Posts from April 2019

Kickstarter Turns Ten

I noticed that the Kickstarter logo on my phone had confetti on this this morning.

So I clicked on it and the app loaded this message on startup:

I like that they ended that birthday message with “show me projects”. Even in celebrating ten years, 16 million backers, $4 billion in funding to 160,000 projects across 22 different countries, Kickstarter is reminding us that their mission is to help bring creative projects to life.

As Aziz Hasan, Kickstarter’s new CEO wrote in his blog post today;

We’ve accomplished a lot since 2009, but we also recognize that we still have a lot to do — creative work needs more support. At Kickstarter, that means we have a responsibility to evolve our service, strengthen our dedication, and increase our impact.

In the midst of all of that serious work, Kickstarter is also having some fun with their tenth anniversary. If you go to the Kickstarter 10 landing page you will find amazing project stories as well as some fun things to do there. Click on the Kickstarter 10 logo to get started on the fun.

So to help Kickstarter celebrate it’s tenth anniversary this week, go visit them, have some fun with the “easter eggs” and find a fun project to back too.

I plan to go do that now myself.

Paid Posts, Guest Posts, Etc, Etc

I get five to ten emails a week from people, companies, agencies, brokers, etc asking to post content here at AVC.

If you are one of the folks who send me those emails from time to time, you can stop doing that because there has not been a guest post here at AVC for over five years and I don’t have any current plans to do them.

Beyond that, the only guest posts that I ever ran here were from friends, colleagues, and AVC community regulars. I may do that again, but have not felt the urge to in a long time.

I do post a crowdfunding project most Fridays and a video or audio embed on Saturdays. But those are chosen by me based on what I am interested in or what I think you all would be interested in.

I have never been compensated for a guest post and would never accept compensation for a guest post. All the content that is published here, since the start in 2003, has been created by me or by people I know that I thought you should hear from.

I am not opposed to paying for promotion and I understand that influencer marketing is a big marketing channel now. Some of USV’s portfolio companies spend real money doing that.

But this space is not for sale, to anyone or any message. And it never will be.

Followership

In evaluating leaders, at the top of a company, or in the ranks of company leadership, an important quality that I look for is followership. Specifically, will the team line up behind this person?

Of course, leaders have to have other qualities. They need to have domain expertise if they are leading a specific function, they need to understand the needs of the business and the sector that it is operating in, and many other things too.

But what I have learned is that followership is super important. If the team doesn’t line up behind a leader, it is extremely hard for them to be effective.

For internal promotions, it is relatively easy to see followership and promote people who have it. You can also help people develop the management skills (listening, communicating, etc) that lead to strong followership.

When hiring someone from the outside, determining if they will have followership is harder. You can reference for this quality. But to some extent followership is a function of the culture of the organization. Someone who had strong followership in one kind of organization may not find it in another one.

It can take a leader some time to develop followership, particularly if they are hired from the outside. The team will need some time to figure out this new person, how they operate, and how they feel about them. But if a new leader has not developed the followership they need to lead the organization, or a part of the organization, within six to nine months after joining, then it is likely that a change will need to be made.

When developing your own organization and internal leaders, you should be very specific about followership and the need to develop it on your team. You should help mentor and coach younger managers on how to develop it and you should move quickly on leaders who don’t have it and won’t develop it on their teams.

It is always so impressive to me to see what leaders with strong followership can accomplish, when everyone is lined up behind them and delivering on what they ask of the organization. That is what I would wish for every organization, but sadly many don’t have it and they underperform as a result.

Funding Friday: Redacted Clothing

Our friend Saarim is funding an apparel line based on the redaction meme that has been front and center since the Attorney General took his pen to the Mueller Report. You can back it here.

Here are some images of the products he will be making if this project is successful.

I have closed comments today since I don’t want to host a discussion here of the Mueller Report today or any day.

Do The Right Thing

Airbnb has been operating in NYC and NY State for about ten years now and yet we still don’t have comprehensive home sharing legislation on the books in NY State. The reason is that the enemies of Airbnb, mostly the hotel employee unions, have been fighting Airbnb’s existence in NY State very effectively in Albany.

Many of the largest cities in the US and around the world now have comprehensive home sharing legislation on the books. It makes sense. It allows homeowners to share their homes legally and earn extra income but it also protects neighbors and neighborhoods from bad actors who abuse the system.

It is time for the folks in Albany to join that group and put fair and balanced and serious home sharing legislation on the books.

The good news is that we have good comprehensive bills before both houses of the state legislature right now.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Senator James Skoufis have recently proposed comprehensive regulations for short term rentals in NY State.

An increasing number of New Yorkers rely on home sharing services not only when they travel, but also for the additional income they generate by opening up their homes here in New York.

The bills proposed by Lentol and Skoufis will create fair and restrictive rules to govern short-term home rentals in New York. Existing NYC legislation has unfairly penalized everyday New Yorkers for sharing their homes and left many confused about the law.

The proposed legislation bans short-term rentals in all affordable housing and also limits NYC residents to listing only one home. The bills also mandate data-sharing with New York City to boost transparency and enable NYC agents to target and take action against bad actors abusing the system.

