Posts from February 2009

Flip Cam Fun

It's Josh's 13th birthday today. He's a valentines day baby.

We spent his birthday skiing and boarding in Keystone Colorado where we are staying with our friends Brad and Amy.

The Gotham Gal and I gave Josh a flip cam for his birthday and he's having a lot of fun with it.

This video is telling on several levels:


Concentration from fredwilson on Vimeo.

Twitter Fills The Tank

This is hardly news since it leaked almost a month ago. Today our portfolio company Twitter announced that it has raised $35mm from two west coast venture capital firms, Benchmark and IVP. Union Square Ventures will also invest to maintain our ownership position, as will Spark Capital and several other investors.

Biz has the news on the Twitter blog.

There's not much else to say other than I am thrilled that Twitter will be working with Todd Chafee and his partners at IVP and Peter Fenton and his partners at Benchmark. The list of investors in Twitter just keeps getting better and better.

I'd also like to address one question I've read in a lot of comment threads regarding the recent twitter financing rumors – why raise money now?. Twitter has a very small team and has a fairly small burn rate given the scale of the service it operates and its growth rate. The money Twitter raised last year would have and could have kept the company operating for quite a while.

But there's a saying that I heard early on in my tenure in the venture business that still rings true.

The best time to raise money is when you don't need it

That's what Twitter did. I think it's a smart move and I am particularly pleased that we've added two very smart and seasoned venture capital firms to the mix. Well done team Twitter.

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The Blogroll I Want For AVC

Way back when  I started this blog (2003), I created a blogroll. Back then it was pretty easy. There were a dozen or so blogs I read religiously. Blogs like Seth Godin, Dave Winer, VentureBlog.

Over time the blogroll grew. Then I started using a feed reader and I found one, Newsgator, that would auto-generate a blogroll. That was pretty cool. I'd add a blog to my reader and it would get added to my blogroll.

But then I stopped using a feedreader about three years ago and my blogroll got stale. And one day I removed it.

Yesterday, I received an email from Allison Kellman. She asked:

Would you consider publishing a blogroll or a list of blogs you read often somewhere on your site?  I'd love to know what you're reading.

And without thinking, I wrote back:

The only blogs I read every day are my wife, daughter, and brother

Everything else is based on links I see on the web

I wish there was a last.fm for blogs

A last.fm for blogs! I want to scrobble my blogreading and publish it as a blog roll on AVC.

If it exists, please send me the link and I'll add it today. If it doesn't, please someone build it and I'll be your first user.

Status (continued)

A few days ago I wrote a post where I observed that status has become the ultimate social gesture.

I think Facebook's decision to open its status messages via the API is a very important moment in the emergence of status the the atomic particle of social networking.

And yet, I still have a problem. My brother (aka Jackson) commented at Facebook this morning on a twitter update I wrote about the weather in NYC

I know that because Facebook sent me an email about it.

I want to get that comment in Twitter (or any other service I might choose to use) and be able to @reply to it and get it back to him in Facebook.

That's the use case that has made status conversational and led to its ascendancy.

So, what more needs to happen from Facebook and Twitter and the other status producing services to truly open up this conversation?

I want this pretty badly and I am sure a lot of you all do too.

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Truth

Last night Jessica showed me an essay she wrote after reading DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little. In the opening paragraph she wrote:

DBC Pierre explores the effect of media on citizens, and the greater theme of truth, or rather lack of truth, in everyday life.

It was a proud moment for me, because if there is one thing I hope to pass onto my children, it's the notion that there is no singular truth.

I was at a dinner last week where much of the NYC digerati (young and old) were assembled in a lovely apartment on the upper east side. After dinner but before dessert, the hosts initiated a discussion of the obsession of the moment: whither media. At one point, the argument came out that we need journalism to surface the truth. At which point, I sort of lost my composure and argued loudly that there is no truth.

There used to be a mantra at the upper right of this blog. I can't remember what it said exactly, but the gist of it was that there is no absolute truth, just your truth and my truth. I post my truth here everyday and I hope you'll drop by and share your truth with me.

