Posts from March 2016

A Decade Of Twitter

So Twitter is ten today. I celebrated with this tweet:

I do love Twitter. It is my news feed. Like most people who use Twitter, I mostly use it to consume information. I have never met a web or mobile service that gives me what I need to know better than Twitter.

I think that’s the thing that many people don’t understand about Twitter. They think of Twitter as a social network, like Facebook, where everyone posts and everyone consumes. Twitter is different. It’s a network and it can be social, but at its core, Twitter is a user configurable broadcast network. It has a very different read/post ratio than a classic social network and that’s part of why it is so good as a news feed.

Anyway, here’s to the next ten years Twitter.

Onboard Your Board

Many companies have onboarding programs for new employees where they familiarize the new employee with the business, team, culture, etc before they start working. But I have never come across a company (or institution for that matter) that does this for their board. I am sure it happens, but I have never encountered it.

I am working with a company right now that is putting a “board onboarding” program in place. It makes so much sense. How can you expect your board to give you the best advice and understand the business if you don’t help them do that?

So when you put someone new on your board, ask that person to spend a day or two at your company. Set up “one on ones” with your entire senior team, have them attend an all hands, have them sit in on the weekly management meeting, and spend some quality time with them (dinner?) during this process. That will help your new board members immensely. They will be “up to speed” on the business from the very first board meeting instead of having to spend a year or more figuring things out.

Managing a board is hard. It takes time and lots of communication. But you can make all of that a bit easier if you start off on the right foot.

Feature Friday: Simplified Conference Call Dialing

I was in a board meeting last fall and was bemoaning how challenging it is to dial into a conference bridge with long pin numbers on your phone (particularly when you are driving). My friend Jordy said “Get MobileDay”. So I downloaded MobileDay and that issue has been fixed ever since.

It’s a simple and well executed app. You connect your smartphone calendar to MobileDay and it pulls all the dial-in info into the MobileDay app and does all of the magic to make the dial in as simple as pushing one button.

Here’s a call in the MobileDay app that I need to call into at noon pst today:

mobileday

All that I need to do is hit that big phone button. MobileDay will do the rest.

If you have this challenge in your life, I will say to you what Jordy said to me “Get MobileDay.”

Write It Down

I woke up at 3am last night and tossed and turned for an hour. That has been a thing for me since my work life started getting interesting (and stressful) in my early 30s.

After about an hour of tossing and turning, I walked into my home office and wrote down the four things that I was tossing and turning over.

Then I went back to bed and quickly went back to sleep and slept for another two hours.

It’s an obvious move. Trying to keep things front and center in my head is just a recipe for being awake. Putting them down on paper allows me to let them go and get back to sleep.

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about work and not able to go back to sleep, I highly recommend the writing it down trick. It works well for me and I suspect it may work well for you too.

Trump Clinton 

In my “2016 Predictions” post I wrote:

Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and he will attack the tech sector for its support of immigrant labor. As a result the tech sector will line up behind Hillary Clinton who will be elected the first woman President.

Neither Trump nor Clinton is a done deal yet but its looking more and more likely by the day.

And in the most recent Republican debate Trump went after Marco Rubio for his support of H1B visas which are critical to the tech sector in the US.

 Trump is wrong about H1Bs and pretty much everything else that comes out of his mouth. But it looks like this prediction has some legs right now.

Parental Leave

I am on the board of Etsy, which is now a public company, so I don’t blog about it much anymore. But I’ve been involved in a discussion at Etsy over the past few months that is both important and raises challenging issues. It is the subject of parental leave. Who should be entitled to parental leave and how much leave should be given?

Etsy announced to its employees today that it is making several fundamental changes to its parental leave policy. The new policy is:

Etsy employees will be eligible for 26 weeks of fully paid leave in the two years after they become a parent through birth or adoption, regardless of their gender, country of residence or family circumstance.

Etsy is not alone in making these changes. Other big tech companies like Facebook have made similar changes to their paternal leave policy. And so some of this is reacting to the competitive market for talent, particularly female talent. But our discussion at Etsy actually focused on other issues.

Etsy is a marketplace where creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, can create a more fulfilling and flexible way to support their families. An important goal of this policy change was to align the internal company values with the marketplace values.

Etsy is a global company with significant operations in countries with parental leave regulations that are more generous than what exists in the US. It was an important goal of Etsy to align its parental leave policies across the entire organization.

But most importantly, as Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson said to the company when he announced this change, “The well-being of employees & their families is not just good for people, it’s good for business.”

I fully support Etsy’s parental leave policy and am proud that Etsy is at the forefront of a movement in the tech industry for more family friendly employee policies.

However, I am not suggesting that all startups or all USV backed startups should do the same. It is easier to do this sort of thing when you have a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands than when you have a team of four people working from a co-working space. Each company needs to decide when and how they can consider such a parental leave policy. But for those that have the scale to consider this approach, I am strongly in favor of it and share Chad’s belief that what is good for employees and their families is good for business.

