Posts from Politics

Tech:NYC

Yesterday was the launch of a new organization in NYC that I have been working on since last fall. This new organization is called Tech:NYC and will be led by Julie Samuels. It will be co-chaired by Tim Armstrong and me.

For years the tech sector has been represented in the city and state and with local civic organizations by a loose and informal group of well known entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, and engaged members of the tech sector. I have been one of them.

Lately, as the tech sector has grown in importance in the local economy, this approach has become unsustainable. The same small group of people keep showing up at meeting after meeting.

We need a formal mechanism that allows the entire tech sector to be engaged with local government and civic organizations and we need to get the right people to the right meetings instead of the same small group meeting after meeting.

Tim and I explained all of this in a blog post that aired yesterday on Tech:NYC’s website.

Tech:NYC will be member supported. We would like every tech company, large and small, to join and be represented and engaged. Membership details are here and startups with less than 20 employees can join for free.

If you run a company in NYC, we hope you will sign your company up to be a member of Tech:NYC. If you work at a company in NYC, we hope you will encourage your leaders to join Tech:NYC.

The “Losing Jobs To China” Discussion

I am bothered by the ongoing discussion about how the US has allowed China (and other lower cost countries) take our manufacturing jobs. That is true, of course. But it does not address the larger context which is that manufacturing is becoming more and more automated and many of these jobs will not exist at all anywhere in a few more decades.

We are now well into a transition from an industrial economy to an information economy. It seems to me that part of that transition was the move of industrial jobs to lower and lower cost regions in an ongoing march to reduce costs. But that march may end with massive automation and very little labor in the manufacturing process. That means that these low cost regions that “stole our jobs” will also lose these jobs eventually.

The US and a number of other countries around the world are building new information based economies. That is the long term winning strategy.

So while we can critique our leaders (business and political) for giving up on the manufacturing sector a bit too early, I think the US has largely played this game correctly and will be much better off than the parts of the world that have taken the low cost manufacturing jobs from us.

But we don’t hear any of our political leaders explaining this. I wish they would.

Voting

It’s primary day in NYC today. I got up early and voted.

My daughter sent me this photo. She voted too.

I Voted

Walking around NYC this morning, I saw a lot of people wearing those stickers.

I like the idea of showing pride in an act of civic responsibility.

We can complain about the options, the rhetoric, the process, the corrupt system, and we should work to change all of that. Voting is a good way to do that.

Conversation with General Keith Alexander

I follow Emily Chang’s Studio 1.0 podcast on SoundCloud. It’s very good.

She recently sat down with Former NSA Director General Keith Alexander to discuss privacy vs. security and why there needs to be more collaboration between Washington and Silicon Valley in the on-going encryption debate.

I enjoyed the conversation and you may too.

Trump Clinton 

In my “2016 Predictions” post I wrote:

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.

Neither Trump nor Clinton is a done deal yet but its looking more and more likely by the day.

And in the most recent Republican debate Trump went after Marco Rubio for his support of H1B visas which are critical to the tech sector in the US.

 Trump is wrong about H1Bs and pretty much everything else that comes out of his mouth. But it looks like this prediction has some legs right now.

Privacy Absolutism

The Gotham Gal has been pushing me to write this post for a few weeks. Privately with family, friends, and business colleagues, I have been saying that I believe the tech industry’s position on end to end encryption, locking everything down, securing our devices, and making it so only we can unlock them is the wrong path. I touched on this issue last month but that was more of a “what do you all think” kind of post.

I very much like what the President said in Austin late last week. To quote:

Before smartphones were invented, and to this day, if there is probable cause to think that you have abducted a child or you are engaging in a terrorist plot or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep and say we have a warrant to search your home, and they can go into your bedroom and rifle through your underwear to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing,” he said. “And we agree on that, because we recognize that just like all of our other rights … that there are going to be some constraints we impose so we are safe, secure and can live in a civilized society.

I do not think that because we now have the technology to lock things down (strong encryption) and because the industry that develops and maintains all of this technology has a strong libertarian bent that we should just abandon the framework that has worked in our society for hundreds of years. If society thinks someone is doing something wrong, and if law enforcement can get a warrant, there should be a mechanism to get access to our devices.

I would love to see the tech sector work to figure out a smart way to address this issue. My partner Albert has suggested an approach on his blog. There are some interesting approaches that are already being used in cold storage of bitcoin that could be applied to this situation.

But my meta point here is that I am saddened by the tech sector’s absolutist approach to this issue. The more interesting and fruitful approach would be to think about the most elegant solutions and build them. Because, as the President warned in Austin last week,

I am confident this is something we can solve, but we’re going to need the tech community, software designers, people who care deeply about this stuff, to help us solve it. If everybody goes to their respective corners … what you’ll find is that after something really bad happens, the politics of this will swing, and it will become sloppy and rushed and it will go through Congress in ways that have not been thought through, and then you really will have dangers to our civil liberties.

The Twitter Contradiction

So everyone around here knows I’m bullish on Twitter and we own a lot of stock. So take all of this in that context please.

