Posts from policy

Knee Jerk Reactions

Warning: This post is going to generate a debate in the comments that will likely be upsetting. Don’t wander into them if you can’t tolerate strong opinions. That said, free speech and passionate debate is a cornerstone of the world the terrorists want to destroy and I am proud of the fact that it happens here daily.


I’ve held back on commenting on the horrible events in Paris last friday night, thinking that I don’t have much to add to the discussion. But as horrible as that night was, the knee jerk reactions that are now coming out of the mouths of supposedly rational people are even more horrible. As my partner Albert asserted this past weekend,

Turning against Muslims or against refugees is a terrible response as it only confirms the apocalyptic ideology of the attackers

The knee jerk reactions of politicians and governments to terror attacks over the past twenty years have not helped the situation and have likely fed necessary energy into the jihad movement. I am not a student of martial arts, but I do understand the principal of using your opponent’s energy against them. I believe the terrorists are doing a wonderful job of turning the energy of the free world against us. And we have to stop letting them do that.

So what should we do instead? Drink champagne. Go to a football match or a Knicks game. Sit at a cafe and have an espresso. Go see live music or perform live music. Have sex with someone you love no matter what their gender is.

And what should governments do? I am with Albert that we should continue use our considerable investment in data science to infiltrate and understand these terror networks. I want to print something he wrote in that post over the weekend because I agree with it completely and can’t say it any better:

But I am staunchly for collective intelligence. Collective intelligence in this case against terrorism, but also more broadly against crime and most importantly as a basis for improving education and healthcare. I cannot see how society could avail itself of the benefits of collective intelligence in any form of government other than a transparent democracy. And conversely it makes no sense for democracy to deny itself those benefits.

Insisting on privacy because we fear our own governments will continue to pit citizens against secrecy-seeking governments in a spy versus spy society. Many will protest that we are already there. Maybe so, but why double down on a mistake? Snowden’s revelations have given us a unique opportunity to start over. I would pardon Snowden on those grounds alone.

Governments can and should tell their citizens what information they are collecting and how they are using that information. And companies should disclose which of these programs they participate in. Any and all such programs should have oversight by elected politicians and transparent reporting on their scope and effectiveness.

As for the potential for collective intelligence to help, we see it all around us on the Internet. From the uncannily accurate do you know so-and-so suggestions on Facebook and LinkedIn to the related products on Amazon. I can also observe the effectiveness of collective intelligence from behind the scenes in many of our investments and in particular with Sift Science which does fraud detection. Combining a lot of data really does work.

Democracy, human rights and progress through critical dialog and collective intelligence. We need all of those more than ever.

That’s what I think we should be doing. I do not think we should be demonizing religions and people seeking refuge. Demonizing is the behavior the terrorists want to see from us. We should not let them have that victory.

Fun Friday: Daily Fantasy Sports Services Debate

The NY State Attorney General shut down FanDuel and DraftKings earlier this week, saying this:

Our investigation has found that, unlike traditional fantasy sports, daily fantasy sports companies are engaged in illegal gambling under New York law, causing the same kinds of social and economic harms as other forms of illegal gambling, and misleading New York consumers … Daily fantasy sports is neither victimless nor harmless, and it is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multi-billion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country. Today we have sent a clear message: not in New York, and not on my watch.

So, let’s debate this in the comments and we can use the new Twitter polls to quantify the debate.

Winner Takes Most

The history of the Internet and mobile is that in many categories the winner takes most of the market:

  • Search – Google
  • ecommerce – Amazon
  • Social – Facebook
  • Ridesharing – Uber

We can go on and on with making a list like that and I have left off many many markets, but I think this short list I made at least gets the point across.

The reasons are many, but at the core are network effects and the fact that the more users and data a service has, the more value it can create for its customers and users.

We strongly believe in network effects at USV and look for them as the primary form of defensibility in the investments we make. We don’t always get things right and we certainly don’t always end up investing in the company that wins the market. But we understand how these things work and invest with the mindset that winning a market can result in a very large return on investment.

Lately, we’ve been wondering if there is an end to this pattern on the Internet and mobile. We think it is possible that an open data platform, in which users ultimately control their data and the networks they choose to participate in, could be the thing that undoes this pattern of winner takes most. The blockchain is the closest thing to emerge that looks something like that. But the blockchain hasn’t (yet?) shown that it can produce something important like Google’s search or Facebook’s social graph and until it does, we are just waiting.

This is an issue for society to ponder. As I have spent time in Europe this past month, it’s easy to see that the search engine they use here is Google, the social graph they use is Facebook, and so on and so forth. If the US produces the networks that win most of the market, that’s an issue for the rest of the world. The Chinese have dealt with that issue by protecting their market. The rest of the world (mostly) has not.

