Posts from June 2012

A Quarter Century

Twenty-five years ago today, the Gotham Gal and I were married. It was a hot humid day in Washington DC. The wedding ceremony, indoors thankfully, occurred during a loud thunderstorm. At the end, I missed the attempt to break the glass by making a glancing blow. My best man John made a kick save, passed the glass back to me, and I shattered it on the second try. By the time the reception was on, a rainbow came out and we had a lovely evening. It was quite a party.

Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves in Copenhagen on a family vacation. It has been a great twenty-five years and we are looking forward to the next twenty-five.

Thanks to everyone in the AVC community for the most excellent anniversary video. In watching it, we are reminded how global this community is, and how lucky we are to have all of you as friends and well wishers. Thank you.

#Random Posts

Foursquare Lists

I had an epiphany today. I was in Storm, a cool store in Copenhagen, and I checked into Foursquare. In the result screen of that checkin, I saw a tip that there was another design store right around the corner called Hay. And that my friend Naveen had recommended Hay on his Copenhagen list.

I immediately saved Naveen's list to my phone and then saved a few other Copenhagen lists that were recommended to me.

Now every time I checkin somewhere in Copenhagen, I get a tip for another place that is nearby on one of the lists that I saved. No more thinking about where to go next. Foursquare will tell me based on suggestions from my friends and the lists I've saved.

I've tried every kind of travel guide out there. Some are great, like the Luxe guides and the Wallpaper guides. But an interactive, real time, geolocated travel guide built by my friends and likeminded travelers is way better.

So I'm going to create lists on Foursquare from now on so that others can benefit the same way that I am right now. Here's my list so far from a day or so in Copenhagen.

#Blogging On The Road#mobile#Travel

No MBA Mondays Today

We just kicked off the start of a vacation in europe and I'm jetlagged and in vacation mode.

So I am taking a week off on MBA Mondays. We will start again next monday and we will cover the topic of retaining your employees.

I am spending the next few weeks with my family in europe. This week is all vacation and next week is a mix. I will be in Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, and France. I've got my kindle stocked with recommendations from last week's fun friday. I usually like to blog on vacation so I plan to do that. We'll see how that goes.

#Blogging On The Road

Like Father, Like Son

DadI got together with Kirk Love for breakfast this past week. We got to talking about fatherhood and those moments when you find yourself doing something exactly the way your father did it. You can try as hard as you can to make your own way, to do things differently, but inside of all of us are our own fathers. And they come out.

In my case, that is largely a good thing. My dad is loyal, diligent, loving, and responsible. He is a creature of habit. I am all of those things too.

I never thought that I looked much like much my dad. But as I age, I see the familiarity more and more. It's like we become our fathers over time.

Today is fathers day. A day to celebrate this fact. A day to tell your father you love him. And a day to look at your own children and tell them you love them too. A day to celebrate the passing our essence onto the next generation.

Happy Father's Day everyone.

#Random Posts

Blogworld Talk Between JLM, William, Arnold & Me

A few weeks ago AVC regulars JLM, Arnold, William and I did a talk at Blogword.

BlogWorld Panelists June 2012

We talked about blogs, social media, and of course, commenting communities. William kicked it off with some data that came out of the survey he did. About nine minutes in, the conversation starts.

We recorded it on SoundCloud and you can listen below.


Fun Friday: The AVC Book Club

We talked about books last December on AVC. It was a good one.

RichardF suggested in wednesday's disqussion that we talk about books again. He's going on vacation and so am I and we both need some good books to read.

I will kick this off. I am finishing The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. This is a book about three young adults graduating from college in the early 80s. That was me and the Gotham Gal thirty years ago. It is also a love letter to Roland Barthes and his book, A Lover's Discourse. My daughters told me to read this and I am glad I did.

Next up is Reamde by Neal Stephenson. This was a gift by AVC community member Dave Pinsen. Dave knows that much of our investment strategy at USV comes from reading Neal's books and getting a glimpse into the future. He gave me Reamde in hardback. It's over 1000 pages. I will put it on my Kindle Fire for the vacation. And I will put the hardback in my office. I prefer sci-fi over business books every day of the week.

So that's what I am reading. How about all of you? What should Richard and bring on vacation?


The Far Center Party

My friend and occasional AVC community member Steve Kane calls himself a member of the Far Center Party. As I watch the two parties and their defacto nominees gear up for another presidential election, I find myself wanting to tune out the whole thing.

I am socially liberal. I was thrilled when Obama recognized a gay couple's right to marriage.

