Posts from October 2008

Open Up The TV White Spaces

My friend and former entrepreneur Tom Evslin’s been on a tear on his blog lately. Today, he wrote a great post asking everyone to do what they can to lobby the FCC to open up the "white spaces", the frequencies between broadcast TV stations. Tom explains why this is good for you, me, and the Internet industry:

It is, in fact, highly likely that a vast array of new services
including Internet access at a lower cost and higher speeds than we’ve
so far seen in the US (or the world) will appear if this spectrum is
opened for unlicensed use (eg. not auctioned off for proprietary
networks). Think of the huge innovation that’s occurred in WiFi and
Bluetooth which operate in unlicensed spectrum even though these
technologies share just scraps of undesirable spectrum with microwave
ovens and cordless phones.

There is an online petition at
whose wording you can use or change in order to make your views known
to the FCC. If you would prefer, you can also comment directly on the
FCC docket by going to and typing the docket number 04-186 in the first box.

Please comment right away. THE DEADLINE is TUESDAY, October 28th.

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Initial Thoughts on The G1

  I Got My Android G1 
  Originally uploaded by fredwilson.

I spent the day yesterday at the New Business For News Summit and played a bit with the G1 I got the day before. For those who want to know, it is a loaner and I am not using it as a phone yet. I am still carrying around my trusty blackberry curve.

So here are some thoughts:

1) Keyboard – I love the sidekick style keyboard. I used a sidekick for almost a year and it’s a fantastic user experience. The keys are not as tactile as a blackberry and I think the blackberry keyboard is better, but the G1 keyboard is just fine. If you can’t use an iPhone (like me) because of the touch keyboard, this will work fine for you.

2) The Browser – Way better than the Blackberry but not anyway near the iPhone’s browser. I kept trying the pinch gesture in the browser. They need that bigtime.

3) App Market – Really nice. Great experience. A surprising amount to choose from.

4) Installing apps from the browser. A big win. I installed Twitroid via a browser download. It worked just fine. This is the value of an open phone versus a closed phone (iPhone).

5) Gmail and Gcal – as you might expect, these google apps work perfectly on a Google phone. I forward all my outlook mail to gmail and I use Google calendar synch to keep my gcal and outlook calendar sync’d up. I don’t yet have a good solution for getting my outlook contacts to google but I think my friend Charlie pointed Bijan to one yesterday that I’ll try out. Of course the right thing for me to do is just move to Google apps and leave outlook and if I stick with this phone, I’ll do that.

6) Battery life – i don’t think my battery was completely charged yesterday morning so take this with a grain of salt, but by noon the battery was dead. My blackberry goes all day on an overnight charge.

7) Twitroid – the best non-iphone twitter app I’ve ever used. one thing I’d love is "saved searches" since I search on certain words all the time in twitter.

That’s about it for now. I didn’t really get into the phone yesterday so these are my initial reactions. I’ll play with it some more and get back to you all with a more exhaustive review.

I’ll end by saying that Android is a great mobile OS, certainly in the same class as the iPhone OS, and way better than windows mobile. I can’t speak to Symbian because I’ve not really used it. Blackberry is still the simplest and most powerful OS for a hard core business user, but Android is close and will only get better. And because of the open source/open hardware model that Google has adopted, we are likely to see a huge number of hardware configurations for this OS in the coming years. Android’s a winner in my book.

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New Business Models For News Summit

I don’t love conferences but I do love getting together with other people and talking about and working on issues. That’s what we do with our firm’s sessions events and that’s what I am going to spend today doing

The New Business Models For News Summit is happening in NYC today and I will participate in it all day long

The event was planned by a small group including our friend Jeff Jarvis. In his email to the people attending, Jeff wrote:

It is your role to get the discussion past the complaints, worries, blame, arguments, fights, and depression we’ve heard already and push the groups toward specific forward motion.

I like that role and am happy to play it

If you think about it, a lot of the investments I am personally involved in like, disqus, zemanta, twitter, and others are playing in this "future of news" sector and I have lots of ideas about how we can remake, reshape, and revitalize the news business.

I will microblog the event on my twitter page and please check it out during the day if this is a topic of interest to you. And there’s a hashtag for twitter, #newsbiz, that you can follow and a live stream here that kicks off at ~9am eastern.

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Cash Is Only King If You Use It

I saw one of the investors in our funds on the plane back from SF last week. He reminded me that "cash is king" and certainly it is. We’ve done an analysis of our entire portfolio, the cash balances of each company, their cash burn rates, their runways (cash/burn) and have charted these metrics for our entire portfolio. We are feeling pretty comfortable but we’ve got some issues in our portfolio like everyone else in the venture business.

