Posts from Current Affairs

What Is Going To Happen In 2018

This is a post that I am struggling to write. I really have no idea what is going to happen in 2018.

  • Will the crypto markets continue in their bull cycle? I have no clue. I was showing my daughter’s friend an app that helps people save and invest and he said to me “I don’t need that, I just buy some ETH every week.” I said “that’s a good plan until it isn’t.” I just don’t know when buying crypto will stop being a good idea. It was a great idea in 2017.
  • Will the economy extend its eight year expansion? I have no clue. The longest post WWII economic expansion was 10 years from 1991 to 2001. Can this one beat that one? Maybe. Will this one also burst over the collapse of another tech bubble? Maybe. But again, I have no idea when that might come.
  • Will the corporate tax cuts that are coming from Trump’s tax bill lead to increased hiring and investments, or will companies simply hoard that cash or pay it out in dividends? Likely a bit of both. But I think Wall Street has largely priced in the increased earnings so I’m not sure the tax bill will be a boon for the stock market in 2018.
  • Will the current Internet oligopoly (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google) continue to take share from the rest of the sector, or will one or more start to falter? I’d like to see the latter, but I suspect it will be more of the former.
  • Will the rise of massive growth funds (SOFTBANK, Sequoia, etc) lead to the best and brightest tech companies delaying IPOs even longer? The logical answer is yes, but I think the answer may be no. We see an increasing desire of founders in our portfolio to take their companies public.
  • Will the tech backlash that I wrote about yesterday continue to escalate? Yes.
  • Will we see more gender and racial diversity in tech? Yes.
  • Will Trump be President at the end of 2018. Yes.
  • Will the GOP lose control of Congress in the midterm elections. Yes.
  • Will we avoid war with North Korea? I sure hope so.

So there you have it. Ten questions. A few predictions. A lot of unknowns. That is how I am going into 2018.

Happy New Year Everyone.

What Happened In 2017

As has become my practice, I celebrate the end of a year and the start of a new one here at AVC with back to back posts focusing on what happened and then thinking about what might happen.

Today, we focus on what happened in 2017.

Crypto:

I went back and looked at my predictions for 2017 and I completely whiffed on the breakout year for crypto. I did not even mention it in my post on New Year’s Day 2017.

Maybe I got tired of predicting a breakout year for crypto as I had mentioned it in my 2015 and 2016 predictions, but whatever the cause, I completely missed the biggest story of the year in tech.

If you look at the Carlota Perez technology surge cycle chart, which is a framework I like to use when thinking about new technologies, you will see that a frenzy develops when a new technology enters the material phase of the installation period. The frenzy funds the installation of the technology.

2017 is the year when crypto/blockchain entered the frenzy phase. Over $3.7bn was raised by various crypto teams/projects to build out the infrastructure of Internet 3.0 (the decentralized Internet). To put that number into context, that is about equal to the total seed/angel investment in the US in 2017. Clearly, not all of that money will be used well, maybe very little of it will be used well. But, like the late 90s frenzy in Internet 1.0 (the dialup Internet) provided the capital to build out the broadband infrastructure that was necessary for Internet 2.0 (the broadband/mobile Internet), the frenzy in the crypto/blockchain sector will provide the capital to build out the infrastructure for the decentralized Internet.

And we need that infrastructure badly. Transaction clearing times on public, open, scaled blockchains (BTC and ETH, for example) remind me of the 14.4 dialup period of the Internet. You can get a taste of what things will be like, but you can’t really use the technology yet. It just doesn’t work at scale. But it will and the money that is getting invested via the frenzy we are in is going to make that happen.

This is the biggest story in tech in 2017 because transitions from Internet 1.0 to Internet 2.0 to Internet 3.0 cause tremendous opportunity and tremendous disruption. Not all of the big companies of the dialup phase (Yahoo, AOL, Amazon, eBay) made a healthy transition into the mobile/broadband phase. And not all of the big companies of the broadband/mobile phase (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) will make a healthy transition into the decentralized phase. Some will, some won’t.

In the venture business, you wait for these moments to come because they are where the big opportunities are. And the next big one is coming. That is incredibly exciting and is why we have these ridiculous valuations on technologies that barely/don’t work.

