Posts from July 2012

Nexus 7 Is A Great Remote

I have been working with a high end audio video installer for over a decade. They have helped me put entertainment systems into a few homes and offices over the years. They have taught me a lot and I have taught them some stuff too.

A few years ago, when iPad came out, they started pushing the idea that you could use a tablet to control your entertainment system instead of expensive and proprietary controllers. So we started using iPads and iPod Touches to control our audio and video in our home and office.

It works well and you don't have four remotes on every coffee and conference table. One tablet does the trick.

Recently, we did an overhaul of our beach house and it was time to get a couple controllers. I had just gotten my Nexus 7 and the idea that I was going to go out and purchase a couple $399 iPads bugged me. I asked them if I could use a Nexus 7 instead. We did some research and indeed all the apps we needed for our various equipment were on Android. So we went with the Nexus 7 instead.

Yesterday I saw one of the partners in the audio/video company and he had my Nexus 7 in his hand. I said, "how does it feel?" he replied "it's fantastic, the form factor is perfect". The iPad works as a controller but it is a bit bulky for that use case. And a phone is a bit small for many remotes. A 7" tablet can be held comfortably in one hand and the screen size is really perfect for remote applications.

I am not going to swap out all the iPads we have for Nexus 7s because the larger tablet works well enough, but for all future situations like this I am most certainly going with a 7" tablet. It's yet another example of where the 7" form factor is better than the large and small mobile form factors we've been dealing with for the past few years.

Feature Friday: Android Sharing

My all-time favorite feature on Android is the way sharing works. I like this feature so much I am concerned that this might be a repeat of a prior Feature Friday post. But I searched on gawk.it and did not find any posts so maybe I haven't done a Feature Friday on this. Hard to believe.

When you are looking at content in Android, a web page, a blog post, a picture, a video, a venue in foursquare, a tweet, etc, etc, you simply hit the share button and all the apps that are installed on the phone that can take an object like that show up.

This is what the screen looks like on my phone when I share out an AVC post:

Android sharing

This is not the entire list of apps that are available to share the blog post with, this is just the first set of apps. You can scroll down to see more but I could not capture that with a screen shot.

This sharing feature is available to any app that is built for Android. Foursquare has implemented it for its venue pages with a "send to a friend" call to action. (this screen shot is from the USV venue page):

Foursquare share in android

This ability to share data between apps is super useful. I would like to see Google and Android developers do even more with this. Think about the way bookmarklets work on the web. If web bookmarklet functionality (like the Tumblr share bookmarklet for example) could be replicated on mobile devices, that would be a huge step forward for mobile.

In any case, this is probably the number one reason I use an Android phone and if you haven't experienced the joy that this feature provides, I suggest you get your hands on an Android phone and check it out.

Mobile Commerce

Last night the Gotham Gal and I went to one of our favorite local spots, sat at the bar, had a glass of wine and a nicely cooked mediterranean seabass. As we sat down, I checked in on foursquare and was alerted that there was a special. Spend $10 or more and get $5 off. So I clicked on the special, loaded it to my card with one click, and when we paid our bill, we got the $5 discount on our credit card bill.

It was simple.

Mobile commerce is simple. Because you have your payment credentials stored in the web service (in this case foursquare). But the same thing could have happened with a direct checkout in the Etsy mobile app. Or in the eBay mobile app.

According to this post on AllThingsD, both eBay and PayPal will transact over $10bn this year on mobile devices. That's a 100% increase over last year.

I've been talking a lot about mobile here at AVC lately. That's because I am seeing the same kinds of things in our portfolio companies that eBay is seeing. Mobile is exploding. And that doesn't just mean mobile browsing, mobile gaming, mobile social networking. It also means mobile commerce.

If you are a transaction driven company, a marketplace, a retailer, or some other transaction oriented business, you had better be investing big time in mobile. Because if you aren't, your competitors surely will be.

The Problem Of Money In Politics

We have finally gotten videos up on the web from our Hacking Society event that happened in late April. A number of participants are going to blog this week about some of the specific topics and my contribution will be about our conversation about money and politics.

This 14min video clip starts with Larry Lessig outlining the issues around money and politics and then goes into some potential solutions. I advocated for a hack of the campaign finance system that starts with the internet industry contributing something like 5% of its combined ad inventory to a pool that is available to politicans who agree to certain conditions.

There was a debate about what those conditions should be. One group thought the candidates need to sign onto the Internet Freedom Pledge. Others thought that the candidates should renounce traditional campaign finance. Others thought candidates should do both.

