Posts from August 2005

Gotta Have A Plan B

Plan B, commonly called the
morning-after pill, is a high dose of birth-control pills taken after
having unprotected sex. Scientists believe that the high dose of the
hormone progestin interferes with ovulation and also prevents implantation
of the embryo in the uterus if ovulation has already taken place.

Two doses of the Plan B pill must be taken 12 hours
apart. If taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, the
treatment reduces the risk of pregnancy by 89%. The pills don’t work if
a woman already is pregnant and won’t induce abortion, unlike the
controversial RU-486 pill.

Sounds great, right?

Plan B prevents unwanted pregnancies before they start.

But for some reason, the FDA doesn’t want to make Plan B broadly available "over the counter".

They are trying to figure out how to keep it out of the hands of 16 years olds even though they are fine with 17 year olds getting access to Plan B.

Excuse me, but wouldn’t it be smart to make the pill even more available to younger girls who are less able to handle the responsibilities of having and raising a kid?

We are talking about prevention here, not abortion.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which clearly is in touch with the kind of people who would oppose such a drug, "opponents of making the pill more readily
available argue that such access could lead some young teens to have
sex, leaving them more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases".

This is the kind of ridiculous nonsense that makes me sick.

Here we have an important scientific development, one that could save my kids and their friends from making a big mistake, and we’ve got nut jobs putting the brakes on it.

I guess that’s life in George W. Bush’s America.

Good thing we only have 3 more years left.


The Burning Building List

My Top 50 exercise is over, but into that void steps Jason Chervokas, whose musical knowledge and taste is way beyond mine.

He is building a list, pretty much the way I did, of the records he’d pull from a burning building. 

And unlike my list, he is ranking them.

His first choice?

Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers.

I am going to try to listen to every record Jason picks for as long as he goes on with this list.  And I may reblog each selection with my reactions.

He didn’t say how long his list is going to be.

I hope its a long one!

#My Music

It's About Time

I spend a lot of time on subway platforms waiting for the next train to arrive.

It’s unproductive time for the most part, although its a great time to put on my iPod and tune out.

Thanks the the London subway bombings (proof that bad things sometimes result in good things), the MTA has put out an RFP to wire 277 of NY city’s 468 subway stations.

It’s about time.  The safety issues are important, but so are the simple things like finding your daughter on her way home from play practice, or being able to send an email or SMS that you are running late.

The unfortunate thing is they decided not to wire every station.  I have this terrible feeling that the outer boroughs are going to get less stations wired than Manhattan.  If so, that’s not right.

I think this is a step in the right direction.

The next step would be to put Wifi everywhere, but that’s less likely now that one large cell carrier is going to pony up big money to get an exclusive contract to wire the subway.

It’s too bad that cell phones that can use wifi aren’t available in a mass market way right now.  That would have been an excellent solution with a much better long term value proposition for everyone involved.

But regardless of all that, it’s about time we got cell phone coverage on the subway platforms of NYC and I applaud the MTA for making it happen.

#VC & Technology

My 50 Favorite Albums (final post)

Img_0882_1Back in November of last year when I decided to put together a list of my 50 favorite record albums, I started with The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street.

It is my all time favorite record by my all time favorite band.

And now its time to end this journey.

I made up my mind back in November of last year to end it the same way it started, with Mick, Keith, and the gang.

So I’ve spent the past week listening to these Brian Jones era records (all on vinyl):

Englands Newest Hitmakers
Out of Our Heads
December’s Children
Between The Buttons
Beggars Banquet

These are not all the records that the Brian Jones era Stones put out.

These are, however, my favorites of that period.

And it is so tough to pick one from this list.

I love their debut record, England’s Newest Hitmakers.  The Rolling Stones covered R&B, blues, and soul music like no other rock band. And this record is the best example of that.

December’s Children showed the begnnings of the dark side of the Stones that they were to develop fully in the brilliant Mick Taylor era.

Aftermath is most everyone’s favorite from the Brian Jones period and is the first Stones record that had no covers, just Mick and Keith’s songs.

Between the Buttons is where the Stones do Dylan and features Brian Jones at this best on the harmonica and acoustic guitar.  I love that record.  It is by far the most underrated Stones album (even Mick hates it).

But the two records that I kept putting back on the turntable were Out of Our Heads and Beggars Banquet.

Out_of_our_headsOut of Our Heads is simply fantastic.  It is pure Rolling Stones, still doing covers like Mercy Mercy, That’s How Strong My Love Is, and Good Times brilliantly. 

But then you flip to the B side and they whip out Satisfaction, the greatest rock and roll song ever.  Then you get Play With Fire, The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man and The Spider and The Fly, three great early Jagger/Richards tunes.

BeggarsAnd Beggars Banquet. Wow.  What a record.  Sympathy for the Devil starts the A side.  Street Fighting Man starts the B side.  Mick describes the band the way I always think of them in Jigsaw Puzzle.  And they end it all with a prayer for the Salt of the Earth.

