Posts from Web/Tech

The Dentist Office Software Story

I’ve been telling this fictional story about Dentist Office Software for years to describe why we are so focused on our “networks” investment strategy. Yesterday I told it at a HackNY event we did at the USV office and my partner Albert provided a finishing touch that really drives it home. Since I’ve never told the Dentist Office Software story here at AVC, I will do that and then I will add Albert’s alternate (and better) ending.

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An entrepreneur, tired of the long waits he is experiencing in his dentist’s office, decides that dentist offices are badly managed. So he designs and builds a comprehensive dentist office management system and brings it to market. The software is expensive, at $25,000 per year per dentist office, but it’s a hit anyway as dentists realize significant cost savings after deploying the system. The company, Dentasoft, grows quickly into a $100mm annual revenue business, goes public, and trades up to a billion dollar valuation.

Two young entrepreneurs graduate from college, and go to YC. They pitch PG on a low cost version of Dentasoft, which will be built on a modern software stock and include mobile apps for the dentist to remotely manage his office from the golf course. PG likes the idea and they are accepted into YC. Their company, Dent.io, gets their product in market quickly and prices it at $5,000 per year per office. Dentists like this new entrant and start switching over in droves. Dentasoft misses its quarter, citing competitive pressures, churn, and declining revenues. Dentasoft stock crashes. Meanwhile, Dent.io does a growth round from Sequoia and hires a CEO out of Workday.

Around this time, an open source community crops up to build an open source version of dental office software. This open source project is called DentOps. The project takes on real life as its leader, a former dentist turned socialist blogger and software developer named NitrousOxide, has a real agenda to disrupt the entire dental industry. A hosted version of DentOps called DentHub is launched and becomes very popular with forward thinking dentist offices that don’t want to be hostage to companies like Dentasoft and Dent.io anymore.

Dentasoft is forced to file for bankruptcy protection while they restructure their $100mm debt round they took a year after going public. Dent.io’s board fires its CEO and begs the founders to come back and take control of the struggling company. NitrousOxide is featured on the cover of Wired as the man who disrupted the dental industry.

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That’s the story. I hope to fine folks at YC, Sequoia, and Workday don’t mind me using their names in this fictional story. I picked the very best companies in the industry and my use of their brands is a compliment. I hope they take it that way.

This story is designed to illustrate the fact that software alone is a commodity. There is nothing stopping anyone from copying the feature set, making it better, cheaper, and faster. And they will do that. This is the reality that Brad and I stared at in 2003 as we were developing our initial investment thesis for USV. We saw the cloud coming but did not want to invest in commodity software delivered in the cloud. So we asked ourselves, “what will provide defensibility” and the answer we came to was networks of users, transactions, or data inside the software. We felt that if an entrepreneur could include something other than features and functions in their software, something that was not a commodity, then their software would be more defensible. That led us to social media, to Delicious, Tumblr, and Twitter. And marketplaces like Etsy, Lending Club, and Kickstarter. And enterprise oriented networks like Workmarket, C2FO, and SiftScience. We have not perfectly executed our investment strategy by any means. We’ve missed a lot of amazing networks. And we’ve invested in things that weren’t even close to networks. But all of that said, our thesis has delivered for us and we stick to it as much as we can.

So here’s Albert’s alternate ending (with my editorial license on the colorful aspects of this story):

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A young dentist, named Hoff Reidman, just starting up his own private practice, decides that he wants to network with other dentists. Because Hoff went to CMU before going to dental school, he’s pretty technical and he hacks together a site in Ruby called Dentistry.com. He emails all of his friends from dental school and they sign up. Every dentist wants to be on Dentistry.com and the site takes off. Hoff realizes he has to quit his dental practice to focus on Dentistry.com. Albert Wenger, who happens to be a patient of Hoff’s, convinces him to let USV do a small seed round of $1mm to help build a company around Dentistry.com. Hoff comes up with a product roadmap that allows patients to have profiles on Dentistry.com where they can keep their dental records, book appointments, and keep track of their dental health. It also includes mobile apps for patients to remind them to floss and brush at least twice a day. While Dentistry.com is free to use for anyone (dentist or patient), it monetizes with native advertising, transactions between dentists and their patients, and transactions between patients and providers of consumer dental health products, and transactions between dentists and providers of dental equipment and products. Dentistry.com ultimately grows into a $1bn revenue company and goes public trades at a market cap of $7.5bn. Wall Street analysts love the company citing its market power and defensible network effects.

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I hope you enjoyed this fictional story. I find it explains our network thesis simply and easily. I will keep telling it to groups I talk to, but now with Albert’s ending. I like it very much. Thanks Albert.

No Pain No Gain

One of my favorite observations about places to vacation is that the harder it is to get there, the better they are:

Aspen beats Vail

Montauk beats East Hampton

Tulum beats Cancun

And I think the same is often true of Internet services.

My friend Brad Feld tweeted this out yesterday:

I replied with a suggestion on how to get started

But regardless of my help, Brad is in for a harder time getting SoundCloud working for him than getting Pandora working for him. But if he sticks it out, follows the right people, curates tracks by liking them and reposting them, he will find there is a richness to SoundCloud that simply doesn’t exist on “just hit play” audio services.