I just don’t understand the narrative around Twitter. “It is in trouble. It isn’t growing. It’s time has come and gone. The kids all use Snapchat and Instagram.”

That last part is true, to a degree. But it isn’t as simple as that.

The presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States has largely conducted his campaign on Twitter and in massive public appearances that feel like rock concerts. He has avoided the traditional media channels and taken his message direct to the people on Twitter. Not on Facebook. Not on Instagram. Not on Snapchat. Not on Pinterest. Not on his website or mobile app. On Twitter.

My brother in law and I watched the best basketball game of the year so far on Saturday night. Steph Curry was unreal. And he won it with a few seconds left in overtime with a bomb from something like 40 feet that everyone knew was going in. And what happened next?

This:

And this:

And this:

Steph’s opponents expressed their appreciation for what he is doing on Twitter in the moment. Not on Facebook. Not on Instagram. Not on Snapchat. Not anywhere else. And you don’t have to be on Twitter to see that. You can see that here and many other places.

Here’s the thing about Twitter. You don’t need to be logged into Twitter to see these tweets. You can see them on Twitter logged out. Or you can see them embedded in other places on web and mobile or on TV and elsewhere. You only need to be logged into Twitter to tweet.

So anyone who is focusing on the logged in monthly active user number is missing something bigger. Twitter is where people who have something to say go to say it. And right now we are witnessing Twitter being used for what is arguably the biggest thing out there. A run for President of the United States.

That is the contradiction of Twitter.

Fun Friday: The Culture Caucus Podcast

My friend John Heilemann (Bloomberg Politics, Game Change, etc) and his friend Will Leitch (Deadspin, etc) have launched a podcast called Culture Caucus. They are going to talk about sports, television, film, and culture at large and its intersection with the body politic.

The first episode has two parts. The first part is about the changes in late night television shows, who is rising and who is falling, and how politicians think about going on these shows. I sat through the taping of this part and I found it fascinating. The second part features me talking about tech and Twitter.

It’s a long podcast, almost an hour in total. Here is the first episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can follow Culture Caucus on SoundCloud here.

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.

What Happened In 2015

Last year in my What Just Happened post, I said:

the social media phase of the Internet ended

I think we can go further than that now and say that sometime in the past year or two the consumer internet/social/mobile gold rush ended.

Look  at the top 25 apps in the US:

top 25 apps

The top 6 mobile apps and 8 of the top 9 are owned by Facebook and Google. 10 of the top 12 mobile apps are owned by Apple, Facebook, and Google.

There isn’t a single “startup” on that list and the youngest company on that list is Snapchat which is now over four years old.

We are now well into a consolidation phase where the strong are getting stronger and it is harder than ever to build a large consumer user base. It is reminiscent of the late 80s/early 90s after Windows emerged as the dominant desktop environment and Microsoft started to use that dominant market position to move up the stack and take share in all of the important application categories. Apple and Google are doing that now in mobile, along with Facebook which figured out how to be as critical on your phone as your operating system.

I am certain that something will come along, like the Internet did in the mid 90s, to bust up this oligopoly (which is way better than a monopoly). But it is not yet clear what that thing is.

2015 saw some of the candidates for the next big thing underwhelm. VR is having a hard time getting out of the gates. Wearables and IoT have yet to go mainstream. Bitcoin and the Blockchain have yet to give us a killer app. AI/machine learning has great potential but also gives incumbents with large data sets (Facebook and Google) scale advantages over newcomers.

The most exciting things that have happened in tech in 2015 are happening in verticals like transportation, hospitality, education, healthcare, and maybe more than anything else, finance, where the lessons and playbooks of the consumer gold rush are being used with great effectiveness to disrupt incumbents and shake up industries.

The same is true of the enterprise which also had a great year in 2015. Slack, and Dropbox before it, shows how powerful a consumerish approach to the enterprise can be. But there aren’t many broad horizontal plays in the enterprise and verticals seems to be where most of the action was in 2015.

I’m hopeful that 2015 will also go down as the year we buried the Unicorn. The whole notion that getting a billion dollar price tag on your company was something necessary to matter, to be able to recruit, to be able to get press, etc, etc, is worshiping a false god. And we all know what happens to those who do that.

As I look back over 2014 and 2015, I feel like these two years were an inflection point, where the underlying fundamentals of opportunity in tech slowed down but the capital rushing to get invested in tech did not. That resulted in the Unicorn phase, which if it indeed is over, will be followed by an unwinding phase where the capital flows will need to line up more tightly to the opportunity curve.

I’m now moving into “What Will Happen” which is for tomorrow, so I will end this post now by saying goodbye to 2015 and hopefully to much of the nonsense that came with it.

I did not touch on the many important things that happened outside of tech in 2015, like the rise of terrorism in the western world, and the reaction of the body politic to it, particularly here in the US with the 2016 Presidential campaign getting into full swing. That certainly touches the world of tech and will touch it even more in the future. Again, something to talk about tomorrow.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and we will talk about the future, not the past, tomorrow.