Posts from August 2013

Some Lessons From Vine

USV is an investor in Twitter so I've been watching the Vine story closely. As AllThingsD reports, Vine continues to grow in the wake of Instagram's video feature launch. Vine is a top ten free app on iOS and top 25 on Android in the US. So the addition of video to Instagram has not seemingly hurt Vine very much.

I've asked my kids and their friends about this and I've observed behavior a bit and that tells me a few things:

1) the social pressure to post something great to Instagram is high among the hyperactive social media teens that make up an important cohort on these services. it's easier to take risks on Vine, where most people have less followers, than it is on Instagram

2) as a result Vine videos are funnier, edgier, and crazier than those posted on Instagram

3) scrolling through the Instagram feed casually looking through photos and liking them is interrupted by playing videos and many Instagram users I talk to don't end up playing a lot of the videos that are posted there.

4) Vine is all about video and so it does not suffer from the "being part of the photo feed" problem

Once again, it appears that the category creating innovator isn't hurt too badly when the bigger and more popular social platform copies their signature feature in their product. We have seen this before with Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare and Facebook and many other similar situations.

My guess is Vine will continue to grow in popularity as long as the Vine team can improve the service and make it better and better over time. And as a Twitter investor, I sure hope they do.

#mobile#VC & Technology

Tech Circle

I have found it increasingly difficult to find blogs and blog posts by regular bloggers who are talking about things that are interesting to me. The big aggregators (Hacker News, Reddit, Techmeme) sometimes surface interesting posts, but where do you find about the every day blogger who is writing about tech stuff? The idea of a blog roll seems to have come and gone. I stopped running a blog roll here at AVC at least six or seven years ago.

So starting today, I am participating in a new service operated by our portfolio company Zemanta called Tech Circle. There will be a widget at the end of every post with some links to posts by bloggers who are similar to me. 

If you want to join the Tech Circle, let Zemanta know here. And if you'd like to start a different kind of circle, you can let them know about that too.

I am excited to give this a try. I hope all of you are too.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Weblogs

MBA Mondays: When Its Not Your Team

Phil Sugar left a great comment on last week's MBA Mondays about Turning Your Team:

Do not think that the reason you aren't scaling is because you need to bring in outside management. That will kill a team. 

This is the biggest worry I have because some will read this and think, I'm not growing what I need to do is turn the team, and that is just wrong.

If you aren't growing, its likely to be a product problem, a strategy problem, or a competition problem. I have rarely seen a management team problem be the reason for lack of growth. 

Company building is not this simple, but I do like to think about it terms of two stages. Getting the product right and customers/users scaling. Then scaling the company and the team. If you aren't doing the first, you mostly don't need to worry about the second. There are occasional team issues in the first stage you need to deal with but they aren't the big thing you need to focus on. The big thing you need ot to focus on is the product and its fit with the market. 

These issues can play themselves out again when the company is larger. Companies can lose their way. Or their product lineup can get stale. Or competition can enter the market and change the dynamics for users or buyers. Once again, you need to focus in on getting the product right and making sure that it is providing value to customers/users. 

In all of these situations, it is tempting to think the issue is the team and that turning the team will fix the problems. That is exactly why Phil left the comment he did. Team issues are largely scaling issues not growth issues. And it's critical to be able to recognize which is which because fixing the wrong problem can be devastating to a company.

#MBA Mondays


Interesting blog post on how EA's FIFA game franchise got off the ground.

My son and his friends play lots of Xbox games and they play lots of Xbox sports game. But FIFA is their favorite. It is the game they come back to again and again and it is the game they play year round.

I have this theory, based on a sample size of one (my son Josh), that FIFA for Xbox is responsible for the surging interest in football (which we call soccer) here in the US.

All of my kids played youth soccer but they never loved playing the game. They all went for basketball as their game of choice. So they didn't really learn soccer by playing it.

But Josh has learned to understand the game, the players, the teams, and so much more about football/soccer from playing FIFA. And he watches the big matches on TV and he cheers for teams like Bayern Munich because he loves Franck Ribery. And he loves Franck Ribery because he's awesome in FIFA Xbox.

And his obsession with the sport has led me to become more interested in it over time. We've been in europe during the european cup and the world cup and have hung out in the bars and watched the matches with the locals. It is a great sport and a great experience.

And for us, all of this interst in and love of the game of football, originated with FIFA on Xbox. And I suspect that is true for lots of people in the US who grew up in the age of videogames.

So going back to the post that I linked to at the start of this post, EA didn't think FIFA was going to be popular. They didn't really care about the game. And yet it has become a monster franchise for them and to my mind, one of the main reasons for the surging popularity of the game here in the US.

Like many big deals, it was ridiculed at the start. That's a sure sign you are on to something.


Video of the Week: My Slovenian TV Interview

Last month I made a brief visit to Slovenia and while I was there I did an interview with RTV Slovenia. I have tried for the past twenty minutest to figure out how to embed the video on this blog but I cannot figure it out. 

