Posts from September 2018

Working Weekends

My friend Brad Feld takes a digital sabbath. No email, internet, phone for 24 hours from Friday night to Saturday night.

I’ve not been willing or able to do that but I do try to work less on the weekends.

I don’t go to the office under any circumstances on the weekends and I don’t take business meetings on the weekends either. I have told that to a few people over the years and they responded “I didn’t think I was business”. Oh well. I do not mean to offend.

I do generally spend Saturday morning in my home office catching up on personal/family work which I try not to do much of during the week. I remember my Dad doing the same when I was growing up. I did not consciously model that behavior after him but I do know where I got the idea.

The rest of the weekend is largely time off for me. I like to spend Saturday afternoons out and about with the Gotham Gal and Sunday mornings on a bike ride with my daughter, which I did today, or playing golf with friends, which I did last Sunday.

I also try like hell to get an afternoon nap in on both Saturday and Sunday.

And Sunday evenings is almost always a family meal with our kids. I look forward to that so much now that they don’t live with us anymore.

I could have titled this post “Not Working Weekends” but the truth is I do work on the weekends. I often will catch up on email on the weekends when the inbound is slower. It is the only time of the week I can seem to make a dent in my inbox.

And I will do calls on the weekends when it is necessary which is frequently.

But slowing it down for a couple days a week is a great habit and one that I’ve gotten a lot better at over the years.

I do believe that a rested body and mind is a better body and mind and the best time to make that happen is on the weekends, particularly a gorgeous fall weekend like we are having in NYC right now.

Audio Of The Week: The Changing Nature Of Women’s Healthcare

One of the themes we are deeply bought into at USV in our approach to healthcare investing is the opportunity in women’s health care, particularly providing care to young and healthy women. Our portfolio companies Nurx, Clue, and Modern Fertility are all doing that.

This podcast, which I listened to earlier this week, is a discussion of exactly that opportunity and features Hans Gangeskar, CEO of Nurx, and Carolyn Witte, CEO of AskTia.

Competing To Win

This question came up in the comments yesterday:

It got me thinking about whether a competitive investment is a better investment.

Most of the time we are in a competitive process when we consider an investment.

But that is not always the case.

Sometimes, we are the only investor at the table.

That could be because we got there before anyone else.

Or it could be because nobody else wanted to invest.

We have had big wins in all of these scenarios.

I am not big on social proof. I think it is among the dumbest notions in all of investing.

If you can’t figure out why you want to make an investment on your own, you should not be investing.

But it is true that you have to be able to win competitive situations in order to be a top-tier venture investor.

It may, in fact, be the signature trait of a top-tier venture investor.

When I started out in the VC business, I was with a firm that struggled to win competitive deals.

We did not have a brand, we did not have a strong market position.

So when I left and we started Flatiron, I was all about fixing that.

We did that at Flatiron and we did that at USV.

You have to be able to win the deals you want to win and price is not going to do it all by itself.

The market has a way of getting everyone more or less to a clearing price and then the entrepreneur will make her choice.

And in that moment, you have to have something they want.

It could be your brand.

It could be your passion.

It could be your network.

Most likely it is all those things and more.

So being able to ask in and get in is a very big part of succeeding in the venture business.

Knowing What You Are Looking For

There are many different styles of investing. At USV, we choose to be thesis-driven investors. This is our current thesis.

When an opportunity shows up that is right down the middle of our strike zone, we generally jump on it.

It really helps to know what you are looking for.

I told this story yesterday to Rebecca as we were talking about a current opportunity that fits our current thesis like a glove:

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When Brad and I were raising the first USV fund in 2003 and 2004, we spent most of our time on the road, pitching investors to invest in our fund.

On the road, we would talk a lot about what we would invest in once the fund was closed.

We wanted to invest in the applications layer of the Internet and we were seeing search and social turning into interesting opportunities.

One day Brad said to me “What if job listings worked like search? Instead of posting your jobs to a site like Monster, you just post them to your company website and buy traffic to them?”

Brad has always been fascinated by business model disruption and the power of moving to a new model.

We thought about it and talked about it a fair bit and concluded that if something that looked like that showed up, we would jump on it.

Right after we held our first closing of USV 2004 (which happened in November 2004), I read this blog post on my friend John Battelle‘s blog.

John was writing his book on Google at the time and was obsessed with the search business.

I ran into Brad’s office and said “your search engine for jobs is here, it is called Indeed.” I showed him John’s post.

So we reached out to Paul and Rony, the Indeed founders, and told them we wanted to invest in Indeed.

They weren’t so sure about that. They were self-funding Indeed after selling their previous company and did not need our money.

But we kept after them and eventually, in the fall of 2005, we did invest.

I wrote this blog post on usv.com explaining why we invested in Indeed.

The rest is history. Indeed was possibly the best company we ever invested in at USV.

There have been bigger returns as Indeed chose to sell to Recruit instead of staying independent and going public.

Had they done that, I bet they would be worth north of $10bn now and we owned a lot of it.

But that’s another story.

This one is about knowing what you are looking for and jumping on it when you see it.

It is usually a recipe for success.

The Post-Sale Stay-Period

There is a lot of chatter on Tech Twitter and elsewhere about the Instagram founders leaving Facebook six years after selling their company to Facebook.

All I can say about that situation is they gave Facebook way more of their time and energy than most founders would have.

Of course there are cases where founders stay at the buyer for many years, sometimes even rising to become CEO

But that is rare.

Way more common is the founder bailing after a year or less.

When companies that I am on the board of acquire founder-led companies, I advise them to highly incentivize the founders to stay (usually with a combination of cash and stock that is time based) but prepare for them to leave (by having a clear succession and transition plan in place right away).

The truth is that many entrepreneurs don’t make for great corporate citizens. Entrepreneurs like to be in charge, to be able to move quickly without a lot of friction, and they like to feel a deep sense of ownership in what they are working on.

That is often hard to find in a corporate environment where teamwork, collaborative decision making, and checks and balances are the norm.

I am a big believer in acquisitions as a path for wealth creation (for both the seller and buyer) and as a logical exit for most startup founders. And staying for some period of time is required to make the acquisition work for both parties.

But getting the founders to stay for six years is an amazing accomplishment and quite rare in my experience.

Conversations Versus Interviews

I’ve been interviewed many times and while interviews are OK, what I enjoy a lot more are public conversations between two people.

Listening to two people talking as friends and peers is more enlightening to me.

My friend Chris Dixon was in NYC a few weeks ago and he came by my office and we talked about stuff for about an hour.

I told him it would be fun to do the same thing but record it and put it up online.

So I went over to the A16Z offices in NYC a few days later and we did that.

And this is an hour-long conversation between the two of us about what we are thinking about right now.

I hope you enjoy it.

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago, I sat down in front of a website called Typepad and wrote this post.

I ended that short post (six brief paragraphs) with this:

I read blogs a lot. And i think they are great. So i am starting a blog. I have no idea if i’ll write a lot in my blog or rarely. I hope its a lot, because i have a lot to say. But we’ll see about that.

Well, we did see about that. I do have a lot to say. As a hater commenter said here a few weeks ago, I talk too much.

But out of all of that writing has come a few gems that still are as good as the day I wrote them, a series of blog posts called MBA Mondays that people continue to come across and read from start to finish, and a connection to a readership that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

For me, I have gained a daily practice that starts me off with a wide-open mind, that makes me think and articulate that thinking, that has led to numerous spectacular investments and has honed my ability to communicate, not just in the written word, but also in many other ways.

In those fifteen years, I have posted 8,033 times. That is way more than 15*365 because, in the early years, I would post multiple times a day. I settled on once a day about five years in and that has become my practice since.

I regularly get people coming to me and asking me to write a book. I always pass because I can’t imagine writing in a format that has an end. I can’t imagine writing in a format that doesn’t provide instant feedback. I can’t imagine writing in a format that requires a structure. I can’t imagine writing in a format that isn’t a stream of consciousness. I can’t imagine thinking about what I am going to write more than ten minutes before writing it. I can’t imagine killing trees to carry my words. So I will continue to write a blog. It’s the perfect format for me. AVC is way more than a book. It is a living breathing thing that sustains me and that is me.

When this blog turned ten, we had a big party. Many people traveled long distances to attend. It was a lot of fun. I met many AVC readers for the first time.

Five years later, I am in a different frame of mind on how to celebrate the anniversary. I want to acknowledge the moment and then move on. I am trying to contain what this blog is to keep it manageable for me. There are many times it has tested those limits. Lately, I have gotten it in a good place where it is working well for me. And hopefully for you too.

Happy fifteenth birthday, AVC.

Funding Friday: Half-Light

Earlier this week, I backed this project from an artist in Iran.

The project is now over. It was funded with almost $10,000. So her photography book will be made and shared with the world.

It is too bad that I didn’t share this with all of you while the project was live so you could back it as I did.

But this project exhibits all of the things that makes Kickstarter so important to me.

It is from the heart, it is art, it is full of meaning, it is from a person halfway around the world that I don’t know and probably will never know.

And it moved me.