Steph

A few years ago, my friend Jonathan Klein asked me to come speak to a strategy offsite for his company Getty Images. A few days later, I got a thank you note and he asked me to pick any image from their website for a thank you gift.

I picked this one and he was shocked. He asked me, “of all the famous and important images on our website, why would you pick that one?” I told him this story.

On March 23, 2008, our beloved Georgetown was playing in the NCAA regional finals against Davidson. My son Josh and I were certain this was going to be Georgetown’s year. We had big Roy Hibbert in the paint and a bunch of scoring guards and a tenacious defense. We sat down for the big game expecting a win and a trip to the final four.

Instead we got our first glimpse of Steph Curry. He pretty much singlehandedly beat Georgetown that game and by the second half Josh and I were rooting for him. He was that good and that fun to watch. We knew then that he was going to be something special.

Then in 2009, we watched with horror as the Warriors picked Steph with the 7th pick when we were sure our Knicks were going to get him with the 8th pick. MSG would be a different place with Steph on the floor every night in a Knicks uniform.

I missed last night’s game. We are in Berlin and I had to be up early for a board meeting. So when I got up and checked my phone and saw that Steph and his Warriors teammates had won game six and the NBA title, I was pleased.

LeBron may be the best player in the game right now, and he showed why in this series, but Steph and KD are my favorites. They play the game with an elegance and beauty that I appreciate.

I am really happy that Steph got his ring last night. Josh and I saw it coming 7 years ago when we first saw him in action.

La Ruche qui dit Oui!

La Ruche qui dit Oui! (the hive that says yes) is a marketplace that connects farmers to people who want farm fresh food in their kitchens and on their tables. We got to know the company last winter when my friends Simon and Toby from Mosaic introduced me to Marc-David Choukroun, one of the two founders of La Ruche. The Gotham Gal and I were in Paris and we met up with Marc-David at a Ruche on a saturday morning. We sipped coffee and talked to the farmers and customers who were stopping by to pick up their weekly supply of meat, cheese, milk, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and bread. We were smitten.

For years, USV has been on the hunt for a way to invest in the “farm to table” market sector. As you all know very well, we believe in the power of networks to solve the challenging problems of our time. And making high quality farm fresh quality food available at a reasonable price to everyone is certainly one of those challenging problems. The most affordable food is also the most mass produced and, generally, the most unhealthy food. How can we get back to a time when the food we eat is produced nearby, is high quality, and is healthy?

One way is to use the power of the network to connect farmers and consumers. And many entrepreneurs have been working on this problem over the past twenty years. We have met with most of them. Unfortunately, not many of them, until recently, met our test of a lightweight, peer to peer, capital efficient, people powered network. We call these “thin networks” and we are drawn to them as investors and as consumers.

La Ruche has been operating in France and Belgium for the past four years. Their marketplace connects farmers, consumers, and, most importantly, hosts together to form communities (Ruches or Assemblies) that come together once a week to exchange products, feedback, and friendships. These are communities in the truest sense of the word. My colleague Nick went to a Ruche in Paris last month and there was live music playing and people were hanging out enjoying the lovely spring day. A community is the thing that La Ruche’s marketplace software helps people create.

The business model is simple. Consumers order the food they want to pick up in advance and pay for it. The farmer comes to the community at the designated time, sets up next to the other farmers, and delivers his or her products in person. The farmer keeps most of the money, but the host and La Ruche split a small take rate for facilitating the transaction. It is a win/win/win. Farmers make more money selling directly, consumers get high quality products at reasonable prices, and the hosts make money for their effort to create the community, recruit the consumers, and curate the farmers. For many hosts, the income they get from creating and running these communities helps pay the bills, in the same way that selling on Etsy can help a family make a little extra money each month to make ends meet.

La Ruche has expanded to the UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy recently. The communities are known as La Ruche qui dit Oui! in France and Belgium; The Food Assembly in the UK and Germany, ¡La Colmena que dice Si! in Spain, L’alveare che dice Si! in Italy and Boeren & Buren in flemish Belgium. With its recent expansion in Europe, the network now has 100,000 active customers, 4,500 local producers, 700 communities. The company has 70 employees operating in six countries.

