Posts from NYC

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.

Bill de Blasio, the next Mayor of NYC

I would like to congratulate Bill de Blasio on his landslide victory in the NYC mayoral race. He will become our next mayor on Jan 1st 2014.

His vision of making NYC a city of opportunity for everyone is laudable and I hope he can deliver on it. But it is easier said than done. The problems facing our economy, our city, and our citizens are deep rooted and not prone to easy solutions. I don't believe old school liberalism will provide the answers. If we want to address the income equality issues, the job stagnation problems, and the crime and poverty that still blights parts of NYC, we must look for new ideas and they must start with education, empowerment, and entrepreneurship.

As the readers of this blog know, I am investing as much as I can in these three Es here in NYC. And in my work, I meet so many other like minded people who are investing their time and energy in similar ways. I hope Bill de Blasio embraces this kind of work because creating opportunities for our people, particularly our children, is the most powerful form of social change that I know.

The tech sector can be a powerful ally for our new mayor. And my sense is that he knows it. I was asked yesterday by a journalist for my take on what de Blasio's tech policies should be. Here is what I wrote her.

I think that Bloomberg's tech policies have been really good, particularly in the latter part of his time in City Hall. de Blasio would be well served to continue them and in many cases double down on them.

Two areas where more could be done are procurement of software where the city needs to adopt a more open process including open sourcing of code as much as possible and a more aggressive posture on broadband which may have to include looking at alternatives to the duopoly we have in NYC right now.

The tech community is largely apolitical. But that does not mean it is unavailable to help our city and our incoming administration. I hope that Bill de Blasio finds time for the tech community and listens and learns from us. I think many good things could come of that.

Crowdfunding Computer Science in the NYC Public Schools

Yesterday evening I got a three minute speaking slot at the NY Tech Meetup and announced the effort we are making to bring computer science to the NYC public school system. If you didn't read about it last week here at AVC, you can click on that link to get a brief description of what we are up to.

I also announced the crowfunding part of the campaign. We recognize that most of the $5mm we are raising to help bring CS programs to NYC public schools will come from a few large donors (most of all me and the Gotham Gal), but we want to make sure that everyone in the NYC tech community and more broadly in NYC can be a part of this.

So if you would like to be part of this fund, you can contribute online here. There's a minimum contribution of $10 and we will take any and all amounts over that.

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If you want to give $5,000 or more, we would like to have you at our in person event on Nov 18th from 6-8pm at USV's offices. If you want to come to that, please RSVP here.

I know I ask a lot of the AVC community when it comes to causes like this one, DonorsChoose, and other similar things. I do these things to give back, particularly to education which is the key to progress and personal betterment. It is something I really believe in and I hope you all do to.

The Computer Science Education Fund

I'd like to announce something that a few of us have been working on for some time now. My colleagues at The NYC Foundation For Computer Science Education and I are raising a $5mm seed fund to invest in computer science education in the NYC public school system. The Gotham Gal and I have been investing out of this fund for several years, and now we are now opening it up to others who want to participate alongside of us.

Though we call this a seed fund, and we do think of it as an investment vehicle, this is a non-profit entity, 501(c)(3), and any committments to it are tax deductible and you will not be getting any money back from us. But you will be getting karmic value in that 1.1mm kids (the largest public school system in the US) will be getting exposure to computational thinking and learning how to code.

If you, like me, had that life changing experience some time in your childhood where you entered some instructions into a screen and the machine executed them, well then you know the power of coding to make you think differently, make you think more, and endow you with superpowers that others just don't have. If you want to help me inject that experience into the NYC public school system, then think about investing in this fund alongside us.

If you want to change something as large as the NYC public school system, you need to start small but think big. We have started with a friends and family round and have some things to show for it.

Csnyc map
Now it is time for seed capital so we can replicate these programs in more schools and back new programs, like Code.org, and help them come to NYC. That's where this seed fund comes in.

Eventually, it will be time for a growth round, and that's where the large philanthropic organizations come in. If you work at or with one of them, please reach out to me and we would love to come talk to you about what we are doing.

All of this investment is leveraged by the significant investments the NYC Department of Education is making in new schools, new school leaders, new curriculum, teacher development, and over 80,000 teachers. Think about it this way. The one time investment we made to get the Academy For Software Engineering off the ground is less than 20% of the annual operating budget of that school, all of which is funded by the NYC Department of Education. The power of public/private partnerships is that private capital can fund new things, that when they work can be scaled by public investment. That's what we are doing here.

On November 18th, we are hosting an event at USV where we will talk in more detail about how we intend to invest this $5mm fund. It will be 6pm to 8pm in the USV Event Space. Because we can only fit about 60-70 people in that space, attendance is limited to those who can make a $5,000 investment or more. If you would like to come, please RSVP here.

We will be doing a crowfunding campaign so that everyone can participate in this fund. I plan to announce that next week so stay tuned.

There will also be opportunities for everyone to volunteer time instead of money. We are already seeing the power of that in action and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who is taking time out of their day to go into schools and teach kids to code.

I got to this place initially out of self interest (how to get more coders for our portfolio companies in NYC?), but it quickly became about way more than that. When you walk into a school and see kids from neighborhoods like Brownsville and the South Bronx sitting in front of laptops and making software using modern tools like Ruby On Rails, Github, and StackOverflow, you see a pathway for them and for our city and for our country to change what ails us. This is about that. I hope you will join us in this effort.

How Big Is The NYC Tech Sector?

A few weeks back, I wrote about a study commissioned by the Bloomberg Administration that said the tech sector was the second biggest industry in NYC and was responsible for 262,000 jobs. The comment thread to that post was full of debunking those numbers, particularly for counting media industry jobs in that 262,000 number. So after seeing all of those comments, I reached out to my friends at the Partnership For NYC, which is the chamber of commerce for NYC, and asked them what the right numbers were.

They did some work and published new numbers on their blog yesterday. The Partnership thinks the number of people in NYC working in positions that require "avanced tech sklls" is 150,000. That feels about right to me too.

In any case, what all of these studies point to is that the tech sector is growing nicely in NYC, at rates well in excess of other industries right now, and will become more and more important to the NYC economy in the coming years.

GameJam NYC

600_289987682Next weekend, at the Made In NYC Media Center, there will be a two day hackathon called GameJam NYC in which teams will be formed and compete to build the coolest mobile web games.

This hackathon is sponsored by TreSensa which makes mobile web game development tools and our portfolio company Kik which has a great platform for distributing mobile web games to almost a hundred million users.

If you like to build games and enjoy hacking on things with other similarly minded people, you should check this event out. It sounds like a lot of fun.

I am a big fan of the mobile web game concept. Write once, read everywhere. I think its time has come.

I hope to make it over there on Sunday afternoon to see what everyone has come up with. That's always a great time.