Of course, this idea requires the Internet industry (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc, etc, etc) to allocate 5% of its inventory to this kind of a pool. I have had a few conversations with the industry leaders about this idea but honestly it hasn't gone anywhere. It would be great if our industry could rally around this idea and make it happen. Hopefully this post and other actions we are taking this week might get this idea rolling.

Here's the video:

By the way, interested folks should check out the Hacking Society web page. In addition to videos, we now have a transcript of the event as well as audio recordings, photos, and lots of quotes. There's a lot there and its interesting and engaging stuff.

Yahoo Is No Longer Dead To Me

A few months I threw a public hissy fit and declared on this blog that Yahoo is dead to me. And they were.

But in four months since I wrote that post, they did some good things.

1) they asked the CEO who led them down the patent troll route to leave the company

2) they invited some smart shareholder activists on the Board

3) they settled with Facebook and abandoned the patent troll route

4) and yesterday they selected Marissa Mayer as their new CEO

That's a string of good decisions culiminating in the wooing of Marissa. As Marc Andreessen said in this interview yesterday, "I didn't think they could get someone like Marissa".

The Yahoo! board went out and got Marissa to lead the company. And they kept their mouths shut in the process and the news surprised everyone. That's how you run a company, a board, and a process. Well done.

It feels like a new leaf has been turned. Marissa has a tough job turning around a company that has had failed leadership forever. I have not worked closely with Marissa but I have seen her up close. She is serious, intense, crisp, data driven, and opinionated. When I think of Marissa, I think of this Jim Barksdale quote:

"If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine."

That approach should serve her well. I wish her and Yahoo! luck and I am rooting for them.

MBA Mondays: Guest Post From Donna White

Now we start the guest post part of this MBA Mondays series on People. First up is AVC regular Donna White. In this post, Donna explains that recruiting is fun if you approach it the right way. I know many founders who don't really enjoy recruiting so this post is for all of you.

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Recruiting is Fun!

My husband convinced me to use this title for my post.  This is his observation of how I approach my work as an executive recruiter.

I can honestly say that I do find recruiting to be fun.  Perhaps this why it is still fresh and interesting to me after close to two decades.  Don’t get me wrong, recruiting is hard and strenuous work.  I probably don’t have to tell most of you this.  Yet, the more challenging it is, the more I seem to enjoy it.  

This is one of the many reasons I am attracted to recruiting for startups where you have to hold both the present and the future in your head at the same time and, simultaneously, be both visionary and pragmatic, among other challenges.  

Here is an excerpt from a Twitter exchange that I had with AVC regular, Aaron Klein, Founder/CEO of Riskalyze:

Aaron’s words represent what I enjoy most about recruiting.  It wasn’t until after this exchange that it occurred to me – these words could also describe running a startup: challenging, exhilarating, high stakes.

As I thought about writing this post, I wondered if, in general, people for whom recruiting is part of other responsibilities have a different perception than I do as a professional recruiter.  I used the Honestly Now site (Tereza Nemessanyi, Founder/CEO) and Quipol (Max Yoder, Founder) to do some cursory research.  As of this writing, the votes on whether or not people enjoy recruiting are about 50/50 from both sources (excluding those who chose “none of the above”).  Perhaps, not conclusive, but indicative.

I thought it would be interesting to bring the Quipol over to this post so that AVC readers could also chime in:



In the end, it is not my enjoyment of the work of recruiting that represents my true motivation. 

The true motivation and why it is a passion is summed up in a statement made by Fred in another MBA Mondays post earlier in the year:   “Building the business largely means building the management team. They are one and the same.”  I have a passion for helping entrepreneurs build businesses.  

Fred’s words represent why many of you who are founders and/or CEOs have shared in the AVC comments that recruiting is one of the most important things that you do.  In questioning William Mougayar (Founder/CEO, Engagio) about his underlying motivations in recruiting, one of the reasons that he gave was:  “I need to find the best talent that can give me a competitive advantage.”  

It is not a matter of whether or not you enjoy it, it is something that needs to be done.  The life of your company depends upon it.  As Aaron said, the stakes are high.

There are a number of directions that I could take from here, but I am going back to the beginning of the post.  It would be understandable if you thought “So what!  Who cares whether or not recruiting is enjoyable. It just needs to get done.”  

