Posts from December 2015


If you live in NYC and are freaking out because you haven’t completed your Christmas shopping, I have the perfect solution for you, Etsy ASAP.

Through a partnership with Postmates, Etsy has offered sellers in NYC the opportunity to offer same day delivery. Thousands of sellers opted in and you can now buy from Etsy sellers in NYC and have the item delivered to you same day.

You can filter your search for items eligible for Etsy ASAP. Here I searched for a knit scarf and checked the Etsy ASAP filter:

knit scarf

When you check out, make sure to select Etsy ASAP as your delivery option.

If you are reading this on your mobile phone, you can also get Etsy ASAP there. If you have the Etsy app, click on this banner,

last minute gifts

and get this feed, and go shopping for last minute items.

2015-12-21 07.29.22

You can also do the filtered search thing on your phone if you prefer searching to browsing.

So with the help of same day delivery services, Etsy sellers are available in real time in NYC this week to solve your last minute shopping needs. If this pilot goes well, I hope Etsy will decide to roll this out to many more locations in the new year.

Happy holiday shopping!

Disclosure: USV and I are shareholders in Etsy and I am also on the board of Etsy.


Contextual Runtimes

Benedict Evans is such a great analyst and his insight into the web>mobile transition has been consistently prescient and helpful to investors, including USV and me personally.

A couple days ago, he penned “16 mobile thesis” which is a must read for anyone building a mobile/internet company or investing in that sector. These 16 theses are organized roughly chronologically, starting with what has largely happened, followed by what is happening, and ending with what may happen.

I found myself most interested in the middle section, 7-9, in which Ben talks about where the action is turning to in the mobile ecosystem. And my favorite part is titled “Post Netscape, post PageRank, looking for the next run-time.” In this part Ben describes what used to be the dominant environment and the search for what is next. At the end he states:

Really, we’re looking for a new run-time – a new way, after the web and native apps, to build services. That might be Siri or Now or messaging or maps or notifications or something else again. But the underlying aim is to construct a new search and discovery model – a new way, different to the web or app stores, to get users.  

I agree with Ben but I think there won’t be one runtime in the mobile era. I think what is emerging is multiple runtimes depending on the context – “contextual runtimes.”

If I’m building a lunchtime meal delivery service for tech startups, that’s a Slack bot.

If I’m building a ridesharing service, that’s going to run in Google Maps and Apple Maps.

If I’m building a “how do I look” fashion advisor service, that’s going to run in Siri or Google Now.

If I’m building an “NBA dashboard app”, that is mostly going to run on the mobile notifications rails.

So the war for users in mobile and the race to be a platform is real and it is important. And Apple and Google are playing that game as well (the notification, map and voice runtimes are controlled by them already).

But it isn’t clear that all of these contextual runtime environments will be controlled by and or subsumed into the mobile OS. That’s what makes chat so interesting. Slack has emerged as the dominant chat app in the enterprise, but not the only one. Facebook Messenger has emerged as the dominant cross platform chat app in the US, but not the only one (our portfolio company Kik continues to grow and is already massive). Whatsapp and Telegram are very popular outside of the US.

In content, there is an entirely different set of “runtime environments.” Facebook and YouTube are huge content discovery and consumption environments. Twitter and Snapchat are trying like hell to join them. So are many other mobile social platforms. Content is a bit like chat. I don’t see this sector converging quickly into the mobile OS platforms.

So the thing that is a bit different in the mobile era of the Internet, as opposed to the desktop era, is not everything is built on top of a browser. The phase we are in now, phase one I guess, has two dominant “runtimes”, mobile web and native app.

But we are heading into a new era in which a few native apps, chat, maps, voice input, notifications, content/social, and surely a few more, will become the new browsers. And entrepreneurs will be building contextual services on top of them.

In this era context will be critical. The example I keep coming back to is the list of places I need to go to when I’m in a new place. Like this Foursquare list of top places where we are this week:

top places

Seeing that list on a map versus on a list makes a huge difference.

That is the power of context and that’s where I think the next big moves are to be made on the mobile internet.


