Posts from September 2013

A Big Day For The Big Apple and Tech’s Apple

This blog, which will be 10 years old in two weeks, was initially called “AVC: Musings of a A VC in NYC”. I thought I might like to think out loud when I named it that. Turns out I do.

So I am going to muse out loud about two important things that will happen today.

First, I am going to vote in the NYC Democrat Mayoral Primary this morning. I plan to vote for Chris Quinn who The Gotham Gal and I have known for around ten years. Chris is a great person and I think that among the Democrats, she will do the best job maintaining the policies and attitude that the Bloomberg administration brought to City Hall. Sadly, I don’t think Chris ran a great campaign and I think that Bill de Blasio did. There is a chance that de Blasio will win enough votes today that he can avoid a runoff. He did not and will not win mine.

Even if Chris wins, I do not plan to vote for her in the General Election. I prefer both Joe Lhota and Jack Hidary to every Democrat candidate for Mayor. I guess that begs the question why am I a Democrat. This is not a long enough post for me to address that. But I can and maybe should at some point.

If you live in NYC and are registered to vote, please make the time to do that today. There is nothing more important in our democracy than our right (and obligation) to vote. Please exercise it.

Second, Tim Cook will take the stage today to announce some new Apple products. Rumor has it he will announce a cheap iPhone (the 5C) and an upgrade to the iPhone 5 (the 5S). The more interesting of these two new phones to me is the 5C. I think Apple needs a cheap phone to compete with Android in the prepaid market which is very important outside the US. And, as I’ve said here before, we need a competitive mobile OS market to keep everyone honest. Google is looking more and more ominous to me and I want to see Apple keep the pressure on them. I hope it goes well for Tim and Apple today.

So it’s a big day for the Big Apple and Tech’s Apple. Days like today mean a lot. I will be paying attention to both as the day develops.

UPDATE: The folks at Sketchfab sent me this 3D rendering of the new iPhone 5C. So here it is in all its glory

Email Newsletters

Getting information via email is so old hat in the age of social and mobile media. But I can tell you that many folks get AVC via email and they like getting it that way very much.

I just subscribed to Benedict Evans' email newsletter. He sends it out on Sundays and it talks about the week that was. I like the sound of that although I will probably read it on the web via my Nexus7. But at least the email is a reminder to go read it.

I use a service called Feedblitz to power my email service. If you want to subscribe to it, you can do that here. At this time, I have 4,433 email subscribers to AVC and the open rate hovers around 40%.

For comparison, 29,029 people have subscribed to my RSS feed. But only 4,724 read it on a daily basis in their RSS reader. And I get, on average, about 7,000 visits a day via web and mobile.

So this is the daily readership of AVC (approximately):

Web/Mobile Web: 7,000

RSS 4,700

Email 1,800

Total 13,500

Email is roughly 15% of my daily readership. And if I didn't hide the email subscribe button, I bet it would be a lot bigger!

Another email newsletter I highly recommend is Charlie O'Donnell's weekly NY Tech events newsletter. If you are new to town and want to get connected to the tech industry in NYC, you can't beat this resource.

I am sure there are other email newsletters out there that are worth subscribing to. And I am sure we will hear about them in the comments. Because email is old hat but it's still an important channel for content publishers that should not be overlooked.

Task Management

I have tried unsuccessfully to use a task manager many times over the years. I must have tried to use Outlook's task feature a dozen times unsuccessfully before leaving Outlook for the Google Apps Suite.

With the advent of mobile and web apps, and the combination of them, I have tried again, hoping that the mix of web and mobile might change things for me. My most recent attempt was a mobile and web app called Wunderlist. I am sure some of you use it. And I am sure some of you use other task managers.

I know that I am a highly disorganized person and it is all that I can do to manage (badly) my email and calendar (with a lot of help). I have not been able to add tasks and notes to my workflow.

I do put tasks in my calendar all the time. In fact, I have one coming up in a few minutes that I am going to take care of this morning. But putting them in my calendar, I achieve two things; 1) add a time dimension which creates urgency and 2) decrease the number of apps I need to actively use.

There is a Kik card called Remember The Beer that does something pretty awesome and that is allow me to easily share tasks. I create them in the card and then Kik them to the Gotham Gal, one of my colleagues, or one of my kids. It's lightweight, easy, and social and viral.

I think that's the only way tasks are going to work for me. And as I talk to others about tasks, I have noticed that a lot of people are like me and don't use task managers. I think if someone was able to make task sharing lightweight, viral, and social, they could change this dynamic and convert the large group of us who want to but can't use a task manager.

Video Of The Week: String Theory

This past week, my son Josh asked me to explain String Theory to him. That was a tough task because I don't know much about String Theory myself. But with the help of Google and Wikipedia, we worked through most of the basic concepts in about an hour and he had the guts of a five minute talk he planned to give at school the next day. Phew.