In the midst of that work, our friend (and investor in our funds) Tom Evslin writes this important post:

Cash is king. VCs like Fred Wilson are advising their portfolio companies
to be in cash-preservation mode for the very good reason that more cash
will be hard to come by and, if obtainable at all, may come with serious dilution
as its price. But, if your company has cash, this can also be a
wonderful time to spend. In the end you will succeed because of what
you DO spend your money on

Even with all the cutting that is going on out there (I can almost hear it), nobody is going to stop spending. And what you spend your precious cash on is critical. Go read Tom’s post for more.

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Donor's Choose: Let's Try To Beat Last Year

It’s the 22nd of October and you are all probably tired of me talking about Donor’s Choose Bloggers Challenge all month long. You’ve all been very generous once again and we’ve raised $12,631 from 50 different donors so far this month. Thank You.

But last year we raised $18,538 from 92 donors. We need another $6,000 from another 42 donors to get there. And we only have another 10 days (including today) to do it. I think we can do it if we can be as generous for the next ten days as we’ve been so far this month, but it’s going to take some more giving to get there.

And, by the way, TechCrunch is ahead of us again. They are doing it with a lot less donors, but they are in front again and we really can’t let it stay that way.

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Thoughts From The Eliptical Trainer

Its been a while since I’ve done one of these posts. A lot’s been going on and I find myself on the trainer thinking outloud.

1) The credit markets are thawing (see the ted spread chart on for a visual of the thaw). The equity markets are stabilizing But that doesn’t mean they won’t continue to go down. As investors start to focus on earnings next year and beyond, we may see a continued drift down. The Nasdaq is down 33pcnt ytd, $GOOG is down 45pcnt ytd, and $AAPL is down 50pcnt ytd. The market has repriced equties and that impact will be felt far and wide

2) The sooner we accept this new reality and deal with it, the better off we will all be

3) The next 12 months may be a period of the ‘haves and have nots’. Last night the Spotted Pig was mobbed but the new hot place down the block was not. There are bulletproof restaurants (the pig), bulletproof ad models (paid search) and bulletproof brands (all things apple). In tough times the money will keep flowing to the best companies and will stop flowing to the worst. Be a ‘must have’ and don’t be a ‘have not’ in this environment.

4) I think Obama has the election pretty wrapped up absent a major external event. I think my parents might vote for him. They are army people, lifelong republicans, who are in their late 70s/early 80s. But if they vote for Obama, they are not really voting for him, they are voting against the GOP and what is has become and what it has done to this country. Obama’s mandate, if he wins, will be thin and he should not overplay it. He must win these skeptics who held their nose and voted for him if he wants to govern with a real mandate. And that won’t be easy and he must govern from the far center which is where our country really is right now. And I think he can and will do that.

5) The earthquake we have witnessed in the capital markets in the past month may be part of a tectonic shift that is happening in the geopolitical world. I am heavily influenced in this thinking by Fareed Zakaria but it just makes sense to me. The US has come violently back to economic parity with the rest of the developed world. Look at who is buying up some of the back office operations that are coming available in the dismantling of the US investment banks – the indian companies that provided the outsourcing contracts to them  We live in a global economy now and we are not the unchallenged boss of it.

6) The web and the global internet can be a powerful force in helping to change american society. We can learn to save, invest, live healthier, and more energy efficiently and we can do this in partnership with like minded people all over the world. I am not a utopian but I am powerfully moved by things like grameen, kiva, donors choose, etsy, amee, livemocha, craigslist, wikipedia, google translate, and many other web services that can and will make our world a better one.

7) So I am optimistic and I am done with my workout and its time to get to work

Sorry for the lack of links in this post. I did it on my bberry (soon to be G1!). I’ll try to update with links later.

11:41 Eastern: Update with links done

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GaryVee, a tortured Jets fan just like me, said yesterday that Britney should be sending and receiving her own tweets if she’s going to be on twitter. My favorite quote from Gary’s video is "when it’s your team [posting], it’s just a press release" the video below plays right at that quote so go ahead and hit play and see Gary say it himself.

I am not a Britney fan but I do follow some well known musicians on Twitter, including Ben Kweller and Dave Matthews. Ben and Dave do it right, they post themselves. Ben posts occasionally and Dave posts all the time (so much that I am thinking of taking him off my sms feed). And the difference between seeing press releases on twitter and the actual ramblings of someone you are a fan of is everything.

Authenticity is hard, but it’s critically important in the world of social media and "digital branding". GaryVee gave a talk about building your personal brand at Web 2.0 in NYC, the same day I gave my talk. His talk was awesome and is worth watching so here it is.

I didn’t start this post out intending to show you two GaryVee videos, but he’s the axe on this subject so it makes sense. In both videos, Gary talks about answering his own emails. I do that too. It kills me and I can never get to all my emails and it’s a personal struggle for me. But I cannot imagine someone else answering an email sent to me. So it’s not happening. You’ll either hear from me or you wont’ hear back at at all.

