Video Of The Week: The MIT Bitcoin Experiment

Two and a half years ago, MIT gave every undergraduate enrolled at the school $100 of Bitcoin. I helped to fund this experiment at that time. I thought it was a great way to “infect” young engineers with blockchain enthusiasm.

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini has studied the ~3,500 MIT students who took the $100 Bitcoin offer and looked at what they ended up doing with it.

Here is a talk he gave last fall in which he discussed the results of his research.

Feature Friday: Twitter DM

I was with a friend this week and was DM’ing with someone on my phone.

He said “do you DM on Twitter frequently?” I said “yes, I use it all the time.”

Twitter DM is like any other messenger, particularly on the phone. It has the advantage of not needing to know the person’s phone number or handle on a messenger service. If you follow them and they follow you, you can DM them and chat like any other messenger.

It has the advantage of not needing to know the person’s phone number or handle on a messenger service. 

I like it a lot for that one feature – not needing to know the person’s contact info beyond their Twitter handle.

If you use Twitter a lot but don’t use DM, you should give it a try.

It’s super useful in a pinch when you need to reach someone and don’t know how.

From The Archives: General Georges Doriot

I am flying up to Boston today to give the inaugural Georges Doriot lecture at MIT. It’s a great honor to kick off this annual lecture and remember General Doriot, who was the founder of modern venture capital. Here is a blog post I did back in 2008 about General Doriot and a book about him by Spencer Ante. At the time of this post, I had not read Creative Capital, but I did read it and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the early days of the modern venture capital business.


Who is the father of modern venture capital? Surely someone from Silicon Valley in the late 60s and early 70s, right? Wrong.

The father of modern venture capital is General Georges Doriot who helped to form and run American Research and Development, the first modern venture capital firm in Boston right after World War II. Doriot also taught at Harvard Business School and was a mentor and teacher to the first generation of Boston VCs who operated in the 60s and 70s.

With all the focus on the bay area and its history as the center of innovation in information technology, Doriot’s contributions are often overlooked. But now we have a new book and a blog, courtesy of Spencer Ante of Business Week.

Ante’s Creative Capital is about Doriot and the start of the venture capital business here in america post world war II. I haven’t read it yet, but I just ordered it on Amazon. Here’s a short excerpt from the Harvard Business School blog. I suspect the readers of this blog are the perfect audience for this book so you should all go check it out.

IBM and Microsoft

As I was watching all of those Watson ads on TV this weekend during the Masters golf tournament, I thought to myself “well look at that, IBM has built the first big AI brand.”

And that is coming from a true dinosaur of the tech business.

Even more impressive in many ways, is what Satya Nadella has done at Microsoft. He slayed the Windows Everywhere albatross that was holding Microsoft back for most of the post Gates era and has made Microsoft relevant again in the world of tech. Windows is enjoying a resurgence, the Office app suite is finally and successfully moving to the cloud, and Microsoft’s cloud offerings are strong and getting stronger. The stock price tells the Nadella story as well as anything else. Here is how the stock has performed since Nadella took the helm of Microsoft in early 2014:

So what’s the point of this post? Well I think it’s worth pointing out that older tech companies can be relevant and competitive in the age of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. It just takes good leadership and the right strategy. As is the case with all companies.

When The AI Comes To Your Annual Shareholders Meeting

I was looking at the top twenty shareholders of some public companies last week and saw quite a few “quant funds” on those lists.

With the news that Blackrock is going to move much of its asset management business to models and machines, I think we will see more of this in the coming years.

It’s annual meeting season for public companies and all of this made me think about when the AI shows up to your annual shareholder meeting.

Or when the AI gets your proxy and needs to vote for Directors, executive compensation, and the choice of auditors.

Governance is an important part of being a shareholder.

When the shareholders are all machines, how does governance work?

A Direct Listing

I saw this question pop up in my Twitter feed this morning:

I don’t know anything about Spotify’s plans so I am not going to comment on that.

But the idea of doing a direct listing instead of an IPO is a super interesting to me.

Here is what I said to a friend of mine over email on this subject last week:

we don’t need IPOs to raise money anymore

the private markets work great for that now

but we do need a way to allow small investors to own the stock and we need a way to give employees, former employees, early investors, etc liquidity

So the idea of taking the fundraising function out of the going public equation is super interesting to me.

The questions that come to mind to me are; who will make a market in the stock?, who will write research on the stock?, how will companies build an understanding of their company prior to the listing?, will there be a lockup for existing investors?

The “IPO road show”, which is the roughly two week process before the IPO, is both a sales process to raise the money and a great opportunity to build excitement for the stock and understanding of the business. I guess a direct listing could include a road show as well. I think it probably should.

And the underwriters, who make a big commission on the IPO, commit to trade the stock and write research on the company in return for “being on the cover.” There needs to be some other way to get the investment banks involved in the stock to ensure that there is a market for the stock and research is done on the stock.

Finally, you wouldn’t want the entire cap table to come into the market on the first day of the direct listing. So that means there would need to be a lockup of some sort for the existing investors. But if there is no primary raise, then you would need some shares to trade, so maybe you let some of the existing cap table off of lockup on the direct listing and the rest over time.

I suppose this has been done before. If that is true, then there is a history of prior listings to look at to understand how this is done and how it worked. But as I said earlier in this post, I am super interested in this idea and I would like to see some big companies that don’t need capital but want a public stock try this.

Decentralized Self-Organizing Systems

Mankind has been inventing new ways to organize and govern since we showed up on planet earth. Our history is a gradual evolution of these organization and governance systems. Much of what we are using right now was invented in ancient Greece and perfected in western Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

I have been thinking for some time that we are on the cusp of something new. I don’t know exactly what it will be but I think it will be inspired by the big technological innovations of the late 20th century and early 21st century and it will be based on decentralized and self-organizing systems.

