Election Day

It’s election day and I’m going to stop by the polls this morning and vote.

It would be easy for me to skip the polls as there is not much at stake in NYC this year.

Mayor de Blasio is going to get re-elected fairly easily as he has no strong challengers.

The same is true of the other citywide officials and most city council members, including mine.

But I am going to vote in spite of all of that.

I think one of our biggest problems in our country is voter apathy.

So I am going to demonstrate against that by showing up and voting in an election with little to nothing at stake.

Onename to Blockstack

Our portfolio company Blockstack, which was the subject of a video I posted here last week, started out as Onename.

Onename is a distributed identity system, kind of like Facebook Auth, built on the blockchain.

I wrote about Onename a few times here on AVC back in 2014 and I suspect some of you registered onenames.

If you have a Onename that you like to use on the Internet, you have to import it to Blockstack before November 11th, or you will lose it.

To do that, you have to download and install Blockstack on your computer and then log into the Blockstack browser and import your Onename.

Instructions how to do all of that are here.

I like to use the same userid everywhere. So this sort of thing is important to me.

If it is important to you too, then I suggest you take the time to do all of that in the next week.

Airpods and Android

I wrote a post a month or so ago saying that I had fallen hard for Airpods while I was briefly using an old iPhone and was going to miss them when I moved back to Android.

A bunch of readers responded to me in the comments and via email that the Airpods would work just fine as Bluetooth headphones on my Pixel phone.

And they were right. I have been using the Airpods with my Pixel for a month now and they work great.

So if you are an Android user like me and like the idea of tiny wireless headphones in your ear without wires or bulk, you can absolutely get a pair.

Now if Apple would only make iMessage work on Android there would be no reason to use an iPhone 😉

Feature Friday: AirCraft By Dronebase

I hesitate to call this a feature, even though it is, as AirCraft is a way bigger deal than a new feature.

Our portfolio company Dronebase operates the largest drone pilot network in the world. Tens of thousands of pilots fly missions for Dronebase and the Dronebase mobile apps are used by most of these pilots to do these missions. Pilots connect their mobile phones to their drone consoles and the smartphone adds a lot of capability during the mission.

So what else can a smartphone do for a drone mission? Well it can add augmented reality.

AirCraft is the first augmented reality drone platform for commercial and recreational activities.

What AirCraft is, at the most fundamental level, is the ability for the drone to be a cursor in the sky.

AirCraft allows drone pilots to make something like this in the sky:

AirCraft is available in the Dronebase iPhone Pilot App today and will be available in the Dronebase Android app later this year.

If you want to build a virtual drone race course, you can do that with AirCraft.

If you want to build a flight plan for a drone pilot to do a regular survey of your radio tower, you can do that with AirCraft.

If you want to build a virtual city in the sky, you can do that with AirCraft.

The possibilities are endless, kind of like Minecraft in the sky.

So if you have a drone and the Dronebase iPhone app, you have AirCraft and you can get going on building things in the sky.

Token Summits in SF and NYC

The Token Summit, run by AVC regulars William Mouyagar and Nick Tomaino, announced two more events in the coming months, Dec 5th 2017 in San Francisco and May 17 2018 in New York.

The first Token Summit was held in NYC at NYU last May, and sold out. Here’s a highlight reel from it.

Today, William and Nick have published the agenda for the San Francisco conference, and you can find it here. It is being held at the Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF, in a hall that will fit 600 people.

Some of USV’s portfolio companies will be presenting, and I am sure William and Nick will have yet another successful event. If you want to learn about where the token economy is going, and network with the entrepreneurs and companies who are leading it, the Token Summit is a great place to do that.

Fintech Innovation Lab

I write this post every year because I think this is a great program.

Fintech Innovation Lab NYC is a business accelerator program that works with the largest financial services companies here in NYC to support emerging fintech companies and the founders who start them to get their companies off the ground.

This year, the lab is making a big push into insurance with a special track for entrepreneurs/companies that service the insurance market.

Here is the blurb they sent me this week to announce the kick off of their next program which will take place in the first half of 2018:

We’re looking for entrepreneurs developing disruptive, pioneering enterprise technologies for the financial services and insurance sectors. As part of the 12-week program co-founded by Accenture and the Partnership Fund for New York City, fintech companies selected by senior executives of the world’s leading financial services firms will receive mentorship that accelerates product and business development.

The participating financial institutions and insurance providers include: AB, AIG, Alight Solutions, Ally, Amalgamated Bank, American Express, AQR Capital Management, Bank of America, Barclays, BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Capital One, CIT Group, Citi, Credit Suisse, D.E. Shaw, Deutsche Bank, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, Guardian Life Insurance, JPMorgan Chase & Co., KeyBank, Marsh & McLennan, Mastercard, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, New York Life Insurance, Pitney Bowes, Rabobank, RBC Capital Markets, Scotiabank, Synchrony Financial, TIAA, The Hartford, UBS, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, XL Catlin and Zurich Insurance.

We are holding an information session on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 from 5:30 – 6:30 PM for any companies interested in learning more about the program. For additional information on the Lab, please have the companies contact us at [email protected].

Ledger Nano S

I got my hands on a Ledger Nano S last week and set it up over the weekend.

The Ledger Nano is a “Cryptocurrency Hardware Wallet” which means it is a device you can store your Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other crypto assets on. It costs $95 on Amazon.

It looks like this:

It is about the size of your average thumb drive/USB Stick.

The screen you see in that photo is quite small and the UI that runs on it is pretty bare bones as a result.

