Posts from Politics

What Did And Did Not Happen In 2016

As has become my practice, I will end the year (today) looking back and start the year (tomorrow) looking forward.

As a starting point for looking back on 2016, we can start with my What Is Going To Happen In 2016 post from Jan 1st 2016.

Easy to build content (apps) on a cheap widespread hardware platform (smartphones) beat out sophisticated and high resolution content on purpose built expensive hardware (content on VR headsets). We re-learned an old lesson: PC v. mainframe and Mac; Internet v. ISO; VHS v. Betamax; and Android v. iPhone.

And Fitbit proved that the main thing people want to do with a computer on their wrist is help them stay fit. And yet Fitbit ended the year with its stock near its all time low. Pebble sold itself in a distressed transaction to Fitbit. And Apple’s Watch has not gone mainstream two versions into its roadmap.

  • I thought one of the big four (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) would falter in 2016. All produced positive stock performance in 2016. None appear to have faltered in a huge way in 2016. But Apple certainly seems wobbly. They can’t make laptops that anyone wants to use anymore. It’s no longer a certainty that everyone is going to get a new iPhone when the new one ships. The iPad is a declining product. The watch is a mainstream flop. And Microsoft is making better computers than Apple (and maybe operating systems too) these days. You can’t make that kind of critique of Google, Amazon, or Facebook, who all had great years in my book.
  • I predicted the FAA regulations would be a boon to the commercial drone industry. They have been.
  • I predicted publishing inside of Facebook was going to go badly for some high profile publishers in 2016. That does not appear to have been the case. But the ugly downside of Facebook as a publishing platform revealed itself in the form of a fake news crisis that may (or may not) have impacted the Presidential election.
  • Instead of spinning out HBO into a direct Netflix competitor, Time Warner sold itself to AT&T. This allows AT&T to join Comcast and Verizon in the “carriers becoming content companies” club. It seems that the executives who run these large carriers believe it is better to use their massive profits in the carrier business to move up the stack into content instead of continuing to invest in their communications infrastructure. It makes me want to invest in communications infrastructure honestly.
  • Bitcoin found no killer app in 2016, but did find itself the darling of the trader/speculator crowd, ending the year on a killer run and almost breaking the $1000 USD/BTC level. Maybe Bitcoin’s killer app is its value and/or store of value. That would make it the digital equivalent of gold and the likely reserve currency of the digital asset space. And I think that is what has happened with Bitcoin. And there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Slack had a good year in 2016, solidifying its position as the leading communications tool for enterprises (other than email of course). It did have some growing pains as there was a fair bit of executive turmoil. But I think Slack is here to stay and I think they can withstand the growing competition coming from Microsoft’s Teams product and others.
  • I was right that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination and that the tech sector (with the exception of Peter Thiel and a few other liked minded people) would line up against him. It did not matter. He won the Presidency without the support of the tech sector, but by using its tools (Twitter and Facebook primarily) brilliantly.
  • I predicted “markdown mania” would hit the tech sector hard and employees would start getting cold feet on startups as they saw the value of their options going down. None of this really happened in a big way in 2016. There was some of that and employees are certainly more attuned to how they can get hurt in a down round or recap, but the tech sector has also used a lot of techniques, including repricing options, reloading option plans, and moving to RSUs, to mitigate this. The truth is that startups, venture capital, and tech growth companies had a pretty good year in 2016 all things considered.

So that’s the rundown on my 2016 predictions. I would give myself about a 50% hit rate. Which is not great but not horrible and about the same as I did last year.

