Posts from November 2009

Protecting Business

Tumblr_kteysugUmi1qz6yoko1_500 I went down to city hall yesterday to participate in a hearing on net neutrality. I realize the NYC city council has no oversight on this issue but the lobbyists were coming out in force so I figured I might as well show up too.

They were live streaming the event. My testimony is about 26 minutes into that stream.

But this post is not about net neutrality. It's about an issue that came up during the questioning. A councilmember mentioned the idea that we should help infrastructure providers protect their businesses.

I am all in favor of the survival instinct in the marketplace. All companies should be executing strategies that will result in their survival.

But the idea that government should "protect businesses" seems very dangerous to me. Businesses come and go. Jobs come and go. Products and services come and go. That's the way of capitalism.

Our government stepped in and protected a bunch of businesses during the financial crisis. Examples are Citibank, AIG, and General Motors. In a time of financial panic, government does have a role of restoring confidence and we can argue whether those actions were necessary or not to do that.

But the financial panic is long gone. We still have big economic issues in this country and it would be a mistake for our government to continue to protect businesses and jobs now that markets are functioning again.

If the telcos and cable companies can't run profitable businesses without government protections, then I think we should let them go under and allow entrepreneurs to pick up their assets and make them work instead.

I also believe that government should be fostering a lot of competition in the access business. That was the idea of the telcom reform act. But it hasn't played out that way. We have an ever increasing consolidation of power in the access business. Just like we had in the banking and brokerage business. This is not good.

I could go on and on about this issue but I'll stop here and let the discussion start in the comments. I'll be in there with you.

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#Politics#Web/Tech

The Story Of My Avatar

 I saw this tweet when I got up this morning:

hey @fredwilson – whats the story behind ur avatar?

While longtime readers know it, I figure many of you don't. So here it goes.

Starting about four years ago, Howard Lindzon started commenting actively on this blog. He was funny, he was smart, and I enjoyed our banter in the comments.

One march vacation, our family made a short stop in Phoenix, where Howard used to live. He emailed me and offered my son and me two tickets to the Suns game. We took him up on that and that's how we met for the first time.

It turned out Howard was hatching an idea for a web show for investors. Think Rocketboom meets Jim Cramer. I told him it was a good idea and encouraged him to do it. Howard would fire ideas at me and I would give him feedback on them.

Out of that came Wallstrip. Here's a post I wrote a little over three years ago announcing the launch of Wallstrip.

One of the original ideas for the show that never really worked out was that there would be a dozen well known bloggers who would write short posts about each daily show. Howard asked me to do that and I agree to do it at least once a week.

So that's how the avatar came to be. Howard asked his friend Jenny Ignaszewski to draw up avatars for all dozen of the stock bloggers using photos of them that were available on the web. The first time I saw my avatar was when Wallstrip launched and there it was along with Howard's and a bunch of others.Fredwilson

From the minute I saw it, I liked it. It uses my favorite color (green) as the backdrop and the eye color (my eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes green and sometimes something else). It looks like me, but not too much.

So I began to use it a bit here and there around the web as I set up new profiles. But by no means was it the only profile picture I used. For corporate oriented services like LinkedIn, I'd use my Union Square Ventures headshot. For social nets like Facebook, I'd use a regular headshot. I used a photo of me taking a photo on Flickr for a long time.

But then I started to realize that the Wallstrip avatar was becoming my online identity. People would comment about it all the time. Around the time we sold Wallstrip, Howard asked Jenny to do a real painting of it which I now have in my office at Union Square Ventures. It's a real conversation starter.

Sometime in early 2008, I just decided to go with it everywhere. It's at the top of this blog and everywhere else I have an online identity. It's my online brand now.

Like this blog, this was not planned. It just happened. That's the way most of the important things in my life have come to be.

#VC & Technology#Weblogs

Anatomy Of A Big Day On AVC

I generally take a quick run through audience stats every morning. I saw this chart and thought "hmm, big day yesterday, why is that?"

