Posts from Uncategorized

Fun Friday: AR and VR

I’m pretty skeptical about the early implementations of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. I think the early versions are expensive, require powerful computers, are tethered, require headsets, and can cause headaches and worse. But I am in the minority in our business and in the tech community. VR and AR are among the most hyped and invested new areas of tech right now.

So let’s talk about this today on fun friday.

Are you bullish on AR and VR over the next several years? If so, why?

Or are you with me that the early implementations will underwhelm?, If so, why?

What Android Phone Should I Get?

We are heading back to NYC tomorrow and, among other things, that means I can end my 6 months on iOS. I force myself to spend six months of the year on iPhone to make sure I’ve got my head wrapped around that platform and how it is changing and evolving. But I feel like it costs me a pretty significant productivity hit and I am eager to get back on Android.

So I need to decide which phone I am going to get. I am thinking of buying a Nexus 6P directly from the Google Play Store. But I am open to other ideas and would welcome them.

Here are my needs/desires:

  1. Phablet form factor/size
  2. Stock Android (no bloatware from carrier issued phones)
  3. Unlocked device that can run on any carrier
  4. Lots of memory (at least 64GB)

So with those needs/desires, what phone should I get?

SoundCloud Go

Today is a big day for our portfolio company SoundCloud. They are launching SoundCloud Go in the US today. They plan to launch SoundCloud Go in other parts of the world as soon as they can get the rights together to do so.

SoundCloud Go is the ultimate music service, giving listeners access to 125 million tracks from all over the world, offline or online, and ad-free. For comparison, traditional music subscription services, like Spotify and Apple Music, offer access to roughly 35 million tracks and internet radio services, like Pandora, offer access to roughly 2 million tracks.

I’ve had beta access to SoundCloud Go for the past month and it is an entirely different experience than the other premium music services. Here are some of the things you can only do on SoundCloud Go:

  1. build a playlist that includes the top hits, emerging unsigned artists, and remixes and listen to it on the subway to work
  2. stream your favorite podcasts online or offline and ad free
  3. listen to mixtapes legally in a way that honors the rights of the underlying content creators
  4. start a listening experience with a top hit and find emerging artists that are similar

You can either build a content platform on the internet top down or bottom up. It is easier to do it top down, going to the industry for the content. But it is better to do it bottom up, going directly to the creators for the content. Because a service with an upload button in it is fundamentally different than a service without one.

The bottom up approach can be harder to pull off, but the services that have done it like YouTube and SoundCloud are special.

I am listening to my favorites on SoundCloud Go while I write this. In that playlist I have Kanye and I have my friend Noah who grew up with my son and is an emerging artist. Both Kanye and Noah have profiles on SoundCloud. Both Kanye and Noah upload tracks they make to SoundCloud. So SoundCloud Go is the democratic, open, all inclusive music service, built for creators first and foremost, but also perfect for listeners.

To try SoundCloud today, go to https://soundcloud.com/go. It is $9.99 on desktop and Android. If you are an iOS user, I would recommend you subscribe on web and then enjoy on your mobile. There is a 30 day free trial. I hope you enjoy SoundCloud Go as much as I do.

Become A CSNYC Founding Partner

Three years ago, I co-founded the nonprofit organization CSNYC to address the extreme scarcity of computer science education in the NYC public schools. I am proud to say that we are now reaching nearly 10% of the city’s schools and more than 12,000 students. But our mission is to reach every school and every student.

In September 2015, Mayor de Blasio and I announced Computer Science For All (CS4All), a 10-year, $81 million plan to bring computer science education to every student in New York City public schools. The costs of CS4All will be shared equally between the city and private philanthropy, and CSNYC and Robin Hood have each committed $5 million to get the initiative off the ground.

As leaders in the local technology community, we collectively have the potential to support what will be the largest scaling of access to computer science education in the country. Early, meaningful access to computer science can change students’ educational lives and create pathways to future educational and career opportunities. These students are our future employees.

I am reaching out to NYC tech companies to help fund CSNYC’s ongoing efforts by committing to an annual membership of between $5,000 and $25,000. As a CSNYC Founding Partner, you will support our work in the schools and enable us to connect your company to employee engagement opportunities, internship programs, and more.

csnycpartnersPlease consider joining this distinguished group of companies: About.com, AppNexus, Bitly, Clarifai, Contour Ventures, Etsy, Facebook, HyperScience, Insight Venture Partners, Justworks, Kickstarter, MongoDB, Nestio, Postlight, Resy, Return Path, Simulmedia, Tapad, Techstars, Tusk Ventures, Warby Parker, and Yext. I am hopeful that we can add your company to this list.  

If you are interested in joining as a CSNYC Founding Partner email us and we will follow up with you directly, or you can simply fill out our online membership form.

