Posts from Uncategorized

Hashtags As Social Networks

Our portfolio company Kik launched hashtags yesterday. Kik is a mobile messenger so in Kik’s model hashtags are private or public group chats.

If I send a hashtag to a friend in Kik that says let’s chat about tonight’s knicks game at #knickskik, then that becomes a private group between me and that friend (and any others who we invite). I’ve done that so the #knickskik hashtag is now private on Kik.

But hashtags can also be public. If you have the latest version of Kik on your phone (came out yesterday), type #avckikgroup into a chat and then click on that link. Up to 50 of us can be in that group.

The cool thing about Kik is that it doesn’t use phone numbers like other messengers. It uses usernames and is not tied to your phone number or Facebook username. And so Kik, unlike other messengers, is used for both chatting with people you know (like other messengers) and people you don’t know.

That makes Kik an ideal platform for these public (and searchable) group chats. You can meet people in these public chatrooms and then take your conversations private in a one to one chat in Kik.

Ted Livingston, Kik’s founder and CEO, called this “hashtags as social networks” in a blog post yesterday.  I agree with Ted that Facebook’s model of the one network to rule them all has not really worked and that many of us are using messengers as defacto social networks. My friend Kirk told me that his wife’s family uses a group in WhatsApp like their personal family facebook feed. I think that’s the phase of social networking we are now into and so Kik’s hashtag as social network model makes a ton of sense to me.

Feature Friday: Embedding Spreadsheets In WordPress

So yesterday morning was a bit nuts. I decided to flush out some thoughts on valuations that I had talked about on stage at LeWeb. I started writing a post that would become this. I started building a spreadsheet that would become this.

I had an 8:30am breakfast and as it got closer and closer to 8am, I realized I was screwed. I had cut and pasted certain rows from the google sheet into my post and they were not fitting properly on the screen. As I played around with the underlying code, it just got worse. I was digging myself into a hole.

So at 8:10am, I made a decision. I wrote a note to everyone that the post was messed up, jumped into the shower, and got to my breakfast about 5mins late.

When I got to the office after my breakfast, I learned that a meeting I had in my calendar was not happening. Oh happy day. I love when that happens.

So I googled for a wordpress plugin that allows the embedding of google sheets and found this one.

It is called Inline Google Spreadsheet Viewer and it gives you a wordpress shortcode that looks like this:

gdoc key

If you want to embed a google sheet in a blog post, you install the plugin, you insert that shortcode, and you put the URL of the public/open google sheet into the ” ” and that’s it.

What I could not figure out how to do was to embed different tabs from the same sheet, so I ended up creating four different sheets and embedding each one separately.

But it all worked out fine. Within ten minutes I had cleaned up my post and put that to bed. Had I known about this plugin when I started the post around 7:30am, I could have easily polished the whole thing off and even had time to shave in the shower. Fortunately, it takes days for my beard to show up :)

LeWeb Breakfast Chat

I just boarded a plane back to NYC and sadly we won’t have wifi on this flight so I’ll share some quick thoughts from my “breakfast chat” with Loic at LeWeb this morning and you can all discuss them as I fly home.

Six or seven years ago Loic and I had a very nice breakfast outside at a French bakery in San Francisco. So Loic decided to recreate that vibe on stage today and we sat at a table with coffee, croissants, and juice while we talked about where we are right now in the world of tech.

IMG_0412.PNG

We covered a lot of ground but I thought the most interesting themes were

– the maturing/mainstreaming of the sharing economy and the likely IPOs of these companies in the next year or two which will cause them to become even more mainstream.

– whether wearables means watches (I don’t think so) or a whole ecosystem of devices/our personal mesh (I think so).

– the downturn in bitcoin which Loic thought means it’s over and I think means it’s a good time to invest

– European discomfort with tech innovation. Loic mentioned the Uber Paris issues and I mentioned Merkel’s wrongheaded stance on net neutrality

I’m fairly certain the video of our breakfast chat will be online soon and I will post it then. See you on the other side of the pond.

The Grind vs The Pivot

Everyone knows what a pivot is. You launch something, it fails to get product market fit, so you change direction and launch something different. There are many examples of successful pivots. Flickr, Twitter, Slack, and Kik all came out of pivots.

But there is another approach to finding product market fit and I call it the “Grind.” The Grind is when you launch something, it fails to get product market fit, and you grind on it, week after week, month after month, year after year, until it does. Usually the entrepreneur who chooses The Grind is obsessed with the problem they are trying to solve and can’t let it go. This tenacity is often rewarded if everyone is patient enough.

