If you want to know how a small scrappy Toronto based startup competes with Amazon, this 20min ish video will tell you how.
Posts from February 2015
Here’s a good reason to read the comments at AVC. You learn things.
On Monday I wrote a post about sending stuff to the wrong people and a number of folks in the comments explained that there is a Google labs feature called Undo Send that holds your “sent mail” for up to 30 seconds before it actually sends it.
I immediately added it to my gmail and feel safer now knowing I have it. I have not used it yet, but I am sure I will.
Here’s how to add it.
Go to gmail settings, then click on the Labs tab and find “Undo Send” and click enable:
Save that change.
Then in the general tab, you will see this:
You can set the cancellation period to anything between 5 seconds and 30 seconds. Save that change too.
I’m honestly not sure why this isn’t a standard feature in Gmail. It seems so useful.
The FCC is expected to approve its Open Internet Rules today. This is a big deal and something we have been fighting for since former FCC Chair Michael Powell unfortunately and incorrectly ruled that Internet Access was an “information service.” We believe that last mile Internet Access is a natural monopoly/duopoly in most geographies and needs to be regulated as such.
As Nick says in his post,
We believe in markets. We believe that by recognizing that access to the Internet is an essential service, the FCC has moved to protect the free and open markets that depend on that access. Contrary to much FUD, this is NOT regulating the internet, it’s ensuring open access TO the Internet.
Brittany posted today about the first USV portfolio diversity summit. Last year we had forty-two portfolio summits all driven by topics that bubble up from our portfolio. Diversity has been rising as a topic that people want to talk about and we reacted to that by hosting a summit on it. We had 28 attendees from 13 different portfolio companies in attendance.
In Brittany’s post, she cites two important reasons to strive for diversity on your team:
- Do you want your company to increase your company’s competitive advantage? Extensive research has proven that more diverse perspectives leads to more innovative ideas and better financial returns.
- Do you want your company to one day serve millions of people? It helps if you know how different people in the population think. If companies want to last, they need to think about this early.
She goes on to outline how the portfolio companies are approaching diversity:
- Getting Started: having the discussion, language, and online tools
- Company Culture: embracing diversity, inclusive mission vision values, and performance
- Recruiting: tactics, expectations, interviews, job postings, resources, and external organizations
- Constant Evolution: Feedback, measuring success, training, and materials
If you are seeking to build a diverse culture and team in your company, I would encourage you to read Brittany’s post which she will follow with dedicated posts on all four topics in the outline.
I got a bunch of emails yesterday that were clearly not meant for me. I replied to let the senders know and deleted them without reading beyond what I had read to know it wasn’t for me.
Then I saw this tweet by Chris Dixon:
Gmail is auto-suggesting the wrong contacts. Just me losing my mind or widespread issue?
— Chris Dixon (@cdixon) February 21, 2015
Then it all jelled in my mind. Gmail was autosuggesting the wrong people to a large swath of its users over the weekend. I was struggling with the same problem but I hadn’t realized it was a service wide issue.
Sending emails to the wrong people is embarrassing and potentially much worse. The same is true of google docs, dropbox, and a host of other cloud based services where we create and store sensitive information. At least google docs pops up the warning “you are about to send this outside of your domain.” That has saved me many times from sending a google spreadsheet or doc with personal information to a woman with the same first name in Mellon’s Private Bank instead of my wife. You would think Google would know my wife is more important. But it does not, particularly on mobile.
The thing of it is that Google is so good at knowing who you might want to send something to that they should do more than they do right now. They could easily pop up a warning saying “you don’t normally send this kind of document to this person” or “you don’t normally include this person in the group you are sending this to.” These sorts of data driven protections/warnings would further cement the already airtight lock they have on me and many others who use gmail and google docs.
But try as we might, we are human and prone to error. It is almost certain that each of us will send something super confidential to someone who should not see it at some point in our life. My hope is when I do that, the person on the receiving end is decent enough to do what I did, inform and delete, not store and forward.
Most people that are in the VC and startup sector know that USV likes to invest in networks. And most of the networks we invest in are consumer facing networks of people. Peer to peer services, if you will. The list is long and full of brand name consumer networks. So it would be understandable if people assumed that we do not invest in the enterprise sector. That, however, would be a wrong assumption.
We’ve been looking for enterprise networks to invest in since we got started and we are finding more and more in recent years. There is a particular type of enterprise network that we particularly like and I want to talk about that today.
Businesses, particularly large ones, build up large groups of suppliers. These suppliers can be other businesses or in some cases individuals. And these suppliers also supply other businesses. The totally of this ecosystem of businesses and their suppliers is a large network and there are many businesses that are built up around making these networks work more efficiently. And these businesses benefit from network effects.
I am going to talk about three of our portfolio companies that do this as a way to demonstrate how this model works.