This is the promise of social media. It's revolutionary. When you give every citizen in the world a printing press, you ought to expect revolution. And it is upon us.

I loved this paragraph in NY Mag's piece on Twitter which is in the current issue:

Now think about that for a second. In the midst of chaos—a plane just
crashed right in front of him!—Krums’s first instinct was to take a
picture and load it to the web. There was nothing capitalistic or
altruistic about it. Something amazing happened, and without thinking,
he sent it out to the world. And let’s say he hadn’t. Let’s say he took
this incredible photo—a photo any journalist would send to the Pulitzer
board—and decided to sell it, said he was hanging onto it for the
highest bidder. He would have been vilified by bloggers and Twitterers
alike. His is a culture of sharing information. This is the culture
Twitter is counting on. Whatever your thoughts on its ability to exist
outside the collapsing economy or its inability (so far) to put a price
tag on its services, that’s a real thing. That’s the instinct Stone was
talking about. If the nation has tens of millions of people like Krums,
that’s a phenomenon. That’s what Twitter is waiting for.

"His is a culture of sharing information" No, that is not his culture. That is our culture. That's where we are because every single one of us has a printing press in our hands at all times. I do understand that not everyone on this planet has a cell phone with a camera and an internet connection, but you get my point.

We've moved past the time when big institutions controlled what we read, what we thought, and what we believed. And we are arriving at a new place where each and everyone of us will report on our world and share it with others. Sharing is the new truth.

Sunday night the Grammys told us that Robert Plant and Allison Krauss made the record of the year. That's fine. That's their opinion. Mine is different. I believe that Okkervil River made the record of the year last year. But you know that because I published that opinion on this very blog in December of last year. Compare the Grammys to the Hype Machine's Music Zeitgest and you'll see what the old world looks like and what the new world looks like.

If you want to hear some good new music, it's hard to find it on radio. I just went to KRock's website and looked at the most recent songs they played. There's not one new song (that came out in the past year) in the most recent ten songs. It's all stuff that was popular years ago. Compare that to fredwilson.fm. On my radio station, we play new music. In fact, the music is so new on fredwilson.fm that I should be getting take down notices because half of the most recent ten songs have not even been released yet. And of the other half of the most recent ten, only one song is old and one more is a live cover.

How does fredwilson.fm get programmed? Sharing, of course. Each day I share one mp3 on my tumblog. fredwilson.fm just pulls all those posts together and plays them in a stream in reverse chronological order. Today, I'm sharing a track from a new band of teenagers from NYC called Care Bears On Fire. This brings me to my next point. I've got a vested interest in Care Bears' success (which I disclose in that post I linked to).

We all have vested interests and social media allows us to promote them to each other. That vested interest could be economic (like my interest in Care Bears) or it could be political (like my posts in support of Obama last fall) or it could be familial (like my reblogs of Gotham Gal's recipes or Jessica's photography).

My partner Brad once asked his nephew why he preferred sports blogs to the sports sections in the newspaper. His nephew said "everyone has a point of view but with blogs, they are upfront about it". Indeed. I'm a Jets, Mets, and Knicks fan. That's the lens through which I view the sports world, sadly.

This culture of sharing is not limited to the written word. Log into Boxee and you'll see a screen that looks like this.

3212860240_4a485f599b 

The very first thing you see when you log into Boxee are the recommendations from your friends on Boxee. Facebook's user interface is coming to your TV sometime soon. It's not going to be about what NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, or anyone else wants you to watch. It's going to be about what your friends are watching. It always has been about that but we just haven't had the TV interfaces that recognize that.

There I go again, talking about my vested interests (our firm has an investment in Boxee). That's my truth.

I've got to end this post because I need to turn it into a presentation I can deliver at SocComm in about three hours. So I'll end this post by linking out to a couple of other truths out there on the issues I've covered here.

