Funding Friday: NextMaker Box

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan and funder of teaching kids to code. I believe helping young people learn to think logically via coding exercises is helpful to their development in so many ways.

So when I came across the NextMaker project on Kickstarter, I backed it instantly.

NextMaker is a monthly box that comes with a project that your kids can do combining coding with making things. The programming is all block based (visual) so youngsters can do it easily and it is fun for them.

I’m embedding the video here on the web, but if you get this via email, click on this link and watch it.

#crowdfunding#hacking education

Universal Access and Choice

Our current investing thesis at USV is about expanding access to knowledge, wellness, and capital. We believe that these are core human needs and that opening up access to them is both good for society and also good business. Our approach to these challenges is centered on lowering the costs of these services and increasing competition to provide them.

Often society’s answer to providing universal access is to grant a monopoly. Look at cable services in the US. We granted local franchise monopolies in return for a commitment to build out the market and serve everyone. Look at our K12 system in the US. Everyone can go to school for free but you have to go to the school in your town, even if it’s much worse than the school in the next town. Look at Medicare in the US. Everyone over 65 can get Medicare. But everyone gets the same coverage even if they have vastly different medical needs.

These efforts are all great successes. They have provided needed services to the vast majority of society. But they are monopolies. To see them any other way is wrong.

I strongly believe in equity for all humans, but I also believe that choice is incredibly important. It keeps everyone honest. It keeps costs in check. And it is central to ensuring equity for everyone.

I started thinking about this during a debate with my kids and their friends this summer about making college education free for everyone. I wondered whether that would just entrench the current ridiculously expensive model of college education in the US. And whether there might be a better way of making sure everyone can access a high quality higher education experience.

It is tempting to say “we should standardize on this and agree that we will all pay for it and make it available to everyone.” How can you argue with that?

And yet we know that approach leads to systems that don’t change, don’t adapt, cost too much, fail us, and frustrate us.

This is the reason I am so drawn to the idea of a universal basic income. I can’t honestly understand how we would structure it, how we make it sustainable, and how we actually all agree to do it. But the idea of spending our money ensuring that everyone has the means to access the essential human needs instead of trying to provide these services makes a lot of sense to me. Imagine if we stop providing these services and use all of that money to give people to ability to pay for them.

#policy#Politics

Priorities

I am in the middle of a week of back to back to back to back all day meetings. Which means I am not responsive on email, which means I am not getting anything done, which means I can’t be easily reached. Which means I am stressed.

In times like this, I like to remind myself of my priorities. What matters most?

For me, I like this line of f words which does not include the one I want to use when I feel like this 🙂

Family, friends, fitness, firm, fires.

Family comes first, always.

Friends are next. They keep us sane and laughing. I have a number of text chats with friends. Thank god for them on days like I’m having this week.

Fitness is next. I make time to ride my bike, do yoga, eat well, meditate, etc. I make time to see my doctors on a regular basis and engage in preventive healthcare. The more stressed I am, the more I do this.

Firm is USV. It takes priority over all other business activities.

Fires are the things that are burning right now and need my attention. This last one is hard because how do you know what is really a fire and what is posing as one to get your attention? That is something you learn from many years fighting fires.

Everything else has to wait on weeks like this. I use weekends to catch up after weeks like this one. That helps. But the thing that helps most is knowing what matters most and focusing on it at the exclusion of everything else.

#life lessons

Stablecoin Adoption Revisited

I saw that the SEC and the OCC issued guidance on fiat backed stablecoins yesterday. Better late than never. Because fiat backed stablecoins are seeing significant adoption this year.

I wrote a post about stablecoin adoption in June in which I said this:

I was perusing the crypto markets today and noticed that Tether, the grandfather of all stablecoins, is approaching a $10bn market cap, making it the third most valuable crypto asset after Bitcoin and Ethereum.

I also noticed that USDC, the US Dollar stablecoin that Circle and our portfolio company Coinbase are behind, is approaching a $1bn market cap.

https://avc.com/2020/06/stablecoin-adoption/

Well, today those numbers are up by 50% and 150% respectively, as you can see on Coinbase:

I heard about a transaction that closed last week in which the buyer sent millions of USDC to the sellers’ wallet.

Instead of wire instructions, scan a QR code and hit send.

This is the future my friends.

