Feature Friday: Accept Bitcoin With Stripe

Stripe has had this in beta for quite a while but yesterday they launched it and now any merchant who is using Stripe can accept Bitcoins in the regular Stripe checkout flow.

Here’s the details on how it works and there’s a nice interactive demo on this page.

If you are using Stripe to handle your checkouts, just add a few things to your Stripe code and you are good to go.

It’s things like this, making it drop dead simple for merchants to accept Bitcoin, that will help drive adoption of Bitcoin payments in the coming years.

And accepting payment with Bitcoin via Stripe costs a merchant 0.5% vs the customary 3%. For low margin products, this is real money. I expect merchants will start incenting customers to pay with Bitcoin in certain product sectors.

I’m going to go find some Stripe merchants that are accepting Bitcoin and try out the checkout flow. It looks really smooth and clean, like everything Stripe puts out.

Reblog: VC Cliché of the Week

Back in the early days of this blog I had a series called VC Cliche Of The Week. I’m not sure how long I ran it but I did eventually run out of material and phased it out. In continuation of yesterday’s good vibes and with yet another shoutout to Bliss, here’s a reblog of one from March 2006:

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The father of this weekly series, the guy who taught me at least half of the cliches I know, is a guy named Bliss McCrum. He and his partner Milt Pappas taught me the venture capital business from 1986 to 1996 when I worked with them at their firm, Euclid Partners.

One of my favorite cliches from Bliss is a rising tide lifts all boats.

Whenever things seemed too good at a portfolio company, in the stock market, the economy, or somewhere else, Bliss would quip, “well you know that a rising tide lifts all boats“.

It was his way of saying “don’t mistake a good market for a good business”.  The insinuation was always that the tide would come back in and so would the boats.  And you had to be prepared to make things work in tough times as well as good times.

And we are in good times in the venture business, the internet business, and for the most part, the US economy.  Consumer confidence hasn’t been this strong since before the Iraq war.  The Fed has raised rates 15 times and may not be done, signalling that the economy remains stronger than they’d like it. Venture money is flowing freely in Silicon Valley and China and in many parts of the developed or developing world.  Advertising dollars continue to move from offline media to online media and that is one rising tide that is certainly lifting all boats.

But we know these good times will come to an end at some point.  Are we in 1998 as Caterina suggests and have another year or two before the good times end?  Who knows?  I don’t expect this run of good times to play out like the last one anyway.

The best we can do is prepare our companies to withstand a business environment that is less friendly.  Companies need a business model, they need a seasoned and well constructed team, and they need patient and experienced financial partners.  With these ingredients, hard work, and some luck, you can survive a downturn.

Some of the best companies I’ve ever worked with were funded at the height of the last bubble and they are doing great now.  So it doesn’t really matter when you start a company, but it does matter that you can make it through tough times.  Because right now we have a rising tide that is lifting all boats and that won’t last forever.

Finding Your Passion

I graduated from college with a technical degree from one of the finest engineering schools in the world, I had helped to pay for college by writing code in a research lab, I had a strong academic record, and I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.

Fortunately the Gotham Gal did and I followed her to NYC where she got busy with her career in fashion and retail. Meanwhile I took a job in an engineering firm where I used my coding skills to help design a new class of Navy ships. It was a good paying job, the kind that is in short supply for college grads these days, but it wasn’t anything I was passionate about.

We were visiting our families who lived in DC at the time and at the dinner table one night the Gotham Gal’s mom Judy who is no longer with us said to me “Get an MBA from one of the top schools. With an engineering degree from MIT and and MBA from a top school, you can write your ticket”. I liked the sound of that phrase “write your ticket” so I took her advice.

But the business school applications all asked the same thing, “what do you want to do in your career?” And I really had no good answer to that question. I knew that we were going to live in NYC because that’s where Gotham Gal’s career was flourishing. And I knew that I liked technology. But there wasn’t a tech sector in NYC at that time. All the good and high paying jobs were on Wall Street. And then it hit me. What was at the intersection of Wall Street and technology? Financing tech companies of course.

So I did some research and found out about this, at the time, sleepy little business called venture capital. This was the early 80s and the venture capital business was a much smaller and closer knit business than it is today. But I loved the sound of the word “venture”. It reminded me of adventure. I was smitten.

And so I wrote my business school applications about venture capital. I told all the schools (all three of them) that I wanted to be a VC. One of them, Wharton, accepted me and I went there, commuting back and forth to NYC for two years.

