Opening Up Our Research
When Brad Burnham and I started USV back in 2003 and I had just started blogging, we spent a lot of time talking to potential investors in our first fund. One of their big questions we got from them about the kind of open firm we wanted to create was "how will you be able to make money if you share all of your proprietary insights?"
We really didn't have a good answer to them but our bet was that by sharing our ideas and insights broadly with the market, we would attract entrepreneurs to our firm who shared those insights and ideas. And we thought the startup community would engage with us around these insights and ideas and make us smarter in the process.
It was a good bet. That is exactly what happened. I think it is now best practice in VC and possibly some other investment disciplines to be broadly open with your investment ideas and insights. At least I hope it is.
But we are not as open as we can be and should be. We get together as a firm roughly once a month to do a "deep dive" on a sector that interests us. We work as team to produce a reading list and some preliminary research on that sector. And we identify a couple people who are deeply involved in that sector to come sit with us or skype with us. These sessions last roughly two hours but can often go on longer.
Christina decided last week that we should put all of this "research" out there on the Internet. And of course she is right. She has posted the first set of research on usv.com today and we will continue to do this under the "Researching ……" headline. I think this will be really useful for us and everyone who enjoys participating in a dialog about new ideas and insights in the tech startup market.
You guys prove (if it needed to be proven) that an open strategy is a wining strategy.
My sentiments exactly.
Great to see this. At my prior VC firm we spent a lot of time creating investment “roadmaps” that were full of great insights but quickly became stale. Sharing them with the startup community always seemed like a smart thing to do, but for various reasons we rarely did it. The one or two we did share (e.g. Top 10 Laws for being SaaS-y) became very popular among software CEOs, provided us with valuable feedback, and helped us to connect with other like-minded CEOs and VCs. Hopefully this will generate some good discussion around each topic.
that is exactly right. i think the fact that we have these monthly meetings means we can have monthly blog posts without requiring too much work.
and we aspire to do more of this – where we can take what was just discussed in our internal meetings and open that up soon thereafter, we’re thinking about the tools to better allow us to do this
In a previous post you lamented your lack of success in getting entrepreneurs interested in disrupting the healthcare market. I can see that publishing research is a carrot.
teaser.I’m hard wired.
It’s a fantastic approach. I wonder how transferable it is to other asset classes where informational advantage is a more pronounced driver of success and failure of the investment decision. Early stage venture is a class where execution capabilities seem to far trump any informational edge, which isn’t the case in other asset classes to nearly the same degree.
In publicly traded securities, it’s not uncommon for some longer-term investors to do so, after they’ve established their positions. For example, David Einhorn has shared his firm’s detailed research on companies they’ve shorted.
for some reason the way he does it makes me not trust him. He uses the pulpit too much of late
you could say the same thing about me. Kirk Love calls me a “pimp” 🙂
Your pimping is trusted and consistent. We know what we’re getting.
And being asked to give.
i think Ben it can depend on size and liquidsity. I fully understand big firms trying to move a lot of stock to keep there mouths and keynboards silemt. for 99 percent of funds though, the more open the better their returns would get over time. (my opinion). If a fund is so large that they can’t share there trades in real time, than they should be disbanded down to a size that they would indeed share. we have $8 billion hedge funds that are basically in cash and government bonds which is just not ptoductive
Howard – There’s another element that allows early stage VCs to share their research and information: relationships. We can’t freely trade these securities and (unlike Einhorn) we can’t really “move” our markets withe the dissemination of information. But we can establish high-quality relationships with the best founders who are sophisticated in the fields that we are interested in. Because our business is so focused on the customer (the entrepreneur) and our relationship with them, the sharing of intellectual content in a flat and open environment is a way to attract more high-quality, highly qualified customers. That’s been (one of) Fred’s genius with his blog.
that is a great point Jeff
And the page on the USV website that explains the focus of the firm is unusually clear and detailed. http://www.usv.com/focus/It goes way beyond the normal platitudes about huge total addressable markets with great teams…This kind of data is invaluable because any decent entrepreneur can pre-qualify.
I agree of course but my blog is funnier
developing relationships is extremely time consuming. Plus, developing relationships may cause groupthink.
This is exactly why it’s good to put your research and thoughts out there for things you’re interested in. You create community around it, though you also attract the same people working on problems related to what you’re doing.
Very well put!
The only reason not to open this thpe of research would be if it increased the price that avc pays for the underlying asset. But this does not appear to be the case. Thus like the division of wall st research, this information is akin to sell side information ?
too big to share = too big to fail?
