A Hackathon At NYC’s City Hall

I like going to hackathons. A number of USV portfolio companies have emerged out of hackathons, like our portfolio company Dapper which created its hit crypto-collectible game CryptoKitties at a Hackathon in late 2017.

So yesterday I headed down to NYC’s City Hall which was hosting the finals of a citywide hackathon competition (called The Hack League) among NYC schools to create the best software applications to make the city better.

The final projects were judged by people like the Chief Policy and Data Office (Comptroller’s office); the Chief Analytics Officer (City of NY); the Chief Technology Officer (Mayor’s office); the Executive Director of NYC311 (City of NY) and other folks in city government tasked with a similar mandate.

There were 28 finalist teams at City Hall yesterday competing to win the trophy. They were from all five boroughs, representing schools from all kinds of neighborhoods. It was as diverse as the city is and that is a wonderful thing.

I gave them a pep talk at the start of the day and encouraged them to “instrument their applications” so that they and others can determine how their users are getting value from them.

This is a photo I took of the students as I was about to address them:

The winning teams came from these schools with these applications:

Middle school Winners:
1st: Queens TWYLS – “Trash Go” game that incentivizes proper disposal of trash

2nd: Staten Island IS63 – “Oh Deer” app for residents to report on deer sightings and upload photos so the Dep’t of Environmental Conservation can track the deer

3rd: Brooklyn Parkside Prep – “Hero Foods” app that delivers nutritious lunches to students with special needs (financial or health)  

High school Winners:
1st: Brooklyn International HS at Lafayette – “Busted” app for students to report real-time data about buses (such as too full, never arrived)

2nd: Manhattan Bridges High School – “Heat track” app that tracks temperatures inside and outside of homes and communicates to landlords about issues.

3rd: Bronx Millennium Art Academy – “Safety 1st” bi-lingual alert system to keep students informed when they are without their phones during the school day.

I was super impressed by how focused and committed the students were on making their applications better yesterday:

Here is a photo of all of the students who competed yesterday in the City Hall Rotunda.

These are the employees of the future for NYC startups, larger tech companies, and, frankly, every company in NYC. And let me tell you something. They are going to be really good.

Healthcare At USV

Over the last five years, we have stepped up our investing in and around healthcare. About 15-20% of the early stage companies we have invested in over our last two fund cycles are working in this sector.

If you look at our current investment thesis at USV, you will see that wellness is one of the key areas of interest for us:

USV backs trusted brands that broaden access to knowledge, capital, and well-being by leveraging networks, platforms, and protocols.

So where in the healthcare sector are we focused?

Rebecca tweeted this out yesterday and I think it is a good articulation of what we find most interesting in healthcare:

Making affordable healthcare more available to everyone seems like the winning formula in this sector.

Take our portfolio company Nurx for example. They make birth control and other important prescriptions and home testing kits available to millions of people who have found them difficult to obtain through traditional channels.

I hope and expect that we will increase our investment in the health and wellness space in the coming years. It is an important sector that has immense challenges, but also immense opportunities.

Underground Infrastructure

One evening last week my daughter and I spent an hour with a team from our portfolio company Pilot Fiber who were pulling a new fiber cable from Sixth Avenue to Fifth Avenue along a cross street in lower Manhattan.

My daughter is doing a project and wanted to understand how this all worked and I was curious myself. It was fascinating.

We met them at a manhole near Sixth Avenue where they had pulled a fiber cable into a building where one of their large customers is based.

The team uses a thin line of “mule tape” that is placed in the conduit between the manhole and the building to pull the fiber cable from the manhole to the building. Ideally the mule tape stays in the conduit so that the next team that needs to run fiber from one manhole to another or into a building can use it again.

Pilot had a couple of their trucks on the street that have huge fiber spools on the back of them.

The team runs fiber using the mule tape in the conduits that exist from manhole to manhole. This was the next manhole they worked in that evening.

You can see that there are a lot of fiber cables in these manholes. The big clunky plastic things are splice enclosures that protect the splices that join fibers to each other.

You can see a line of mule tape on the lower right of the photo above that the team was using to pull the fiber cable from one manhole to the other.

When we got to Fifth Avenue, the manhole was cavernous. One of the team members was comfortably working down in the hole which would not have been so easy in the manholes on the cross streets.

I learned quite a bit that evening about how all of this infrastructure is laid and managed. But mostly I was so interested in how this modern infrastructure (fiber) has overwhelmed the prior kind (copper and coax) under the streets of NYC.

If you want high speed/reliable/reasonably priced fiber Internet in Manhattan for your company, you can get that from Pilot Fiber who is out on and under the streets of NYC most nights laying the cables to make it happen.

More S1 Fun

I am continuing my mini series on reading S1s (IPO documents). We are enjoying an IPO bonanza this year, so we might as well use it for some good and learn something.

When a company files for an IPO, I like to think if there is a publicly traded company that looks a lot like that company and if so, I lik to run some numbers comparing the two.

