Posts from 2019

Immigration Makes Us Stronger

It is ironic and upsetting that a nation built on immigration is increasingly unwelcoming to immigrants and that the words ” go back” are becoming a political rallying cry.

I am for immigration full stop.

I think opening our arms and borders to people who want to come here, work, build their lives and businesses and futures makes our country stronger.

It always has. Nothing that is great about the United States was accomplished without immigrants.

Immigrants built our docks, they built our railroads, they built our automotive industry, and they built our technology industry.

If we were to close our borders completely, I believe we would be a second rate country within a couple of generations.

Immigration is new blood, new ideas, a work ethic, a belief in a better future, a willingness to take enormous risk, burn the boats, and get it done.

We need that in our society. We will die without it.

Whales Not Unicorns

I have been vocal here that I do not like the term Unicorn to describe highly valued venture-backed startups. Unicorns are mythical creatures that don’t really exist and highly valued venture-backed startups do exist. They might be rare, but they are not fictional.

A better word would be Whales. And it turns out that the Whaling industry in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries looked remarkably similar to today’s venture capital business.

Some of my friends and colleagues have been texting and tweeting about a book called VC: An American History by Tom Nicholas. So I got it on my Kindle and the first chapter is all about the Whaling industry and its similarities to the VC business.

Here are some photos I took of the first chapter on my phone.

This is a chart that plots the distribution of returns by whaling voyage vs venture capital fund.

This is a diagram that compares the structure of the whaling industry to the venture capital industry.

And this is a chart that shows the performance of the top 29 whaling agents. This is very similar to charts I have seen that compares the performance of the top venture capital firms.

So while Unicorns are made up creatures, Whales are not. And given the similarities between a highly successful venture capital investment and a highly successful whaling voyage, I am going to start calling the big winners in the venture industry Whales. I hope it catches on.

Video Of The Week: Fireside Chat With Brian Armstrong

Back in May, during Blockchain Week in NYC, I had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO of our portfolio company Coinbase, Brian Armstrong.

We started off talking about their rapidly growing institutional business, but quickly got to talking about everything Coinbase.

Brian also gets a question in for me about 17mins into the talk.

It’s about 10 minutes of me asking Brian questions and then another 20 minutes of Q&A from the audience.

Funding Friday: Bowling The American Dream

“Like many suburban kids growing up in the 70s, I was no stranger to the local bowling alley.”

So starts the video below for this Kickstarter project to make a photo book about the classic American bowling alley.

That line got me as I grew up a suburban kid in the 70s and spent many an afternoon and evening at the local bowling alley.

I backed this project and maybe you will too. It has three days to go and only needs $1200 to get across the finish line.

A Doctor For Sensitive Issues

Our portfolio company Nurx started out offering birth control prescriptions on a mobile phone delivered to you in the mail. This has been a game changer for many women who live far from a doctor or a pharmacy or live in places where it is not easy to get a birth control prescription.

But they have not stopped there. They added HIV Prep for people who are at risk for HIV and want to protect themselves. And then they added emergency contraception (the morning after pill).

And this week, Nurx added at home testing for sexually transmitted diseases. From that blog post:

The tests offerings include: The Full Control Kit, which tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia (throat, rectal, urine swabs), syphilis, hepatitis C, and HIV (blood sample), and is $75 with insurance or $220 without; The Healthy Woman’s Kit, which tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia (throat and vaginal swabs), trichomoniasis (vaginal swabs), syphilis and HIV (blood samples) and is $75 with insurance or $190 without; The Covered With the Basics Kit, which tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia (urine sample), syphilis and HIV (blood sample) and is $75 with health insurance or $150 without. The goal is to make STI testing easier, more affordable, and with fewer awkward face-to-face interactions with a potentially judgmental lab tech or doctor. The tests are available in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

The idea behind Nurx is that too many people put off going to see the doctor because they are ashamed, it is awkward, or it is inconvenient. And this is particularly true for sensitive issues.

Nurx believes that technology (the mobile phone, telemedicine, logistics, etc) can and will change this for most people and that we can all become healthier as a result. Preventive medicine is the most efficient and affordable kind of medicine and we need more of that in society.

Nurx has grown like a weed over the last two years which tells me that there is a large unmet need for this kind of health care and I am excited to see the Company continue to add more and more services as they grow.

Otis

One of USV’s newest portfolio companies, Otis, had a coming out party yesterday.

The idea behind Otis is that cultural assets like fine art, rare books and comic books, jewelry and watches, sneakers and skateboards, etc are appreciated by everyone but are only collectible/affordable by wealthy people.

Otis intends to change that by securitizing these cultural assets and selling them off in shares for as little as $25 per share. These fractionalized cultural assets will be shown publicly while they are owned collectively.

You can see how this all works by downloading the Otis mobile apps here.

I did that yesterday and I have already set myself up to try to buy a share of Kehinde Wiley’s Saint Jerome Hearing The Trumpet Of Last Judgement on August 13th.

I’ve also opted to be notified when these assets “drop” so I can purchase a share of them too.

