Posts from January 2014

You Are Not Your Work

My friend Gary said this to me the other day in an email. He wasn’t talking about me but he could have beeen. Last night I went to bed thinking about my work, dreamt about my work, and woke up thinking about my work. It’s been that way for me since I started Flatiron in the mid 90s. To some extent it’s been that way for me since college. Fortunately I have the Gotham Gal and three awesome kids to keep me from going fully into the fire. I spent the past four days skiing wtih my family and some new friends and enjoyed it immensely. If anything I am letting my work sit idle in my brain more these days than I have in a long time.

What Gary was talking about when he wrote those words to me was failure. And when you are your work, your failure at work is personal. Deeply personal. When Flatiron melted down after four great years and one awful one, it was painful. I went to see a therapist for the first time in my life. It was the best thing I could have done. I had been to see coaches but I had not taken the deeper dive into what was driving me. A few years later I was energized and Brad and I started USV.

Failure can sow the seeds of success. It did for me. It did for Mark Pincus when he turned the failure of Tribe into the success of Zynga. It has done the same for countless others. But to get through failure, you need to be able to separate who you are and what your work is.

One of my favorite lines from an entrepreneur came from Rob Kalin. I am sure I’ve shared it here a few times. He said “I am an artist. Making websites is my medium right now” That’s a helpful way for entrepreneurs to think about their work. They are the painter. Some paintings will hang in the MOMA and others will sit gathering dust in a storage room. Not every thing you create will be brilliant. But you can be brilliant while still making work that isn’t, particularly if you understand why the work that wasn’t great wasn’t great.

Jerry ended his amazing post with the observation that “I have to understand this viscerally if I’m going to be of service to my clients”. When your work is servicing entrepreneurs, it is actually pretty easy to “understand this viscerally”. Their failure is your failure. Their success is your success. Their work is your work. But it is not you.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology - areas of interest

I spent some time analyzing the top tags used to post stories on Here is the tag cloud:


There are some redundant terms in the tag cloud (ie startups/startup), so I put the tags into a spreadsheet and cleaned it up a bit.

startups 172 interest areas: companies:
bitcoin 166 bitcoin google
mobile 117 mobile apple
vc/venture capital 92 privacy/surveillance twitter
privacy/surveillance/nsa 90 education facebook
marketing/growth 65 cloud amazon
google 49 health
funding/pitch 47 security
education 46 crowfunding
technology 45
entrepreneurship 36
android 34
apple 34
twitter 34
facebook 29
cloud 27
health 27
design 26
amazon 25
media 25
security 24
crowdfunding 22

This data is not what is most interesting and relevant to USV, although it includes USV as a subset. This is what is most interesting and relevant to the community of people who are using I suppose our areas of interest and focus impact that quite a bit, but it’s worth noting that this is a larger sample size than just the USV team.

Clearly, things like startups, venture capital, growth, and funding are going to be at the top of the list. That is our business and the business of the entrepreneurs who largely make up the USV community.

But what is more interesting is what interest areas are top of mind. Those are bitcoin, mobile, privacy/surveillance, education, cloud, health, security, and crowdfunding. We think of mobile and cloud as the important enabling technologies of the moment we are in. The rest are markets that we are talking about and thinking a lot about right now.

So is a good mirror reflection of what is interesting and relevent to USV right now. That’s a good thing.

#VC & Technology

Investing In Startups In Europe

One of the big european tech conferences starts today. It’s called DLD and my partner Albert is giving a talk there tomorrow. The last big european tech conference was LeWeb and I gave a talk there. You might wonder why we fly across the pond to attend and talk at these events.

The answer, as Sten Tamkivi explains in TechCrunch, is that europe is a great place to invest in startups. Sten lists five reasons that european startups are exciting:

1) Talent

2) New Models

3) 400 million customers

4) Global skills

5) Security and privacy

I agree with all of those but to me the biggest thing is european entrepreneurs have fully made the change from locally focused to globally focused and are mostly now building businesses that can and do serve a global user base from day one.

