Feature Friday: Wireless Charging

One feature of the Pixel 3 that I really like is the return of wireless charging, something earlier Google phones had but went away.

I bought a Pixel Stand and set it up where I charge my phone when I come home.

I just place my phone on the stand and it charges. No cords involved.

You can set up all sorts of cool things like a screensaver of your recent photos and photo albums, Google Assistant so you can ask your phone questions when it is charging, and a display of your upcoming appointments.

I am still playing around with the right choices for me but I think there is a lot of interesting things one can do with this charging stand

I quite like it and just got one for my office too.

Crypto Explorers Goes On The Road

The Crypto Explorers community was seeded right here on AVC. It is a community of over 200 people who are working in the crypto sector, interested in the crypto sector, and/or are invested in the crypto sector.

They have taken five group trips to Zug Switzerland (Crypto Valley) and built friendships, learned a ton, and had some fun too.

I found out yesterday that they are going global now, with planned trips to other crypto hot spots around the world.

The next trip is in a couple weeks to Singapore on November 26-27. And spots like Korea, Hong Kong, Malta and eventually the Americas are also on the roadmap.

If you want to join this community of crypto travelers and join the trip to Singapore, you can do that here.

Economic Development

On the west side of Manhattan, from the west village, where we live, to the Javits Center on 34th Street and the west side highway, runs an abandoned elevated train track called The Highline.

Eleven years ago, the Gotham Gal and I took a walk on the old Highline with Joshua David, one of the two founders of Friends Of The Highline, and I wrote this post about what was going to happen.

The Highline cost something like $400mm to renovate. Some of the funds came from the city and state, but most came from private donations, like the one the Gotham Gal and I made after taking that walk.

And then we got to watch what happened. The neighborhood exploded and is still exploding. There has to have been tens of billions of dollars of investment in real estate along The Highline over the last ten years and it is still going on. I am not including Hudson Yards, which sits at the northern end of The Highline, which is another economic development story but not the one I am telling.

This is a photo of the northern spur of The Highline I took about a year ago from the top floor of one of the buildings in Hudson Yards

And into those buildings move companies and people. New homes get created. Then the coffee shops and grocery stores and restaurants come. And the local economy expands, by a lot. The city and the state taxes this economic activity and its coffers fill up a bit more as a result.

When we took that first walk on The Highline, I asked Joshua if there was some way to tax the land owners along The Highline to fund the renovation of it. It was obvious to me that the value of that land was going to go up a lot. He told me there was not. That seemed like a missed opportunity to me back then and still does. I suspect the increased land values along The Highline are an order of magnitude higher than the total investment in The Highline. 

That is the power of economic development. It is a virtuous circle. You invest, you grow, you produce economic returns, you invest, you grow. Rinse and repeat.

Why am I telling you this story today?

Well I got this tweet in my timeline sometime yesterday:

It is a great question. And some economist should do the work. The city probably already has.

My bet is that the City will get a return on this investment. Possibly a very large one. Twenty-five thousands jobs and all of the economic activity those jobs create are going to do a lot for Long Island City and all of NYC. 

The annual salaries for those 25,000 employees will be more than the $1.5-2bn that the city and state are committing to this project. When you add to that the real estate that will be constructed and renovated, all of the new homes that will be created for people, and the salaries for all of those construction workers, the local commerce (coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, etc) and the salaries that all of those employees will take home, etc, etc, I think it is a “no brainer” to be honest.

You can all tell from the posts I have written on this subject over the last week that I am a big fan of economic development. I think it is one of the things that makes a city vital and allows a city to retain its vitality. In the thirty five years we have lived in NYC, we have seen much of Manhattan and Brooklyn rebuilt. Now we are seeing Queens do the same thing. The Bronx and Staten Island are not sitting idle either. It is a magnificent thing to see and I pinch myself every time I think about it.

Welcome Amazon

The New York Times is reporting that Amazon has officially chosen NYC and DC as the locations for its big planned expansion, known as HQ2.

This is big news for NYC, as I wrote about last week.

I would like to welcome Amazon to NYC. I think this is going to work out great for Amazon and for NYC.

I know there are plenty of “not in my back yard” opponents to this idea and folks who think growth is bad and we should not grow until we fix things that are straining under the load.

I appreciate all of those concerns. They are valid at some level.

But I am a fan of grow, prosper, invest, fix, grow, prosper.

And we are doing that in NYC right now.

