Posts from October 2013

A New Front Door For USV

This won't be news to many of you who figured this out a while ago. But USV has a new front door and has had it for a few weeks now. I blogged about the desire for a new back in June of 2012, when we started thinking about what the new website should be. I framed the problem we were trying to solve as:

We started having the conversation all over the place. We've been having the conversation here at AVC since 2003. But we also have the conversation at,, unfinished work,,, and on countless tumblrs, twitters, disqussions, and elsewhere around the web.

You might ask "why did it take you 16 months to build a new website?" and you would be right. When it comes to VCs, do as we say, not as we do 🙂

But seriously, we went down a few dark alleys and it took a while to figure out they were leading nowhere. We ended up with something that some have characterized as a "clone of hacker news" and you would be right to say we were inspired by the design of hacker news in our new website. We hope it is not a clone because if it is, we have contributed nothing new to the Internet.

The new looks like this:

New usv frontpage

First and foremost, it will be a place that we can cross post the things we write from around the web. As you can see, I cross posted my blog from yesterday and it is currently at the top of the feed.

But it is also a public view into the links we are sharing with each other at USV. You can see Andy sharing a post written by our friend Bijan, Brittany sharing a post about the Lanyrd startup story, and me sharing one of my favorite Tumblrs.

Most of all, it is a place for everyone to have a public conversation with USV about the things they think are interesting right now. Anyone can post to the new All you need to do is login with your twitter handle and you are cleared to post.

If you want to show us your new startup, it is cool to pitch us publicly. We would encourage you to use the "Show" syntax, so if you are pitching, start your headline with Show USV: and everyone will know what is going on. Pitching is not spamming at if its done correctly.

New posts go onto the new page not the front page. Many of us at USV and a growing number of others are visiting the new page several times a day and upvoting posts. When you get upvotes and comments, you get onto the home page, and if you post something awesome, you will get the top of the front page. Nothing new here. Reddit, Hacker News, and others have been doing this sort of thing for years. We finally got around to it oursleves.

Nick, who led the effort to get this out the door, along with Zach, Zander, and Brian, wrote a short explanation of why we did this. I have been encouraging him to write a follow up on how, what stack we used, etc. I hope he will do that.

We have some great tools to make it easier to participate on, you can find them on the tools link at the top of the feed. Commenting is powered by Disqus, of course, and we would love to hear your thoughts as often as possible. There is a post bookmarklet, a chrome extension, and an android share app. We will be getting a firefox extension out shortly. And if iOS ever opens up sharing in their OS, we will build an iOS share app.

I hope you'll make the new a place you want to visit regularly and if you are the kind of person who enjoys sharing and posting, please do that. The more the merrier I believe.

#VC & Technology

The Genie and The Bottle

In arabian stories, the Genie is a magic spirit that has powers to do things for you. But if you let it out of the bottle, you can't control it anymore and bad things can happen.

I like to think of this story when I think about startups and technologies that have the potential to be big game changers. The key is to get the Genie out of the Bottle because then they (the incuments and establishment) can't put it back in.

Let's look at Airbnb. There are a lot of folks here in NYC and NY State that don't like Airbnb. It's competition for the hotels. It's unpopular with neighbors who don't want unknown people in their buildings. And, it turns out, it is against the law in NY State.

But you know what? The Genie is out of the bottle. In less than a week over 70,000 people have petitioned NY State to change their laws. And over 9mm people worldwide have stayed in an Airbnb since it was founded a few years ago.

Airbnb is a game changer for people who have a home and need to use it to supplement their income for various reasons. And Airbnb is a game changer for travelers around the world who want to pay less and get more than a hotel room.

I don't think we can put the Airbnb genie back in the bottle at this point. It's out.

So if you have an idea that is truly disruptive and will make a lot of people uncomfortable and against you, the key is to get it out there as quickly as possible. Because if you have millions, or ideally tens of millions or hundreds of millions, of happy users on your side, the forces that will want to shut you down will be unable to do so.

The Genie will be out of the Bottle.


Reading Every Comment

Since the start of AVC, I have read every comment left here. It takes a lot of time and effort to do that, but I think it has been critical to building the kind of community we have here.

It does not scale. Paul Graham advocates doing things that don't scale at the start. He's right. If I had not engaged so deeply in the comments, I don't think this community would have evolved into what it is.

Continuing to read every comment at scale has been very taxing to me personally. Here is what the top of my priority inbox looks like this morning:

Disqus emails

Today is a good day. Only ~100 comments to read to get to a non-comment email. Some days that number is 500. And a lot of those comments are all of you talking to each other. Which I love to see but don't need to moderate.

The truth is I've been skimming through the comments more and more instead of really reading them. How else can you get through 500 comments in the morning?

So I am going to change my tune on this one. I will continue to engage in the comments and read as many as I can, but I am no longer going to attempt to read every single one of them.