So if you want to watch a five minute interview with me on Slovenian television, click here.

If any of you are brighter than me and can figure out how to embed the video here, let me know in the comments and I will do that.

Update: Tom Sella hacked this player together for us so now this video is embedded here at AVC. Thanks Tom! 


Feature Friday: Google Form To Google Spreadsheet For RSVPs

Gary Chou taught me a trick a year or so ago that I have now used a bunch of times with fantastic results. Email out an invitation with a link to an RSVP form in Google Form and get an automatic spreadsheet of results in Google Spreadsheet.

Here's how you do it:

1) Create a Google Form. I like three text fields; name, email address, and if you are bringing someone

2) After you have completed the form, grab the link by clicking the send button which generates this box

Google send form box

3) Then compose an email with a link to that RSVP form and ask everyone who is coming to fill out the form. That will take them all of twenty seconds to complete.

4) In the upper left of your completed form, you will see this menu

Google form menu

Click on the "Responses" link and you will be taken to a Google Spreadsheet that will fill up with RSVPs as your email goes out and folks complete the form.

That's it. You have a list of people who are coming. You can use it to send emails with updates, you can use it to check people off at the door, etc, etc.

It works great. Give it a try next time you are doing an event that has a big list and requires RSVPs.

#life lessons

The Similarities Between Building and Scaling a Product and a Company

This has been a theme of mine since Roelof Botha put it in my head a few years ago. He said that entrepreneurs should approach building a company with the same passion that they have for building a product.

I've been thinking about scaling the team a lot this week. There are parts of building the team that are like designing and shipping a product. And there are parts of building the team that are like growing the service over time.

Putting together the initial team, creating the culture, instilling the mission and values into the team are all like designing and building the initial product. It is largely about injecting your ideas, values, and passion into the team. You do that by selecting the people carefully and then working hard to get them aligned around your vision and mission. Putting a product into the market and building your initial team are largely about realizing your idea as something tangible. That tangible thing is your product and your team. They go hand in hand. The team builds the product and the product is a reflection of them and you.

Once you have a successful product in the market, you need to turn your attention to scaling it. The system you and your team built will break if you don't keep tweaking it as demand grows. Greg Pass, who was VP Engineering at Twitter during the period where Twitter really scaled, talks about instrumenting your service so you can see when its reaching a breaking point, and then fixing the bottleneck before the system breaks. He taught me that you can't build something that will never break. You have to constantly be rebuilding parts of the system and you need to have the data and processes to know which parts to focus on at what time.

The team is the same way. Your awesome COO who helped you get from 30 people to 150 people without missing a beat might become a bottleneck at 200 people. It's not his or her fault. It could be the role has become too big for one person. Or it could be that he or she can't scale to that level of management. Think of this problem like a part of your software system that worked well when you had 1mm users per month but is breaking down at 10mm users per month. Both need to be reworked.

How you fix your system and how you fix your team depends on the facts and circumstances of the problem. There is no one right answer. The key is removing the bottleneck so the rest of the system can work again. When it is software, the problem is a bit easier to solve because it doesn't involve moving people around and the emotions that creates. But that's what a manager does and good managers do this often and they do it well.

It is harder to instrument your team the way you can instrument a software system. 360 reviews and other feedback systems are a good way to get some data. And walking around the company, doing lunches with managers who are one level down from your senior team, and generally being open to and available for feedback is the way you get the data. When you see that someone on your team has maxed out and the entire system is crashing as a result, you need to act. That could be breaking the role into parts, that could be reorganizing the entire team, or that could be removing the person and replacing them, or it could be some other solution. Whatever it is, it needs to be done or the company won't function as well as it can and should.

In summary, many entrepreneurs are engineers and/or product people. They intuitively get how to build and scale software systems. They may not intuitively get how to build companies. Fortunately, as Roelof pointed out to me, there are some similarities. And by understanding them and internalizing them, you can become a better leader and manager.

#MBA Mondays

Where You Come From

At the bottom of this post you will find a map and a table of AVC visit activity by geography for the past twelve months.

You could look at this data two ways. AVC is dominated by US visitors. That's true. 63% of visits come from the US. Or you could say that this is an international community wtih about 1mm visits a year coming from outside the US. Both are true.

Everyone is welcome here at AVC. But we do use english as the language of choice in this community. And so english language speaking countries dominate. The bounce rates are highest and the visit lengths are shortest in the countries that aren't english native. That makes sense to me. 

I am proud to have an international readership and community here at AVC and I hope we can make it even more so in the coming years because entrepreneurship and technology are global phenomenons and only growing more so.