A good example of a USV portfolio company that has executed The Grind is Brewster.

Brewster is a service that aims to do for contacts what Dropbox has done for files – keep them in sync and make them easily available on every device you use.

Brewster launched in July 2012 and I wrote about it here. While Brewster’s mission has not changed one bit, the way they have attacked it has changed a lot.

In the initial version, Brewster was a mobile app that could coexist or replace your native contacts app. It connected with all of your social networks and attempted to keep your address book up to date and also provide intelligence about your contacts. It turned out that most people didn’t really need or want a new address book, but they did want their contacts kept up to date and sync’d to whatever device they were on.

So slowly but surely Brewster evolved. But there was never a pivot. The service has evolved into a one that, today, largely works behind the scenes in the cloud to make sure the contacts you have on your phone and your desktop and tablet are the same, that they are in sync, and when another Brewster user you are connected to changes their contact information, your contacts are automatically updated. This evolution required the company to solve some difficult technical problems.

Brewster works in the background to power your contacts, providing auto-fill when writing emails in Gmail and access to all contacts from the dialer, text messaging, and email. It’ll also make finding your friends on social messaging apps, including Kik, WhatsApp, Snapchat, a more fun and easy experience.

Over this thanksgiving weekend, The Gotham Gal joined me in trying out the iPhone again. She got an iPhone 6+ and I helped her move all of her apps and activity from her Nexus 5 to her iPhone 6+. Moving her contacts was trivial with Brewster. Here’s how I did it:

1. login at brewster.com, add google via accounts and sync contacts sections (you need to both add google and then sync with it).

2. on iphone, add google account (settings app > mail, contacts, calendar > add account > google) and make to turn on contacts sync

3. that’s it. brewster will use the google connection with iphone to send updated contacts to the iphone

The Gotham Gal has >10,000 contacts. I have almost 30,000. For anyone with large contact databases, Brewster is a valuable tool. It will alert you to when you have missing email addresses, phone numbers, and faces for your contacts. I use those features a lot to continuously improve my address book.

The Grind is about continuously improving your product using market feedback and gradual but sustained product evolution. In order to execute The Grind, you need to keep your burn rate low. Brewster has been at it for almost four years now and has always kept its headcount and expense structure under control so it had runway to evolve and improve their product.

If you tried out Brewster when it initially launched and it didn’t do it for you, I’d suggest you give it another try. It’s changed a lot but still is trying to achieve the same goals. And the overall goal of a service that keeps your contacts up to date and sync’d on all of your devices is more valuable today than ever.

Audio Storytelling

There’s something happening, at least I’m noticing it. And I’m paid to be a noticer. Audiobooks have been a thing for a long time, even though I just recently got into them.

But audio short stories and audio serialized storytelling seem like new things to me.

This Etgar Keret short story showed up in my SoundCloud feed this past week and the Gotham Gal and I listened to it yesterday afternoon in our home via SoundCloud on Sonos.

As an aside, I really like following The New Yorker on SoundCloud. They have some great audio content, stories, interviews, etc.

At Thanksgiving dinner, our friend Sarah said she and her daughter were going to listen to The Serial Podcast on their drive the next day up to Vermont. So yesterday the Gotham Gal and I put this on in our car yesterday while we were running some errands.

Now we are hooked and we will probably start listening to the series in our apartment on SoundCloud on Sonos.

What’s behind all of this explosion of short audio content? Well for one, our phones have apps (like SoundCloud) which easily stream audio via bluetooth into our cars. We’ve talked a lot about this whole bluetooth streaming thing here at AVC. But it is also true that we have audio devices in our home, everything from a Jambox to a Sonos, that allow us to do the same thing while we are at home.

And audio is easier to consume when you are driving the car, washing the dishes, running on the treadmill, and many many other activities.

For a multi-media publisher, the business model is additional monetizeable audience for content they already are publishing in other mediums. I hope The New Yorker is OnSoundCloud. If not, they should be.

For a new publisher, like The Serial Pocast, it’s a bit trickier. They should be OnSoundCloud as well and I hope they are. But the revenue share they can get from SoundCloud may not pay all the bills for a while. In the interim, The Serial Podcast is soliciting listener donations here and recently announced that they have gotten enough support that they will be doing a second season. I donated $100 this morning.

Another megatrend supporting this new media, then, is crowdfunding. New content can be funded through a combination of ad revenue share from platforms like SoundCloud and listener support raised on the Internet from the crowd. And I’m sure there are many other ways to monetize that either exist today or will come together in time for storytellers who want to leverage the audio medium.