Feature Friday: The NBA Dashboard

This evening, twenty four of the thirty NBA teams will be in action. If you are an NBA fan, keeping track of all that action is not easy. My colleague Jonathan Libov wanted a quick mobile dashboard to keep track of NBA action and so he and some friends built it.

The app is called Twenty Four and has been in the app store for a few days now.

Last night was fairly light but here’s what it looked like on Twenty Four:

2015-12-18 05.57.10

If you click on the Thunder Cavs card in that feed you get this:

2015-12-18 06.03.06

So Twenty Four makes a nice Twitter client for watching live NBA basketball.

You also get notifications when a game is close in the fourth quarter.

This is tonight’s lineup:

2015-12-18 06.00.08

I’m going to a holiday party but will pull out my phone and check out the action quickly. You might want to try that too. You can get Twenty Four here.



Having a mantra for your work is helpful.

Mine is “the VC’s job is to help entrepreneurs realize their goals and dreams.”

That doesn’t mean that every VC should have that same mantra.

To each his or her own.

But the longer I work in VC, the more I see misalignment between investors and founders.

And misalignment gets in the way of getting somewhere.

#Uncategorized#VC & Technology


There are a number of unannounced USV investments that we have made over the years. They are unannounced at the request of the founder(s). One of them is having a coming out party today and I thought I’d write a bit about it today.

Koko is a mobile social network that calms your mind.

When we’re stressed it can be difficult to think flexibly. We get caught up in our own mind. We focus on the worst narratives – that we can’t do it, that we’re not good enough, that things will never get better.

On Koko, you share your stress anonymously and the community helps you think more flexibly about your situation. Because how we think about stress impacts how we feel, simply being shown other, less negative, ways to view the situation helps reduce stress.

Here’s a screen shot of an anonymous user sharing their stress and the community posting “rethinks” that help that user overcome the stress that is bothering them.


Koko is the creation of Fraser Kelton, Kareem Kouddous, and Robert Morris. We’ve known Fraser since he was one of the early employees and COO of our former portfolio company GetGlue. Fraser met Robert who was at MIT Media Lab and Koko is the product of Robert’s PhD thesis on an innovative form of crowdsourced cognitive therapy that was developed at the Media Lab.

One of our primary investment areas right now is digital health and we have made a number of investments in this sector. Koko is one of them. At USV, we believe that our phones, connected to us, the networks that are on it, and the broader global internet, will have an enormous positive impact on our health and happiness. Mental health is right in the center of this thesis and we are excited about the potential of Koko to help people manage their mental health.


The Evolution Of The USV Thesis (and

USV is a thesis driven venture capital firm. Brad and I locked into that notion at the very start of our partnership in the summer of 2003. We decided that we would have a thesis, stick to it, and evolve it. And we have done that. We and the partners who have joined us over the years are very proud of that.

Our partner Andy has now written two blog posts outlining our thesis. He published the first one in May 2012 and he published an updated one yesterday. I encourage everyone to head over to the updated and read it.

The thing about our investment thesis it that it evolves over time. We stick to it but we evolve it. And we do it consciously. Writing it down forces us to be clear in our thinking and draw distinctions that matter. The evolution sometimes includes leaving a sector (like ad:tech which we have not invested in for almost ten years now). But mostly it involves adding new areas while maintaining others.

This chart from Andy’s post shows how we have evolved our thesis over time. This is a chart of active investments so anything we have exited or has shut down is not included in this chart.


Andy’s post explains how we have evolved to this set of investment theses over time. This is where we are right now, but if there is one thing I am certain of, it is that this is not where we will be a few years from now. The evolution will continue.

Speaking of evolution, we have also evolved our website. It started out as an online brochure in 2003 when we started raising our first fund. Then in 2005, we turned it into a blog. I think we were the first VC firm to make our homepage a blog. But we didn’t blog that frequently on so the page was not that lively. We tried to fix that with a redesign we launched in 2009. That was a lot better but we still didn’t have enough action on the page so in 2012 we started a process to reimagine our website. That led to a linkblog that we launched in 2013. Ultimately that didn’t work that well for us either. So this summer Jonathan and Nick started hacking on another idea, which is to focus the home page on the topics that are most interesting to us right now.