The same is true of Twitter. I read this research note on Twitter yesterday:

Twitter: Study Vol. 3 suggests fixable user issues and mass market potential; Buy – MKM Partners 
MKM Partners finished another proprietary study on TWTR. Findings: 
-User attrition is the key issue for TWTR. Like other volumes, this survey shows polarized indicators of stickiness 
-Strong indications that improved user experience and streamlined content mgmt would fix churn issues 

So Wall Street is finally figuring out that Twitter isn’t Facebook. It exhibits “polarized indicators of stickiness”.

Which to me means, some people love Twitter and become obsessed with it. And others churn out quickly.

Twitter is a lot like SoundCloud. You have to do a lot of work to get to “that place” with Twitter. You have to follow the right people (for you). You have to favorite, retweet, reply, and engage. But when you do there is a richness to Twitter that doesn’t exist on simpler and easier social nets.

I am sure we can find many other examples of this. That might be a good exercise for our comment discussion.

When it comes to social media, no pain means no gain.

Disclosure: USV provided early stage venture capital investments to both SoundCloud and Twitter. And I personally own a lot of Twitter stock.

Feature Friday: Trust

I went back and looked at the Ten Golden Principals For Web Apps presentation I did four and a half years ago.

Nowhere on this list is Trust. Maybe that was an oversight. Or maybe times have changed.

Take auto photo backup from my Android phone to the cloud. I have two great options on my phone, Dropbox and Google+.

I don’t use Google+ for this and I do use Dropbox for this.

It is not that I don’t trust Google to host my photos. And it is not that I don’t trust Google in general. It is that I don’t trust Google to change the privacy rules on Google+ and instantly expose all of these photos to their crawlers and the web at large.

It’s really Facebook’s fault that I don’t trust Google with this. Anyone in the social networking game who isn’t already default public is trying to figure out how to get there. That’s the nice thing about Twitter. It has always been default public and so you know what to expect when you post something there.

I trust Dropbox to keep the photos I backup to the cloud private. It’s not that Dropbox is more trustworthy than Google in my mind. But it is that privacy is part of the brand promise that Dropbox makes and their business of hosting all of our data in their cloud depends on them being very careful with our privacy expectations.

Going back to why in early 2010 I didn’t put Trust in my top ten – it may be that Facebook’s assault on our privacy and the loss of trust that ensued was just developing in our collective consciousness at that time. And now we live in a more paranoid state about this stuff.

The rise of Snapchat, I believe, is largely in response to this exact thing. With Snapchat, you have explicit control over who sees your photos and where they go from there. That was a feature we did not know we needed four years ago. And it is a feature that built an entire company. And probably many more. Trust is a very important feature these days.

Video Of The Week: Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito at The Churchill Club

My favorite talks are between interesting people who know each other well. This talk is one of those. Joi and Reid have been friends for as long as I’ve known them, which is over a decade.

Reid is the founder and Chairman of LinkedIn and a leading VC with Greylock. Joi is the Director of the MIT Media Lab and formerly the Director of Creative Commons.

Thanks to Tyrone who sent this one to me earlier this week.

Privacy As A Competitive Vector

Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo has made privacy a big part of its value proposition. And slowly but surely, their search engine has gotten good enough that people are using it instead of Google.

DuckDuckGo publishes its search volumes publicly. They are doing 6mm searches a day now. This page says that Google does 6bn searches a day. So if that’s right, DuckDuckGo is doing 0.1% of Google’s search volume.

That’s not a huge market share. But DuckDuckGo is growing quickly. A year ago, their search volume was 1.8mm/day. So if they continue to triple their daily search volume each year for the next three years, they would have >150mm searches a day by June 2017. And assuming that Google’s search volume keeps growing at 15% per year, DuckDuckGo would be doing 1.7% of Google’s daily search volume in three years.

So there is certainly a market out there for people who will accept a slightly weaker product in exchange for privacy. It’s not 25% of the market. It may not even be 5% of the market. But I believe it is well north of 1% of the market.

And if that is the case, are there other big product categories out there other than search where privacy could be used as a competitive vector? How about email? How about messaging? How about maps? How about browsers?

I think we are going to see this play out in the coming years. DuckDuckGo is making it work. Why won’t others do the same?

Video Of The Week: Disqus Engagement Breakfast

Our portfolio company Disqus held a breakfast last week to talk about the subject of engagement. We kicked it off with an interview between Christina Warren and me.

The lights on stage were right in my eyes and so it was tough to look anywhere but down which makes watching this a bit tough.

The interview is about 30mins long. The Q&A, which I think is the best part, starts at 30mins and goes for another 20mins.

A Brand New DuckDuckGo

Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo launched a new version yesterday. Gabe wrote a short post explaining what’s new.

DuckDuckGo is on a tear and tripled direct searches in the past year.

DDG traffic

There are a number of reasons why more and more people turn to DuckDuckGo to do their searches. First and foremost, it’s DDG’s privacy promise:

We don’t collect or share personal information.

But it also the fact that DDG is getting better and better every day. Through DuckDuckHack, anyone can make DDG better. And it is a lot better these days.

I have used DDG as my default search engine on all of my desktop browsers since before we made our investment in the fall of 2011. I would love to do the same on my mobile browsers but cannot do that yet. I used to use the !g extension on DDG searches to route them to Google at least 33% of the time. I find that I am doing that less than 20% of the time now. It may not be possible to do search better than google, but if DDG can do private search almost as good as Google, I think that will turn into a very significant business in time. It already is looking like that’s the case.