Posts from March 2019

Portable TV and Music

We just packed up an Airbnb that we have been living in for three months in Los Angeles and are heading back east.

This is a photo of my carry on luggage as I was packing it this morning.

That is an AppleTV and a Sonos Connect in between my “shaving kit” and my sneakers.

I brought these two devices out west and connected the AppleTV to the one TV in the Airbnb and I connected the Sonos to the receiver that powered the in ceiling speakers in the main living space in the house.

Even if the Airbnb had come with an AppleTV and a Sonos device, I would have swapped out theirs for ours for the length of our stay because these two devices have all of our services pre-confgured on them and we are logged into all of the services.

That is where the big difference is for me and the reason it is worth schlepping these devices cross country and back. The devices aren’t crazy expensive. The AppleTV is around $150 and the Sonos Connect is around $300. But setting these devices up, connecting them to all of the various services we subscribe to, and logging into each and every one can be an hour or more of work each time you do it.

All I had to do was power them up, connect to wifi, and connect to the TV and/or the receiver, and we were good to go.

It’s kind of magic to have all of your services right there on the device, organized how you like them, and ready to go.

I have friends who do the AppleTV move in hotels when they travel for business. I haven’t gone that far but I might leave the AppleTV in my carry on luggage along with my shaving kit and try that on my next business trip. Plugging in an HDMI cable into a TV is pretty straightforward in most cases.

What this means is TV and music is now highly portable. You can bring your TV and music with you when you travel and connect into the existing infrastructure in your hotel or Airbnb.

If these devices get small enough or cheap enough (or both), or if our smartphones can replicate all of the functionality of these devices, then the hospitality industry can focus on the “dumb” infrastructure and the guests can bring the smart devices.

More S1 Fun

We are now seeing a wave of longtime private companies coming public and with that we are getting data on usage, financial performance, and a host of other issues that is very useful market data.

I spent some time looking at Pinterest’s S1 today. They filed it a week or two ago.

I found this chart of user growth quite interesting:

That shows monthly active users in the US and International over the last few years on a quarterly basis.

Pinterest is rapidly growing its user base outside of the US but usage in the US has stalled out.

This chart, also from the S1, shows revenue growth in the US and Internationally:

So what you can see is that Pinterest has been growing its US revenues rapidly but not its US user base. And on the other hand, Pinterest has been growing its International user base but its International revenue is still nascent.

So the question is whether Pinterest will be able to monetize its rapidly expanding international user base.

That is the kind of insight you can get from reading these S1s. I find them fascinating and try to read them when they come out.

I don’t plan to buy Lyft or Pinterest when they come public. That’s not really my thing. And I don’t have an opinion on whether they are attractive investments or not. But I do think we can learn a lot about these businesses from reading S1s and that can help us with the investments we do have.

Fewer Cars More Mass Transit

Well it looks like NYC is finally going to get congestion pricing, a technique used successfully in a number of cities around the world to reduce the number of cars on the road and increase the investment in mass transit.

The concept is simple. Tax cars coming into the center of a city and use those tax revenues to invest in other ways of moving people in and out of the city.

I have been a supporter of this idea going back to the Bloomberg era in NYC when it looked like we were going to get congestion pricing and then it fell apart due to political opposition.

I wrote about congestion pricing late last year when a report came out from the Governor’s committee on metro area transportation which recommended congestion pricing and increased investment in the MTA.

I think this is the right policy. We need to create financial disincentives to drive in NYC (with the proper exemptions like people with disabilities) and we need to invest more in mass transit.

This will be good for the tech sector in NYC, where employees largely use mass transit to get around. Julie Samuels, Exec Director of Tech:NYC, explains why in more detail in this op-ed.

I do have concerns about giving billions of new tax revenues to the MTA which has not been great at using the billions we have already given them to deliver better mass transit. I mention those concerns in my post late last year.

But we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good. NYC needs congestion pricing and we need it now. It will reduce traffic in lower and midtown manhattan and it will provide the resources we need to modernize and improve our mass transit options.

If we could couple congestion pricing with structural reforms of the MTA, then we would be really cooking with gas.

Equity Via Inclusion

We’ve been trying a big ambitious experiment in NYC over the last five years. We are training over 5,000 teachers to teach computer science classes in elementary school, middle school, and high school. We call it CS4All.

It sounds simple, but it is anything but simple. And it is expensive. We are funding it via public private partnership. I am leading the private part via a $40mm capital campaign. Talk to me about that if you are interested.

But here’s the thing. If you want to see engineering teams that are 50/50 male/female, and representative of our racial makeup (black, hispanic, etc, etc), if you want true equity and diversity in our workforces, then you simply have to do one thing:

Give the education/training/skills to EVERYONE.

And we are seeing the outcomes now that we are approaching our fifth year of this effort.

The NY Post (The NYC Mayor’s biggest critic) wrote this article about the performance and representation of young women in the AP Computer Science exams last spring.

Just 379 girls took the exam in 2016, compared with 2,155 last year, according to the department. That means that 42 percent of all city kids who took the AP exam were girls — compared with just 28 percent nationwide.


