Posts from 2013

Hour Of Code

This is CS Ed Week and this year we are celebrating it with an Hour Of Code. The idea is to get every student to spend an hour this week writing code. 

If you want to do this with your kids (at home or in school), here are some resources to try:

The Codecademy Hour of Code iPhone app - download this on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and learn the basics of coding in an hour. As many of you know, Codecademy is a USV portfolio company and millions of people have used Codecademy to start learning to code. – has built tutorials for teachers who want to do an hour of code in their classrooms. is a non-profit dedicated to bringing CS to schools all around the country and they are leading the Hour Of Code effort nationwide.

Other resources – there are a host of resources out there, like Scratch, Scalable Game Design, CodeHS, Globaloria, and Tynker that you can use to teach the hour of code to your students.

In other CS Ed news, Obama endorsed CS Ed and the Hour Of Code in this video yesterday.

And the city of Chicago announced that they will integrate CS Ed broadly in their schools so that every student gets the opportunity to learn coding skills.

And last but not least, in NYC, Chancellor Wolcott announced a $1mm program to train over 100 teachers in the curriculcum. This program is a partnership between CSNYC,, NYC EDC, and NYC DOE, all of which participated in the funding. If you want to help support this effort, we are raising money for CSNYC so that we can fund more programs like this in NYC. Our crowdrise fundraising page is here.

Yesterday was a big day for CS Ed. Everyone should celebrate CS Ed week by doing an hour of code with your kids. This is an important effort that is now getting the attention it deserves. 

#hacking education

The Government Surveillance Letter

Note: The website this post is about is now down. I am not sure if that means this thing was a hoax or something along those lines. Regardless, I believe the sentiments expressed on the website are correct and that Internet companies, large and small, should ban together to express them.

Sometime last night, a letter to the President of the United States and Congress was published on the Internet. It was signed by eight of the largest Internet companies; Apple, AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo!

The website where the letter is hosted outlines five principles for government surveiilance:

1) sensible limitations on government's ability to compel service providers to disclose user data

2) checks and balances, including court oversight

3) transparency about government demands

4) letting information flow freely, particularly across national boundries

5) cooperation between governments to create multi-national treaties

I wholeheartedly support these five goals. These issues do not only impact large Internet companies. They impact all Internet companies. When you get a National Security Letter, you have no choice but to comply, even if it violates everything you and your company stand for.

It is time for governments around the world to rethink how they go about spying on us, particularly with the help of companies, both large and small.

#Current Affairs#Politics

Mobile Shopping

I've been doing some holiday shopping. I like to do all my shopping online. I don't really enjoy being in stores and I like the convenience of having the items delivered to me.

This holiday season, I've been trying to shop more on mobile, both phone and tablet. I am doing this partly because I want to see what the experience is like and partly because as I spend more time shopping on mobile, I realize it's easier in some ways.

It feels to me that as a reaction to the shrinking real estate that is available in mobile, particularly phones, designers have made the user experiences simpler and more intelligent. Features that were smart on the web, like recommendations, become essential on mobile.

My favorite holiday shopping service remains Etsy. I know I am talking my book here as USV has owned a large stake in Etsy since 2006 and I am on the board. But the things you can find and buy on Etsy are one of a kind, special, and ridiculosly affordable. 

In previous years, I found Etsy on the web preferable to Etsy on tablets and phones. Not this year. I just spent twenty minutes on Etsy's android app and completed most of my holiday shopping. If you try some holiday shopping on their mobile apps, you can download them here.

I'm curious if others are feeling this same way. Has the mobile shopping experience become better than the web shopping experience for you too?


Some New Features on

I am taking a break from video of the week this weekend to talk about the work of Kevin Marshall and Nick Grossman on After the USV team built and launched, Nick and Kevin did a rewrite of the core web app and then open sourced it. Since then, they and others have been iterating on the open source code base and they have implemented a bunch of new features which launched yesterday. Many of these features are ones that I have been begging for and ones that members of the AVC community have been asking for. Kevin lays out a list of the big ones in a blog post he wrote this morning.

First of all, we believe we have gotten integration between's profiles (based on Twitter auth) and Disqus working. If that turns out to be true, then I owe Kevin and Nick a dinner at any restaurant of their choice in NYC. And I will be glad to pay that debt because this has been a nagging issue for the new since we launched it.

