Posts from NYC

Why be civically engaged if you’re in tech?

Tomorrow, Ron Conway and I are going to kick off Disrupt NY 2015, with a fireside chat with Kim-Mai Cutler. We plan to discuss philanthropy and civic involvement. I’m looking forward to this talk. I think folks in the tech sector need to embrace philanthropy and civic involvement and I look forward to making the case for that.

I’ve been working in the VC business since the mid 80s. And for most of that time, I’ve felt that the tech sector was surprisingly uninterested and uninvolved in things outside of the tech sector. That’s a great strength of the tech sector, it’s is focused on innovation, making things, and building companies. And it does not get distracted by things outside of that realm.

But we know that the things we make and the companies we build have great impact on those outside of the tech sector. It can be for the good, like building cars that don’t use carbon fuels and showing the auto industry that it can be a good business to do that. It can be for the bad, like automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle.

It feels to me that our economy and our society is now deeply entwined with technology and being significantly impacted by it. If that is true, I believe it is shortsighted to avoid getting engaged in the discussions and debates about what kind of world we need to work toward. I think one way or another the tech sector is going to get pulled into these debates. It will be one thing if that happens thoughtfully and positively and another if the tech sector is pulled into them kicking and screaming.

Regular readers of this blog know that my partners and I have been involved in these discussions since we started USV over a decade ago. We spend our time, energy, and capital in areas like policy debates, philanthropy, and civic engagement. There are others in the tech sector who do the same. Ron Conway comes to mind as someone who has spent a similar amount of time, energy, and capital on this stuff. And I am thrilled to share the stage with him tomorrow as we discuss these issues.

We go on stage at 9:05am eastern tomorrow. I’m hoping the talk will be livestreamed and you can watch it live. If it is, it will be somewhere like here.

Video Of The Week: Lin-Manuel Miranda at the White House

Last night the Gotham Gal, our daughter Jessica, and I went to see Hamilton at The Public. This is a hip hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. The writer and star of the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda, read Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, got obsessed with Hamilton, and started writing a hip hop record about him. That eventually led to the show.

But along the way, back in 2009, the White House invited Lin-Manuel to Poetry Night and he performed the opening number for the President, the First Lady, and their guests. This is the video of that night. It’s great and serves as the perfect trailer for the play, which you should try to see when it opens on Broadway this summer.

Fun Friday: Coming Up With A Better Name For NYC’s Tech Community

It’s no secret that I HATE the term Silicon Alley. It’s a wannabe term if there ever was one. NYC’s tech community doesn’t want to be Silicon Valley. If they wanted that, they’d move there. NYC’s tech community is gritty, artsy, and full of edges like NYC itself. I am in no way dissing or dismissing Silicon Valley. It’s mecca when it comes to tech. Everyone knows that. I’m just saying that calling ourselves Silicon Alley is lame. We can do so much better.

So I’m turning this over to the AVC community. What’s a better term for the hundreds of thousands of people who work in thousands of tech companies, large and small, in NYC?

Video Hackday

Some friends of mine are organizing a video hack day in NYC on Saturday May 9th. If you like to hack on video and have been looking for an excuse to spend some time on that thing you’ve been wanting to build, this is your opportunity.

Here are the details:

Video Hack Day is on May 9th, 2015. Sponsored by Google and organized by Ziggeo, it will take place at General Assembly in the Flatiron District of NYC.

Video Hack Day is a time to play with all things video. You’ll learn about new video APIs, develop fun video projects, and get feedback from judges at Google Ventures and Union Square Ventures.

Ziggeo is organizing the event, and it’s sponsored by: Google, Amazon Web Services, YouTube, Clarifai, Firebase, Dropbox, Oovoo and Vimeo. If you’re also interested in sponsoring Video Hack Day, please contact us here.

If you’d like to participate in Video Hack Day, please sign up here. You can also follow Video Hack Day on Twitter, #VideoHackDay.

Video Of The Week: NYC’s Internet History

This is an oldie but goodie. I’ve posted it here before but not since I delivered this talk almost seven years ago. This is my history of the NYC Internet community from 1995 to 2008. It’s about 25mins long.

Kingpins 2015

Insite is a great program that connects graduate students at leading universities to the startup community around them. It started in NYC and has been connecting graduate students at NYU and Columbia to the NYC startup community for well over a decade. It is now active in other startup communities around the US.

