Posts from marketplaces

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.

Video Of The Week: Creative Communities

I was surfing around YouTube today looking for something to watch (and post) this morning. I found this video with two of my favorite people, Esther Dyson and Chad Dickerson (Etsy’s CEO). This video is more than a year old so the data in it is not current. But the lessons on scaling and managing a creative community remain as relevant today as they were when they had this conversation.

Feature Friday: Customized 3D Printed Objects

Our portfolio company Shapeways offers customization options in their marketplace of 3D printed objects.

Let’s say you want a “card case” for your iPhone like this:

The 3D designer who designed this case and is selling it on Shapeways offers two ways you can customize it:

customization options on shapeways

You can search for customizable objects on Shapeways by checking this box in the marketplace home page:

check box

Shapeways is a great place to find unique objects for gifts and for yourself.  Customizing these objects makes them even more unique. So the next time you are looking for something special, go check out Shapeways and check the customizable box.

And if you are a 3D designer who sells designs on Shapeways, considering supporting customizable options. It makes your objects even more unique and interesting to buyers.

What Is Going To Happen In 2016

It’s easier to predict the medium to long term future. We will be able to tell our cars to take us home after a late night of new year’s partying within a decade. I sat next to a life sciences investor at a dinner a couple months ago who told me cancer will be a curable disease within the next decade. As amazing as these things sound, they are coming and soon.

But what will happen this year that we are now in? That’s a bit trickier. But I will take some shots this morning.

  1. Oculus will finally ship the Rift in 2016. Games and other VR apps for the Rift will be released. We just learned that the Touch controller won’t ship with the Rift and is delayed until later in 2016. I believe the initial commercial versions of Oculus technology will underwhelm. The technology has been so hyped and it is hard to live up to that. Games will be the strongest early use case, but not everyone is going to want to put on a headset to play a game. I think VR will only reach its true potential when they figure out how to deploy it in a more natural way.
  2. We will see a new form of wearables take off in 2016. The wrist is not the only place we might want to wear a computer on our bodies. If I had to guess, I would bet on something we wear in or on our ears.
  3. One of the big four will falter in 2016. My guess is Apple. They did not have a great year in 2015 and I’m thinking that it will get worse in 2016.
  4. The FAA regulations on the commercial drone industry will turn out to be a boon for the drone sector, legitimizing drone flights for all sorts of use cases and establishing clear rules for what is acceptable and what is not.
  5. The trend towards publishing inside of social networks (Facebook being the most popular one) will go badly for a number of high profile publishers who won’t be able to monetize as effectively inside social networks and there will be at least one high profile victim of this strategy who will go under as a result.
  6. Time Warner will spin off its HBO business to create a direct competitor to Netflix and the independent HBO will trade at a higher market cap than the entire Time Warner business did pre spinoff.
  7. Bitcoin finally finds a killer app with the emergence of Open Bazaar protocol powered zero take rate marketplaces. (note that OB1, an open bazaar powered service, is a USV portfolio company).
  8. Slack will become so pervasive inside of enterprises that spam will become a problem and third party Slack spam filters will emerge. At the same time, the Slack platform will take off and building Slack bots will become the next big thing in enterprise software.
  9. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and he will attack the tech sector for its support of immigrant labor. As a result the tech sector will line up behind Hillary Clinton who will be elected the first woman President.
  10. Markdown mania will hit the venture capital sector as VC firms follow Fidelity’s lead and start aggressively taking down the valuations in their portfolios. Crunchbase will start capturing this valuation data and will become a de-facto “yahoo finance” for the startup sector. Employees will realize their options are underwater and will start leaving tech startups in droves.

Some of these predictions border on the ridiculous and that is somewhat intentional. I think there is an element of truth (or at least possibility) in all of them. And I will come back to this list a year from now and review the results.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy 2016.

Feature Friday: Etsy Shop Updates

Our portfolio company Etsy launched a super cool feature called Shop Updates a few weeks ago that I would like to talk about today.

Etsy sellers have always been great marketers. They bring buyers to their shops on Etsy in a myriad of ways. I remember back in the early days seeing Etsy sellers promoting their shops face to face at craft fairs. They still do that, of course, and much more.

