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.

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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.

Homescreen.is

If you want to see what mobile apps are the most popular, you can do a number of things.

You can look at the mobile apps that have the most downloads by checking out the leaderboards in the iOS and Android app stores. They will differ from country to country. You can use a service like AppAnnie to help you do this kind of work.

You can try to figure out what apps have the most MAUs and DAUs. That is a lot harder. There are some services out there that attempt to do that. comScore’s Mobile Metrix will give you that data. It’s a paid service so not everyone can afford it. Full disclosure, I used to be on comScore’s board and still own stock in the company.

Another interesting metric is homescreen real estate. Being on a user’s homescreen will tell you something about the loyalty the user has to the app and it is most likely correlated to MAUs and DAUs (why would you have an app on your homescreen that you don’t use regularly?).

I’ve been pretty obsessed with homescreen real estate and have posted my homescreen here on AVC a number of times. My homescreen moves around a lot, particularly when I’m traveling and need certain apps more than others. For example, the Delta and Uber apps are on my homescreen while I’m in europe because I’m using both frequently while I’m over here.

My friend John Borthwick is also obsessed about homescreen real estate and he and his colleagues at Betaworks have built a service to aggregate homescreens and then create a data service around them. The service is called homescreen.is and it’s pretty simple. If you have an iPhone, you download the app, you take a screenshot of your homescreen, and you upload it to homescreen.is via the mobile app.

Each user has a profile on the site with their current homescreen on it. Here is mine. There is a leaderboard, of course, which is here. And you can see some interesting things, like the top homescreen apps of people who follow someone on Twitter. Here’s that data for me. It turns out the top homescreen apps of my followers on Twitter is not much different from the top homescreen apps for all homescreen users.

Right now, this data is heavily skewed to the geek/tech insider crowd. You can see that in the data. 1Password, Pocket, and Overcast are top apps on Homescreen.is. They are not top 100 apps, maybe not even top 250 apps. But they are very popular in the same crowd that is using Homescreen right now.

Can Homescreen go viral and get mass adoption such that its data will be more mainstream? Maybe. Sharing homescreens seems like something everyone would want to do. Making Homescreen.is fun, engaging, and viral seems like the thing they need to do to get the app on everyone’s phones. An android version would be good too.

In the long run, Homescreen.is could be a great tool for discovery. The mobile app ecosystem could use some help with that.

Development Is Cheap. Production Is Not.

This is a line from a blog post written by my brother in law Jerry Solomon. He is talking about film production, specifically short form videos. But the point is true of all projects, from designing a building, a home, a film, an art project, a hardware project, a software project, or whatever.

The design process is relatively inexpensive. The build process is not.

In the kinds of companies we invest in the “development” work comes from the product organization. The “production” work comes from the engineering team.

I have seen engineering teams spin their wheels and burn through countless hours of writing code that ends up getting tossed out just because the design process was not right or not specific enough or not thought through enough.

While we might think these issues and challenges are unique to the world of tech, software, internet, and mobile, the truth is these issues pervade everywhere you are making something.

This is not so applicable to a startup trying to find product market fit. But it becomes very relevant once your company starts to scale. A commitment to thinking things through, getting it right at the start, and being efficient in the “production” process is something all great companies figure out how to do. It’s really important.

A Day In Berlin

Man is Berlin cooking. I mean the tech startup community, not the temperature. The Gotham Gal and I flew to Berlin yesterday and it was -2 celsius when we landed and it did not get a lot warmer. But I managed to do three events and met at least fifty entrepreneurs, maybe a lot more, in less than 24 hours.

The highlight of the day was an event we did yesterday evening in partnership with the Tech Open Air folks. My partner Brad was in Berlin for two days of meetings with one of our Berlin based portfolio companies and we did a joint appearance at a cool event space.

Brad and I don’t do a lot of joint appearances but we’ve always had a way of finishing each other’s thoughts. Spending eighteen months together raising a venture fund in 2003 and 2004 will teach you how to do that and you don’t forget.

I’m hopping on a plane in a couple mins and don’t have much more time for this blog post. But I would like to thank everyone who made our day in Berlin so great and to say to all the Berlin based entrepreneurs that I met that you are all very impressive. Makes me want to come back more often. Which we will do for sure.

Veniam

I’ve been talking a lot and writing a lot about mesh networking. I think it has the potential to wrest control of the last mile of the wired and wireless internet from the carriers who mostly control it around the world. Peter Kafka noticed yesterday that we had finally put those words to work with a mesh networking investment:

We made this investment, in a neat company called Veniam that comes out of Porto Portugal, some time earlier this year but they finally got around to announcing it yesterday.

My partner Brad talked about it in a short post on usv.com yesterday. And our partner in the investment Om Malik talked about it here.

I had breakfast with Om in NYC earlier this year and told him about Veniam. Those breakfasts do pay dividends eventually. This is how Om describes that breakfast and what came of it:

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson introduced me to João after a long, spirited discussion about network neutrality, new models of networks, and policies that will influence the future of the internet. As we walked back to our office (aka my favorite cafe), he said, “You should talk to this guy in Portugal that my partner Brad [Burnham] has been in touch with. He has some interesting ideas.” An email introduction with João followed, and we were soon talking to each other via Skype. He quickly came to San Francisco, and we met for coffee on the weekend and then again the next day. João likes to talk: It is his super power. And here we are.

So enough about all of that. What does Veniam do? They make a “stack” of wireless technology that lets moving objects (think buses, garbage trucks, cars, vans, etc) carry a wifi access point/router and mesh with each other and anyone else who wants to join the network. With enough density, buses driving around your city can provision a wireless mesh that anyone can use on their smartphone when they are out and about. It’s a big vision and will take a lot of work (and luck) to realize, but this or something like it is eventually going to work and we are going to have a better way to access the internet on our phones than we have today.

Here’s a video of Veniam’s technology in action in Porto. I suspect you will want this in your city too. I certainly do.

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.

AVC’s Creative Commons License

I get asked to write stuff for other publications all the time. I tell them that I don’t write anywhere other than AVC.com, but if they have an idea for something they’d like me to write about, they should suggest it, and I might write about it here.

All of the content that is published at AVC can be reposted without my permission anywhere that is not commingled with hate, porn, or spam. All I require is attribution and a link back to the original post here at AVC. That is my creative commons license. I used to have a link to this creative commons license at the bottom of the page on AVC but we lost it in the redesign. I suppose I should get it back on there.

So if you would like me to write something for your publication, send me an email, I might write about it here, and then you can repost it on your publication.

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.