Posts from February 2012

Fun Sunday: Powder Skiing

I am in Park City with the Gotham Gal and our son and two of his friends. We woke up to fresh snow and its supposed to come down all day. So I'm taking the day off and going powder skiing off the Dreamscape lift where this video below was filmed. We'll be back tomorrow with Jerry Colonna's wrapup post on our Management Team series on MBA Mondays.

The video is about 3:30 long. Do yourself a favor and fast forward 30 seconds to the good stuff.

#Random Posts

ClearQAM - What It Is And Why It Matters

There are millions of homes and apartments around the country that have a TV connected to a cable but have no set-top box and no video service from their local cable provider. These TV viewers either moved into a home or apartment where the previous owner had cable and the wire was still lying around. Or they are getting their broadband Internet over cable. Either way, when you connect a cable directly to most modern TVs, you can get the broadcast channels in HD without a set top box. And in doing this, you are not breaking any laws. This is perfectly legal.

The technology behind this is called ClearQAM. QAM is a modulation scheme that allows the transmission of digital TV channels on an analog RF cable. Because of a number of rules and regulations, cable televesion companies are required to provide access to the broadcast channels in the clear – thus the name ClearQAM. This whole thing is outlined pretty well in this Engadget post from a few years ago.

There are other ways to get the broadcast channels without a set-top box. You can put up an antenna and pull down them over the air for free. But for many locations, the cable is a better way to get the broadcast channels reliably.

Why am I telling all of you this? Because the cable industry is currently lobbying the FCC for a rulemaking that would allow them to encrypt QAM and shut down this whole bypass mechanism causing millions of TVs to go dark. And there aren’t many voices out there opposing this rulemaking request. Our portfolio company Boxee‘s is one of the few that has spoken out. Their presentation to the FCC on this matter is online and is worth a quick read.

Getting rid of QAM isn’t a bad idea in the long run. But encrypting the broadcast channels is not the best way to do that. Putting direct IP access to the broadcast channels on the cables is a much better approach.

It has always been the policy of our government that the broadcast channels are meant to be freely available over the air and by other means. There is no reason to change this policy now just because the cable companies want every home and apartment to have one of their set-top boxes and a paying subscription from them.

If you would like to reach out to the FCC and let them know what you think of this proposed rulemaking, you can do that here.


Fun Feature Friday: Clik This

I know its supposed to be Fun Friday, but this is going to be a Fun Feature Friday.

Yesterday our portfolio company Kik launched a new mobile app/platform called Clik.

Clik is really just one simple feature, implemented as a mobile platform that any developer will be able to leverage via a set of tools that are coming soon. And that feature is “point your smartphone at a browser that is showing a QR code and take control of the screen with your phone.” Sounds strange the first time you hear it, but give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. It’s really powerful.

There’s one more aspect of this feature which makes it even more fun. If your friends also have the Clik app on their phones (iPhone and Android to start), they can also take control of the screen and you can play games, play videos, play music, show pictures, etc with each other using your phones as controllers. It’s fun to imagine the new kinds of games that can be built with this platform.

So do me a favor, download Clik onto your smartphone, fire up a web browser, point it to, and then take over your computer with your phone. You’ll see the power of the platform right away.

If you are a developer and want to build something on top of the Clik platform, its really simple. No mobile development required. All web development and pretty easy to boot. If you are interested in learning more, email the Clik Platform team and they will be happy to explain how it works.


Duck Duck Go Passed 1mm Searches Per Day

I'm a bit late with this news about our portfolio company Duck Duck Go but I am super excited about it so I'm posting it anyway. I'll let a tweet tell the story:



One million searches per day is not chump change. AOL does somewhere around four or five times that every day. And if you look at this public chart of Duck Duck Go's growth, you'll see that they may pass AOL sometime this year.

Ddg traffic

Why is DDG growing so fast? Well first and foremost, their product is getting better and better. I have changed all my browsers to default to DDG and I am watching the service improve before my eyes. And the redesign that launched around year end is excellent. So if you haven't tried DDG recently, you should give it a try.

But it may also be that other search engines are doing things that some users don't approve of and those users are shopping around for a new search engine. If you are in that camp, join me at DDG and see what clean, private, impartial and fast search is like.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Americans Elect

Yesterday my partner Albert and I sat down with the people behind Americans Elect. For those that don't know, Americans Elect is an online third party movement. In their words, "Pick A President, Not A Party."

Here's how it works (in short):

They are going to get on the ballot in all 50 states this fall. They've already gotten on the ballot in many of the states.

They have created a website where anyone can choose to run and where candidates can be drafted. Here's the current roster of candidates.