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When Greed Is Good

For those of my generation, Gordon Gekko is the ultimate Wall Street caricature. Oliver Stone's movie Wall Street, in which Gordon is the main character, came out in 1987, just as I was getting out of business school and starting my career in venture capital. The big line in that movie is when Gordon says "greed is good."  Here's a ~3 min clip from the film and the whole thing is worth watching but the big line comes around 2:40 into the clip:

If you watched until the end, you also got to hear this line:

Greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but also that malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

That's the first thing I thought of when I read this morning in the NY Times that the bank rescue plan that Geithner will announce tomorrow relies in part on private investors:

Administration officials said the plan, to be announced Tuesday, was
likely to depend in part on the willingness of private investors other
than banks — like hedge funds, private equity funds and perhaps even
insurance companies — to buy the contaminating assets that wiped out
the capital of many banks.The officials say they are counting on
the profit motive to create a market for those assets. The government
would guarantee a floor value, officials say, as a way to overcome
investors’ reluctance to buy them.

The smartest people I know have been saying this has to happen for over five months. Roger Ehrenberg has been pleading for the good bank/bad bank solution since the late summer early fall. In the good bank/bad bank scenario, the bad bank gets all the "toxic" assets and private investors are allowed to speculate as to their worth in an open and transparent market.

The single best comment I've received on this blog about the banking mess came last September from JLM, who was hanging around this blog community during the election but sadly seems to have left the conversation, at least he's gone silent.  JLM said:

Sometimes a bit of historic perspective is useful in trying to deal
with TODAY. Remember that quote about being doomed to relive the
history we ignore? Well we are not being very thoughtful about this. We
have actually seen this movie before though maybe it was a shorter
version.

Remember the S & L crisis and the Resolution Trust
Corp? I do because I hit a very, very good lick in purchasing
distressed properties from the RTC, pension funds, insurance companies,
banks and S & Ls. I bought them for $0.20-0.30 on the dollar of
replacement cost, fixed them up, owned them for about 5-7 years, had
the numbers audited annually and sold them all to institutions in 3
transactions in 1995 — 6,000 apartments, 100 warehouses, 7.5 MM sf of
offices.

My partners were the likes of GE Capital (for whom I
also fixed up some of their problems), Fidelity and private foreign
investors. BTW, GE Capital is the smartest bunch of real estate folks I
ever met and the best risk takers a partner could ever have hoped for.
And they made a ton of money in the deal while conducting themselves
like perfect partners and gentlemen. Private money jumped in big time!

I
trooped around Wall Street trying to raise money for a long, long time
and shared my contrarian investment strategy (and believe me the folks
were looking for the lobotomy scars all the time) with the likes of
KKR, Odyssey, Bear Stearns, Allen & Co, Leon Black — the usual
suspects. And guess what? They never gave me any money but they all
went into the business themselves. Capitalism was alive and well.

Here's
the bottom line: If the RTC had held every property and just injected a
bit of management they would have recovered every penny of principal,
every penny of interest at the default rate and they would have firmed
up the national commercial real estate markets more quickly.

This
is not some mythical academic theoretical tale. This is something that
a bunch of guys did the last time the markets crashed (then it was more
commercial than residential) and the government stepped in to bail out
the transgressors. This is reality.

BTW, the final price tag on
the RTC was about $200B last time around. How much would that be in
today's dollars? Oh, about $700B maybe?

Here's a suggestion based upon what was learned the last time around —

Let all the originators of the problem fail. Suck their capital dry. Punish them like a VC would punish the first round guys.

Don't
use a penny of government money. If pressed, use government loan
guarantees only. The only entity left with real credit is the US
government. Use it. This will make the markets tell us what this crap
is really worth. Right now the issue is the pricing.

