Posts from April 2008

Wesabe's Merchant Pages

Our portfolio company Wesabe announced two new features this week; server side uploader and merchant pages. The server side uploader is great because it makes pulling your financial information to wesabe a breeze. But the merchant pages get me really excited. If you have a large enough user base, you can learn a lot about merchants from the aggregate purchasing behavior of your users. That’s the whole deal with merchant pages. Here’s a screenshot of a merchant page.


We are very excited about these new developments and my partner Brad, who sits on the Wesabe board, has written a longer post about these new services on the Union Square Ventures blog.

#VC & Technology

Etsy's New COO

At the suggestion of Rags Gupta, I met Maria Thomas over a year ago and the minute I met her I knew she’d be great for Etsy. It took Rob Kalin, with a little help from me, a year to convince her of that. But he did and she’s going to start at Etsy’s COO in a few weeks. Etsy’s video crew did this intro of her to the Etsy community and I love it. I hope you do too.

#VC & Technology

From Messes To Successes

I was emailing with a top technology blogger yesterday and he said about one of his competitors in tech blogging, "they are such a mess". To which I replied, "yes, but our biggest messes have often turned into our biggest successes." And then I realized that I had made a rhyme and that I would have to blog it.

When I look back at my 20+ year history of venture investing, it’s certainly true that the biggest successes have been big messes at some point in their life. My most successful venture investment at Euclid, Multex, almost went bankrupt before the Internet came along and provided a cheap way to get it’s service to its customers. Geocities, which was our most successful investment at Flatiron, was a total mess in mid/late 1997, about a year after we first invested. And our most successful investment to date at Union Square Ventures, TACODA, was a mess multiple times including when the first build of its software totally failed on them. Delicious also had plenty of messy moments in its brief period in our portfolio. And there are a number of other companies in the Union Square Ventures portfolio that will go nameless in this post that are currently in various states of mess but doing incredibly well just the same.

I am not advocating messmaking with your startup. There have been plenty of buttoned up startups that I’ve been involved in that have been great successes. Companies like Gamesville and ComScore in the Flatiron portfolio and FeedBurner and Indeed in the Union Square Ventures portfolio come to mind when I think of organizations that have had their act together from start to finish.

But there is something about messes that lead to great successes. I think it often has to do with teams that focus almost exclusively on the product and the market to the exclusion of everything else. They don’t build the rest of the infrastructure that it takes to be a stable well executing business and they suffer a lot because of it. But in the process they get the one thing right that really matters. And the fact that they get the one thing right that really matters makes matters worse because the product takes off and they don’t have the resources in place to deal with their success. And mess ensues.

The prescription for turning these messes into successes is really pretty straightforward. You need to build the team and bring in people who excel at the blocking and tackling and the PLANNING that most startups don’t have the time or inclination to do. And you need to gradually change the culture of the business from one that is all about the product to one that is about the entire company. Sometimes, often times, that means changing the people around. And that’s never easy. And it’s even harder to change the people around when it was the initial team that made the product so popular in the first place. So you have to somehow find a way to add the "operational" people without drowning out the "product" people.

But I urge all of our companies not to overdo the "operational" thing too quickly. You need to get your act together for sure. But it can and should be a gradual process. You can’t go from mess to success overnight and even when you are a success, your company should still always be just a little bit of a mess.

#VC & Technology


No, that’s not the name of a George Clinton song (at least to my knowledge) but it should be.

I pretty much eliminated my funk yesterday with the following steps:

1) Blog about it. I’ve gotten (so far) 117 comments from readers and I cannot tell you how great it made me feel to know that people took some time out of their day to try and help me out. Thanks.

2) Took some time off and spent it with the Gotham Gal. It was a beautiful afternoon in NYC yesterday and we spent it in lower manhattan walking around and shopping and talking. Nothing like "someone to love" to take a line from one of the comments.

3) Cooking on the grill and having a great family dinner with the kids.

4) Going to see a show. We went to see She and Him last night at Webster with friends. It was great.

5) A killer bike ride this morning. I rode hard and fast and got up to the GWB and back before I had to wake up the kids.

6) Some more time off. I am on jury duty the next couple days and really enjoying the time off. I am twittering it if anyone cares to follow the case or at least my attempt at getting on a case.

#Random Posts

She and Him At Webster Hall

  She and Him // Webster Hall 
  Originally uploaded by ryan muir.

