Posts from October 2019

Being There

We get feedback from the leaders of our portfolio companies on an annual basis. It helps me get better at what I do and I love it.

One area that I am constantly challenged to improve on is accessibility.

The common refrain is “I know you are busy and I hate to bother you.”

To which I reply “It is your job to bother me and my job to be responsive when you do.”

But even so, getting portfolio company leaders to feel that they can reach out, even on small things, is a challenge.

An approach that I have taken and many other VCs also take is to schedule weekly or bi-weekly catch ups with the portfolio leaders.

That works but sometimes what is needed can’t wait for that or is a “in the moment thing” like “today sucked.”

And sometimes helping someone deal with “today sucked” gets you to a level of comfort with a leader that allows you to help on many other things too.

My point is simple. Being there for portfolio leaders is job number one for venture capitalists. If we can’t do that, what can we do?

So working on that is a big part of my personal development and I work on it every day.

#VC & Technology

The Fifth Estate

Mark Zuckerberg, in his speech last week at Georgetown University, called social media “the Fifth Estate.”

The first three “estates” of society, classically, are the clergy, the nobility, and everyone else.

When the printing press arrived during the Renaissance/Enlightenment period and a mainstream press emerged, a fourth voice, The Fourth Estate, arrived on the scene and the mainstream press has had a long, strong, and lasting effect on society.

As far back as the counterculture years of the 60s, the term Fifth Estate emerged to describe underground newspapers. But it was the web, first with online communities, then blogging, and finally social media, that gave a voice to everyone.

And that is why Zuckerberg called social media “the Fifth Estate.”

As someone who has been blogging for most of the last two decades and who has enjoyed a voice that has been amplified by technology, I very much believe in the power of this Fifth Estate. I think it will have as strong and lasting effect on society as the Fourth Estate has had and will continue to have.

I also understand that the platforms that currently host the Fifth Estate have a tremendous amount of power to shape it, regulate it, and constrain it.

The reason this blog runs on open source software (WordPress) and is hosted on a server that I control is that I don’t want my voice hostage to one of these tech platforms.

I do use Twitter regularly and in doing so, I participate in a constrained platform. I don’t use Facebook regularly, partially because I don’t want to be exposed to or constrained by that platform.

But this post is not about Facebook vs Twitter. They are more similar than they are different. They are large and powerful tech platforms where the Fifth Estate materializes in our society.

They are not the only platforms that host the Fifth Estate. There are so many that matter. There is Reddit and the many other message boards like it. There are blogging platforms like Medium. And there are communities that exist to serve particular interests, including ones that cater to hateful and awful people.

The question that Zuckerberg posed for society last week is what power do we want to convey in these tech platforms to shape and constrain the Fifth Estate.

My vote is very little, if any.

I believe that the power that Facebook and Twitter and other platforms wield on society by virtue of their dominance is a fleeting power and that in time they will be replaced by something else that is better for society.

For now they have a lot of power and that is causing a lot of hand wringing in the halls of Washington and elsewhere.

But we should be careful not to hand them more power. Or worse require them to censor some voices and not others.

This tweetstorm by my friend Balaji says it very well.

Particularly this one:

#policy#Politics#Weblogs

Sensible Regulations Versus No Regulations

I remember back in the early 2000s, the direct marketing industry and the tech sector worked with Congress to craft sensible regulations for email marketing. The result was called CAN-SPAM and it was passed into law in 2003. The law has been modified to clarify certain terms and rules. While it certainly was not perfect (what is perfect?), it paved the way for a lot of progress in making email a workable medium for consumers and businesses.

There are no such rules in the location data business. Any mobile app can collect data on where you are and do what they want with it. That is not good for anyone, including the companies who are collecting that data.

Today, the CEO of our portfolio company Foursquare, which is in the location data business, wrote an op-ed asking Congress to regulate the location data industry.