Some other things that happened in 2016 that are important and worth talking about are:

  • The era of cyberwars are upon us. Maybe we have been fighting them silently for years. But we are not fighting them silently any more. We are fighting them out in the open. I suspect there is a lot that the public still doesn’t know about what is actually going on in this area. We know what Russia has done in the Presidential election and since then. But what has the US been doing to Russia? I would assume the same and maybe more. If your enemy has the keys to your castle, you had better have the keys to their castle. And as good as the Russians are at hacking into systems, the US has some great hackers too. I am very sure about that.  And so do the Chinese, the Israelis, the Indians, the British, the Germans, the French, the Japanese, etc, etc.  This feels a bit like the Nuclear era redux. Mutually assured destruction is a deterrent as long as both sides have the same tools.
  • The tech sector is no longer the belle of the ball. It has, on one hand become extremely powerful with monopolies, duopolies, or nearly so in search, social media, ecommerce, online advertising, and mobile operating systems. And it has, on the other hand, proven that it is susceptible to the very kinds of bad behavior that every other large industry is capable of. And we now have an incoming President who doesn’t share the love of the tech sector that our outgoing President showed. It brings to mind that scene in 48 Hours where Eddie Murphy throws the shot glass through the mirror and explains to the rednecks that there is a new sheriff in town. But this time, the tech sector are the rednecks.
  • Google and Facebook now control ~75% of the online advertising market and almost all of its growth in 2016:

  • Artificial Intelligence has inserted itself into our every day lives. Whether its a home speaker system that we can talk to, or a social network that already knows what we are about to go out and purchase, or a car that can park itself and change lanes on the highway automatically, we are seeing AI take over tasks that we used to have to do ourselves. We are in the age of AI. It is not something that is coming. It is here. It may have arrived in 2014, or 2015, but if you ask me, I would put 2016 as the year it had its debut in mainstream life. It is exciting and it is scary. It begs all sorts of questions about where we are all going in the next thirty to fifty years. If you are in your twenties, AI will define your lifetime.

So that’s my rundown on 2016. I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and we will talk about the future, not the past, tomorrow.

If you are in need of a New Year’s Resolution, I suggest moving to super secure passwords and some sort of tool to manage them for you, using two factor authentication whenever and wherever possible, encrypt as much of your online activities as you reasonably can, and not saying or doing anything online that you would not do in public, because that is where you are doing it.

Happy New Year!

New Economics

I am tired of the classic left/right perspective on society, policy, and politics. I realize that markets are an incredible tool to allocate resources efficiently. And I also realize that markets are subject to failure and we need to protect our society from these market failures. I am not a purist on either side of this debate and I find the hard core advocates on the far left and the far right impossible to take. I believe orthodoxy is one of the worst human traits.

So I enjoyed reading this post on “new economics” and I particularly like this table that shows the difference between traditional economic thinking and new economic thinking:

The post goes on to explore how these new economics thinking will eventually impact politics, policy, and society at large.

One particular example reminds me of our work at USV on “Regulation 2.0”:

First, rather than predict we should experiment. Policymaking often starts with an engineering perspective – there is a problem and government should fix it. For example, we need to get student mathematics test scores up, we need to reduce traffic congestion, or we need to prevent financial fraud. Policy wonks design some rational solution, it goes through the political meat grinder, whatever emerges is implemented (often poorly), unintended consequences occur, and then – whether it works or not – it gets locked in for a long time. An alternative approach is to create a portfolio of small-scale experiments trying a variety of solutions, see which ones work, scale-up the ones that are working, and eliminate the ones that are not. Such an evolutionary approach recognises the complexity of social-economic systems, the difficulty of predicting what solutions will work in advance and difficulties in real-world implementation. Failures then happen on a small scale and become opportunities to learn rather than hard to reverse policy disasters. It won’t eliminate the distortions of politics. But the current process forces politicians to choose from competing forecasts about what will and won’t work put forward by competing interest groups – since it is hard to judge which forecast is right it is not surprising they simply choose the more powerful interest group. An evolutionary approach at least gives them an option of choosing what has been shown to actually work.

I also like this bit about the tolerance for failure:

A major challenge for these more adaptive approaches to policy is the political difficulty of failure. Learning from a portfolio of experiments necessitates that some experiments will fail. Evolution is a highly innovative, but inherently wasteful process – many options are often tried before the right one is discovered. Yet politicians are held to an impossibly high standard, where any failure, large or small, can be used to call into question their entire record.

I don’t think the way we do things in startup land should be a model for how everything should work, but there is a lot to be learned from the way the tech sector works. Innovating, trying new things, measuring the impacts of these new things, and evolving leads to forward progress. And when something fails, we accept is as a lesson learned, not something to be embarrassed about (or fired for).