Our topic centric website is now live at We have a new design and color scheme. But mostly we have a new way of showcasing our thoughts and interests. I think it will work much better for us and hopefully for the entrepreneurs who show up at and want to know a bit about us. Give it a spin and follow some topics that you share an interest in with us.

#VC & Technology

Differences Matter

I was struck by this paragraph in the Slate piece on our portfolio company YouNow this weekend:

In theory, YouNow sounds a bit like Twitter’s real-time video feature, Periscope. In practice, they’re nothing alike. Periscope’s tagline is “Explore the world through someone else’s eyes”; it’s named after a device that rises out of the darkness to take a look around. But on YouNow, you don’t see what the broadcaster sees—you see the broadcaster himself. You click into a stream and stare into his eyes. YouNow’s camera is always set, by default, to selfie mode. The whole site is designed to create personalities and foster fandoms around them. And its features are gamified to keep everyone’s eyes glued to the screen. When a Periscope broadcast is launched, only the user’s Twitter followers get a heads up. But YouNow broadcasts compete for the attention of the entire social network through a roiling leaderboard tacked to the side of the screen. When a Periscope user stops streaming, the screen goes black. When a YouNower signs off, her viewers are instantly pitched into a new stream, where a different broadcaster is challenged to charm the newcomers into sticking around. 

Yes, YouNow and Periscope are the two leading “broadcast video live” services on mobile phones. But as you can gather from reading that paragraph above, they could not be more different from each other. One is for broadcasting what you are seeing, Periscope, and one is for broadcasting your self, YouNow. Their names tell you all you need to know.

Periscope’s rise has not hurt YouNow the way it did Meerkat because the two services are actually quite different from each other. You can see that in this chart:

So what is the lesson to take away from this post? It is that being different matters. But you have to be different in ways that users will feel right away. From differentiation comes defensibility. And in the hyper-competitive world of social media, that’s a good thing.


Advice And Money

I was chatting with my friend Maurya yesterday. She runs a non-profit called ScriptEd and has been figuring out the raising money thing over the past few years. She said to me “I have found that a good way to get funding is to go in and just ask for advice.”

I chuckled and told her that there is a saying about VCs, “Ask a VC for money and you will get advice, Ask a VC for advice and you will get money.”

And I am guilty of this as much as any other VC. When it’s clear the founder only wants your money and has no interest in your advice, it is hard to get excited about the investment. When it seems that all the founder wants is your advice and isn’t worried about getting money, it makes you want to work with that founder.

Of course, the secret sauce of the investor:founder relationship is “advice AND money”. The way investors get paid for our advice is that we get to buy a piece of the founder’s company and go along for the ride. We pay for the right to give advice!

The easier part of this duality is the money part. There is a well understood system of how money is exchanged for equity upside. Founders and investors don’t have to figure that out.

The harder part is the advice part. Founders need to figure out the best way to get advice in a way that it is useful and actionable for them. Investors need to figure out how to provide advice that is useful to the founder. Because we are talking about two people communicating and building a relationship together, this means that each investor:founder relationship is going to be different and what works for one relationship is not likely to work for another.

It is also true that a founder might have dozens of investors in their company and getting advice from dozens of people all the time is overwhelming. So founders need to figure out which investors to focus on and that doesn’t always mean the ones who wrote the biggest checks.

What I have learned over the years from working with hundreds of founders is that you need to earn the right to be listened to and writing the check is not enough. You earn the right to be listened to by giving good advice. You also do that by not forcing the founders to act on your advice. You have to be OK with a founder deciding to ignore you or delay acting on your advice. You can’t take it personally. You have to keep being positive, supportive, constructive, and encouraging. Over time, if you turn out to be a good source of advice, you will see things you suggest being acted on. And you will see the founder reaching out for advice more frequently. You will become a trusted advisor.

Getting to that point is the holy grail of the investor:founder relationship. It can take years to achieve. Or it can never happen. When it does, it’s a special thing and it is the thing that keeps me in this game after thirty years of doing it.

#VC & Technology