Posts from May 2020

Funding Friday: Tesla Powerwall Clone Guide

I am a big fan of pairing solar panels on the roof with a battery system in the garage. The battery allows you to use the solar power at night when there is no sun. It also provides resilience for power outages and the like.

So when I saw this Kickstarter project, I backed it immediately.

The premise is simple enough. Find a battery pack out of a wrecked hybrid or EV vehicle at a junkyard and using simple off the shelf tools and materials convert it into a battery system capable of being charged from a variety of sources (solar, wind, grid, water, etc) and power a house’s basic necessities during the midst of a crisis or during times when power is more expensive (during the day) while replenishing when power is either abundant or cheaper, like at night. While this information is available currently, most of whats out there is long, wordy, confusing and in some cases conflicting.

I went for the $20 pledge which comes with a complete users guide.

Now I need to find a “wrecked EV.” This should be a fun project.


Contact Tracing and Technology Conference

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I am excited about the possibility that technology, particularly mobile computing technology, can supplement the work of manual contact tracing to keep us all safer until a permanent solution is found to this pandemic.

But there is a ton of confusion about what contact tracing is, what exposure alerting is, what the role of legacy contact tracing systems are, and what role new applications can play in this moment.

So I was thrilled that a group of organizations that operate at the intersection of public policy and tech innovation are putting on a series of online conferences on this topic.

The first one will be next Wednesday from 11am ET/8am PT until 2pm ET/11am PT and will focus on the consumer apps that are being built on top of the Google and Apple APIs. There will be demos of many of these new apps and a series of panel discussions. If you are interested in attending (attendance is unlimited), you can RSVP here.

There are four of these online events planned over the next two months (roughly every two weeks) and they will cover enterprise contact tracing applications, what is happening internationally, and more.

The organizations behind this series of online events are The COVID Tech Task Force, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, TechCrunch, Betaworks Studios, and Hangar.

If you work in government and are involved in making tech decisions in this area, if you are interested in how tech can help address large scale public health issues, or if you are just curious about all of this, I hope you will attend. I plan to do that myself.

#Current Affairs#entrepreneurship#health care#mobile

Coinbase + Tagomi

Our portfolio company Coinbase announced yesterday that it will acquire Tagomi to build out its institutional prime brokerage business.

This is an important moment in the maturation of the crypto trading business. At USV, we have used Coinbase to transact in the crypto markets and I’ve wanted advanced offerings like we get when we transact in the stock markets like buying or selling on a volume weighted average price (VWAP) and other things like that. Tagomi will bring those kinds of offerings to Coinbase and that will make it easier and better for institutions like USV to trade with Coinbase.

This is also a bit of a reunion for USV as one of Tagomi’s founders, Jennifer Campbell, was an analyst at USV when she co-founded Tagomi. Though USV was not an investor in Tagomi, we’ve always been rooting for Jennifer and her colleagues. Now, as part of Coinbase, we are all on the same team again.

Slowly but surely crypto assets are becoming mainstream holdings for institutions and the prime brokerage offerings from Coinbase will help accelerate that transition.


Streaming Vs Torrenting

Last night at dinner we got to talking the film Barfly, which came out the year the Gotham Gal and I were married, so a long time ago now. We decided to watch it after dinner with our family and friends we are quarantining with.

Well it turns out that Barfly is not available to be streamed on any of the many streaming services we have on our AppleTV (at least ten of them). After a frustrating twenty minutes figuring that out, we thought about torrenting it and watching it that way.

But for a bunch of reasons, we decided not to do that and went with another film.

A decade ago, I wrote a lot about how streaming would kill piracy (it largely has) and how I feel about piracy when I can’t consume legally (I am fine with it).

This morning I was talking to one of our friends over breakfast and said that I am going to put a bitorrent client on the Mac Mini that is connected to our family room TV because if we try as hard as we can to pay for a film legally and cannot, then I feel OK with getting it some other way.

I am just a bit shocked that is even necessary to do in the golden age of streaming.


Remembering Our Fallen Soldiers

On today, Memorial Day, we remember our fallen soldiers.

I spent some time today going back over old blog posts I’ve written on this topic and landed on a post I wrote almost ten years ago, when I visited the Normandy beaches with my wife and son. It was a very powerful and moving experience for us.

I am glad we take a day every year to remember the men and women who lost their lives in service of our country.

And while we can’t all go lay a wreath or march in a parade today, we can take a moment of reflection on their sacrifice and what it has meant for our country.

#Current Affairs

Funding Friday: In Time of Plague

I backed this photo book project today. The creator took photos of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn during the more than two-month lockdown in March, April, and May 2020 and will produce a photo book.

I really like what he says at 1:50min into the excellent project video (link here for those reading on email).

