Posts from entrepreneurship

Founder Led Companies

I remember about fifteen years ago, a well-known VC said to me “you need to sell a company within a few years of the founder leaving. Companies can’t sustain their innovation after a founder leaves.” I told that VC that my experience has been different on that measure and that I did not agree.

I have seen leadership teams take over great businesses from founders and get them to the next level. Etsy, where I am Chair of the Board and a large shareholder, is a great example of that. There are many others in my career as well.

However, there is a special something that founders provide companies. I’ve heard it called “moral leadership.” I’ve heard it called “the soul of the business.” I’ve heard it called “long-term thinking.”

This podcast with Brian Armstrong, founder and CEO of Coinbase, another public company where I am on the Board and a large shareholder, is a good example of that.

If you are into crypto or a Coinbase shareholder, you might want to watch the entire one hour and forty minutes of this video.

But if you want to see what I am talking about with founder-led businesses, there are a few conversations in this podcast I would direct you to. They are:

  • 25:48 The Drive and Vision
  • 29:36 The Future of Coinbase
  • 47:30 Public Goods & Decentralization
  • 51:39 Eating All the Banks
  • 1:32:12 Maturing and Growing

#crypto#entrepreneurship#management

Startups Galore

When you look at the recent Q3 numbers on seed and early-stage VC fundraising, you might think we are in the late stages of a VC bubble:

The words I would use to describe the current environment in early-stage VC are “fast and furious.”

And yet the thing that makes me think this could be the new normal and not the late stages of a bubble is the dramatic increase in the number of people who are choosing to work in or form new startups. It has never been easier to start a company, build a team, and build a product. And many people are choosing to do just that.

It could be that we are in an environment where too much money is chasing too many good deals.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

NYC's Tech Resurgence (continued)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about NYC’s Tech Resurgence. I observed that NYC continues to develop as one of the world’s leading centers of tech innovation.

And then yesterday, I saw this tweet:

NYC startups are getting funded at 2/3 the rate of Silicon Valley startups. That’s a huge change from where NYC was even two or three years ago.

It wasn’t that long ago that a NYC-based startup had to agree to move to Silicon Valley to get money from the VCs out there. I think that was still a thing into the latter part of the 2000s. Now a decade and a half later, we see NYC startups raising capital almost as much as Silicon Valley startups.

Wow.

#entrepreneurship#NYC#VC & Technology

NYC's Tech Resurgence

Early in the pandemic, we were all deluged with stories of tech workers, companies, and founders leaving Silicon Valley for Miami and Austin. And that was true. But from my personal experience, they also left for many other places too, including Los Angeles and New York City.

I met with a founder last week who has left the bay area for good and now splits his time between homes in LA and NYC. It is hard to know what cities have been the biggest beneficiaries of the great relocation but I am certain that NYC is one of them.

Here are some tweets I’ve seen in recent weeks talking about this:

I am not proclaiming the death of Silicon Valley. It is alive and well and will continue to be the epicenter of tech in the US for as far as I can see. What it has lost is the power to hold onto people who don’t really want to be there. One of the most important things the covid pandemic has done to work in the US, particularly tech work, is to make it so that people can work for great companies wherever they want to live. That’s a huge shift and I believe it is permanent.

But that’s not the only thing that’s driving NYC’s tech resurgence. As yesterday’s IPO of Warby Parker reminds us, NYC is now home to a growing number of large entrepreneurial companies that are now public and will remain independent and growing in NYC. They may employ people all around the world, but they are HQ’d in NYC and will continue to be.

And Jordan is correct in the tweet above that NYC is particularly strong in Web3 because of its roots in trading, speculating, DeFi, etc and because of large Web3 software players like Consensys that have been operating here for many years now. And as Web3 is now exploding into the creative class via things like NFTs, DAOs, gaming and more, we will only see NYC’s strengths come to the front and center in the most important new sector in tech.

It’s a great time to be working in tech in NYC. You get all of the benefits of living in this amazing city without the hassles of the commute every day.

I’ll end with a plug for a startup competition that Google, Tech:NYC, and Cornell Tech are putting on called the “NYC Recovery Challenge”.

The challenge will bring together startup entrepreneurs from across the five boroughs to pitch tech solutions for New York’s recovery to a panel of business, economic, and policy experts with the chance of winning cash prizes, technical mentorship, and more.