Avc stats
So I went to google analytics, which confirmed the big day.

Avc stats google 

And then I went to the makeup of the traffic:

Avc stats sources 

Like most big days on AVC, it was referring traffic that caused the bump. Search and direct traffic are very consistent at about 2,500 visits per day. But referring traffic can be as little as 1,000 visits on a slow day or as much as 5,000 visits or more on a big day. Yesterday was such a day.

Here's where it came from yesterday:

Avc referring links

The twitter traffic is probably undercounted because so many of the twitter click thrus are coming from twitter clients that register as direct traffic. The bit.ly stats on my post yesterday say that there were close to 1,200 clicks on that link from the twitter ecosystem. So that means google analytics is undercounting my twitter traffic by about 75%.

The traffic from avc.blogs.com is direct traffic coming from the old URL that this blog ran on.

But regardless of all that, yesterday's big day was largely a Hacker News event. Hacker News runs on news.ycombinator.com and has been an increasingly large source of traffic for this blog in recent months.

This blog used to get a lot of traffic from TechMeme but since labor day, Hacker News has sent 5x the traffic that TechMeme has sent. I believe that is because TechMeme is largely focused on large professional blog networks and mainstream media whereas Hacker News is peer produced and links out to small blogs like this one all the time.

In any case, yesterday was a big day and like most big days it was because others linked out to a post on this blog. That's how the web works and it's always useful to get your head around where the traffic is coming from and going on the pages you control on the web.

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Ten Meetings Per Day

I was explaining how I go about finding deals yesterday to a friend of mine and I thought I ought to explain it to everyone.

I write this blog. It's like a broadcast channel of "what is interesting to me." I market it every way I know how and I get somewhere between 70k to 100k unique readers of it every month between web, rss, and mobile.

As a result, I figure entrepreneurs and others have a pretty good idea of what I want to see and what I don't. And I believe they can self select. And for the most part, they do a great job of that.

Given that dynamic, I take meetings, as many as I can. I went back over my calendar for the past few weeks and it seems that on average I take ten meetings a day. I don't filter my calendar that much to be honest. I try to meet with as many people as I can.

I know that if I filtered my calendar more carefully, I'd get a better successful meeting ratio. But instead of spending time on vetting meetings, I spend time taking them.

So maybe I have a 70% success rate, seven good meetings per day, three bad ones.

If I spent a considerable part of my day reading business plans, referencing people on the way in, I might be able to take five or six meetings. But even if they were all successful, I'd still get less successful meetings that day.

So I don't bother too much about vetting meetings. I just take them as much as I can.

That's how I do it. Thought you should know.

#VC & Technology

APIs In The Late Afternoon

After our weekly team meeting yesterday afternoon, I hopped into a cab to the far west side of manhattan to attend the Business of APIs conference. In the cab, I opened socialscope on my blackberry to check into twitter and saw this tweet from my partner Albert:

Love APIs — so excited about @foursquare's announcement http://bit.ly/1Zswju

As I sat down with Quentin Hardy to talk about APIs, I wasn't sure where the conversation would go. Fortunately Quentin is a good interviewer and we had a great chat.

We talked a bit about the foursquare api, and I mentioned that I am most excited about cool games that can get built on top of foursquare, like mob zombie.

We talked about what is a real api, and I seconded our friend Joshua Schachter's assertion that a read-only api is not an api. I believe apis should allow full read/write access and the ideal api in my mind totally replicates the web app's functionality.

That led us to Twitter naturally and I stated that the thing I want most from the Twitter api is sign up via the api. I realize that there are reasons why that hasn't happened yet, but I feel that Twitter has led the web world in providing full access to its application and sign up is a key feature that third party developers could do great things with.

Quentin seized the opportunity to pounce on the monetization question and I stated my belief that the best way to monetize apis is to "send money with the api". I talked everyone through my Business Model Jujutsu post and ended with this line from Paul Forster, CEO of Indeed:

We tried charging for our API without much success.  Then we paid developers to use it and it took off.