The Gotham Gal, who always pushes me and thank god she does, started asking me a few weeks into the fall semester of  business school what I was going to do the following summer. I said “get a job in venture capital”. That was my plan. Nothing more to it than that.

I wrote letters (yes letters) to all the Wharton alums in the VC business and got one reply (via letter) from Bliss McCrum. He said “please come in for lunch”. So I did that. And I got the summer job. That led to a full time job when I got out of school.

That lunch with Bliss happened 30 years ago. It was the key to finding my passion. And it led to a fantastic career that has taught me so much and connected me to so many amazing people.

Last week I got a voice mail message from Bliss. I called him back. He’s living on a ranch in Montana now. He invited me to come up and go fishing with him. We traded a bunch of stories about the venture business in the 80s. I told him that I still use all of his sayings and cliches. He loved hearing that. He and his partner Milton taught me a lot and gave me a place to find my passion. I owe them a lot for doing that. We pay that forward by doing the same thing at USV with young people who want to find their passion. And that feels good.

So where is this story going? Well it seems to me that finding your passion is critical to having a full and fulfilling life. And you have to put yourself in a place to do that. For me, it started with a woman who knew what she wanted to do long before I did and who pushed me to “figure it out” and it ended with a couple guys, Milton and Bliss, who passed their passion on to me.

I am sure there are many other ways to get there. But it won’t happen without help. So surround yourself with people who care about you and listen to them. And good things will come from that.

Blockstore

Our portfolio company Onename is announcing something today that I think is pretty powerful. It’s a key value store built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain called Blockstore.

Onename initially built Blockstore for their own business but is releasing it to the cryptocurrency community today to solicit feedback.

Here’s how Onename designed Blockstore:

  1. Based on the Bitcoin blockchain:
  2. Unlimited data storage: Storing large amounts of data in the blockchain can lead to blockchain bloat, so we decided to use a DHT for data storage while storing only hashes of the data in the blockchain, yielding virtually unlimited storage.
  3. Give money back to miners: Miners provide critical infrastructure for the Bitcoin ecosystem and we believe that any services built on top of Bitcoin should contribute to Bitcoin mining incentives.
  4. End-to-end design principle: The end-to-end design principle of keeping the core of the network simple proved to be very successful for the Internet, and we believe this is a good decision for blockchain applications as well. Thus, we use the blockchain for a few basic operations and keeping most of the intelligence client-side.

You can check out the Blockstore  codebase and documentation on Github for more information.

Basketball, Startups, and Life

When you watch the San Antonio Spurs (or the Atlanta Hawks this season), you get a sense of a system at work on the court. There is chaos, the players are moving and cutting all over the place, and then a pass is made to the open man and an uncontested layup results. It’s like magic.

My partner Andy wrote a post about chaos and startups a few days ago that briefly touches on basketball. He talks about the Zen Master Phil Jackson:

Phil Jackson believed this too. He wrote “the road to freedom is a beautiful system.” The winningest coach in NBA history believed that his success was developing a framework for his players to guide the dozens and dozens of decisions that they have to make each game, each play. He actually believed then, that his job as a coach during games was just to watch. If he had helped the team develop the right framework, then his role would at its optimum – at decision-making time – simply to sit back and let them process.

Andy’s point is that those advising and investing in startups should do the same – help the startup team develop a framework for making decisions and then sit back and watch them do it.

One thing I know for sure is that those who advise and invest in startups cannot and should not meddle in the day to day decision making. It’s harmful and hurtful to the startup and those that lead it. So operating at a higher level, helping to set the framework for decision making and then sitting down and watching the game be played, is certainly the way to go. Of course that doesn’t mean abdicating the responsibility to have the right team on the court at the right time. Coaches do that and advisors and investors should too.

Can Mobile Banking Improve The Lives Of The Poor?

It feels to me like mobile banking is arriving. Whether its M-PESA in Kenya, Venmo in the US, or Bitcoin around the world, more and more people are using mobile services connected to the cloud to store and exchange money with other people and businesses.

And one of the big potential impacts of this trend is on the unbanked, those people who traditional banks won’t service.

The Verge’s Ben Popper and Bill Gates wrote a piece in The Verge this past week about the potential of mobile money to improve the lives of the poor. It’s a good read.

Bill Gates wrote this in his annual letter:

By 2030, 2 billion people who don’t have a bank account today will be storing money and making payments with their phones. And by then, mobile money providers will be offering the full range of financial services, from interest-bearing savings accounts to credit to insurance.

