Podcasting

NY Magazine has a piece up on podcasting. I think this is the money line in the post:

Connected cars are a boon for the entire streaming audio industry, but they’re especially exciting for podcast makers, whose shows are perfectly suited to in-car listening. Just as TV watchers can now choose Netflix or Amazon streams over surfing channels, radio listeners will soon have a bevy of on-demand options at their disposal.

As is often the case, a simple little thing turns out to be the big thing. That little thing is that almost every car that has been sold in the past five years has had bluetooth connectivity to the car audio system. These days your phone is connected wirelessly to your car the minute you open the door and get in it. That’s a powerful thing. The phone has become the portal to the car audio system. And so if you can get podcasts on your phone, which is trivial these days, you can listen to them on the way to work or your way home.

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It is also true that the quality of podcasting content has massively improved in the past five years. Back in 2005 and 2006, our family used to do a podcast called Positively 10th Street. It was a fun experiment but we were pretty terrible at the podcasting thing and dropped it after a year or so. All of the episodes seem to have vanished from the Internet which is shocking to me but probably a happy fact for my kids.

As the NY Mag piece explains, many public radio veterans have started podcasts and they are, as you would expect, very good. And you have things like the A16Z podcast and Spark’s Hallway Chats to listen to if you are tech or startup person and want to listen to tech/startup stuff on the way to work. The trending audio page on SoundCloud shows the most popular talk content on SoundCloud. The diversity of subject matter and styles is really extraordinary.

And there are also a host of podcasting clients for mobile phones that have come to market recently. Stitcher, Overcast, and Instacast are three popular ones. I mostly just listen on SoundCloud but if you want to have a single client that can aggregate RSS feeds as well as SoundCloud and other audio hosts, the mobile phone client is the way to go.

The only thing we need now is for Howard Stern to leave the airwaves and move to podcasting. Then podcasting would take over the world of talk radio. It seems inevitable.

Fun Friday: How Do You Message On Your Phone?

It’s time for a fun friday.

I want to know how people message on their phones.

Here’s how I do it:

Kik – I use Kik to message most of my family, my co-workers, and a few friends

iMessage – I have to say that iMessage is great. I use it to message with my daughter Emily and many people I work with. I think of iMessage as SMS+ and it’s pretty great.

Hangouts – My older daughter Jessica often will send me a Hangouts message. I think she does that when she’s at her computer and she isn’t sure if I’m on my phone or on my computer. Some of the people I work with will sometimes do that too.

I would say I use Kik about 60-70% of the time, iMessage 30% of the time, and Hangouts the rest.

How about you?

I’ve created a poll to make collecting this info easy, but I’m also interested in the color around this topic which should make good fodder for the comments.


Multisig

A few days ago, I got an email from a reporter asking me this:

What is needed to help bring Bitcoin security and ease of use to mainstream Bitcoin users?

I was in a hurry, trying to get through my email, and wrote back this:

i think wider use of multisig would be a good thing

Mutisig is a technology that was added to the Bitcoin protocol in 2011 and 2012. This article on Multisig by Vitalik Buterin is a good description of the technology. This is from Vitalik’s article:

In a traditional Bitcoin account, you have Bitcoin addresses, where each address has one associated private key that grants the keyholder full control over the funds. With multisignature addresses, you can have a Bitcoin address with three associated private keys, such that you need any two of them to spend the funds. 

In principle this is a lot like the check-writing policies that many of our portfolio companies have. For checks below some number, say $5000, one signature is fine. But for checks above that number, two signatures are required.

Multisigned transactions are more secure. I would like to see more Bitcoin based systems implement multisig, as I explained to the reporter.

Yesterday our portfolio company Coinbase announced that their Vault service supports multisig. I use a Coinbase Vault and like to think of it as my “savings account” and I use it in combination with my primary Coinbase wallet, which I like to think of as my “checking account.” In addition to a Multisig Vault being more secure, it also allows the user to store their own private keys, something that has not been possible with the Coinbase wallet service. You can increase the number of required signatures from two of three to three of five. The latter service is great for family vaults or group vaults.

The reaction to Multisig Vault has been very good, as evidenced by this Hacker News thread. I particularly liked this comment:

the mere fact that a major Bitcoin exchange is allowing users to hold their own private keys really puts a smile on my face today.

