Instant Covid Tests

We are now approaching five months into the Covid pandemic in the US. The world is more like six or seven months in. And while we wait for vaccines and/or therapeutics to end it, we are left with social distancing, mask wearing, testing, and tracing. These tools can and do work well if used rigorously and ubiquitously.

As we prepare to return to NYC in the fall, I am curious about the state of small and portable diagnostic technologies that can deliver an accurate and “real time” result cost effectively. I am thinking of something like a pregnancy test.

There are many things that would benefit from such tests. Schools could be more agressive about re-opening if everyone (teachers and students and staff) could be tested every morning on the way in the door. Offices could re-open too. So could stores and other local businesses.

And it would be easier to go see friends and family if you arrive at their front door with a test in hand and get a negative result before walking in the door.

I know that there are a number of companies working on such tests. What I don’t know is the status of these efforts, how soon they can come to market, and what they will cost. The less expensive the better obviously.

If you know anything about these technologies, please hit the “Discuss On Twitter” button below and share it with all of us. If you want to see what has been shared, hit the “View Discussions” button. If you are reading via email, go here to see these buttons and hit them.

#Current Affairs

The Dog Days Of Summer

We are officially in the dog days of summer when vacations and the heat and humidity cause things to slow down.

It used to be true that companies would put financing efforts on hold in late July and August and return to “the market” after labor day.

In recent years, that summer slowdown has not happened as much and we have advised our portfolio companies to keep raising during the summer doldrums.

This year will be interesting as many founders and investors have been working remotely for five months now. Will that change anything this summer?

It is possible that everyone needs a break and things will slow down this month. But I kind of doubt it. This has been a crazy and unpredictable year but the one thing that has been true throughout the year is that the capital markets are working overtime and I suspect that will be true during the dog days of summer too.

#VC & Technology

Repost: Open Up Vs Break Up

I was in a board meeting for most of yesterday so I did not watch the theatrics on Capitol Hill. William told me that there were many calls for breaking up the big tech companies. So I thought I would repost this which I wrote about a year ago.

There have been many calls to break up the large Internet monopolies; Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.

Breaking up a large monopoly feels like a very 19th/20th century move to me.

I would prefer that politicians and policy makers think about opening up as the better intervention.

A good way to explain this is to go back to the architecture that Twitter used in its early days when there were many third-party Twitter clients. Imagine if Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc were protocols, not applications, and there were many high-quality clients to participate in these networks.

Then the clients could innovate on things like content filtering, promotion of high quality content, business model, etc

If we are going to “break up” these large social media platforms, I would urge elected officials and regulators to think about pushing them to move from platforms to protocols instead of just ripping them apart.

We could do the same thing with search. Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo has built a nice search business by building a different user interface on top of one of the two leading search indexes. If we made it easier and reliable for others to innovate on top of the core search engine, then there might be many more options in search.

In mobile, a good first step is to open up the app stores and allow the browsers to have the same access to the operating system as native mobile apps.

In commerce, if I could checkout as easily everywhere as easily as I can on Amazon, there would be more competition for my shopping dollars.

I think you get the idea. It is very true that the big Internet services have built centralized monopolies and have consolidated their market positions. We do need more competition in these core services. And the best way to do that is to force them to open up their services, not break them up.

#Current Affairs#policy#Politics

Is This One For Real?

Crypto has been on a tear in the last week.

Bitcoin is up 18% in the last seven days:

Ethereum is up over 30% in the last week:

But this isn’t the first time we’ve had a bullish run in crypto since the bear market started in early 2018.

If you look at the total market cap of all crypto tokens you can see that this bear market has had several moves up followed by downward price action:

So why will this time be any different? I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but there are some underlying factors in this run-up that make me think it might be different this time:

1/ There is real fundamental activity in the decentralized finance sector where lending, borrowing, staking, swapping, and yield optimization are all growing significantly in recent months. This chart of the activity on the Uniswap liquidity network is indicative of that:

This chart of the total value locked up in the Compound lending/borrowing system is another indication of that:

2/ There are a number of interesting consumer projects launching this summer, many in the gaming and NFT (crypto collectible) sector, that could bring more mainstream users to crypto.

3/ Gold has also been on the move recently. Gold is up 10% in the last month as capital looks for safe havens. I realize that using the words crypto and safe haven in the same sentence is hard for most people to understand, but I believe that one of crypto’s primary use cases is store of wealth and Bitcoin is particularly popular for that.

I don’t believe we have left the bear market behind just yet. But if the total market cap of all crypto assets gets above $450bn, where the first bear market rally stalled out in the spring of 2018, then I think we will be back in a bull market in crypto. And we aren’t far from that. A few more weeks like this past week and we could get there pretty quickly.