The Beginning Of The End Of White Male Dominance:

The big story of 2017 in the US was the beginning of the end of white male dominance. This is not a tech story, per se, but the tech sector was impacted by it. We saw numerous top VCs and tech CEOs leave their firms and companies over behavior that was finally outed and deemed unacceptable.

I think the trigger for this was the election of Donald Trump as President of the US in late 2016. He is the epitome of white male dominance. An unapologetic (actually braggart) groper in chief. I think it took something as horrible as the election of such an awful human being to shock the US into deciding that we could not allow this behavior any more. Courageous women such as Susan Fowler, Ellen Pao, and many others came forward and talked publicly about their struggles with behavior that we now deem unacceptable. I am not suggesting that Trump’s election caused Fowler, Pao, or any other woman to come forward, they did so out of their own courage and outrage. But I am suggesting that Trump’s election was the turning point on this issue from which there is no going back. It took Nixon to go to China and it took Trump to end white male dominance.

The big change in the US is that women now feel empowered, maybe even obligated, to come forward and tell their stories. And they are telling them. And bad behavior is being outed and long overdue changes are happening.

Women and minorities are also signing up in droves to do public service, to run for office, to start companies, to start VC firms, to lead our society. And they will.

Like the frenzy in crypto, this frenzy in outing bad behavior, is seeding fundamental changes in our society. I am certain that we will see more equity in positions of power for all women and minorities in the coming years.

The Tech Backlash:

Although I did not get much right in my 2017 predictions, I got this one right. It was easy. You could see it coming from miles away. Tech is the new Wall Street, full of ultra rich out of touch people who have too much power and not enough empathy. Erin Griffith nailed it in her Wired piece from a few weeks ago.

Add to that context the fact that the big tech platforms, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, were used to hack the 2016 election, and you get the backlash. I think we are seeing the start of something that has a lot of legs. Human beings don’t want to be controlled by machines. And we are increasingly being controlled by machines. We are addicted to our phones, fed information by algorithms we don’t understand, at risk of losing our jobs to robots. This is likely to be the narrative of the next thirty years.

How do we cope with this? My platform would be:

  1. Computer literacy for everyone. That means making sure that everyone is able to go into GitHub and read the code that increasingly controls our lives and understand what it does and how it works.
  2. Open source vs closed source software so we can see how the algorithms that control our lives work.
  3. Personal data sovereignty so that we control our data and provision it via API keys, etc to the digital services we use.
  4. A social safety net that includes health care for everyone that allows for a peaceful radical transformation of what work is in the 21st century.

2017 brought us many other interesting things, but these three stories dominated the macro environment in tech this year. And they are related to each other in the sense that each is a reaction to power structures that are increasingly unsustainable.

I will talk tomorrow about the future, a future that is equally fraught with fear and hope. We are in the midst of massive societal change and how we manage this change will determine how easily and safely we make this transition into an information driven existence.

Last Minute Etsy Shopping

If you really want to buy someone a gift that is unique and special from a real live person on Etsy vs some mass produced crap from Amazon, but you think it might be too late for that now, don’t fear. There are plenty of last minute items that can be bought and shipped directly to your friends and family from an Etsy seller.

Here is an Etsy Holiday Gift Guide for items that can be shipped in one business day.

And here is a blog post from Hello Giggles that features sixteen awesome last minute gifts on Etsy.

This is my favorite item from that Hello Giggles post:

I told that to my friend Josh who is the CEO of Etsy and I think he bought it on the spot for me. I should do that more often 🙂

Anyway, you can shop on Etsy for a few more days and get gifts that are fun, special, and wonderful and you don’t have to leave your home or office to do it.

The End Of Net Neutrality As We Know It

I have written about net neutrality frequently here at AVC. I believe that for as long as we have local monopolies and duopolies for last mile broadband internet in most parts of the US, we need our federal government to actively reign in the broadband providers from doing things that are anti-innovation, anti-consumer, and pro-big business. For much of the last decade, the internet crowd has been a force to be reckoned with on this issue and we fought for and won good net neutrality rules that were put in place and defended in court. If you are a long time reader of AVC, you heard me advocating for and celebrating these wins.