We also talked about "api failures". I said that there are two kinds of api failures that I've noticed. The first is when the web app itself is not very popular and therefore developers aren't compelled to build to its api. That is not an issue with the api itself. The second is when the web app itself is very popular but the api is not so much. Usually the issue in this situation is the api is too restrictive and doesn't allow developers to do enough with it. I mentioned the Etsy api, which is read only, as an example of this situation. Fortunately, Chad Dickerson of Etsy, had preceded me at the event by a few hours and talked about how Etsy is taking their api to the next level by offering both read and write.

That's about all I can remember about the talk with Quentin. It was a good one. APIs are such an important topic. I'm surprised there aren't more events about them. I'd like to thank Mashery for putting this one on. And I'll leave you with a blackberry photo I took of the view from the event yesterday evening. That alone was worth the trip to the far west side.

4109887247_859cfc5a11_b

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The Power Of Instant Approval

Back in the early days of web video, it wasn't clear who would win the competition for video upload to the web. There was YouTube, Vimeo, and the big dog was Google Video. I tried all of them. YouTube was by far and away the best experience.

Google Video required you to wait for days to see the video you uploaded. It was so annoying that I wrote this post exactly four years ago today (how's that for a coincidence?). This line sort of sums it up:

Posting stuff to the Internet has to be instantaneous.  What if wrote
this post on Tyeppad and it took me 10 minutes to see the result?  What
if I posted a photo to Flickr and it took a day to see it?

I was reminded of that post when I was reading Bijan's post on mobile apps this morning. Bijan makes the same point about developers and the iPhone app store:

Developers are getting extremely frustrated with the Apple App Store
(understatement). I’m hearing it can take developers 4 weeks to get an
update released. That’s dysfunctional.

The argument Apple makes about approving every app is similar to the argument Google made about approving every video. They want to make sure only quality stuff gets into their service. And I suppose it is even more important when we are talking about software running on your phone.

I'm not going to argue with the logic of those points of view, but I'll make this observation. Instant gratification is a very powerful force, for both consumers and developers. The web is full of success stories that have embraced the power of instant gratification and also full of failures that made people wait too long.

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My Social Recruiting Summit Keynote Talk

On Friday I posted some of the key themes I’ll be addressing tomorrow in my keynote.

I spent this morning assembling them into a deck that I’ll use in my talk tomorrow. Here’s a final draft. Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions/critiques/copy edits, please leave them in the comments.

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#VC & Technology#Weblogs

Twitter List iPhone Apps

When my son Josh got Tweetie on his iPhone, he simply went to Twitter.com and found every NBA player he could think of, found out if they had a verified account, and if they did, he followed them. That was his follow list (along with me and the gothamal).

But now with Twitter lists, it could be so much easier. TNT has put together this list of NBA players on Twitter. The Twitter iPhone app companies could simply create packaged versions of their apps with lists in them. Imagine the Tweetie NBA Player app. You download it, it comes preloaded with the TNT NBA list, and if that's all you ever want to do on Twitter, you are done. Of course, you can add more people, tweet, and retweet if you'd like.

Maybe this has already happened. If so, please point me to it. If not, I'd like to see someone do this.

PS – I'm not the only one thinking about lists this morning. Scoble has a really good post on lists on his blog right now.

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Social Recruiting

I'm giving the keynote talk at the Social Recruiting Summit in NYC on Monday. I've been working on my presentation over the past few days and some themes are worth talking about.

1) Since we started Union Square Ventures in 2003/2004, we have only been involved with one retained search. Our portfolio companies have certainly used search firms, but our use of them has been extremely rare. We prefer to source candidates ourselves using our networks, and increasingly our social networks.

2) We sourced both of our junior investment professionals, Andrew Parker and Eric Friedman, with blog posts at USV.com.