I am fiscally conservative. Obamacare scares me.

I am not really comfortable in any political party. The social views of the Republican party are more frightening to me than the economic views of the Democratic party. So I hold my nose and vote Democratic most of the time. But that is less and less satisfying every day.

Living in NYC for the past ten years has been a joy. We have a mayor who is not hostage to any orthodoxy. A mayor who simply makes the most pragmatic and practical decision at the time given his various options. We have a mayor who epitomizes the values of the Far Center Party.

I believe Bloomberg would run for President if he thought he could win. And I believe he has done the math and the analysis and has concluded that he cannot. That has everything to do with how our two political parties control congress and the electoral college.

I was hopeful that something like Americans Elect would work. It did not.

Our country is hostage to the two political parties who control our electoral process. Those of us in the Far Center Party should figure out how to change that.


Disqus2012 Launches

Today is launch day for Disqus2012. The speedy new commenting system built from the ground up by our portfolio company Disqus is generally available today.

There's a slick new website, a comprehensive new feature list, and a showcase featuring all the big blogs and online publications that are using D2012.

And Disqus has made a 60 second spot showing off it's new baby and all the tricks it can do.

Disqus 2012 – The Web's Favorite Discussion Platform from Disqus on Vimeo.

This is a big moment for Disqus. We've been watching this new product grow and develop in front of our own eyes here at AVC. We were the first community to get it and the first to try most of the new features as they rolled out. It has been rocky at times but I know that Daniel and the team appreciate all of us being beta testers and a source of continuous feedback.

There probably isn't a service on the web that has more of me invested in it than Disqus. AVC was the first blog to run Disqus when it launched at YC in mid 2007, I have contributed numerous feature requests over the years, and this community has provided so much insight and direction to me and the team. I believe unconditionally in the vision of a web scale commenting community. That is Disqus and Disqus2012 is a big step in realizing that vision.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech


Back in 2004, when my partner Brad and I started Union Square Ventures (USV), we decided to make our website a blog. It took us a year to do a final close on our first fund, so when we had finally finished the marketing period for that first fund, we put a blog onto and Brad wrote a Hello World blog post. In that post, he said:

We realized that our thesis evolves incrementally as a result of our dialogue with the market, and that the best way to manage that was to accept that we would never get to an answer, so we should just publish the conversation. The best way to do that is with a blog. So here it is.

That strategy has worked well for us and hopefully for entrepreneurs doing their homework on us. We have published the conversation on for about seven years now as our strategy and role in the startup world has evolved and grown.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. We started having the conversation all over the place. We've been having the conversation here at AVC since 2003, so going into the experiment, we knew that would be an issue. But we also have the conversation at,, unfinished work,,, and on countless tumblrs, twitters, disqussions, and elsewhere around the web.

The footer to Christina's home page says it all:

Christina's page footer

So last week Andy wrote a post on asking the question I asked in the title of this post. In that post Andy said:

our instincts are telling us it may look and feel more like an application or web/mobile service that aggregates content rather than strict content publishing

So Andy went on to say this:

We are therefore looking for someone who can help us build this specific project. Someone who is well versed in web and mobile and design methodologies but who is also a creative thinker. We have some basic ideas of the application we would like to build, but these are not set in stone; we value someone who can not only design and build but also help with the initial brainstorming, ideas, scope and prototyping.

We imagine this opportunity will be of a few months duration. If this sounds like fun to you please tell us a little about yourself in the form below.

Union Square Ventures – Help us build the next version of our internet presence

If you are interested in working with USV to imagine and then help build the future of, please go to that link and let us know.

#VC & Technology

MBA Mondays: Best Hiring Practices

Hiring is a process and should be treated as such. It is serious business.

The first step is building a hiring roadmap which should lay out the hiring plan over time by job type. This should be built into your operating plan and budget. You want to be very strategic about how you invest your scarce resources into hiring and think carefully about when you need to add resources.

Once you have done that, you want to have a system for opening up these positions for hire. This should not be done lightly because each position will require a fair bit of work by a bunch of people to hire for. Don't open up your hiring process lightly.

The first step in opening up a position for hiring is to define the position you are looking for. Most companies call this a job specification (or spec). The spec should outline the role that is being filled and the characteristics of the person who will be successful in the job. Here is a job spec for a brand strategist job in Twitter's office in NYC. If you click on that link, you will see that it starts with a high level description of the role within the context of the larger Twitter organization. Then it gets into what it will take to be successful in the role. Then it lays out specific responsibilities and finishes with the background and experience that Twitter is looking for in the candidate.

