Video Of The Week: The Berlin Conversation

Last month, my partner Brad and I found ourselves in Berlin at the same time. We decided to do an event for entrepreneurs in Berlin with the help of the folks from Tech Open Air Berlin. We rented a space, brought in some entertainment and food, and then had an hour long conversation about technology, startups, trends, and a little bit about Germany and Berlin.

Brad and I started USV together in 2003 and we’ve worked closely together for over a decade now. We rarely (if ever) do public appearances together so this was a pretty special event for us. I think this video does a good job of showing how each of us comes at the issues from a different place but get to the same answers most of the time. It’s been a very successful partnership and I think this video shows some of why that is.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Tom Labus

    Wow! You guys were so animated and there were good questions. Thanks

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, the interviewer came prepared which makes a huge difference

  2. iggyfanlo

    Congrats to both of you. Fred, I don’t know you but the way you speak of your relationships with the Gotham Gal, Brad, Albert and lost others spells volumes

    1. fredwilson

      thanks Iggy

  3. Mr. Coward

    Hi Fred, has anyone ever told you that you bear an uncanny resemblance to Dr. Leonard McCoy from Star Trek TOS? Am I alone in my perception?

    1. fredwilson

      most people think i look like Buster Olneyhttp://mlblogsmateofischer….

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Oh jeez. It’s much more like this guy

  4. Mario Cantin

    Listened to it all.Revealing dynamic between the two of you — interesting to watch.Biggest take away is your emphasis on users owning their data as a future market force.The real reason for readers to come here is that you open up publicly about your internal thought processes, which is probably correlated to your success.Your comment about the fly paper on the other hand … Aaahh, never mind.

  5. Matt Kruza

    Fred, having now been a pretty regular reader for 3-4 months and starting to comment a little just wanted to say have enjoyed the thoughts and your blog (I have been critical on some articles so this isn’t sucking up that you don’t want.. I hope not at least!). You may have talked about this before, but what mainly motivates you and what is your 5-10 year plans if you don’t mind sharing to whatever degree. I mainly ask because at this point obviously money is no longer a concern ( I would think), and you have diverse interests so you can do pretty much whatever you want / enjoy / think makes an impact on the world. Always curious to see the insight of people that are doing something 100% for passion and reckon some others might be interested too. Don’t mean to pry, genuinely curious.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Where does Fred see himself in 5-10 years?

      1. JimHirshfield

        In the mirror.

      2. Matt Kruza

        Yep. I thought his answer was very insightfull and that was why I was genuinely curious.

    2. fredwilson

      I love working with entrepreneurs and the companies they build. I suspect I will do that until I cannot work and I hope I’ve got another 25-30 years of work in me. How I do that is another question but I really like my current setup

      1. LE

        Exactly why part of the plan is keeping your significant other well occupied. I’ve got that covered because my 2nd wife is 13 years younger and loves what she does. While the age is great in itself, having someone that likes to work as much as I do (and was in a career where it was easy to do so) was part of “the strategy” which also involved staying healthy enough (among other things) that the age difference wouldn’t matter.

      2. Matt Kruza

        Awesome. Appreciate the insight. 25-30 more years then it is!

      3. pointsnfigures

        Retire in the traditional way, and you will die. (I don’t think I will ever retire)

  6. JimHirshfield

    And in other news…Database Company MongoDB Raises Another $80 Million”…at a valuation of more than $1 billion…”And no mention of USV in the article? WTF?

    1. Ahti Kitsik

      I don’t know if USV invested in the latest round or not but the relevant point from the video posted today might be from the QA section: “We don’t like to invest in technologies but invest in things that are enabled by technology”.

      1. JimHirshfield

        I’d be very surprised if they didn’t participate. They were the first VC in MongoDB AFAIK.