Mementos

I keep little things that remind me of events over my career in venture capital. And I have been doing that for most of those thirty plus years. I keep them on a bookshelf I have in my office at USV.

It started with the lucite “tombstones” that bankers would make up when a deal closed. I started collecting them in the late 80s and had them on my bookshelf until recently. I finally got rid of them. Over time, I moved onto more interesting things and started putting them on the bookshelf.

I moved offices at USV this fall and I had to put my bookshelf back together. I did that on Saturday afternoon this past weekend.

The new configuration looks like this:

The third shelf has my collection of useless consumer electronic devices that were a big deal at one time. I have a Apple Newton there, a first generation Blackberry pager style device, and a whole lot more.

I have a bunch of family photos and things my kids made for me over the years. The peace sign painting on the left of the third shelf was made by my daughter when she was ten. I love it.

I put my old Mac desktop on the right corner of the second shelf. I plan to put some digital art on there but have not yet gotten to that.

It took me about three and a half hours to put everything back on the bookshelf on saturday. I had to wipe stuff down to get the dust off. Dusting off memories, literally.

There are a few gems that I had forgotten about. The lighter that Jerry and Dan brought back from Beijing when they did the diligence on Sina.com in the late 90s. The matchbox Porsches that Mark Pincus sent me when we exited Freeloader. The “move to NYC” booklet that Rob Kalin made to convince engineers to leave Silicon Valley and move to the greatest city in the world and work for Etsy. The Dick Costolo mask (partially hidden on the upper left) that the entire Feedburner board put on before he walked back in for exec session. I chuckle every time I look at that one.

I have a ton of stuff that did not make the cut this time. Including all of the lucites. I can’t throw them out so they will collect dust in a closet somewhere and drive the Gotham Gal crazy.

Memories are important. A career of memories is a blessing. And I like to live with mine. It reminds me why I do this work and why I love it so much.

What Happens When A Founder Is Fully Vested?

Let’s say you are the founder and CEO of a startup and you have now been at it for four years. The company is doing great, you’ve raised several rounds of financing, you have a product in the market that is solving a real problem, you have a bunch of customers, you have a growing team, and things are stressful but largely great.

And you realize that you are now fully vested on your founder’s stock which means if you were to leave the company tomorrow, you get to keep all of it. What do you do about that?

This is a common question I hear from founders. They ask me what is standard in this situation. And I tell them that not only is there no standard answer, that this is one of the most emotionally charged issues to come between founders and their investors and boards and companies.

This situation also exists for other founders who are not the CEO, and the issues are very similar, but for the purposes of keeping this post as simple as possible, I am going to focus on the founder/CEO role.

Here are some, but not all, of the issues that come into play in thinking about this:

1/ If a founder/CEO were to leave their company after they become fully vested on their founder’s stock, the company would have to go out and hire a new CEO and that new CEO would get an equity grant that would be between 2.5% and 7.5% of the Company, depending on the value of the business. So one could certainly argue that the founder CEO ought to get similarly compensated.

2/ But that argument about how a new CEO should be compensated essentially puts on the table the question of whether the founder CEO is actually the best person to run the Company right now or if there is someone better suited to do that who could be recruited for a new market equity grant. It is often not in everyone’s best interests to have that conversation.

3/ Many founder CEOs four years in still own a lot of their companies. A typical range would be between 10% and 40% depending on if there are co-founders and how much capital had to be raised in the early years and at what valuations. For most situations, an equity grant that would be made to a new CEO is actually a relatively small percentage of the overall equity ownership of a founder CEO and in the context of that, it is not as valuable to the founder CEO as many other things.

4/ However, the founder CEO is subject to additional dilution in subsequent rounds so a new grant would at least partially offset future dilution and that is quite attractive to founder CEOs.

5/ One of the most valuable things to a founder CEO is having a large unissued equity pool from which to hire talent into their company and any allocation of that pool to the founder CEO reduces that asset.

6/ It is generally a good practice to have all executives vesting into some equity compensation. It standardizes the executive compensation program and aligns incentives.

7/ Refresh grants for executives are not usually equal to their sign-on grants. They are usually some percentage of the sign-on grant. So the same should be true of a founder CEO getting a refresh except that they never got a sign-on grant.

8/ Investors bet on the appreciation of the equity they already own not the issuance of new equity. A founder is aligned with the investors when they too are focused on making the equity they already own more valuable.

9/ When founders get diluted below double-digit ownership, they begin to see themselves as employees, not owners and that is bad for the company, the team, and the investors. For some founders, they start to feel that way at below 20% or 15%.