They raise money each year for their NYC programs with a bowling event called Kingpins. Startup companies and VC firms buy lanes and half lanes and the result is a fun night of eating, drinking, and bowling. The startups and VCs mingle with the Insite fellows and all sorts of good things happen.

This year’s event is Monday, April 13th, from 6pm to 9pm, at Chelsea Piers. Half lanes are $1000 and full lanes are $1800. If you are a VC firm and want to support the local community, Insite, and meet startups, you should buy a full lane. If you are a startup and want to drink beer with VCs, think about a half lane. If you are just a regular community member and want to joint the fun, you can buy a single ticket for $150.

The details and tickets are here.

ScriptEd Summer Internships

If you are in a tech company in NYC (or if you run a tech company in NYC) please consider hosting a ScriptEd summer internship this summer. Here is what you need to know to consider that:

1/ ScriptEd is a nonprofit supported by CSNYC. It recruits software developers to volunteer in low-income high schools around New York City during the school year and teach a foundational course in web development and computer science. Over the summer, ScriptEd connects its students to paid six-week summer internships at tech companies and with tech teams within other types companies. Some of its past internship partners include About.com, Contently, Thrillist, JP Morgan and American Express. ScriptEd currently serves more than 300 students across NYC and will place 100 of its students in internships this summer.

2/ ScriptEd will hold a Summer 2015 Internship Information Session on Wednesday, March 4th at 6:30pm. They are specifically looking for companies with at least 40 New York City based employees and at least 3-4 developers on staff. If you are interested in attending this event, please fill out an interest form here. To learn more about their internship program, click here.

3/ ScriptEd’s internship program was so successful last summer that they are aiming to place five times as many students in internships this summer. All of their internship partners from last summer reported that they are re-engaging with ScriptEd this summer, and many have asked for an increased number of interns this summer.

4/ ScriptEd’s long term goal is to ensure that low income NYC students have the experience, mentorship and confidence they need to pursue careers in tech.

5/ The technology industry is growing faster than ever and diverse talent is becoming more difficult to find.

6/ Companies can try to solve for their own tech talent shortage by stepping up recruiting efforts to capture a bigger piece of the tech talent pool but that is not a long-term solution. Expansion of the tech talent pipeline – attracting young women and young students of color to the study of STEM and careers in tech – must be a part of the solution.

7/ ScriptEd’s student population during the 2013-2014 school year was 30% Black, 43% Hispanic, 24% Asian and 3% White. Its 2014 internship class was 50% female and 50% male.

8/ Fin

For ScriptEd’s annual report, click here.

For ScriptEd’s  internship brochure, click here.

Veniam

I’ve been talking a lot and writing a lot about mesh networking. I think it has the potential to wrest control of the last mile of the wired and wireless internet from the carriers who mostly control it around the world. Peter Kafka noticed yesterday that we had finally put those words to work with a mesh networking investment:

We made this investment, in a neat company called Veniam that comes out of Porto Portugal, some time earlier this year but they finally got around to announcing it yesterday.

My partner Brad talked about it in a short post on usv.com yesterday. And our partner in the investment Om Malik talked about it here.

I had breakfast with Om in NYC earlier this year and told him about Veniam. Those breakfasts do pay dividends eventually. This is how Om describes that breakfast and what came of it:

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson introduced me to João after a long, spirited discussion about network neutrality, new models of networks, and policies that will influence the future of the internet. As we walked back to our office (aka my favorite cafe), he said, “You should talk to this guy in Portugal that my partner Brad [Burnham] has been in touch with. He has some interesting ideas.” An email introduction with João followed, and we were soon talking to each other via Skype. He quickly came to San Francisco, and we met for coffee on the weekend and then again the next day. João likes to talk: It is his super power. And here we are.

So enough about all of that. What does Veniam do? They make a “stack” of wireless technology that lets moving objects (think buses, garbage trucks, cars, vans, etc) carry a wifi access point/router and mesh with each other and anyone else who wants to join the network. With enough density, buses driving around your city can provision a wireless mesh that anyone can use on their smartphone when they are out and about. It’s a big vision and will take a lot of work (and luck) to realize, but this or something like it is eventually going to work and we are going to have a better way to access the internet on our phones than we have today.

Here’s a video of Veniam’s technology in action in Porto. I suspect you will want this in your city too. I certainly do.

