Posts from April 2013

Background Checks

We had a very lively and healthy debate here at AVC a while back about gun safety. I am very much in the camp that we need to put a lot more restrictions on what guns should be on the market and how. But regardless of where you are on gun safety, the vast majority of Americas (between 70% and 90% depending on how and who you count) believe that background checks should be run on everyone who wants to buy a gun.

But getting background check legislation passed by the Senate is proving challenging. How is it that 70-90% of Americas support this idea and we can't get the Senate to pass the legislation? Well that is gun safety politics in America.

Tomorrow the Senate will bring the bill to the floor for a vote. It looks the Republican threat to fillibuster has passed. Smart move by the GOP. Fillibustering a bill that 70-90% of Americans support seems like a bad idea. But there is still the question of how the vote will go.

Over the past decade, my wife and I have been generous givers to Democrats running for Senate. I imagine that of the fifty-five Democrats in the Senate, we have donated to at least half of them. The data is online somewhere but I don't have the time to find the data and link to it.

In the coming days, we will get another data set. That being the list of Senators who voted against background checks. And I hope that data gets put online permanently like our giving history. Because that will be a list of Senators who are hostage to the NRA and do not need or deserve our support. We will get to see who they are in the coming days. I will be watching carefully. So should you.

Reuters Tech Tonic taping today

A while back, I posted a video of the week of Avner Ronen on Reuters Tech Tonic. In the comments to that post, the host Paul Smalera invited me to appear on the show and then invited the AVC community to sit in the audience.

Well the taping is today at the Reuters building in Times Square from 5pm to 6pm and the first 25 people to sign up can attend. The link to RSVP is here. Please don't RSVP unless you really plan to attend.

We are going to talk about immigration, regulation 2.0, bitcoin, and a few other things that will be common themes to the AVC community.

Don’t Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste

My partner Albert shared this line on his blog almost five years ago now.  I find myself using it all the time. And it is an important lesson that I have learned in my career.

When something goes badly in your company, for many the initial instinct is to keep things under wraps as much as possible to avoid freaking everyone out. I would argue that it is better to acknowledge the crisis and use it to your advantage.

Change is hard to bring to an organization and a time of crisis is often a perfect time to make some changes that you have wanted to make for a while. It creates a perfect backdrop and context for doing that.

Maybe you are in the midst of a financial crisis brought on by a tough fundraising environment. Maybe you are experiencing some management turmoil. Maybe you've lost your largest customer. Maybe you are getting pummeled by bad press. It really doesn't matter what is the cause of the crisis, but all of the above will work well.

I have seen a portfolio company react to a financing crisis react by making important and overdue changes to its business model and organization. The financing crisis ended and the company emerged in a much stronger place.

I have seen an entrepreneur react to the loss of several important team members by shuffling up the organization, pivoting the product roadmap, and operating with a much leaner team. The company recovered from the loss of the key team members, launched a new product very successfully, and got onto a path to profitability.

There are a lot of these stories to tell. Because crisis is what brings clarity and focus. You get punched in the gut, you get back up, and you take care of business.

So if you are in the middle of a crisis in your company right now, think hard about using it as an opportunity to make some changes. There is never a better time.

Down Time

The Gotham Gal and I took this weekend off and flew down to the Bahamas to see some friends who have a house down here. From the time we landed on friday to the time we return to NYC later today, I have largely been off email. With the exception of writing this post and posting the video yesterday, I have been off of my laptop. I used my phone to text/kik with my kids and use the golf course's android app to figure out distances.

Down time is great. I should figure out how to make it a bigger part of my life. My friend Brad Feld and his wife Amy take regular weeks off the grid. I can see why that works for them.

For the past twenty years, I have been in a zone where I work all the time. It has allowed me to stay on top of things and help build two venture capital firms. While I don't take meetings or go to the office or travel on the weekends, I work a lot on saturday and sunday. The same is true of our family vacations. I find a few hours every morning and in the afternoons where I can do calls, do email, and stay on top of things.

Taking a couple days off and a view like this certainly makee me wonder how much longer I can and should keep up that kind of lifestyle.

Bahamas photo

Video Of The Week: The UC Irvine Conversation

The Dean of the Computer Science and Statistics School (The Bren School) at UC Irvine is Hal Stern. Thirty four years ago in my freshman year at MIT, I was failing Differential Equations and Hal would tutor me as he watched the Celtics games in his room. With his helped I aced Differential Equations and went on to a fine career at MIT and beyond. The least I could do to pay him back was show up and give a talk at his school. I delivered that payback last Monday and it was a lot of fun.

It's a long video, almost an hour, but we cover a lot of topics near and dear to this community. So give it a watch this weekend if you can find the time.

Feature Friday: Places People Go Next

I'm a data geek. I love data. And I love it when companies do interesting things with data, particularly my data.

So a few weeks ago, I was stunned to be told by Foursquare that the ice cream shop I had just stepped into was the most popular place people go to right after the japanese restaurant I had just left. This is a new feature Foursquare has rolled out on Android and I expect will be in the next iOS build.

I call the feature "places people go next" and I think it is awesome. Here's a screenshot I took of my home screen right after I checked into the Shake Shack on Wednesday at lunchtime.

Foursquare places to go next

So after a burger and fries, you are either going to get tea at Argo or a beer at Live Bait. I would imagine it has a lot to do with what time of day it is.

In any case, this is the kind of thing you can do when you have a dataset of billions of checkins from tens of millions of people all over the world. It's not just that you have the data, it's what you do with it, as Om so elegantly says in this post.