Yes I believe a few simple size rules are absolutely necessary until the world catches up the the numbers these hedge funds manage. In the meantime everyone hates owning stocks and it is the exact thing Americans should own.
why do you think stocks are the exact thing americans should own?
Or as I say Fred while everyone tries to be or worries about too big too fail they should be focused on being too small to fail. It’s happening either way so embrace the new world
Sure, however this will help you continue to succeed and outpace your competition + creating community and a valuable resource for discussion – and the benefits of being associated with such.
First-to-act advantage is likely much more valuable than information advantage, and if you’re putting fishing bait out to attract people working on problems you’re interested – your job just got a lot easier; You of course need the information to make action calls, though you’ll already perhaps have advantage of knowing where you stand, with the ability to adjust your stance based on discussion that gets stirred up.
Research? Analysis? Insight? Nah, you got it all wrong.Everyone knows the winning VC investment strategy is wanton Spray & Pray
pray for sure. we have a few investments on life support right now!
Sharing that insight about how you gather insight is insightful in itself. I don’t know how many other VCs take their research as seriously and as methodically as you do, but you may be setting a standard. It strikes me that what’s primordial in this exercise is how your form these hypotheses and how they inform your investment decisions. As you decided to share this research, do you have any guidelines as to “when” you would de-classify such research? I’m suspecting the time element is a competitive advantage, although a shrinking one, but still, – if you have earlier insights you can move earlier and make your investment bets before others.
I think he’s saying USV will share right away…no delay. Get the feedback from the community sooner rather than later. And importantly, attract the entrepreneurs.
Ah, it wasn’t obvious to me. Because Charlie asked the same question re: timing of release.
Why not make your research a wiki?
that’s an interesting idea Jim
A rare moment.
We use Google docs so its easier for is to make that public
Fred, suggestion – check out http://wallwisher.com/ – really easy way to post links, discussions, collaborate between a group..Could be a cool way to share research.Built by a couple of friends and incidentally, pretty popular amongst the online education/teaching [email protected] @jimhirsfield @christinacaci
also – each doc is replicable and fork-able. just file > make a copy and then off you go!
This is brilliant on so many levels. Including getting the entrepreneurs in a space you are intrigued by engaged early and coming to you first. Seriously smart move. Congratulations!!
thanks Shri. i hope you and your family are settling into your new home.
We are, slowly. Miss NYC quite desperately.
Don’t read today’s post on AVC
Just read Christina’s online education research doc…pretty solid information. Reminds me much of the industry briefs we would put together back in my sales days to determine the potential market for our CRM products. Looking forward to seeing future briefs.
Ivan and I do this weekly with the stocktwits 50 and just keep adding to it….your work here has always inspired me to share what I am thinking on my blog and on stocktwits
stocktwits is the poster boy for giving it away
It has only boosted my returns and no one listens anyway
that last part is not true and you know it
Poster boy in a good way or bad
good way. you know i’m a give it away guy.
Thanks you for opening up USV’s research! Sharing is caring.
Out-share and out-teach your competitors. Well played, as JLM would say..
out-teach your competitors. love that…..
GIve more than you get FTW.
37signals did a presentation on this very topic. I believe it was Jason who gave the talk.Edit to add link to video: http://blip.tv/thebif/jason…
I like that!!
I wonder if education incumbents will understand the implications of this education research and then have what it takes to act on the lessons from Monday’s post on sustainability?
Knowledge wants to be free!Sort of tangential, sort of related, but recently I wrote a law journal type article that I wanted to have practical impact in its area. Anyone familiar with legal literature will know what I mean when I say it has a rigid tediousness to it – half the text is littered with footnotes, the papers are too long, they are not very readable — resulting in many papers never getting read beyond a small community.I ended up choosing to bypass the journals and just publish the paper online (on SSRN). I didn’t want to go through the gatekeepers who controlled access to the journals and modify my paper to fit their preferences, and I had a sense more people would read — and more importantly interact with — my views if it was online where readers could get access to the paper through search engines, hyperlinks on blogs, and social sharing. Certainly, there was a trade-off: I gave up the prestige associated within publishing within a prestigious title, but overall I wanted people — and not just those within a hyper-specialized subset of the legal community who read these journals — to read it as the views expressed in the paper had general application and more were likely to have practical currency if viewed by a more general, practical audience than those who read a law review.And relatedly, the circulation of the paper version of the Harvard Law Review has fallen by 90% or so in the last couple of decades.
