Posts from July 2008


Ballou Pont Party
Originally uploaded by fredwilson.

I got my start in the venture business with a summer job in 1986.

Back then the way you got in to see a VC was you sent (via mail) a business plan. It was read (often by me) and if it met with approval, you got invited in to pitch.

There were ways to bypass that process. If you knew someone who knew a partner at the firm, you could increase your chances of a meeting, but it still often required a business plan review.

To be honest, not that much has changed in the 22 years since then.

VCs are still notoriously hard to get to see. And there is a good reason for the protective barriers that VCs set up. There are an order of magnitude more entrepreneurs than there are VCs. If VCs were totally accessible, they’d be overrun with entrepreneurs.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. Though I can’t meet with a hundred entrepreneurs today, I can write something that a hundred entrepreneurs might read today. And we can have a discussion about it in the comments or via email (with disqus its the same thing except its public for all to see).

That kind of accessibility has been very eye opening to me. Entrepreneurs want access and we have to find a way to give it to them. The old approach of erecting barriers is no good for them and its not good for us either.

I was so happy to hear Saul Klein’s reason for starting 0pen Coffee when I met him the other day. He wanted to provide access in an easy way for him and entrepreneurs. He picked a place where he’d have coffee every thursday morning. It worked, big time

Last night I went to a party on a bridge over the Seine hosted by Ballou PR. There were about 30 to 50 entrepreneurs there (and at least one all the way from NYC!). That’s a picture of the event at the start of this post, and yes those are my kids laughing at me taking a picture on the upper right.

Collette Ballou warned me that entrepreneurs would be lined up to talk to me all evening. That was fine with me and it wasn’t really like that. It was a party and I tried to talk to everyone I could.

It was access plain and simple. Will we invest in any of the companies I met last night? Who knows? But I met a bunch of people who wanted to meet me. It was great.

I know VCs who go to invitation only conferences. I refuse to do that. I’d prefer to go to a hacker meetup.

Its about access, not walls. That’s what we as industry need to work on.

#VC & Technology

A Kindred Spirit In London

One of the things I love about the web/tech/venture business is the energy and spirit of people who work in it.

And there are certain people who take that energy and spirit to a new level, like Lucasz in Berlin last week. I spent a good part of yesterday with Saul Klein in London. I did a bunch of meetings at his office and then he hosted a dinner last night with a dozen (maybe more) entrepreneurs.

I love what Saul has done with Open Coffee and Seedcamp.

My month in europe is coming to a close soon but I can tell you that there is a great entrepreneurial scene over here. It’s like NYC was five years ago. It’s just waiting to bust out.

And when it does, it will be because certain people understood what it takes to build the infrastructure of entrepreneurship and they went and built it. Saul is certainly one of them and I was really jazzed to see what he is up to first hand and to meet a bunch of great entrepreneurs last night.

#VC & Technology

Blogging's Dead, Long Live Blogging

Late last year I wrote a blog post suggesting that individual bloggers like me were being replaced by traditional media as the leading voices in the blog world. It caused a bit of a stir and I followed it up the next day by saying that "social media requires real people".  My point in both posts is that I really like to read blogs owned by and written by a person as opposed to a team of people being paid to blog. I made my point and moved on.

Today I read a post on The Standard that suggests the same thing. Ian Lamont writes the following about the Techmeme leaderboard:

the old-school A-listers aren’t being displaced by the many talented B-to-Z listers out there.
Rather, the Leaderboard is increasingly populated by mainstream
publishers, tech blog networks, and corporate blogs and PR sites.

And in addition, Nick Carr is taking the summer off from blogging, Scoble’s moved the hub of his energy from his blog to FriendFeed, and Calacanis has quit blogging entirely.

As Jason said in his first email (he’s moved from blogging to broadcasting):

In the early days of blogging Peter Rojas, who was my blog professor, told me what was required to win at blogging: "show up every day."

I agree completely. In good times and bad, I blog every day. That’s how it is for me. And I don’t plan to change that. I get so much value out of blogging that I can’t imagine doing what I do without a little time every day writing down my thoughts.

But change is afoot. Today, we get the news that Alley Insider "raised a pot of money at a mind boggling valuation". That’s a joke from Henry Blodget, founder of Alley Insider. But  the fact remains that  Alley Insider raised about a million dollars to build out the Alley Insider blog. I like Alley Insider and they re-run some of my posts there from time to time.