The Gotham Gal and I joined a bunch of friends at Webster Hall last night to see the kickoff show of a tour that M Ward and Zooey Deschanel are doing under the name She and Him. We’ve had their record, called Volume One, for a while now and everyone in the family loves it.

In the beginning I was thinking Matt and Zooey were doing a Johnny Cash and June Carter thing, but by the end it seemed like it was more Linda Rondstat and David Lindley.

Whatever the comparison, these two are making some great music together. She’s got a sugary sweet voice and looks that can kill and M Ward is simply one of the coolest most excellent musicians working today.

They played a mix of Zooey’s songs that were the inspiration for the record and a bunch of covers, many of which are on the record.

I particularly liked the versions they did last night of Smokey Robinson’s You Really Got A Hold On Me (my kids think its a beatles song) and Zooey’s 50s vintage I Was Made For You. I also posted and lotd’d Change Is Hard on my tumblog this morning if you want to check out more of She and Him.

This was their first show of the tour. Zooey didn’t look or act like a rookie. She’s a pro and M Ward is the best. Go see them if you get a chance for a show that will leave you singing and smiling.

#VC & Technology

AB Meta

Yesterday, our portfolio company Adaptive Blue announced a "a simple and open format for annotating pages that are about things" that they call AB Meta. My partner Brad who is on Adaptive Blue’s board, posted about it today on the Union Square Ventures blog. Marshall Kirkpatrick also has a post about AB Meta on Read Write Web.

I’ve been filling this blog with semantic intelligence for the past year with Adaptive Blue’s smartlink technology. When I link to a record like the new Sun Kil Moon record, April, smartlinks knows it’s a page about a record and codes the link as such. We’ve been calling smartlinks a "top down" approach to adding smarts to the web.

AB Meta is Adaptive Blue’s efforts to marry it’s top down approach with a "bottom’s up" approach that may be more attractive to media companies and e-commerce services that have a large number of pages in their systems about things.

Slowly but surely the web is getting smarter about itself and we are proud of Adaptive Blue’s role in making that happen.

#VC & Technology

Hitting The Reset Button

  SNES reset button 
  Originally uploaded by Chris.JP.

I’ve been in a funk for the past three or four days and I don’t know why. I mentioned it to David Kidder, founder and CEO of Clickable, at lunch yesterday and he said "you need to hit the reset button".

If only there were such a button. Sometimes music does it for me. A good laugh is another great reset button. A hug can do wonders. My friend Paul told me that running got him through the first wave of the subprime mess last summer.

I think mental health is an important part of overall health and I’ve invested a lot of time and energy over the years in getting a handle on mine. I am curious to hear what all of you do when you need to hit the reset button.

#VC & Technology

Banned In China

I am not sure what I said, but apparently the Chinese authorities don’t like this blog. I got this from a friend and reader:

Hi Fred,

I’m in Shanghai, and it looks like aVC is now blocked in China (it wasn’t before).

Shame, since I just moved here. Oh well, will use a proxy J But I tought you’d be interested to know

Is there anyway to get "un-banned? I wonder if its the entire domain that is being blocked?

There is another url you can get this blog at. It’s I never knew that until I saw it on google the other day.

#Politics#VC & Technology


I spent some time yesterday morning building a "backdrop" to a talk that I am giving tomorrow on "Investing In The Future". I wanted to share it with some people and thought that doing it via the web might be the best way. So I tried out Slideshare after getting advice from my twitter followers on what service was best for the job.

The Slideshare service is very straightforward. My only complaint is that it took at least twelve hours and possibly more (I went to bed before it finished) to convert from .ppt to flash. Based on my analysis of how YouTube got to be king of video sharing on the web and beat google, I think immediate gratification is an important feature and would highly encourage Slideshare to work on that.

As for as quality, you can assess that yourself. Sorry for the lack of audio track. I am providing that live and in person tomorrow.

#VC & Technology

Xobni is Inbox Spelled Backwards

Now here is a surprise. Microsoft has apparently agreed to acquire Xobni.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the product and I love the team. The day I saw them demo at Y Combinator, I knew they were going to do something important.

But first Lookout and now Xobni. It’s sort of proof that Microsoft doesn’t know how to improve it’s own software. So they buy those that do.

If this is true, congrats to Matt and Adam.

#VC & Technology