Over the summer, they will conduct an online convention and a single candidate will be nominated to run on their ticket.

That's basically it.

There are a number of cool things about the online service they have built. You answer questions about issues and they build an online profile of you. Then they match you with candidates that share your views. If you want to try that out, go sign up and you will be taken through the questions in a few minutes. It's fun to see where you end up even if you have no intention of voting for a third party candidate.

I'm sure a lot of people think this is a nutty idea. But I don't. So many people bitch and moan that they don't like our current system. Yet the do nothing to change it. The people behind Americans Elect have done something about it. That's progress.


The Other Co-Founder - Your Family

It's Valentines Day. Time to step back from working 24/7 and make sure your loved ones are still in love with you. That's a joke, but there's some truth in there too.

I spent some time with a founder/CEO yesterday who is doing a remarkable job building a really important company that is growing as fast as any company I've worked with. We talked about the sacrifices an entrepreneur makes and its toll. He said that his wife and kids are hugely supportive but not particularly engaged in his work. I think that's pretty typical of what I see out there.

But just because your spouse (wife or husband) and your kids are not that engaged in your startup doesn't mean that they aren't also making a huge investment in it. They see less of you than they would like and when they are with you, its likely that you are at least somewhat distracted by your current obsession. I don't start companies but I'm guilty of this behavior too. I can only imagine what it is like when you are "all in" on one thing and one thing only.

There are benefits a family gets from a parent who is an entrepreneur other than the wealth that he or she may be accumulating. They also get a role model. A parent who is doing what they love, who is creating value, employing people, making a difference in the world. All of that is very good.

But it is only good if you make the time to have a meaningful relationship with your spouse and your kids. This work life balance is super hard to achieve. I have struggled with it since my kids were young. I think I've done an OK job and have The Gotham Gal to thank for always letting me know when the balance is off.

On this day when love is front and central, I encourage all of you to do what I intend to do which is to pay special attention to those I love and make sure all is well on the home front. The Gotham Gal and I are especially blessed because our son arrived on Valentines day sixteen years ago. So our romantic dinner tonight will be a threesome.


The Management Team - Guest Post From Joel Spolsky

Today's guest blogger needs no introduction. Joel Spolsky one of the best bloggers out there. He also runs one of our portfolio companies, Stack. And his approach to management is unorthodox at times but amazingly effective. I asked him to tell us a little about how he does it. I think you'll enjoy this post, it's great advice on many levels, and its is also full of chuckles. I told you he's a great blogger.


Very few company founders start out with management experience, so they tend to make it up as they go along. Sometimes they try to reinvent management from first principles. More often than not, they manage their startups the way that they’ve seen management work on TV and in movies. I’ll bet more entrepreneurs model their behavior on Captain Picard from Star Trek than any nonfiction human.

Most TV management is of the “command and control” variety. The CEO makes a decision, and tells his lieutenants. They convey this important decision to the teams, who execute on the CEO’s decision. It’s top-down management. All authority and power and decisions flow from the top. How could it work any other way?

This system probably works very well when you are trying to organize a team of manual laborers with interchangeable skills to sweep up the ticker tape in the street after the Giants parade BECAUSE THE GIANTS WON THE SUPER BOWL IF YOU DID NOT NOTICE.

Command and Control probably worked great in the toothpaste factory where Charlie Bucket’s father screwed the little caps on tubes.

This system is also pretty obvious, so it’s what 90% of startup founders try first.

Seductively, it even works OK for a three person company.

This is dangerous because you don’t notice that it’s not going to scale. And when the company grows from 3 to 30, top-down management doesn’t work, because it doesn’t take advantage of everyone’s brains in the organization.

Turns out, it’s positively de-motivating to work for a company where your job is just to shut up and take orders. In tech startup land, we all understand instinctively that we have to hire super smart people, but we forget that we then have to organize the workforce so that those people can use their brains 24/7.

Thus, the upside-down pyramid. Stop thinking of the management team at the top of the organization. Start thinking of the software developers, the designers, the product managers, and the front line sales people as the top of the organization.

Joel mgmt

The “management team” isn’t the “decision making” team. It’s a support function. You may want to call them administration instead of management, which will keep them from getting too big for their britches.

Administrators aren’t supposed to make the hard decisions. They don’t know enough. All those super genius computer scientists that you had to recruit from MIT at great expense are supposed to make the hard decisions. That’s why you’re paying them. Administrators exist to move the furniture around so that the people at the top of the tree can make the hard decisions.

When two engineers get into an argument about whether to use one big Flash SSD drive or several small SSD drives, do you really think the CEO is going to know better than the two line engineers, who have just spent three days arguing and researching and testing?