Beyond that, here are a few features I am excited about. Tag cloud

Usv tag cloud

This shows the topics that the USV community is talking about most. Since #startups and #startup are the same thing, that would jump to #2, and since #vc and #venturecapital are the same thing, that would jump to #3. A feature request would be to map some frequently used tags together that mean the same thing so that this tag cloud could become even more valuable.

User Profiles:

Fred's profile on usv

This shows the tag cloud of what I have been posting about, my posts, and there are tabs to see the posts I have bumped, and some other things. This is the beginning of a reputation system at You can see yours by clicking on your twitter handle when you are logged in at the upper right of the main page.

Showing Bumpers:

I can't figure out how to screencapture this feature, but when you hover over the votes link on a post, you can see everyone who has bumped it. This works pretty much like the same feature on Disqus.

There are a bunch more features that I am happy to have and Kevin outlines all of them in his post. I would like to thank Kevin and Nick for all the work they have been doing on It has been getting better and better and this recent push takes it to a new level. If you haven't been there lately, I would suggest you go check it out.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Weblogs

Feature Friday: Personal Hangouts

I have had a personal conference calling bridge number since the mid 90s. I know the number by heart. I give it out all the time via email, text, and kik. It does not require a participant code. When I type my host code, we are all connected. I have not found a better model for voice conference calls in the almost twenty years I have been using this number.

But more and more I am doing hangouts instead of calls. And I want the same experience for hangouts. It used to be possible to get a "static URL" for a Google Hangout but this feature was dropped at some point. You can get a permalink for an event but it ends on the date of the event.

What I'd like to do is get a permalink for a Google Hangout that is mine and always mine. Then I will shorten it via the USV link shortener and I can pass it out via email, text, kik, etc and Hangouts will become as easy for me as conference calls have been for the past twenty years.

I am curious if anyone has figured out a way to make this happen.


Maintaining High Maintenance

The New Yorker gives high praise for this web video series called High Maintenance. The episodes are short (~5min) and there are eleven episodes in all. It is about a pot dealer who rides around NYC and meets all sorts of strange and outrageous people. This bit from the lead actor in the New Yorker piece rings true to me after I watched a bunch of episodes last night:

The thing about weed is, we didn’t want to use it as a punch line. Instead, it’s this substance that, like chocolate, causes people to expose their own foibles. People become so human in pursuit of this thing. And the interaction they have with the person bringing it is often tragic, because there are a lot of lonely people out there who order it and then that is their human interaction for the day.

But here's the part of the New Yorker article that has me thinking outloud this morning.

When I spoke with Sinclair and Blichfeld recently, they were on the West Coast signing a script deal with a major network, newly on the path to converting “High Maintenance” into a full-length cable show.

It's a bit upsetting to me that the "major leagues" for filmmakers, writers, and actors who make it on the web is still the cable business. Why can't entrepreneurs build something that will work better for emerging web filmmakers than that? We have investments in Kickstarter and VHX, both of which are changing the game for filmmakers. We are also big fans of Vimeo, where High Maintenance is hosted.

But this High Maintenance story tells me that we haven't yet built enough technology, distribution, and monetization systems so that filmmakers can be truly independent and realize their vision and have the financial sucess that should come with great work.

So there is more to do here.


The Goodlatte Patent Bill

Yesterday the White House came out in favor of Rep Bob Goodlatte's patent bill. This is a good thing.

The Goodlatte bill doesn't have everything in it that we would like to see in a bill aimed at reducing the pain that patent trolls inflict on the innovation economy, but it is a good start and I think it can get improved in conference with the Senate.

One thing that was taken out of the Goodlatte bill that we would like to see put back in during the conference with the Senate is the broadening of the covered business method patent review process to include all business method patents.

In the five plus years that we have been working to educate government officials about the blight that patent trolls have wreaked on the startup sector, I have seen a huge shift. We have gone from elected officials being ignorant about this issue, to be aware of it, to now being as outraged as we are about the troll issue. That's a good thing and the result, I think, will be better laws and better processes to out bad patents and bad actors in the system. This is long overdue but welcome nonetheless.


My Idiosyncratic View Of The World

Jeff Wise has a piece in this week's NY Magazine about teaching kids to code which features my partner Albert's home school and great programs like and Girls Who Code. It also talks about the work my colleagues and I are doing to bring CS education to all of NYC's public schools.

