Posts from 2018

Funding Friday: A Grab Bag

I went onto Kickstarter today to find, fund, and then feature a project on my regular Funding Friday post. I found so many great projects that I backed all of them and I have listed them below. Check them out, they are all great. And back a few of them too if you are so inclined.

SoundMachine
Seadrift: Vietnamese Refugees, Texans, and the KKK
Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019
Pizza, A Love Story – grab the final slice of the pie!
Netflix vs. the World – Feature-Length Documentary
The Making Of BEETLEJUICE
Reach for the Rooftop

#Uncategorized

The NYC Transit Mess

When Governor Cuomo and the state legislature passed last year’s budget, they formed a committee to address the growing crisis in the NYC metro area transportation systems. That committee was chaired by my longtime friend Kathy Wylde, who runs and has run the NYC Partnership for many years. Anyone who knows Kathy knows she is all business and does not mince words. The world could use more people like Kathy, particularly in public service.

The committee released their report this week and you can read it here. The NY Times also covered the release of the report here.

The bottom line is that the MTA which controls much of the transit and tunnel and bridge infrastructure for the NYC metro area transit system needs between $45bn and $60bn over the 2020-2024 five year capital planning window. That compares to $33bn over the prior five year period from 2015-2019.

How does the city and state and region come with up to $60bn? Well, one of the ideas is to implement congestion pricing in the “central business district” in Manhattan. That is an idea that has been proposed a number of times over the years, most notably by Mayor Bloomberg during his tenure. It is a good idea and long overdue. A dense urban environment should have excellent mass transit and incentives to use it and should have disincentives to drive cars. Taxing cars in Manhattan and using the revenues to maintain and improve our subways seems like an obvious thing to do.

Congestion pricing in the central business district in Manhattan should produce upwards of $1bn a year in new revenues. If a surcharge was applied to “for hire vehicles” (taxis, Uber, Lyft, etc) in the same central business district, another $400mm a year could be generated.

If you bonded the $1bn, that could produce $15bn. If you bonded the for hire vehicle surcharge, that could produce another $9bn. Those are big numbers and would go a long way to funding the 2020-2024 capital plans.

But as Bliss McCrum, who taught me much about venture capital and recently passed away, would say “don’t put good money after bad without first making some changes.”

And the changes Bliss was talking about was the team, the operating model, and the strategy.

So the other recommendations from the committee should be taken seriously before fully funding the 2020-2024 plan. Breaking up the MTA is at the top of the list. It is a monstrous bureaucracy which is wasteful and badly mismanaged. If it were a privately held company, it would have been bankrupt and reorganized long ago. We should treat it as bankrupt and reorganize it now.

There is very little that can’t be fixed by good management, a business minded operating model, and a responsible investment plan. Unfortunately government is not rich with any of those. But our transportation systems should be and those in government can and should make that a priority. Nothing less than the future of our city is at stake.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

With the news of Google and Amazon’s huge expansions into NYC, many people are asking “how did NYC tech get to this place?”  Well, I am going to post a 25 minute video history lesson at the end of this blog post that explains that.

But first, I’d like to talk about how I ended up doing that history lesson, which in and of itself is a history lesson.

When the Internet sector started to emerge from its nuclear winter in the late 2003/early 2004 (which is also when Brad Burnham and I went out and raised the first USV fund), those of us who were still working in the Inernet sector were looking around for a narrative and a rallying cry.

Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle came up with it. They called the re-emergence of the Internet/web sector “Web 2.0” and they launched a conference called Web 2.0 Summit in the fall of 2004. It became the hub of the renewed vitality of the tech/internet sector and we went out to SF every year to attend it.

By 2008, it was clear that NYC was increasingly an important part of the Web 2.0 story, by virtue of companies like Etsy, Tumblr, Delicious, and other important “web 2” companies started in NYC (and funded by USV).

So John and Tim decided to host a Web 2.0 Summit in NYC in 2008 and to celebrate that, they asked me to give a history lesson in the emergence of tech in NYC in the mid 90s. I did that and it remains one of my favorite talks I have given.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed doing it.

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Supersize Your DJ Set

Our portfolio company SoundCloud just launched a pretty cool thing. If you are a DJ and use one of the popular DJ software products, you can plug SoundCloud into it and make your mixes right from the cloud.

Here’s a 15 second video advertisement for this new feature:

SoundCloud has announced that this feature is coming to all of the popular DJ software products soon. 

It is great to see SoundCloud, a company that got its start with DJs, bringing all that it has built over the years back to it early users.

#Uncategorized

Negotiating: Drawing A Hard Line or Building A Negotiating Cushion?

I believe that negotiating is more of an art than a science. There are certainly strategies and skills that one can develop that make for better outcomes.

But the art comes into play in figuring out what the person or people on the other side are optimizing for and adopting a strategy that reflects that.

I have found that a single style and strategy rarely works well for every situation.

Let’s take the important question of whether you should make a “take it or leave it” offer and then draw a hard line on that offer or whether you should make an offer that has a fair bit of negotiating cushion in it.

Some people like to negotiate and expect to negotiate. If you make a hard line offer and refuse to negotiate with them, they will be frustrated with you and may seek out other offers. Or if they do end up transacting with you, they will feel burned by the negotiating process and you will be starting off the relationship on the wrong foot

If you make an offer that has a lot of room for negotiating, they may actually enjoy the experience and come away feeling like they got a good deal from you.