That said, of course, there is some some specific research and knowledge that is meant to be confidential and proprietary (and not suggesting that you are saying otherwise).I had a meeting with a friend high up at a massive potential beta customer (one of the world’s biggest companies) last night. He told me of a certain initiative within the company that was beneficial to bringing in our company as a beta customer.This is the type of information that is of competitive advantage and not to be shared too widely.The trick I suppose is knowing which info is which.
you can only open up so much. you can’t live like this.http://www.wired.com/techbi…
Yes, Fred, but perhaps, they were just ten years ahead of their time. Now it’s Kardashians, wedding, divorce, rebound — all for us to see.Seriously though, the notions of what should be open and not open is evolving, and as we have noted before, it’s the clash of a new generation’s with an older generations’s notions that leads to real interesting stuff — like having to find a way to hide your Facebook profile from the med school admissions officer.
ouch for HLR. I wonder what this means for long term growth in Law as Discipline.
Law as a discipline/profession has many headwinds stemming from a lack of practicality in both schooling and practice that clients have grown long tired of.
free research — i love free research! maybe it’s cuz i work in marketing & generally speaking ” idea” plagiarism with no attribution problem is rampent, I’ve become more and more cynical about it.I try not care but honestly, it really bugs the sh&t out of me some days.will get to reading research later. and if i make reference, i’ll be sure to attribute 🙂
I remember once reading something about USV, either here or on the USV site….something to the effect that when you started USV…..you wanted the firm to be different – keep the office small ( small fund size, small # of partners, you wanted to outsource the back office (- I was once one of those back office people -ugh)).The other thing I recall reading was that you wanted to do your own research.#FullCircle
those were and still are our goals. we are a bit larger than i would have imagined (five partners, six non partners). but otherwise we are very much what brad and i imagined at the start
This clearly has value as a way of sparking conversation on ideas and insights. But it’s also *extremely* useful to see USV’s frameworks and approach to investment research in general. They don’t teach this stuff in venture capital school. Thanks for sharing a part of your firm’s process with the AVC community.
Love that you are sharing the info. Do think you could have used a wiki or a blog post so that comments could be left. As we know from here at avc, we get some great crowd sourced links.
definitely! we haven’t yet set up a wiki or something like it (very much still v1 on this concept) but here’s the comment thread on usv.com: http://www.usv.com/2012/10/…
Comments yes. Wiki no.
Open redefines the players to “we”. It is we who solve problems, versus the “us/them” stance.For this reason I have felt the Middle East will never solve their issues as long as they remain in us and them stance. When they leave behind us/them and become we they will negotiate for the good of we, and solve problems.I’m also a fan of Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of Biomorphic Resonance, ie. the crossword puzzle is easier to solve in the afternoon than the morning because more people have worked on and solved the questions. Hopefully, in open research the needle is moved even more quickly.
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of Biomorphic ResonanceHas anyone tested this theory?
I don’t know if it’s been tested. But it explains many periods of enlightenment in history IMHO.
Yes, Steven Rose did an experiment. I’m sure you could find it on google scholar.
omg is that true? (re cross words?) i love that theory…..
Can’t verify the truth of it, but it seems right to me, in my gut, my second brain.
Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.
Probably true about the middle east. Though I think there are other problems there.
Are these going to be posted on AVC every time they are posted on USV? The USV feedburner URL doesn’t have the entry for this (in fact, it has nothing since december of last year)
hm – we should get that feedburner fixed. thanks for the tip.
thanks Jeff. we are fixing that.
fixed! thanks to gary chou.
Thanks! The entries all showed up in Flipboard and google reader!
just finished reading the document and the various linked articles…….surprised that this is considered research….would have expected you to be looking a lot more at “other” data, or is this an aedited version that you are choosing to release.
we used the document to kick off an internal discussion about online education; the goal of that discussion was to develop first principles for which we could look.there’s not much market sizing or quantitative research, which i think is a pretty fair reflection of how usv thinks about investing at the earliest stages.
