Posts from October 2012

The Far Center PAC

The NY Times has a good post up today about Mike Bloomberg and his new Independence USA PAC. Frequent readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Mike Bloomberg and his politics. I do not think there is a major issue before this country that I don't agree with him on. There is nothing more that I would wish for than a centrist like him in the White House.

In the post, the Mayor has tough words for both Obama and Romney, as he should. But one wonders whether both men are hostage to their party orthodoxy and therefore can't and won't speak honestly and candidly the way the Mayor can and does.

Maybe the millions that the Mayor will dole out this year and in coming years will help give elected officials the courage to do what is right instead of what is expected of them. I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful.

Feature Friday: Twitter Mobile Notifications on Android

I was at a USV event last week in SF and I bumped into Sung Hu Kim, a product manager at Twitter who handles mobile stuff. We got to talking about things I'd love the Twitter Android product to do. I mentioned that my daugther tweets a fair bit but I often miss them because I follow 735 people, many of them prolific tweeters. I do have a family list but I only get around to checking it every few days and I often miss opportunities to @reply to Emily.

Sung pointed me to the mobile notifications settings and we turned on notifications for Emily on my Android. Game changer! Now I get a notification every time she tweets and I can immediately favorite it, retweet it, or reply to it. I turned on notifications for about ten others including of course my wife.

Here's how to you do it (I assume this works on Twitter for iPhone too but I don't know for sure).

1) Navigate to someone's profile. You can do that by clicking on their avatar in a tweet. Here is my friend Bijan's profile on my phone.

Bijan profile

2) Do you see that little image of a head under the block that says "tweets" on the middle left? You click that. And you get this dialog box.

Tweet notifications

Click on "turn on notifications". That's all you have to do.

3) Then you get notifications at the top of your home screen whenever someone you've added to mobile notifications tweets. Those notifications look like this (look at the very top of the home screen):

Freds homescreen

For those that are curious, that is Gilligan on my home screen. My friend Josh Harris painted that Gilligan and the original hangs in my office at USV. The Gotham Gal also has a Gilligan in her office. For those that know Josh and his obsessions, it has great meaning. It represents the crazy web 1.0 era in NYC in my mind. It is one of my favorite art pieces we own.

4) When you pull down the notifications tray on Android, you actually can see part of the tweet. And you can click on it to go to the tweet. Here's a notification of a tweet from Bijan (who I've added to my mobile notifications as well).

Bijan notification

I have had this feature active on my phone for the past week and it has significantly increased my usage of twitter as I am now seeing in real time the tweets from the folks I care most about. I love it.

The Open Internet and the 2012 Election

Engine Advocacy and NY Tech Meetup are hosting a conversation next Thursday, Oct 25th, from 6pm to 7:30pm, at the NYU Stern School about The Open Internet and the 2012 Election.

They've asked me to participate in this conversation along with Clay Shirky and Susan Crawford. Clay should not be a new name to this community. But if you don't know who Clay is, you can read about him here. Susan was President Obama's Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy for the early part of his first term. You can read more about her here.

Tickets are $10/person and the event is roughly half sold as of 6:45am today. If you want to attend you can get a ticket here.

I am big fans of Clay and Susan, and equally thrilled to support Engine Advocacy and NY Tech Meetup. So I'm looking forward to this event. And of course the topic is timely and important. I hope to see you there next Thursday.

Second Screen, Third Screen, …

It's pretty common practice these days to pull out a tablet or phone during big live events and watch on two screens. The industry has taken to calling this the second screen experience. Or social TV. It's an area our firm has a few bets in, most notably Twitter and GetGlue.

But last night during the debate, I found myself in need of more screens. I could have used something like this:

Trading desk
attribution link

I had the #debates feed on my personal Nexus 7. I had John Heilemann's twitter feed on my phone. I had Tumblr going on my laptop. And I had CNN on the family room Nexus 7. And I was actually watching the debate first and foremost.

The big surprise was how active Tumblr was. The memes were coming fast and furious during the debate. The binders full of women meme was active within minutes of that line emerging from Mitt's mouth. The debate tag was also a great one to follow on Tumblr last night.

Based on the tweets I was seeing flying by on Twitter last night, I am certain that I'm not the only one who watched the debates this way. Actually I am pretty certain that this is becoming more normal by the day.