The next day I asked Zander, our resident physicist at USV, about String Theory. He pointed me to a TED Talk by Brian Greene. Which I just watched. And Zander is right, if you have 20 minutes and want to get the essence of string theory down, watch this video. It is great.

Fun Friday: Fall Planning

Panterosa suggested today's fun friday. She sent me this email:

As the 'season' starts here, I wonder how everybody decides which art shows, theater and concerts to attend. It's such a pain to crawl thru event listing in NYC, let alone US or internationally.

I have longed for an art app which can follow artists, galleries, museum, themes and so on, like the Etsy taste map

I have seen a few apps like that but I don't use any of them personally. I do use the Songkick mobile and web apps to keep track of concerts I want to see.

For a broader view of what's going on in NYC, I have long relied on NY Magazine's Fall Preview issue which does a pretty good job of this.

What do all of you do? Let us know in the comments.

The NYC Mayoral Race

Next Tuesday, September 10th, Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls to pick their mayoral candidates for the general election on November 5th. It is possible that no Democrat candidate will get to 40% in the primary and then there will be a runoff.

There are also several independent candidates, including the tech community's very own Jack Hidary.

The Gotham Gal and I have provided financial support to several of the candidates and our giving record is public record. That said, the goal of this post is not to convince any of you to vote for a specific candidate.

What I do recommend is that all NY'ers who read this blog take the time this weekend to watch the excellent video interviews the NY Tech Meetup did with seven of the leading candidates in late July and August. All the videos are here.

If you don't have time for all seven, I would strongly suggest you watch at least five of them, Jack Hidary (I), Christine Quinn (D), Bill de Blasio (D), Joe Lhota (R), and Bill Thompson (D). Each video is thirty minutes.

These videos are as close as many of us will get to a face to face conversation with these candidates between now and election day next week and I believe it is best to know a bit about the candidates before you walk into the polls.

And if I can make another suggestion, I would encourage everyone in the NYC tech community to vote next tuesday.

For a sense of how much of an impact the NY tech community could make in the Democratic primary, consider this. In the 2009 NYC Democratic mayoral primary 330,659 people voted. That's only about 2% of the entire adult population of NYC. It is conventional wisdom that whomever wins the Democratic primary is likely to be the next Mayor of NYC. So 2% of the adult population of NYC will likely determine the next Mayor. That is nuts!

There are over 34,000 members of the NY Tech Meetup. So if 2/3 of us are Democrats (an informed guess), then that means that over 20,000 members of the NY Tech Meetup could vote in the Democratic primary next Tuesday. And that would represent 6% of the total number of voters in the last Mayoral primary. That's not enough to elect the next Mayor but it is enough to prevent a front runner from avoiding a runoff. And it also enough to propel one of the contenders into a runoff.

So please do three things between now and Tuesday; 1) watch the videos, 2) take the time to go to the polls on Tuesday, and 3) please encourage all of your co-workers to do the same. Thank you.

Firefox OS – Initial Reactions

When I got back to my office after some time at the beach I found a GeeksPhone waiting for me. Regular readers will remember that I have been eager to try an all HTML phone. The best option right now is Firefox OS and this GeeksPhone is the first Firefox OS phone I have gotten my hands on. I could barely pay attention to anything else in the office yesterday. All I wanted to do was play with this thing.

This post is all about my first impressions. I won’t focus too much on the hardware since there will be a number of handsets made that run Firefox OS. Instead I will focus on the experience of using an all HTML phone.

I’ll give you the punch line and then work backwards from there. If I had to use this phone because I could not get my hands on something else, I could make it work for me. But there are a bunch of compromises required to use an all HTML phone and at this point, they aren’t worth it for me. Of course, I could have predicted that and so could all of you. But it is one thing to imagine the experience and another to have it first hand.

That said, here’s a tour of the experience. I apologize in advance for some of the photos. I needed to shoot at an angle to avoid the glare of the lights but that caused the screen to show hand marks. I went back and reshot some of the photos but not all of them.

Like Android and iOS, you get a home screen with apps on it. The things is the “apps” are just bookmarks to mobile web apps.

Firefox os home screen

There is a screen with a collection of categories of apps on it which are “pre-loaded”

Firefox os app categories

Here’s a look at the “social” category

Firefox os social category

I went into the marketplace and two of the most popular apps were Twitter and SoundCloud (!!!!!). So I added them.

Here is Twitter

Firefox os twitter

Here is SoundCloud

Firefox os soundcloud

I am not surprised that Twitter and SoundCloud were the two of the most popular apps (along with Wikipedia and Solitaire). They have invested a lot in their mobile web experience and it shows. Both apps work great on the GeeksPhone although the default font size on all the apps is about 2-3 points below what is legible to my old eyes (with glasses on).

The default maps app that comes preloaded on Firefox OS is called HERE.  It looks like this.