The Cost Of Loyalty

In the local transportation market, we now have lots of options in addition to mass transit. Here in NYC, we have taxis, Lyft, and Uber. In SF and LA, we have taxis, Sidecar (our portfolio company), Lyft, and Uber. Around the country and world, there are various options including our portfolio company Hailo.

I’ve always wished there was an aggregation app that pulled all the prices and availability in real-time across all the available services and got you the best fare at the time. Or allowed you to make the choice between price and ETA (the way sidecar’s app does). It turns out there is a lot of price variability in the market and there is not one choice you can make all the time that will work out well for you. Being loyal to one app costs you.

Then this morning, a blog post popped up in my inbox courtesy of my friend Boris. In this post, they calculated the “cost of loyalty” to one just one app.

cost of loyalty

I mostly use taxis in manhattan when Citibike and subway won’t do and that’s because they are the cheapest and most available option. Uber and Lyft are for times you can’t get a cab and you’ll pay through the nose when you take that option as they are almost always surging at those times.

Another interesting thing about these charts is how taxis are the most expensive service to be loyal to in SF and LA. That is crazy. They are going to go out of business in those markets with that pricing.

But mostly I am proud that our portfolio company Sidecar is the least costly service to be loyal to. That is because they don’t use surge pricing and instead allow drivers adjust pricing in their marketplace model as they desire. Sidecar is committed to using a true marketplace and things like shared rides to deliver the lowest cost rides in the market. It is also true that Sidecar ETAs are a bit longer as this chart of SF shows:

ETAs

Going back to the opening thought, which is that someone should build an aggregation app on top of all of these services so we can replace the app on our home screen that we are most loyal to with an app that works across all services. The authors of this blog post did just that and you can use What’s The Fare to tell you who has the best price in the market. It looks like right now its just a web/mobile web app and all it does it give you the fares. If they or someone else went further, made it into a mobile app, and used the services APIs to actually book rides (if the APIs were available to do that), then we’d really have something.

That’s the way this market should work long term. I hope we can get there soon. Google Maps and Apple Maps are the ideal interfaces to make it happen. Let’s go!

The Robotic Taxi Driver

Yesterday morning I made the mistake of leaving my apartment without my Citibike key. When I got to the Citibike station, I realized it and hailed a taxi instead. I got in the taxi and told the driver where I was going which was 6th Avenue and 13th Street. He started to enter the destination into the GPS on his phone which was mounted above the dash to the left of the steering wheel. I told him that wasn’t necessary as all he had to do was go a few blocks down Washington to 10th, make a left on 10th, then across 10th to 6th, then a left on 6th. So he took off down Washington and the preceded to blow right past 10th. At which point, I told him that he had missed 10th and he should make the next left onto Christopher, which he then drove right past. After a couple more missed turns, I told him to stop and got out of the taxi and told him that he should learn a bit about getting around the city before getting behind the wheel of a taxi cab. Then I tweeted this out.

If you click on that tweet and look at all of the replies, you will find an interesting discussion of the current state of the taxis and ride sharing services in NYC, Chicago, London, and a bunch more cities. It seems that my experience of getting into a car and the driver having no idea where they are and where they are going is not unique. It’s happening to lots of people in lots of places.

Now you might say, “well you should have let the driver use the GPS” and you would be right about that. But in that tweet reply stream there are plenty of stories about drivers using GPS and still getting terribly lost. When you have no idea where you are and no idea where you are going, the GPS isn’t as useful as it would seem. And then there are the issues of road work, closed streets, traffic, and other sorts of things that requires experience and local knowledge to navigate. There is a huge difference between an experienced driver who knows their way around a city and a driver just off the plane from somewhere else driving around NYC using a GPS in lieu of that local knowledge.

What has happened in NYC and apparently in many other places is the arrival of ride sharing services has increased the demand for drivers and the best drivers are moving from taxis to the higher end services and new drivers are being recruited to drive the cabs and the lower end ride sharing services. These new drivers have no training and have no idea where they are going without the GPS. And they are totally and completely reliant on the GPS. It makes me feel like the autonomous car has arrived in the form of the robotic taxi driver.

I told this story to my friend Jeremy last night and he observed that the right answer is to use the higher end ride sharing services where all the experienced drivers are now working. He said “price and quality are lining up as you would expect in a market economy.” Of course the other option is to not forget my citibike key or walk or take the subway. Which is looking like a better option more and more these days.