      2. fredwilson

        MongoDB is an interesting story. It was a pivot

    2. fredwilson

      That is irrelevant. We put up the seed and Series A money and own a lot of it for not a lot of money invested. That’s what matters to me

      1. JimHirshfield


        1. LE

          Apparently you forgot what I said the other day. Pay attention.The bottom line: Do you make money or not. Have you made money or not? What someone thinks of you is probably low and certainly lower on the list of worries than an investment paying off.An analogy in entertainment would be “what the critics and talking heads say vs. what the audience thinks”.

          1. JimHirshfield

            “Apparently you forgot what I said the other day”That happens frequently.

  7. pointsnfigures

    finding a great partner is one of the hardest things you can do.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Richard

      And in the startup space one of the most important things to do.

    3. LE

      For years my dad used to hock me “eh you have to find a partner you can’t do it all by yourself”. (His partner was his brother) As if there was a “partner store” and it was like buying a car or finding a lawyer.Totally unrealistic. I can’t even begin to imagine having a partner that you haven’t known long term in one way or another and further in a setting that involves conflict and disagreement (so you can see how they handle that). And as far as friends [1] go (forgetting the inherent drawbacks to begin with) people change their tune over time when money is involved [2] or when they have actual issues to fight over that matter to them.[1] Hence I had come up with what I’ll call “Starbucks” friends. The group of people that I used to socialize with when getting coffee on the weekends at Startbucks. Everyone loved each other because there was nothing to disagree over that mattered.[2] For further info on this refer to Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” as in “they started to fight when the money got tight and they just didn’t count on the tears”. Link below is Billy discussing how he wrote that song, low quality but a great watch.

      1. pointsnfigures

        sometimes serendipity happens. you don’t have to be long term friends. if you are open to the thought of serendipity. there are people I have met in the last ten years that I could partner with, and others that I wouldn’t think twice about. It’s not just important to “get along”. Partners ideally fill holes that you have. Andreessen and Horowitz talk about that as well. Starsky and Hutch. FDR and Churchill.

        1. LE

          Agree and most of the situations that I have observed anecdotally with business partners is serendipity. The balance are people who gambled on someone they didn’t know because they were to stupid to know the danger they were getting into. Some worked, some didn’t work.

          1. pointsnfigures

            It’s so important. I wasted a year of my life in 2012 trying to force something to work. Potential partner tried to swindle me. He bounced a check for $350k bankrupting three companies. I spent 2013 bailing them out.

          2. Kirsten Lambertsen


          3. LE

            What you are saying is one of the keys to why young people are hitting some home runs (but in small numbers). They don’t have enough experience to know the pitfalls, so they just forge ahead blindly in many cases. And they do things or act in a way that someone who knows the ropes would never attempt. [1] To much baggage to many lessons learned. Plus of course they have nothing to lose and all of that. (You already have limited your downside risk so it’s not like you are leaving a secure job at GE to gamble working in a startup.)My guess is that you, as an investor, assuming (which I will do) that you have never actually run a small type operation (for any length of time) aren’t even aware of the things that can happen the “near misses”. Given that you are spreading the risk that’s not entirely a bad thing.[1] I was talking to a Physician the other day that needed to rent an office because his place was flooded over the holidays when a water main broke. He was relating to me what the insurance adjuster was telling him. And in a way that said “I trust this guy”. He didn’t even realize at all that the adjuster is working in the best interest of the insurance company not for him or his medical practice.

          4. fredwilson

            oy. that is horrible.

          5. pointsnfigures

            soul sucking. mentally debilitating. amazed that humans could be like that. But, learning experience. I don’t blame him, I blame myself. At the same time, made me realize that I am willing to consider lots of alternative options for myself. Don’t even have to be in Chicago.

          6. Twain Twain

            Horror stories like yours are one of the reasons good people might stay away from the startup sector.And what’s notable is that even with your level of experience and intelligence an unscrupulous potential partner will “try to pull a fast one.”I had two negative experiences in 2014 of people trying to do that. Thankfully, the alarm bells rang and I didn’t go ahead with the partnerships BEFORE any $$$ was involved.The worst thing is that when those negative experiences happen, we can’t name and shame those lousy bad actors because of our own sense of decorum.We process the disappointment and disbelief in the bad behavior of others and simply move forward, optimistic and hopeful we’ll meet more decent people………And we do.