And last week Rafat Ali sold Paid Content for $30mm to The Guardian. When that was announced, a friend of mine suggested to me that I could sell AVC for $5-10mm. First, I am not sure that’s true, but second I could never do that.

This blog is me and I am this blog. It’s mine and will always be mine. I understand why many of the individuals who made blogging what it is are either moving on or turning their blogs into businesses. That’s the way it is. But I am fortunate that this blog is totally integrated into my business and provides great value to me and my partners. So it’s sustainable from an emotional and economic perspective and I plan to keep showing up every day.

#VC & Technology

Making Sense Of Dichotomy

I watch the financial markets and see a stock market that is now totally ruled by fear.

And on main street, we are facing inflation in food and energy and deflation in housing and wages. The economy may or may not be in a recession, but it clearly sucks for large parts of the US.

And yet in our business we are seeing a lot of bullishness. Our companies are growing, revenues are up not down.

We are working on a potential investment right now and there’s more money wanting in the deal than the founder can or will take.

Many of our companies have done financings recently and most of them have gone exceedlingly well (by my measure).

So what gives? How can the public markets and the economy be so bad and the web/tech/venture business be so good?

Yesterday, in the middle of a bad day in the markets, Intel announced that they are seeing ‘strong demand’. Consumers and businesses are still buying computers it seems.

Some of that is because business (certainly the tech business) is increasingly global and much of the developing world is expanding rapidly. So even if the US economy is stalled, there’s plenty of business to be done elsewhere.

And some of this is because technology is driving a lot of these changes. Capital is moving out of the US because technology is making it easier to do so. Jobs are moving out of the US because technology is making it easier to do so

I met with a hedge fund manager at the start of this year and he described his portfolio as short banks and dollars long oil and tech. That sort of sums it up for me.

Don’t get me wrong though. I am worried that the bullishness we are experiencing in web/tech/venture will be impacted by what is happening on wall street and main street.

I think we are already seeing a more conservative posture by most VCs on the newfangled web businesses that have been created in the past four years. It is ‘show me the money’ time, as it should be.

I am confident that many of these ‘newfangled web businesses’ will deliver on their promise of revenues and cash flows. But many will not. We haven’t seen a huge number of doors closing in web startup land and I think we are going to see more soon

The fact is that the IPO market is dead as a doornail and the M&A market is behaving more rationally and selectively. I don’t think bad investments get bailed out nearly as much in the next couple years

But even so the dichotomy of a bad public market and a good venture market is real and makes sense to me. I’ve always felt that financing new technologies, companies, and business models ought to produce positive returns in good times and bad. I guess we’ll see how true that is.


Twitter Acquires Summize

There aren’t many surprises in web technology given how well the media and the blogs cover the sector. And it’s even more so with our portfolio company Twitter which seems to attract a lot of attention for a host of well known reasons.

Last month Twitter announced a financing but it was old news by then. Today, Twitter announced that it has acquired the leading Twitter search engine Summize. That was also widely reported last week and so it’s a bit of old news.

But even though it’s old news, I think it’s big news. Twitter will now allow you to follow not only people but also ideas, concepts, names, thoughts, etc. And they will do that natively and via the API.  Those who follow the microblogging sector closely certainly have seen the potential of this, but now we can see it in action and use it.

I wrote a short blog post on the Union Square Ventures blog about this transaction. Summize investor John Borthwick of Betaworks has a terrific blog post on the transaction on his blog.  And of course TechCrunch has a post on it as well.

#VC & Technology

Are Your "Invite A Friend" Emails Ending Up In The Junk Folder?

I suspect that the answer is yes and you are not alone. More and more social services that encourage their users to invite friends via email are facing email deliverability problems. It’s one thing when I send an email to my friends from my personal mailbox, but it’s quite another when I do it via a new and relatively unknown social networking service. Spam filters were built to filter out that kind of thing and they are doing a good job at it. Except I really do want to invite my friend to this new photo sharing service I like.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem and it’s called Return Path. I’ve been an investor and board member of Return Path since 2000 and I have watched them slowly but surely grow into a large and important company which is all about making email work better for everyone. Return Path helps email senders get their mail practices right so they can get their mail through filters, Return Path helps email receivers make their filters better so the right mail gets blocked and the right mail gets through. And in the end, Return Path helps email users get a better experience with email.