AVC visits by geography


Android and iOS

For years I've been proselytizing Android. Part of it was that I did not like the "closed" environment that Apple created around the iPhone and the iPad. I don't want to get into a big debate about open vs closed here. We've had that debate ad naseum. I personally like the ability to get an unlocked phone, put what I want on it, and so on and so forth. Another big part of my enthusiasm for Android was that as an investor in the web and mobile web, I badly wanted at least a two horse race in the smartphone OS world. I didn't feel comfortable that Blackberry or Microsoft would get there (Blackberry largely has not, and Microsoft, while making a valiant attempt, hasn't yet either). Startups need a level playing field and a world in which Apple largely controlled the next important platform for tech innovation scared me.

Now we are at parity or almost so. Developers have to build for both. That's not great in some ways, but it creates a level playing field where no one vendor is in command. In the US, iOS is still dominant. In the rest of the world, Android is.

My new worry is that Android could run the table. Posts like this one suggest to me that the tide is turning in the all important digerati which until recently was all about iOS.

Benedict Evans has written that Apple is in a dangerous position. If developers start building first for Android because that's where the largest market is, then iOS will lose one of its most important value propositions (it is where all the best apps are).

Benedict suggests that a cheap iPhone is what Apple needs to take back market share from Android around the world.

You all may be shocked to hear this from me but I sure hope Apple does announce and ship a cheap iPhone that prepaid users can purchase for less than $200. I hope Apple takes the steps it must take to maintain its market share and ideally grow it outside the US.

I don't think I am moving to iOS in sympathy. I have come to really appreciate the Android UI and I use it on both phone and tablet.

But I find myself rooting hard for Apple now. I sense the danger they are in and I don't want either smartphone OS to be so dominant that we lose the level playing field we have now. It's very important for startups, innovation, and an open mobile ecosystem for all.

Update: A number of commenters suggested this excellent post, also about Android and iOS, today from Steve Cheney. I guess this topic must be top of mind today.


MBA Mondays: Turning Your Team

A serial entrepreneur I know tells me "you will turn your team three times on the way from startup to a business of scale." What he means is that the initial team will depart, replaced by another team, which in turn will be replaced by yet another team.

I have been closely involved with over 150 startups in my career and since roughly 1/3 of the startups we back get to real scale, that means I've seen the "startup to scale movie" over fifty times in my career and I can tell you this – my friend is right.

The people you need at your side when you are just getting started are generally not the people you will need at your side when you have five hundred or a thousand employees. Your technical co-founder who built much of your first product is not likely to be your VP Engineering when you have a couple hundred engineers. Your first salesperson who brings in your first customer is not likely to be your VP Sales. And your first community person is not likely to be your VP Marketing. 

Likewise, the first VP Engineering who figured out how to manage the unwieldy team left by your technical co-founder is not likely your VP Engineering when you have five hundred engineers. Your first VP Sales who built your first sales team is not likely the person who can manage a couple hundred million dollar quota. Companies scale and the team needs to scale with it. That often means turning the team.

The "turning your team" thing probably makes sense to most people. But executing it is where things get tricky and hard. How are you going to push out the person who built the first product almost all by themselves? How are you going to push out the person who brought in the first customer? How are you going to tell the person who managed your first user community so deftly that their services are no longer needed by your company?

And when do you need to do this and in what order? It's not like you tell your entire senior team to leave on the same day. So the execution of all of this is hard and getting the timing right is harder.

This is where serial entrepreneurs have a real leg up on first time entrepreneurs. They have seen the movie too and they played the starring role. So they know what the next scene is before it even starts. They know the tell tale signs of the company scaling faster than their team. And so they move more quickly to move the early leaders out and new leaders in. One of the signature faults of a first time founder is they are too loyal to their founding team and stick too long with them. 

If it is any consolation, the founding team makes most of the money when a company becomes successful. That technical co-founder who built the first product will likely end up with tens of millions of dollars, if not a lot more, if a business they helped start gets to five hundred or a thousand people. The VP Engineering of a five hundred person company will not likely have an equity package that is worth anywhere near that much.

So I generally advise entrepreneurs to be open and honest about all of this. Tell your early team that they may not make it all the way to the finish line but they will be handsomely compensated with equity and if you are successful, they will be too. And when it is time for them to go, think about how much they brought to the company and consider vesting some or all of their unvested stock on the way out. Also think about compensating them to stick around during the transition. And always make sure they leave the company with their head high feeling like the hero that they are. 

Here's the thing. Turning a team is not the same as firing someone for weak performance. You are firing someone for doing their job too well. They killed it and in the process got your company off to a great start and growing to a scale that they themselves aren't a great fit for. They may not be right for the job at hand, but they are a big part of the reason that the company is successful. That's the narrative that you need to have in your mind when you turn your team.

All of this is very hard, particularly if you are doing it for the first time. So get some mentors, advisors, and board members who have lived through this before. And listen to them about this. You may not want to listen to them too much about product and market stuff. Maybe you understand that better than they do. But when it comes to scaling a management team, those who have had to do it before will generally be right about the issues you are facing with your team. So their advice and counsel is worth a lot and you should pay close attention to it.

#MBA Mondays