Think about how a university department organizes itself. There are professors at various ranks, who pretty much just do whatever the heck they want. Then there’s a department chairperson who, more often than not, got suckered into the role. The chairperson of the department might call meetings and adjudicate who teaches what class, but she certainly doesn’t tell the other professors what research to do, or when to hold office hours, or what to write or think.

That’s the way it has to work in a knowledge organization. You don’t build a startup with one big gigantic brain on the top, and a bunch of lesser brains obeying orders down below. You try to get everyone to have a gigantic brain in their area, and you provide a minimum amount of administrative support to keep them humming along.

This is my view of management as administration—as a service corps that helps the talented individuals that build and sell products do their jobs better. Attempting to see management as the ultimate decision makers demotivates the smart people in the organization who, without the authority to do what they know is right, will grow frustrated and leave. And if this happens, you won’t notice it, but you’ll be left with a bunch of yes-men, who don’t particularly care (or know) how things should work, and the company will only have one brain – the CEO’s. See what I mean about “it doesn’t scale?”

And yes, you’re right, Steve Jobs didn’t manage this way. He was a dictatorial, autocratic asshole who ruled by fiat and fear. Maybe he made great products this way. But you? You are not Steve Jobs. You are not better at design than everyone in your company. You are not better at programming than every engineer in your company. You are not better at sales than every salesperson in the company.

It is not, as it turns out, necessary to be a micromanaging psychopath with narcissistic personality disorder (or even to pretend to be one) if you just hire smart people and give them real authority. The saddest thing about the Steve Jobs hagiography is all the young “incubator twerps” strutting around Mountain View deliberately cultivating their worst personality traits because they imagine that’s what made Steve Jobs a design genius. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, young twerp. Maybe try wearing a black turtleneck too.

For every Steve Jobs, there are a thousand leaders who learned to hire smart people and let them build great things in a nurturing environment of empowerment and it was AWESOME. That doesn’t mean lowering your standards. It doesn’t mean letting people do bad work. It means hiring smart people who get things done—and then getting the hell out of the way.

#MBA Mondays

Understanding Kickstarter

It was a big week for our portfolio company Kickstarter. In the span of 24 hours, not one but two projects passed $1mm in funding. Co-founder Yancey Strickler wrote a great blog post laying out the timeline of those 24 hours.

Even with all the press about Kickstarter in the past year, I feel that it remains quite misunderstood as a service and a business. One of the best explanations of Kickstarter I've seen is a talk that Yancey gave last June at Creative Mornings.

If you have 30 minutes this morning to watch some video, I think you'll find this quite interesting and useful to understand exactly what is going on with Kickstarter.


Utilities vs Networks

It's interesting to see a network, Instagram, starting to replace the iPhone's native camera application in many users' daily usage of their phones. I see this in my kids' behavior all the time. When they want to take a photo, they open Instagram, not the camera application.

In the PC era, when applications got bundled into the operating system, they became instoppable. All the competitive apps got left in the dust. But in the mobile era, it seems that a different dynamic is at play. The native applications are getting beat by networks. And these networks will eventually go cross platform which means that the native applications will be at an even greater disadvantage.

I expect we will see this happen not only with the camera application, but also with the calendar app, the contacts app, the to do list, etc, etc. Clean, simple, networked, social, cross platform mobile apps will be the winning model in the mobile ecosystem and the OS vendors will not be able to maintain dominance with the default apps they ship with the OS.

Networks beat utilities in the age when everyone is connected to everyone else. This is a big opportunity for startups. We've already got a few bets in this area and are looking to make more.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Feature Friday: Highlight This Post

The other day my friend Ben Kweller released his new record, Go Fly A Kite. I wanted to give Ben a little help getting the word out. So I used a new feature on Tumblr to create this:

Go fly a kite

Yesterday our friends at Spark Capital announced that Nabeel Hyatt had joined their firm as a Venture Partner. Bijan used that same new feature on Tumblr to create this:

Nabeel news

This feature is called "Highlight This Post" and it is available at the lower right of the post creation screen in Tumblr.


Highlighting a post cost $1. The highlight activity happens in the Tumblr Dashboard. For as long as the post is active in dashboards, it will carry the highlight. I put $20 into my Tumblr credits early this week and will use the Highlight feature as need be. I haven't highlighted a post since the Ben Kweller post, but I certainly expect to use this feature regularly.

Highlight This Post is one of several parts of the Tumblr promoted suite. I don't want to reveal what else is coming but I can assure you that the other features will be as fun, clean, and native as this one.