It is completely unheard of in the financial industry (and usually technically impossible before cryptocurrencies) to have a bank give away their “middle man” access of people’s money and empowering their customers with complete control over their finances.

This is what Bitcoin is all about. Giving us control back over our money and taking it away from the financial institutions. It is not a coincidence that Bitcoin was invented in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008. But you can’t take control back from the financial institutions without providing trust and security. And multisig is a big part of that.

Averaging In And Averaging Out

One of my favorite techniques to buying and selling transactional assets (stocks being the prime example) is to dollar cost average on the way in and the way out.

I am doing this right now with Bitcoin. I want to buy enough bitcoin so I can make charitable gifts and political donations with it and generally transact in it as much as possible. I’m buying 1.5 bitcoin every week in my Coinbase account. I have a reminder in my calendar and I buy some every week at the same time (I bought some this morning). I’ll keep doing this until I feel like stopping. A lot depends on how much I spend I guess. But the point is I would not be comfortable going out and buying a bunch of bitcoin in one transaction. There’s too much market risk in doing that. By purchasing an asset in small amounts over a long period of time you average into your price and I like doing that.

When a stock is distributed to me from USV, I generally sell a little bit and then put some away permanently. And then I slowly sell the remaining amount over a long period of time, generally three to five years. I generally like to sell once a quarter at the same time. I like the week after the earnings reports, when all the information is in the market and the market has digested it. But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is to sell roughly the same amount in a regular rhythm.

The point of averaging in and averaging out is you never get the top or the bottom, but you get the average. And the average is just fine with me.

In some ways, building a position in an early stage venture fund is the same thing. We buy a bit at the seed stage, a bit more at the Srs A stage, a bit more at the Srs B stage, and so on and so forth. In some of our best companies, we have bought stock in five to ten rounds. Some of those rounds will turn out to have been bargains. Some will turn out to have been overpriced. But on average, if you get to invest in ten rounds, you will build a very good position at a very good price.

It goes back to optimizing versus satisficing. If you want to find the optimal entry price or the optimal exit price, you will drive yourself crazy. I prefer to find an acceptable price. And I think that averaging in and averaging out does that for you.

Founders Circle

Last week my friend Chris Albinson formed an interesting new firm called Founders Circle Capital. He wrote a bit about what they are doing here.

In a nutshell, Founders Circle provides liquidity for the founders and employees of a “breakaway growth companies” so they don’t need to sell or take the company public prematurely. I like this line from the post I linked to above:

An investment from Founders Circle–typically just enough for team members to pay off graduate school debt, put a down payment on a house, send the kids to school, or pay for a loved one’s medical expenses–gives companies the flexibility to pass on early acquisition offers and motivates essential team members to stay at the company they have put their heart and soul into.

Of course the question is always “when is the right time to do this?”. You should not do this sort of thing too early in a company’s life. It takes time for the equity value to get to a point where it makes sense for the founders and employees to take a bit of their equity value off the table. I guess that’s why they focus on “breakaway growth companies”. That’s smart.

If you want to learn more about Founders Circle, here’s a page on their website that outlines the kinds of investment programs they operate. It’s great to have investment vehicles like Founders Circle in the venture capital market. It provides an important part of the “capital stack” that startups need to access to go all the way to the finish line.

Sidechains

Earlier this year some entrepreneurs walked into our office and explained sidechains to us. I was pretty excited about the concept then and I continue to be excited about it. This past week some of the people who explained them to us and some other people I don’t know published a paper about sidechains called Enabling Blockchain Innovations with Pegged Sidechains. I think this is an important paper and everyone involved in bitcoin, blockchains, and cryptocurrencies should give it a read.

Here’s the basic idea in layman’s terms. I am purposely trying to dumb down and simplify the idea here.

1) The Bitcoin Blockchain is the most liquid blockchain, has the most mining on it, and is likely to remain that way given the network effects it has built up over the past five years.

2) The core Bitcoin system and software is not likely to change very much because making changes to it is risky and there is a lot of capital at stake on the Bitcoin blockchain now.

3) There are things you might want to do that are not well supported or not supported at all on the Bitcoin blockchain.

