Some Thoughts On Ethereum and The DAO

As many (most, all?) of you know, last week The DAO, a large crowdfunding experiment based on the Ethereum blockchain, was hacked and something like $50mm of Ether was taken from The DAO. That Ether may end up being recovered due to a fork of Ethereum that was done in response to the hack. Much of this was covered in Nathaniel Popper’s post in the New York Times last friday.

I won’t say that I predicted this but I certainly saw something like it coming in my blog post on Experiment and Scandal that I wrote a month ago.

Ethereum is brand new technology. The smart contracts that can be built on Ethereum are an entirely new thing and we are just seeing what works and doesn’t work with this technology. It is safe to say that the contracts that The DAO wrote did not work. The DAO is a failed experiment that suffered from more than poorly written and ill conceived smart contracts. It also suffered from way too much money and hype being invested in it. I was thinking of The DAO when I wrote these words a month ago:

I find myself wishing we could keep the dollars invested and hype down when we do these massively public experiments

It is an open question about what impact the failure of The DAO will have the future of the Ethereum experiment. It certainly shows that pairing a public and open blockchain with a Turing complete programming language and a smart contracts system is a very ambitious and potentially very dangerous idea. The price of Ethereum in dollars has been halved as a result of The DAO failure and it is unclear if the bleeding is over on that price chart. There is a very well articulated debate on Hacker News right now about the future of the Ethereum experiment. If owning Bitcoin is like buying an IPO stock, owning Ethereum right now is like buying into a Series A round. Let’s just make sure we all understand that please.

My partner Albert who is way smarter about the technology here than I am wrote a post on his thoughts on this subject over the weekend. You will see that he and I see things pretty much the same way (shock!). He ends his post with this thought:

Blockchains and smart contracts are amazing new tools in our overall technological toolset. We have to learn how to deploy them to the best uses (many of which have yet to be invented). That will take failures. The DAO is not the first one (e.g., Mt. Gox) and won’t be the last one.

I could not have said it better.

The Will To Win

Will is the word that comes to mind after watching the Cavs fight back from a 3-1 deficit and take the title last night. Of course, the Warriors did the same thing in the western conference finals against the Thunder. Those two series were two of the best NBA playoff series I’ve watched and I watched both cover to cover.

LeBron James is 31, at the peak of his career and capabilities, with six consecutive NBA finals appearances. He’s mature, seasoned, and understands what it takes to prevail. He’s left the court three times in those six finals with the same feeling that the Warriors left with last night. And although winning is what is celebrated, and rightly so, losing is what teaches you things. LeBron knows these things now. The Warriors are just learning them. They will be better because of this outcome although I suspect they aren’t feeling that today.

I think the Warriors are a dynasty in the making but they need to understand what LeBron has learned over the past ten years. Last year’s win came too easy in some ways. I think they will be better next year and I bet they won’t be as concerned by how many wins they get in the regular season.

I think this championship is LeBron’s crowning achievement in a career full of achievement. There may be more rings for LeBron but I don’t think there will be another that means as much as this one. And this image, which I’ve already posted once on this blog, will stay with me for a long time. It reeks of the will to win.

LeBron

Father’s Day

So today is Father’s day. I will get a gift from my wife and kids and they always do a great job with that. And I appreciate it very much.

But honestly the greatest gift I have ever received is my three kids (and my wonderful wife who made them in more ways that one). I get so much joy from my kids. They make me laugh. They make me proud. They test me. They teach me. And it gets better and better over time. I don’t live with them anymore (our son does still live with us in the summer) but I continue to have meaningful relationships with them and as they mature and become fully productive adults they have become friends, confidants, and partners.

I know that father’s day is a day for my family to thank me but I honestly feel like I am the one who should be saying thanks today. And so consider this post just that.

Feature Friday: Voice Interface For Music

We finally got an Amazon Echo in our home a few weeks ago. We have had one at USV for quite some time and have had fun hacking around on it. But I really wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen when we got one at home.

We have Sonos in our homes. I often joke that I have more Sonos devices than any other person. It may be true.

But since we’ve been able to just call out the music we want to listen to and get it, I have been using the Amazon Echo a lot more and the Sonos a lot less. And we only have Echo in one room whereas we have Sonos throughout our house, connected up through in wall/ceiling speakers. I wrote that convenience trumps quality many years ago, and I am reminded again how true that is.

The other night we were at the dinner table in the kitchen hanging out and chatting after dinner and there was no music on in the kitchen where we have Sonos. I desperately wanted to call out some music but obviously could not. I could have gotten up and gotten my phone and put some music on via the Sonos app. But I didn’t. That got my attention.

We’ve already had this on our phones (Google Now and Siri) but there is something about having this on your home audio system that is really sweet. I suspect many of us will be calling the music we want to hear using voice commands in the coming years.

If you haven’t seen the Amazon Echo playing music, here’s a short video of made of the experience just now.