Even for me, as someone who does enjoy recruiting, the enjoyment in itself is not what motivates me.  However, enjoyment is a huge contributing factor toward excelling in my work and approaching a client’s hiring need with excitement and enthusiasm.  I believe that doing something that you enjoy turns out a better quality product on a more consistent basis.  Attitude and perspective in recruiting influence results and may even produce a better team in the long run.

Some ideas for transforming your perception of recruiting:

Recognize recruiting as a source of opportunity beyond hiring.   The insights gained, and discoveries and contacts made during the recruiting process can be an invaluable investment into your business.  For instance, you may learn of business opportunities, build your network, gain market intelligence, be exposed to new ways of thinking and of doing things, and introduce your product to people who will become evangelists.  

Use the activities involved in recruiting to strengthen abilities that will contribute to your overall effectiveness.  There are elements of recruiting that you probably already enjoy and that exercise the same abilities that you use in other aspects of running your business, such as:  creating something out of nothing, analyzing and solving problems, devising strategies, making new contacts, crafting and relaying your company’s story, negotiating and closing deals. 

Think of your staffing need in terms of an opportunity rather than filling a job.  What is the opportunity that you are presenting and why is it great?  What problem is being solved by this hire?  What challenge is being met?  What opportunities will your business be better positioned for?

Create a recruiting culture.  Build elements of recruiting into the fabric of your business and use this to galvanize your team and increase their engagement.  More in this post.

The goal I had in writing this post was to share my enthusiasm for recruiting in the hope that some of you will be inspired and will take a fresh look at recruiting.  One thing I appreciate about this community is that a post doesn’t need to supply all the answers and typically merely serves as a conversation starter.  I look forward to where you take this.  Carry on, please…

In Defense Of Free

I have written so much about free here at AVC that it should be called AVFree. In fact, I've even written a post with this exact same title (almost exactly seven years ago, the summer we invested in twitter, zynga, and tumblr).

I haven't touched this subject much in the past few years but given that the topic has been in the air in the tech blogosphere, I thought I'd address it again.

First, let me say this is specifically not about Twitter. Folks should be encouraged to compete with Twitter. Competition is good for everyone as we talked about here a week or so ago.

This post is in reaction to the idea that services should be paid to ensure that they are appropriately focused on the consumer/user as opposed to the marketer/advertiser/sponsor.

Let's start with advertising. I do not believe it is evil. In fact, I believe it is a fantastic way to support services that want the broadest adoption and want to be free. Think about the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the Olympics, the Oscars, the Presidential Debates, the news coverage of important events. These things are ad supported and free for anyone to watch who has a TV and an antenna. It is good for society for these things to be available to the broadest audience.

There is a paid TV business and it is flourishing. The fact that at its base level TV is free does not mean that all TV has to be free. Free TV does not commoditize paid TV. They co-exist nicely. But we had free TV well before we had paid TV. Free is the foundation that creates a paid tier. That's what Freemium (a term that was coined here at AVC) is all about.

Now let's examine services that have a free and paid tier. Spotify is a good one to look at. Spotify's core business model is a subscription music service. All you can eat music for a fixed price every month. And yet this is what they show you when you land at Spotify.com for the first time.

Spotify

Why do they show you that? Because most people prefer free to paid. I don't have the exact numbers but I would suspect less than 10% of Spotify's users pay for music. Why is Pandora so successful? Because it is free. Why is over the air radio still the most popular way to listen to music? Because it is free.

Now let's look at servces where the users provide all the value. Wikipedia, Craigslist, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, etc, etc. There is no value to any of these platforms if the users don't create the content. The users create the service, curate it, and make it what it is. I do not believe it makes sense to charge users to create the value. We've seen folks try this model. Typepad (where this blog is hosted) charges to host a blog. How well did they do? Phanfare charged to host photos. How well did they do? The list could go on and on but I don't want to focus on failed services.

When scale matters, when network effects matter, when your users are creating the content and the value, free is the business model of choice. And I don't think anything has changed to make that less true today. If anything, it is more true.

I understand the frustration of certain folks about the commercialization of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and a host of other services. I understand the frustration over the increasing lock down of the APIs and the control these platforms are exercising on their ecosystems. I would encourage folks to compete with them to keep the web, the mobile web, and the Internet free and open. But I would not encourage those same folks to build paid services. I think their goals will be undermined by that choice.

Partners Forever (or close to it)

Mitt Romney is taking some flack for continuing to have ongoing involvement in Bain Capital well after he supposedly left the firm for good in 1999. I am not supporting Romney for President as I can't get comfortable with his party's views on social issues that matter a lot to me. But I have a fair bit of empathy for him on this specific issue.

