So how are these people going to commute for those 15 months (which is almost certainly going to take longer than 15 months)?

The best answer I have heard from the NYC government is “more buses going over the Williamsburg bridge.” Which is an option but not a fantastic option. The Williamsburg bridge is already a crowded transportation mode during the morning and evening rush hours and more buses means something is going to have to give.

So this week, I saw this cool project pop up on Kickstarter.

Take just one minute and watch this video:

Pretty cool, right?

My dad was an Army Corp of Engineers officer his entire career and retired a Brigadier General. He knows a lot about pontoon bridges. So I asked him if this idea is viable. He said:

Fred,
Having built several pontoon bridges, including some designed for 60-ton tanks, I know the idea is feasible.
(One of my bridges was across the Rhine River.  That was done for the first time by Julius Caesar.)
Drawbacks:  they are expensive, have low speed limits, and require constant maintenance.
Still, if the permanent solution in that location can’t handle traffic for some time, this could be a temporary replacement.
Interesting idea. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Love, Dad
That’s all I need to know that this will work. My dad knows his stuff when it comes to pontoon bridges.
So if you want to see this idea get some traction, go to Kickstarter and support this project like I did this week.

The Promise Of Parkland

This post is not about the tragedy that happened at Parkland or the gun safety debate that has been re-energized by it. Those are both worthy topics but I’m not opining on them today.

I do hope that this tragedy, among so many like it, will result in meaningful changes in our society in terms of how we protect our children in school and also how we allow responsible and healthy people to own and secure their weapons.

What I am going to opine on is how Parkland is re-shaping the debate about how social media and technology more broadly is impacting our culture, our collective conversations, and our politics.

In the beginning, the tech sector believed, and told everyone, that connecting the world via technology was going to be great, a technological utopia as it were.

That, of course, turned out not to be true and what we have are both vast improvements (truly global real time communications that everyone can tap into) and equally vast problems (you can’t believe and can’t trust anything you read on the Internet).

It is the classic good news/bad news situation.

In the past few years, but most notably last year, the discussion of this topic has focused on the bad side of these changes. Fake news, hacked systems, bots, ad systems gone haywire, and so on and so forth. We collectively lost trust in social media and technology and became angry about it.

Then comes Parkland. These amazing brave and vocal young adults, victims, with the same tools in their hands.

And we see, again, the good side.

The promise of Parkland, for me, is that this technology we have built and use every day can be an impactful tool for real people with real things to say to get their words out, and for the rest of us to see them, amplify them, discuss them, debate them, and understand them.

I feel the pendulum on this issue swinging back to center, where it belongs, and I am very encouraged by that.

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

I listened to Sam Harris talk to Niall Ferguson yesterday on Sam’s Waking Up podcast.

Niall is a historian, an author, a journalist, and an academic.

He has just published a new book on a topic that is near and dear to me, USV, and many of you; networks and hierarchies, and how these two forms of information flow and management have impacted society over the last five hundred years (or so).

The book is called The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

I bought it for our Kindles today and will get into it asap. But just hearing Niall talk about the ideas in the book tells me that this is going to be an important read for many of us.

We may think that the power of information networks to shape society is a new thing (Facebook, fake news, Trump, etc, etc) but Niall argues that there is nothing new here and these sorts of things have been going on in analog networks for hundreds of years. As Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue” and we should learn as much from the past as we can. That’s what historians are for, after all.

I plan on doing that and you may want to join me.

Prioritizing Content Consumption

A reader recently wrote me this email:

I’d be very interested in a blog piece from you on how you prioritise what content to read/watch/listen to. There’s so much out there, and it doesn’t stop. You seem to balance a very busy job with significant content consumption and some healthy time off.

Curious as to how you do it without it becoming a major distraction.

The key word for me in that email is “prioritise” because it suggests a system in which I conciously decide what content is most important to consume.

The truth is pretty much the opposite. I don’t have much process, system, and organization in my life.

What I do have is routine and I use that routine to set and keep priorities.

This blog is a big piece of that routine. I post an audio or video piece every Saturday so I want to check out audio and video that I think the AVC readership would be interested during the week so I have something to post.

Similarly, I need things to write about and reading what other people think and write about is quite helpful to me in figuring out what to write about.

I have several dozen friends who are always sending me things to read or watch or listen to. Many/most of these people do not work in tech but are hyper-curious and have great breadth of interest. They are my most valuable source of content and inspiration and I have cultivated these relationships over my entire adult life. This was not calculated or planned. It is just happened.

Most importantly, I do not allow technology to drive what content I consume. I use Twitter but drop in and out of it occasionally to get a taste. I don’t drink from it’s fire hose. I let Google Now send me alerts but I understand they are filter bubbling me and mainly use it to make sure I see certain things. I have a Facebook account but have not actively used it since they went hostile on Twitter almost ten years ago.

