Posts from NYC

Graffiti

I love Graffiti. I realize that at some level, graffiti is vandalism and represents disrespect of property rights. And it doesn’t feel great when our building gets tagged.

But there’s something about sitting outside eating on the street staring at street art. This was our view on Monday night.

street art

Graffiti is creativity expressed in public, for all to see. It’s rebellious. It’s leaving your mark on the world.

I feel most at home in cities and neighborhoods that are filled with Graffiti.

I think there’s a linkage between creativity, innovation, and rebellion. And graffiti sits right in the middle of all of that.

The Kickstarter Film Festival

The fourth annual Kickstarter Film Festival is upon us. Tomorrow night in Fort Greene Park in the fine city of Brooklyn NY from 7-11pm, Kickstarter will be showing films, and featuring musicians and local food purveyors. The festival will be replayed in Los Angeles on Sept 12th, and also in London later this fall.

Here’s a short trailer for the festival:

Here’s the website for the festival. It lists all the films that will be featured. Attendance is free.

And here’s a blog post that talks about how they selected all the films that will be featured. 

It’s going to be a beautiful night in NYC tomorrow night. If you are considering your weekend plans, think hard about spending friday night in Fort Greene Park watching the amazing things that emerging filmmakers are doing right now.

Video Of The Week: The High Road With Mario Batali

A month or so ago, I taped an episode of The High Road With Mario Batali. We went to the Frick Museum, we bowled in the basement of the Frick, we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, and we rode around on the upper level of a double decker bus. Mario asked me a bunch of questions along the way. It’s about ten minutes long and it came out well. I apologize in advance for the ads at the start and in the middle.

This Is What Happens When You Let A Monopoly Own The Last Mile

From Business Insider:

Verizon won’t be able to hit its deadline to bring its FiOS fiber internet service to all residences in New York’s five boroughs by the end of June 2014.

and

In 2008, Verizon made an agreement to bring FiOS to any New York resident who requests it within six months.

I’ve been asking Verizon to bring FIOS to the condo apartment building the Gotham Gal and I built since 2007. They keep promising and they keep breaking those promises. That’s what monopolies do.

I hope the folks to run the FCC, the Federal Government, and local governments realize that Verizon are not to be trusted and neither are their lobbyists. They are the worst. I can’t believe we allow them and their brethren to continue to control the last mile access to the Internet here in the US.

Dream It And Code It

A few months ago, I posted about a student coding contest called Dream It Code It Win It. I attended the awards contest last night at The Great Hall at Cooper Union. I love that space. You feel the history when you walk into the room.

The majority of the event was a panel event which in my opinion was a waste of time. I wanted to see the students present their projects. Which sadly did not happen. But the students were invited up onto the stage to collect their awards.

In the high school category, almost half of the participants were women. That is a fantastic stat and hopefully a sign of things to come with women and coding.

I was super excited to see a team from The Academy For Software Engineering win one of the awards. That is a great accomplishment for a school that hasn’t yet completed its second year. Here is the team from AFSE getting its award.

afse students

 

It was also really fantastic that The Young Women’s Leadership Academy (an all girls high school in NYC) fielded a winning team. I’ve heard great things about that school.

Not surprisingly Stuyvesant High School had three winning teams. The Stuyvesant CS program has been around for almost twenty years and its leader Mike Zamansky is one of the unsung heroes of the NYC tech scene.

Mike sent me videos last night after the event for the three winning teams from Stuy. One of them is so good, I think it would easily get funded on AngelList. It’s called Cartwheels (great name) and here’s the video.

These kids eat at food carts every day, they dreamed of a better way, they built it, and they won it. That’s awesome.

Consider The Alternatives

There has been a lot of hullabaloo about Airbnb here in NYC over the past few weeks. The NY Post had a field day using Airbnb as a punching bag for a week or so. It made for good tabloid media but lacked a honest discussion of the pros and cons of Airbnb and all that comes with it.

I’ve lived in NYC for over thirty years. It’s a very dense urban living environment. As the Gotham Gal likes to say, “we live on top of each other.” And clearly having your neighbors renting out their apartment to folks visiting NYC for days or weeks at a time is problematic. I think Airbnb has a lot of work to do here in NYC to educate folks about what the service is actually all about, who most of the 40,000 hosts here in NYC are, and how the service works to protect people.

Let’s take two relatively unknown aspects of Airbnb.

– identity checks – many hosts will not rent to people on Airbnb who do not have their identity checked and verified. Airbnb provides this identity check service to the hosts and a large percentage of guests on Airbnb are identity checked before they show up and rent a place.

– smoke and carbon monoxide alarms – Airbnb requires hosts to have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their homes. if a host does not have one, Airbnb provides it to them.

Now let’s compare that to the alternatives. Do hotels verify the identity of their guests? Do hotels provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in every room? Do apartments rented out on Craigslist verify the identity of their guests? Do apartments rented out on Craigslist provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms?

My point is this. You can attack Airbnb for all sorts of things. But consider the alternatives. Do we want hosts putting their apartments on Craigslist instead of Airbnb? Do we want tourists who only have $150/night to spend on housing in NYC to rent a room in a flophouse or the apartment of a photographer who is away for a few weeks on a photo shoot?

