Posts from November 2019

Preventative Medicine

When I was a young associate in a VC firm in my mid 20s, one of the partners told me I should get an annual physical every year and if I did it in the fall, I should get a flu shot while I was having my physical.

I have done that every year since and this afternoon I will spend an hour with my doctor getting poked and prodded and a needle in my upper arm with whatever mixture of flu vaccine they are giving out this year.

Around the same time, my mother advised me that since I have her fair skin I should find a good dermatologist and have a full body scan twice a year. I have been doing that too ever since.

I have seen the statistics on the relative spending between preventative care and critical care but I don’t remember exactly what they are. I do recall that the vast majority of medical spending in the US is on critical care and a small amount is on preventative care.

That seems wrong to me. We should do more to make sure that we all make the effort and take the time to have regular check-ups, do the required scans (mammograms, prostate exams, etc), and get things that will prevent disease like vaccines.

I suspect that beyond good practice, there are startup and investment opportunities in preventative medicine. It is the kind of thing that personal mobile computing can make a big difference in.

The Education Transformation

Back in March 2009, USV hosted an event called Hacking Education. It was the beginning of our effort to invest in the transformation of the education sector.

A few weeks ago, USV held its annual meeting, roughly 15 years after we closed our first fund. And our partner Rebecca gave a presentation on our education portfolio, which is now one of the strongest parts of our entire portfolio.

As Rebecca was developing her presentation, I wrote an email to her that said:

when did we do Hacking Education? Was that ten years ago now? That may also be a useful reference, maybe at the start of the presentation

And so she went and pulled some photos of that event to start her presentation.

Today she wrote a blog post on USV.com featuring the big themes of her annual meeting presentation. And she posted a few of those photos, in which we are all looking quite a bit younger.

Rebecca concludes her post with these optimistic words:

Our education portfolio has become a core value driver in our funds. In part, we think this is because we have hit the tipping point in consumers’ interest in self-driven, direct-to-learner education because technology has enabled higher quality education to be delivered at a lower price point, a counter-balance to the inflationary trends we’ve seen to date. Appetite for products and services that reframe what it means to learn – and how to learn – is high, and quickly accelerating.

As Bill Gates famously observed, we overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in a decade. A decade after hacking education, we are working with a bunch of high growth companies that are helping to transform what it means to learn and be educated and we are very proud of that.

Airpods vs Airpods Pro

Although I am an avid Android fan/user, I am equally fond of Apple’s Airpods. I have used the original and V2 Airpods with great success over the last few years and can’t imagine using anything else to pair with my phone for audio.

I purchased the AirPod Pro a few weeks ago and have been using them exclusively and I am not quite sure if I want to stay with them or go back to the V2 Airpods.

I have never liked headphones with silicone tips. They create an odd feeling of pressure in the inner ear that feels strange to me. And I also don’t love noise cancellation when I am out and about, which is where I use the Airpods.

On planes and in the office, where noise cancellation is something I quite like, I use over-ear Bose headphones with noise cancellation instead of the AirPods.

I also don’t love the larger charging case, which I typically have on me while I am out and about.

And, I don’t think the Bluetooth pairing (which is how they connect to Android phones) works as reliably as the Bluetooth pairing on the V2 Airpods.

I am going to give the Airpods Pro a few more weeks before I make a final call, but I am leaning towards going back to the V2 Airpods right now.

I am curious to hear what others think about these two Airpod products. I wonder if I’m in the minority or the majority on this.

Shadowstalker

Often art can expose issues more clearly than other mediums.

A show opened at The Shed this week called Manual Override. It is about the increasing power of technology in our lives and our inability to control it.

There is a piece in the show by the artist Lynn Hershman Leeson (whose Electronic Diaries form the spine of the show) called Shadowstalker.

In Shadowstalker, you enter your email address

And the work showcases your “digital shadow”:

Here is what my digital shadow contains:

Of course, none of this will surprise most people. We all know the Internet knows an awful lot about us.

But Lynn has managed to express it vividly in art and that has a powerful effect.

If you are in NYC, stop by The Shed and see Manual Override. The entire show is great. And try to see the Agnes Denes show too. It is also terrific.