Social networks are an obvious place for sellers to reach new buyers and Etsy sellers are all over them. But it hasn’t been that easy for a seller to be creative on social networks. Posting a link to their shop on facebook, or tweeting or pinning their latest item is fine. But doing that over and over quickly gets boring for everyone.

Enter Shop Updates. They allow a seller to take photos of their items in the real world and share them on social networks and into the Etsy mobile apps with links back to their shops and item pages.

An example will be illustrative.

Glittery Moon Vintage has this porcelain vase for sale on Etsy.

porcelain vase

She can post that image to facebook, pinterest, twitter, and instagram and get buyers to come and take a look.

But with Shop Updates, she can take a picture of that vase in the real world and post it to facebook or some other social net.

vase on fb

My favorite thing about this feature is the orange shopping tag that signifies that the shared image is “shopable” or “clickable”. You click on that orange tag and are taken to Etsy where you can look at the item and buy it.

These items also show up in the Etsy app to everyone that has liked your shop. Here’s a screenshot I took of my Etsy app this morning:

Screenshot_2015-11-06-06-32-17-2

Here are some more details on Shop Updates in case you want to learn more.

So don’t be surprised if you start seeing orange tags showing up in your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed, your Pinterest app, and your Etsy app this holiday season. Shop Updates also show up in Instagram without the orange tag because Instagram doesn’t make their images clickable.

And when you see those tags, you should think about clicking and buying something unique and special for your loved ones this holiday season!

The Decentral Authority

We’ve been big fans of Reddit since it was part of the first Y Combinator class ten years ago this summer. We’ve watched closely as it emerged as a community powered mostly by its users. There was a period when the entire company was one or two developers. And yet not only did Reddit survive that period, it actually thrived during it. It is a quintessential example of the lightweight people powered app that we look for and love at USV.

The growing pains that Reddit is going through as it evolves into something more are particularly interesting to us. We’ve always wondered if a people powered community that is owned as much by its users as anyone can work as a traditional corporate entity. We’ve been through similar situations in our career (Geocities and Twitter among them) and we know how hard it is to reconcile the needs of the users, the management, and the shareholders.

I am not going to come down on the side of any of these stakeholders in this current situation. They all have very valid needs and desires and there are no easy answers to the struggle that Reddit faces. I am particularly sympathetic to the need to manage the trolling activity. Twitter also struggles with this issue. Free speech has an ugly underbelly and when you stare at it up close and personally, it makes you want to puke. And yet where do you stop on the slippery slope of deciding what is acceptable and what is not?

We have also wondered what the first killer app of the blockchain is going to be. Is it going to be personal finance (bitcoin), is it going to be peer to peer connectivity (mesh networking), or is it going to be something else?

There’s a chance that the answer to the struggle that Reddit is going through will also answer this question. It may be that there is no viable middle ground between a centrally controlled media platform and an entirely decentralized media platform. You are either going to police the site or you are going to build something that cannot be policed even if you want to.

The interesting thing about an entirely decentralized media platform is that you can have clients that choose to curate, police, and censor and clients that choose not to. Twitter, as originally architected, could have headed down this path. But for many reasons, reasons I supported to be clear, it chose not to.

But someone is going to go there. And I think it will happen soon. And I think it most likely will be built on the blockchain. There have been plenty of attempts to do this before. And none have succeeded. So why now?

Well for one, the blockchain is here and waiting for its killer app. And there are no shortage of entrepreneurs who want to build it. And platforms like Twitter, Reddit, 4Chan, and others have fed the desire to have something more but for reasons that are entirely valid are coming up empty for some.

The demand is there. The supply (technology) is there. And we’ve seen a bunch of teams working on this. I think one or more will get it right. And I think that will happen soon.

To be clear, this does not mean the end of Reddit or Twitter or any other of the current media platforms that are out there. They will likely move more and more into a centrally controlled media platform. I think that is the natural evolution of platforms that need to cater to the needs of management and shareholders. There is a good business to be had in a centrally controlled platform.

But there is also a very interesting opportunity to build a truly decentralized media platform. I am not sure it will be a good business. I am not sure it will even be a business. But it can be a very powerful community and platform. And there is a market for that. A big one I think.

La Ruche qui dit Oui!