All I know is that the innovation in this sector is exciting and encouraging. If you are looking for something to drink your coffee with this morning, I’d highly recommend both of those audio shorts I posted. Enjoy.

Feature Friday: Distributed Identity

Last year at LeWeb I talked about four areas that we are looking at closely to make investments in. One of them is identity. I said this at the very end of my talk:

I predicted that there would emerge a “bitcoin like protocol” for identity. And we’ve been looking for that.

One thing we realized along the way is that this could be built on top of bitcoin or another blockchain. And so earlier this year we made a seed investment in a startup called OneName that is building exactly that. On Wednesday of this week, OneName announced a bunch of things, including our investment, and my partner Albert wrote about OneName at usv.com.

Now many will say “well Facebook, Google, and Twitter handle that pretty well for me” and they would be right. But are you really comfortable with Facebook or Google operating the identity layer of the Internet? I am not. And I think over time less and less of us will be.

But the answer isn’t another startup controlling the identity layer of the Internet either. The answer is a distributed ledger of identity that is open and not controlled by any entity. And that sounds like an application for a blockchain if there ever was one.

I have cleared my identity on the blockchain and it is here. I have verified it on Twitter and Facebook and you can send me bitcoins through it. It’s not much today, but in some ways it is everything. Because everything can be built on this and our hope is it will.

To date about 20,000 people have cleared their identity on the blockchain via OneName. My hope is that number will be in the millions within the next year. If you want do do that today, go here and get started.

Ticketing

I have seasons tickets to the Knicks and I share seasons tickets to the Nets with my friend John. Managing these tickets is a bit of a pain. At the start of the season, I download the iCal files that both teams post on their websites and convert them into CSV files. I then convert them to Google Spreadsheets and then share them with a bunch of people. Then I take the games I can go to, and give away games to friends and family, and sell a few games here and there. John does the same on his “half” of the Nets tickets. The truth is John gets to go to a lot more Nets games than I do but I get to go to the ones that matter, with him in most cases.

This morning I logged into the Nets season ticket holder website, and sent two tickets to tonight’s Nets Thunder game to Alex. Neither John nor I can go so I gave these tickets away. This wasn’t too hard and it would have been even easier if I had done it on the Nets iPhone App.

Like many industries, the Internet and mobile has changed ticketing. These days you have your tickets on your phone, when you board a plane or enter a stadium, you just pull out your phone, they scan the QR code, and you walk through. Getting the ticket on the phone is pretty easy if you have the app installed. And, though I have not figured out how to use it yet, Apple’s Passport App seems like a secondary storage system for tickets for those who don’t want to have hundreds of ticket apps installed on their phones.

But as much as ticketing has changed, it still hasn’t reached the ideal state which in my mind is how Bitcoin works in my Coinbase app. The Coinbase app offers the following options:

coinbase app

I would like to have a ticketing app that offers the same thing. Buy/sell, transfer, account summary. When I want to buy tickets, I just buy them from the app. When I want to sell tickets, I just sell them from the app. When I want to transfer, I just send them from the app.

Bitcoin can be the transactional system that all of these tickets run on top of. You can “color a bitcoin” with anything, and a ticket would be an ideal thing to color a Bitcoin with. Coloring means you take a tiny amount of bitcoin, say one penny worth of Bitcoin, and you attach something to it, like Row 15, seat 9 to tonight’s Nets Thunder game. When that ticket is sent, bought, or sold, that penny worth of bitcoin clears in the blockchain and the transfer is recorded. This insures that there is only one valid ticket to that seat to tonight’s game out there in circulation. That’s pretty important and that’s what most ticketing systems spend a lot of time and effort insuring. You no longer have to build or buy that technology if you want to sell tickets. It’s free for anyone to use. It’s called the blockchain.

Anyway, I think within a decade all tickets will be bought, sold, and transferred this way. The phone, or watch, or ring, or belt buckle, or something else, will house the ticket. And it will be bought, sold, transferred, and cleared on the blockchain. And the whole world of ticketing will be a lot easier for everyone as a result.

Getting Feedback and Listening To It

When you are VC, you live in this protected environment. You sit in your office in a glass conference room with lovely views and entrepreneurs walk in and pitch you and you get to decide who you are going to back and who you are not. People tell you what they think you want to hear. That you are so smart. That you are so successful. They suck up to you. And it goes to your head. You believe it. I am so smart. I am so successful.

You have to get out of that mindset because it is toxic. My number one secret is the Gotham Gal who brings me down to earth every night, makes me do the dishes, walk the dog, and lose to her in backgammon. Actually I have not lost to her in backgammon in over twenty years because she used to beat me so badly that I couldn’t take it anymore.

