Posts from entrepreneurship

Video Of The Week: Value For Many

Praveen sent me this TED talk by R.A. Mashelkar from TED India 2009. I just watched it and I agree with Praveen that its an important talk and an important concept. The video is, in typical TED fashion, only 20 minutes long.

Fun Friday: Which web or mobile services most inspire you?

It’s time for another community powered day at AVC. Someone, I can’t recall who, suggested this to me. One of the two questions we ask people who are applying for our analyst position at USV is “Which web or mobile services most inspire you?”.

So let’s discuss that question here at AVC today.

For me, it is always those services that allow for emergent behavior, like this woman Anna Todd writing a serialized novel, to date 278 chapters long, called After that has more than a million readers. Or a 19 year old young man raising almost $2.5mm to make virtual reality goggles. Or designing an incredible 3D maze that can be 3D printed and purchased by anyone. These are the kind of services that inspire me.

How about you?

A Founder’s Notebook

One of my favorite things to do on the Internet is curate. I do that on my tumblr and also at usv.com. I find good stuff around the Internet and I grab it and share it with others.

So when I see others doing a great job with curating, I like to acknowledge it and point others to it. And that’s the subject of today’s post. David Jackson is the founder of Seeking Alpha, a community of stock market investors. He’s been curating management advice from around the Internet on a blog called A Founder’s Notebook for a while now. It’s really good.

My only complaint is that its not on Tumblr, where it would be an instant and easy follow. It takes more work to follow a blog when its on the open Internet (when you don’t use RSS. i don’t). However, there is a subscribe via email option on the right sidebar which is how I get his updates.

Anyway, if you are a  founder and like reading advice from around the web on management, product, and strategy, I recommend A Founder’s Notebook. It’s really well done.

Ageism

There has been a lot of chatter recently about ageism and the old vs young debate in tech. The New Republic has a post up today on the topic. And last week the New York Times Magazine featured a long article on the topic.

There is no doubt that tech is a young person’s game to some extent. And there is no doubt that VCs are biased towards younger founders and against older ones.

However, it’s not an absolute thing. I’ve written about this before here at AVC. At USV, we have backed founders in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. I think we would back a founder in her 60s or 70s too but we have not yet had that opportunity in an investment that made sense to us. The Gotham Gal recently backed a founder in his late 60s. I am pretty sure that will be a good bet.

I saw this graphic on Tumblr today. It made me happy. Ray Kroc started McDonalds when he was my age (52).

founders over 35

 

My point is this. Yes tech is biased toward younger people. To some extent, USV may be biased in that direction. We have not done a distribution of the ages of the founders we have backed but I suspect it would weight a bit toward the younger ages. My bet is that the median age of the founders we have backed would be mid 30s.

But as this graphic shows, you are never too old to start a company. And I promise you that USV will consider any investment in our sweet spot (large software based networks) regardless of the age of the founder. Age is a two way street. Youth brings some positives. But age brings experience. And that is a pretty valuable thing.

Bill’s Startup – Wharfie

I just woke up (thankfully) and have our weekly team meeting starting in ten minutes. I don’t normally sleep ten hours but I did last night. This past weekend was a lot of fun and I was exhausted. Ten hours of sleep feels great. It’s not a normal thing for me.

Since I don’t have time for a regular post today, I’d like to suggest that everyone read a post the Bill McNeely wrote on usv.com. Bill is a regular here at AVC and most of the regulars know that he’s been struggling to get his life going in the right direction since coming back from Iraq in 2011.

Bill quit a steady but low paying job at Target to do a startup.

There is so much to Bill’s story that I don’t know where to start. Since I am running out of time, I’d just like to wish Bill well on this effort and encourage everyone else here at AVC to do the same.

Video Of The Week: Coffee With Seth

A month or two ago, I sat down with my friend Seth Goldstein who is writing a book with a colleague called The Secret Of Raising Money (not yet available). We met and chatted over coffee in San Francisco and his colleague filmed the conversation. I noticed that they released a snippet of our conversation yesterday and a couple others on their YouTube channel. So this short 4min snippet of our conversation is my video of the week.

Decentralized Identity

In my LeWeb talk, I mentioned decentralized identity as one of the three big things I am looking for in the coming years. I think a protocol based approach is what is needed and the idea that Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or some other big tech company is going to control the database of all of our identities is a nutty idea in my mind.

We’ve been looking at a lot of things and to date, the namecoin protocol seems to show the most promise. Yesterday my partner Albert wrote a post explaining how someone could build this distributed identity layer on top of namecoin and pointed to two services, NamecoinID and OneName, that are attempting to do just that.

