Posts from Current Affairs

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

Thanksgiving 2020

As years go, 2020 is not one that generates a lot of gratitude in my mind. Global pandemic, racial struggles, millions without jobs, local merchants closing up, a surreal election here in the US, and that is just what comes to mind in the time it takes me to write this.

And yet, I am hopeful and thankful as I sit here thinking about this Thanksgiving that is upon us. I see the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic some time next year, I see new leadership in the US that is long on empathy and short on drama, I see proof that science continues to be up to the challenge of solving huge problems for humanity, and I see a resilience in the human spirit on the streets of NYC.

We are going to need everything we can get from science and the human spirit because we are facing enormous challenges that will not end with the pandemic. Racial inequity, climate change, ongoing job losses (and gains) being driven by technological change, massive budget deficits in local governments. The list goes on and on.

I am an optimist in a business that requires it. I think we can and will rise to meet these challenges and I am thankful that I can play a small role in doing that.

#Current Affairs

Exposure Notification Express

I have New York State’s exposure alerting app on my phone and check it every day. It gives me great statistics about what is going on in my location. You can download it here for iOS and Android.

It will also notify me if anyone who is using the app and has been with me gets Covid. I have not gotten any alerts in the month or two since I have had it on my phone. That’s great news and I have been healthy and that is good too.

But there is an issue with the uptake of this app in NYS. The last numbers I have heard suggest that less than 10% of NYS residents have installed this app on their phones. That compares with closer to 20% and rising in some other states.

Part of the reason other states are doing better getting their residents to install an exposure alerting app is they are promoting both their own app (like the NYS app) and also the “native” exposure alerting that became available in iOS 13.7 and soon will be available in Android.

This “native” exposure alerting is called Exposure Notification Express and this Lifehacker piece explains how to turn it on in iOS.

I like having the full NYS app on my phone. But for those who would rather just flip a switch on their mobile phone, Express is the better option.

Because all of these apps and native operating system features run on top of Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification system (GAEN), all of these systems are interoperable with each other and you will be alerted if someone using any one of these services who you have been in contact with becomes infected.

Fighting this pandemic is hard. But we can make it a bit easier by doing a bunch of simple things, like wearing a mask, social distancing, getting tested regularly, and using an exposure alerting app or service.

#Current Affairs

Some Thoughts On The Pandemic

When I go back and read my Jan 1st post on what would happen in the 2020s, I am reminded how hard it is to predict the future. The Covid Pandemic changed everything in 2020 and likely for years to come. And yet it was not one of my predictions, even though Covid was already spreading in China at the time I wrote it.

We are nine months into the pandemic in the US and there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have two vaccines that have reported fantastic results and will soon be approved for emergency use by the FDA. I have heard people who know about such things say that those approvals could come as soon as the end of November. They cannot come soon enough in my view. We have two safe and efficacious vaccines and we should get busy vaccinating people, starting with those in the greatest harms way (health care workers, first responders, essential workers) and then on to the rest of us. I would take either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine right now if it was offered to me. Vaccines are the way out of the pandemic and we have known that since it started. What is amazing is how quickly safe and effective vaccines have been developed and tested by our pharma/biotech industry. Science to the rescue.

We are also in the third wave of virus cases in the US (and around the world) and it appears that the virus is everywhere these days. Our family has locked things down pretty significantly in the last week and we are hunkering down for a rough patch. We figure that we did it in March and April. We can do it again this winter.

The other big deal is the availability of rapid and accurate at-home tests. I figured out how to get cheap antigen tests from Asia for our family this summer and we have been testing ourselves regularly. They are not as accurate as PCR tests and they have not been approved by the FDA. But I figured some data that was fairly accurate was better than no data. It has helped our family stay safe and healthy and it upsets me so much that our FDA has not prioritized getting these tests into everyone’s hands.

There are also more expensive and not exactly rapid (30-60 mins) at home tests that are as accurate as PCR coming out now. This is a post about one of them. When you think you might be infected, a test like this is super helpful to have at home. And yet we have not prioritized these either.

Operation Warp Speed to get vaccines into the market quickly was a great success. But the lack of a similar coordinated strategy around mass, rapid, convenient testing was the big miss of the pandemic in the US. We should learn from that.

I believe this winter is going to be very hard. But getting through it safely will likely get us into the end game of this pandemic. So keeping things locked down, masking up out of the home, testing yourself and your loved ones, and following the rules seems like the thing to do. It is what we are going to do.

#Current Affairs#life lessons

The Covid Rotation

Yesterday morning we got the news that Pfizer’s mRNA Covid vaccine developed in partnership with BioNTech saw 90% efficacy in phase three clinical trials. While this is terrific news, Wall Street saw it as bad news for companies that are doing well during this pandemic (Zoom, Peloton, e-commerce, etc).

