Posts from Books

Wattpad Studios

One of the things I am most proud of about our portfolio at USV is that we have invested in a handful of companies that are slowly but surely changing the way content creators reach their audience and make money doing that. I like to think of it as the evolution of the studio model that has prevailed in content for as long as I’ve been alive. Some of the companies that would fit into this category are Kickstarter, SoundCloud, YouNow, Splice, VHX, Mediachain, and Wattpad.

Wattpad is one of the most interesting of the bunch. Wattpad is a community of readers and writers that operates natively on the web and mobile devices. It is, along with Kindle and Audible, one of the “big three” in the Books category on mobile phones.

Wattpad has a global monthly audience of 45mm people, mostly young and trending female, that read stories that are written on Wattpad for the community of readers that is there. That’s a big number. And that has gotten the attention of the film and television business. In 2014, Wattpad author Anna Todd’s serialized story After (over 1.3 billion reads and more than 6 million comments) was optioned by Paramount and is now being developed into a feature film (it has also been published as a book by Simon & Schuster).

So Wattpad has created Wattpad Studios to help other authors on Wattpad do the same thing. And yesterday Wattpad Studios announced a partnership with Turner to create stories for Turner’s Tales From The Crypt.

The global internet allows anyone to be a writer and anyone to be a reader. The stories that emerge from this community powered content creation and consumption model on Wattpad are rich and diverse. And so it makes a ton of sense that Wattpad would help these emerging storytellers reach a broader audience through the power of film and television. This should be a good service to the Wattpad writer community and a good business too.

The Aspirational Investor

I am reading my friend Ashvin Chhabra’s book The Aspirational Investor. I am not much of a fan of business books or books about investing so you might ask “why are you reading that book?” And that would be a great question.

I studied finance at Wharton and learned a bunch of modern finance, investing and portfolio theory. I understand how people on wall street and the world of modern asset management approach investing but we have never embraced it on our own investing.

We earned all of our wealth taking highly concentrated positions in startups. We gave most of it back in the 2000 crash which is what happens when you take highly concentrated positions in risky assets. Then we earned it back the same way. We have diversified over the past decade but almost entirely into self owned and operated real estate and cash. We don’t own public stocks other than shares of public companies we backed when they were startups and Google. We don’t own bonds.

So I was attracted to Ashvin’s thinking on finding a wealth creation and management strategy that aligns with your own personal goals and needs and desires instead of one that is cookie cutter, formulaic, and generic. That is what we have done. And I am seeking to validate our strategy or at least understand what is right about it and what is wrong about it. After all, we created it on our own based on what felt right to us.

Ashvin’s Wealth Allocation Framework “shifts the focus of investment strategy from portfolios and markets to individuals and the objectives that really matter: things like protecting against unexpected financial crises, paying for education or retirement, and financing philanthropy and entrepreneurship”.

That sounds smart to me and so I am reading his book and enjoying it very much. If you think about investing differently or want to, you might enjoy it too. You can find it on Amazon.

The Business Blockchain

the business blockchainI’ve been reading The Business Blockchain this weekend. It was written by AVC community member William Mougayar.

This book started out as a Kickstarter project which I blogged about at the time. If you backed that project you will get a copy of this book. If not, you might want to get a copy on Amazon.

I am not done with it yet, but the book makes a complex subject, blockchain technology, accessible for the non-technical. It also lays out some of the more obvious uses cases for the technology and explains how the blockchain technology market is evolving.

If you think you might want to start a business based on blockchain technology or if you think blockchain technology is going to reshape a market you are working in, or if you just want to understand this thing that your son or daughter is obsessed about, then this is a great book to read.

I am also quite proud that the conversations we have had on this blog on this topic over the past five years have shaped William’s work and certainly had something to do with his interest and his growing expertise and reputation in this area.

This blog community is a talented group and we have helped each other grow and develop. This book is just one of many examples of that.

Let’s Give William A Big Advance

AVC community member William Mougayar is seeking an advance to write two books about the blockchain and business. The first is called The Business Blockchain and the second is called Centerless. Instead of schelpping his work around to the various publishing houses seeking an advance, he’s gone directly to the crowd via Kickstarter. William is seeking an $18,000 advance to write and self publish these two books.

