Posts from April 2014

Heartbleed: What Is The Correct Response?

My friend Stephen emailed me and said he’s changing all of his passwords in the wake of the Heartbleed bug.

I thought about that and wondered to myself “what is the appropriate response to this?”. So I thought I’d blog about it today and generate a discussion. I am sure I will learn something from it. And hopefully all of us will.

Is the correct response, as Stephen suggests, to change passwords on every site and app you have a stored password for? Is that even possible? What about that podcasting service I signed up for eight years ago? I can’t even recall what is is called anymore.

Or is it correct to respond to password change requests from the services that recommend that? I just did that on a bunch of services that notified me via email that I should do that.

Or is it correct to scour the Internet for suggestions, like this post on Mashable, and follow their advice?

Or is this the time we should all move to 1password, or something like that, to manage our passwords?

If you use two factor auth, as I do on many services, does that mean you don’t need to change those passwords?

There are a ton of super smart and technical folks who read this blog. What are you doing and what would you recommend we all do?

Gotham Gal 3.0

The Gotham Gal has followed me from TypePad to WordPress and given her blog a refresh. Check it out here.

We both use the same designer, Nathan Bowers, so our blogs have always had a similar look and feel. They look even more similar now, particularly on the phone.

I love the elegance and simplicity of both blogs on my phone. It has become my primary reading device and it’s where I read AVC and Gotham Gal (and comment) most frequently.

I think Gotham Gal looks particularly good on the tablet. I’m a bit jealous of that. I may have to talk to Nathan about that 🙂

Anyway, we have both now gone through the typepad to wordpress conversion and all that entails, we’ve got new his and her blogs, and we are pretty happy about all of that.

Thanks Nathan.

The Mobile Downturn

I woke up to this post by Chris Dixon in my Tumblr. Chris states:

Apps have a rich-get-richer dynamic that favors the status quo over new innovations.

He’s right about that and he’s right about a bunch of other things in his post as well.

We did a portfolio review at USV yesterday. We spent two hours staring at our portfolios on the big screen in our main conference room. We have three early stage vintages that are fully invested, 2004, 2008, and 2012. We talked about the macro environment during which we invested and developed these three portfolios and there was a palpable sense that the wide open period of innovation during which we invested the 2004 and 2008 funds was not as present in the 2012 fund investment period. We have a bunch of great investments in the 2012 fund, but we took safer bets and the result will likely be more wins and less strikeouts but also less home runs. Did we change our appetite for risk in our most recent early stage fund? It wasn’t conscious. We didn’t change our investment strategy. We didn’t tell each other that we wanted to take less risk. But it sure feels like we did.

My partner Brad hypothesized that it had something with the rise of native mobile apps as the dominant go to market strategy for large networks in the past four to five years. So Brian pulled out his iPhone and I pulled out my Android and we took at trip through the top 200 apps on our respective app stores. And there were mighty few venture backed businesses that were started in the past three years on those lists. It has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser.

Chris mentions something else in his post that, to me, is a big bright spot on the horizon:

Most worrisome: they reject entire classes of apps without stated reasons or allowing for recourse (e.g. Apple has rejected all apps related to Bitcoin)

Let’s go back and revisit the big innovations on the commercial Internet over the past twenty years. TCP/IP, HTTP, The Browser, Search, Social, Mobile, Blockchains. Each one of those innovations drove an investment cycle. Our 2004 fund was built during social. Our 2008 fund was built during social and the emergence of mobile. Our 2012 fund was built during the mobile downturn. And our 2014 fund will be built during the blockchain cycle. I am looking forward to it.

My friend Adam tweeted this in the wake of my The Search For The Next Platform post. I don’t know if it was a reaction to it, but that’s how I interpreted it. I agree completely with Adam.


In tech investing, we get booms when a new cycle emerges and downturns as it matures and consolidation of economics happens (think Microsoft in the late 80s/early 90s). The downturn is always followed by something radical and new that starts on the fringe and becomes mainstream. Timing all of these things is hard. But it is what we have to do.