Fun Friday: Oscars

It is friday. The end to another fun filled week of tech and business. I am writing this on flight from LAX to SFO that has no wifi. So I am writing it in Google Docs on my phone and I will post it when I land.

I think we should do a fun friday today. We’ve got the Oscars happening this sunday. So let’s talk about the best films we saw in 2015.

My personal favorites were Mustang, a film about teenage girls growing up in a very traditional part of Turkey, and Meet The Patels, a film about an Indian American family’s desire to see their son have an arranged marriage. Both were indie films that did not get a lot of press but were exceptional in their ability to explain different cultures and ways of living.

I saw most of the big films that are nominated for Best Picture. None really touched me like the two I mentioned above. But the story told in Spotlight stayed with me as did the child in Room.

So those are the films that had the biggest impact on me last year. How about all of you?

Massively Multiuser Feedback

There are a number of companies that have user bases in the millions and operate public networks that encourage their users to share their opinions on everything. These companies face an interesting and challenging issue which is that their users are loud and vocal right inside their product about changes that are being contemplated or that have been made. Operating a business like this presents a unique challenge and opportunity to leverage this feedback channel but not become hostage to it.

I believe that one of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s greatest strengths is that they did not let themselves become hostage to the feelings of their user base. They did what they thought was in the best interest of their users and their service. The first time I saw this was the rollout of the news feed. I don’t recall when that was but I believe it was nine or ten years ago now. The users were furious about the new interface and the revelation of “too much information” being presented and shared in it. The Facebook team hung in there and stayed the course and today the Facebook news feed is possibly the most powerful user interface on the Internet.

Etsy, a company I am on the Board of and have been an investor in for ten years now, has always had a very lively community discussion board system for its sellers (and buyers). The sellers who hang out in this community service have often been critical of Etsy’s product and policies. Sometimes these boards turn very hostile and I have watched Etsy struggle with how to both internalize and manage this feedback. On one hand it has made Etsy more sensitive and responsive to the needs of its seller community (which is a very good thing and at the core of why Etsy works) but it has at times made Etsy defensive and hesitant to make necessary changes to its product and policies. I think the Etsy team has gotten to a good place over the years on this issue but it took a lot of learning and a good deal of pain to get there.

Of course, the reason I am choosing to write about this now is the latest uprising of the Twitter user base over the algorithmic feed. The hashtag , #riptwitter, conveys both the power of the community and the hostility that it can take towards a company. 

I have been a private (before leaving Twitter’s board) and public (long after) proponent of adding an algorithmic news feed to Twitter. I know that many users and most of the hard core users prefer the reverse chronological order of the Twitter timeline. I don’t and never have. My favorite feature on Twitter is “what you have missed” and I am in love with and completely dependent on gmail’s priority inbox. For some of us, having a service surface what is most important to us is incredibly valuable. For others, it is an invasion of their control and ability to determine that for themselves. It is like conservatives and liberals. There is no right way to view the world. There are many ways and we have to appreciate that what works for some of us doesn’t work for others.

Twitter has had the technology to provide an algorithmic feed for years. They acquired a company called Julpan in the fall of 2011 which had much of the tech that was necessary to produce an algorithmic news feed. Twitter’s technology in this area is much better today than it was four or five years ago. And maybe that is why they have waited so long to roll it out. But they could have, and I would argue should have, rolled it out years ago. And, of course, they could have and should have (and will) release it with an option to keep reverse chronological order as the default timeline for those who prefer it.

Gmail doesn’t force priority inbox on its users. You can get everything in your inbox or just what gmail thinks you want to see. I prefer the latter but many don’t. 

So those Twitter users who were tweeting #riptwitter last week should chill out and understand that the company is not going to take their believed reverse chronological timeline away from them. And Twitter should both respect and acknowledge these loyal and passionate users (which Jack did) and should also have the courage to do what is right and frankly long overdue.

Finding the right balance between listening to your users and becoming hostage to them is hard. When you operate a large and public channel for these users, it is even harder. Being a CEO requires great listening skills, the ability to really hear and internalize opposing views, and then, ultimately, the courage to make the decision and go with it. That is true in terms of managing your team and your company and it is also true in terms of managing your user base.

Is This You?

I caught an early flight out of LAX yesterday morning. I sat next to a woman who slept all the way to SF. I am always jealous of people who can do that. I don’t sleep much on planes.

When we landed in SF and were taxiing to our gate, she woke and checked her phone. She landed on my daily email, read the bit about flying to SF, and turned to me, showed me the AVC email, and said “is this you?” I replied “yes.”

It turns out she works for a startup and knows people who have worked for various USV portfolio companies. And she uses Foursquare.

We had a nice chat, I bought one of her company’s products, I am mulling over the idea of buying another one, and I pitched a BD partnership between her company and one of Gotham Gal’s portfolio companies.