Privacy Absolutism

The Gotham Gal has been pushing me to write this post for a few weeks. Privately with family, friends, and business colleagues, I have been saying that I believe the tech industry’s position on end to end encryption, locking everything down, securing our devices, and making it so only we can unlock them is the wrong path. I touched on this issue last month but that was more of a “what do you all think” kind of post.

I very much like what the President said in Austin late last week. To quote:

Before smartphones were invented, and to this day, if there is probable cause to think that you have abducted a child or you are engaging in a terrorist plot or you are guilty of some serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your doorstep and say we have a warrant to search your home, and they can go into your bedroom and rifle through your underwear to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing,” he said. “And we agree on that, because we recognize that just like all of our other rights … that there are going to be some constraints we impose so we are safe, secure and can live in a civilized society.

I do not think that because we now have the technology to lock things down (strong encryption) and because the industry that develops and maintains all of this technology has a strong libertarian bent that we should just abandon the framework that has worked in our society for hundreds of years. If society thinks someone is doing something wrong, and if law enforcement can get a warrant, there should be a mechanism to get access to our devices.

I would love to see the tech sector work to figure out a smart way to address this issue. My partner Albert has suggested an approach on his blog. There are some interesting approaches that are already being used in cold storage of bitcoin that could be applied to this situation.

But my meta point here is that I am saddened by the tech sector’s absolutist approach to this issue. The more interesting and fruitful approach would be to think about the most elegant solutions and build them. Because, as the President warned in Austin last week,

I am confident this is something we can solve, but we’re going to need the tech community, software designers, people who care deeply about this stuff, to help us solve it. If everybody goes to their respective corners … what you’ll find is that after something really bad happens, the politics of this will swing, and it will become sloppy and rushed and it will go through Congress in ways that have not been thought through, and then you really will have dangers to our civil liberties.

The Second Smartphone Revolution

Benedict Evans tweeted out this chart yesterday:

The first 2.5bn smartphones brought us Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, Whatsapp, Kik, Venmo, Duolingo, and most importantly, drove the big web apps to build world class mobile apps and move their userbases from web to mobile. But, if you stare at the top 200 non-game mobile apps in the US (and most of the western hemisphere) you will see that the list doesn’t look that different than the top 200 websites. The mobile revolution from 2007 to 2015 in the west was more about how we accessed the internet than what apps we used, with some notable and important exceptions.

But the next 2.5bn people to adopt smartphones may turn out to be a different story. They will mostly live outside the developed and wealthy parts of the world and they will look to their smartphones to deliver essential services that they have not been receiving at all – from the web or from the offline world. I am thinking about financial services, healthcare services, educational services, transportation services, and the like. Stuff that matters a bit more than seeing where you friends had a fun time last night or what it looks like when you faceswap with your sister.

Benedict is right. We aren’t done with the mobile revolution. But we are mostly done with it in the developed world. So where do we go to find the big mobile opportunities of this second revolution? Do we go to asia where they are having a very different looking mobile revolution? Do we go to latin america, the middle east, africa, eastern europe, and southeast asia? Or do we think that entrepreneurs in the US and other parts of the developed world will build and deliver these important new services to the developing world? I am not so clear on that. We are seeing a bit of all of this right now. I would like to believe that entrepreneurs all over the world now have the capabilities (both technical and financial) to build game changing and disruptive new services and launch them in their countries and regions of the world.

However, there are still many roadblocks for entrepreneurs in these emerging economies. It is not lost on me that Mpesa was launched by and is owned by the dominant local carrier in Kenya. It is not lost on me that Russian lawmakers are proposing a seven year jail sentence for bitcoin use. It is not lost on me that war and strife in the middle east will make building companies there harder.

But the thing that is particularly exciting about new services in the developing world is that they may come with fundamentally new business models. And, it turns out, new business models are even more disruptive than new technologies. Microsoft can copy Netscape. But copying the Linux business model is harder. Chase can copy Venmo’s app, but copying Venmo’s business model is harder.

So I am excited to watch this second mobile revolution unfold. It may be an opportunity for US-based VCs like me. But more likely it will be an opportunity for VCs and early stage investors who have had the courage and foresight to set up shop in these emerging locations. The investors who had the courage and foresight to set up shop in China in the late 90s and early 00s have been rewarded fabulously for that. If you ask me where the next big whitespace for VC is, I would point to the developing world. It doesn’t come without its risks and roadblocks, but it feels to me that it has enormous potential.

Video Of The Week: Why Ida Tin Started Clue

I’m a big fan of our portfolio company Clue which is trying to improve women’s reproductive health and planning with their super popular mobile app.

Here’s a short video (< 2 mins)  that was posted a couple days ago where founder Ida Tin explains why she started Clue.