The times have changed. We have a pro-big business team in the White House and at the FCC who are hell-bent to overturn those hard fought for net neutrality rules. We should fight them in these efforts, just like we have fought for these rules at every turn. Here are some things you can do:

But even as we fight for net neutrality, we also should be investing heavily in efforts to reduce our society’s reliance on the big cable and telcos for our broadband internet. That’s the core problem here.

So, in addition to fighting for net neutrality, here is what you should be doing:

  1. Don’t use an ISP who won’t commit to following basic net neutrality rules if you have a choice. Our portfolio company Tucows has a subsidiary called Ting that provides fiber broadband in some parts of the country and they are committed to following basic net neutrality rules no matter what the law says. Use an ISP like that if you can.
  2. Report abusive behavior and business practices by your ISP to the FCC. This will become even more important if the FCC overturns net neutrality.
  3. Join a mesh network or multiple mesh networks. Peer to peer wireless is our best long-term solution to the monopoly/duopoly issue.
  4. Look for blockchain projects that are seeking to solve the mesh networking issue and support them. The token-based incentive business model is a powerful way to bootstrap p2p mesh networks. This piece from 2015 explains that well.

I believe that technology is ultimately a better solution than regulation to market failures like the monopoly/duopoly issue in last mile broadband and I am confident that we will get the technology to solve it soon enough (certainly in my expected lifetime). But until that happens, regulation is a good tool to keep things moving in the right direction. That’s why I have supported net neutrality and will continue to support it until the technology arrives in the mass market to address the underlying problem.

Union 2.0

I wrote this post below on labor day two years ago. From where I sit, very little progress has been made on this since then. That is a problem and also a big opportunity.

Some Thoughts On Labor On Labor Day

When one looks back over the history of the development of the modern economy from the agricultural age, to the industrial age, to the information age, the development of a strong labor movement has to be one of the signature events. Capitalism, taken to its excesses, does not allocate economic value fairly to all participants in the economic system. The workers, slaving away to build the railroad, the skyscraper, etc, provide real and substantial value to the overall system and yet, because they are commodified and interchangeable parts, they don’t always get their fair share of the economic value they help to create. So the labor movement provides the market power that each worker individually cannot provide.

The emergence of the middle class in the developed world in the 19th and 20th centuries has as much to do with the emergence of a labor movement as it has to do with anything. And a growing middle class in turn drove economic development as the obtained earning power was spent on needs like homes, cars, education, etc.

I am a fan of the idea that labor needs a mechanism to obtain market power as a counterbalance to the excesses of markets and capitalism. I think we can look back and see all the good that has come from a strong labor movement in the US over the past 150 years.

However, like all bureaucratic institutions, the “Union” mechanism appears anachronistic sitting here in the second decade of the 21st century. We are witnessing the sustained unwinding of 19th and 20th century institutions that were built at a time when transaction and communications costs were high and the overhead of bureaucracy and institutional inertia were costs that were unavoidable.

One has to think “if I were constructing a labor movement from scratch in 2015, how would I do it?”  My colleague Nick Grossman coined the term “Union 2.0” inside our firm to talk about all the organizing tools coming to market to assist workers in the “gig economy.” But I think Union 2.0 is way bigger than the gig economy. The NY Times has a piece today on workers in a carwash in Santa Fe organizing outside of the traditional union system. One can imagine leveraging technology, communications, and marketplaces to allow such a thing on a much larger scale.

I don’t know how much the traditional union system taxes workers to provide the market power they need. But if its like any other hierarchical system that we are seeing replaced by networks and markets, the take rates are in the 20-40% range and could be lowered to sub 5% with technology.

That’s a big deal. And I suspect we will see just that happen in my lifetime. I sure hope so.

Headlines

One of the issues in all of the concerns about “fake news” is the way headlines are used on the Internet. Newspapers and magazines certainly took the construction of headlines into account to drive readers into the stories. But on the Internet, headlines have become that and more. They are the links themselves that fly around the Internet and “convert” someone into coming to your site and reading a story. They are “clickbait.” If we want to address the veracity and authenticity of content on the Internet, we might want to start with headlines.

