Posts from Current Affairs

Talking About It

I took the day off from AVC yesterday in observance of the moment we are living through. It is a very difficult time.

I spent part of yesterday talking to a number of the leaders of our portfolio companies who are trying to find a footing in this moment and provide the right leadership for their teams. My main advice to them was to talk about what is going on with the entire team, listen to how they feel, and engage now more than ever. I’m hopeful that the right answers for each team will come out of that. I think it is a time to be talking right now.

While I did not write yesterday, my partner Albert did. And he didn’t say much, but what he said was powerful. I agree with him.

It is a confusing time, an infuriating time, and a difficult time.

It is also time to take stock of what we believe, as Albert did, and act accordingly.

#Current Affairs

A New Month

I woke up at dawn today. The sun was lightening the sky. The birds were chirping.

I was reminded of the power of a new day, a clean slate, new opportunities.

It is June.

After three months of pandemic lockdowns, job losses like I have not seen in my lifetime, and a week of turmoil in our streets and in our hearts, we have the hope that comes with a new day.

Clearly we have problems in our country and our world.

When the tide goes out, you can see who has been swimming naked. And so many of us have been swimming naked. The pandemic has been quite revealing.

It is time to make some changes. Big changes. Long overdue changes.

We can start by acknowledging that.

And then we should seize the opportunity that comes with a new day, a new month, a new set of priorities, to make those changes.

We simply need to courage and conviction to come together and do it.

#Current Affairs

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

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

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:

https://www.usv.com/writing/2020/05/how-covid-is-impacting-hiring/

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.

https://www.usv.com/writing/2020/05/how-covid-is-impacting-hiring/

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

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”.

https://www.kickstarter.com/lights-on

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

Location and Work

I am confident this pandemic will end. At some point, we will have a vaccine, therapeutics, and/or broad based immunity. When that will happen is less clear to me. I believe that at some point, we will be able to resume living and working as we did prior to the pandemic.

However, I am also confident that we will not resume living and working exactly as we did prior to the pandemic because some of the things we have adopted to get through this will reveal themselves as comparable or better than what we were doing before.

One of the places this is happening is knowledge work which is a growing percentage of the workforce in the US. What we have seen in this pandemic is that knowledge workers have been able to be comparably productive working from home and that has caused many large (and small) employers to consider different work/location options.

Yesterday, Twitter told their employees that most of them can work from anywhere going forward:

A number of our portfolio companies have made that decision already as well:

I can imagine large and small banks, law firms, accounting firms, media and entertainment companies, and other knowledge based businesses making similar decisions.

I am not saying that remote work is ideal. There is something very valuable about being able to be in the same physical space as your colleagues. USV will likely keep an office for exactly that reason.

But it is also true that USV is operating incredibly well during this pandemic and we have not (yet) missed a beat.

What this means for large cities where many companies that engage in knowledge work are centered is an interesting question.

I saw this chart this morning on Benedict Evans’ Twitter:

That compares two of the most expensive cities in the US (and world) to each other. And as bad as NYC is on the affordability index, SF is way worse.

So when you combine these two situations; large knowledge work hubs getting prohibitively expensive and remote work normalizing, it would seem that we are in for a correction.

What is less clear is where knowledge workers who can increasingly work from anywhere will choose to live (and work). Will cities remain attractive for the quality of life they offer (arts, culture, nightlife, etc)? Or will the suburbs stand to gain? Or will more idyllic locations like the mountains or the beach become the location of choice? Or will second and third tier cities become more attractive? I do not have a crystal ball on this question. I suspect it will be some of all of the above.

But this may become a big deal. Like the “white flight” that happened in the 50, 60s and 70s in a number of large cities in the US. Wholesale movement of large groups of people can have profound changes on regions.

Like many disruptions, this is both bad and good. Affordability (or lack thereof) and gentrification have been a blight on our cities. If we can reverse that trend, much good will come of it. This may also be helpful in addressing the climate crisis which remains the number one risk to planet Earth. So there are reasons to be excited about this. But wholesale abandonment is terrible. We should do whatever we can to avoid that.

It is early days for this conversation. But it is one we are going to have all around the US, and possibly all around the world. So it is time to start thinking about it.

#climate crisis#Current Affairs#economics#employment#NYC

Funding Friday: Food Bank NYC

Food Bank For New York City is NYC’s leading hunger-relief organization.

During this crisis, the number of people turning to their emergency food network has increased by 50%.

Here are some interesting stats from their website:

$1 helps provide 5 meals

OR

$1/day helps provide 150 meals every month

I just donated some money to help feed people in need in NYC. If you want to join me, you can do so here.

#Current Affairs#hacking philanthropy

Exposure Alerting

Christina Farr at CNBC has a good post that details the back story of how Apple and Google came together to implement an interoperable system and a set of APIs and SDKs to allow third parties to build exposure alerting apps on their mobile operating systems.

Like many in tech, I have been interested in exposure alerting (which we used to call digital contact tracing) since this pandemic started spreading around the world. I have always believed that these little computers we carry around with us can help solve many challenging problems and this sure feels like one of them.

But I was concerned about the need for interoperability, privacy, and security. I told everyone who I talked to about this problem in February and March that I felt like Apple and Google had to implement something in their mobile operating systems for this to work. And I was deeply concerned that would not/could not happen.

But it did. And when I heard the news, I was so pleased. Difficult times can make for interesting bedfellows.

This tweet cited in Christina’s story is great:

https://twitter.com/marcelsalathe/status/1253051812183183365?s=20

Apple and Google’s APIs are coming on May 1st and I hope to install an exposure alerting app that runs on them on my phone as soon after that as I can. I hope all of you join me in doing that.

#Current Affairs#mobile