Will that always be the case? Will the countries with the most sophisticated tech startup communities end up winning the global economic race as we transition from an analog to a digital world in which the winners take most of the market?

It’s unclear to me how all of this plays out, but it’s been on our minds at USV and we are talking a lot about it. So I figured I’d talk a bit about it here too.


TPP stands for Trans Pacific Partnership, a far reaching free trade deal that US and our Asian trading partners have been working on for years. The TPP was in the news yesterday because Hillary Clinton came out and said that, in its current form, she cannot support TPP. You can read her reasons for taking this stance.

You would think as a free trade loving, free market loving venture capitalist I would be a huge proponent of TPP. But I am not.

I am very concerned about the copyright provisions in TPP which feel very much in the old world model of intellectual property protection and which would make it hard for the US government to evolve copyright laws in an era of digital content, more open innovation, and remix culture.

The EFF has a great discussion of these issues on its website so instead of reciting them here, you can read a detailed discussion of the copyright issues in TPP here.

One of the problems with these big multi-national trade negotiations is that it is super hard to get everyone to agree on everything in them. That is why they are negotiated in secret and the end result is then voted yes or no in each country without any amendments.

I realize that perfect is the enemy of the good and you need to have a comprehensive view of a trade bill like this and not focus on one issue. But copyright law is a big deal for the innovation economy and if I were in Congress, I would be seriously thinking about voting no on TPP.

Trickle Up Economics

For something like 30 years, we have been hearing about trickle down economics in which we lower tax and other burdens on the wealthy, these wealthy individuals invest in the economy, and the benefits of those investments “trickle down” to the middle and lower class. That may well be what happens when the burdens are lowered on the wealthy, but as we all know the wealthiest in the US are gaining ground on everyone else and have been for a long time. This is not a critique of trickle down economics per se. There are other things going on, including a transition of value from labor to capital as a result of technological progress, that are driving the gains of the wealthiest right now.

I would like to propose another approach that I call “trickle up economics” in which we lower the tax and other burdens on the lower and middle class, we invest in educating their children (and them), we make sure they have the skills to get good jobs in the economy of the future, and we make sure they have access to things like good transportation, safe neighborhoods, healthy food, quality health care services, etc that are required for them to be fully functioning citizens in our society.

If we do all of that, we will have a stronger workforce and a more entrepreneurial and innovative society, and that will drive wealth creation in the US that will “trickle up” to the wealthiest people in the US.

The american dream has always been about opportunity. You start out with nothing and through hard work and a good body and mind, you make it and lead yourself and your family to a better life. That, by the way, is the story of the Gotham Gal and me. We arrived in NYC in 1983 with not a penny to our names. Nada. Nothing. I am not even sure how we came up with the security deposit for our first apartment. But we had good educations and had secured good jobs. And we worked for everything we have. We made it.

I am so optimistic about the United States and our economic prospects. I am optimistic about our people. I just want to see us invest in our people. All of them. Because I am sure if we do that, the benefits will trickle up throughout society.

A Model For A Competitive Broadband Market

In the White House’s Broadband Report, released yesterday, it states:

At the same time, limited competition is also a challenge even in communities with high rates of adoption. Today, nearly 40 percent of American households either do not have the option of purchasing a wired 10 Mbps connection or they must buy it from a single provider. Three out of four Americans do not have a choice of providers for broadband at 25 Mbps, the speed increasingly recognized as a baseline for broadband access. Lowering barriers to deployment and fostering market competition can drive down price, increase speeds, and improve service and adoption rates across all markets. 

That last bit, about competition driving down prices and increasing the quality of broadband services, is exactly right. But how do we get a competitive broadband market?

I believe the telecommunications market needs to move away from vertical integration where one provider builds, manages, and delivers the entire telecommunications stack to the market. We need to move to a layered model much like the software industry has adopted and which results in a highly competitive market at each layer. We tried this in the 1990s with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which provided that incumbent carriers were required to offer new entrants access to their networks. For many reasons, that didn’t work out and tens of billions (maybe hundreds) were incinerated when the CLECs (the new entrants) were stymied by the incumbent carriers and failed to build sustainable businesses. That massive failure has weighed over the broadband market for the past 15 years as most investors moved onto more fertile areas of investing in the TMT (telecom, media, technology) sector.

But just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it was not the right model. The owners of the plumbing (copper, fiber, spectrum) must be required and incentivized to open their networks to competition. When this happens, we see entrepreneurs emerge to offer new innovative services and investment dollars follow them. When this does not happen, we see wasting assets and stagnating performance and quality.

How do we get there? Through a combination of smart and lightweight regulation (oh the horror of that word!) and by focusing on and supporting innovative entrepreneurs who are working in the telecommunications market. We are doing both at USV. We have been steady, vocal, and critical supporters of regulatory efforts, championing them when they are light and smart and opposing them when they are heavy and dumb. We are also making investments in new innovative telecommunications services. We have announced at least one of them and have at least one that we have yet to announce. My partner Brad is leading our effort in this area both on the policy side and the investment side.