Over the past six months, USV has worked with Marc-David and his partner Guilhem Cheron to put together the right investor group to help La Ruche with their european expansion. La Ruche is a socially conscious mission driven organization that values farmers and communities and the needs of both as much as (or more than) the pure profit motive. In the US, they would be a B Corporation. And so they needed an investor group that was aligned on that. I am pleased and proud to say that they have succeeded in finding that investor group and USV is part of it. Our partners in this adventure are Frederic Court of Felix Capital, existing investor Rodolphe Menegaux and Xange, Eric Archambeau and Aymeric Jung of the social venture capital fund Quadia, and a few angel investors who are aligned with the company and its mission.

If you find yourself in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, or the UK in the coming months, go to La Ruche and find a Ruche or Assembly and stop by and check it out. It’s something to see. Here’s a map that will help you find one near you.

Banks and Brokerages Should Be Mining The Blockchain

The biggest new trend I am seeing in bitcoin/blockchain is the emergence of a number of companies building systems on the blockchain (including the NASDAQ) to handle the backoffice issues that banks and brokerage firms have to manage. The blockchain is an ideal platform to build these sorts of applications (clearing, settlement, etc) on.

One concern I hear, though, is that banks like to know who is managing their infrastructure and they are uncomfortable with miners they don’t know, located in parts of the world that make them nervous, providing the transaction processing infrastructure for these applications being built on the blockchain.

To me, that is the perfect reason for banks and brokerage firms to take a bit of their data processing infrastructure and point it to the blockchain and start mining it. They could even create a mining pool among the large money center banks. And it is relatively simple for a blockchain application to route its transactions to certain miners to process.

If you think of the blockchain as an open source, peer to peer, massively distributed database, then it makes sense for the transaction processing infrastructure for it to evolve from individuals to large global corporations. Some of these miners will be dedicated for profit miners and some of them will be corporations who are mining to insure the integrity of the network and the systems they rely on that are running on it. Banks and brokerage firms are the obvious first movers in the second category.

I wonder if the CIOs of the large money center banks are already doing this. If I was in their jobs, I would be all over this.

A Blast From The Past

I’ve been assisting with a project that is attempting to document the history of tech in NYC since Samuel Morse helped to bring the telegraph to market in the 1830s. I can’t help much with what went down in the 19th and early 20th century. But I can help with what happened at the very end of the 20th century. And in the course of doing that, I came across this video of Pseudo Entertainment’s offerings in the late 90s.

What is interesting is the similarity in many respects to the services that our portfolio company YouNow and Meerkat and Periscope have in the market today. The broadcast and consumption devices have changed (from PC to mobile) but the user experience is remarkably pretty much the same.

There’s something important in that realization.

Along the same lines, this conversation between Mark Suster and Ryan Hoover, starting at 8mins, is quite relevant. I love how they take it back to the early days of Howard Stern.

Future Friday: OpenBazaar and OB1

Yesterday our portfolio company OB1 announced a seed round led by USV, Andreessen Horowitz and William Mougayar.

From the OB1 blog post:

OpenBazaar will always be open source and MIT licensed. As a global software community, we’ve intentionally created OpenBazaar so that there are no fees required to use the network, and there is no central authority controlling trade, taking a cut, or monitoring data.

So OpenBazaar is a decentralized open source marketplace protocol that allows trade to happen between parties without a central marketplace operator and without a take rate.

There is a real question about how one can make money doing something like this. And there is a real question about how you avoid bad people doing bad things in a marketplace like this.

My partner Brad, who led this investment for USV, addressed both in this blog post on usv.com yesterday. I can’t recall an investment we wrestled with more in recent years. We love the team, we love marketplaces, we believe in emergent decentralized innovation, and we are big fans of bitcoin and the blockchain. So in the end we went with all of that and are accepting the obvious risks of supporting something like this. We are very excited to see how this all plays out.