If the worlds of economics and politics are moving in our direction, I am very pleased and optimistic about that.

Debug Politics NYC

If you are like many people I know, you are dismayed about the 2016 political cycle, not only the results and how they came about, but with the whole damn thing.

Some hackers have decided to do something about that and created the Debug Politics Hackathon.

The first Debug Politics Hackathon happened this weekend in the Bay Area.

The first NYC Debug Politics Hackathon will happen the weekend of Jan 13-15. You can RSVP to attend here.

Debug Politics Hackathon is also coming to LA and will happen the weekend of Feb 3-5. Details are here.

If you want a better political process for this country, and really any country, and you want to hack on that desire, then consider attending one of these events.

What Does Trump Mean For Startups?

I got this tweet around 11pm last night:

Clearly the news that Trump will be the next President of the US is creating all sorts of financial jitters in the US and around the world this morning. There is a ton of uncertainty right now as many investors, me included, were not expecting this outcome. If there is anything that investors hate, it is uncertainty.

For me the best framework I have is Brexit. I feel that the economic and societal unease that has been brewing in much of the developed world over the past decade is coming home to roost and I believe that we will see more “brexits” in the coming months and years.

I wrote this right after Brexit:

But more than that, going into a foxhole right now seems like the wrong idea. Some of the best companies have been created in times of great economic turmoil. And, because of that, some of the best venture capital investments have been made in times when everyone was risk averse. I am not for getting too excited when times are good and I am not for getting too conservative when times feel bad. I am all for looking for opportunity at every turn.

I am certain that USV will continue to invest capital in interesting startups. While the financial markets may be in for a tough time, possibly a prolonged tough time, there is no correlation between startup success and strong financial markets. And those investors who understand that will act accordingly and be rewarded over the long term for doing so.

For entrepreneurs, this means be cautious and maybe even a bit conservative while all of this shakes out but don’t panic and don’t confuse uncertain times with a lack of opportunity. If you were excited about your business yesterday, you should be excited about your business today. But don’t be blind about the macro environment you are operating in. It’s going to be choppy for a bit here.

Voting On The Blockchain

Blockchains are good at many things that require security, accountability, and rules.

Voting is one of those things.

I don’t expect that we will see Presidential Elections on the blockchain any time soon. Though it could happen in my lifetime.

I do expect that we will see voting happening on blockchains for organizations and efforts that are getting started now and want to do their governance in a modern way.

There is even a project called Tezos which is a blockchain with governance (ie voting) built right into the core protocol.

Imagine if every voter was issued a token/coin and every candidate/issue to be voted on was issued a wallet. Voters send their coins to whatever wallet they want to vote for. And there you have it, a secure, accountable system for voting on a blockchain.

I haven’t placed a vote on a blockchain yet, but it’s so simple to do that I expect I will be doing it frequently soon enough.

If You Need A Drink After Voting

If you are like me, you might want to celebrate the end of a shrill and divisive election season with a stiff drink or a strong coffee.

And our portfolio company Foursquare has the exact tool you’ll need to do that.

Go here and enter your home address and Foursquare will map your voting place and bars, restaurants, and coffee shops nearby.

Here is my map:

foursquare-votiing-map

I plan to vote bright and early on Tuesday morning and then head to one of these many excellent choices for my morning coffee.

And, whatever your political orientation, I hope you go out and vote on Tuesday.

Cranes

I was walking down a street in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC this morning and came across a street closing.

cranes

The entire block was closed to cars because that crane was busy lifting heavy material to the upper floors of a building that is being constructed right now.

This is a common occurrence in NYC these days. There is construction all over the place.

I was in a cab last week and the driver told me that he has never seen more street closings and cranes in NYC than right now. He was complaining about it.

But I have a different view. Cranes, street closings, road construction, manhole work, etc are an inconvenience for sure. But they are a sign of vitality, the look of a city evolving and growing in front of our very eyes. Lose the cranes and the construction crews and you will see a city slowly dying.