I think the better approach would be to have a conversation with Airbnb’s executives about how to make the service work better for New Yorkers. By making Airbnb work better here, we get the best of both worlds. A safer alternative than Craigslist and a more affordable alternative than high priced hotels. My hope is that cooler heads prevail and we find a happy medium that works for everyone.

Go Bowling With The NYC Tech Community

The annual NYC tech bowling event is around the corner. Kingpins of Silicon Alley will happen on April 7th, at 7pm

Kingpins of Silicon Alley
Bowlmor – Chelsea Piers
April 7, 2014  7 PM

Kingpins of Silicon Alley is New York City’s first and only startup bowling competition. It is a fundraiser and friendly competition for the entrepreneurial community in NYC. The funds go to benefit InSITE, a fellowship that connects exceptional graduate students to start-ups to help accelerate those companies to funding.

To attend click www.kingpins.eventbrite.com

I will be there and plan to sponsor a lane. If you would also like to sponsor a lane, you can do that here. I hope to see there on April 7th. It’s a fun evening.

Markets and Clearing Prices

Last saturday night in NYC was a bit of a moment for Uber and their surge pricing mechanic. Most people were seeing 3x-5x in manhattan for most of the night and there were reports of 10x for some people.

There was a snowstorm, people were out at holiday parties, and there was more demand for rides than there were cabs. So in some sense the market worked and rides went to those who were willing to pay the most for them.

The next day Mo Koyman tweeted about it and one of the larger twitter conversations I have seen developed.

Today my partner Albert wrote a post about it and noted a couple issues with the way surge pricing works and the way the urban transportation market works. He also points out that the best way to get around NYC is the subway, which is how I got home from a holiday party last night around 10:30pm. I love the subway a lot more than I love any other form of transportation in NYC.

However, this is an interesting discussion because it points out that as markets/networks (Uber) replace hierarchies/bureaucracies (the TLC), we are running into issues that are going to have to work themselves out over time. As Albert points out in his post, the current yellow cab fare model is even more flawed than Uber's surge pricing model. Ideally we will see more supply emerge and a real marketplace structure develop in urban ride sharing. Then we may get reasonably priced rides on a wintery and festive night in NYC.

And then, of course, there is always the subway.

Sticking With The Struggling Investments

My friend Bijan tweeted this last week:

He's right, but I would go further. One of the hardest things to do in the venture business is to stick with a struggling investment.

I woke up thinking about this as I spent yesterday with Josh watching the hapless Jets lose badly to the Dolphins and then heading up to MSG to watch the equally hapless Knicks lose to the Pelicans. It is tempting to stop watching both teams and sell off our seats at MSG for the rest of the year. But we aren't going to do that and we will sit loyally and watch loss after loss at the Garden if that's what comes for the rest of the year. We are fans, even if our team sucks. And they sure do right now.

It is equally tempting to write off a failing investment and stop showing up at board meetings, stop responding to the emails from the founder, and stop thinking about the company. At some point, the company will run out of money, there won't be a reason to put more money into the company, and the investment will fail. Until that happens, as long as the founder is willing to listen to you, I think you have to give your struggling investments your all.

The truth is the investments that are working often don't need that much from an investor. They need more capital, they need recruiting help, and sometimes they need strategy and advice. But the reason they are having success is they are doing the right thing and doing things right. On the other hand, the struggling investment needs a lot of help. And I think the lead investor board member has an obligation to provide that help.

One of the characteristics of USV that I am most proud of is that we stick with our struggling investments. And we have made a lot of them. We have way more of them than our successful ones that are always cited when we are talked about publicly. I think how you treat your struggling investments says more about you than how many billion dollar exits you have had. You need both to be successful in the VC business, of course. The latter metric defines your selection acumen. The former defines your empathy acumen. And when I pick people to work with, I look for the latter. I suspect most people do that.

This is not a new theme. I've written about this here before. But it is an important theme for me and for entrepreneurs and investors. As we headed out last night to MSG Josh said to me, "I am not feeling good about this game". I told him I wasn't either, but all we could do was root them on as hard as we could. We did that. And we will do that again on Thursday when they head out to Brooklyn to play the Nets. We will be there too. That's what fans do and what investors should do too.

Crowdfunding More Public School Chess

The AVC community will remember back to this summer when we helped to crowdfund a middle school chess team that was struggling to come up with the money to go to the tournaments it had won numerous times over the past decade. That was a huge success for everyone involved. And like most successes, it brought out other similar efforts.

One that I am particularly fond of is at the Park Slope Elementary and Middle School (aka PS/MS 282) in Park Slope Brooklyn. At PS/MS 282, every student learns chess and 50 of the students are selected to represent the school in the state and national championships. Last year, PS/MS 282 won the National Championships in the K-5 category for Under 900.

Royal panthers

In order to raise the funds to send the kids back to the state and national championships this year, PS/MS 282 is doing a Donors Choose campaign right now. I have given to the campaign and I thought I'd let everyone here at AVC know about it too. If you want to support public school chess and help these kids defend their title, you can support them here.

I am a big fan of teaching chess to youngsters. I think it teaches struggling, persevering, thinking ahead, and getting ahead. I would like to see more of it in our public schools.