The Context.IO App Challenge

I recently agreed to be a judge for the Context.IO App Challenge. It is a long-format online hackathon. Developers and entrepreneurs have until September 1 to build and submit consumer applications that use the Context.IO API, with a chance to win over $50k ($125k cash prizes in total).

Context.IO is a product of Return Path, where I’ve been on the board since 2000.

Context.IO is an API that allows you to easily build applications on top of the data from your user’s email accounts. It removes the complexity of working with email servers and the nuances across different email providers (Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.) to greatly reduce development time.

The email inbox is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs because so much of what happens in today’s world (commerce transactions, communications, content sharing) flows through email and there are over a billion active email inboxes.

The judges are Brad Feld, David Cohen and Matt Blumberg. This is our judging criteria:

  • Quality of Idea: Is the idea creative, original and innovative?
  • Implementation of Idea: Was the idea well executed?
  • Potential Impact: Is the app providing sufficient value to it’s users?
  • Market Readiness: Is the app market ready? Is it available in a public, online store? Has it been localized for international markets?

Anyone interested in participating should register for the challenge on the Challengepost website and get started with Context.IO by signing up for an API key on their website.

Benedict Evans on WWDC

If you, like me, were busy at work this week and were not able to pay attention to WWDC, then this podcast with Benedict Evans is well worth the 25mins it takes to listen.

Now I feel like I know what was announced and what to make of it.

Thanks Benedict.

Pegg

I’ve been watching my friend Kirk and his colleagues Bart and Marc building a mobile app called Pegg for the past year. I’ve had almost every build on my iPhone during that time so I’ve been watching them up close and it’s been a pleasure to see them refine, simplify, and ultimately ship a really fun and engaging product.

Pegg is “your mobile mini mood board.”

Here’s my current Pegg board

my pegg board

 

Here is Kirk’s current Pegg board:

kirk's pegg

 

 

My favorite feature is the ability to quickly drop into a chat with anyone on their pegg board. Here’s the current chat on my pegg board:

my pegg chat

If you have an iPhone and want to try out Pegg, you can download it here.

And there’s also a discussion of Pegg on Product Hunt today.

I recall having my first conversation with Kirk about Pegg at breakfast a year or more ago. He was inspired by the pegg board in his dad’s workshop. He thought that would make a nice metaphor for a board you could update daily with the little things in your life that represent how you feel and what you are doing. His initial concept was a website but he quickly turned his attention to mobile. Along the way Kirk and Bart learned how to design and build a mobile product and added Marc to the team.

The thing that I’ve been the most impressed by is how Kirk has stayed true to his initial vision through all the ups and downs, back and forths, and redesigns they’ve been through. It is so easy to get lost in that process. The product they shipped last week is pretty much the thing he described to me at breakfast when he first mentioned the idea to me. That’s hard to do and so congrats on that Kirk.

Kozmo

Yesterday was a bright sunny day on the east end of long island. So the Gotham Gal wanted a hat to shield the sun from her face and pulled out this gem from one of our closets.

jo in kozmo hat

For those that don’t know, that’s a Kozmo.com logo on the hat. Kozmo shut down in early 2001 and has been gone for over fourteen years. But I still see bike messengers riding around NYC with their messenger bags. It turns out the schwag is often more durable than the company. In this case, that has absolutely been true.

My prior venture capital firm provided much of the early capital to Kozmo and we wrote off something like $25mm or $30mm when it went up in flames.

On the way back from lunch, the Gotham Gal turned to me and said “Kozmo was way ahead of its time.” I woke up thinking about that this morning. It’s true.

Kozmo pioneered the idea of same hour delivery in 1998, fifteen years before its time. Kozmo pioneered the idea of raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year long before it became fashionable, even normal to do so. Kozmo nailed the practice of scaling while your unit economics are upside down. They took that practice into almost twenty markets before the capital markets turned on them and there wasn’t money available to incinerate anymore.

I hope it all turns out differently this time. There are many reasons to hope and expect that it will. But for now, I see a lot of similarities out there in the delivery space to what Kozmo was doing, long before it was common.

I have a lot to be thankful for from Kozmo. I’ve got hats and messenger bags. But more than that, I’ve got scars. I wear them every day.