Posts from July 2018

Opportunity Zones

I was at dinner with my friend Stephen a month or so ago and he was bending my ear about a provision in last year’s tax bill that provides very significant tax incentives to invest in businesses or real estate in certain locations around the US that have been underinvested in.

It all sounded way to good to be true and I kind of ignored him. This sort of thing has been part of so many economic development plans over the years that it sounded like more of the same to me.

We had dinner again last week and he started in again, but this time we were with some other friends and they chimed in.

It turns out the tax incentives are as generous as my friend said and what seemed to me to be too good to be true is in fact true.

These locations are called Opportunity Zones and here is a map that shows where they are located. I bet there are some near you. There are a ton in NYC.

Forbes has a long piece on how these rules came to be and how they work.

I have never been a fan of letting taxes drive my investing and I don’t plan to change that but there are plenty of good investments that can be made in these zones and these new rules seem like they are going to catalyze them.


Priorities and Triage

When my life gets crazy, which it is right now, it helps me to internalize what is most important and triage around that.

And I’m not just talking about what tasks to do and what not to do.

I’m also talking about prioritizing friends and family, exercise, eating right, communicating, and all the things that at one time or another in my life I have let slide in favor of work.

The triage is visible to people, of course, and saying no can be challenging.

I saw some friends last night and they invited me to a thing they are doing in a couple weeks. They said “would you like to come?” I said “No”. My friend said, “do you mean you can’t?” And I said “I just mean I won’t.” He got a chuckle out of it but when I’m in triage mode, I can be curt. I am working on that but sometimes it is easier to just say no and leave it at that.

This blog remains a priority for me and I continue to be able to post something here every day, generate some conversation, and, at times, unlock something for myself and/or some of you.

If you are feeling swamped like I am right now, it helps to take a second to think about what’s most important, do those things, and say no to everything else.


Writing On My Phone

We write on our phones all day long. Texts, emails, searches, etc.

But long form writing is a different thing. I’m not sure how much long form writing happens on phones.

I’ve been mostly writing my daily posts on my phone in the last month and I quite like it. I am writing this post on my phone on a train to NYC this morning.

It has a more casual feel. The words flow naturally from my head to my thumbs to the screen. I feel connected to the writing in a way that doesn’t quite happen on a big screen.

I like that I can write on my phone anywhere. On a park bench. On a train. Sitting on the beach.

Being able to write anywhere makes it less of a chore and more of a treat. Like having a moleskin with you all the time.

I don’t write well with a pen or pencil. It is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Bad eye hand coordination or something else. Whatever the case, I press too hard, my hand cramps, the writing is barely legible, and I race to finish as I hate it.

So my moleskin is my phone. And it is always with me and I can pull it out and start typing whenever I want. And I do that quite often.

There are a few downsides to writing on a phone. I don’t have Grammarly on my phone and I quite like it to keep my writing clean and neat. And I tend to make a lot more little typos on my phone (misspellings, missing a letter in a word, etc). But I expect the tools for long form writing on a phone will improve over time.

The pros outweigh the cons for me and I expect to frequently write blog posts on my phone.

Many people tell me that they want to blog but can never find the time to do that. If you are someone like that, try writing on your phone. WordPress has an excellent mobile app that I write in but you could also write in Google Docs or some other mobile app.

It’s easy, it can be done anywhere, and it feels so natural.


Going Over The Top

I have long had an interest in determining when the video offerings available “over the top” will be sufficient so that customers will no longer need to buy video from their cable providers.

I was writing about this issue in the early days of AVC, fifteen years ago, but certainly, that was way too early for the over the top market to develop.

USV had an investment in this market, the hardware device Boxee, that missed the mark and was beaten by Roku and, most significantly, by AppleTV.

I have not written as much about this topic in recent years as my interests have been elsewhere, but I continue to pay attention to this sector.

Over the last few weeks, we have been moving into a new home where we have broadband internet and satellite television.

The broadband has been working well but we have had installation issues with the satellite.

And so we have been using our AppleTVs to watch video while we wait for the satellite to get installed.

We have yet to find something we want to watch that we could not get over AppleTV.

World Cup – yes, on the Fox app

Wimbledon – yes, on the ESPN app

Summer NBA League in Vegas – yes, on ESPN app

It helps that we have a satellite TV account that we can log into these apps with.

So while we can cut the cord, or the dish as it were, we still need to pay the legacy industry some money every month.

I have heard that the new YouTube TV offering is pretty amazing.

And I have also heard that the DirectTV app on AppleTV gives you everything you get on your dish.

I need to check out both of those things.

I also realize that many people have gone over the top in the last ten years and have not missed cable and our family is, if anything, late to making this switch.

But I like to have redundancy. The internet can go down. The dish can go down. But rarely do they go down at the same time.

But at some point, it may be better to have two internet providers and no video provider.

We may have reached that point.


Funding Friday: The Backtrack Box

Dylan is a musician, an entrepreneur, a hacker, and a geek. That’s quite a combination and a good one at that.

He’s come up with a better way for live musicians to play their back tracks without the need for a computer and lots of cables.

It is called The Backtrack Box and he’s raising funds to manufacture it on Kickstarter.

I backed this project earlier this week and think it is the perfect Kickstarter project; creative, unique, and something that should exist in the world.


Trophy Board Members

I am not reading Bad Blood, the book about Theranos, but many of my friends and colleagues are.

One of the many “tells” that Theranos was not a good company was the board chock full of trophy board members.

A “trophy” board member is someone with a big name who, in theory, brings credibility and connections to your company. They are often out of the world of politics, or a Fortune 500 CEO job, or Wall Street.

I dislike trophy board members and advise our portfolio companies to avoid them. But they don’t always take our advice.

One good example is Lending Club, a very good company run by a very good entrepreneur, who got thrown under the bus, in my view, by his trophy board.

USV is an investor in that entrepreneur’s new company which says all you need to know about where we come out on that one.

Trophy board members are more concerned about their reputations than your company and will often react badly in times of crisis and challenge, which is exactly when you need your board members at your side more than ever.

Trophy board members often miss board meetings, show up unprepared, and frequently don’t take the time and effort to truly understand your business.

I am a huge fan of independent directors to complement the founders and investors on a board. The quality of the board is highest when there are more independents on it than investors and founders. Try to get that ratio right on your board as soon as practical.

But don’t put “names” on your board. Put operators, ideally very seasoned operators, who have done everything you want to do, ideally multiple times, and can help you spot the issues before they become problems and spot the opportunities with enough time to go after them.

These ideal board members are often not big names and they usually don’t have big egos. They are solid, steady, and worth their weight in gold. They come in male and female varieties and across the racial and ethnic spectrum too. It is true that it takes a bit more work to build a diverse board of operationally focused board members but it is worth it.

But whatever you do, stay away from trophy board members. They rarely help and often hurt.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management