At USV, we have made nine investments in europe since 2008 when we started investing there. That is roughly 20% of our total investment activity in those six years. Contrast that with the bay area, where we have made thirteen investments during the same period.

It is way easier to invest in europe from New York City than the Bay Area and that is something we have taken advantage of. And I am not sure that Silicon Valley can or will pay a huge amount of attention to Europe. But that is an opportunity for us. And we are taking advantage of it.

#VC & Technology

Video of the Week: Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson on Andy Warhol

There is a part of this interview that’s really great. About 3:40mins into this video Charlie Rose asked Lou about “work” and the next 2 1/2 minutes is a discussion about Andy Warhol, working hard, and being productive as the key to making an impact. I’ve found that to be true in my life as well.


Feature Friday: Open In Drive

One of my favorite features of Gmail is the ability to get a file (.xls, .doc, .ppt, .pdf, etc, etc) and have the option to open that file in Google Drive. It is that single feature that allowed me several years ago to remove all desktop software from my machines and use only cloud based software.

However, recently Google changed the way that feature works and I can’t figure out how to (or even it is possible) revert back to the old way.

Now, Google offers two choices, download or “save to drive”, as shown below


The irritating part of this new set of choices is that I don’t want to download the file and most of the time I don’t want to save it to drive either. But now, if you want to open in drive, you must first save to drive, and then open in drive.

You might say that’s not a big deal. Two clicks instead of one. But it is a bit more than that. First it seems to me that it takes longer to go through the new save/open flow than it used to take to just open. Second, I really don’t want to clutter up my Drive with all of these attachments that mostly I just want to read. If I do want to save them, I could always have done that in the old flow after opening the attachment.

I suppose this is all part of Google’s desire to have you save everything so you can search for it later. I appreciate that to some extent, but there is so much that I just want to view and delete, emails, attachments, and many other things. Google is making it harder to do that and I don’t really appreciate that.

If anyone knows if it is possible to go back to the old flow, I would love to hear how.

#email hacks

Speed Networking

I attended the Woman Entrepreneurs Festival yesterday. It was a great event. The video archives are here if you want to see what it was all about.

I had to leave after lunch to meet some folks at my office, so I missed the “speed networking event”. The Gotham Gal said this in her opening talk – “last year we heard from the attendees that they wished they had met more people. so this year we are going to force you to meet more people. we will be doing a speed networking event this afternoon”. I wondered what that would be like.

Well this is what it was like.

I gather every five or ten minutes, they would instruct everyone to switch and a similar scene would unfold. Seems like a great way to get people to network.


VC Pitches In A Year Or Two

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a better streaming music service. It leverages the data on what you and your friends currently listen to, combines that with the schedule of new music launches and acts that are touring in your city in the coming months and creates playlists of music that you should be listening to in order to find new acts to listen to and go see live.

VC: Well since Spotify, Beats, and Apple have paid all the telcos so that their services are free on the mobile networks, we are concerned that new music services like yours will have a hard time getting new users to use them because the data plan is so expensive. We like you and the idea very much, but we are going to have to pass.

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a service that curates the funniest videos from all across the internet and packages them up in a 30 minute daily video show that people will watch on their phones as they are commuting to work on the subway. It’s called SubHumor.

VC: Well since YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix have paid all the telcos so that their services are free via a sponsored data plan, I am worried that it will hard to get users to watch any videos on their phones that aren’t being served by YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. We like you and your idea very much, but we are going to have to pass.

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a photo sharing service where the faster your friends like the photos, the faster they disappear. It’s gamified social snapchat.

VC: Well since Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have paid the telcos so the photos that are served up in their apps don’t use up any of the data plan, I worry that users won’t want to use any other photo sharing services since they will have to pay high data costs to use them. We love your idea and would have funded it right here in the meeting back in the good old days of the open internet, but we can’t do that anymore. We are passing.