SHIP @ St Joseph’s – A Summer Coding Program In NYC

The godfather of K-12 computer science education in NYC is Mike Zamansky. Almost 25 years ago, Mike left a programming job at Goldman Sachs and become a NYC public school teacher. A few years later, in the mid 90s, he started the CS program at NYC’s Stuyvesant High School. The NY tech sector is full of software engineers who got their first taste of coding in Mike’s classes at Stuy. He’s an inspiration to me and one of the unsung heroes of the NYC tech sector. The raw material of any tech sector is talent and Mike creates home grown talent. They might leave NYC to go to college, but many of them come home to start their careers. We need more of this and that’s what CSNYC is all about. And Mike was instrumental in getting me to take this thing on a few years ago when I saw what he had built at Stuy.

Anyway, Mike is running a summer coding program at St Joseph’s College in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn. It is called SHIP @ St Joseph’s. It’s a four week program that lasts the month of July. I believe it is focused on high school students but it could be available to a wider range of students. If you are interested in learning more, go here. If you want to apply, go here.

My Nightmare

I don’t normally remember my dreams but I remember my dream last night. We were celebrating the sale of a company in which the founders and investors had done very well. During the course of the celebration the founders explained that they sold the company because they have a bigger and better idea that they plan to do next. I asked them if they would allow us to invest in their company and they said they would consider it but that the seed round was going to be priced at $140mm pre money. I had a tantrum and stormed out. That was when I woke up.

I don’t really know what that says about the state of my mind or the anxieties I experience. But it felt like a betrayal. A slap in the face. We had worked closely together and had gotten to a very successful outcome and now the result was a crazy price that we would have to pay to stay in business together. It pissed me off.

Valuation is just a number. It’s the price you pay for your shares. You don’t know if you got a good deal for a while, but eventually you will know. But valuation is also a psychological thing. It says how much you value a person. How much an entrepreneur is valued in the market. And how much an investor is valued in the market. The clearing price reflects both sides of the transaction.

I guess that’s why that dream woke me up.

Video Of The Week: Gary Vaynerchuck

I had lunch this week with my friend Gary Vaynerchuck. He’s got such great energy and hustle. It made me think “I should post a Gary video this weekend”

So I watched a bunch of them on YouTube and I liked this one the best. It’s about 40mins long.

Feature Friday: Voice Search For Your TV

So Amazon launched its over the top TV device this week called Amazon Fire TV. I took some time today to look it over.

It looks a lot like the AppleTV and Roku devices that many of us have.

But there is one  feature that Amazon Fire TV has that AppleTV and Roku don’t have and that is voice search.

voice search

It is unlikely that any of us have this device in our homes yet, but I thought it might make for an interesting discussion today.

Does talking to your TV sound like a better experience than picking up a remote and pointing it at the TV? Will the experience actually work. Or will it be another Siri that is more frustrating than helpful?

I am going to get one and try it out. But I’m curious what folks think about this voice search feature.

Some Thoughts On Tweeting Vs Blogging

I thought for a second on April 1st about writing a post that said I was giving up blogging in favor of tweeting. I held back because its closer to the truth than I want to admit. And one should not dance too close to the truth on April 1st.

Tweeting is easier than blogging. It was that single insight that led me to email Evan Williams back in the spring/summer of 2007 and ask him if he’d allow USV to invest in Twitter. Thankfully he responded to that email and Ev and Jack did allow us to do that.

I had been blogging for almost four years at that point and was completely sold on the huge benefits that come from publicly sharing your insights, opinions, and decisions. I would advocate blogging to everyone. And folks would try it. And that vast majority of them (way greater than 90%) would not be able to sustain it. So when tweeting showed up, I thought “well this has most of the benefits of blogging but is at least 10x easier”. And then I wrote the email. Most good investment decisions are not more complicated than that.

So why have I continued to blog every day when plenty of people have moved to tweeting and get similar benefits? Well for one, I am a creature of habit and routine and hate breaking things that are working for me. And second, I like to work things out on the page. It’s a puzzle to me. 140 characters is a challenge but ten paragraphs is a bigger challenge. And finally, because you can express yourself more fully in a blog post than a tweet (or a tweet stream).