There are Chrome Apps that run in your browser and connect to the Ledger and provide the basic wallet functionality that you have gotten used to on Coinbase or some other hosted or software wallet (balance, send, receive, etc).

I was able to set up the Ledger Nano and get it working without too much hassle. The instructions are pretty good. But the security precautions (which are absolutely necessary) are a bit of a pain to deal with and it is not the simplest experience. It doesn’t take a long time to set up, it’s just a process you have to go through.

There is a USB cable that you use to connect to your computer and put the device online. You can then send and receive crypto assets and use the wallet apps to see the activity on the device.

When the device is disconnected and saved somewhere safely, it is offline.

Many crypto purists believe that you must own a hardware wallet and that your assets are not really yours unless you control the keys and the device on which you store your assets. For those who feel that way, the Ledger is a great solution.

I personally am happy to store my crypto assets with our portfolio company Coinbase in the cloud, particularly in their vault offering which provides delayed withdrawal and multi-sig on the account.

But I do understand those who feel that storing your assets on your own device is the right answer.

Where I find value in the Ledger is as a solution to store crypto assets that aren’t supported by Coinbase and/or some other trusted hosted storage provider.

What many people do is store their “alt-coins” on the exchanges that support those coins. That has turned out to be a dicey option as many exchanges have been hacked over the years.

What I advise, and do, is to store these “alt-coins” on a hardware wallet, like the Ledger, and then move them onto an exchange to trade them, and then back off after the trade clears.

The idea is to limit your assets in “hot storage” as much as possible and maximize your assets in “cold storage” as much as possible.

And for that, the Ledger Nano is a great solution.

The Best Time Of Year For Sports

It rained like crazy in NYC yesterday. So we stayed home and worked and watched TV and had dinner with our family.

And we watched football, basketball, and baseball. This is the best time of the year for sports. You get the Series in baseball, the start of basketball season when you can still hope, and the middle of the season in football when games still matter for everyone.

I will admit that I did not make it to the end of that World Series game. Had I know how it was going to end, I would have stayed up but I did not. Even so, the innings I saw were awesome. How good is baseball right now? I thought last year’s Series was not going to be beat for a long time and this year may be even better.

The Knicks got a win on the road over an absolutely terrible Cavs team. Our two big scores Zingo and Tim Jr both went for 30+. I’m not getting my hopes up but this Knicks team is a lot more fun to watch than the late Melo years which were awful.

And the Jets figured out how to lose a lead for the third week in a row. This one is the hardest for me. I want to hate the Jets but there is something about this team that I can’t give up on. And the NFL is a mess. It sure feels like a league that is losing its way.

And in the middle of all of that sports, we got in another Ken Burns Vietnam episode. We’ve now made it through seven. It’s great. If you haven’t watched it and care about America, the world, war, suffering, surviving, and history, it is absolutely worth watching.

I Scam Yous

I read a Nathaniel Popper piece in the NY Times today about celebrities endorsing ICOs. It made me want to throw up.

Readers know that I have been and continue to be excited about the emerging blockchain/crypto/token opportunity and I believe it represents the next big wave of innovation in the tech sector, upon which many important companies, products, and technologies will be built. I’ve been saying that since I started blogging about Bitcoin here on AVC in 2011.

I have also written a lot about our portfolio companies that are working in this sector and have even mentioned the tokens that they are issuing. But I have never and will never promote a token offering here at AVC. I believe that these are very risky investments that require a lot of diligence and patience. These are very similar to the kind of seed investments we make at USV. We know that that vast majority of them will not work out and we build a portfolio based on that understanding.

I have also written a lot about the need for diversification and that I expect this sector will come unglued at some point, like the Internet sector did in 2000/2001. If you read Carlota Perez, you will understand that most important technological revolutions have been fueled by rampant speculation that almost always comes undone right as the sector is moving from the installation phase to the deployment phase. That framework is almost certainly playing out again in crypto.

So this ugly speculative phase comes with the territory and always has. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I hate it. Most ICOs, like the ones mentioned in Nathaniel’s piece, are scams. And the celebrities and others who promote them on their social media channels in an effort to enrich themselves are behaving badly and possibly violating securities laws.

The worst of it, as Peter VanValkenburgh, the director of research at Coin Center, told Nathaniel is:

It’s undeniable that a celebrity endorsement brings a new audience into the world of crypto currencies. But I’m not certain that celebrity endorsements are doing a good job of bringing attention to the legitimate projects.

I am certain that celebrities are not doing a good job of bringing attention to the legitimate projects. A legitimate project has these characteristics:

  1. A relationship between the amount of money being raised and the complexity of the project.
  2. A very clear use case that requires the decentralization approach brought by blockchain technology.
  3. A reasonable valuation based on the size of the opportunity being pursued.
  4. A credible team.
  5. The technology has been built, at least to a point where it is demonstrable.

We have looked at hundreds of token offerings at USV and have only participated in one token offering to date. We do have five portfolio companies that either have done or will do token offerings so you can add them to the list of tokens we have exposure to. And USV is an investor in a number of token funds like Polychain which I blogged about yesterday. But the point I am trying to make is we have passed on most everything that is going on in this sector. We will keep looking for legitimate projects and we will certainly buy into token offerings. But we are being very careful and I would hope and expect that all of you are too.

When it comes to ICOs, understand that most are scams and that you must be careful to avoid them. As I said in that post I linked to above, the operative term when it comes to ICOs is “Buyer Beware.”