This community is so engaged and active now that it can take on the job of moderating the conversation itself. And William and Shana have done a great job of helping me to identify problematic comments, commenters, and spam. They have taken a lot of the moderation load off of me to be honest.

And all of you can help moderate as well. If you hover the mouse over the upper right area of a comment, you will see a flag emerge (see below) and if you click on that flag, you can identify a comment as potentially problematic and the moderators (me, William, and Shana) can take a look at it.

Comment flagging

I would encourage all of you to do that when you see a truly problematic comment since I will be not be looking at every comment every day.

If the community is going to help moderate, then I should be clear about what is acceptable here and what is not.

1) we don't tolerate comment spam. if someone or something (a bot) is posting a link for click-thru or SEO value and nothing more, that is spam and we take it down. 

2) we don't tolerate hate speech or porn

3) we don't like abusive comments, particularly when they are targeted at members of the community. if they are aimed at me, we let them stand. i can take the heat.

4) if it's in the grey area, we let it stand. i believe that muting people, even if they are hard to deal with, is a bad idea. so there is a strong bias to leaving every comment up, as much as we possibly can.

That's it.

My hope is that by taking away the burden of reading every comment, I can spend more time engaging with the best discussions here and that will lead to more of me in the comments and less of me looking at the comments. 

The comments here at AVC are the best thing about this blog. If you don't read past the end of the post, you are doing yourself a big disservice. I get my best ideas, feedback, and inspiration from this community and you can too.


Fun Friday: Big Changes This Year

Arnold's post on Citibike inspired this fun friday.

It got me thinking about what a profound change Citibike has been for me this year. I ride everywhere now. I used to Vespa around town but I haven't had my Vespa on the road for months. A Citibike can get me almost anywhere in lower manhattan in 15 minutes and it is my preferred form of transportation when I am traveling alone.

Is there something that has come along this year and changed things up for you in a major way? If so, what is it?

#Random Posts

Open Science

I saw this tweet from my partner Andy yesterday and immediately clicked through to see what he was talking about

He was talking about an announcement our portfolio company Science Exchange made yesterday. If you don’t want to click thru and read about it, I will summarize here.

Science Exchange is exactly what it sounds like, a marketplace for scientific services where you can find the right resarcher and laboratory to help you complete a research project you are working on.

Yesterday, they announced that The Center For Open Science was making $1.3mm available, via ScienceExchange, to reproduce and validate 50 important cancer biology studies.

I am excited about this for a bunch of reasons; 1) reproducing and validating research is critical, 2) The Center For Open Science is taking a marketplace model to funding this work, and 3) it points to the broader potential for Science Exchange to break down silos, open up research, and lead to better and faster scientific discovery.

As Andy said in his tweet, Open Science really is a thing. A good thing.


USV Goes To The Bay Area

I got up early, even for me, took a car to the airport, and boarded a flight to SFO to join my partners who have been in SF since yesterday. From the moment I land at SFO until the moment I get on a flight back to NYC early friday afternoon, I will be in meetings or dinners or sleeping. 

Our firm makes a twice yearly trek to the bay area. Everyone other than our operations staff comes. We throw a big cocktail party and invite everyone who works at our bay area portfolio companies (if you work for a USV portfolio company in the bay area, I really encourage you to come), we meet privately with a few of our portfolio companies as a group, we meet with a bunch of companies we've been following but are not yet invested in, we have a private dinner for our bay area portfolio CEOs/Senior Teams, and we schedule a bunch of board meetings during this week as well.

We've been doing this for a few years now. It's a good practice and I am glad we do it. We have made 18 investments in the bay area and 15 of them are still active. All but one of our bay area portfolio companies are shown here. That's roughly a third of our portfolio and it represents an important cohort for us. We are not inclined to open a second office anywhere so we need to find ways to get closer to the companies outside of NYC, which is the majority of our portfolio (26 out of our 48 active portfolio companies are outside of NYC).

The VC business tends to collapse the engagement between a venture firm and its portfolio companies to a single relationship, usually the partner who sits on the board of the portfolio company. That is not ideal and Brad and I committed to each other to change that in our firm back when we started USV. We have sat on boards together. We have swapped boards a few times. We build real relationships between the other partners and the leadership teams. We have invested in the USV Network which brings all of our portfolio companies together to help each other. And we bring the entire partnership to the bay area twice a year.

These things matter a lot. It's easy to slip into freelance mode where each partner manages a portfolio of companies and there isn't much interaction between these mini portfolios. I have seen that at many VC firms over the years and it isn't the best way to add value.

We haven't perfected anything and all of this is a work in progress that will never end. But getting out of the office as a partnership and engaging with a bunch of our portfolio companies is a great way to spend a couple weeks a year. And that's what we will be doing this week in San Francisco.

#VC & Technology

Tech Ops As A Metaphor For Building, Running, & Leading A Company

I am giving a short talk at the Velocity Conference this morning in NYC.  The title of this post is the title of the talk. That's because I am putting the finishing touches on the talk this morning. Since I woke up late (6am), I don't really have time to both finish the talk and do a post in the next hour. So, I'll do both at the same time and in the process publish the talk here so that anyone who wants to can get the gist of it.