A culture of sharing is at the core of Fred’s work and this blog. It’s also something that all industries tackle – it certainly is not unique to venture capital. The tome to beat on this topic dates from 2001 and is called *The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization* by Thomas Stewart.
that is a formative work in our minds
Great initiative. Thanks for opening up.Hopefully (and I trust this will be the case) it is USV who is thanking the community for their feedback in due course. I am totally convinced that by sharing this information USV will receive very valuable insights, feedback, and thoughts from those within the industry and specialists that you otherwise did not / could not consult. Moreover, I think that the research results are driven by the perspective of the researcher. E.g. for you located in the NYC area a particular sector can be totally differently interpreted and reviewed then a specialist located in Rotterdam. The same would hold for the ones with other professions, sectors, age, education, background, ets. It creates a strong bias to the research.In the end… and if this will become too successful (if that is possible) … it could be a challenge to coop and analyze all the feedback (information overload), and it could be hard to determine the quality of the feedback.I will try to give you my feedback in due course. Thanks again.
i am sure we will be the ones thanking the community
I am envisioning a day where I can become ‘USV Certified’ to source opportunities on behalf of USV, collecting data and providing insights in a manner consistent with USV’s thesis. And I can contribute research and modeling waay upstream from when USV invests, in exchange for which I can participate in USV’s upside.The further opening up of research is novel and progressive, but I wonder if USV will take a leadership role in sharing its fund’s upside. The collective eyes, ears and thoughts of the USV community could be better-channeled and better-trained to ask good questions and acquire far more data than USV’s partners and associates ever could hope to on their own.
i’ve always said these comment threads are way better VC associates than i could ever hope to be.
Imagine if ‘real incentive’ existed!
Yup! the comments threads on AVC are some of the best on the web
if equity crowdfunding happens, then that would be an ideal way to partner in that way
As I’ve stated previously on this blog, being the solo founder of a preformative startup, your insight has proven invaluable. Thank you for your continued commitment to openness and clarity. It has been especially helpful since I’m entering the e-commerce ecosystem for the first time and find the amount of information available often overwhelming.
This is awesome. Thank you everyone at USV.
Wow. This is great, Fred. Look forward to.
I’m delighted to see this. Thanks so much, USV. As usual, I owe you.
Thanks for linking over to the research, Fred. Are you planning on doing that with each session? If not, I’ll follow the USV blog as well.
i don’t know. i would follow the USV blog if you can.
Will do. Thanks.
I’m sure a lot of institutions couldn’t follow this great initiative simply because they don’t have any research…
oh my. that’s a diss!
Meant kind of tongue in cheek, but I sometimes wonder … 😉
I was thinking the same thing 🙂
I love this. We did this too with The Media Kitchen. We wrote a post about this for AdWeek which got published here called Hoarding Disorder. http://www.adweek.com/news/…Madison Avenue has been built over time based on proprietary information. But this information naturally flows. It’s generally publicly available. We decided to continue adding to it by making much of what we do, that’s not client confidential, open to the world.This has benefited us in the following ways:1. It attracts talent who believes in what we are doing. They are already predisposed to how we think and they want to come and work for an agency who shares in a vision.2. Prospective clients find this and want it for themselves. Slideshare has been a blessing for us as we post many of our research pieces up there and announce them with a Tweet or two.Love that you guys are doing this.
#hackingmadisonavenuei love it!
media kitchen’s approach to this stuff is always interesting. It seems they’re very prepared for the fact that media (and therefore advertising) will be fracturing badly very soon.
Fred — That Google doc is like mind candy. Thank you so much for sharing this with the world.
This is superb.Entrepreneurs face a really difficult challenge as they interact with VCs – not only do they have to get the money, but they have to do their best to find a lifelong partner they can’t divorce. The more information available to assess the temperament, culture and intellectual frameworks that guide him/her with respect to an individual VC and the firm the better. Beggars can’t be choosers but if you have choice, embrace data. And I think Fred is absolutely right that he will indeed attract entrepreneurs thinking along the same lines- which is incredibly valuable to both parties.
yup. that’s why we do this. we don’t want to find ourselves in bad marriages either.