#crypto

Rebuilding NYC

The Gotham Gal and I spent a good part of saturday walking around NYC. At one point, we walked through the massive and amazing Chelsea Piers complex and saw this plaque:

Think about that. In one four year period, the New York Public Library, Grand Central, the subway, the Queensboro and Manhattan bridges, the fire hydrant system, electrical street lights, firehouses, schoolbuildings, and 51 piers, including the Chelsea Piers, were built.

That right there is a recipe to get NYC back on its feet once this pandemic is over. We can and should build our way out of this downturn.

There is no shortage of things to build in NYC. We need more housing, particularly affordable lower and middle-income housing. We need more transit. I am a fan of light rail, like the proposed BQX, throughout the outer boroughs. We need fiber to every block in NYC, not just the wealthy neighborhoods. We can build zero carbon buildings out of mass timber and reduce our carbon footprint. These are just a few examples of things we can and should build in NYC.

Building can be financed with bonds. Building puts people to work. Building makes our lives better. Let’s do it NYC.

#NYC

Mobile App Stores and Crypto

I have written extensively on this blog over the last decade and a half about the significant negative consequences that the two large mobile operating systems have on distribution of software. I am strongly opposed to the monopolies that Apple and Google have over mobile apps that run on iOS and Android.

I am rooting for Epic/Fortnite in their battle with Apple over the 30% tax that Apple charges developers for distribution in their app store. But more than the tax, what bothers me about these monopolies is the innovation tax they impose on the broad tech sector with their terms of service/rules.

There is no better place to see that than crypto, the next big wave in computing (after web and mobile). There are a number of reasons that decentralized crypto apps (dapps) have not gone mainstream, but certainly one of them is that the Apple and Google app stores don’t allow a number of important features that decentralized apps require.

The founder and CEO of our portfolio company Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, explained this well in a tweetstorm last week:

He ended with this tweet:

Coinbase, Epic, and Spotify are not alone in their struggles with Apple and Google. They are simply large enough and protected enough to go public with their struggles. The truth is every developer that distributes software through these two app stores struggles with them.

In what world does it makes sense for two large and powerful companies to completely control software distribution on mobile phones? In no world does it make sense. It must stop.

#crypto#entrepreneurship#mobile

Circulate Networking Events

My friend and former colleague Charlie O’Donnell created a new kind of networking event for the moment we are in. These are virtual networking events designed to “include diverse perspectives in the innovation community.” They are called Circulate.

These are curated discussions, meaning you sign up to participate and the right group is selected to attend.

These industry-specific events will bring together a who’s who of accomplished and influential professionals as well as the most promising and most curious people from underrepresented communities that represent the future of these spaces.

http://www.brooklynbridge.vc/circulate

The next three events are shown here:

If you are interested in participating in a Circulate Event, pls sign up here. There are a few remaining spots open for the event Thursday night on Education.

#entrepreneurship#NYC#VC & Technology

Home Sweet Home

We have been back in NYC for about a week after being away for the entire pandemic. We were in LA when the pandemic hit and then spent the summer on the east end of Long Island.

Like everyone, we have read the horror stories of NYC being a wasteland of homelessness, crime, shuttered storefronts, filthy streets, and more. These stories occupy the front page of the NY Post every day and cannot be avoided.

While we have not ventured into every borough and neighborhood, we have been in downtown Manhattan and North Brooklyn, and what we have found is almost the exact opposite of what is being reported.

New Yorkers are out and about, wearing masks, keeping their distance, and enjoying our city very much. Fall is the best season in NYC and New Yorkers are taking advantage of it. My daughter and I biked in Prospect Park yesterday like we do most Sunday mornings and it felt as busy as any Sunday morning in my memory.

The Gotham Gal and I have been going out to dinner at our favorite restaurants in lower manhattan, sitting outside, and enjoying the experience. The walks to and from dinner through lower manhattan are amazing, the streets are bustling and NYC feels very much alive.

It is true that the streets are filthier. It reminds me of NYC in the 80s and 90s when we first fell in love with this place. It is also true that many storefronts are empty, a continuation of something that has been going on in NYC for the last decade and has been accelerated by the pandemic.

I am sure there are parts of the city that are not doing so well. I’ve heard that midtown is empty and facing challenges. I know that the neighborhood around the USV office in Flatiron is not as vibrant as it usually is. And I am sure that there are challenges in the neediest neighborhoods where the pandemic hit hardest and the economy is the most challenging. I am not saying that NYC is doing great.

What I am saying is the demise of NYC seems to have been greatly exaggerated by the media and others. The NYC that we are experiencing is showing its resilience and makes me very confident that it will once again get back up from the punch it just took and start swinging again.

#NYC