The Revolving Door

USV is a revolving door when it comes to our analyst program. We hire the smartest young people we can find (Jennifer and Jacqueline are our newest hires) and ask them to spend two years with us learning the VC business and helping us make and manage our investments. Then we ask them to move on to bigger and better things. It’s a great deal for both parties. We get really smart people early in their career on a steep learning curve throwing themselves at our business. And they get to learn from partners who collectively have been doing VC for something approaching 100 years.

But when an analyst walks out the door on their last day, I always ask myself privately “what the hell are we thinking.” That’s how it was yesterday with Jonathan who is leaving to be the first product manager at our portfolio company Figure1. It’s a perfect match for Figure1 and Jonathan. In fact, when he interviewed for the analyst job, Jonathan suggested we invest in Figure1, not knowing that we already had or were about to. That’s how we knew he’d be great at the job. And he was. Although, as he wrote in this fantastic post, the job was not always easy on him and it took time to learn the things you need to learn to be successful at USV.

Even though I ask myself what we are thinking letting these amazing people go through the revolving door, I remain convinced that it is the best thing for them and for USV. The USV analyst program alumni group is an incredibly impressive group of people who have gone on to do substantial things. Things they maybe would not have done if they had stayed at USV. And I remind myself that leaving my first VC job was the beginning of my evolution into who I am today.

So while I remain convinced that it is the right thing to have a revolving door at USV, I am going to miss Jonathan, as I miss Charlie, Andrew, Eric, Christina, Brian, Zander (and Gary and Brittany too).

Back To School

Many children are heading back to school today.

It is the top trending hashtag on Twitter right now (in my feed).

At USV, we have been investing in education for a while now and three of our portfolio companies have top apps for K-12 students:

top education apps

Those would be:

Duolingo – if you or your child is taking a foreign language, Duolingo can make the work of mastering a foreign language easier and a lot more fun.

Quizlet – the best study tool on the web and mobile. study anything. create your own study sets or use one you find on Quizlet.

Edmodo – the best way for teachers and students to stay connected and collaborate

So put these three apps on your phone or your child’s phone and be ready for the exciting year ahead.

Whither Labor?

It is Labor Day in the US, a day where we celebrate the organized labor movement. Though it wasn’t until 1894 that Labor Day became an official federal holiday, the concept of Labor Day goes back to the middle of the 19th century, when the labor movement really took off in the US.

The labor movement and the industrial economy go hand in hand. One begat the other.

But as globalization has caused the industrial economy to move to lower cost parts of the world, the role of labor in the US economy has declined.

And with automation on the horizon, it begs the issue of where the entire concept of labor is headed.

I don’t have any great answers to this question to be honest. But it is something I think about a lot. And so I will think about it a little bit more today.

Update: My partner has a longer and more thoughtful post on this topic on his blog today.

Breaking Through

I exchanged an email with a friend who is trying to get a mobile app business off the ground. I told him that he and his team are attempting to do something that is hard and has gotten a lot harder in the past few years.  He replied that he is looking for a way to break through. I encouraged him and wished him well.

This morning I did something I do on a regular basis. I went through the iOS and Android app store free app leaderboards looking for non-game apps that have broken into the top 100 and stayed there for months. I could not find any. It’s possible that I missed something. My technique is not scientific. I just browse and use my memory, which is not exactly a foolproof method. There are better ways to do this but I like to do it this way.

I think launching a consumer focused mobile app and getting sustained traction (>1mm MAUs for six straight months), is almost impossible right now. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I am sure there will be exceptions that will prove the rule.

What is a bit surprising to me is how many entrepreneurs, particularly experienced entrepreneurs, are attempting to do it right now and how many investors (angel, seed, VC, etc) are backing teams doing this. It just seems like the odds are stacked against these sorts of businesses right now and that there are other more fruitful places to spend your time and energy.

But hope springs eternal in startup land. That’s a good thing, of course. Optimism should be encouraged. And so I am rooting for everyone trying to get a mobile app off the ground, including my friend.

Fun Friday: Labor Day Weekend Activities

It is labor day weekend. The unofficial end of summer.

I’m curious how we all celebrate the long weekend.

We are spending it in NYC, after spending much of August at the beach.

How are you spending the long weekend?

Messing Around At The Fringe

Jonathan Libov has spent a couple years at USV in our two year analyst program and is about to move on to his next thing.

He took the time this week to write down some thoughts on what he has learned as a “junior VC” and it’s worth reading for both investors and entrepreneurs.

I particularly like where he ends the post, talking about “messing around on the fringes”:

But more importantly, talk to people who are building things. Don’t just talk to founders of investible companies, but also talk to people who are experts in their field or following modes of thought that contravene mainstream thinking. Play with their API’s and go deep in forums, even if there’s no investment in sight. Mess around in the corners of the internet.

Just as wading in the muck of cap tables and share purchase agreements is the best way for an analyst to learn the mechanics of venture investing, wading in code and API’s and forums is the best way to discover the things that others have not discovered yet. To frame it more practically: This will help you identify the opportunities that others don’t appreciate yet, and that will help you to invest at attractive prices.

Lastly, it is important to emphasize who this post is aimed at: Junior VC’s. The partners at your firm benefit from having established networks that will pass along interesting, valuable opportunities. Your job is to complement those investments with the ones they and their network would not see because they’re don’t fit the patterns they’re accustomed to. You have more freedom than they do to mess around on the fringe. Don’t waste it.

I try to hang out on the fringe as much as I can and also try to avoid being pulled into the mainstream as much as I can. I think Jonathan’s advice, while aimed at “junior VCs”, is great advice for entrepreneurs and investors alike. The next big thing is almost certainly a fringe thing today. That’s how it always is.

Twitter Moments

Twitter has quietly built their news product. It is called Moments.

The sports page this morning:

sports moments

If you haven’t tried Moments in a while, you should. It is really good.

Where Are The Software Jobs In The US?

I came across this blog post, based on a study by the software industry trade group, The App Association, which includes this map of where the software jobs are in the US:

software jobs

Essentially every big city in the US has a lot of software jobs. If you want to be a software engineer in Atlanta, there is work for you there. If you want to be a software engineer in Chicago, there is work for you there.

The highest per capita density of software jobs are, of course, in the Bay Area and Boston.

software jobs per capita

So if you want the highest density of software jobs, go to the Bay Area or Boston.

But if you want to live and work somewhere else and find a good and well paying software engineering job, you can find that in most of the big cities in the US.

And, I would suspect the same is true all around the world.

That’s a good thing.

Being A Shock Absorber

I saw this tweet yesterday:

It really resonates with me.

Companies go through lots of “shocks” over the years. I have seen Boards react in different ways. Sometimes they freak out and make things worse. Other times they are the calming force and voice of reason.

It is that latter behavior that the Company needs in that moment. Everyone is already freaking out. Amplifying that, as Roelof calls it, is not in the least bit helpful. Their is plenty of time for post-mortem analysis and learning from the situation. That can wait.

Companies need support and help during times of crises. Boards are uniquely positioned to provide that. The ones who can actually do that are incredibly helpful.