10/ It is hardly ever the case that what happens after a founder is completely vested is negotiated ahead of time, during the various rounds of financings, and priced in by the investors. If a founder was to pre-negotiate a new “market grant” for themselves once they are fully vested, and that was included in the size of the option pool that is set aside and baked into the pre-money valuation, investors could model that future dilution and build that into their valuation models and price that into a round. But nobody does that because founders want to maximize valuation in the financing rounds and investors assume that the founders will be happy with their initial grant or will not be around to earn it. Both parties either naively or purposefully kick the can down the road until the issue rears its head and then the emotions come out.

So what happens in practice?

It depends entirely on the situation at hand.

If the founder CEO owns a large percentage of the business, a new grant is rarely made because the value of it pales in comparison to the annual value that their founder’s equity is increasing organically.

If the founder CEO has been massively diluted and owns a small percentage of the business, a new grant is often made.

If the business is performing very well, the likelihood of a new grant is higher.

If the business is performing poorly, the introduction of the idea of a new grant can be very destabilizing and can actually precipitate a larger conversation about who should be running the company.

A common area for compromise is a new grant to the Founder CEO that is some percentage of what a “market” grant to a new CEO would be and that percentage ranges from 20% to 50% depending on the situation. The less a founder owns of the company, the higher the percentage will be and the more a founder owns, the less that percentage will be. If a Founder owns more than a quarter of the business, this is almost never done. I certainly have never seen it done for founders who own more than a quarter of the business.

I have two suggestions for how entrepreneurs should handle this issue.

The first suggestion is that you might want to raise this issue with all of your investors before you take money from them, and understand how they feel about this issue and what their expectations are so that you know that ahead of time. Do not wait until the moment to find that out.

The second is that if you wait to raise this issue once you are fully vested, do it carefully and delicately. If it is seen as a demand, it will not go well. If it is seen as a discussion about what is in the best interests of the company, it will go better.

But most of all, remember that there is no “one size fits all” solution for this situation and that you and your board will have to figure it out on a case by case basis.

Audio Of The Week: Turning Buildings Into Power Plants

The Gotham Gal and I are investors in Blueprint Power, a company that helps landlords turn their buildings into mini power plants.

Robyn Beavers, the CEO of Blueprint, was on the Gotham Gal’s podcast this past week. They talked about how Robyn spent fifteen years working in the tech, energy, and real estate industries and took all of those work experiences and combined them into the idea for Blueprint. They also talk about how the changing supply and demand for energy is opening up new revenue streams for property owners and how Blueprint enables that. 

The Anchor Tenant

Malls need anchor tenants. These are the stores that bring the folks to the mall so that they can discover all of the other amazing places to shop that sit between the big tenants.

Cities need the same. Particularly cities that are trying to develop new industries.

NYC’s tech sector has had an anchor tenant since the early 2000s in Google. I wrote a bit about this a few years ago and cited my partner Albert’s line that 111 8th Avenue (Google’s NYC HQ) is the “gift that Google gave NYC.

Big anchor tenants to a tech ecosystem provide all sorts of benefits but the biggest impacts are that they are both talent magnets (they attract people to relocate to the region) and talent sources (you can recruit from them).

Rumor has it that NYC is going to get a second anchor tenant as Long Island City is apparently a strong candidate to be one of two locations for Amazon’s HQ2. This would result in something like 25,000 new jobs for the NYC tech sector.

And another rumor is that Google is going to purchase the massive St John’s Terminal in the West Village and take its NYC workforce up to 20,000 over the next few years.

If both of these things happen, and that is still a big if, then NYC’s tech sector would have two large and well known anchor tenants. Together they would speak for about 10% of the jobs of the entire NYC tech sector.

I have had a front row seat to watch the emergence of the NYC tech sector over the last thirty years. It started as a trickle, then a stream, then a river, and it’s feeling more and more like an ocean.

NYC has responded well to the challenges of supporting a rapidly growing new industry with investments in infrastructure (real estate, connectivity, etc) and talent/education (CS4All, Cornell Tech, NYU Tandon, etc). Some areas have been lacking like transportation where we need better subways, better airports, and better regional rail systems.

I am hopeful that the continued growth of the NYC tech sector and the overall regional economy will give our elected officials and permanent bureaucracy the will and the resources to address these deficiencies and allow the NYC region to continue to develop into one of the most important tech sectors in the world.