I understand the anti-development, anti-gentrification folks. I appreciate that they are trying to maintain some semblance of history and personal scale. And I appreciate that they are trying to protect people from being forced out of their homes, schools, and neighborhoods by the capitalist desire for more, more, more.

But there must be a balance. We cannot decide to stop evolving and growing. We need to find ways to do it gracefully and respectfully. The anti-development forces are doing us all a favor by making sure that happens. But when they dominate the discussion, things grind to a halt and nothing happens. That is not where we want to be.

So when I see a street closed by a crane, I celebrate it. It’s progress. No pain, no gain.

Some Thoughts On Airbnb’s Struggles In New York State

As many readers likely know, this week New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill called S6340A/A8704C, which will levy heavy fines on individuals who advertise short-term rentals of residential multiple dwelling units in New York. This ends an effort that lasted several months to convince the Governor to veto this bill which was passed by both legislative bodies in Albany earlier this year.

Airbnb promptly filed a federal lawsuit as the New York Times reported. The Times piece states that:

In its lawsuit, filed Friday afternoon in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York, the company contends that the law violates the company’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process, as well as the protection it is afforded under the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that says websites cannot be held accountable for content published by their users.

It is possible that this matter will be settled by the courts.

But it is my hope that, instead, calmer heads will prevail and New York State will pass sensible legislation that allows short term rentals when the tenant or owner is not present.

Airbnb has proposed a five point plan that attempts to address many of the issues that New Yorkers have with short term rentals.

This proposal is similar to legislation that has been adopted in large urban cities like Chicago.

There are many reasons why the current situation is not ideal for anyone. Most people living in apartment buildings don’t like the idea of an Airbnb in their building. It is also problematic when landlords to take apartments off the rental market and create illegal hotels. And landlords need a way to enforce the rules outlined in their leases.

On the other hand, many New Yorkers use income from short term rentals to allow them to afford an apartment in NYC when they have jobs that require them to travel extensively. There are also many New Yorkers who rent their homes during busy periods to make some extra income.

An outright ban on short term rentals is a bad thing for many New Yorkers.

I am certain there is middle ground to find a compromise that addresses the legitimate issues while allowing short term rentals to continue. And I am hopeful that will eventually happen.

Both sides are to blame for where we are right now. Airbnb allowed the NY short term rental market to emerge over the past seven years without sufficient concern over the negative impacts of unregulated short term rentals. It took way too long to engage in a real and substantive discussion with legislators and regulators and when it did, there was a lot of bad blood between both sides.

On the other hand, the hotel unions and the real estate industry have used their significant clout in Albany to push for a law that is overly restrictive and hurts many New Yorkers. And they got the legislature and the Governor to support it. It shines a bright light on the kind of back room dealing that voters are sick and tired of, in Albany and all around the US.

I would urge the Governor to provide some leadership here now that he has satisfied the legislature by signing their deeply flawed bill. There is a proposal on the table from Airbnb to regulate short term rentals sensibly. The Governor and the legislature should engage with that proposal. And the real estate industry should engage as well. Short term rentals can be a good thing for them too.

I am confident that we have not seen the end of Airbnb and short term rentals in NY State. If calmer heads prevail we can get short term rentals that make sense for NY State and NY City. And that is what we should do.

How About A City Instead Of A Wall?

Sometimes the best answer to a challenging issue is the exact opposite of what the conventional wisdom is.

We just spent a week in Mexico City and, as I always do when we travel to Mexico, I came away impressed with the character and work ethic of the Mexican people. They are entrepreneurial and hard working and always have a smile on their face. I have great respect for the people and culture of Mexico.

So when I read this piece on a proposal to build a “binational border city” instead of a wall between the US and Mexico, it got my attention.

Mexican architect Fernando Romero has proposed a new city be built between New Mexico and Texas in the U.S. and Chihuahua in Mexico. It would look like this from the sky.

border-city

I like the contrarian thinking. Instead of restricting trade and cross border economy between the US and Mexico, expand it.

It is my strong belief that globalization is a reality and we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. We should accept it and figure out how to work with it to everyone’s advantage.