Friday night we went to see Ben Kweller at Bowery Ballroom, my favorite venue in NYC. We walked up the back stairs after the show and into the post show hangout room and nobody was stopping us. Ben was there shaking hands and talking with everyone who stopped by. At one point his little boy Dorian walked up to him and said "daddy I want to play drums". So Ben picked him up, told everyone to follow them back down to the stage so Dorian could play the drums while he chatted with us. Turns out the drum kit had been taken down so Dorian got to play the keyboards instead. That was an authentic moment. So is this latest tweet from Ben about what he did after playing the Bowery gig.

As more celebs show up on twitter, it’s going to be interesting to see what they do. Britney already has 2,600 follwers. That number will be 10,000 before long. And of course she cannot @reply to every one of them who replies to her. But she can and should send her own tweets. And maybe @reply to one every now and then. If she doesn’t do that, Gary’s right, she’s wasting her time with twitter and social media in general.

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A Voice Of Reason

Say what you will about Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, I was inspired by it. In particular, I was inspired by his talk about the need for more tolerance of different religions. This part just made me jump for joy:

"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.
He’s always been a Christian," he said. "But the really right answer
is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this
country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong
with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she
could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party
drop the suggestion, ‘He’s a Muslim and he might be associated
terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America."

I’ve done a lot of travelling since 9/11 and I am always amazed how people of different dress and skin color get treated. It’s like anyone who is not white and christian is a potential terrorist. That’s what 9/11 did to our country and it has been extremely hurtful to our country and our culture.

So I applaud Colin Powell for his forthright and honest and correct remarks. America is the melting pot where we accept all races, creeds, and colors. It’s what has made us great and if we walk away from that, we are in big trouble. Colin Powell knows that, Barack Obama knows that, and by the way so does John McCain but the only way he wins at this point is by playing into those fears which he is doing and Colin Powell called him on it.

I am very hopeful for what may be around the corner, a new administration, a new world view, a new tolerance, and some healing finally.

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The Stupidest Answer In The World

There’s a great article in the NY Times Magazine section today about Obama’s quest to win the white male vote which was written by Matt Bai. In it Obama addresses the "bitter quote":

“That was my biggest boneheaded move,” Obama told me recently. We were
sitting across from each other on his plane, the one with the big red,
white and blue “O” on the tail, flying some 35,000 feet above Nebraska.
“How it was interpreted in the press was Obama talking to a bunch of
wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward
white working-class voters. And I was actually making the reverse
point, clumsily, which is that these voters have a right to be
frustrated because they’ve been ignored. And because Democrats haven’t
met them halfway on cultural issues, we’ve not been able to communicate
to them effectively an economic agenda that would help broaden our

I made a boneheaded move this week as well with this quote to Chris Snyder of Wired which he reported yesterday:

“It’s like the stupidest question in the world: How’s Twitter going to
make money?," said Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, another
investor. "It’s like ‘How was Google going to make money?’

The minute I said it, I wanted it back. But it reflects my weariness with getting this question every time anyone asks me about Twitter (as well as the fact that I had flown back from SF the night before and gotten up at 6am to do a board call to London that day). Rule #1, don’t talk to the press when you are tired and irritated.

It is not the stupidest question in the world. It’s a terribly important question. But I don’t think it’s the most important question facing Twitter right now. Twitter has yet to cross the chasm to mainstream usage. It’s not immediately obvious to anyone why they should use Twitter. Search and discovery doesn’t work well on Twitter yet. There are a host of issues about the API and the developer ecosystem. Will recent reliability success continue? Can Twitter’s architecture scale now? All of these questions loom large in my mind.

As I said in the post I wrote on the Union Square Ventures blog when we first invested in Twitter,

The question everyone asks is "What is the business model?" To be completely and totally honest, we don’t yet know.

The capital we are investing will go to making Twitter a better,
more reliable and robust service. That’s what the focus needs to be
right now. We’ll have plenty of time to figure out the business model
and there are many options to choose from.

That’s not entirely true anymore. Twitter has plenty of ideas on how to make money and as my friend Bijan Sabet, the other Twitter VC board member, told Chris (he handled himself a lot better than I did):

“I think it’s very normal and expected for people in this economy,
saying ‘when is Twitter going to show us how it can generate revenue,’
and the answer is ‘stay tuned, and they’re working on it,”

Twitter is working on the revenue question. And I expect we’ll all see at least one and possibly more revenue initiatives in the next year. I am not going to say more than that because it’s not my place to talk about Twitter’s business publicly.

But I do want to take back that quote. It was the stupidest answer in the world and I am sorry that I said it.

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Google Translate

Thanks to all of your suggestions, I’ve added the Google translate widget to this blog.


The widget is on the right sidebar underneath the Donors Choose badge. There’s a weird conflict between google translate and google maps which generates an error message, but just ignore it and get your translated blog.

The comments are not translated yet, but I’ve suggested to Disqus that they might want to figure out how to integrate Google’s translation service. We’ll see if they do.

Let me know what you think.

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