The Internet is, at its core, a scaled decentralized system. Its design has been a resounding success. It has scaled elegantly and gradually to well over 2bn users over fifty years. No central entity controls the Internet and it upgrades itself and scales itself slowly over time.

Open source software development communities are also an important development of the past fifty years. These communities come together to create and maintain new software systems and are not financed or governed by traditional corporate models. The goals of these communities are largely based on delivering new capabilities to the market and they don’t have capitalist based incentive systems and they have shown that in many instances they work better than traditional corporate models, Linux being the best example.

And, for the past decade or so, we have seen that modern cryptography and some important computer science innovations have led to decentralized blockchain systems, most notably Bitcoin and Ethereum. But there are many more to study and learn from. These blockchain systems are pushing forward our understanding of economic models, governance models, and security models.

I think it is high time that political scientists, philosophers, economists, and historians turn their attention to these new self-organizing and self-governing systems. Maybe they have and I am not familiar with the work. If so, please point me to it. If not, maybe this post and others like it will be an inspiration for the liberal arts to catch up to the computer scientists and mathematicians or at least work closely with them to figure out what is next, to articulate it and put it in the context of other governance and economic systems. From that work can come progress that mankind needs to move beyond the current systems, which work, but have many flaws and are becoming stale and in need of an upgrade.

Fun Friday: The Digital Dance

Last week at the Annual NYC Computer Science Fair, I got to judge a student coding project showcase. The team that won was 50 young women from the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria Queens.

These young women choreographed a dance routine using software and hardware engineering. The used LED lighting strips and Sphero robots to animate their dance routine and they wrote the software code that synchronized the music and dance routine with the hardware.

Here is the dance performance:

And here is how they made it happen:

I love this for so many reasons, but here are a few of them:

  1. Young women have not been as interested in software and hardware engineering because we have not made it relevant to their interests. This is an example of how to do that.
  2. The Digital Dance has now become an annual event at this school, the next one is coming up this spring, so another 50 or so young women will be exposed to hardware and software engineering each year.
  3. This is something that other schools can and should do. It could become a “thing” and I hope it will.
  4. It’s awesome.

Toxic Comments

We are fortunate here at AVC. We have mostly civil and respectful conversations. People behave themselves here. That is sadly not the case everywhere.

I don’t know what the people who post comments like this are feeling and thinking. It is horrible. Awful. Hateful. Hurtful. Painful. Disgusting. Disturbing. And a lot more.

If you operate a large social media service like Twitter, Facebook, or Disqus, you get to see stuff like this every day, hundreds of times a day. It is a view of humanity that is deeply upsetting.

Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, where I serve on the Board, and which operates the comment service here at AVC and at millions of other websites around the globe, has been working on scaleable solutions to this problem.

They posted an update yesterday on what they are doing to combat this problem.

Here are some excerpts from that post:

The Disqus Platform supports a diversity of websites and discussions; with such a large network of publishers and commenters, having a policy against hateful, toxic content is critical. While we do periodically remove toxic communities that consistently violate our Terms and Policies, we know that this alone is not a solution to toxicity. Oftentimes these communities simply shift to another platform. Ultimately, this does not result in higher quality discussions, and it does not stop the hate. In order to have a real, lasting impact, we need to make improvements to our product. Which is why, if at all possible, we work with publishers to encourage discourse (even unpopular or controversial discourse!) while helping to eliminate toxic language, harassment, and hate.

Over the past several months, many passionate folks have reached out to us about severe violations of our Terms of Service. With the help of our community, we’ve been able to review and enforce our policy on dozens of sites.

We appreciate all of the help and feedback we’ve received and we are excited to continue to partner productively with users and organizations that are passionate about fighting toxic content and hate speech. To improve our efforts, we’ve built a Terms of Service Violations Submissions form. This form is a way for users to explicitly share with us when they’ve found a community to be in violation of our terms. In addition to reporting individual users (which helps moderators know who in their community is perhaps exhibiting toxic behavior), you can now report directly to us when you think there’s a publisher/site we should take a look at. When we are made aware of potential violations, we review them internally and make a decision about whether or not to allow the site to remain on our platform.

This isn’t a small scale matter; we know that to have a meaningful impact across our network, we need to build solutions into the product. With that in mind, we’re committed to building tools to make the moderation experience easier and better for publishers (and commenters, too).

Here are some things that we’re working on:

  • More powerful moderation features. We’re working on two features right now, Shadow banning and Timeouts, that will give publishers more options for managing their communities. Shadow banning lets moderators ban users discreetly by making a troublesome user’s comments only visible to that user. Timeouts give moderators the ability to warn and temporarily ban a user who is exhibiting toxic behavior.

  • Toxic content detection through machine learning. We are working on a feature to help publishers identify hate speech and other toxic content and then handle this more effectively.

  • Commenting policy recommendations. While we already provide suggestions for how to create community guidelines, we’ve realized that we can be more proactive and more assistive to our publishers. We’re working on helping our publishers expose their custom commenting and community guidelines by making them more visible to their readers and commenters.

  • Advertiser tools: Just like publishers do not want toxic content on their sites, we know that advertisers do not want their content to display next to toxic comments. Leveraging our moderation technology, we will provide more protection for advertisers, giving them more control over where they display their content.

If you think this is a simple problem to solve, you are sadly wrong. And if you think that Disqus and USV and I don’t care about solving this problem, you are wrong about that too.