The top three founders and their teams will be recognized as “NYC RecoveryFellows” and will receive cash awards from a prize fund totaling $150,000. The first-place founder and their team will receive a non-dilutive cash award of $100,000, and two runners-up will each receive non-dilutive cash awards of $25,000. Seven other entrants will be recognized as “Founders to Watch” and will participate, along with the three cash award recipients, in a month-long, equity-free mentorship program — dubbed the “NYC Accelerator” — led by Cornell Tech, Google for Startups, and Tech:NYC advisers. 

If you and your startup want to apply, you can do so here.

#crypto#entrepreneurship#NYC

Telegraphing

I recall when my partner Brad and I were raising our first USV fund, back in 2003, and potential investors wondered about my blogging habit. They asked if I was making a mistake telegraphing our investment thesis for everyone to see, including our “competitors.”

We strongly defended the practice and explained that the benefits of telling the world what we were looking to invest in, and why, strongly outweighed any costs. We explained that telegraphing would bring entrepreneurs to us.

And that turned out to be the case. So many of our top-performing investments over the years came to us because of our telegraphing strategy. It is hard to know who is working on a problem you are interested in. But if you put the word out far and wide, they will find you.

I was reminded of those conversations almost twenty years ago now when I read this post on USV.com by Hanel outlining our interest in measuring carbon. She explains that we have made one investment in that area already and are looking to make more. And she explains why.

I am sure that Hanel has already heard from a bunch of founders working on measuring carbon and will hear from more in the coming weeks and months. That’s excellent and how it should work in our view.

#climate crisis#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

The Bad Marriage Problem

Over the last 18 months, the early-stage financing market has seen dramatic changes characterized by these three things:

  • A shift from in-person fundraising to virtual fundraising
  • A reduction in financing process timelines from months to weeks
  • A continued increase in the amount of capital available for early stage companies

I believe that for the most part, these changes will be permanent.

And I believe that for the most part, these changes are good for early-stage company formation and innovation.

However, there will be some negative side effects from these changes and one that I worry about is the “bad marriage problem.” Unlike public markets, private market investments are held for many years, often a decade or more. If an investor and an entrepreneur find each other difficult to work with, there is no easy solution. There is no divorce court for startups. And so the result is likely to be entrepreneurs and investors getting stuck in bad marriages.

There are a few opportunities to address this issue. There is a vibrant secondary market for private investments and while it is mostly limited today to well-known later-stage companies, it could develop into a broader market as the capital seeking to get invested in early-stage innovation continues to grow unabated. It is unlikely that founders will be able to force investors out of their cap tables via the secondary markets, but a voluntary separation via the secondary market seems more likely to me.

I also think startup boards need to evolve. There should be many more independent directors and many fewer investor directors on startup boards. Investors should be more open to observer seats and founders should have more say in which investors sit on their boards. I am not arguing that founders should control their boards, but I am arguing that investors should not control the boards. I think independent control is the most sustainable solution.

We know that bad marriages are hurtful to everyone, not just the spouses. Companies that have dysfunctional founder/investor relationships suffer from them. And the shotgun marriage environment we are operating in right now (and for the foreseeable future) will likely create more of them. So we should be thinking about solutions to end these bad marriages and let everyone move on to better ones.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

From The Lab To Your Home

My family has a history of irregular heartbeats, from PVCs to AFIBs. So when I saw my cardiologist recently, I asked him how I could track my beats. I have worn a Holter Monitor a few times and did not want to do that again unless it was absolutely necessary. He pointed me to this Kardia Mobile device which I purchased on Amazon a few weeks ago.

This Kardia Mobile 6L device is remarkable. It delivers a “6 lead” EKG reading into your smartphone by putting the device on your knee and pressing both thumbs on it. I realize that 6 leads is not the same as what you get with a Holter Monitor or an EKG in your doctor’s office. But it is really amazing because it is so easy to use in your own home. It is the size of an Apple TV remote, maybe even a tad smaller. I just email my cardiologist the result and he tells me what is going on without him having to take fifteen minutes or more to see me and without me having to visit his office.

This is just one example of the revolution underway in health care. Driven by advances in technology, a computer in everyone’s pocket, ongoing changes in the healthcare system accelerated by the pandemic, among other forcing functions, we are seeing more and more healthcare being accessed in our homes vs in the doctor’s office.

This does not mean that doctors are needed less. I think they are needed more. But they can focus their time and energy where it is most needed, in providing the care itself vs all of the other things that lead to the care.

This has the potential to both increase access to care and also reduce the cost of it. We will need other changes to the healthcare system for those things to be realized. We will need the healthcare system to move away from a business model based on the provision of care in favor of a business model based on outcomes. We will need the power of the payors to be reduced in favor of the power of the patients. Those changes must be driven by society/politics and they won’t come easy.