Why am I telling this story? Because it’s good to have a calling card in business and this blog is mine. It pays off all the time. It widens my network constantly. 

I am not saying that everyone should blog. That’s not going to work for most people. But finding some way to connect to the people you should know is huge. It could be public speaking, it could be publishing research, it could be going to conferences all the time. Whatever it is, getting out there and networking and meeting people is the secret to building a big rolodex. And a big rolodex is an incredible asset to have.

A Cautionary Tale

What do you do if you are a crowdfunding service and one of your high profile projects fails to deliver leaving roughly 12,000 backers high and dry?

Well our portfolio company Kickstarter (where I am on the board) decided to shine a light on the failure by hiring an investigative reporter and giving him freedom to research and then tell the story of what went wrong without any interference by Kickstarter.

The journalist, Mark Harris, published his findings a few days ago. You can read the entire story here.

The project in question was called Zano and the idea was to build and ship a small autonomous drone. I am not going to summarize the story here on AVC. Those of you who want to read it should go read the entire piece. 

But I will say that the Zano story is a cautionary tale that anyone who backs projects on Kickstarer should read. Not every project works. In fact, it is shocking that something like 90% of projects funded on Kickstarter have eventually delivered although many are late.

Creative projects fail. Startups fail. Banks fail. Governments fail. Marriages fail. Failure is an important part of the human experience. I have personally failed more times than I want to remember. 

And so I hope that Kickstarter figures out a way to continue to shine a bright light on the big failures. They should not be swept under a rug. They should analyzed, discussed, and understood by the Kickstarter community and beyond. That is a very healthy thing.

Politics and the Future

It is political season in the US. For the next three months (ish) the two major political parties will select their nominees, then there will be a lull while the two nominees prepare for the general election which will kick off with the two conventions this summer and then it will be off to the races until election day in November. So for the next ten months the US will be in the throes of a Presidential election cycle. 

Its a good time to get all of issues on the table and debate them. One issue that I feel has not gotten enough air time yet and is fundamental to most everything is what is going on in the global economy (not just the US economy) and what that means for policy at home and abroad.

I saw a link to this post on Twitter today. I don’t know the author but it strikes me as directionally correct about the macro tends in the global economy. Here are some charts from it:

  
  
  
The author goes on to say:

The individual GDP share of the food, energy and healthcare industries of the total economy are larger than the ITC sector. What will the world look like if the total value of these would contract in similar fashion than we have had in ITC industry? Will we face an era of technological deflation? Most likely yes. Will it be a good or bad thing?

Deflation is a scary word. We have seen the Fed and other monetary bodies around the world print money for going on eight years to offset the effects of deflation and yet it feels like the deflationary pull is stronger today than ever.

It may be that the diverging lines in that first graph are going to continue to diverge no matter what we do from a policy perspective. The advancement of our technological capabilities may drive down the costs of living dramatically and also drive down the amount of human work that is required to produce and sustain our current quality of life.

This is a big deal. And yet we hear almost nothing about this in the current political debate. We hear old school jobs programs from the left and shrink the government and cut taxes from the right. 

We hear hawks talking about carpet bombing the middle east but no mention of what happens to that region if the world no longer needs their oil.

I don’t expect much from the political process because it hasn’t given us much other than some high quality entertainment value, which may be its core function in society right now. Which is a sad thought.

But if I were advising Hillary, or Bernie, or Cruz, or Rubio, or, god forbid, Trump, I would get their heads wrapped around these global macroeconomic trends and what they might mean ten, twenty, and thirty years out and suggest they start talking straight with the american public about them. Because they have the stage right now and they are the conversation starters and we have to start talking about this stuff.

Songs That Stayed With Me In 2015

Year end music posts have been a tradition since this blog got started in 2003. For years I would post the top ten (or eleven or twelve) albums that I liked that year. Then as I moved away from albums to tracks, I started creating year end playlists. Here is last year’s playlist.

My music listening has evolved a lot over the twelve+ years of AVC. I was still listening to a mix of mp3s and streaming when I started blogging in 2003. I moved to streaming soon after that, mostly to Rhapsody, and then Rdio (which went under in 2015). But since USV invested in SoundCloud and I joined the board at the end of 2010, I have slowly but surely moved all of my listening there and I currently don’t listen on any other services anymore.

I love to listen to my SoundCloud feed (which is like a Twitter feed for music and podcasts) and favorite the songs that I like best. That’s the discovery mode for me. Then I listen to my liked feed a lot. That is my collection. I liked over 300 songs in 2015.

I went back over those 300+ songs this past week and pulled out the roughly 30 songs that were released in 2015 that have stuck with me throughout the year. These are my songs of the year. Enjoy.