Posts from 2020

What Happened In 2020

It is my tradition to end the year looking back and start the year looking forward. So today, I will write about 2020 in the context of tech/startups/VC/crypto.

While it is inarguably the case that 2020 was a terrible year with a global pandemic, racial strife and ugly politics in the US, and an economic downturn that is impacting exactly the people who have already been hurt the most, it was an inflection point for the tech/startup/VC/crypto sectors and a very significant one. These sectors, which had been growing in their global importance over the last twenty years, all of a sudden have emerged as the most important sectors of the global economy.

We are seeing structural declines in the importance of massive sectors like carbon based energy, commercial real estate, retail, and more. And technology based products and services are benefitting from these losses.

Some obvious examples:

1/ Zoom and other video conferencing services gain when employers allow/encourage/require their employees to stop coming to offices leased from the commercial real estate sector.

2/ Electric vehicles/batteries/software gain when fewer and fewer consumers are buying gasoline from the carbon energy sector.

3/ Technology based commerce solutions gain when less people venture into stores to buy groceries, clothes, and other consumer products.

These changes are not temporary, although the velocity of the changes may be. Technology based services have improved significantly this year, rising to the moment when consumers needed them, and they will continue to improve relative to legacy offerings. And consumers have installed the apps, left their cards on file, and adopted different routines. The genie is out of the bottle. It is not going back in.

In USV’s year end review process, we asked our team if there was anything about the work model we adopted in the pandemic they want to keep. What we heard was most people want to be in the office two to three days a week, not five. And that makes sense, particularly in a dense urban region where transportation options are crowded and time consuming. One of the big ahas of 2020 was how much time and productivity is wasted on commuting and how much more productive we have all become without it.

Financial markets, flush with stimulus money that mostly found its way to brokerage accounts instead of the families that actually needed it, understood these changes quickly and we witnessed extraordinary gains in technology stocks and crypto assets. This was largely a speculative affair, driven by people stuck at home trading stocks and crypto for their own accounts or with other people’s money.

But here is the thing about speculative frenzies – they are generally directionally correct but off in their order of magnitude. And they finance the trend that they are directionally correct about. It may be the case that Tesla’s market capitalization is too high, but that allows Tesla to raise $10bn without diluting more than a few percentage points. And that $10bn will go towards accelerating the conversion of the auto industry from carbon-based fuel to renewable energy. And that is a good thing for society.

There is no question that crypto is in yet another speculative bubble, but like I said, it is speculative bubbles that allow emerging technologies to go mainstream and finance themselves. Odd as it may seem, a lot more people want to buy Bitcoin at $28,000 than wanted to buy it at $5000. That’s just how things are. And it is important to understand that.

Startups and the investors who finance them benefit from all of this. 2020 was a great year for early-stage companies and venture capitalists. And some profound changes are afoot that will allow startups to flourish even more in the coming years. We now have virtual capital raising so that startups don’t need to travel to raise capital. This makes it easier to raise money and makes geography matter much less. And we have remote work becoming mainstream which means startups can be located anywhere and hire from anywhere. Capital and talent are the heart and soul of startups and both are now available to a founder from anywhere. It is hard to understate how transformational and important this change is.

So when we look back at 2020 in a few years, we will see that it was the year that everything changed for tech/startups/VC/crypto and set the stage for a decade of transformational change. And god knows that the world needs a lot of that right now. That will be the topic of my post tomorrow.

#VC & Technology

The Strangest Year Of My Life

That’s what I decided to call my year-end playlist this year. I am happy to see 2020 move into the rearview mirror. It’s been a long, strange, and unsettling year.

Thankfully, we had plenty of new and great music to get us through countless hours of hanging out at home.

We started the year in LA listening to new records from Tame Impala and Destroyer. When the lockdowns hit, we had the posthumous record from Mac Miller on non-stop as we stayed home and hunkered down.

We got to the beach in the summer and enjoyed a mix of hip-hop and indie rock.

The fall brought us back to NYC and we were entertained by street musicians playing to the outdoor dining crowds (that is the photo that anchors the playlist below). We had the Fleet Foxes in heavy rotation for much of autumn in NYC.

And now it is the end of the year and here is an hour-long playlist that covers our musical highlights of 2020. I left off some of our favorites that are behind the paywall on SoundCloud (like The Eels and Future Islands). But this playlist captures most of our favorites of 2020. For those who read this blog via email, you can click here to listen.


NBA, NBA Top Shot, and Intangible Market

The NBA is back in business. Our family watched a ton of basketball over the long weekend including the Knicks huge win over the Bucks last night. It’s great to have my favorite sport back in action after a short layoff.