I believe in competition more than any other market or governmental force to bring good things to the market. We need more of it, not less of it, in the broadband market. If we want to expand broadband access to every home, business, and person in this country, competition is the way to do it.

Feature Friday: In App Advocacy

Web and mobile companies have been using their consumer facing apps to advocate for policies that they care about for a while now. Back in the PIPA/SOPA wars, Wikipedia, Tumblr, and a number of other high traffic apps went black and made a big impact on that debate.

Yesterday Uber added a De Blasio mode in NYC to their rider app.

no cars see why

Which takes the rider to this screen:

de blasio's uber

It will be interesting to see what impact this in app advocacy will have on the Uber debate in NYC.

The Mayor and his administration want a temporary hiatus on additional Uber drivers on the roads in NYC while they complete a congestion study to see what impact the massive influx of Ubers on the roads in NYC are having on traffic.

Uber is fighting this as hard as they can and using in app advocacy as one of their tools to amplify the political pressure.

While this is a smart move on Uber’s part, I am not sure it will work because the constituency that elected Mayor De Blasio is more of the subway rider crowd than the Uber crowd.

But NYC politics are complicated and Uber is working the system hard. And using in app advocacy to further their cause.

The Gig Economy

Warning: This post touches politics. The comments will likely be incendiary and polarizing. Don’t go into the comments if you don’t want to be annoyed or irritated.

Many in the tech industry are taking these comments by Hillary Clinton yesterday as an ‘attack on Uber and the tech sector’:

Meanwhile, many Americans are making extra money renting out a small room, designing websites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car. This on-demand, or so-called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation.

But it is also raising hard questions about work-place protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

The first example is Airbnb, the second example is oDesk, the third example is Etsy, and the fourth example is Uber.

My view on these comments is that Hillary is right. These companies are creating exciting new economies and unleashing innovation. And she is also right that these companies raise questions about work place protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

We should not be afraid of this discussion. We should embrace it and have it.

Can you be a freelance worker if you don’t own the data about your work and earnings history and be able to take it with you when you leave a platform or export it to a third party for optimization? Can you be a freelance worker if you are indentured to your employer because they loaned you the money to purchase the asset you are using to earn your income? I think the answer to both is obviously no. But there are companies who argue that it is yes.

Let’s have that argument. It is important and it is also a good idea to have a President who understands where the economy is headed and the significance of the policy issues raised by all of this.

I also really liked what she had to say about women and the workforce. The entire transcript of her remarks is here.

What A Week

I’m on an eight hour flight back from Europe today and have plenty of time to write so I’m going to skip video of the week this week (but not entirely) and write down some thoughts about the week that was in the US.

Three important things happened this week.

The first was the Supreme Court rejecting the argument that the Affordable Care Act should be struck down because the federal government was subsidizing health care in states that refused to set up their own insurance exchanges. This was a big legal victory for the Affordable Care Act (the second one at the Supreme Court) and could be the thing that seals the deal for this legislation. The Affordable Care Act is performing much better than most people, even its proponents (including me), thought it would. Many more americans are insured, insurance rates have not skyrocketed, nor has the budget deficit, and it is hard to find any indications of job losses resulting from it. Every year that it remains the law of the land make it more likely that it will remain the law of the land. It has become more popular as it has become better understood and people are actually getting affordable health care insurance when they can’t get it from an employer.

The second was another ruling by the Supreme Court. This one on marriage equality. You could feel this coming for a while now. As more and more gay people have come out of the closet over the past thirty years, more and more people know and love gay people. And we want them to enjoy the fruits of life the way we enjoy them. It is only natural that society would come to this place and it is wonderful that our Supreme Court got there in more or less the same time. If you haven’t read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s closing paragraph in the majority ruling, you should. It says it well.

The third was The President delivering a moving rendition of Amazing Grace at the funeral for Clementa Pinckney.

This wasn’t noteworthy because of the President’s voice. It is good but not great. It was noteworthy because it showed his considerable leadership skills and ability to connect with compassion in a time of national healing. Say what you will about Barack Obama, and it has all been said again and again in the comments to this blog, he is a very talented leader and politician and has grown into the role nicely in his second and final term. He was not just singing for those murdered in a church in Charleston last week. He was singing for America to find a way to come back together and heal the racial wounds that have been front and center in this country for much of the past year.

I particularly like the way he emphasized and paused at the word United as he was saying United States of America at the end of that clip. He was sending a message and I got it loud and clear.

It was a good week for Barack Obama and it was a good week for America. I’m landing in America in a few hours. I’ve missed it. It is my home and I love it dearly, particularly this week.