What If The Narrative Is Wrong?

I always like to look for where conventional thinking might be wrong. I think you can find interesting investments that way.

I was exchanging emails with a colleague yesterday about Twitter’s decision to get out of the developer tools business and I asked her if it was possible that the conventional wisdom about Twitter (it is in decline and needs to be turned around) is wrong.

I shared these two Google Trends charts with her.

Facebook “interest” over the past two years:

Twitter “interest” over the past two years:

What if Twitter is not actually in decline but has seen the bottom and is growing again?

What if Facebook is in decline but nobody has realized it yet?

I am not saying either of those things is true. I am just asking the questions.

Disclosure: My wife and I are long Twitter and have never owned Facebook stock.

Protecting The Right To Speak And Write And Blog

I stayed out of the public debate and discussion of the Gawker lawsuit because while I privately came down on the side of Gawker, the specifics of the case made me uncomfortable and I don’t think it was an ideal case to determine what is free speech and what is not.

However, the same lawyer, Charles Harder, who argued the case against Gawker, is back with another libel suit, this time against Techdirt and its founder and lead writer Mike Masnick. Regular and longtime readers of this blog will know that I am friends with Mike and have supported his efforts to speak out on Techdirt about all sorts of tech policy issues over the years.

The specifics of the Techdirt case are easier for me to get excited about. Mike has consistently and rigorously debunked the claims of Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai that he (Dr Ayyadurai) “invented” e-mail. Dr. Ayyadurai is upset with Mike about this and so he hired Charles Harder to file a $15mm libel suit against Techdirt and Mike.

Regardless of whether Dr. Ayyadurai invented email or not (I highly doubt it), we have a long standing history in scientific and technical circles and in the United States of freely, openly, and publicly debating and discussing technical issues like this. Through that sort of public debate and discussion we determine what is real and what is not and we also move the understanding of science and technology forward. These public debates can get nasty and personal, and that is unfortunate, but I believe it is better that we allow for this debate than set legal precedent that wealthy people can stifle debate by suing publications out of business.

So, I am urging everyone who cares about the legacy of free, open, and public speech and debate about technical issues to support Mike and Techdirt’s efforts to defend themselves. Mike wrote a blog post about this issue last week and this is taken from that post:

I am beyond thankful to the many of you who have reached out and offered to help in all sorts of ways. It is heartening to know so many people care about Techdirt. At some point soon, we may set up a dedicated legal defense fund. But, in the meantime, any support you can provide us will help — whether it’s just alerting people to this situation and the danger of trying to stifle a free press through meritless lawsuits, or it’s supporting Techdirt directly (or, if you have a company, advertising with us). As always, you can support us directly as a Friend of Techdirt, or check out some of the other perks you can get in our Insider program. You can also support us via Patreon.

I am hoping that Mike sets up a dedicated legal defense fund and plan to contribute to it if he does. I will let AVC readers know if that happens. Until then, let’s all get behind Mike and put a stop to this nonsense.

The Department of Homeland Security International Entrepreneur Rule

From GeekWire:

The Department of Homeland Security has officially enacted a provision to make it easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to build startups in the U.S. The rule, proposed by President Barack Obama last summer, takes effect exactly one week before he leaves the Oval Office.

The initial rule outlined a “parole” period that foreign entrepreneurs could apply for, granting two years in the U.S. to grow a startup. To qualify, the founder had to prove that the startup met certain requirements and demonstrated the potential for “significant public benefit.” After the initial parole period, the founder could apply to extend his or her stay in the U.S. for an additional three years, if the startup met additional benchmarks.

Over the past five months, DHS has been collecting public feedback on the proposal to inform the final rule. That comment period led to a few key changes to the final rule, enacted today.

Instead of a two-year period followed by a three-year period, the rule now says entrepreneurs can apply for an initial parole of 2.5 years, followed by an extended period of 2.5 additional years.

The proposed rule said startups needed to have investments of at least $345,000 from qualified U.S. investors to apply for parole. DHS has reduced that minimum required investment to $250,000. The official rule also gives entrepreneurs more time to land funding — 18 months instead of one year.

The final rule also reduces the ownership stake the founder needs to have to qualify. Instead of 15 percent, entrepreneurs need to own only 10 percent of the startup to qualify for the initial parole period. To re-apply for an additional 2.5 years, founders just need 5 percent ownership.

In the proposed rule, a startup had to generate at least 10 jobs during the initial 2.5-year parole period to qualify for an extension. That number has been reduced to five jobs in the final rule.

This is really good thing. I know of a number of founders who have been unable to stay in the US even though they started a company here that is growing and hiring people in the US. Tossing people out who are starting companies that are creating new jobs in the US is nuts but that’s what we have been doing. This rule changes that, at least temporarily, and that’s a good thing.

Here’s the rule in its entirety:

International Entrepreneur Parole by GeekWire on Scribd

Talking To Others

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other. – Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

I judged the Debug Politics Hackathon yesterday. The winner was Second Opinion, a Facebook Messenger bot that allows users to send the URLs of stories they have read and the bot sends back a similar story with a different take on the issue (a second opinion). The bot does a bunch of other cool things but you get the gist of it.