Also back in action is NBA Top Shot, the digital trading card game from the NBA and our portfolio company Dapper Labs. New packs will be dropped in the new year featuring all stars, rookies, and more.

But you can shop right now in the marketplace and buy cards from other players.

The trading opportunities in NBA Top Shot are exciting. I have purchased 11 packs since the game launched, for about $250 in cash and crypto. I have sold a few cards and now hold 61 “moments” that are estimated to be worth about $2800.

That estimate comes from a third-party app called Intangible Market that allows crypto collectors to estimate the value of their collections.

Intangible Market is an example of why building games and other experiences on crypto blockchains is so exciting. It means that others can build on top of your work and make it even more fun and interesting to use and play.

Crypto has a built in business model, tokens, that means that these platforms can be open to everyone to build on and enhance and evolve. That is radically different from the web and mobile ecosystems of the last twenty-five years and why developing on crypto is such an exciting and wide open opportunity right now.

#blockchain#crypto#digital collectibles#Sports

Christmas Presents

I remember when I was a kid and my parents would put presents under a tree and for weeks we would wait excitedly for the moment when we would get to open them. It was a great tradition that ended when we grew up, moved out, and started families of our own.

Our family did the Christmas present thing for a while when our kids were young, but the tradition stopped when we started doing big family trips over the year-end holidays when our kids got old enough to do two-week trips halfway around the world. Those trips were some of the greatest moments for our family and were Christmas presents in and of themselves.

We have done a secret santa program here and there over the last decade but for the most part, we don’t exchange Christmas presents anymore. Everyone seems pretty fine with that. I certainly don’t need another sweater.

This year has been the strangest of my lifetime. And yet here we are on Christmas Day and I am counting the presents I have received in the last week. An outpouring of caring from thousands of you who reached out to me in the last few days. A TCO from the NYC DOB on our passive house apartment building we have been making for almost five years. Enough rapid Covid tests to allow our immediate family to safely get together today and celebrate Christmas. And a Zoom with my mom and all of her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids this afternoon.

The best presents are not the ones you can wrap in gift paper and put under a tree. The best presents are the intangible things that make us who we are. And I’ve got a lot of them “under our tree” this year.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

#life lessons

Thank You Everyone

I knew that sending an email and tweet to hundreds of thousands of people saying that my father had passed away this week was going to generate a lot of replies. And it did.

My inbox, messages, etc are chock full of an outpouring of sympathy and wishes for me and my family and I am so grateful for them.

I was talking to my friend Jerry last night and I mentioned to him that I had spent most of the day replying to all of that and had not made much of a dent in it. He said “Just thank everyone in a post tomorrow. You won’t have to answer everyone. And then rest up.”

So I am taking Jerry’s advice. Which is always a wise move.

I want to thank everyone for reaching out over the past 24 hours. It is quite something to behold. I appreciate it so much. Thank You.


General Robert Maris Wilson

My dad, General Robert Maris Wilson, or Bob as most people called him, passed away on Monday at the age of 92. He had been in failing health for the last few months and moved on peacefully.

My dad was a quiet and reserved man. He wrote those words about himself in four pages of biographic information he provided to us for the purpose of writing an obituary. He was a planner. He was never unprepared. Even in the end.

His greatest accomplishment was the epic love affair that he carried on with my mom for almost 65 years. They were made for each other. She brought out the social side of him. He provided for her and all of us. You could always count on my dad and we did. This is my mom and my dad at our wedding.

My dad was an Army man. He was born into an Army family, raised on Army bases, attended West Point, and spent 33 years of active duty in the Army. He spent the last decade of his Army service at West Point, where he ran the Department of Mechanical Engineering. My dad was also a teacher. A terrific one.

I remember sitting in on one of my dad’s engineering classes at West Point during my college years. The cadets sat in a square. My dad stood at the front of the room. At the start of class, he told four cadets to “take boards” and they each worked out one of the homework problems in front of the rest of the class and then took turns explaining how they solved the problem. My dad would interject when appropriate. To this day, I have not seen a better method of teaching by doing.

He also had a distinguished military career. In the four-page biography he gave us, he dropped this little bit “During the last half of his tour (in Vietnam), he headed a small group of officers assembled at the direction of General Abrams to plan for the initial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.” That was my dad. When you needed to figure out how to get an Army out of somewhere, he was your man.

I love this photo of him retiring at West Point, surrounded by his beloved Corps of Cadets. Standing straight as a rod.

His quiet, reserved nature, and his failing hearing, and ultimately failing mind late in life, always made it hard to be close to him. That said, I always knew that he loved me.

Losing a loved one during the pandemic is hard. We could not see him at the end. But I was able to visit my parents once during the pandemic, on my mom’s 90th birthday. This is the last time I saw my dad and how I will remember him. Maybe it is best that way.