It’s undeniably a difficult time to produce a book, but I believe that art is more important than ever in times of crisis like this. Museums and galleries are struggling to stay afloat and publishers require painfully long time frames to produce books. We as a community can work more nimbly and quickly, which is needed in this historic moment.

Well said Brian. Well said.


The Startup Job Market

My colleague Matt Cynamon told our partnership last week that the number of jobs on the USV job board had declined from 1,553 to 871 in the past month. So we suggested he share that data and some observations on the USV blog. He did that yesterday.

Here is the chart of open jobs on the USV job board:

A large number of those 871 open jobs are in a handful of larger USV portfolio companies that are leaning into this moment to build their teams. Many USV portfolio companies have frozen hiring or have tightened it significantly. And there have been reductions in force as well in some parts of our portfolio.

But all is not bleak. Matt ends his post with the following observation:

In our next post we’ll explore some areas where we’re seeing major opportunities for job seekers.

I am hopeful that hiring will start to pick up in our portfolio in the second half of the year as our portfolio companies start to understand where their businesses are now and where they are headed this year and next.

#Current Affairs

Fiber To Home

I’ve been working on getting a fiber internet connection to the home we are quarantining in. With nine of us living and working from home together, we are consuming a lot of bandwidth. And with everyone on our block doing more or less the same thing, the cable internet connections we all have are bogged down.

As I understand it, cable internet suffers from a few problems relative to fiber. The bandwidth in cable is usually (always?) non symmetric, meaning the upload speeds are not nearly as good as the download speeds. For applications like browsing the web, that’s fine. For applications like videoconferencing, that’s not so fine.

I also believe that cable bandwidth is frequently shared with your neighbors whereas fiber is usually a direct connection to the telco’s main internet connection. That means if your neighbors are using a lot of bandwidth, that can slow you down if you use cable, but not if you have fiber.

These are things I’ve heard over the years and believe to be true but I am happy to be corrected on Twitter (click the button below) if I am wrong about any of this.

In any case, we are moving to fiber in an effort to make our large group work from home situation a bit better for everyone. And I suspect that I am not the only one doing this right now.

USV has two fiber investments, Ting (owned by Tucows) and Pilot, and I believe that both will see demand for their services increase this year and beyond as we all need and want more bandwidth.


American Kingpin

I read my friend Nick Bilton‘s book American Kingpin over the last few weeks. It is the story of Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts), the founder and owner of The Silk Road.

It is a fascinating story with many angles; drug and arms dealing, entrepreneurship, criminal investigation, and much more. I highly recommend the book.

It reminded me that The Silk Road was the original product market fit for Bitcoin. According to Wikipedia:

The total revenue generated from these sales was 9,519,664 Bitcoins, and the total commissions collected by Silk Road from the sales amounted to 614,305 Bitcoins. These figures are equivalent to roughly $1.2 billion in revenue and $79.8 million in commissions, at current Bitcoin exchange rates…”, according to the September 2013 complaint, and involved 146,946 buyers and 3,877 vendors

Those 9.5mm bitcoins, which certainly recirculated a fair bit, represented roughly all of the circulating supply of Bitcoin at that time.

That does not mean that all of the bitcoins that had been mined at that time were in use on The Silk Road. A much smaller percentage of them recirculated back and forth between customers and suppliers in the market.

But I have always believed that The Silk Road was where Bitcoin first found a massive use case and it was where many people first bought and used Bitcoin.

This has led to a narrative around Bitcoin and crypto that it is shady and only useful for illicit behavior. That is unfortunate and not true.

Many technologies that ultimately find mainstream use cases (the web browser, the VHS, etc) find initial product market fit in areas that are edgy at best. And such was the case with Bitcoin and crypto.

These “edgy” use cases prove out the technology, provide an initial user base, and lead to more mainstream adoption down the road. And that is what happened with Bitcoin and The Silk Road.


Kickstarter Lights On

So many of our favorite community anchors have shuttered in the wake of the pandemic. And reopening them won’t be easy.

Music venues, movie theaters, art galleries, restaurants, performance spaces, maker spaces, conferences, festivals, and bookshops are the places we hang out in, enjoy each other, and and connect to art and culture.

But these spaces also have communities of people connected to them, rooting for them, and eager to help them.

Enter Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform for bringing creative projects to life (and a USV portfolio company).

Kickstarter is not charity, although there is certainly a need for charity in this moment. Kickstarter is a platform to engage your community, reward them, and encourage them to support your work.

A few weeks ago, Kickstarter launched Lights On, a call for projects that “sustain your cultural space, event series, creative organization, or independent business”.

If you own or operate a cultural space, a local beloved business, an event series, or some other community treasure and want to engage your community in your reopening plan, Kickstarter Lights On is for you.

You can learn more about it here.

#crowdfunding#Current Affairs