And the female students aren’t just sitting for the tests in far higher numbers — they’re conquering them at an accelerated rate as well.
In 2016, only 177 New York City girls passed an AP computer-science exam, officials said. In 2018, 1,266 earned the distinction.

https://nypost.com/2019/03/24/girls-are-acing-the-ap-computer-science-test-in-record-numbers-doe/

I am a huge fan of efforts directed at teaching young women to code, things like Girls Who Code. They are amazing resources for young women and they are part of why these numbers are moving in the right direction.

But I have always believed, and these numbers give me even more conviction, that the best way to get equity for everyone is to include everyone. Pretty simple really.

Life In A Constant Stream Of Emails And Meetings

My colleague Nick wrote a post today about his productivity system. Nick’s system is way more elaborate than mine, but everyone has to find their own way of getting things done.

What I found most interesting about Nick’s post is what I put in the headline of this post. Our jobs at USV are a constant stream of emails, many of them hoping to get into the constant stream of meetings we take.

Nick put it this way in his post:

at the end of the day it all boils down to a single strategy: getting things into my calendar.  The other main thing I try to solve for is simply not forgetting things.  I live in a constant stream of emails and meetings, and it’s easy to forget something important.  So a goal here is to help ensure that I don’t forget things and ultimately, that I’m focused on the most important thing most of the time.

Nick mentions my strategy of putting everything that I must do in a given day/week/month into my calendar so that it gets done. That works incredibly well for me and is really my only productivity tool.

Nick also mentions our partner Albert’s email technique which I have always wanted to implement and some day will:

 Albert has a system, which seems to work for him, which is: using a set of predefined gmail filters, clear the inbox daily.  Not the entire inbox, but a few filtered versions (family, USV team, his portfolio companies).

I very much like Albert’s approach. It requires writing the right stored queries (gmail filters) and then keeping them up to date (which is the part that gives me pause). But it makes a ton of sense to try to get to inbox zero on the most important parts of your life vs trying to get to inbox zero on everything.

No matter how you do it, you have to find a way not to drop balls, certainly the most important balls. And that is easy to do when you are in meetings from 7am to 5pm like I will be today.

So whether it is Nick’s approach, mine, Albert’s, or your own, having a system is key. I think it is less important what your system is than having one and sticking to it.

The Finance Function: Looking Back And Looking Forward

High growth companies need to have a strong finance function. You can’t drive a car (or a plane) without some instrumentation. Most importantly, you need to know when you are going to run out of gas (or electricity).

The mission critical things that must be done in the finance function are mostly accounting related functions; pay bills, make payroll, keep track of expenses, maintain the books and records of the company. These are “must dos” and you need a person who has an accounting background to do most of them. But these are all “looking back” functions in the way I think about the finance function.

What is even more important in a high growth situation is the ability to look forward, to project, and to make sure that the company doesn’t run out of money.

In order to look forward, you need to know where you are, and that requires a solid baseline derived from looking back. So one feeds the other. But they are different.

Looking forward requires modeling and it requires the ability to anticipate. An example of this is “we are going to get a big order from a new customer next month, let’s put that revenue into the model.” But if you don’t anticipate that it may take up to ninety (or more) days to collect that revenue, then you have messed up the modeling and that is the sort of rookie error that could lead to an unexpected cash crisis.

There are many reasons why a company needs a forward looking projection to run the business but avoiding the unexpected cash crisis is number on on that list in my view.

In my experience, the people who are strong at the looking back function are often not strong at the looking forward function. You may need different people to do these roles. In a large company, there are entirely different departments that do these functions. There is an accounting department and there is a financial planning department (often called FP&A).

If you are a small company and have limited resources, you will often attempt to get both the look back and the look forward from the same person. If you aren’t getting what you want in doing that, don’t be surprised. I would rather see a small company outsource the accounting work and staff for the planning/modeling work. Accounting is a bit of a commodity, many people can do it well. Seeing the future from around the corner is most definitely not commodity and if you have someone who can do that well, hold on to them, pay them well, and make sure they are happy and rewarded in the job.

Because looking forward is really where it is at in the finance function at the end of the day. That’s where the good stuff and the bad stuff mostly happen. And when it is done well, it is a thing of beauty.

Video Of The Week In Two Parts

This past week Laura Shin did an interview with Vitalik Buterin, the founder of the Ethereum project. I am going to run a video of that conversation next week.

Laura started her interview with Vitalik by playing for him and everyone else in the room a bit of this conversation Tushar Jain and I had last fall.

So I am reblogging this conversation so it is fresh in everyone’s minds when I run Laura’s Vitalik interview next week.

Funding Friday: Salvage Swings

There is a lot to like about this project which I backed this morning and is ending tomorrow.

1/ They use cross laminated timber (CLT), which is a wood product that is getting a lot of adoption now. The Gotham Gal and I are building two CLT buildings in Brooklyn and we are big fans of CLT.

2/ They are using salvaged wood to make their CLT.

3/ This is public art, which is another thing I love.

4/ Swings are awesome. At age 57, I will still sit on a swing and go for it.

5/ This is part of FigmentNYC, a public art festival in NYC this summer.

So with all of that lead-in, here is Salvage Swings. You can back it here.