It all makes me wonder if the current crop of social TV apps are missing a big aggregation opportunity. I suspect lots of good stuff was going on elsewhere last night (Facebook, Pinterest, Canvas, etc), but I just didn't have enough screens in my family room to be everywhere at the same time. Maybe we need an app for that.

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Boxee TV

Our portfolio company Boxee announced their next generation device today called Boxee TV.

Boxee has always been about making it as easy as possible to watch TV over the Internet and Boxee TV represents years of listening to customers wants, needs, and desires. The result is a trifecta of Internet TV goodness:

1) Free Broadcast Channels in HD

2) No Limits DVR – record as much as you want and watch wherever you want

3) Internet apps like Netflix, Vudu, YouTube & Vimeo

Avner's post on Boxee TV has more details.

Boxee TV will cost $99 and will be available in early November. Sign up to get an email when it launches.

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How To Be In Business Forever: Week Three

It is week three of my Skillshare class on Sustainability in Business.

I will be doing office hours today at 6pm eastern. You can watch them here on this link. If you want to submit questions for office hours, you can do that here. Just like last week, I will review a few business model canvas projects and then will answer questions for the rest of the office hours.

This week I'd like to talk about company culture and how it impacts sustainability. If you want to be in business forever, you need to build a culture that sustains the business. I talked a lot about this in a post on culture a while back. You should give that a read as part of the assigned reading for this course. Here is the money quote from that post:

Companies are not people. But they are comprised of people. And the people side of the business is harder and way more complicated than building a product is. You have to start with culture, values, and a committment to creating a fantastic workplace. You can't fake these things. They have to come from the top. They are not bullshit. They are everything. There will be things that happen in the course of building a business that will challenge the belief in the leadership and the future of the company. If everyone is a mercenary and there is no shared culture and values, the team will blow apart. But if there is a meaningful culture that the entire team buys into, the team will stick together, double down, and get through those challenging situations.

I bumped into a friend last week who works at a company that is going through a difficult time right now. I asked him about the "talent drain" that is going on in his company. He said "the ones who were in it for only the money are long gone, the doubters are gone now too, and we are left with the true believers now."

I thought to myself that the mistake the CEO of that company made was bringing the mercenaries and doubters into the company in the first place and allowing them to stay.

Mercenaries have no place in your company and your culture. Doubters are a bit different. You certainly don't want to create a culture of "yes maam" in your company. So some doubting is healthy. But it should be out in the open. The doubts should be expressed upfront and they should be discussed and debated. But once the decisions have been made, everyone needs to get behind them. Ongoing doubting is not helpful to a culture.

True believers are required to get through the hard parts. And you need to be the leader who inspires the true believers. Watch this short video where @dens described what he did when Facebook launched a competing product to Foursquare.

You get true believers in your company by giving them something to believe in and someone to believe in. That is you. Even if you are scared shitless or bummed out, you can't show that to the team. You have to lead if you want the team to follow.

The thing that you give them to believe in is called a vision. Make it a long one, a very long one. I like Bill Gates' vision for Microsoft:

When Paul Allen and I started Microsoft over 30 years ago, we had big dreams about software,” recalls Gates. “We had dreams about the impact it could have. We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home.

A computer on every desk and in every home. That was a big hairy audacious goal in the late 70s. And it is exactly what happened, at least in the developed world.

The cool thing about that vision is it is drop dead simple to understand but took decades to execute. That's a long vision that your team can buy into and stick with for the long haul. That's what you need.

So if you want to build a business that lasts, you need a big and long vision and you need to be a leader who can inspire the team to believe in the vision and to believe in you. You need to hire folks who will stick around for the long haul and you need to be open to the doubts and doubters. But if they keep doubting, you need to part company with them. Don't hire mercanaries. They won't work no matter how hard you try.

Building a culture that can sustain the business is the most important investment you can make in your company. Once you've gotten a product into the market and proven product market fit, there is nothing that is more important than team, culture, and values. It is the glue that holds the whole thing together for the long haul.

Public Sharing vs Private Sharing

Alexis Madrigal has an interesting post up on The Atlantic about "dark social" vs "public social". Alexis makes the point that private sharing via email, IM, and other means drives more traffic around the web than public social services like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

Alexis makes the broader point in the piece that the Internet has always been social and that the emergence of these newer social platforms is overblown. I agree with Alexis that "dark social" is a very powerful driver of traffic, but I think Alexis is missing a big point about the power of public sharing.