I see blogging as fodder for my twitter activity. I write the post, tweet it out, and, just like the comments at the end of this post, stuff comes back at me. Like these from the past week:

and

 

and

 

I really like feedback and discussion. When I give a talk, the first thing I do after the talk  is look at the tweetstream to see what resonated with the audience. It’s like a comedian working out her best material. You get immediate feedback on what was good. I always assume the rest was not.

So I could move from blogging to tweeting. And god knows I’ve been tempted many times over the years. But I don’t think I will, at least anytime soon. I’ve come up with a mechanism to make both work for me, together, and I think that combination is more powerful than using either of them solo.

Teaching Computer Science To High School Students On The Way To Work

Last year I posted an almost identical title and the result is that about half of the software engineers working in the TEALS program in NYC were recruited from this blog. That makes me feel great and I would like to thank those 20 or so software engineers who read that blog post and went through the entire TEALS onboarding process and are now in a high school classroom teaching CS.

Here is a quick reminder of how TEALS works. A high school decides they want CS in their curriculum. They decide if they want an Intro to CS or an AP CS class or both. The school selects some of their teachers to formally teach this class. Those teachers are then paired with software engineers who volunteer their time (usually twice a week, first period, on their way to work) to actually teach the class. The pairing of the working software engineer and the professional teacher is the genius of the TEALS program. It is a hack on the system that gets the software engineer, the subject matter expert, into the classroom without having to deal with teacher credentialing. It also means the software engineer can deliver the lessons without having to deal with classroom management, homework, testing, etc. And, most importantly, in most cases the professional teacher who is paired with the software engineer is able to teach the class on their own after a couple years of pair teaching the class with the software engineer.

Here are some facts and figures on TEALS in NYC:

TEALS partnered with 9 high schools in NYC in 2013-2014, serving nearly 300 students.
40 NYC volunteers from 30+ companies including Google, Etsy, NYTimes, Kickstarter, Yext and Amplify.
Based on our 1st semester data:
Before the course, 87% of TEALS NYC students reported they were not proficient in any programming language.
After the 1-semester intro course, 90% of TEALS NYC students reported they felt they had average or above average programming skills.
All or almost all partner schools will return, half of them adding a 2nd course
Blog Post from one of our NYC schools about TEALS: http://www.ewsis.org/tealsk12

I love the TEALS program and our non-profit, CSNYC, is helping the TEALS program expand in NYC by providing financial and other assistance.  We hope to significantly grow the number of students and high schools in NYC that are participating in TEALS and so we need another 40+ software engineers to volunteer. If you are so inclined, well thank you, and here is how to learn more:

Info Session #1: Tuesday 4/15 @ Relay GSE – http://teals-nyc-relay.eventbrite.com/

Info Session #2: Thursday 4/24 @ Microsoft – http://teals-nyc-msft.eventbrite.com/

Volunteer Info: tealsk12.org/volunteers

Volunteer Application: tealsk12.org/apply

I know there are a lot of software engineers in NYC who read this blog. I am very grateful for all that you do for the companies you work for (including many, maybe all, NYC based USV portfolio companies). So it’s hard to ask you to do even more. But I can promise you this. Teaching kids to code is rewarding. It is important. It makes me feel good. And I think it will make you feel good too.

Fads and Phases

Alyson Shontell quoted me in a BI story yesterday. The quote was exactly what I said:

I think a lot of what we’re seeing is a reaction to Facebook and how Facebook was so dominant as a social platform for the past 5-10 years. The things that Facebook forced you to do — to use your real name, to post something publicly that everybody could see…these are things that people ultimately had a bad reaction to. I think all of this might just be a phase we’re going through…I think the public mood shifts, I think that a lot of it was the Facebook model was the dominant model for a long time and I think a lot of people are now interested in these other models. I like to think [trends like anonymous apps] will have their run and then there’ll be something else.

I guess its up to interpretation whether I called this a “phase” or a “fad” but I most certainly don’t think these anonymous apps are a fad. Chat Roulette was a fad. Facebook was a phase. These anonymous apps are more likely a phase than a fad.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, I can go to yoga.