But blogging is another helpful tool in reminding yourself that you are not all that. Marc Andreessen said as much in his excellent NY Magazine interview which was published yesterday. I loved the whole interview but I particularly loved this bit:

So how do you, Marc Andreessen, make sure that you are hearing honest feedback?

Every morning, I wake up and several dozen people have explained to me in detail how I’m an idiot on Twitter, which is actually fairly helpful.

Do they ever convince you?

They definitely keep me on my toes, and we’ll see if they’re able to convince me. I mean, part of it is, I love arguing.

No, really?

The big thing about Twitter for me is it’s just more people to argue with.

Keeping someone on his or her toes, making them rethink their beliefs, making them argue them, is as Marc says “fairly helpful.” That’s an understatement. It is very very helpful.

That’s the thing I love about the comments here at AVC. I appreciate the folks who call bullshit on me. There are many but Brandon, Andy, and Larry are common naysayers. They may come across as argumentative, but arguing is, as Marc points out, useful.

The comments are also a place where people play the suck up game. It isn’t necessary to do that and I don’t appreciate it. It makes me uneasy.

So I would like to thank the entire AVC community for being a sounding board for my ideas, for pushing back when I am off base, and for resisting the suck up whenever the urge presents itself. I appreciate it very much.

The Personal Cloud

Benedict Evans coined the term “personal cloud” in his writeup of WWDC in June. He said:

what you might call the personal cloud – the Bluetooth LE/Wifi mesh around you (such as HealthKit or HomeKit)

I like to think about what’s next.

Paul Graham said, “If you think of technology as something that’s spreading like a sort of fractal stain, almost every point on the edge represents an interesting problem.”

And in that context, the personal cloud is a particularly interesting “point on the edge” to me. It includes the following things:

1) NFC and other technologies that will turn the mobile phone into your next credit card

2) Phone to phone mesh networking like we saw with Fire Chat in Hong Kong a few weeks ago

3) Wearables like the watch, necklace, and earbud

4) Personal health data recording (HealthKit) in which your phone has a real time and historical chart of your heartbeat, blood chemistry, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and much more.

5) Airplay and Chromecast and other technologies that will turn the mobile phone into both the next settop box and remote

I could probably go on and list another five things that fit into the personal cloud, but I will stop there.

If the first wave of the mobile phone’s impact on the tech sector was driven by applications running on the phone, the second wave will be driven by the phone connecting to other devices, including other phones.

I am particularly fascinated about what happens when our phones connect to other phones in dense environments and form meshes that don’t need the traditional Internet connectivity to power them. Mesh networks don’t just solve the problem of lack of traditional connectivity (Hong Kong), they also produce a solution to the last mile connectivity duopoly in wireline and oligopoly in wireless. In the future we may just opt out of those non-competitive markets and opt into a local mesh to get us to the Internet backbone, both in our homes and when we are out and about.

And phone to phone meshes form local “geofenced” networks that are interesting in their own right. A nice example of this is the peek feature in Yik Yak where you can see the timeline at various universities around the US. These Yik Yak peeks are not powered by mesh networking, they are just using the geolocation feature on the phone. But they could be a collection of mesh networks operating in various universities around the country. And so that example is enlightening to me.

I wanted to end this post with an image of a person walking down the street surrounded by their personal cloud and all the devices that are connected to it. But a quick image search did not produce it for me. That in and of itself is telling. That’s our future. But right now we are still in the imagining phase of it.

Feature Friday: SoundCloud Cards On Twitter Mobile

Yesterday afternoon I was in a meeting at our portfolio company SoundCloud and I got a Kik from Kirk who said “did you see the new SoundCloud cards running inside Twitter?”

When we had a break in our meeting, I replied and said “No, but I saw the buzz on the feature on Twitter” and then asked him to Kik me a Tweet I could look at on my phone.

He kik’d me this one and I played it on my phone from inside Twitter (open that link on your phone in Twitter if you want to see it in action).

The really cool thing about this new card is you can minimize the SoundCloud card (like you can minimize a video on YouTube) and then keep listening to the music while you move away from the tweet.

That’s a big deal because most SoundCloud tracks are 2-5mins long and you wouldn’t want to keep that tweet open on your phone for 2-5mins if you could avoid doing that just to hear the entire track.

Apparently this feature (called Twitter Audio) will be available to other audio partners. This is a great move for Twitter and a great thing for SoundCloud and other audio companies too.