The manager who is directly responsible for the person being hired should draft the job spec and it should be signed off on by the CEO and whomever is in charge of HR (which could be the CEO in a small company). Once this job spec is published on your jobs page, this position is officially open for hire and the process begins.

Your company should have a jobs page. Even if you are a five person startup, you should have one. It should articulate what it is like to work at your company and list any open jobs. It should be linked to at the bottom of your webpage, right next to the link to your about page. This is important. Don't put it off. Here is Etsy's "careers page". It's a good example of what you want to do on your jobs page.

There are web-based solutions to get your open positions onto your jobs page, track the candidates through the hiring process, and provide workflow for your hiring team. In the industry vernacular, these systems are called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Many of our portfolio companies use Jobvite, but there are plenty of other options out there as well. You do not need to build this stuff yourself.

Once the position is open, you want to crank up the sourcing process. We talked about where to find strong talent two weeks ago. Do not take the "put the job opening up and let the applicants come" approach. That will not get you the best people. You must go out and find the talent you want to hire. You can use your existing team, that is where the best leads always come from. You can use your network. You can use recruiters, both contingency and retained, and you can use services like LinkedIn and Indeed. You want to cast a wide net and work hard to source the best candidates you can. This is a time intensive process. Many companies will hire an in-house recruiter to help with this process, particularly when recruiting engineers, designers, and product talent. I've seen companies as small as ten employees bring on in-house recruiters. I am a big fan of making that investment because it pays dividends in terms of better talent.

Once the candidates start coming in, you will need to vet them to determine who gets an interview and who does not. Someone inside the company must lead this process. If there are HR resources, this vetting process starts with them. But the manager who is hiring for this position must be directly engaged in this vetting process. A HR professional can identify the candidates who don't come close to meeting the requirements of the job and filter them out. But the hiring manager should go through the applications of everyone who is close to being a viable candidate. He or she knows best what the job entails and can make the kind of "gut calls" that often lead to the best candidates.

You will want to interview a decent number of folks for every position. There are no hard rules for this, but the more people you meet, the better job you will do with the hire. Of course you can't meet everyone. Many companies like a 15 minute phone call (the phone screen) as the first filter into the interview process. A skype video call is also a good way to do this.  At USV we have experimented with a video application (using a service called Take The Interview), with good results. The phone or video screen is an efficient way to identify the small group (a half dozen to a dozen) that you will want to do a face to face interview with.

Once you get to face to face interviews, you will want to figure out how to get as many folks in the company to meet the candidates as possible. Our portfolio company Return Path has each candidate meet with four to eight employees during their interview process. That is a lot but Return Path makes a huge investment in team, culture, and their employees and they feel it is worth it. It may be worth it for your company as well.

Many employees don't know how to interview and you should teach them the basics as well as educate them on what you are looking to learn from their interview. Some training on interviewing as well as a quick feedback form for each employee to fill out will provide consistency and clarity from the employee interview process.

Most CEOs I know interview every hire their company makes until they get to be more than 100 employees (or more). Even if you have a head of HR and a top notch recruiting team, the responsibility for hiring is yours and yours only. A bad hire is your fault. A good hire is your success. So do not abdicate your responsibility to make the final call on each hire until your company is developed enough and strong enough to start making these hires themselves. This is how you build a great team, a great culture, and a great company.

Once the successful candidate is identified, you will want to do some checking on the person. I am a fan of making reference calls on everyone. They are not that hard to do and you will learn more from them than any other source of background checking. LinkedIn is particularly good for this. If you connect to the candidate on LinkedIn, you can quickly figure out who you know that knows them. Call those people and do your homework. It is also pretty wasy to do a simple background check for criminal or civil information. We don't do that at USV but I know a lot of companies that do it as a matter of good corporate practice.

When you are ready to make the hire, you must prepare an offer letter. The offer letter will outline the compensation you are offering and any other salient terms of the employement offer. Have your lawyer help you draft the first one you send out and use it as a template for all future hires. Offer letter are written agreements between you and the employee and treat them as such. Sign the employment offer and have the employee sign it to acknowledge that they are accepting it.

That's the hiring process. Done right, it involves a huge investment in each and every position. So many startups cut corners on it because they simply don't have the time or the resources to do it right. I would encourage everyone to take a step back and think about the costs of not doing it right and commit themselves and their companies to doing it right. You will see the benefits in time. And they are large.

#MBA Mondays