3) We have sourced countless senior hires for our portfolio companies off of this blog and USV.com. I would bet that we've done a couple dozen successful hires that way in the past couple years.

4) Many of our companies have internal recruiters and we work hand in hand with them, sourcing talent, vetting talent, and closing the sale.

5) LinkedIn is a terrific place to find talent and to find references. When I want to check someone out, I invite them to connect to me on LinkedIn, I find who we know in common, and that is my reference list. Charlie O'Donnell taught me these LinkedIn tricks about five years ago and I use them all the time. 

6) Tracked.com is also a terrific place to find talent and figure out who they know. Let's say you wanted to find the top execs at LinkedIn. You can find them all in one place here.

7) Hunting for talent is necessary but not always sufficient. You need to get the word out. Like all things on the internet, there are free ways and paid ways to do that.

8) The best free way is get your jobs indexed by Indeed so they can be found by the over 10 million people a month who go there looking for jobs. We feature all the jobs in our portfolio on the front page of USV.com by running an Indeed stored query of all the jobs in our portfolio companies.

9) Social networks like Twitter and Facebook are also great free ways to get the word out. Post the job on your website and tweet it out, get it retweeted, searched, and discovered and the resumes will start coming in.

10) You can also pay to get your jobs "sponsored" in Indeed. You can post job ads via Facebook's self serve ad system and target them at very specific locations and job types. And we'll see more social media/networks offer paid systems like this in the next year.

11) There are all sorts of niche communities on the web you should be hanging out in if you want to find talent. For tech/engineering talent, we like to look at Meetup groups on certain tech topics (there are eight Ruby On Rails meetups within 25 miles of NYC), open source projects, and niche communities like Hacker News and Stack Overflow. You can play the same game with communities for other kinds of job types. The key is you have to hang out there a bit, get to know the community and the people in it, and build trust and add value.

That last point is the big point. Social media is about showing up, hanging out, and earning trust. If you want to use social media to source talent, you can't fake it. You have to really participate in these systems. But if and when you do, they are incredibly powerful and are changing the face of recruiting.

I look forward to talking to the recruiting community about this topic more on Monday. And if you have ideas for other things I should be talking about, please leave them in the comments.

#VC & Technology

Tracked.com Gets More Social

I posted about our portfolio company Tracked.com a few weeks ago. In that post, I said:

Tracked.com is social. Users have a profile in the service and can send
messages to each other in the service (and via twitter and facebook
very shortly). Objects in the service (news, quotes, charts, public
filings, companies, people) can be sent around like links in twitter
and facebook.

That "very shortly" is now. Tracked released a bunch of social features last night which are live on the website.

Here are the ones I think are important to talk about:

All news items have a share link on them now. Here's the comScore recent news list. Note the share icons on the far right.

Tracked share links 

When you share a story in the service, you have the option to share it only inside Tracked or with Twitter (and Facebook soon). Here's the UI for that. Send to Twitter is not checked by default and you need to connect to twitter via ouath in the Tracked settings to get this functionality.

Send to twitter 

I used this feature this morning to share a story about our portfolio company Zynga. Here's the tweet:

Tracked tweet 

You'll note that there are two bit.ly links in that tweet. The first is to the Business Week story I tweeted out. The second is to the conversation page in Tracked about the share which looks like this:

Tracked convo 

And of course, all of this activity shows up in your Tracked news feed:

Tracked news feed

One additional neat feature is you can send a tweet to @tracked that will get posted to your Tracked profile messages. I did that just now and it works great.

So that's the gist of how this stuff works. I'd love everyone who is interested in this stuff to give it a spin and let me know what you think.

And to remind all of you about Tracked and what it is all about, I've put up a new widget on the upper right sidebar. This Tracked widget shows the companies and people I am tracking and if there are any new stories on them. You can click on the company or person's name and stay in the widget or you can click on the number of stories and be taken to Tracked.com in a new browser tab. I'd also like to know what you think of the widget.

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#stocks#VC & Technology#Web/Tech