Public sharing opens up the share to all sorts of interesting engagement that is just not possible in "dark social" systems. 

I will give an example of something that happened yesterday to make my point. I went a walk on the High Line yesterday afternoon. As I was headed north at the 10th Avenue Ampitheater, I came across this huge billboard art installation:

Car

I was smitten with this piece and spent five or ten minutes taking it in. Then I snapped a few photos of it on my phone and posted them to Instagram, Foursquare, and Tumblr. I was curious about the artist and the piece but didn't really do anything to figure out who had created it.

This morning as I was looking through Tumblr, I saw that my post of the art installation on Tumblr had gotten quite a few reactions, including this reblog from Kevin Slavin. Here's what Kevin had to say about it:

I’m so excited to see this wash up in Fred’s feed and to see others responding to it.

It’s not labeled anywhere and there’s no obvious way to know, but this is an old piece by one of my two great early mentors: Thomas Bayrle.

Looking back, I realize I’ve blogged about him frequently in the last few years including Five filmsDocumentaan old piece I helped him witha quick reference in a post by Greg, and his inspiration in an old essay for Brockman.

There are so many things to know that give this piece additional gravity. To know, for example, that this was made by hand, back in the 70s, no computers, and that the distortion of the logo was done by stretching latex with pins and tracing it.

To know that Thomas was a textile designer before he was a full-time artist. To understand the direct connections between Thomas, Peter Roehr and yes, Andy Warhol, who had similar predilections and procedural approaches to repetition, all at the exact same time.

Twenty years ago exactly, I was an artist working in Thomas’ studio in Frankfurt, and it’s no exaggeration to say that he taught me how to see. Like any great artist, Thomas is an astronaut, and he’s brought back images of places we might someday get to.

That this car has arrived some 40 years after he made it… well, that’s because we’re slow. No matter how fast the network gets, no matter how fast the market moves, they’ll never catch up to artists who have all their sensors in play.

How awesome is that? Now we know who the artist is – Thomas Bayrle. And we know when he made this work, we know how he did it, and we know that Kevin studied with him. 

Public sharing of social media made all of that happen. Sharing a picture of the art installation with my wife and/or kids via gmail, sms, kik, or some other form of private sharing could not have and would not have produced this information. And even if it had, it would not have produced it publicly.

So say what you will about "dark social" and private sharing. I'll take brightly lit public social any day.

Book Review: Makers By Chris Anderson

I took two flights across the country this week so in addition to a lot of catching up on email, I read a book. It is called Makers and it was written by Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson. This is the third book that I've read by Chris. The previous ones were The Long Tail and Free.

Chris writes books about the same things I blog about and USV invests in. We are certainly in sync in terms of the themes and memes that we are paying attention to.

Anyway, Makers is about "the new industrial revolution" that is brought about by personal manufacturing devices and web scale creation and innovation. It's about the intersection of companies like Etsy, Kickstarter, and Shapeways (all USV portfolio companies).

I suspect that there is nothing totally new to all of you in Chris' book. But he frames what is going on very well and I find these frameworks provided by folks like Chris and Steven Johnson and others to be incredibly helpful as we deal with a firehose of information and investments and try to find signal through the noise.

If you are interested in the revolution happening in personal manufacturing and are curious about what it means for innovation, startups, and even the economy and society, pick up a copy or put it on your Kindle. It's a quick read and a good read.

Feature Friday: Zemanta Thumbnails

At the tail end of yesterday's blog post was this set of related posts:

Zemanta thumbnails

A few folks asked me what was generating that set of links so I figured I would blog about it today.

I have used Zemanta's recommended links service on my blog for something like four or five years now. It works like a spell checker. As I write the post, Zemanta understands what I am writing about and recommends in text links (hyperlinks), related images to add to the post, and related links at the end of the post.

After using Zemanta for a while, USV became an investor and I joined the board in the summer of 2008. The company has grown a lot in the past four years and has turned into a nice business serving the content marketing community.

Sometime this summer, Zemanta added the ability to use thumbnails in the related links at the bottom of the post. I recently turned the feature on and that's why you are seeing these thumbnails from time to time at the end of the post.

If have a blog and want to use Zemanta, you can sign up here.

If you are wondering why linking out is a good thing, watch this video: