The Grind vs The Pivot

Everyone knows what a pivot is. You launch something, it fails to get product market fit, so you change direction and launch something different. There are many examples of successful pivots. Flickr, Twitter, Slack, and Kik all came out of pivots.

But there is another approach to finding product market fit and I call it the “Grind.” The Grind is when you launch something, it fails to get product market fit, and you grind on it, week after week, month after month, year after year, until it does. Usually the entrepreneur who chooses The Grind is obsessed with the problem they are trying to solve and can’t let it go. This tenacity is often rewarded if everyone is patient enough.

A good example of a USV portfolio company that has executed The Grind is Brewster.

Brewster is a service that aims to do for contacts what Dropbox has done for files – keep them in sync and make them easily available on every device you use.

Brewster launched in July 2012 and I wrote about it here. While Brewster’s mission has not changed one bit, the way they have attacked it has changed a lot.

In the initial version, Brewster was a mobile app that could coexist or replace your native contacts app. It connected with all of your social networks and attempted to keep your address book up to date and also provide intelligence about your contacts. It turned out that most people didn’t really need or want a new address book, but they did want their contacts kept up to date and sync’d to whatever device they were on.

So slowly but surely Brewster evolved. But there was never a pivot. The service has evolved into a one that, today, largely works behind the scenes in the cloud to make sure the contacts you have on your phone and your desktop and tablet are the same, that they are in sync, and when another Brewster user you are connected to changes their contact information, your contacts are automatically updated. This evolution required the company to solve some difficult technical problems.

Brewster works in the background to power your contacts, providing auto-fill when writing emails in Gmail and access to all contacts from the dialer, text messaging, and email. It’ll also make finding your friends on social messaging apps, including Kik, WhatsApp, Snapchat, a more fun and easy experience.

Over this thanksgiving weekend, The Gotham Gal joined me in trying out the iPhone again. She got an iPhone 6+ and I helped her move all of her apps and activity from her Nexus 5 to her iPhone 6+. Moving her contacts was trivial with Brewster. Here’s how I did it:

1. login at brewster.com, add google via accounts and sync contacts sections (you need to both add google and then sync with it).

2. on iphone, add google account (settings app > mail, contacts, calendar > add account > google) and make to turn on contacts sync

3. that’s it. brewster will use the google connection with iphone to send updated contacts to the iphone

The Gotham Gal has >10,000 contacts. I have almost 30,000. For anyone with large contact databases, Brewster is a valuable tool. It will alert you to when you have missing email addresses, phone numbers, and faces for your contacts. I use those features a lot to continuously improve my address book.

The Grind is about continuously improving your product using market feedback and gradual but sustained product evolution. In order to execute The Grind, you need to keep your burn rate low. Brewster has been at it for almost four years now and has always kept its headcount and expense structure under control so it had runway to evolve and improve their product.

If you tried out Brewster when it initially launched and it didn’t do it for you, I’d suggest you give it another try. It’s changed a lot but still is trying to achieve the same goals. And the overall goal of a service that keeps your contacts up to date and sync’d on all of your devices is more valuable today than ever.

AVC’s Creative Commons License

I get asked to write stuff for other publications all the time. I tell them that I don’t write anywhere other than AVC.com, but if they have an idea for something they’d like me to write about, they should suggest it, and I might write about it here.

All of the content that is published at AVC can be reposted without my permission anywhere that is not commingled with hate, porn, or spam. All I require is attribution and a link back to the original post here at AVC. That is my creative commons license. I used to have a link to this creative commons license at the bottom of the page on AVC but we lost it in the redesign. I suppose I should get it back on there.

So if you would like me to write something for your publication, send me an email, I might write about it here, and then you can repost it on your publication.

Audio Storytelling

There’s something happening, at least I’m noticing it. And I’m paid to be a noticer. Audiobooks have been a thing for a long time, even though I just recently got into them.

But audio short stories and audio serialized storytelling seem like new things to me.

This Etgar Keret short story showed up in my SoundCloud feed this past week and the Gotham Gal and I listened to it yesterday afternoon in our home via SoundCloud on Sonos.

As an aside, I really like following The New Yorker on SoundCloud. They have some great audio content, stories, interviews, etc.