I am not a sneakerhead but for those of you who are this might be of interest to you:

This is just the start of what will hopefully be a highly liquid secondary market for the trading and collecting of shares of cultural assets. The market is starting out highly curated by Otis but that may change over time as things develop.

USV’s focus right now is on backing trusted brands that can open up access to captial, knowledge, and well-being and Otis fits in all three of those categories. We are very excited to be involved in this ambitious effort.

The Heretic

I am reading a friend’s book which is still in proofs and so I’m not going to talk about it yet.

But there is one part of the book that really rang true for me and that is when he talks about certain kinds of problematic employees, particularly one he calls The Heretic.

This kind of employee, and we have all seen this up close, is negative about the Company and disses the management, coworkers, the board, the strategy, the workplace, and everything else under the sun. But for some reason the heretic prefers to stay and be miserable than to move on and find another place to work that is more to their liking.

My friend states in his book that you have to part ways with heretics in your company, regardless of how talented they are, how connected they are, and even if they are protected in some way. You have to find a way out of the heretic mess.

I agree with this advice and I have seen this play out in many ways. The worst way is to let this behavior go on unchecked. As painful as parting can be, and it can be incredibly painful depending on the circumstances, letting this behavior stand is worse.

Business Model Innovation

I’ve shared my views on this before here at AVC. I believe business model innovation is more disruptive than technical innovation.

A good example of this was moving from web apps to mobile apps, which was largely a technical innovation. While the move to mobile certainly created some new companies, it largely strengthened the market position of the big Internet companies because there was little to no business model innovation.

Compare that to the move from desktop computing to the web. We saw massive disruption as we went from a licensed software business model to an advertising supported business model, which has evolved into an advertising/subscription freemium business model.

I am excited about the move to crypto based business models supporting decentralized apps for this very reason. I think it opens up the possibility that some very large new companies will be created that innovate largely on entirely new business models.

An area that is particularly ripe for this kind of innovation is user generated content or, more broadly user generated products and services.

If you think about something like Instagram, the software is great but could fairly easily be replicated. But the network of users and the content they create is impossible to replicate. That is where the value is created. Or think about Reddit where the community creates the content. Or think about Waze where the users generate the data about which way has the least traffic.

In these sorts of businesses, the ideal model would remunerate the users for creating the content and allow them to take their content elsewhere if a better deal were to emerge.

That is precisely what a decentralized application built on an open data protocol would do from a technology perspective. And the remuneration of the user is what a token incentive model would offer in terms of a new business model.

So why have we not seen this emerge yet? Bitcoin has been around for over ten years. People have been mining Bitcoin and earning tokens for doing so for more than a decade. This new business model is sitting there in plain sight.

Well first of all, quite a few entrepreneurs have tried. Steem is a decentralized Reddit with a token incentive model and it has been around for a while now. There are over 150 decentralized apps in the Blockstack app store (Blockstack is a USV portfolio company).

So it is not for lack of trying.

I believe the primary inhibitor to this business model innovation is that it requires users to own crypto-assets and store them in a wallet somewhere and be comfortable using them to access decentralized apps. That has not gone mainstream and we need a killer app to make that happen. That is why USV has gotten behind Libra. We think it could be the thing to get mainstream users there.

But if not Libra, I am confident it will be something that gets billions of users holding and using tokens on our phones. And when that happens, a wave of business model innovation will be upon us. I’m super excited for that.

Price Stability

One of the use cases that has eluded cryptocurrencies to date is “means of exchange” (something you would spend).

I wrote about this a couple years ago and showed this transaction in that blog post:

That was a payment I made to a caddie named Kris after he carried my bags one morning six years ago.

We played today and he was carrying a friend’s bag and I asked him if he still had that Bitcoin and he smiled and said “absolutely.”.

That made me feel good but the truth is nobody should be paying for anything, including caddying services, with something that can appreciate 123x. That’s just not rationale behavior.

Which is why stablecoins, cryptocurrencies which have price stability built in to them, are one of the important sectors in crypto right now.

There is the “dollar pegged” approach, like Tether (which may not actually be dollar pegged) and USDC (which is actually dollar pegged). One of the issuers of USDC is Coinbase, a USV portfolio company.

There is the Libra cryptocurrency, which USV is involved with as a Founding Member of the Libra Association. Libra will not be pegged to a specific fiat currency, but will have a reserve made up of many fiat currencies so it will have price stability.

And then there are stablecoins that are asset backed but not fiat backed like Dai.

Finally there are stablecoins that attempt to deliver price stability programmatically. I am not confident that approach will work.

I am confident that one way or another consumers will adopt cryptocurrencies that are price stabilized and when they do they will start transacting in them. And that will unlock a lot of utility that has so far been elusive.

Video Of The Week: Angela Duckworth – Grit

A few years ago, we invited Angela Duckworth to speak to our portfolio company CEOs at our annual get together. It was a terrific talk that absolutely impacted the way these CEOs thought about hiring and managing their teams. Angela’s theory of “Grit” as a predictor of success in education, careers, and life is powerful. If you have not read her book on the topic, you should. You can get it here.