This is Internet 3.0. With yesterday’s court ruling saying that the FCC can not implement the net neutrality rules they adopted a while back, this nightmare is a likely reality. Telcos will pick their preferred partners, subsidize the data costs for those apps, and make it much harder for new entrants to compete with the incumbents.


Women Entrepreneurs Festival 2014

The fourth annual Womens Entrepreneur Festival starts this evening and continues all day tomorrow. The Gotham Gal and her friend Nancy Hechinger, who is on the faculty at NYU’s ITP program, are the founders and festival chairs.

The goal of the WE Festival is “to sow the seeds for a community of women entrepreneurs, to expose women who have not yet taken the entrepreneurial leap to women who have.” This year’s theme is “be bold” and we all know that being bold is a requirement for entrepreneurship (and life I would argue).

This year’s event, like the three before it, is sold out and has been for months. But, if you could not get in, can’t make it to NYC, or are just learning about it, you can watch the whole thing live or later on the livestream. The conference opens with a keynote this evening at 6pm eastern by Anne-Marie Slaughter who wrote one of the most talked about pieces on woman and work titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All“. You can watch it live or later here.

Though USV is allergic to sponsoring events, we make an exception for things that can move the needle where the needle needs to be moved and growing the community of women entrepreneurs is certainly in that camp. So USV is proud to be a sponsor of WE4 and the livestream.

I will be at Anne-Marie’s keynote and I will be at the WE Festival all day tomorrow. If you are going, I will see you there.


Bitcoin - Getting Past Store Of Value and Currency

Lightspeed India has a post with ten predictions for Bitcoin in 2014. It’s a good read and I agree with many of them. But prediction number 7 is the one I am most interested in right now:

7. The use of Bitcoin will evolve beyond ‘store of value’ or ‘transactions’

The underlying Bitcoin protocol makes itself applicable beyond the use cases of ‘store of value’ and ‘payments’. The Bitcoin foundation took a huge step in allowing meta data to be included in the blockchain. This will unlock a lot of innovation and maybe even prompt regulators to acknowledge the potential of Bitcoin, making it all the more difficult for them to shut it down or suppress it. As one can see from the current Bitcoin ecosystem map ( that there are almost no start-ups, which solely use the protocol without using the ‘coin’ or the ‘currency’ as a function. 2014 will be the first year to see some of these.

I think there have been three phases to Bitcoin so far

1) Bitcoin emerges, community develops, mining, wallets

2) Bitcoin vice, silk road, etc

3) Speculation, trading, collecting, price spike

I think the next two phases will be/need to be

4) Commerce – real people buying real stuff with Bitcoin

5) Bitcoin as infrastructure – this is what prediction number 7 is all about. When will we see entrepreneurs coming to USV to talk about the marketplace for XYZ that they build on top of the Bitcoin architecture?

Soon I hope. I would like it to happen today actually.

#hacking finance#marketplaces

The AVC Word Cloud

On thursday, I stopped by and saw this post:


I clicked on the link and it took me here. Turns out Asish Datta of Setfive Consultingmade a word cloud using the raw words on AVC since launch in 2003. For 2013, the word cloud looks like this:


The dark blue are words that did not appear in the top 100 the year before. You can see word clouds for all eleven years of AVC here.

But possibly more interesting than the word clouds is the table below the word clouds that lists the roughly top 300 words over those eleven years and the years they were popular and when they were not. You can see that here.

As my partner Brad pointed out at, words like company, investing, business, etc are not particularly interessting or revealing. But there is a lot of signal below that noise. One way to see it is to look at just the company names in the table and see when they were on my mind and when they were not. Only Google and Twitter have managed to make it in the top 100 every year they and AVC were around, for example.

Asish (or someone else as he’s open sourced the code and data here) could do some additional work on this and come up with some pretty interesting observations. I would like to thank Asish for this great work and in particular for open sourcing it so others can work on it if they would like. That’s awesome.