This is a chart of Jim Cramer’s Covid 100 index:

Wall Street believes the end of the Covid pandemic is in sight and is rotating out of this group. I see that as terrific news, even though I am a large holder of a name or two in that index.

I cannot wait until I can start meeting entrepreneurs again in person. I cannot wait until USV can meet together in person. I cannot wait until I can see live music, movies, theater, etc, etc. These things cannot come soon enough for me.

But I also wonder how many of the habits we acquired during this pandemic (which is NOT over yet), will stick when we can go back to doing all of these things we long to do.

Here are some questions to ponder:

1/ Will our use of Zoom to meet decline materially when the pandemic is over?

2/ Will we get back on planes and resume our business travel like we did before the pandemic?

3/ Will we go back to the spin studio even though we learned to love a spin class on our Peloton?

4/ Will we rush back to stores and abandon our e-commerce habits?

5/ Will we all go back to the office five days a week?

I think the answer is yes to a degree, but almost certainly not totally. We have created new habits in this awful year and they are not going to go away so quickly, or ever.

I don’t know if that means the Covid 100 index is a buying opportunity or it needs to go down some more. I will leave that to Jim Cramer.

I do know that the way we work and live and entertain ourselves has changed materially and forever in this pandemic and things won’t be exactly the same when it is over.

#Current Affairs#stocks

When are we going to know who won the election?

Our portfolio company Recount put out this two minute video primer on the question of “when will we know.” I like getting the information I want in a very short period of time. This does that so well.

#Current Affairs

Covid Alert NY

I’ve written a bunch about Exposure Alerting and its potential to limit the spread of Covid by alerting people when they have come in contact with someone contagious.

Back in April, Google and Apple came together to create GAEN, a framework for secure and private proximity data sharing on mobile phones.

In July, the Linux Foundation open-sourced two code bases that operate on top of GAEN for public health authorities around the world to build mobile apps with.

And yesterday, NY State launched Covid Alert NY that was built on those open source code bases. Covid Alert NY was built by the NYS Dept. of Health and Tech:NYC (where I am Chairman), along with Google, Apple, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Goldman Sachs, and a coalition of technology and research partners.

Here’s how Covid NY works:

  • Phones that have downloaded the app are assigned a random ID that can be exchanged with other phones via Bluetooth technology.
  • Devices that are within six feet of each other for 10 minutes or longer exchange those random IDs.
  • If a person tests positive and reports it on the app, an alert goes out to those with whom they had close contact alerting them of potential exposure.
  • The app also serves as a resource hub of daily case count numbers and informs users of the steps they can take to prevent further virus spread.

And it’s designed to work by placing privacy first:

  • It uses secure Bluetooth technology, not GPS, that can only detect when two devices are in proximity to each other, not geographic location. It doesn’t collect users’ data on their location or movement.
  • The random ID assigned to your device changes every 15 minutes, and users are not identified to other users, nor is their personal identifiable information shared — not with other users, Google, Apple, or the NYS Department of Health.

I hope that all NYers download Covid Alert NY to their phones and participate in a voluntary network of exposure alerting. This alone will not end the pandemic, but it can slow the spread of the virus by letting people know when they might be contagious and encouraging them to isolate and get tested. Imagine if we had this technology widely deployed back in January and February?

I downloaded Covid Alert NY to my phone this morning and am now participating in this voluntary exposure alerting network. You can join me by downloading Covid Alert NY to your phone:

App Store (for iPhone)

Google Play (for Android)

#Current Affairs#NYC

The Trifecta

A trifecta in horse racing is when you accurately predict win place and show. It is when you get three bets correct.

We’ve had the opposite happen in 2020. We’ve had three things go wrong at the same time.

As my friend David Steinberg said to me last month, we are witnessing 1918 (pandemic) plus 1929 (economic crisis) plus 1968 (racial crisis) all at the same time.

Of course they are related. The economic crisis was brought on by the pandemic. And the racial crisis has been made worse by both.

At some point, the pandemic will ease. I am hopeful that behavior change (mask wearing, social distancing, self quarantining, etc) combined with rapid and inexpensive testing will help contain the spread of the disease while we wait for the therapies and vaccines which will eventually eradicate it.

But when the pandemic is over, we will still have the economic and racial crises to reckon with. And reckon with them we must. The financial markets suggest that the reckoning will be easy and painless. I’m less sure of that.

As I wrote about a few days ago, our public sector budgets have massive holes in them. The inequities that have come to the fore in the racial crisis cannot be swept under a rug. I believe we are in for a lot of change and a lot of pain in the wake of this trifecta and there is no escaping it.

I also believe, as I wrote last week, that this painful period of change can lead us to a better place. But that will take time, energy, and capital to achieve and it won’t come easy.

#Current Affairs

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

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