I will miss you dad. I love you.


Marketing in 2021

My friends at Zeta Global (a USV portfolio company) put together this report on marketing in 2021. It clocks in a 26 pages so here are some highlights:

Those ways that artists made money in 2020 to make up for a lack of touring revenue—intimate livestreams, catalog licensing and syncs and expanded merch offerings—will continue after the touring industry returns to normal.

Desiree Perez — CEO of Roc Nation

After nearly a year of isolation, the floodgates of social life, dating, festivals, and travel will open into a social revolution once vaccines reach the minimum threshold. Jokes about the new roaring 20’s will abound on social media, and the moniker will feel earned. Young people, most notably college students and recent graduates, will make up for lost time, checking off — and adding to — their bucket lists with abandon.

Lauren Weiniger — Co-Founder and CEO of The SAFE Group

Even with the pandemic lingering into the new year, 2021 will be a banner year for the sports industry. Fan engagement and the business of sports have never been stronger, which is NOT the story you’ll hear if you simply listen to people talk about decreased TV ratings. That would be the same as evaluating the retail industry by just looking at brick & mortar store sales.

Michael Rubin — Founder and Executive Chairman, Fanatics | Partner, Philadelphia 76ers

Social Impact and ESG focus and efforts by large companies will increasingly be measured and become reporting metrics for large institutional investors. All public companies will be required to diversify their boards and executive officers.

Thomas Davidson — CEO of Everfi

We will see the rise of live shopping in the U.S. in 2021.

Imran Khan, Co-Founder & CEO, Verishop

While the COVID pandemic has wreaked unprecedented devastation in our communities, in the health care arena it has ushered in an era of rapid advancement and deployment of technology, ranging from telemedicine to at-home disease diagnostics to wearable oxygen sensors.

Cat Oyler — Vice President and Integration Leader of Momenta Pharmaceuticals

There are many more good predictions in there and lots of sound advice on how to evolve a marketing program for the new world we are operating in. You can read the entire thing here.

#Current Affairs

Funding Friday: On Pause

As we get to that time of the year when we look back and take measure of 2020, it will be one for the ages, and not in a good way.

I saw this photo book project on Kickstarter today and thought “it would be good to have this book to remember the early spring in NYC.” So I backed it.

Photos like this really take your breath away, particularly if you’ve been a NYer for a long time, like we have.

Email readers can click here and watch the video. I’ve embedded it below for web readers.


Consumer Trends 2021

Dan Frommer, who many of you likely know from his writing at Recode, Quartz, Business Insider and other places on the web, has teamed up with my friends at Coefficient Capital to create a 120 page report called Consumer Trends 2021.

Here’s a slide from that report:

There is no doubt that 2020 has changed a lot of things for good and consumer behavior is certainly one of them. This report does a good job of outlining what has happened and what the permanent changes are likely to be.

You can read the entire report here.

#Current Affairs

Electrifying Heating And Cooling

It’s winter in NYC now and I am reminded of all the apartments the Gotham Gal and I lived in during our 20s and 30s in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The typical heating system was hot water or steam-powered radiators that clanged all night long and had two settings, on and off. Sometimes the handle wouldn’t work and you could not turn them off. So we would open the windows to manage the temperature in the apartment. I am certain that much of NYC apartment living still works this way in 2020.

Contrast that with an apartment building we just completed in Brooklyn that uses passive house design to keep the apartment warm in the winter and cool in the summer, has super efficient electrical heating and cooling systems in the apartments that are managed by smart thermostats, and all of this is powered by solar arrays on the roof and upper facade.

Tenants in our new apartment can program the heating and cooling in the apartment to tune it to their daily needs and can also participate in demand response programs to get compensated for not using electricity when demand is very high.

The apartments buildings we lived in during our 20s and 30s typically had oil or gas fired boilers to power the radiators and so when we were heating our apartment and the backyard to via our open window, we were consuming carbon energy and contributing to the climate crisis.

This new building we just made could in theory operate entirely off the grid although in practice that won’t happen for a host of reasons.

We are still living in the past in many parts of NYC and the US and the world even though we can live in the future. It is simply a question of investment dollars. It requires capital to convert a building from the old way to the new way. And many property owners either don’t have the capital or don’t want to spend the capital.

The Green New Deal in NYC is going to change this. Property owners are now required to get their buildings into the modern era or get fined significantly. That will unlock capital to property owners because the returns on converting to electric heating and cooling are going to be even higher when you put the avoidance of fines into the models.

This is a good thing and long overdue. It feels great to make a modern clean building and offer it to tenants. And more and more property owners are going to get that feeling over the next decade.

#climate crisis