At Thanksgiving dinner, our friend Sarah said she and her daughter were going to listen to The Serial Podcast on their drive the next day up to Vermont. So yesterday the Gotham Gal and I put this on in our car yesterday while we were running some errands.

Now we are hooked and we will probably start listening to the series in our apartment on SoundCloud on Sonos.

What’s behind all of this explosion of short audio content? Well for one, our phones have apps (like SoundCloud) which easily stream audio via bluetooth into our cars. We’ve talked a lot about this whole bluetooth streaming thing here at AVC. But it is also true that we have audio devices in our home, everything from a Jambox to a Sonos, that allow us to do the same thing while we are at home.

And audio is easier to consume when you are driving the car, washing the dishes, running on the treadmill, and many many other activities.

For a multi-media publisher, the business model is additional monetizeable audience for content they already are publishing in other mediums. I hope The New Yorker is OnSoundCloud. If not, they should be.

For a new publisher, like The Serial Pocast, it’s a bit trickier. They should be OnSoundCloud as well and I hope they are. But the revenue share they can get from SoundCloud may not pay all the bills for a while. In the interim, The Serial Podcast is soliciting listener donations here and recently announced that they have gotten enough support that they will be doing a second season. I donated $100 this morning.

Another megatrend supporting this new media, then, is crowdfunding. New content can be funded through a combination of ad revenue share from platforms like SoundCloud and listener support raised on the Internet from the crowd. And I’m sure there are many other ways to monetize that either exist today or will come together in time for storytellers who want to leverage the audio medium.

All I know is that the innovation in this sector is exciting and encouraging. If you are looking for something to drink your coffee with this morning, I’d highly recommend both of those audio shorts I posted. Enjoy.

Fun Friday: Favorite Online Store

It’s fun friday. It’s also black friday. So I thought we would share with each other the best places to shop online.

For me, that’s an easy choice. I love shopping on Etsy. I like the fact that I’m buying directly from another person. I also love that the items you buy on Etsy are largely “one of a kind”.

I’m on the Board of Etsy and have been for eight years. USV owns a lot of the company. So I’m biased for sure, but if you haven’t tried shopping on Etsy, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Where do you like to shop online?

Giving Thanks

I went back and read all of the thanksgiving posts I have written here at AVC this morning. That’s a good way to remind myself of everything I have to be thankful for and I have a lot.

I found this picture of the Gotham Gal cutting a turkey up ten years ago. I remember that thanksgiving well.

I’m glad that our country takes a day off to give thanks. It’s my favorite holiday of the year because it is not tinged with religion or national pride. Thanksgiving has no baggage. It’s a day for friends, family, warmth, food, wine, and relaxation.

I plan to spend the day mindful of all that I am thankful for. Including all of you here at AVC.

Attention All Software Engineers: Please Volunteer During The Hour Of Code

The Hour Of Code is a great hack that introduces coding to students in K-12 schools all around the country. Most schools don’t have CS teachers and CS classes. But any teacher in any classroom in any school can find one hour to get their students in front of a computer writing code. And so that’s what the hour of code does. Last year 15mm students did an hour of code. Think about that for a second. 15mm students wrote code for an hour last year. That’s a gateway to something more for the students, teachers, and schools. Which is exactly the point.

The Hour Of Code happens during CS Ed week which is December 8-14 this year. And the numbers are going to be even bigger this year. And so here is my throwdown to all of the software engineers and coders and hackers out there. Please take an hour out of your work week and go to a school and code with the students. It’s one thing for a teacher and her kids to code for an hour. It’s entirely another for them to do that with a real life software engineer.

There are many ways that you can do that, but here’s an easy one:

The TEALS program, a CSNYC grantee, is organizing an effort to bring tech industry professionals into schools to help lead Hour Of Code activities during Computer Science Education Week. The volunteers will give career talks and then help students with their first programming experience. If you want to volunteer, or know a school that should host a volunteer, visit tealsk12.org/hourofcode to sign up.

And finally, here’s a 3min video of a teacher who works in an all boys public middle/high school in the Bronx talking about CS, his students, coding, and the importance of role models in the classroom. Please watch it. It’s inspiring.

The Emerging Architecture Of Internet Applications

The bitcoin blockchain is not just going to change the way money works on the Internet (and off). It’s going to change the way Internet applications are built. We have been working hard to understand how things are going to look in five to ten years and Joel Monegro has been providing much of that thought leadership inside our firm.