The proposed legislation also allows Airbnb to collect and remit taxes on behalf of its users. Currently, NY State is missing out on badly needed tax revenue.

It is time for the NY State Legislature and Governor to pass clear and commonsense legislation to safely and responsibly regulate the home sharing industry. I would like to acknowledge Assemblyman Lentol and Senator Skoufis who have the common sense and courage to lead the way.

Concrete Vs Wood

Our friend Eric sent us an article in the Globe and Mail yesterday about plans to build a 35 to 40 story tower in Vancouver out of wood. Here’s the link to that story but you can’t read it without a subscription.

Contrast that to the dominant way we build tall buildings in NYC which is out of concrete, steel, and glass.

The reason that a move back to wood based structures is so important is that the concrete structures are huge contributors to greenhouse gases. According to the Globe and Mail article, “concrete construction is responsible for an estimated eight per cent of all carbon emissions worldwide.”

The Gotham Gal and I are in the process of making two passive house apartment buildings in Brooklyn based on cross-laminated timber structures with only a small amount of concrete in them.

This is a photo of one of them back in December when the CLT structure had just been completed:

Our buildings are five or six stories high. The idea that you can make a building of 35 or 40 stories out of CLT and dowel laminated timbers (DLT) is very exciting to me.

I believe we can innovate our way out of the climate change mess we are in right now and changing the way we make our homes and offices is a big part of that.

Opting Out Of The Legacy Model

When you look at industries that continue to operate on old, outdated, and highly regulated models (education, health care, banking, brokerage, etc, etc), it is interesting to look at the numbers of consumers who are opting out of the legacy model.

In K12 education, many people think of charter schools as the disruptive model and there are something like 3.5mm to 4mm students attending charter schools in the US now (out of roughly 55mm K12 students in the US: 50mm public, 5mm private).

But if you really want to look at where the disruptive models exist, you need to look at consumers who are completely opting out and in K12 education, that is the homeschooling movement.

My partner Andy sent around this tweet this morning and it is quite interesting:

In the US, we have almost as many students being homeschooled as are in the charter schools.

And homeschooling, which has its roots in the religious communities, is increasingly breaking out of that and slowly moving into the mainstream:

It has gotten much easier to consider homeschooling over the last twenty years via a combination of technology and infrastructure that has largely been developed by the early adopters of homeschooling.

This is a trend to watch and, possibly, to invest in.

The Upside And The Downside

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, there are good and bad things that come from new technology and new innovations.

The challenge for many of us is that the promoters of the technology only want to talk about the upside. And often the media responds by focusing on the downside. It is hard to find a balanced take on things.

Let’s take this Bloomberg article on ISAs in which students trade a percentage of future earnings to fund tuition. The headline is “College Grads Sell Stakes in Themselves to Wall Street.” Which of course, is the negative narrative on this innovation in financing education.

As my colleague Nick pointed out to me this morning, “the stories often seem to ignore the reverse: how hard it can be to carry a large amount of debt, which is the situation that the vast majority of student loan holders find themselves in.”

The whole ISA movement is a reaction to the student debt crisis that many in this country have found themselves in.

Certainly there are questions that need to be asked about ISAs and the model will evolve and adjust over time.

But to throw ISAs under the bus by suggesting that “students are selling themselves to wall street” is the kind of negative narrative that doesn’t help anyone.

Facial Recognition

I would like to start this post with a disclosure. USV portfolio company Clarifai has one of the best facial recognition models on the market and is very active in the facial recognition market. Now that I have disclosed that, we can move on.

Facial recognition has come of age. Machines can figure out who we are and more.

One of the most popular booths with students at The Annual CS Fair this year was the Microsoft booth where they were showing some of their facial recognition technology.

The delight and amazement on the students’ faces was infectious.

But of course, not everyone is excited about facial recognition technology being deployed in the market.

I particularly like that question in the embedded image in that tweet:

How does Jet Blue know what I look like?

The answer turns out that there are many ways to know what we look like and you can start with the federal government and go from there.

Like all technologies, facial recognition can be used for good and bad. And it will be.

I like what my partner Albert wrote on this topic recently:

And then some things are incredibly hard. Such as face and object recognition. There are tons of amazing positive applications for such technology. And yet they could also be used to bring about a dystopian future of autonomous killer weapons chasing citizens in the streets. Does that mean we should not develop these capabilities? Should we restrict who has access to them? Is it OK for corporations to have them but not the military? What about the police? What about citizens themselves? Those are hard questions and anyone who thinks they have obvious answers I submit hasn’t thought long enough about them.
So what is to be done? A good start is personal responsibility. 

We used to have to stop at toll booths and wait in long lines to get across bridges and tunnels. Now we drive past the tolls at 60mph and the machines detect our license plates and debit our accounts.

The same is going to happen with our faces and that will be great for many things. But, of course, it will also freak us out on a regular basis and add to the “technology is turning everything into a surveillance state” narrative that has more truth than we would like to admit.

So what is my point? Well for one, the technology is here and we had better get used to finding it deployed in the wild. And second, that it will bring a lot of good. So we should not over react. But we should be mindful of the downsides and those of us who are working on this technology, those of us who are financing the development of it, and those of us who are deploying it, need to take great care with it.