William is also going to syndicate drafts and excerpts of the book on Wattpad. You can follow him on Wattpad and get these writings delivered directly to your phone via the Wattpad app.

As the AVC’ers who hang out in the comments know, William has made himself an expert in the business of the blockchain over the past 2-3 years and is well suited to write these two books. I’ve kicked things off by backing his Kickstarter and I hope others here at AVC will join me in doing that.

Serving Workers In The Gig Economy

nick's bookUSV’s very own Nick Grossman has co-authored an ebook for O’Reilly Media called “Serving Workers In The Gig Economy” and you can get the ebook here.

This book came out of a year or more of research that Nick has done on this sector for USV. We’ve been thinking that there are investments to be made in this sector and although we haven’t made one yet, we continue to think that’s the case.

Nick and his co-author Elizabeth Woyke cover a lot of ground in a this book, but it’s a quick read at roughly 50 pages.

If you are interested in the future of work, the gig economy, union 2.0, and/or related issues, you should give it a read.

 

The Prize

A few weeks ago, the Gotham Gal said to me “considering how much time and money you are investing in K-12 education efforts, you should read this book.” The book she recommended is called The Prize by Dale Russakoff and it tells the story of the Newark, NJ public school system reform effort over the past five years.

I’m almost done with the book and I’m very glad she suggested it to me. I’ve long been a fan of the education reform movement, in particular the rise of charter schools, but I’ve also been troubled by the knowledge that charters don’t solve all the problems and some students are beyond the reach of even the best teachers.

The Prize tells two stories at the same time. It tells the story of the “top down” Newark reform effort driven by Cory Booker and Chris Christie and funded with Mark Zuckerberg’s incredibly generous $100mm gift. It also tells the story of real teachers and real students and the challenges they face every day in a few of the charter and district schools in Newark. By telling the story this way, Russakoff gets to the fundamental challenges facing the education reform movement and the entire K-12 system, at least the K-12 system in inner city schools.

In Newark, and in the New York City school system where I’ve spent time the past five years, you have both charters and “district” schools. The charters benefit from flexibility due to having non-union teachers, they benefit from not having the overhead burden of the “district bureaucracy”, they benefit from often having wealthy donors (like us) who cover startup costs and other needs, and they benefit from the self selection that comes from parents who care enough to get their kids into a charter school. The results that the best charter operators have produced with this formula in Newark and New York City is undeniable. They have created some amazing schools that are getting fantastic results. I know many of the leaders of these charter schools and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work, their schools, and their commitment to the students and we have supported them financially and in other ways.

But not every child gets into a charter and there is a growing number of people, in and out of the education reform movement, who understand that district schools aren’t going away and we need answers for these schools and the children that attend them. And it is also important to understand that, by their nature, charters tend to siphon the best families in a community out of the district school and those that are left in the district schools need more social and remedial support than they are getting and that the district schools have resources to provide.

A few years ago a friend of mine said to me “if you are interested in K-12 inner city education you need to go see this person. The person he sent me to meet with has been providing mental health services to children who are struggling in inner city schools. She explained to me that you can’t teach a student who is in trauma. It doesn’t work. So she has taken on the effort to try to provide mental health resources to the most challenged schools and the most challenged students. That is an example of the “social and remedial support” that district schools need more of.

If there is any lesson that I took away from The Prize it is that we can talk until we are blue in the face about bureaucracies, and unions, and bad teachers, and fraud, and corruption, and the need to reform all of that. And we do. But where the rubber meets the road is the student and its the inner city students who are failing in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade who we need to focus on. Because once they fail at that level, it is so hard to get them back on track and most don’t make it.

I sat next to NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina at Mayor de Blasio’s recent speech on his education efforts. When the Mayor mentioned the big investment they are making in second grade reading performance, Carmen turned to me and said “this is critical. these kids need to read in second grade”. She’s right.

If you are interested in this stuff, as I am, I would strongly recommend reading The Prize. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But I helped me think about this stuff and that’s super helpful.

Book Recommendation: The People’s Platform

My partner Albert recommended we read this book, The People’s Platform, by Astra Taylor.

Astra’s perspective, to use my words not hers, is the promise of the Internet to be transformative for society has largely been a disappointment and “the new boss is the same as the old boss.”

This is an important perspective that I want to hear and internalize. So I’m reading it now and I thought you all might want to join me.