I’ve had my issues with headlines for years. Many years ago, I allowed a number of publications to repost content I write here at AVC on their online publications. The publication that does that most frequently with my content is Business Insider. You can see the hundreds of posts that BI has republished on my author page at Business Insider. When they started doing this maybe seven or eight years ago, I would notice that they would leave my post intact, verbatim, but rewrite the headline. It would drive me crazy because I view the headline as an integral part of my post. I think about the words I use to title my posts. So I would send them angry emails and most of the time they would change it back. But it was a lesson in the difference between a headline that I liked and a headline that would drive clicks.

I also have seen hundreds of stories written about me, USV, and our portfolio companies that have sensational and often inaccurate headlines followed by stories that are essentially correct and well reported. It drives me nuts but I don’t often do much about it.

It makes me think that someone, or some company, or some open source community ought to build software that parses headlines and the stories that follow and rate them for how well the headline represents the article. That “headline veracity ranking” could then be offered to anyone who presents headlines to readers. That would be social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. That would be email applications and browsers. That would be search engines. Etc, etc, etc.

It would be nice to see some competition in this sector so that one company doesn’t become the arbiter of what is an accurate headline and what is not. That doesn’t sound like a good outcome. But if this is done via open source, or is community powered in some way, this could be a very helpful tool in getting publishers to behave and represent their stories accurately.

And that would be a wonderful thing for the Internet.

Leaks

I like what Larry Lessig wrote here about leaks, particularly this part:

Neera has only ever served in the public (and public interest) sector. Her work has always and only been devoted to advancing her vision of the public good. It is not right that she should bear the burden of this sort of breach.

If we needed to add more reasons why someone would choose to avoid public service, we now have one more – wikileaks will out your emails and embarrass the hell out of you.

There was some stuff about me in the Clinton leaks. There was some stuff about me in the Sony leaks. I’m with Larry. I don’t care to have that stuff outed. And I understand how people talk about others privately. That’s how it is. I am not upset at anyone at Sony or the Clinton team for what was leaked. That’s life.

But I do think wikileaks has gone overboard here. There is, as Larry says, a difference between leaks of substance and leaks of embarrassment. Let’s try to keep the leaks to stuff that matters and avoid the petty stuff please.

What Do You Do? What Do You Say?

It’s friday morning and we are waking up to yet another story of a twisted madman engaging in mass murder. We did this last friday.

What do you do? What do you say?

Yes, we should Pray For Nice. They can use our prayers.

And yes, we should give generously to the victims and their families. I did that just now.

But it doesn’t feel like enough. What is an appropriate reaction to these horrors?

And what if you are the CEO of a rapidly growing company who has to stand up in front of the team today at the weekly all hands? What do you do? What do you say?

Do you ignore it because stuff like this doesn’t belong in the office? Should we just focus on our jobs and keep doing what we are doing?

Or do you talk about it with the team? And what do you say?

I don’t even know what to say to all of you. I didn’t know what to say to my friend who is from Nice when I wrote him an email this morning. “I’m thinking of you. I hope everyone you know is OK.” What else is there to say?

There is an epidemic in the world, a sickness that is spreading and afflicting more and more people. It is mental illness. We need to diagnose its cause and treat it. Until we do that, we will be facing more of these mornings.

I think many of us are wondering what we can do to help with that. I certainly am.

Furious Friday

Typically on fridays, we do something light and easy to get the conversation flowing here at AVC. Fridays are less about me writing and more about us talking.

But I’m not feeling very light and easy today. It’s been a bad week here in the US. It started with yet another fatal shooting of a black person by law enforcement and ended with snipers killing officers in Dallas last night.

We have a problem in the US with gun violence and race relations. And our law enforcement professionals are at the epicenter of these issues.

It is all so tragic and ghastly and awful.

The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Like everyone, I was horrified to read about what happened in the Pulse nightclub on Saturday night.

The scourge that is at the heart of this awful event is hatred, hatred so deep that a person could walk into a nightclub and kill fifty people and wound many more. I can’t imagine that. I am saddened that anyone can.

For me, the only response to this kind of hatred is love, unconditional love.

And my act of love was giving to this Crowdrise that will help pay for the funeral and medical costs for Pulse victims.

Please join us if you are so inclined.