So I am going to do what everybody who tries to keep a list to a set number does.  I am going to go one over.

I am adding Out of Our Heads and Beggars Banquet to my top 50(1) list.

And this is it.  I am done.

I have created a separate page on this blog for my top 50(1) list and in a week or so, it will stop being blog bling and move to the back pages.

It’s been a blast, as Rod predicted in his comment to my first post.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed it as much as I have.

#My Music

Location, Location, Location

Steve Shu’s post on VC in different geographies got me thinking.  Steve wrote it on July 28th, but it only showed up in technorati’s link search this week so that’s when I read it.

I also got a trackback from the people at Qumana who noted that my recent posts on Word of Blog and Posting, Subscribing, and Tagging confirm my interest in what they are doing.  They went on to say that I wasn’t interested when they contacted me because they are in Vancouver.  Which is true.

This blog attempts to do a bunch of things, but clearly one of them is to broadcast the things I am interested in investing in to anyone who wants to read that information.  Hopefully I am doing a decent job at that.

One way for me to measure that is looking at the "yield" of incoming investment opportunities.  If we measure "yield" as the percentage of incoming opportunities that fit our investment strategy, then the "yield" is probably 90% or higher.  Charlie can produce an exact percentage if anyone wants it.

So we are seeing a ton of opportunities that are interesting to us.

But then we need to filter them a couple more ways and that’s when the "yield" drops significantly.

We generally want to be the first venture investor in a company.  We are happy to create a syndicate with other investors and do the deal together, but we generally do not want to come into an investment in the later rounds.  There are a bunch of reasons for this, some economic, but more that relate to our role in the company and our relationship with the entrepreneurs and managers.

But maybe even more important is the role of location which was the subject of this post after all.  Steve Shu says in his post:

VC have historically invested
closer to where they are located than farther away [because of deal
management and deal sourcing concerns]

Steve is spot on.  The best VCs, which are the ones that can actually help you build a business, have learned that it is a face to face business. And it is very hard to do a face to face business from 3000 miles away.  Some VCs do it and do it well, but I believe that they are the exception that proves the rule.

Here are some concrete examples:

– Board meetings where everyone is face to face are always better than those done over a conference call
– Recruiting senior management to the team often required the involvement of the VC investors.  You can’t really help an entrepreneur recruit a team from 3000 miles away.
– The impromptu breakfast, lunch or jamba juice or shake shack run with the entrepreneur never happens from 3000 miles away, but is invaluable in creating the trust and friendship that is critical to the entrepreneur/VC relationship

The fact is that we have a great network here in NY in terms of talent, business development, marketing, etc.   If you are a local company looking to tap into that network, we can really help.

So in the end, VC is like retailing.  Location matters – a lot.

This does not mean that Union Square Ventures won’t do a deal outside NY.  We will and are working on several right now.  But it does mean that we won’t be able to do everything for our portfolio companies that are outside of NY that we do for the ones that are in NY.  It means we will have to travel more, which is OK, and it also means that we’ll probably find like minded VCs who are local to do the deals with us.

So keep the investment opportunities coming even if you are located in Vancouver.  We enjoy meeting entrepreneurs who are working on the opportunities we are interested in.  And if we get really excited about something, we can help find local investors who can do the things that we do with our local investments, and we’ll travel more and make the face time that’s required.

Another thing this blog attempts to do is educate the entrepreneurs out there who are doing for the first or second time and have yet to learn all the lessons of the VC business.  An important one is location matters when picking your VC.  It’s not the only issue, but its an important one.

#VC & Technology

VC Cliche of the Week

In the venture business, it almost always pays to be on the leading edge of new technologies.

If you invest in the first company to develop some new market, technology, or business model, you have a better chance of success than if you invest in the tenth.

But even worse than an investing in the tenth copycat company is investing in a company that is way too early, well before the leading edge.  We call that the bleeding edge in the venture business.

Sony_applianceI was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when my daughter Emily and I were given a tour of a friend’s new home and we saw a bunch of cool Sony wireless TV/Internet Appliances all over the house. 

Our friends use them for portable television, web browsing, and email.  They love these devices.

We incubated a company in the Flatiron days in early 1999 called IAN, the Internet Appliance Network. 

Ian_website_2Our vision was to produce devices just like this and distribute them via a sponsored advertising network business model.

We created a reference design for a device that is remarkably similar to the Sony device we saw at our friend’s house yesterday.  Except that we were 6 years too early.

We invested a bunch of money in designing the devices, building out a team, creating partnerships with marketers, and then folded the business in late 2000 when it became clear that we could not get the cost down to a level that made sense for the business model.

We bled a lot on that IAN investment and it taught me a great deal about the pain of investing at the bleeding edge.

There are two main lessons that I learned from the IAN investment.

The first is you must keep your burn rate really low if you operating at the bleeding edge.  It’s possible to hang in there long enough for the market to develop, but only if you keep your costs so low that $2-3mm of investment capital can last a couple years.  Investors will be patient only if they can afford to be patient.