Firefox os here maps

Needless to say I have added Google Maps to my home screen since taking these photos. It is much superior to the HERE maps.

My biggest disappointment was email. Gmail sucks on Firefox OS. First of all, I can’t figure out how to get to my priority inbox on the Gmail app in Firefox OS. And the too small font size problem really makes email impossible. And for some reason I keep crashing the Gmail web app on Firefox OS.

Firefox os email

The Google calendar app works a lot better. I decided not to take a photo of that because it reveals all of my meetings today which I did not want to do.

Foursquare works great on Firefox OS

Firefox os foursquare

As does Tumblr

Firefox os tumblr

I did not try the camera out because it requires a memory card and one does not come with the phone. I didn’t have one handy in my work or home office. There are front and back cameras, 8mp on the back, 2mp on the front.

I also did not try out the phone because I did not have a mini sim handy. I suspect it makes calls and texts just fine.

I find the keyboard a bit difficult to use. It is a bit smaller than the android keyboard I use and it is not as responsive as I am used to. I find myself making a lot more typing errors on the Firefox OS phone.

The audio experience is fine. I am listening to music on the Tumblr app right now on the GeeksPhone, something that works really well in Tumblr’s mobile web app but sucks in their native mobile app. And as I said before SoundCloud really shines on this phone.

So who would this phone work well for right now? I suspect anyone who does a lot of texting but very little email would find this phone a decent option. Web apps that have great mobile web versions (Twitter, SoundCloud, Foursquare, Tumblr, etc) really do great on this phone. So maybe a teenager or student who needs an inexpensive smartphone but doesn’t need a ton of productivity apps could make this work.

But I can’t. I really wish I could. The three wishes I have for Firefox OS are; bigger default font size, better keyboard, and get Google to build killer mobile web apps for this phone. If you do that, I will come back and give it another shot. I am so rooting for you.

UPDATE: The team at Sketchfab sent me this 3D embed for the GeeksPhone. It’s cool so I am adding it to this post

Two Plus Two Equals Two Or Four?

The announcement that Microsoft is acquiring Nokia's handset business is a recognition that Windows Phone and Nokia devices are attached at the hip and are in fact one business not two. It is also apparently a recognition that Nokia was running out of cash and needed to do something big.

So now we have three fully integrated mobile OS and handset companies (Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry) and one fully integrated mobile OS and handset company with an OEM ecosystem that is sort of working (Google). Android is open source so we are likely to see it in various flavors (Amazon Android, China Android, etc) for a long time to come. It is also possible that Samsung and others figure out how to fork Android into something they can control and own.

My view is twofold. One, that Microsoft had to do this. The future is in mobile devices not PCs and they need to increase their focus and investment on Mobile. I am not sure this will work, but I also don't see that they had a choice. Two, that this changes nothing. Android and iOS are dominant and becoming ever more so.

My bet is two plus two equals two, not four.

For more excellent analysis, I give you Ben and Ben:

Ben Evans

Ben Thompson

Jobs: Coming or Going?

It's labor day, a day we celebrate the  labor movement and the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the US (from wikipedia). As Obama has said many times, a job is something that everyone needs. It is about pride and self image as much as it is about money.

But we've been losing jobs in the US for years as the manufacturing based economy recedes and relocates and the new industries we are all hoping for are not creating jobs fast enough to replace those that are lost. 

The central question, it seems, is whether these new industries will employ people in the same ways and at the same rate as the lost industries. I fear that they will not. And I am certain that they will not employ unskilled labor at the same rate as the industries we have lost. Software engineers, designers, writers, analysts, etc should be in strong demand for as far as my eye can see. But those who do not have specific skills are in for a much tougher job environment and have been for quite a while. 

I am not sure exactly what to do about all of this other than work like hell to make sure as many of our young people have access to the kind of education that will give them the skills to do the work of the future. As you all know, I am working on that. And so are many others. The good news is that many people realize that's what we need to be doing.

But will that be enough? I don't know. I am not sure anyone does.

Here's what Andy Kessler thinks

Here's what Mark Sigal thinks

Here's what my partner Albert Wenger thinks (he thinks a lot about this issue)

I am curious what you think. 

My Submitted Comment To The SEC On General Solicitation

There was a consensus in the comments to my post on General Solicitation the other day that I should submit my comments to the SEC.

So I did that this morning. My comment has not been posted publicly, but I suspect it will at some point.

This is what I said:

It is my opinion, and that of those who we do business with, including our securities lawyers, that these proposed rules effectively make General Solicitation a non-starter for startup companies. If the SEC's intention, with these proposed additional rules, is to neuter General Solicitation to the point that it is legal but nobody avails themselves of it, they will succeed.

The full blog post is here along with 138 comments at this time

http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2013/08/some-thoughts-on-the-secs-rulemaking-on-general-solicitation.html

Fred Wilson, A Venture Capitalist