        2. LE

          Partners ideally fill holes that you have.Would add that as a generality it’s important not to fill a hole that you can typically pay money for. An example of this would be having a lawyer as a partner as opposed to paying for a lawyer. Of course it all depends on the business (it could make sense in some cases, chef in a restaurant quite critical) but I’m always amazed at people who take on a lawyer as a partner that really don’t need to split the profits for that type of help. Like getting married because you want someone who can make dinner for you and do your laundry. That’s a hole that is filled by a much cheaper method.In my Dad’s partnership he handled “the office” and his brother handled “the warehouse and the buying”. My dad could do my uncle’s job but didn’t want to (didn’t want to travel overseas and/or work in a warehouse). My uncle had no business skills, so he couldn’t work in the office. The end of the partnership came when my older cousin was taught by my father the business side of things (as well as real estate) and my uncle no longer needed my father.In my cousin’s business (tile business) he teamed up with his brother in law who knew tile but couldn’t sell (my cousin could). Once my cousin learned the tile business he didn’t need his brother in law anymore so that was the beginning of the end (as I’ve said “things change”).Edit: Learning to sell is usually much harder for people who can’t sell than learning the tile business if you don’t know that industry.

  8. RacerJim

    Great video chat. Really appreciate your decisions to share your internal discussions. I think you add so much value to the external discussions by everyone in the startup space. You make us all think harder about investing(what I do) and what CEOs should be doing within their companies. Agree with the other poster about control of personal data as the next wave.

  9. Rob Underwood

    Fred, Thanks for sharing. Great to see you and Brad together like this.I hear echoes of Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future?” in Brad’s reply at about the 8:30 mark in the video (“change in the way we think about the ownership of data”). I think a lot of us are thinking about how to allow content creators – whether that’s musicians and their art or the general pubic and their favorite flavor of ice cream – keep ownership (or at least control and attribution) of their data/content, and the implications of that.Is a/the big idea a block chain enabled P2P type social network based on open protocols that, via the block chain, enables data/content ownership/usage to be tracked, making possible, as Lanier suggests, micro-payments or credits for downstream use? I know organizations like Coinify via Ethereum among others are thinking about stuff like this. Or, to Fred’s comment re Yammer/Slack, and then Brad again at 20:00 or so, do you think instead that blockchain enabled creator control will be the tool towards accelerated social network interoperability and, to a degree, disintermediation (to Brad’s comments about the threat to “Facebook’s hierarchy” at 9:10 or so)?

    1. fredwilson

      yes, we hope so

  10. Twain Twain

    Thanks for sharing. This is one of the best investor interviews to learn from!It’s great to gain a perspective on Brad aside from the video of his testimony on Net Neutrality because now we discover he’s a wordsmith:(1.) Principle & pragmatism.(2.) Identity federation.(3.) Front-end of the flow.The dynamic between you both is like light and shade oscillating so that we can see not just the flat surface of what’s immediately apparent but dimensions deeper about why XYZ matters and how disparate items are connected.Of the 4 major trends the one I’m most interested in is around Data & Identity with an ancillary towards mesh networks.As I commented before on another post, about 6 years ago my friends and I thought of a Personal Data Pod which would be like the wearable communicator in ‘Star Trek’ where consumers could beam up our personal data to a central cloud. Any brands or companies that wanted access to that data would have to pay us and enable us to track how the data was being used. Since then, I’ve read about one startup that’s prototyped a ‘Star Trek’ communicator and another startup that does try to pay people for their data. However, the technology and data control for users is still not quite right.To me, the data piece goes deeper and beyond the availability of Open Source, Creative Commons, data portability over current walled gardens and who owns & can monetize the data.It goes into the protocols, W3C and structures of data itself as well as all the lexical databases.For example, we haven’t even begun to examine that the code languages running all Web technologies are defined by a handful of academics rather than the 2+ billion people who use the Web.Please see the image on the LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry Word Count) and Positive-Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) which the machines use to understand the emotions and words we express as an example of how data definitions aren’t yet democratic.This is something I thought about before I architected my system because I believe that data should be democratically defined by more than a handful of academics and it’s vital that it’s humans rather than some probability algorithm of a machine that does this.