I like to shake hands at the end of a negotiation with both parties pleased with where they ended up. That is particularly important when you are entering a long term relationship like a venture capital investment.

It is also critical to know what your “must haves” are going into a negotiation and what you can give on.

Another form of negotiating art is how you reveal your must haves and where you are flexible. I have found that it is not helpful to a negotiation to lay all of that out at the start. There is a lot of value in a discovery process. It is a bit like dating. Each side reveals a bit about themselves to the other and that is also very helpful at the start of what might be a long relationship.

All that said, there are times when drawing a hard line is appropriate. If the other side has all of the leverage then it is often best to make your best offer and say take it or leave it. If, for example, the other side has used a process to drive price discovery and possibly discovery around other key terms and has multiple offers, you are not going to win the deal with the low ball offer with negotiating room. You have to give it your best shot and then walk if you can’t win on that basis.

Like most art, it takes some time to learn all of this. You can take a class or a workshop on negotiating tactics and learn the fundamentals. I would strongly recommend that for young folks just getting started in business.

But when it comes to learning how to size up the other party, well that takes time. You have to mess up some negotiations, lose some deals, and possibly win some on terms you later regret.

It is that last bit, living with the terms you negotiate, where the greatest learnings come. I have found that a very powerful argument in a difficult negotiation is when you say “I did that once, I deeply regret it, and I’m never doing it again.”

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Feature Friday: Plan A Trip

I don’t really use Waze that much. My trips are typically a combo of walking, biking, subways, and driving and Google Maps does a great job of offering all of those options. Waze is made for driving. So I am more of a Google Maps user than a Waze user.

But Waze has one feature that I am increasingly addicted to: the “plan a trip” later feature.

I am going to Brooklyn this morning for a Board Meeting and then I need to be in my office later. So I pulled out my phone, launched Waze, and figured out when I need to leave by (if I am going by car). 

It looks like this:

Given that Google (which owns Waze) has this data, I would love to see Google add this feature to Maps and apply it to subway trips as well.

I would also like Google to add this data to scheduling a meeting in Google Calendar.

Imagine if this feature was available in Resy and Open Table, when you are deciding when to book a table. Imagine if this feature was available any time that you are selecting a time for something and need to travel to it.

We are living in a time when our phones and the services we use know so much about us and the world around us. That is problematic and getting more so. But it is also true that can offer magical experiences that makes our lives so much better. This plan a trip feature and other places it can be applied is an example of the latter.

#Uncategorized

Down Time

Yesterday I upgraded to a higher tier of hosting service from my hosting provider (Bluehost). AVC is now running on a “virtual private server” vs a “shared server” in the past.

That upgrade was processed in the middle of the night last night and after it completed, AVC went down.

Anyone who tried to access AVC in the last six hours was served this error message:

Account Suspended

Which is mildly embarrassing, as it appeared as though I have not been paying my bills 🙂

The issue has been corrected and AVC is working properly again. We may have also fixed the nasty “error establishing a database connection” issue that has plagued AVC for years and has been particularly bad in the last few days. That was one of several reasons I did the upgrade.

The particular reason AVC was not reachable for the last six hours is that my new server has a new IP address and I needed to change that in my Cloudflare account. 

It is little things like that which cause many of the problems that happen in tech. I changed the IP addresses at Cloudflare and AVC was back up and running immediately.

Oh well.

Sorry about the downtime. And here’s to hoping that AVC is more reliable for all of you now. 

#Weblogs

Pixel Slate

My Chromebook journey has led me to the Pixel Slate.

As I wrote here a few months ago, I have wanted to move to a Chromebook for a while and I finally decided to do it.

I started with the Pixelbook, and I have been using it for about three months as my only machine at work. I wrote a bit about what I like about it and what I don’t like about it.

The lack of a biometric login (face or finger recognition) is a real limitation for me with the PixelBook because you have to use your Google login to unlock the device and I’ve got a very strong password on my Google account.

So when the Pixel Slate came out and offered fingerprint login, I bought one. I got it this week and have set it up and started to use it at work.

It’s a really interesting device. I bought it as a Pixelbook replacement as it has a keyboard that turns it into a laptop (sort of). It works a lot like the Microsoft Surface in that regard, although I have never used a Surface so I can’t really compare them.

But the thing that really kind of turned me upside down on the Slate is when I started installing Android apps on it. Once I had the native Gmail, Calendar, and other Android apps on it, the Slate started to feel like a massive phone to me.

So now I am really trying to understand this device and how best to use it.

I am intrigued by the hybrid nature of it, part laptop, part tablet, part phone.

I may very well start taking it with me when I travel, instead of my MacBook Air. 

In any case, I am now in full discovery mode with this device. And very excited to see all that it can do for me.

The one thing that took me some time to figure out is the biometric login. If you login to the device with your work Google login, the fingerprint login may not be available to you (that’s what happened to me).

With the help of my colleague Nick, I figured out that I could install the device with my personal Google login, then add my work Google account to it, and then I was able to use the fingerprint login.

I don’t really understand why Google deprecates the fingerprint login for work accounts as they allow that on the Pixel phone. 

But in any case, I got all of this working and I am now going to see how far this Pixel Slate can go with me. I am pretty optimistic that I am really going to like it.

#mobile