With new data driven features like "places people go next" coming out fast and furious these days, I am loving Foursquare more than ever. 

Monopolies and Startups

Christina wrote a post yesterday that got me thinking. It's not quite like working together but when a former colleague blogs, you get a bit of that "in the halls" thing that makes working in a group so great. Fortunately, Charlie, Andrew, and Eric all blog too.

Christina makes this point about medallions and monopolists:

I’ve started to believe the leverage in the “sharing economy” will be in opening regulated industries. SF cabs were atrocious because there are too few medallions. (Turns out the medallion holders, keen to restrict medallion supply, were well-incented lobbyists, as any good monopolist should be.) The revolutionary part of Lyft and Sidecar is that those companies decided, forget the medallion battles! and let’s just increase the number of drivers on the road.

I love this Margaret Mead quote:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

So now, after quoting two bright women, I will get to my point.

Monopolies aren't great for society. So we have trust busters in government whose job it is to keep the monopolies in check. But they don't do that so well. And our government is pretty good at handing monopolies out. Just look at the cable industry.

A few entrepreneurs in a garage. Or a few hackers on the Internet. They are the best trust busters of them all. Look what open source Linux did to Microsoft. They put a dent in a machine that the government could not. And look at what Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber did to the medallion owners in San Franscisco. They got cabs on the streets when the government could not.

Never doubt that a small startup can take on a huge monopoly. Indeed, it is the only thing that can.

Mobile App Deep Linking

Twitter announced some new functionality in its Twitter Cards platform yesterday. At the top of the list is "mobile app deep linking". Here's how Twitter explains it:

With mobile app deep-linking, users will be able to tap a link to either view content directly in your app, or download your app, depending on whether or not they have your app installed. To enable this feature, you just need to add a new set of markup tags, explained here.

This might not seem like much, but it's a big deal and something I've been encouraging Twitter and others to do for some time. It is particularly helpful for e-commerce apps where sending someone to a mobile web page where they are not logged in pales in comparison to sending them to a mobile app where they are logged in with their payment credentials stored and ready to be used in a transaction.

For many ecommerce and marketplace businesses, this will be a huge help in delivering transactions instead of page views. I am sure there are a host of other application types where getting a logged in user instead of a logged out user will be super helpful.

Kudos for Twitter for getting this out.

Content Marketing Simplified

There is a growing market out there for content marketing. Not the old fashioned kind where magazine companies would create custom magazines for brands, marketers, and retailers. I am talking about the Internet version in which brands, marketers, retailers and other businesses create blogs, twitter accounts, facebook pages, and the like and then spend money filling those pages with content. Many brands have full time employees creating this content. Others use third parties and even freelancers to do it.

In many ways I see this as the future of online marketing. Instead of paying tens of millions of dollars a year (or more) creating banner ads and paying to run them on pages filled with someone else's content, marketers can create their own web and mobile presences and use the most efficient form of advertising, pay per click advertising, to drive traffic to these pages and then engage in a conversation with their customers and potential customers.

I like to think of this as moving the message from a banner to your brand and changing the engagement from a view to a conversation. It also helps that this approach works better on mobile where we are spending more and more of our time every day.

At USV we have quite a few companies engaged in this world of content (or conversational) marketing including Twitter, Tumblr, SoundCloud, Disqus, Zemanta, and GetGlue. Based on what I am seeing from these companies, marketers are responding quickly to the opportunities presented by content marketing and the market is growing rapidly. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Announcing The “Good Things Come to Those Who Code” Campaign

The AVC community hasn't done a DonorsChoose campaign since the Gotham Gal and I turned 50 and we raised something like $56k in the summer of 2011. I've been looking for a way to beat that and it has not been easy. That's a ton of money to raise in a month on a blog and hard to beat.

But the folks at DonorsChoose and I have come up with something awesome and I am excited to launch it today. For the next month we will be raising money for classrooms in schools that are helping their students learn to code.

Here's how it works. As you all know, I have been very involved in getting CS education into the NYC public school system. It all started with my relationship with Mike Zamansky at Stuyvesant High School which is documented in this NY Times piece. Stuyvesant has been helping their students learn to code for the past 15 years but they were almost alone in that effort.

Because of the efforts of the NYC Dept of Education and folks at City Hall, this coming school year there will be at least 30 high schools and middle schools in NYC joining Stuyvesant on the list of schools that are helping their students learn to code.

And I want to celebrate that. Here's how we are going to do it. We have a list of all the schools in NYC that are helping their students learn to code, including Stuyvestant, AFSE, and all the schools who are launching programs in the fall of this year. Any teacher in any of those schools (not just CS teachers) who has a DonorsChoose campaign going on is automatically on my giving page. We are going to bring good things to the schools that are bringing good things to their students. Good things will come to those who code. Maybe this will get the Principals to wake up and smell the coffee.

Finally, all of you are encouraged to tell us about schools in other parts of the country that are helping their students learn to code. Please leave the details in the comments to this post. The DonorsChoose folks will be combing the comments for additional schools to add to the list.

Of course, we want to bring a lot of funding to these schools and these classrooms. This community has been awesome at doing that and I am confident that all of you will continue to show tremendous generosity. I want to thank all of you in advance for that.

I will kick off this campaign with a donation to my friend Leigh Ann's Finch Robot campaign at the Academy For Software Engineering. The giving page for this campaign is here. And you will all notice the widget on the right rail. As my son Josh would say "let's go!"