I have just started playing around with these two services and don’t yet have much of an opinion on them. But I did set up a onename profile at onename.io/fredwilson. You can send me bitcoin there if you’d like :)

This sort of thing has been tried in the past. OpenID comes to mind. They have all been too wonky and none got mainstream adoption. At this point, Namecoin, NamecoinID, and OneName are also wonky. But I am hopeful that something will emerge, most likely using the distributed autonomous organization funding model that I talked about yesterday, that will lead to an open global distributed identity system that everyone and anyone can use. If such a thing were to emerge, it would be transformative in many ways.

Unregulated Crowdfunding

Two years ago Congress passed the JOBS Act, promising to help small businesses and startups more easily raise capital by loosening various Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations. Two years later, it’s as hard as ever to raise equity capital and if you aren’t rich (accredited or qualified investor status), you can’t legally participate in the world of startup investing. The reason for this is that the SEC implemented the JOBS Act the way they wanted to, and in the process hamstrung its use.

As one might suspect, the world of technology is likely to solve this problem on its own. As Naval writes in this excellent post, the innovations behind the Bitcoin protocol and architecture are spilling out into the world of open source and crowdfunding. We have seen a number of exciting projects lately that are loosely organized collections of software developers building new approaches to distributed e-commerce, identity, legal contracts, and a host of other interesting and vexing problems using this method to fund their “startup” (cut and pasted from Naval’s post):

  • Write software to power a completely distributed network in which any node can participate anonymously.
  • Allocate scarce resources in the network using a scarce token – an Appcoin. Users need this Appcoin to use the network. Owners of scarce resources get paid in Appcoins.
  • Pre-mine or early-mine Appcoins and keep some non-threatening amount. These are shares of your company, equity that will appreciate in value if the network is adopted.
  • Give network operators the ability to collect new Appcoins in proportion to their contribution. Route a small fraction of each transaction output to the developer foundation (Mastercoin does this). Theserevenues are used to pay for operations, and bounties for ongoing development.
  • As network usage increases, so does equity value and revenue.
  • Anyone can buy Appcoins, anywhere, anytime, anonymously. Ship your code, ring the IPO bell.

We’ve been asking ourselves at USV if we should be purchasing coins in some of these “genesis block sales” instead of our normal appetite for Series Seed and Series A shares. I think the answer is ultimately yes, but we are most certainly entering into unknown territory in the process.

My partner Albert has been predicting that there will be no distinction between the public and private markets in a decade. He may have been off by eight or nine years in that prediction. It feels like its coming soon and coming fast. And that is exciting to me. Anything that creates more innovation and more entrepreneurs is a good thing for VC, for society, and for me.

Video Of The Week: Jack Dorsey At The 99% Conference

Back in 2010, Scott Belsky asked me to give a talk at The 99% Conference. That’s when and where I delivered the 10 Ways To Be Your Own Boss talk.

Jack Dorsey followed me on stage and delivered this 15 minute talk. I sat in the audience for Jack’s talk and loved it. So I thought I’d feature it here this week. It’s four year old but as relevant today as ever.

Inspired by GitHub

I wrote a post the other day called This For That in which I suggestred that derivative ideas are challenging to execute on and equally challenging for USV to get excited about. But there are exceptions. And Github insipired ideas are one particularly interesting area to us.

I recall when Steve Martocci came to talk to us about Splice. He talked about watching musicians work and wondering why there was nothing like GitHub for them to use to store the various versions of their work. That, of course, led to Splice. And one could call Splice “GitHub for Music”. It is a lot more than that, of course, because building GitHub for Music opens up a lot of opportunities to do more for musicians. As GitHub did for programmers.

Yesterday, my partner Andy posted this link on usv.com. It’s a story about a one time programmer who left software for the world of molecular biology and after a decade in the world of academic research, is leaving to do a startup which is, not surprisingly, GitHub for Life Science Protocols. You can back his Kickstarter here. I just did.

When programmers who are used to modern tools and techniques come across other industries where the tools are antiquated and the work is frustrating, they get inspired to create similar tools to make life easier. That’s happening in a lot of sectors now, not just music and life sciences.

The power of the GitHub model is not just a repository of work and version control in the cloud. It’s the public nature of much of that work. And the reputation and identity effects for those who publish some or all of their work publicly.

Tools like StackOverflow (a USV portfolio company) and GitHub allow programmers to see how other programmers have solved similar problems. I was at a hackathon up at Columbia University last weekend and one of the hacks was a development environment that automatically queried StackOverflow and GitHub as you are writing code so that you always have in front of you the answers to the questions you are most likely to ask. The developer who did the hack introduced it by saying something like “programming these days is more about searching than anything else”. That reflects how collaborative the sharing of knowledge has become in the world of software development as a result of these cloud based tools for developers.

And this approach will naturally be adopted by other industries. And the entrepreneurs who bring these tools to other industries will most likely be developers who are inspired by GitHub and StackOverflow and tools like that. We are starting to see that in lots of interesting places.