But the conditions are ripe for a reshaping of the healthcare system. Entrepreneurs (like the folks who made the Kardia Mobile device) and risk capital can and will be an important force in driving that change.

#entrepreneurship#hacking healthcare

Short and Sweet

This should be obvious to AVC readers but I am a fan of short and sweet. Why take two pages to say something you can say in one page? Why take two paragraphs to say something you can say in one paragraph?

This letter to potential investors from the CEO in the Duolingo S-1, which was flipped to the public yesterday, is a fantastic example of that.

Disclosure: USV is an investor in Duolingo and we stand to profit from their IPO. This is not in any way an endorsement of the offering. Investors should read the S-1 and make up their own mind about it.

#entrepreneurship

Startup CXO

On Monday, a copy of Startup CXO, my friend Matt Blumberg’s new book, arrived at the USV office. I picked it up to take a quick look and thought “this a heavy book!”

So I texted Matt, congratulated him on getting the book out, and then asked why it was so heavy. He replied “because it is 640 pages, there is a section on every C-level function in that book.”

That’s when I realized that Startup CXO is not really a book. It’s a “field manual” to scaling a leadership team and company. It is the kind of book you will keep by your desk and pull out from time to time to figure out how to approach an issue or to help one of your senior leaders figure out how to do that.

And in that context, it’s a very valuable resource for CEOs and leadership teams as they scale a company and find new challenges around every corner.

The book is now out in Kindle and Hardcover. I recommend the Hardcover so you can keep it handy and pull it out from time to time when you need a quick primer on something.

#Books#entrepreneurship#management

In-Person vs On-Screen

Last week I spent three hours with my six partners in a conference room talking through what we are investing in and why. It was a terrific session and I had more “ahas” in those three hours than I have had in many many months. There really is no substitute for sitting together with your colleagues working things out face to face.

This week our team met with a founder in Singapore via Zoom. It was midnight in Singapore and noon in NYC. In one hour we learned enough from the founder to be able to make a decision on whether or not to invest in the founder’s company.

In the last year, events like the latter one have been commonplace. Events like the former have been non-existent. And there are many in the tech sector and broader business sector (and other sectors too) that have come to believe that on-screen interactions will be the primary way we engage going forward.

For certain things, like raising capital and investing capital, on-screen works pretty well. Founders have figured out that they can raise capital from their kitchens, bedrooms, and offices in weeks vs roadshows that lasted months. I don’t think we will see founders going back on the road in any material way ever again. And founders in Singapore can access capital markets in NYC with ease. And investors in NYC can access investments in Singapore with ease. These are all important and disruptive changes to the startup, tech, and business sectors.

But in the last month, as I have been going into the USV offices most days, I have come to realize what we have been missing with the on-screen work model vs the in-person work model. Many things are more efficient on-screen but some things are way better in-person.

Understanding which is which and then figuring out how to continue to do the in-person things will be critical to leaders and teams navigating the new normal.

I got an email from a founder/CEO about six months ago saying that his company was going back to the office completely when the pandemic was over. I had not heard many CEOs taking that strong of a stance at that time. Since then, I have heard the same from a number of our portfolio company leaders. They are in the minority but they are not non-existent. When we survey our portfolio we find that about 20-25% will go back to full-time in the office work, another 20-25% have gone entirely remote, and the balance will try to figure out a hybrid model that makes sense for their company.

At USV, where we have landed for now, and maybe forever, is a bias to be in the office, particularly on the days we meet in person, but we are also way more open to on-screen work and we have an expectation that some team members will choose to work on-screen for multiple days a week, possibly the majority of days a week. We see that working parents benefit from the flexibility that on-screen work allows and younger team members benefit from the socialization and camaraderie that an office provides. We also see that those who commute long distances benefit significantly from being able to reduce the commuting load by working on-screen multiple days a week.

Our business has a natural rhythm of two days a week when we meet as a team; Monday and Thursdays. So those tend to be the days that team members try to be in the office and those are the days we do things like cater in lunch and maybe go out after work together. That allows us to retain the team dynamic and culture while being more open to on-screen work going forward.

We definitely have not figured this all out, but we are starting to see some patterns and some benefits of both work modes, and we are trying to navigate to a good middle ground.

Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone. But I also believe that in-person interactions remain critical to making better decisions, better products, better cultures, and better companies and so I would encourage everyone, including the fully remote teams, to figure out how to make in-person interactions happen on some regular cadence.

#entrepreneurship#management