I am an engineer. And so are most of the folks who work in tech ops. The engineer mindset is to build stuff, scale stuff, and make it work reliably and consistently.

When I was at MIT, I majored in Mechanical Engineering. I loved computers and software but my dad was a mechanical engineer and he encouraged me to study it. So I did.

The mechanical engineering course that really sucked me in was “Systems Engineering” where we learned about large scale systems, how to think about them, build them, and operate them. We learned about the interdependencies between the components in the system and how they could change as the system grew and scaled.

Tech Ops is Systems Engineering as applied to large scale computer systems. All of the foundational systems engineering principles are well understood, practiced, and perfected in a good tech ops team.

Management is also Systems Engineering as applied to a large and growing company.

What I want to talk about today are the similarities between Tech Ops and Management. Some of you, maybe many of you, will someday find yourself starting or leading a company. And I think the work you do on computer systems can be a metaphor for the work you will find yourself doing on people systems.

So here are eight rules for managing both computer systems and people systems along with the language we use to talk about this concept in the world of people systems.

1) things that work well at small scale break at large scale – you need different people, processes, and systems as a company grows

2) you need to instrument your system so you can see when things are reaching the breaking point, well before they break – you need to implement employee feedback systems, ideally real time systems, so you can measure how a team is functioning over time

3) there is always one problematic component in a system that causes the majority of the scaling problems and must be rewritten – team members, particularly super talented ones, that cause friction and pain in the organization need to be transitioned out, no matter what the cost

4) there is no silver bullet to scaling systems – there is no such thing as a “world class CEO” who will solve all of a company’s management problems

5) loose coupling of components is critical, you can’t have one component fail and take down the entire system – build resiliency into your organization, processes, and systems

6) blameless post-mortems are the key to learning from a tech ops crisis – fear driven organizations do not scale

7) over-reacting to a crisis is likely to make it worse – calm in the face of adversity is one of the signature traits of great organizational leaders

8) overbuilt systems are hard to implement, manage, and scale – build the organization you need when you need it, not well in advance of when you need it

I could go on and on. There will be a bunch of great talks today talking about systems engineering concepts that you can and should implement in your organization and system. But as you listen to the talks, I would challenge you to think about what the anlalog to that principal is in managing your organization – your people system. Because it turns out that is the most important system you will manage in your career.


I would like to thank Albert, Jerry, Chad, John, and Kellan for their advice and suggestions on this talk/post.


GameJam NYC

600_289987682Next weekend, at the Made In NYC Media Center, there will be a two day hackathon called GameJam NYC in which teams will be formed and compete to build the coolest mobile web games.

This hackathon is sponsored by TreSensa which makes mobile web game development tools and our portfolio company Kik which has a great platform for distributing mobile web games to almost a hundred million users.

If you like to build games and enjoy hacking on things with other similarly minded people, you should check this event out. It sounds like a lot of fun.

I am a big fan of the mobile web game concept. Write once, read everywhere. I think its time has come.

I hope to make it over there on Sunday afternoon to see what everyone has come up with. That's always a great time.


T-Mobile Rocks

I was a T-Mobile customer for more than a decade from the late 90s until a year or two ago. I really enjoyed the experiece. I didn't know many other T-Mobile customers. That was fine with me.

One by one, my family switched to AT&T. My kids went to AT&T for the iPhone when you had to do that. I am not sure why The Gotham Gal went to AT&T but she did. So I was solo on T-Mobile and managing two bills and two plans. So I joined my family on AT&T. It's been fine, as long as you think $2000 a month for a family plan is OK.

I am going back to T Mobile. Not because AT&T sucks. It doesn't. Not because AT&T costs me a lot of money. It does.

I am going back out of principle. T-Mobile is customer friendly. The others are not. Maybe Sprint, now that it is owned by SOFTBANK, will join T-Mobile in the customer friendly aisle of the mobile carrier church, but right now they are on the other side.

David Pogue nailed it in this post he wrote in the New York Times late last week. Please go read the whole thing. It is great. But this quote from T-Mobile's Chief Marketing Officer sort of sums it all up:

Those other companies sit around trying to figure out what customer charges they can get away with. We sit around and say, ‘What can we get away with not charging the customer'?

Here are some of the customer friendly things T-Mobile does:

1) no international roaming charges. those who read this blog know that i have tried many things over the years to avoid those massive roaming charges. it can be done. i now know how. but if you are a T-Mobile customer you don't have to think about it.

2) no 2 year contract. quit T-Mobile anytime you want

3) don't keep paying the subsidy once you've paid for your phone

If you think all cellphone carriers should act like T-Mobile, I would encourage you to join me on T-Mobile. Because if all of us move to T-Mobile, the other carriers will have no choice to join them in being customer friendly. We can vote with our pocketbooks. We should. I will.