Fix the
problems that created this mess quick and do it publicly. No 100%
mortgages even for Warren Buffet. No low doc mortgages. No financing of
closing costs in mortgages. Make all borrowers have skin in the game.
No leveraging capital 30-40 times for any financial instititions. No
mortgage based derivatives of any kind — why? Cause you cannot
collect mortgage payments when the mortgage is "embedded" and "divided"
by securitization. Teach the guys with mousse in their hair how to
collect a past due payment. No extraordinary compensation for
investment guys who are primarily salary men — let them take a piece
of their own deal if they want an equity style upside. No naked short
selling. Ban short selling for 24 months. Then reinstate the uptick
rule. Bring all hedge funds out of the woods and under the regulatory
umbrella. If you want American markets, tax laws, securities laws, etc,
then you have to be regulated. Lower the capital gains rate to 0% for
five years — because that's how long it will take to work this
through. The private capital will come to that lowered capital gains
rate like a moth to a flame and it will be immediate. Merge Freddie and
Fannie and obtain meaningful merger efficiencies.

Stop the
foreclosure process on residential real estate which can be salvaged.
If a borrower can pay anything — owes $100 per month but can pay $70
— keep him in the house because real estate plummets in value the
second it is empty and every foreclosure ever sold has been sold at a
deeper discount than the foreclosure price. Make a trade. Rework the
mortgage in return for a 50% equity slice above the mortgage amount.
There is a certain irony in allowing the public to solve their own
problems rather than just sending them the bill. It shortcuts the flow
of money and it has a social benefit. Can every deal be reworked? No,
but many can be and should be.

Oh, yeah, get rid of Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and Chris Cox.

That's even better than I remember it. I should print it out and mail it to every single legislator and policy maker in Washington. But my favorite part of it is this:

I hit a very, very good lick in purchasing
distressed properties from the RTC, pension funds, insurance companies,
banks and S & Ls.

It's time for America to get up off its ass and start looking for some "good licks". Howard Lindzon has it right.

This crisis of confidence will only be fixed by you and me

Greed is good when fear rules the roost and fear is good when greed rules the roost. Now is the time for greed.

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Traffic Sources In The Past Week

I look at Google Analytics about once a week and this week I noticed some changes. Here are the top ten sources in the past week:

Google analytics

Delicious hasn't been among the top ten referrers in a very long time. Is it making a comeback?

Twitter, Techmeme, and Hacker News have been the top three after direct and google for a while now, but Twitter seems to be rising as re-tweeting is starting to really take off.

And Facebook has never been in the top ten.

It seems that status messages with links is starting to deliver significant traffic. That's a trend worth watching.

It would be great if other bloggers would post this information and we could share insights about what's working as traffic sources these days.

Hasn’t It Always Been About Status?

What’s the day? What's you doing?
How’s your mood? How's that song?
when it passes right by me
It’s behind me, now it’s gone.

Fireworks, Animal Collective

Facebook's announcement that they are opening up API access to user's status updates (and more) is big news. The status update has become the ultimate social gesture. You could see this coming if you were watching carefully. All last year, Facebook, who is the leader in social networking and will continue to be as far as I can tell, focused on morphing the user experience, first to the news feed and ultimately to the status update as the primary user experience.

But Facebook did not invent the status update. I honestly don't know where the status update started but for me it was AIM where I first was asked to leave a short note telling people what I was doing. I've heard Jack Dorsey, the inventor of Twitter, talk many times about his inspirations for Twitter and one of them was the status message in AIM.

Much of the innovation in social networking is being driven by entrepreneurs in their late 20 and early 30s. These people were teenagers or young adults when AIM came out in 1997 and they rapidly adopted the IM interface for rapid (and rabid) communications with friends from their bedrooms and/or dorm rooms. The status update is ingrained in their social networking intuitions.

It seems to me, and I am certainly influenced as an active user of and investor in Twitter, that status has emerged as the ultimate social gesture. If you look at traditional social nets, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc, etc, they offer many social activities; writing on walls, posting and tagging photos, sharing videos, listening to music, playing games, etc.

But as Joshua Schachter explained to me a few years ago now, reduction of services to the simplest user experiences is a powerful generator of focused activity. And that's what is going on at Facebook and across the social networking sector right now. Status is universal. Not everyone takes photos or videos, or plays games. But everyone has a status and it changes. It's also quick and easy to post a status message. And it's massively conversational (something we didn't quite realize until Twitter users invented the @reply).