Maybe some day technology will be able to do for me what humans can do, but today it is the exact opposite. Technology shows me things I already know about. Humans show me things I don’t know about.

I have a very strong bias to read/watch/listen to things that I know nothing about. I can go deep if I need to but I would prefer to be a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of what I know about.

I wish I read more books. I can’t read business books. I find them dull and boring. I love novels and read them when I can but I maybe read five to ten novels a year. Books are the biggest casualty of the current demands on my time.

We also don’t watch a lot of TV in our home. I like to watch live sports and often wind down with sports before going to bed. But we don’t binge on Netflix or anything like that. This provides us a lot of time for other things.

So that’s how I approach content consumption. It works for me. I don’t know if it will work for you. This is not a recommendation as much as an answer to an interesting question from a regular reader.

Why Decentralization Matters

As you can see, I am not writing this presidents day weekend. I explained why on friday.

Instead I’ve been posting things that I found worth sharing with all of you.

Today, I want to share a blog post written by my friend Chris Dixon about decentralization.

This is a portion of the post that I like very much.

Decentralization is a commonly misunderstood concept. For example, it is sometimes said that the reason cryptonetwork advocates favor decentralization is to resist government censorship, or because of libertarian political views. These are not the main reasons decentralization is important.

Let’s look at the problems with centralized platforms. Centralized platforms follow a predictable life cycle. When they start out, they do everything they can to recruit users and 3rd-party complements like developers, businesses, and media organizations. They do this to make their services more valuable, as platforms (by definition) are systems with multi-sided network effects. As platforms move up the adoption S-curve, their power over users and 3rd parties steadily grows.

 

When they hit the top of the S-curve, their relationships with network participants change from positive-sum to zero-sum. The easiest way to continue growing lies in extracting data from users and competing with complements over audiences and profits. Historical examples of this are Microsoft vs Netscape, Google vs Yelp, Facebook vs Zynga, and Twitter vs its 3rd-party clients. Operating systems like iOS and Android have behaved better, although still take a healthy 30% tax, reject apps for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and subsume the functionality of 3rd-party apps at will.

For 3rd parties, this transition from cooperation to competition feels like a bait-and-switch. Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. We now have decades of evidence that doing so will end in disappointment. In addition, users give up privacy, control of their data, and become vulnerable to security breaches. These problems with centralized platforms will likely become even more pronounced in the future.

Click here to read the entire thing.

Audio Of The Week: A Decentralized AI Platform

My friend Gordon texted me this podcast and said “AI, blockchain, and homomorphic data. Trifecta!”

I gave it a listen and indeed some very interesting concepts are discussed in this one.

Video Of The Week: Is Crypto the Future of Early Stage Funding?

A lot of people in the crypto sector have suggested that ICOs and tokens are the future of early stage investing and highly disruptive to my business (venture capital).

In this video (yet another from the Upfront Conference), VCs and other investors discuss why that may not be the case.

Fun Friday: Skiing

The long Presidents Weekend has always been ski time for our us.

And the same is true this year. We’ve arrived in ski country with a bunch of friends and plan on being out on the mountains for the next three days.

Skiing (and Boarding) is an incredible combination of being outdoors in the mountains surrounded by awesome beauty and an exhilarating athletic experience. I’ve been skiing since I was a teenager and it’s always been one of my favorite things to do.

The Dronebase API – Assign Drone Missions Directly In Your Workflow

Our portfolio company DroneBase announced another round of funding today but the more exciting thing to me is that they have built out and are scaling the operational layer for the drone industry.

From their announcement:

DroneBase recently completed over 100,000 commercial drone missions for enterprise clients across various industries such as real estate, insurance, telecommunications, construction, and media. The company has the largest, most engaged and skilled drone pilot network, having grown it 10x year over year for the past two years. Through this network, DroneBase is able to turn around a client mission in less than 48 hours anywhere in the United States, since its pilots are active in all 50 states and over 60 countries.

And you can access that network via the Dronebase API.

So if you are in the insurance, real estate, construction, media, or telecom business and need to acquire aerial imagery on a regular basis, you can connect your internal systems to Dronebase’s pilot network via this API and assign missions directly from your applications.

More and more of Dronebase’s customers and channel partners are operating this way which is driving the 10x annual growth in mission volumes I cited above.

Drones allow companies to do things less expensively or more safely (roof inspections) or do things that could not previously be done cost effectively (monitor a construction site) and missions are incredibly affordable on the Dronebase network (low hundreds of dollars) and all of this is available programmatically which drives operational efficiencies. If you think your company could benefit from working with the Dronebase Pilot Network, you can contact Dronebase here.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. It’s a day to celebrate and and care for the people we love.

A special shout-out to my son Josh who was born twenty two years ago today.