That’s 15 years from now, a long time for sure, but the part of that prediction that is the most important is the “don’t have a bank account today” part. That’s a huge number of people who will have the basic infrastructure in place to allow them to consume other financial services. That feels like a massive market opportunity to me. And it feels like a massive life improvement opportunity to me too. Doing well by doing good. There isn’t much better than that.

Fun Friday: Favorite Breakfast Place

I just woke up and I’m meeting AVC regular JamesHRH in 15mins so this is going to be a short one.

We are meeting at Swingers in Santa Monica, a diner that makes great breakfasts and serves strong black coffee. It’s my go to spot on the west side of LA.

Where is your favorite place to meet for breakfast?

The Mobile Phone Addiction

A year or two ago, the Gotham Gal and I were at dinner and were seated next to a young couple. It wasn’t clear if the young couple were on a date, or they were in a relationship, or they were married. We didn’t ask. But they were on their phones for the entire dinner. They did not talk to each other much, if at all. That scene bothers me. I see it all the time in one way or another.

My mobile phone addiction has waned over the years. The worst was the early Blackberry years of the late 90s. I couldn’t keep my Blackberry in my pocket. It was not good. I learned over time how to manage the addiction and by the time the smartphone arrived, I had largely conquered that urge to pull the phone out to distract, disengage, and go somewhere else. I still do it, but I am aware of the urge, and resist it constantly.

Last weekend, we arrived at a restaurant early for a dinner with a friend. The place was packed and the area around the bar was jammed. They asked us to wait at the bar until our table was free and our friend arrived. We were getting pushed and bumped into. Waiters and waitresses were constantly asking to get through. It was not pleasant. We couldn’t even get to the bar to order a drink. I felt this powerful urge to pull out my phone and distract myself from all of that craziness. But I decided to keep my phone in my pocket and just stand there and be present in the chaos. So that’s what I did. But that urge to pull out the phone was powerful. It’s a drug like any other drug.

I see my kids and their generation struggle with this addiction. When a text comes in, they can’t ignore it. They have to grab the phone and see who it is. And as the conversation goes on, they can’t put the phone down even if there are people in the room they can easily converse with. And it is not just the generation that grew up with a phone in their pocket. It is all of us.

The worst of it is in the car. Texting and driving is a scourge. We must find a solution to that. Maybe its a societal movement, like the way we have approached drunk driving. Or maybe its a technological solution. I’ve written about that before.

Having a powerful computer in our pocket that is connected to billions of computers in other pockets in real time is the reality of our time. And it is a drug. And we are all addicted to it in some ways. Being aware of the addiction and working on controlling it has helped me a lot over the years and I encourage everyone to work on it. You can either control it or it will control you.

ScriptEd Summer Internships

If you are in a tech company in NYC (or if you run a tech company in NYC) please consider hosting a ScriptEd summer internship this summer. Here is what you need to know to consider that:

1/ ScriptEd is a nonprofit supported by CSNYC. It recruits software developers to volunteer in low-income high schools around New York City during the school year and teach a foundational course in web development and computer science. Over the summer, ScriptEd connects its students to paid six-week summer internships at tech companies and with tech teams within other types companies. Some of its past internship partners include About.com, Contently, Thrillist, JP Morgan and American Express. ScriptEd currently serves more than 300 students across NYC and will place 100 of its students in internships this summer.

2/ ScriptEd will hold a Summer 2015 Internship Information Session on Wednesday, March 4th at 6:30pm. They are specifically looking for companies with at least 40 New York City based employees and at least 3-4 developers on staff. If you are interested in attending this event, please fill out an interest form here. To learn more about their internship program, click here.

3/ ScriptEd’s internship program was so successful last summer that they are aiming to place five times as many students in internships this summer. All of their internship partners from last summer reported that they are re-engaging with ScriptEd this summer, and many have asked for an increased number of interns this summer.

4/ ScriptEd’s long term goal is to ensure that low income NYC students have the experience, mentorship and confidence they need to pursue careers in tech.

5/ The technology industry is growing faster than ever and diverse talent is becoming more difficult to find.

6/ Companies can try to solve for their own tech talent shortage by stepping up recruiting efforts to capture a bigger piece of the tech talent pool but that is not a long-term solution. Expansion of the tech talent pipeline – attracting young women and young students of color to the study of STEM and careers in tech – must be a part of the solution.

7/ ScriptEd’s student population during the 2013-2014 school year was 30% Black, 43% Hispanic, 24% Asian and 3% White. Its 2014 internship class was 50% female and 50% male.

8/ Fin

For ScriptEd’s annual report, click here.

For ScriptEd’s  internship brochure, click here.