C2FO is a network of businesses and their suppliers that solves a working capital problem for the suppliers and provides a better return on capital to large enterprises. Here is how it works: C2FO has a sales force that calls on large enterprises and shows them how they can use their capital to earn a better return while solving a working capital problem for their suppliers. They bring these large enterprises onto their platform and, using C2FO, they recruit their supplier base onto the platform. They also bring all the accounts payable for the large enterprise onto the platform. Once the network and the payables are on the platform, the suppliers can bid for accelerated payment of their receivables. When these bids are accepted by the large enterprise, the suppliers get their cash more quickly and the large enterprise earns a return on the form of a discount on their accounts payable. C2FO takes a small transaction fee for facilitating this market.
Work Market is a network of businesses and their freelance workforce. Work Market’s salesforce calls on these large enterprises and explains how they can manage their freelance workforce directly and more efficiently. These enterprises come onto the Work Market platform and then, using Work Market, invite all of their freelance workers onto the platform. They then issue all of their freelance work orders on the Work Market system, manage the work, and pay for the work, all on Work Market. Work Market takes a transaction fee for facilitating this and many of Work Market’s customers convert to a monthly SAAS subscription once they have all of their freelance work on the platform.
Crowdrise is a network of non-profits, the events they participate in, and the people who fundraise for them. Crowdrise’s salesforce calls on these events and the large non-profits who participate in them. When a large event, like the Boston Marathon, comes onto Crowdrise, they invite all the non-profits that participate in their event onto the platform. These non-profits then invite all the individuals who raise money for them onto the platform. These events and non-profits run campaigns on Crowdrise, often tied to the big events, and Crowdrise takes a small fee for facilitating this market.
I hope you all see the similarities between these three very different companies. There are several but the one I’d like to focus on is the “they invite all the ….. onto the platform”. This recruiting function is a very powerful way to build a network from the top down. And once these networks are built, they are hard to unwind.
We don’t see many consumer networks built top down, but we do see a lot of enterprise networks built top down. And we are seeing more and more of them. It is also possible to build enterprise networks bottoms up (Dropbox is a good example of that). That’s the interesting thing about enterprise networks. You can build them top down or bottoms up. And we invest in both kinds of enterprise networks.
The top down enterprise network is a growing part of the USV portfolio. We like this approach to building an enterprise software business and it does not suffer from the “dentist office software” problem. Which is a very good thing.
Stripe has had this in beta for quite a while but yesterday they launched it and now any merchant who is using Stripe can accept Bitcoins in the regular Stripe checkout flow.
If you are using Stripe to handle your checkouts, just add a few things to your Stripe code and you are good to go.
It’s things like this, making it drop dead simple for merchants to accept Bitcoin, that will help drive adoption of Bitcoin payments in the coming years.
And accepting payment with Bitcoin via Stripe costs a merchant 0.5% vs the customary 3%. For low margin products, this is real money. I expect merchants will start incenting customers to pay with Bitcoin in certain product sectors.
I’m going to go find some Stripe merchants that are accepting Bitcoin and try out the checkout flow. It looks really smooth and clean, like everything Stripe puts out.
Back in the early days of this blog I had a series called VC Cliche Of The Week. I’m not sure how long I ran it but I did eventually run out of material and phased it out. In continuation of yesterday’s good vibes and with yet another shoutout to Bliss, here’s a reblog of one from March 2006:
The father of this weekly series, the guy who taught me at least half of the cliches I know, is a guy named Bliss McCrum. He and his partner Milt Pappas taught me the venture capital business from 1986 to 1996 when I worked with them at their firm, Euclid Partners.
One of my favorite cliches from Bliss is a rising tide lifts all boats.
Whenever things seemed too good at a portfolio company, in the stock market, the economy, or somewhere else, Bliss would quip, “well you know that a rising tide lifts all boats“.
It was his way of saying “don’t mistake a good market for a good business”. The insinuation was always that the tide would come back in and so would the boats. And you had to be prepared to make things work in tough times as well as good times.
And we are in good times in the venture business, the internet business, and for the most part, the US economy. Consumer confidence hasn’t been this strong since before the Iraq war. The Fed has raised rates 15 times and may not be done, signalling that the economy remains stronger than they’d like it. Venture money is flowing freely in Silicon Valley and China and in many parts of the developed or developing world. Advertising dollars continue to move from offline media to online media and that is one rising tide that is certainly lifting all boats.
But we know these good times will come to an end at some point. Are we in 1998 as Caterina suggests and have another year or two before the good times end? Who knows? I don’t expect this run of good times to play out like the last one anyway.
The best we can do is prepare our companies to withstand a business environment that is less friendly. Companies need a business model, they need a seasoned and well constructed team, and they need patient and experienced financial partners. With these ingredients, hard work, and some luck, you can survive a downturn.
Some of the best companies I’ve ever worked with were funded at the height of the last bubble and they are doing great now. So it doesn’t really matter when you start a company, but it does matter that you can make it through tough times. Because right now we have a rising tide that is lifting all boats and that won’t last forever.