  11. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Great listening to this, this morning (while working on my Go learning project).Regarding the ethics question at the end, to your point that when an individual does something “bad” at a company it doesn’t mean the company is bad:Drunken tweets aside, when someone does something “bad” at a company that they clearly thought would be a “win’ for that company (so again, drunken tweets aren’t the issue here), it’s essential that the leadership examine what about the company culture might have lead a person to believe that acting in such a way would be rewarded. You may have a “bad” company and not know it. As investors, you may have a “bad” leadership team and not realize it.

    1. fredwilson

      i agree

  12. Andrew Kennedy

    Min 31 –> I want to be a data donor line = awesome example of u guys riffing. Thanks for posting.

  13. Dan Storms

    You mentioned the “unbundling of insurance” a few times. I assume based on previous writing that you are primarily thinking personal health insurance, but do you also see this starting to occur in other insurance industries (e.g. life, hurricane, earthquake, airplane, etc)?

    1. fredwilson

      I think all forms of insurance are vulnerable to unbundling

      1. Dan Storms

        Agreed. I’ve been working with a company who makes catastrophe models. Been thinking a lot about what the future of the industry will look like. Reinsurance has changed the landscape quickly over the past 20 years, in another 10 it will look very different again.

  14. Matt Zagaja

    This was one of the better interviews I’ve seen you post. When you kept talking about health and data I kept thinking about this gadget I saw at CES earlier this week: I do not know how well it will work in the real world and I think the marketing copy is not that great, but am fascinated by it because I have a skin condition, which seems to be heavily impacted by diet and lifestyle, and I think it could have much more application for people with that than this kind of amorphous look younger theme they went with. TechCrunch has a better video about it:

  15. William Mougayar

    So many truths in that interview. Two parts that stuck with me:1/ Re: Government involvement and what it says about the local ecosystem. Nuff said. I’m with you, and wished Canada’s government had less of a heavy hand in it, so that the private VC industry can prosper a little further.2/ Re: Private data ownership and what it means. I’m definitely on-board with that direction, and the blockchain is going to be a part of it.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Corollary to point one: Government can’t create an entrepreneurial ecosystem. There is no public/private partnership model that is sustainable. (Stolen shamelessly from Brad Feld’s book on Startup Communities which is an excellent read). Governments have to be very careful about investing in, picking winners and losers etc.

      1. William Mougayar

        yup…don’t get me started on this. it burns me.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Me neither. Certain cities in the US have a long history of that.… cough cough

      2. Twain Twain

        In the UK, there is the Technology Strategy Board:*…There are also these views from companies like O2: “For too long, businesses in the UK have worked in silos and it’s damaging our ability as a nation to innovate. Big businesses need to take responsibility and work more closely with small businesses to help them fulfil their potential and kick-start economic growth.”Without naming them I’ve followed up with a major bluechip about a startup project that has been in their pipelines for 4 months — over something as simple as a mutual NDA which is standard practice in the States.That’s a simple example of the time delays which accumulate to make the UK 18-24 months behind NY and even further behind SV.

  16. Guest

    Brad said that just as tech used to be the barrier to entry, now it is network effects and that if everything is built on blockchain then that goes away. When you answered the question about sidechains you posited (based on Joel’s stack) that the sidechains will be built on top of bitcoin blockchain because it is unlikely that anyone can replicate any of the network effects that have already been built up there. So essentially, in ridding the world of the advantages of network effects, the bitcoin blockchain will be the one network effect to rule them all.