Regarding:http://www.usv.com/2012/10/…https://docs.google.com/doc…Great stuff.Suggest releasing a press statement with some conclusions, hypotheses, thoughts, quotes, and giving the research arm a name. That way you can be mentioned in mainstream media just like Gartner, think tanks, Quinnipiac and be a quoted source for original reporting.”According to “Deep Dive”, the Open Research initiative at Union Square Ventures, Education is likely to…”
i hope we never put out a press release at USV
You don’t have to hope. You’re the chief of police. If you don’t want one it won’t be done.On a serious note, putting out a press release doesn’t (just) label you as a “tool”, the man, or the establishment.It serves a particular purpose to achieve a goal.Why not get as widespread benefit as possible from the information you are releasing, info that took you time and money to compile? Why not use the information that you have to be able to possibly change what others are planning to do, or how they are thinking by drawing some attention to the conclusions you have reached?Look at the picture below. Zuckerberg, sticking to his shtick wore a hoody when he pitched the bankers in NY. But when he got married, he wore a suit. And in today’s front page of the print WSJ he is pictured shaking hands with Medvedev in the same “bar mitzvah boy doesn’t like a tie” party suit. Because it helped him achieve something and he learned his lesson.From a previous thread:@JLM: “On the other hand, as a guy who actively contributes to candidates I do notice that my phone calls get returned quicker from those to whom I contribute. Am I corrupt? I certainly hope not. But, yes, I am an unrepentant influence peddler. There, I’ve said it.”@fredwilson:disqus “i plead guilty too JLMuntil they change the system, i am going to play it to win”(Your witness.)
This is an amazing initiative and having just looked at the document – I am blown away!! The other impressive thing to me is that it shows the level of research that you and your partners put to understanding a specific sector. It is a great example of the worth ethic needed to succeed as a VC group. Great preparation probably leads to better execution.
@Fred – with respect to geography, might you share info on the kind of “co-investor who is local and has a similar style and worldview” based in San Fran. That would be extremely helpful to me. Perhaps offline?
sure. email me.
many thanks – which email
Contact link at the bottom of my blog
Hypothesis #3 may be a short term truism and investment thesis that fits into the current paradigm, But it may be missing the more interesting question of how the idea of “credentials” could change and be disrupted by online learning. As you well know, one can build “credentials” by contributing to open source software development, and participating in online forums and by creating dialogue through your blog, and etc etc… Online learning could potentially change the way you build your credentials and credibility in a fundamental way, which would be more in sync with the distributed and interactive nature of the web, Characterizing that potential as “aspirational and removed from the day-to-day of many people” seems uncharacteristically banal… or perhaps just a reflection of the current state of affairs.(In general though and in every other respect, your initiative is brilliant, as usual.)
Wow! This is amazing stuff! It really shows your approach (and USV’s in general) to openness and sharing, in line with what you got us used to with your blog.I also see @bussgang:disqus’s point on attracting “more high-quality, highly qualified customers”, and I’m glad there’s some positive benefit for USV as well, besides good karma I mean! :)Also, posting these research articles will certainly bring a good and rich discussion among entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the topic in question. There might be some good insights coming from there as well. Still wondering how could Disqus better organize its content for easy access afterwards…Thank you for sharing!
Classy, classy move. Created some of the richest discussion I’ve seen on the USV blog in a long time (as of early morning Pacific). That in itself will reap dividends. Perfect illustration of the case in point.
This is awesome. First and foremost you are helping out entrepreneurs by allowing us to build on your research. I also think that you’ll get more and more quality entrepreneurs approaching you because of it. Keep it up!
Calling 2 hour meeting “deep dive” seems weird. “Deep dive” is 10,000 hours.On a positive side: thanks for sharing your insights – it’s good for the community and for you as well.
you are right. we will call them a “shallow dive”
Stunning ! FredI bet I am not the only person who visits who selfishly wished that rather than “Online Education” their own field of endeavour had been chosen.I know “All comes to he who waits” – but if would be fantastic if Christine could put up archives in other fields – and any planned entries if not “price sensitive” – so people could support your researchI would note (The clearly dated header is important as it is only a view taken at a point in time) – and it would also be very cool to add periodic addenda / retractions of any conclusions that become dated etc as they surface.
what a great idea. we’d love to be able to pull such info into spundge.com where some of our users have created created “notebooks” around startups, investors, founders etc…can we discuss doing this? if so – who should i talk too?
I’ll cross-post a version of a comment I wrote on the USV site, because it just occurred to me that Experimentation is the real linkage point here, and that’s what the objective of this research is. Every start-up is an experiment in market acceptance. USV funds start-ups, therefore you’re funding experiments in change.Research without experiments is like a hopeless dream, and experiments without research is like blowing money away. I think the research links that you share are a good thing, but their value is dwarfed by market acceptance of big ideas whose time has come. Your hypotheses are the bridge between research and experiments (investments).
we need to release a bunch of stuff that we did over the past year. once we do that, we will be releasing in real-time
I think the knowledge transfer will be asymmetrical to the benefit of USV because whilst USV publishes publicly a lot of the feedback will be private. Hence the ensuing refinements and opportunities will be private to be shared later at USVs discretion.
That will be very interesting to watch. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to the signal.