About three months ago, I was at a Twitter board meeting and Jason Goldman was explaining that most of Twitter’s users’ "invite a friend" emails were ending up in junk folders. I told him about Return Path. I said, "they help you get mail through spam filters" and he said "that sounds sketchy." I then explained that they do it by measuring your mail sending reputation and helping you fix/improve your reputation so that you can get your mail through legitimately. Jason wasn’t totally sold, but he agreed to try it out. I think he’s glad he did.

Two month’s ago Twitter had a Sender Score reputation of 30/100. That’s bad. Today they have a Sender Score of 70/100. That’s good. As a result, they have increased their deliverability by about 100%.

How did they do it? Well it was a lot of little things, not one big thing. The whole case was written up by Return Path and is available via pdf here.

If you have this issue, I suggest you contact Return Path. You can try to solve it yourself and you may get good results that way. But this is what Return Path does for its clients and they are the best at it. I am sure they can help.

#VC & Technology

Geo Analytics

Our portfolio company provides a service of the same name that tells you what is going on in your neighborhood (if you live in the US). The way they do this is they pull in all kinds of local content, including blogs, and they tag up the content with geocodes down to the neighborhood and place.

Ever since we’ve invested, I have been excited by the idea of revealing all of this metadata back to the local content creator (including local bloggers). Well today is a big day because has launched its hyperlocal analytics service, called GeoToolkit. If you create local content and want to find out more about the neighborhoods and places you blog about, including who else blogs about them and links to you, then you should check out GeoToolkit. If your blog’s feed is being pulled by, then the data will be there for you today. If your blog’s feed is not being pulled by, then you can simply add it and you will start seeing geo analytics shortly.

What do geo analytics look like? Here are some screen shots of geo analytics the NYC real estate blog Curbed:

Six Month Data On Neighborhoods


Six Month Neighborhood Rankings


6 Month Place Data


There are a bunch more reports and you can slice and dice the data in many ways. But hopefully these screen shots will give all you local bloggers a desire to go to Geo Toolkit and check your stats and, if necessary, give your feed so they can start to track your blog posts.

If you do that, please let me know what you think.

#VC & Technology

Reblogging Music

I’ve tried most every web music service there is and right now, almost all of my web-based listening is hapening on the hype machine and tumblr.

The Hype Machine and Tumblr are two different takes on the same idea. Build a music service around the music people blog about.

At the Hype Machine, they crawl blogs that are known music blogs and pull the songs onto their service and showcase them. I am constantly finding new music via the Hype Machine.

Tumblr is not a music service per se. It’s a blogging service and our firm has an investment in it so I have a vested interest in its success. Tumblr does three important things with it’s service that makes it unique in the market;

1) it encourages short posts (not twitter short, but shorter than what you’d find on wordpress or typepad)
2) the blogger categorizes the post by media type (audio, video, photos, quotes, links, text, etc)
3) it encourages reblogging which is autoposting another’s post to your blog

I think the act of reblogging media (audio, video, photos, quotes, links) is a very powerful form of curation and you can find all sorts of amazing curated blogs on tumblr.

All that said, Tumblr is a few features short of being a killer music blogging service. For start, if you go to Tuneage or The Music, two of my favorite music reblogs on Tumblr, you can’t "play" the blog. What I want is the ability to simply launch a player and listen to the blog in reverse chronological order with skip and reblog built into the player.

One of the great things about Tumblr music, and something I’ve mentioned in the past, is you can only post one mp3 per day to Tumblr. The one a day thing is really a big time quality filter and is one of the main reasons I like to listen on Tumblr so much.

Another thing I’d like is the ability to create curation pages on Tumblr, one for music, one for photos, one for videos, one for links, one for quotes. I don’t want to reblog every thing I find on Tumblr to my main page but I would like to reblog to these themed pages. It would be like my "loved page on hype machine".

I hope that David and Marco add these features soon. It will make listening on Tumblr even better than it is already.

#My Music#VC & Technology

Thinking About Blackberry Apps

While everybody else is talking about apps for the iPhone, I’ve been playing around with my Blackberry’s apps and some interesting things popped out at me.

I use a theme on my Blackberry that allows me to see my five favorite apps on the right side of the screen which opens up the remainder of the screen for the photo I’ve got as my home screen. I love having photos of people and places on my blackberry home screen so I use that theme most of the time. But I can quickly move to a screen with all of my apps on it.

Even when I am on the screen with all of my apps on it, I want them ordered in a way that the most used ones are on top and the least used ones are on the bottom.