Two other hacks I really liked were Phoneocracy that connects people of differing opinions via phone to talk to each other and PespecTV which is “chatroulette for political discussions.” Both of these hacks had issues which got in the way of them winning, but the basic idea that the key to debugging politics to is to get people of opposing views talking to each other instead of at each other is spot on.

Like Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. said …….

The Perfect Sunday Afternoon Entertainment

If you are in NYC this holiday weekend and looking for something to do, consider attending the Debug Politics Hackathon Showcase at 4pm this afternoon in the Flatiron District:

I will be judging along with a stellar crew (Diana Rhoten, Stephanie Hannon, Nancy Lublin, Chris Wiggins, and John Heilemann).

But as strong as this group of judges is, the stars of the show will be the hackers and their projects.

God knows we need to debug politics and if that is going to happen, I am certain it will come from hackers not the folks in DC and statehouses around the country.

So if you want to see all of this in action, come by Casper’s offices at 4pm this afternoon and see it live and in person.

Fun Friday: voice input

I’m writing this entire blog post by speaking into my phone. The only things I’m doing with keyboard input are spacing and punctuation.

It would be fun if we could all try to do this today. If you want to leave a comment try leaving a comment with voice input. If you don’t have any voice input on your computer and you can’t do that feel free to leave a comment the regular way.

But my hope it is we’re all going to have some fun today speaking into our computers and phones and talking to each other the old-fashioned way.

Kickstarter Year In Review

Our portfolio company Kickstarter had another fantastic year in 2016.

They put this web presentation together to show what happened.

Things like turning smog into jewelry and turning subways ads into photos of cats are the kinds of things that always seem to happen on Kickstarter.

And I am always amazed and inspired by the creativity that people have inside of them and Kickstarter helps to pull out of them.

The End Of Pay and Pray

For years philanthropic organizations have bought fundraising software from the likes of Blackbaud and a host of other software companies, large and small, in the hope that these tools would help them raise money. The term I like for these fundraising software packages is “pay and pray.” There is no correlation between the amount of money a non-profit pays and the amount of money they raise with these tools.

I think we witnessed the end of pay and pray yesterday with the announcement that our portfolio company CrowdRise is joining forces with GoFundMe to create a single crowdfunding platform that will serve the needs of person to person fundraising, event based fundraising, fundraising for philanthropic organizations, and corporate social responsibility.

Over the past five years, CrowdRise built a suite of crowdfunding tools for philanthropic organizations, events like marathons and other races, and corporations that want to participate in social causes. Those web-based tools are used by tens of thousands of organizations to raise funds organically over the Internet. Now those tools sit on top of the world’s largest platform for charitable giving. In the six years that it has been around, GoFundMe has been used by over 2mm people to raise money from over 25mm donors. Over $3bn has been raised on GoFundMe since 2010.

I think the new GoFundMe has become the social charitable platform of choice, much like LinkedIn is the social platform for business relationships, Facebook is the social platform for staying in touch with friends and family, and Twitter is the social platform of choice for staying on top of what is happening. We will all have profiles on GoFundMe which speak to our charitable giving history and we will all have stored payment credentials on GoFundMe that facilitate one-click social action. In time, everyone who wants to raise funds from the billions of people who are on the Internet will use GoFundMe to do that. And everyone means you and me, it means charities large and small, it means corporations who want to light up social action in their employees, and it means events that want to offer charitable fundraising. One platform can do all of this and it will do all of this.

The other thing that is important to understand about a crowdfunding platform, like GoFundMe or Crowdrise, is that there are no upfront or fixed fees or minimums required to use the platform. Most crowdfunding platforms take 5% of the amount raised plus a credit card fee. So there is a direct correlation between the amount you spend for these tools and the amount you raise with them. And many charitable organizations that use these tools pass these fees onto the donor which means they keep 100% of what they raise on these platforms.

This is a revolution in the way money is raised for good causes. There is now a large scale network that exists to support charitable giving. And the tools now exist for any person or organization to participate in this network. And these tools cost relatively little, or nothing, to use. No more pay and pray.

Tapping Into The Global Job Market

Globalization is certainly a double edged sword for many people, but the truth is that over the past half century, the world has globalized enormously. We are now to the point that many employers around the world are looking outside their local or national talent pools for key hires.

Our portfolio company Jobbatical specializes in helping companies around the world hire from the global talent pool.

And it also helps people (maybe you are one of them) that want to think about working in a different country for a while.

Here are a few sample listings from Jobbatical’s explore page showing the diversity of job options that are available:

We think that the globalization of hiring is going to expand enormously over the next couple decades and we think Jobbatical has a fantastic opportunity in front of it. Hiring from the global talent pool has some unique challenges but that friction is what creates this opportunity.

If you are looking to hire someone from the global talent pool, list your job opportunity with Jobbatical.

And if you are looking to go work somewhere else for a while, explore the available jobs here.