4) This desire for “other things you might want to do” has given rise to a ton of alternate blockchains, none of which have developed a lot of liquidity and mining on them.

5) So what if you created “sidechains” that are “pegged” to the Bitcoin blockchain that allow “other things you might want to do” while still leveraging the liquidity and mining of the Bitcoin blockchain?

That’s the basic idea and the paper I linked to explains how to do the “pegging” part which is critical to this whole idea working.

I believe that the core Bitcoin system and software will have to be modified to allow these “pegs” and I’m pretty sure (but not positive) that these changes have not yet been made.

It will be interesting to watch how all of this develops over the next year or two. If “pegs” are added to the core Bitcoin system and software, and if sidechains become popular and viable, then Bitcoin would essentially become the reserve currency of the entire cryptocurrency sector and there would be a host of sidechains and currencies that are pegged to it. This would allow a ton of innovation to happen around Bitcoin without requiring a lot of change to the underlying Bitcoin system. Which seems sort of ideal given how much money ($5bn at current prices) is at stake now.

The Cost Of Loyalty

In the local transportation market, we now have lots of options in addition to mass transit. Here in NYC, we have taxis, Lyft, and Uber. In SF and LA, we have taxis, Sidecar (our portfolio company), Lyft, and Uber. Around the country and world, there are various options including our portfolio company Hailo.

I’ve always wished there was an aggregation app that pulled all the prices and availability in real-time across all the available services and got you the best fare at the time. Or allowed you to make the choice between price and ETA (the way sidecar’s app does). It turns out there is a lot of price variability in the market and there is not one choice you can make all the time that will work out well for you. Being loyal to one app costs you.

Then this morning, a blog post popped up in my inbox courtesy of my friend Boris. In this post, they calculated the “cost of loyalty” to one just one app.

cost of loyalty

I mostly use taxis in manhattan when Citibike and subway won’t do and that’s because they are the cheapest and most available option. Uber and Lyft are for times you can’t get a cab and you’ll pay through the nose when you take that option as they are almost always surging at those times.

Another interesting thing about these charts is how taxis are the most expensive service to be loyal to in SF and LA. That is crazy. They are going to go out of business in those markets with that pricing.

But mostly I am proud that our portfolio company Sidecar is the least costly service to be loyal to. That is because they don’t use surge pricing and instead allow drivers adjust pricing in their marketplace model as they desire. Sidecar is committed to using a true marketplace and things like shared rides to deliver the lowest cost rides in the market. It is also true that Sidecar ETAs are a bit longer as this chart of SF shows:

ETAs

Going back to the opening thought, which is that someone should build an aggregation app on top of all of these services so we can replace the app on our home screen that we are most loyal to with an app that works across all services. The authors of this blog post did just that and you can use What’s The Fare to tell you who has the best price in the market. It looks like right now its just a web/mobile web app and all it does it give you the fares. If they or someone else went further, made it into a mobile app, and used the services APIs to actually book rides (if the APIs were available to do that), then we’d really have something.

That’s the way this market should work long term. I hope we can get there soon. Google Maps and Apple Maps are the ideal interfaces to make it happen. Let’s go!

Feature Friday: Etsy In Real Life

This week our portfolio company Etsy introduced Etsy Reader, a dongle for your phone or tablet that allows Etsy sellers to sell on Etsy in real life.

etsy_in-person_payments

The natural reaction to this would be “Etsy knocked off Square” and to some degree that would be correct. But Etsy Reader is not just a card reader. There is quite a bit of software behind the scenes that connects the checkout experience to the seller’s shop on Etsy and all of the seller tools that Etsy provides. The better way to think about this is that Etsy Reader extends a seller’s Etsy Store to the real world of craft fairs, flea markets, and other in person experiences.

Etsy Reader is about coming full circle at Etsy. In the early days, back in 2005 and 2006 when we first invested, Etsy was built seller by seller, at craft fairs, with street teams manning Etsy booths and evangelizing a new way to find customers and meet other like minded people. Etsy sellers still sell a lot at craft fairs and other face to face environments. Now with Etsy Reader, the shop can be online or offline with everything tied together.

I am excited to see Etsy Reader come to market. It’s been a dream for a while now and props to Camilla and her team for getting it out the door. Well done.