Entrepreneurship And The Climate Crisis

Vinod Khosla penned a fantastic blog post this week outlining how a few entrepreneurs have made a material impact on clean energy and reducing our collective carbon footprint in the last decade and how a few more can move the needle even further in the next one.

Vinod starts off with this statement:

12–15 entrepreneurs, driven by entrepreneurial energy and passion for a vision, and a little bit of luck, could change the climate crisis into societal transformation

This is music to our ears as USV has started to back climate-focused entrepreneurs. I hope that we can back one or two of these 12-15 innovators in the coming years. That would be great for society and great for USV too.

#climate crisis#entrepreneurship

The Startup Community Way

My friend Brad Feld has updated his excellent book on startup ecosystems called Startup Communities. The updated and expanded book is called The Startup Community Way and it is available for pre-order on Amazon. The book comes out tomorrow so you won’t have to wait long for it.

The timing of this book is excellent. The pandemic has shown that you don’t have to live and work in any particular place to be productive and innovative.

This suggests to me that we will see tech entrepreneurship and innovation move even more broadly around the US and around the world this decade and The Startup Community Way can be a playbook for how to make that happen.


Funding Friday: The Steamchasers

I am a big believer in the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see.” And I have spent a lot of time and energy finding ways for young people to see careers in science, technology, and innovation so that they can put themselves on a course to have one themselves.

I came across a series of books for kids called The Steamchasers on Kickstarter today. These are books about a group of kids, The Steamchasers, who take a scavenger hunt through town finding the contributions Black Americans have had to our everyday lives in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. The first and second books in the series are available on Amazon.

The third edition is being funded on Kickstarter right now and I backed it this morning.

For those of you reading on the web, here is the video. If you are reading on email, you can watch the video here.


Headgum and Gumball

Podcasts have emerged as a major new category in media/entertainment/news/education etc. We have seen huge deals for big podcast hosts like Bill Simmons and Joe Rogan, both of whom did transactions with Spotify for nine-figure amounts. But as Spotify (and surely others to follow) lock-up top podcast content to strengthen their subscription offerings, we stand to lose something awesome about podcasts which is the ability to listen to them for free on any platform we choose.

But the counter weight to this trend is the growing size of the “live reads” ad market. This is when a podcast host reads out an advertisement on the show. This has been a staple of talk radio for many years. I remember Howard Stern doing live reads for LoJack back when Howard was on CBS Radio. Live reads are powerful and a form of influencer marketing. If you love Howard and he waxes eloquently about LoJack, you love LoJack. Or so it seems.

The live reads ad market for podcasts was in excess of $700mm in 2019 and seems headed to a multi billion dollar ad market in the coming years. So there is certainly a lot of money out there for podcast hosts who want to stay free and independent, or are emerging and building an audience.

And that is where Gumball comes in. Gumball is a marketplace where advertisers post live read ads and podcasters pick them up and read them on their shows. Ad-buying opportunities within podcasts have historically been manual and limited, not unlike the process of purchasing web ads pre-2000. As podcasts continue to gain market share, Gumball’s self-serve ad marketplace has the opportunity to be as transformative to the podcast industry as Google Adwords was for web ads. 

Gumball is a subsidiary of the Headgum podcast network. Headgum is a network of owned and operated comedy podcasts as well as third party podcasts that join the Headgum network for distribution and monetization (via Gumball).

USV has been looking for an opportunity to invest in podcasting that fits with our thesis and we found it with Headgum and Gumball. We like the way that Headgum’s owned and operated content, its Headgum network content, and its monetization platform Gumball all fit together and enhance each other. We made an investment in Headgum recently and blogged about it on the USV blog this morning.

#marketplaces#VC & Technology

Open Source Exposure Alerting Apps

The Linux Foundation announced its Linux Foundation Public Health initiative yesterday.

They are starting with two open-source exposure alerting apps called Covid Shield and Covid Green. These are two apps that use the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) infrastructure. The codebase for both apps has been open-sourced.

The Linux Foundation had this to say:

“To catalyze this open source development, Linux Foundation Public Health is building a global community of leading technology and consulting companies, public health authorities, epidemiologists and other public health specialists, privacy and security experts, and individual developers,” said Dan Kohn, LFPH general manager. “While we’re excited to launch with two very important open source projects, we think our convening function to enable collaboration to battle this pandemic may be our biggest impact.”

Countries, states, public health organizations, etc can build on these open source code bases to create exposure alerting and other apps that can help with the Covid pandemic and potentially other public health issues going forward.

I quite like how this is playing out. Google and Apple have built the base level infrastructure, the open source community is coming together to build the application level code base, and governments and public health organizations can take all of that and put applications into the market.

I am hoping we will see applications built this way coming to market in the near future.

#Current Affairs#mobile#Web/Tech