La Ruche qui dit Oui! (the hive that says yes) is a marketplace that connects farmers to people who want farm fresh food in their kitchens and on their tables. We got to know the company last winter when my friends Simon and Toby from Mosaic introduced me to Marc-David Choukroun, one of the two founders of La Ruche. The Gotham Gal and I were in Paris and we met up with Marc-David at a Ruche on a saturday morning. We sipped coffee and talked to the farmers and customers who were stopping by to pick up their weekly supply of meat, cheese, milk, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and bread. We were smitten.

For years, USV has been on the hunt for a way to invest in the “farm to table” market sector. As you all know very well, we believe in the power of networks to solve the challenging problems of our time. And making high quality farm fresh quality food available at a reasonable price to everyone is certainly one of those challenging problems. The most affordable food is also the most mass produced and, generally, the most unhealthy food. How can we get back to a time when the food we eat is produced nearby, is high quality, and is healthy?

One way is to use the power of the network to connect farmers and consumers. And many entrepreneurs have been working on this problem over the past twenty years. We have met with most of them. Unfortunately, not many of them, until recently, met our test of a lightweight, peer to peer, capital efficient, people powered network. We call these “thin networks” and we are drawn to them as investors and as consumers.

La Ruche has been operating in France and Belgium for the past four years. Their marketplace connects farmers, consumers, and, most importantly, hosts together to form communities (Ruches or Assemblies) that come together once a week to exchange products, feedback, and friendships. These are communities in the truest sense of the word. My colleague Nick went to a Ruche in Paris last month and there was live music playing and people were hanging out enjoying the lovely spring day. A community is the thing that La Ruche’s marketplace software helps people create.

The business model is simple. Consumers order the food they want to pick up in advance and pay for it. The farmer comes to the community at the designated time, sets up next to the other farmers, and delivers his or her products in person. The farmer keeps most of the money, but the host and La Ruche split a small take rate for facilitating the transaction. It is a win/win/win. Farmers make more money selling directly, consumers get high quality products at reasonable prices, and the hosts make money for their effort to create the community, recruit the consumers, and curate the farmers. For many hosts, the income they get from creating and running these communities helps pay the bills, in the same way that selling on Etsy can help a family make a little extra money each month to make ends meet.

La Ruche has expanded to the UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy recently. The communities are known as La Ruche qui dit Oui! in France and Belgium; The Food Assembly in the UK and Germany, ¡La Colmena que dice Si! in Spain, L’alveare che dice Si! in Italy and Boeren & Buren in flemish Belgium. With its recent expansion in Europe, the network now has 100,000 active customers, 4,500 local producers, 700 communities. The company has 70 employees operating in six countries.

Over the past six months, USV has worked with Marc-David and his partner Guilhem Cheron to put together the right investor group to help La Ruche with their european expansion. La Ruche is a socially conscious mission driven organization that values farmers and communities and the needs of both as much as (or more than) the pure profit motive. In the US, they would be a B Corporation. And so they needed an investor group that was aligned on that. I am pleased and proud to say that they have succeeded in finding that investor group and USV is part of it. Our partners in this adventure are Frederic Court of Felix Capital, existing investor Rodolphe Menegaux and Xange, Eric Archambeau and Aymeric Jung of the social venture capital fund Quadia, and a few angel investors who are aligned with the company and its mission.

If you find yourself in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, or the UK in the coming months, go to La Ruche and find a Ruche or Assembly and stop by and check it out. It’s something to see. Here’s a map that will help you find one near you.

Future Friday: OpenBazaar and OB1

Yesterday our portfolio company OB1 announced a seed round led by USV, Andreessen Horowitz and William Mougayar.

From the OB1 blog post:

OpenBazaar will always be open source and MIT licensed. As a global software community, we’ve intentionally created OpenBazaar so that there are no fees required to use the network, and there is no central authority controlling trade, taking a cut, or monitoring data.

So OpenBazaar is a decentralized open source marketplace protocol that allows trade to happen between parties without a central marketplace operator and without a take rate.

There is a real question about how one can make money doing something like this. And there is a real question about how you avoid bad people doing bad things in a marketplace like this.

My partner Brad, who led this investment for USV, addressed both in this blog post on usv.com yesterday. I can’t recall an investment we wrestled with more in recent years. We love the team, we love marketplaces, we believe in emergent decentralized innovation, and we are big fans of bitcoin and the blockchain. So in the end we went with all of that and are accepting the obvious risks of supporting something like this. We are very excited to see how this all plays out.