Well we have that exact situation with Uber filing to go public last week. Here is Uber’s S1.

We can compare Uber’s numbers to recently public Lyft, which I blogged about earlier in this S1 Fun series.

Here are Uber’s profit and loss numbers from their S1:

We can compare this to Lyft’s profit and loss from my prior blog post:

I put all of these numbers into a spreadsheet and added some estimates for 2019 that are nothing more than back of envelope guesstimates.

What you can see from this is that Uber is 4-5x larger than Lyft, growing a lot more slowly, has slightly better gross margins, and both are still losing a lot of money but both are moving towards getting profitable on operations in a few years.

Finally lets look at market valuations. Lyft is currently trading at a market cap of $17bn. If you say that Uber is 4-5x larger than Lyft, then Uber ought to be worth in the range of $70bn to $85bn.

There are other factors that will be in play when Uber eventually prices their IPO and trades. Uber owns minority interests in a number of other ridesharing businesses that could be worth as much as $10bn of additional value. On the other hand, Lyft is growing more quickly than Uber.

Ultimately we will see how the market values Uber. But from this analysis, and the public market comparables from Lyft, we can see that Uber should be worth quite a bit when it goes public.

Functionality Vs Content

I saw some chatter on Twitter this past week about Netflix and Disney in the wake of Disney’s announcement of Disney+:

Disney’s stock was up 11% on the week

And Netflix stock was down 5% on the week

Certainly getting into the streaming game will be good for Disney. But I am less sure that content matters that much when it comes to Netflix.

A friend of mine shared this with me earlier this week:

When I saw that data, I replied to him with this:

It is the frustrations of the prior model (interruptive advertising, by appointment consumption, etc) that open the opportunity for the next model

Given that the new model, streaming, is well entrenched now, I am not saying that functionality alone will save Netflix or anyone else.

But I do believe that the functionality of a service (no ads, binge watching, user interface, curation, notifications, price, etc) are just as important, or possibly more important, than whether or not you can watch The Incredibles on it.

And most importantly, it is the frustrations of the prior model, as I mentioned above, that creates the opening for the new model.

So if you are working on a new model, for anything (it could be crypto, health care, education, finance, etc, etc), you should look very closely at what are the most annoying and frustrating aspects of the current model and focus on leading with features that remove them.

Audio Of The Week: Coinbase Custody

And now a word from your sponsor:

Coinbase is a USV portfolio company, I am on the board, and I am deeply invested in this business.

Coinbase’s regulated custody subsidiary is an important part of their overall business and I am also on the board of it.

This Unconfirmed Podcast with Sam McIngvale is a really good explanation of what Coinbase is doing in the custody market and how they are developing new income earning options for their customers.

A Registered Token Offering

Our portfolio company Blockstack tweeted out this today:

Given that USV is an investor and one of my partners is on the board, I don’t want to opine on this in any way.

But I do think this is an interesting development in the evolution of tokens as investable assets.

So here is a Coindesk post on this news.

Dronebase Goes Thermal

Our portfolio company Dronebase is announcing some big news today.

They are going to be offering thermal imaging missions in partnership with FLIR, the leading provider of thermal sensors. And FLIR has made a strategic investment in Dronebase.

What is thermal imaging? Thermal imagery, which is also called infrared imagery, is the ability to see a much larger portion of the electromagnetic spectrum than what is visible to the eye. This page from FLIR’s website does a good job of explaining the technology.

If you put a FLIR thermal sensor on a drone, you can learn a lot more about buildings, equipment, terrain, etc, etc. The military sector has been doing this for years and the commercial sector is starting to use the technology a lot now too.

Here is an image of a roof captured with a traditional drone camera:

And here is an image of a roof captured with a drone using a FLIR thermal sensor:

This drone mission, recently run by Dronebase, identified water damage and leakage on this roof.

So what is the big deal here?

Dronebase offers the world’s largest drone pilot network. They have pilots all over the world who are skilled at operating commercial drone missions. And they have an API that captures information from drone missions at scale. Now enterprise customers can use their pilot network and API to capture thermal imagery. This will significantly reduce the cost and increase the availability of drone-based thermal imagery to enterprises of all sizes and locations.

If you want to learn more, you can contact Dronebase here and start using thermal imagery to improve your business operations.

Get Your Message On Mobile

I finally got around to reading the Political Advertising Report from Tech For Campaigns. My conclusion is we are going to see our phones light up with political messages over the next year and a half. Here is why:

Only Trump spent a percentage of total spend on digital that is close to what companies do
When you buy Facebook ads, you are buying mobile ads
The older you are the more likely that you click on ads on your phone

So let’s brace ourselves for the messages that are going to start coming into our phones from politicians over the next 18 months. Mobile advertising works.

I am closing comments to this post because I don’t want to turn this blog’s comments into a soapbox for certain people and we all know who they are.