Jeff ends the piece with this observation:

Like much tech-world philanthropy, the tech schools are arriving as a fiat from on high, rather than welling up from grassroots demand, and it’s easy to read the education evangelism as motivated, at least in part, by a desire to mainstream techies’ own idiosyncratic way of looking at the world.

Pardon me, but that accusation stings. "A fiat from on high?"  "A desire to mainstream our idiosyncracies?"

No good deeed goes unpunished. I know that. But this critique seems so out of left field.

My idiosyncratic view of the world is a place where we all understand how to control the machines that are increasingly controlling our world. It is a place where kids who are headed to flipping hamburgers for a living get an option to do something a bit more stimulating. It is a place where we all have the tools to make things that make our lives better.

Now that I've got that out of my system, I will go do some yoga.

#hacking education

Sticking With The Struggling Investments

My friend Bijan tweeted this last week:

He's right, but I would go further. One of the hardest things to do in the venture business is to stick with a struggling investment.

I woke up thinking about this as I spent yesterday with Josh watching the hapless Jets lose badly to the Dolphins and then heading up to MSG to watch the equally hapless Knicks lose to the Pelicans. It is tempting to stop watching both teams and sell off our seats at MSG for the rest of the year. But we aren't going to do that and we will sit loyally and watch loss after loss at the Garden if that's what comes for the rest of the year. We are fans, even if our team sucks. And they sure do right now.

It is equally tempting to write off a failing investment and stop showing up at board meetings, stop responding to the emails from the founder, and stop thinking about the company. At some point, the company will run out of money, there won't be a reason to put more money into the company, and the investment will fail. Until that happens, as long as the founder is willing to listen to you, I think you have to give your struggling investments your all.

The truth is the investments that are working often don't need that much from an investor. They need more capital, they need recruiting help, and sometimes they need strategy and advice. But the reason they are having success is they are doing the right thing and doing things right. On the other hand, the struggling investment needs a lot of help. And I think the lead investor board member has an obligation to provide that help.

One of the characteristics of USV that I am most proud of is that we stick with our struggling investments. And we have made a lot of them. We have way more of them than our successful ones that are always cited when we are talked about publicly. I think how you treat your struggling investments says more about you than how many billion dollar exits you have had. You need both to be successful in the VC business, of course. The latter metric defines your selection acumen. The former defines your empathy acumen. And when I pick people to work with, I look for the latter. I suspect most people do that.

This is not a new theme. I've written about this here before. But it is an important theme for me and for entrepreneurs and investors. As we headed out last night to MSG Josh said to me, "I am not feeling good about this game". I told him I wasn't either, but all we could do was root them on as hard as we could. We did that. And we will do that again on Thursday when they head out to Brooklyn to play the Nets. We will be there too. That's what fans do and what investors should do too.

#NYC#Sports#VC & Technology

Large Networks, Big Data, And Healthcare

Zander posted this NY Times opinion piece to yesterday and it's been rattling around in my head since then. The author suggests that big data is coming to health care and bringing with it many issues that will have to be resolved. I am sure that is so. But I also think the intersection of big data and health care and our large networks thesis is likely to produce some interesting investment opportunities for us and some valuable health care services for consumers.

Jason Karlawish, the author of the NY Times opinion piece, writes:

This is a revolutionary shift. Once upon a time, medicine was a discipline based on the nuanced diagnosis and treatment of sick patients. Now, Big Data, networked computers and a culture obsessed with knowing its numbers have moved medicine from the bedside to the desktop (or laptop). The art of medicine is becoming the science of an insurance actuary.

The question is who will control the input of the patient data, the aggregated data sets, and the results the data science produces. If the answer is the current healthcare system; the insurance companies, the hospitals, and the doctors, then we will have missed a big opportunity to reshape healthcare. If, on the other hand, the data is entered by patients, controlled by patients, and benefits patients, then we would have something new, different, and disruptive.

Large networks of patients coming together to do this data science together and benefit together feels like its around the corner and coming fast.  Maybe some enterprising entepreneur will take this "Omnibus Risk Calculator" put it into a clean and simple web service, allow us to connect our phones and connected devices to it, and peer produce a service that we can, together, use to manage our cardiovascular health. Maybe someone has already done that.

#hacking healthcare