In the op-ed, Jeff (Foursquare’s CEO) outlines what he thinks would be reasonable regulation. Here are the highlights:

  • apps should not collect location data unless they are using it to provide value to the user
  • there should be transparency to the user around what they are signing up for and how the data will be used
  • there should be a “do no harm” requirement
  • location data should be protected with the appropriate security

The entire op-ed is a good read and Jeff goes into a lot more detail than I did on each of these points.

I hope this leads to action in Congress and we get the right legislation as a result.

#mobile

Bearing Witness

Normally when we travel, The Gotham Gal posts about the things we do. She is a way better travel blogger than I am.

But today we did something that I want to talk a bit about.

We visited the Auschwitz concentration camps in southern Poland.

This is the first time I have visited one of these camps.

I have been to the various Holocaust memorials and have seen the photographs and heard and read the stories.

But being there in person is something else.

Staring into the rubble of a gas chamber (one of four at Birkenau) where hundreds of thousands were murdered because of their ethnicity and faith takes your breath away and fills your heart with dread.

It is not a pleasurable experience in the least.

But it is a very moving one.

One of the things I have come to understand about life is that bearing witness is something we must all do. We cannot avoid the pain of humanity. We must stare it in the face and feel it.

We did that today and I am glad we did.

#Blogging On The Road#life lessons

The Libra Association

I am sitting in the airport lounge in Geneva waiting to board an airplane. I am here because yesterday was the inaugural Libra Association member council meeting. The Libra Association is a Swiss organization which will operate the Libra blockchain network and the Libra reserve.

Yesterday was an important milestone for the Libra project. We adopted the initial charter for the Libra Association, we elected the initial five board members, and we set in motion a number of important initiatives. “We” are the twenty-one founding members of the Libra Association.

It is fashionable to be negative about the Libra project right now. And it is equally fashionable to call it “Facebook’s crypto-currency project.” Both are understandable under the circumstances.

But yesterday was the beginning of an independent effort, one that Facebook does not control, one where Facebook is one founding member among many, and one where Facebook has one board seat out of five.

But even more important is Libra’s mission to create a stable cryptocurrency that can operate at sufficient scale such that Facebook and others can use it as a means of exchange/payment system in their applications.

The most meaningful conversations I had yesterday were with the members from Kiva and Women’s World Banking who joined the Libra Association because the people they serve are under-banked and under-provided for by the legacy financial system. Like them, I believe a stable cryptocurrency that is broadly adopted around the world will bring new services to people who don’t have access to the financial system that many of us who read this blog do.

One of the powerful things about being in the venture capital business is that we can support projects that are necessary but unproven, unpopular, and/or misunderstood. Not everyone can do that and so it is even more important that we do.

#blockchain#crypto#Politics

The USB Standard

We are sitting in the gate at London City Airport waiting for an early morning flight. Next to every seat in the waiting area is a bank of power outlets that look like this:

You will notice that there is one UK standard outlet and four USB outlets.

And, no matter where in the world you are from, it is likely that you have a USB cable for your phone.

I am charging my phone while I write this and I don’t have a UK power adapter on me.

That’s the power of a standard like USB which is only getting better and better over time.

I wonder if someday we won’t even have to deal with all of this:

#Blogging On The Road

The USV Blog Search Engine

It has always been possible to search AVC. You click on the search icon in a desktop browser or you click on the menu button in a mobile browser.

But there is another way to search my blog posts, both here at AVC, and also the ones I have written on USV.com.

With our recently launched refresh of USV.com, there is now at tab at the top called “Writing.” It looks like this on a mobile phone:

You can search by type (USV blog only, team member blogs only, or all), topic, author, and date.

This search engine includes writing by many USV alums on the USV blog and all of the current USV team members who blog regularly. It is quite a library of content, mostly on tech, venture capital, startups, and that sort of thing. But naturally it veers into many other topics from time to time.

If you want to read what USV team members (current and past) have to say about something, there is now a resource to do that. And we hope to make it even better over time by improving the metadata and search functionality around this large library of content.

#Weblogs