Voir Dire

I am doing jury duty this week. I am not supposed to blog, tweet, or email about the cases and I won’t do that. But I thought I would talk a bit about the Voir Dire process which is the way the judge and lawyers select the jury.

In NYC, which is the only place I’ve ever served on jury duty, the judge calls up to the jurors room and a whole bunch of prospective jurors are sent down the courtroom. The clerk then selects twenty random jurors from the group that was sent down and they are seated. The judge and the two lawyers then ask the jurors a host of questions that will help them select the jury they want to hear the case. They are looking for life experiences, prejudices, and other situations that would make it difficult for the prospective juror to be impartial and fair in rendering a verdict.

It is a fascinating process. I’ve been through it a bunch of times now. It reveals a lot about people quickly and efficiently. I picked up a few really good tips for interviews yesterday.

Try as I might, and I have tried, I have not been able to convince any judges and lawyers to seat me. I’ll see if I can change that again today.

Patient Centric Healthcare

My daughter went to see a doctor a month or so ago. She thought she had strep throat. The doctor checked her out and said that she did not think she had strep. My daughter wanted a strep test but the doctor talked her out of it. A week later, my daughter was back at the doctor with a massive case of strep throat. I told her the lesson of that experience was the the doctor works for her, not the other way around.

I was reminded of that story when I read my partner Andy’s long and wonderful post on USV’s approach to investing in healthcare.

In that post, Andy quotes Jay Parkinson:

People are the CEO of their health, and doctors are just consultants.

And that is what I was explaining to my daughter last month.

The good news is that technology is changing all of this.

My daughter’s iPhone can’t deliver a strep test to her, yet. But it can deliver an eye exam and a hearing test. So I am confident strep will come to a phone someday. And in the process our phones are becoming our electronic medical records. But we own them. That’s a big deal.

Andy gets into it more in his post which I re-tweeted with this observation:

Wattpad Studios

One of the things I am most proud of about our portfolio at USV is that we have invested in a handful of companies that are slowly but surely changing the way content creators reach their audience and make money doing that. I like to think of it as the evolution of the studio model that has prevailed in content for as long as I’ve been alive. Some of the companies that would fit into this category are Kickstarter, SoundCloud, YouNow, Splice, VHX, Mediachain, and Wattpad.

Wattpad is one of the most interesting of the bunch. Wattpad is a community of readers and writers that operates natively on the web and mobile devices. It is, along with Kindle and Audible, one of the “big three” in the Books category on mobile phones.

Wattpad has a global monthly audience of 45mm people, mostly young and trending female, that read stories that are written on Wattpad for the community of readers that is there. That’s a big number. And that has gotten the attention of the film and television business. In 2014, Wattpad author Anna Todd’s serialized story After (over 1.3 billion reads and more than 6 million comments) was optioned by Paramount and is now being developed into a feature film (it has also been published as a book by Simon & Schuster).

So Wattpad has created Wattpad Studios to help other authors on Wattpad do the same thing. And yesterday Wattpad Studios announced a partnership with Turner to create stories for Turner’s Tales From The Crypt.

The global internet allows anyone to be a writer and anyone to be a reader. The stories that emerge from this community powered content creation and consumption model on Wattpad are rich and diverse. And so it makes a ton of sense that Wattpad would help these emerging storytellers reach a broader audience through the power of film and television. This should be a good service to the Wattpad writer community and a good business too.

The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Like everyone, I was horrified to read about what happened in the Pulse nightclub on Saturday night.

The scourge that is at the heart of this awful event is hatred, hatred so deep that a person could walk into a nightclub and kill fifty people and wound many more. I can’t imagine that. I am saddened that anyone can.

For me, the only response to this kind of hatred is love, unconditional love.

And my act of love was giving to this Crowdrise that will help pay for the funeral and medical costs for Pulse victims.

Please join us if you are so inclined.

Strong Views Weakly Held

As Andy talked about in the podcast I posted yesterday, the style we use to decide what to invest in at USV is extremely conversational. We discuss, debate, discuss, debate, and eventually decide. It is a group thing. We don’t really make individual investment decisions at USV. We make group investment decisions. And so the group dynamic is critical. We have various personality types. And you need that.

My personal style is “strong views weakly held.” I didn’t come up with that term. My friend Jeremy introduced the concept to me. But it describes me accurately. When an investment opportunity is surfaced, I will immediately have an opinion and I will voice it, often strongly. My colleagues understand that is my style and don’t let me bully the conversation. Because they also know I will fold quickly when the facts prove I am wrong. And I don’t require too many facts to prove that to myself.

But it is helpful to have a number of people in a group who behaves as I do. It gets the discussion going. It fuels the debate. And, because everyone knows I will fold quickly if wrong, they are happy to make the investment in proving me wrong.

Strong views are quite helpful if weakly held. Strong views strongly held are only helpful if they are actually correct and even then they can stifle debate. So while we like everyone at USV to have strong views, we also like them to concede the point when facts suggest they aren’t actually right. And happily our culture encourages and rewards that.