I am still technically a partner in a venture capital firm (Euclid Partners) that I left in early 1996. I still get K1s from them as there remain a few illiquid investments in the last fund I was a partner in.

We stopped investing at Flatiron Partners in the summer of 2000, twelve years ago. I still sit on several boards from that portfolio. One of my partners sits on another board. We have three funds that remain active. We send out annual reports and K1s on all of them. I sign things all the time for Flatiron. And I haven't been "active" in that business for a decade.

Venture Capital and Private Equity are "long latency" businesses. You can leave a firm, you can start a new career, a new business, or go into politics. But you aren't going to be completely done with the investments you made and the partnerships you set up or were partners in for a long time.

I suppose there are ways to have a clean break, but they would not be simple to accomplish. You would need to be bought out and who is going to establish fair value for highly illiquid investments? Who is going to put up the money to buy you out? And getting all the investors to sign off on these changes is another hurdle. And allocating your equity to others is another challenge. That's why I am still a partner in two businesses that I have not been active in for a long time. It's a lot easier to just let things run off and have a departed partner be a "silent partner" with no operating role or responsibility. But even if you are a silent partner, you still need to sign stuff from time to time.

I think the Obama team is beating up Romney for something that makes great headlines and might look bad to an unsophisticated voter. But to me this looks petty and cheap. I don't like petty and cheap. I wish the Obama team would talk about important stuff instead of beating up a guy over nonsense.

Fun Friday: Your Mobile Home Screen

We've been talking a lot about mobile here lately and in one of those discussions, someone suggested we share our home screens with each other. I figured that would make for a fun friday.

Here's my home screen:

My home screen

In case you can't make them out, from top left to bottom right; Kik, Tumblr, SoundCloud, Instagram, Google Maps, Foursquare, Gmail, Twitter, Camera, Google Calendar, Android Browser, Settings, Phone, Google Contacts, SMS, and all my apps.

Oh, and that's the start of The Highline at Gansevoort and Washington in the background.

This is a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy. I am actually in the process of switching to a Galaxy Nexus running Jelly Bean and will switch to a Chrome Browser and the home screen might move around a bit. But this is what I've got right now.

To play this fun friday game, take a photo of your home screen and attach it to your comment in the thread below. And add any color commentary you'd like to add. This should be fun.

Brewster

Twenty years into the personal technology revolution and we are still using address books that work pretty much like physical address books. It makes no sense. The mobile address book should be hyperconnected to our digital life, informed by it, and responsive to it.

I remember back in early 2011, Steve Greenwood walked into our old offices on the 14th floor and told us that he intended to build that hyperconnected mobile address book. He showed us a spreadsheet he had been personally using for the past five or so years to manage all of his relationships. I had never seen anything like it. He was obsessed with relationships and managing them. That's what we are always looking for, someone who just can't sleep because they want to fix something that isn't working in their world and have been trying for a long time to fix it.

Steve had built a prototype that ran on the web and the vision was all there. An address book that knows what you are doing, where you are, who you are most engaged with at any time, and is search and context driven as opposed to a directory of names and addresses.

But Steve knew that he had to launch this as a mobile app that will eventually replace your current address book and he knew he had a lot of hard technical problems to solve in order to do it right and do it at scale. So he asked us for the seed capital to build a team and build that product. We said yes.

Today, Steve and the amazing team he put together are launching Brewster, initially as an iOS app. If you have an iPhone, you can download it from the iOS app store and check it out. The NY Times has a good post on Brewster today.

Here's how Brewster works. You download the app. You connect it to google apps, facebook, twitter, foursquare, linkedin, and soon a bunch more services. Brewster builds you a new address book that runs on your phone and also in the cloud.

This new address book is smart because it knows a lot more things about your relationships than you have ever entered into your address book and it is adapting in real-time to all of this data. It knows who you probably want to talk to right now and it also knows who you are losing touch with and displays all of this data in a feed. Your Brewster address book is also de-duped and hot linked to all the social activities you want to do from calling, texting, facebooking, or whatever.

This is an address book that can handle a search query like "knicks game" or "sushi tonight" or "band of horses concert". We are always querying our brain with questions like that. Now we can ask our address books those kinds of questions.

I have really enjoyed being involved with this project over the past year. It fits neatly into many themes I have been writing about and thinking about for years. But mostly I am excited to finally see this product out in the market where folks can use it and experience Steve's vision of how an address book should work in the mobile social world we live in.