Since we are not into keeping our insights to ourselves, we have encouraged Joel to publish all of our work in this area (and every area). And today Joel has posted something that is really important and needs to be understood by every Internet/mobile entrepreneur, investor, developer, employee, and analyst. It is the blockchain stack and it looks like this.

blockchain stack

The most important things to understand about this blockchain stack are the overlay networks (most of which are still emerging), and the shared data layer and the shared protocol layer. Please read Joel’s post which describes each of these in some detail.

What is most important about this emerging stack is, in Joel’s words,

This imposes a very interesting set of challenges for developers, entrepreneurs, and investors as so much of the value in the current Internet stack will be commoditized by this architecture.

Differentiation and defensibility and network effects will be much harder to obtain with this architecture. Most things will work like email. Take your keys from one app to another and all your data and relationships come with it.

Fun times are ahead. Time to put your seat belt on.

Orbital Boot Camp

One of the things I am most proud of is the alumni group at USV. It is an outstanding group of men and women who have gone on to do some awesome things. We don’t have a career trajectory at USV. We bring talented people in for a while, we learn from them and they learn from us, and then they head out into the world and do great things.

One of these alums is Gary Chou. Everyone who has met Gary knows he is an incredible person. He is generous to a fault. Which is an asset in my book. He is also very talented. He operates at the epicenter of making, coding, designing, building, and managing product. And I mean product in the broadest sense.

The product Gary has been making for the past year is Orbital, which is in three floors of a tenement on Rivington Street which formerly housed our portfolio company Kickstarter. It’s a space with excellent karma. What Gary has built at Orbital is a school where people can learn skills from those who have mastered them. But it’s not a typical school. It is also a place talented people work and meet and collaborate on projects. Everything is highly considered and curated at Orbital. Gary is not maximizing for revenue. He is maximizing for soul. I do not use that world lightly but in this case it is true.

Right now Orbital is hosting the fall semester of the School for Poetic Computation, which is an awesome thing. Click on the link and check it out.

And this winter, Orbital will be doing the second Orbital Bootcamp, which is a “twelve week course to help you launch your side project”. Gary wrote about Orbital Boot Camp here and I would encourage you to read his post if this is at all interesting to you. Applications are due Monday, December 8th at 11:59pm.  If you or someone you know has a project that they’ve been meaning to launch, they should consider applying.

Finally, Gary is running a Crowdrise campaign to fund scholarships because not everyone who should be in this bootcamp can afford the $4500 it costs to attend Orbital Boot Camp. I donated and maybe you will too. The Crowdrise is here.

Comments Are Dead, Long Live Comments

Yet another mainstream media site took down comments this week. In the post explaining the move, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher explained that “as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.”

That led to a fair bit of discussion around the notion that “commenting is dead.” And like many things that are “dead”, the truth is that they are flourishing elsewhere.

Just this week we had a post here at AVC with 880 comments, which is not a record but is damn close to one. Commenting activity has been fairly steady here at AVC over the past two years with comments down a bit and voting on comments up a bit:

comment history comment history

But let’s look elsewhere on the web.

Let’s take Reddit where comments are the center of activity. They are growing faster than pretty much any site out there and are now #38 globally and #10 in the US according to Alexa. And the time spent on site is a whopping 17mins.

reddit

 

Let’s look at Buzzfeed, another super fast growing content site. Buzzfeed uses Facebook comments as they drive a lot of traffic from Facebook to Buzzfeed. But the comment activity at Buzzfeed is strong and some posts, like this one, get over 1000 comments. Buzzfeed is a top 30 site in the US and is a top 100 site globally.

buzzfeed

 

Here are some stats from Disqus, a USV portfolio company that powers the comments here at AVC (from their about page):

– 20 million comments a month

– 80 million votes on comments a month

– 1 bn visits to disqus comments a month

– 2mm new commenter sign ups a month

And although they don’t show trends on their about page (they should), all of these numbers are up and to the right year after year after year.

Commenting is alive and well on the web and mobile. It’s just dead on sites that would prefer to have the conversation happen elsewhere. AVC is not one of those places, and even though I sometimes find the discussions hard to take here, I am committed to making this a two way experience for everyone who wants it to be.