I believe Facebook's recognition of status as the most important and most powerful social gesture seals the deal. Status is where it's at in social networking. This is very good for Twitter and its also very good for the other social nets who recognize this and move quickly to provide status updating features and open them up to the social web.

This is also very good for third party Twitter clients who will now be able to become status clients. We are going to see continued innovation in and around the status message. We can use filtering, semantics, indentity, social graphs, and a host of other important technologies to weave a real-time web around status.

Of course, not all social nets are the same. The big differences are around public/private and one-way/reciprocal following as well as market positioning. A service like Facebook, with its emphasis on privacy and reciprocal following serves the user who values privacy and wants to have a smaller and more intimate social experience (the private party). A service like Twitter with its default to public and one-way follow serves the user who wants to reach the broadest audience (the man on the soapbox). A service like LinkedIn, which has adopted the Facebook model (more or less) but is business focused will serve an even different user base.

All of these services will be generators of status and the real-time web is emerging as a result. My friend John Borthwick has been one of the leading thinkers about the implications of this real-time web and he penned an interesting post this week about the implications of all this on Google and the search ecosystem.

John talks about attending a Christensen talk at AOL around the time of the AOL/Time Warner merger:

They [market leaders] think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on
the same theme that they began with.   As a consequence they miss the
grass roots challenger — the real disruptor to their business.   The
company who is disrupting their business doesn’t look relevant to the
billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks
like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD.

It's interesting to note how Facebook is behaving in this regard. It's impressive as hell. Say what you will about Mark Zuckerberg. He's got the intellectual curiosity and honesty to see what's going on and deal with it. He's done it again and again, with the news feed, with the platform, and now with status. And the social and real time web is so much better because of it.

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Zemanta For Webmail

Let's start with the disclosure part. Union Square Ventures is an investor in Zemanta. I'm talking my own book here.

Zemanta is a tool that recommends content to you *while* you are composing it. Here's a post I wrote last September that explains how Zemanta works and why it's so great.

Until now, Zemanta's content recommendation service (which I use via a Firefox extension) has been limited to blogging platforms but all that changed yesterday when Zemanta added gmail and yahoo mail as supported content creation services. Now, if you have the Zemanta extension installed, when you go to gmail or yahoo mail, you'll see a button that says Zemanta that lets you use the content recommendation service while composing an email.

This demo screencast shows how you could use Zemanta's service while composing an email to a friend about a visit to Paris:


Zemanta on Gmail from zemanta on Vimeo.

If you are a regular user of Gmail or Yahoo Mail you can simply download the Zemanta extension and give it a try. If you do, let me know what you think.

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Latitude

Google added a new feature to its Google Maps software for mobile phones this week. The feature is called Latitude and you will get it if you download the latest Google Maps version.

Before talking about Latitude, let me first say I have tried a ton of third party apps for my blackberry and the only one that has really stuck is Google Maps. It should come standard on every blackberry. It's that good.

At some point last year, Google added "my location" to Google Maps for mobile and that was a game changing move. Having a map on your mobile phone that always knows where you are is fantastic. It makes getting directions a breeze and it also gives you confidence that you are going in the right direction when you are lost.

With Latitude, Google has taken the somewhat obvious next step of connecting all these mobile devices with maps and "my location" on them. Latitude allows you to invite people to see where you are on their phones and allow you to see where you are on their phones.

Once I got the new Google maps software on my phone, I immediately invited my family and my colleagues at work to my Latitude service. I am not sure who else I'll invite but I don't think it will be that many people. This is not like Twitter or Facebook where you get value out of having a large network (at least I don't think so after playing with it for a bit last night).

But for my office to be able to see where I am when I am late for a meeting or to be able to locate my daughter in the Marais in Paris and be able to get walking directions to the cafe she's in is tremendous.

There may be other applications for Latitude that aren't immediately obvious to me and I'd love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments. But for me, this is another killer feature and Google is slowly doing with maps what they've done in search – running the table on the competiton.

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