The second is the fact that you cannot spend enough to develop a market on your own.  Markets develop for many reasons, but there is no way that a small venture backed company can stimulate a market to develop by itself.  We tried to do that with IAN and it didn’t work.

I keep one of the demonstration units that IAN built on my bookshelf in my office, right next to the Apple Newton, the Scout device, and a few other technologies that were out there on the bleeding edge.  It’s my bleeding edge wall of infamy and I look at it every day to make sure we don’t end up on the bleeding edge anymore.

#VC & Technology

Amazon Hell

Jeff Jarvis showed the power of blogging with his Dell Hell posts.

Apparently they have caused Dell to change the way they deal with blogs and customer service.

That’s good.

Let’s see if we can do the same thing with Amazon.

We have been Amazon customers for over 10 years.  We are prime shipping customers because we use the service so much we are happy to pay $75 upfront to get free shipping.

You’d think Amazon would like customers like us.

But I guess not.

Because they are screwing their best customers by switching from UPS to US Postal Service to save money.

The Gotham Gal blogs the whole story here.

Suffice it to say that our love of Amazon is turning to hate.

And that’s a sad thing.

Because I must link to Amazon almost every day.

The Gotham Gal and I have generated 47,000 clicks to Amazon since the beginning of the year, generating 174 orders and $3,375 dollars of business to Amazon.

And they return the favor by screwing us over by shipping stuff we ordered for two day delivery to our beach house by US Postal Service even though we specifically told them that US Postal Service doesn’t deliver here and that we require UPS.

That sucks and we are in Amazon hell today.

#VC & Technology

Skype vs. Google Talk

I love Skype.

In fact, when I am working, I prefer to talk via my computer than my phone.

The cool thing about Skype is you can IM or talk on Skype, or both at the same time.

So the impending announcement of Google Talk seems to me to be an effort by Google to get in on the Skype thing more than the IM thing.

We’ll see tomorrow I guess.

But one thing’s for sure, its going to take something really amazing to get me to switch from Skype.

#VC & Technology

Word of Blog

Word_of_blogI first read about sell side advertising around this time last year and I’ve been stewing on the idea ever since.

As I described in my post on our investment in Indeed, we think job search will be one of the first places that the sell side advertising model gets real.

But we aren’t limiting our search for self serve advertising opportunities to job search.

A couple months ago in early July, a smart guy named Matt Turck walked into our office and showed us Word of Blog

Matt and a couple of smart programmers have built a very lightweight web service that does one thing pretty well.  Their project parallels comparable efforts by a sell side advertising service that  was built in France.

It’s like they had read Charlie’s 10 rules for building web services companies, even though Charlie just posted that one last night.

Here’s how Word of Blog works.

If you have a non profit you want to promote, go to Word Of Blog and post an advertisement for it along with a URL where you want to ad to link to.

Word of Blog will host your ad, make it available to bloggers to post on their blogs, and track the blogs that post it and the click thrus they generate.

That is all that Word of Blog does rigt now.

I thought it was neat and during our meeting, I posted an ad for Grameen Foundation on this blog via Word of Blog.  It’s in the upper right side column.

Neither Matt nor I had planned it, but we launched World of Blog that morning because within days, the service was spreading virally.

I have had 499 click thrus on my Grameen ad since then which is 10.4 clicks per day. 

For comparison, Adsense has only generated 399 clicks over the same time period.

And there is no fancy contextual targeting engine working at Word of Blog.

The reason this works is that I selected my ad because I believe in Grameen and I give it really good placement on my blog.

Anyone who wants me to promote their cause should post an ad at Word of Blog and I’ll run it if I like the cause.

I was curious to see if this would work for commercial ads as well.

Matt was kind enough to offer to run my house ads that had been running as text ads on the upper right of my blog.

So Return Path and iBiquity posted commercial ads on Word of Blog and the result has been pretty solid.

Return Path has gotten 335 click thrus on the two ads I’ve run for them in less than a month which is better than 10 per day.

That’s more in a week than I was giving them with my text ad since the beginnning of the year.

And the HD Radio ad that links to a $269 Radiosophy radio has gotten 56 clicks in about one week.  Assuming a 1-2% conversion and a 50% gross margin, those clicks are worth about $2 each.

That’s not too shabby.

My conclusion?

Sell side advertising works.

Word of Blog works best for now in the non-profit world because their is no commerce mechanism to get paid for click thrus.

But I am certain that they will build that if the market demands it.

I wrote a piece several weeks ago called posting, subscribing, and tagging.

That’s what I see Word of Blog doing over time.

Advertisers will post ads.

Bloggers and other publishers will subscribe to them by placing them on their sites.

And people will tag them to make them relevant.

I am interested to see if it pans out that way.

If you are an advertiser or a blogger, give Word of Blog a try and let me know what you think.

#VC & Technology