So yesterday, when I was changing my home screen picture, I also started moving the apps around based on how I think I really use them. Most used would be on the upper left and least used would be on the lower right. I’d never actually taken the time to think really hard about what I use most and what I use least.


So here’s the order of the top fifteen apps on my Blackberry (based on no real data, just my gut):

1) email – no surprise there
2) text messaging – absolutely true in the US, not as much in europe due to cost
3) BBM – blackberry messenger is my "batphone", only four people are on it – my family
4) browser – yes I wish it was the iPhone browser but I use my BB browser constantly
5) camera – just visit my flickr page to see how good the photos are on this phone
——– that’s my main screen most of the time
6) google maps – when I travel this could be my most used app
7) audio profile – i move this around constantly; quiet, vibrate, normal ring, loud ring
8) calendar – the one desktop productivity app that is more useful on my blackberry
9) address book – i don’t use if very often but it’s nice to have
10) voice – funny that the "phone" app barely makes the top ten on my phone
11) alarm clock – along with google maps, the killer app for travel
12) lock – i lock the phone whenever i put it in my pocket, probably should be #1 or #2
13) brickbreaker – i don’t play but my wife and kids do and often play on my phone
14) calculator – i use this every once in a while
15) media – i rarely use this, when i do it’s for managing ring tones

I really don’t use any other apps on my Blackberry with the exception of the configuration apps (options, set up wifi, set up bluetooth, manage connections, setup wizard). I suppose I should remove the rest of the apps from the phone but can’t be bothered to do that.

So here’s the observations that popped out to me by going through this exercise.

My "phone" is a data device. The nine most used apps on it are data apps. I rarely use voice on my blackberry and when I do it’s usually a conference call where I use the speakerphone application. I think text based messaging is just so much better than voice for a non face to face conversation.

I use three text messaging systems, email, SMS, and BBM. And I’ve (not sure if this was conscious) set them up in declining access. Everyone can reach me on email. Many less (but still a lot) can reach me on SMS. Only my family can reach me on BBM.

The browser is a critical app on the phone. Other than text messaging, it’s the most important app. I use it to access all my web apps. The most imporant ones being google search, slandr (my favorite mobile twitter app), summize, techmeme, and a host of news sources).

The cameria is also critical. I probably average 10-20 photos a day on my camera and a good deal of them end up on the web somewhere; flickr, tumblr, or twitpic.

Location aware devices are game changers. Nothing new here. Everyone’s been saying it. But having google maps with "my location" on my phone has made all the difference in the world here in Paris, not just for me, but for everyone in our family.

And all of this is on a device that does not facilitate app installation in quite the same way that the iPhone does. It’s worth noting that only one of my top 15 apps doesn’t come with the phone, that being google maps.

But downloading apps onto the Blackberry is easy and it’s "open". All you need to do is go to a web URL (discoverable via google search) and download the app. I’ve done it at least a dozen times. But other than google maps I really have not found a great Blackberry app, certainly not one that has made it into my regular routine.

So what does all of this tell me? Well for one, the revolution that is being celebrated by and driven by the iPhone enthusiasts is happening all over the mobile world. The phone is a mobile computer connected to the Internet that will be used primarily for data driven apps. And the app ecosystems that develop around the phones will increasingly determine their popularity and their utility. That’s how it always has been in the computer business and that’s how it will be in the mobile business.

#VC & Technology

The Promenade Plantee

The Gotham Gal and I have gotten excited about The Highline that is getting turned into a park in New York City. We’ve given money and are trying to help them raise more. I’ve posted about the Highline on this blog in the past. One of the inspirations for The Highline is an elevated viaduct in Paris that has been turned into a park called The Promenade Plantee. It’s in the 12th arrondissement and I’ve been meaning to go visit it while we are here in Paris.

Yesterday, Josh and I biked (velib baby!) over there and back and walked the Promenade. I’ve walked the HIghline in NYC a number of times and the two parks are not going to be that simlar. The Promenade Plantee is very much a garden and at times you don’t even see the streets around it. The Highline is being designed to take advantage of the cityscape around it and will have much less plantings and more views.

Regardless of similarities and/or differences, I am a huge fan of reusing our urban landscapes and am a big fan of this movement to create parkland out of elevated structures.

Here’s a 30 second Animoto video I created from the photos I took on my blackberry. I think it does a good job of giving you a sense of the place.

#Blogging On The Road#NYC