Philanthropy

This is a week full of philanthropy for The Gotham Gal and me. We are attending two fundraisers for organizations we support and throwing one for an organization we started.

I woke up thinking about giving back and how important it has become to us. Neither of us grew up in environments that were deep in philanthropy but somehow we were drawn to it in our thirties.

The Gotham Gal got involved in MOUSE when it was formed and became the Board Chair a few years later. That was where we learned that we could bring others into things that mattered to us and help make a difference on those things.

We also learned that we could create our own family foundation and contribute stock to it. We have been doing that for almost twenty years now.

That foundation has allowed us to support causes that speak to us and to start philanthropic organizations where we thought there was a need and nobody was filling it.

A big part of doing philanthropy is engaging others in it. Philanthropic organizations need financial support and that need is never-ending. And no matter how generous one can be, it is never enough. So finding ways to introduce causes you care about to others and then convincing them to support them becomes the thing.

At first, I didn’t like making the ask. Then I tolerated it. Only recently have I learned to enjoy it.

I ask readers to support things on AVC all the time. If there is a business model for AVC, that is it. And I appreciate all the generosity that this community has shown over the years.

I hope all of you appreciate and enjoy giving back as much as we do. It is an amazing thing to be able to help others.

No Shenanigans

I was talking to a friend today about company values and how important they are but also how lame so many of them are.

I told him that some of my favorite company values come from our former portfolio company Twilio (which in the spirit of full disclosure I am still a large shareholder of).

Twilio’s founder and CEO Jeff Lawson gave a great talk on company values at USV a few years ago and explained how he approached them. This blog post (and audio post) is about a similar talk he gave at First Round.

Twilio’s company values are shown below:

My favorite of them is “No Shenanigans” which translates to “Be thoughtful. Always deal in an honest, direct, and transparent way.”

It is such a great value. It is memorable. It is broadly applicable. It is interpretable. And I can imagine team members running their decisions against it and getting a helpful result that guides them.

That is what company values are all about at the end of the day – helping people make decisions that everyone in the company will be proud of and supportive of.

Like most things that are incredibly valuable, values are not easy to get right, but they are worth investing a lot of time and energy in.

Pixel 4XL

I got a new Pixel 4XL phone a week ago and it took me most of the week (it was a busy one) to migrate over to it. I wrote a bit about how I’m careful about the migration last week.

I like to upgrade to the new Pixel flagship phone every fall when Google tends to ship them. It generally means longer battery life, better camera, and some other nice things.

Last year, we got fingerprint biometrics.

This year, we got face recognition, something iOS users have had for at least a year now.

Face recognition is super nice. I already love it.

This new Pixel 4XL also has something called MotionSense which allows a user to control the phone without actually touching the screen. You wave across the phone with your hands.

For now, MotionSense only silences interruptions and skips songs on many popular music apps. Hopefully, Motionsense can be incorporated by third-party apps. If that is the case, I can see this becoming a really useful thing.

The Android UI has changed a bit on the Pixel 4XL and it has taken me a few days to get used to the new ways to get around the phone but I am quickly getting there.

I’m glad I made the upgrade even though the migration was a real effort. Many readers suggested better ways to do 2FA with easier migration. I got the message and that is on my to-do list now. Thanks.

Priorities

It is planning season when management teams work to develop the roadmap for the coming year.

The truth is that it is hard to do more than two or three big things at a time, no matter how large you are.

So it is important to put all of the things that the business needs or wants to do on the table and have a vigorous debate about them and then pick a few priorities to focus on.

Saying no to things that you really want to do is the telltale sign of a good planning process. Saying yes to too many things is the telltale sign of a poor planning process.

What makes this process particularly hard is that there are often a few things that the business has to do and there is no way to delay them. These must do efforts can often crowd out the should do projects and that leads to a lack of forward progress.

The lens through which I evaluate plans is as follows. First there should be a few well defined priorities. I like two or three but four can work. Five starts to be a problem. At least one and possibly two should be must do things the existing business requires and cannot be put off. And there should be at least one big new effort that will move the business forward.

Planning is so important. When you get the plan right, execution becomes so much easier. I have found that poor execution is most often a function of poor planning and trying to do too much without clear priorities. Even the strongest operators struggle in a situation like that.