Posts from entrepreneurship

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

Growth

One of the great joys of the work I do is I get to watch the leaders of our portfolio companies grow over time.

I’ve had a number of moments over the last few months where I got off a call or a meeting and thought to myself “wow, she’s a new person.”

Growing as a leader takes time, mistakes, failure, feedback, and a lot of work. You don’t magically show up as the CEO and you are good to go. It’s not like that at all. The authority to make the final call doesn’t mean that you are good at it and that people will line up behind your decisions.

It is a process and like all processes, it requires time and patience. But for those who are committed to personal growth, there is a path.

Two syndromes I see quite frequently are “deer in the headlights” and “I’ve got this.” They are both tell tale signs of a leader who isn’t there yet.

Deer in the headlights is pretty obvious to everyone. The leader just doesn’t seem steady and solid. You can see it in their eyes. I like to provide a leader with deer in the headlights syndrome a lot of support, advice, and constructive feedback. I have seen people go from deers in a headlight to strong decisive leaders in less than a year. It helps to have a gauntlet or two to have to run through. The greater the challenges the deer in the headlight faces, the more quickly they can emerge as a strong leader.

“I’ve got this” is more problematic. The leader acts like they know what they are doing, but they don’t. And everyone around them knows it except them. I like to provide a leader with “I’ve got this” syndrome with a lot of tough love but that is usually not enough. The answer to “I’ve got this” is usually failure of some sort, often a very significant one. The key is to be there for the failing leader in that moment and help them get through the failure and come out of it with self awareness and a desire to address the issues that have gotten in the way.

These are just two of the immature leader syndromes, but they are two very common ones I have seen.

I believe that most people have the capacity to be leaders if they want that for themselves. I also believe that leadership is a skill that you never stop learning. And I believe that it requires self awareness, courage, and deep empathy.

Sitting at a table and watching a skilled leader work is quite a sight to see. And watching someone grow into that person is one of the great joys of my work.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

Event Driven Growth

I realize that most businesses are suffering greatly in this pandemic. Many have been shut completely.

But there are some that are experiencing the opposite situation. They have a growth spurt as a result of this moment. Businesses in food delivery, e-commerce, online education, telehealth, remote work, and cloud infrastructure are examples of such situations.

I’ve seen event driven growth spurts over the years. A plane lands in the Hudson and everyone heads to Twitter to see it. A competitor is shut down and everyone shows up on your door. Crypto gets hot and everyone wants in on the action. That sort of thing.

And I’ve been talking to leaders who are experiencing this and wondering how to model out what happens when and if things return to normal.

Each situation is different but a framework I like is to take your pre-event baseline, your event driven peak, and assume you will give up half of the delta when things return to normal and that will be your new baseline.

That won’t be right of course. It’s a model. You can revise as real data comes in.

But what it suggests is that not all of your new customers will stick around. But some will. And you will have a new and higher baseline. That has been true of almost every event driven growth spurt I have seen in my career.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

The AVC Cap Table Template

I woke up to this tweet this morning:

I went to that blog post and clicked on the link and sure enough someone had swapped out my cap table template from 2011 with their own cap table. I am not entirely sure how that happened and for how long that has been the case, but I was not going to let that stand.

So I went to my google drive and searched and found the cap table that I had built for that post back in 2011, made a copy, made it public on the web but view only, and fixed the link.

Phew.

If you want to see a cap table and waterfall template in the style that I have become accustomed to over the years, here it is. Hopefully, nobody will hack it again. I will be super careful not to permission anyone to have edit capabilities (which is what I think I may have done accidentally).

#entrepreneurship#hacking education#VC & Technology

From Start-up To Stand-out: What Distinguishes High Growth Potential

My partner Rebecca brought an appreciation for and an understanding of marketing to USV and it has made us better investors and it has helped us assist our portfolio companies with their marketing efforts.

Rebecca is going on Simulmedia Live tomorrow at 2pm ET to talk about startups, marketing, growth strategies, and how she thinks about all of these issues in identifying attractive investments and helping our portfolio companies with their growth strategies. If you want to listen in, you can register here.

Simulmedia is a USV portfolio company that offers internet style advertising products via a national scale television advertising network. As more and more internet channels have become saturated, many startups and growth companies have turned to Simulmedia to help them make TV work the way that their tried and true internet channels have worked for them.

It should be an interesting discussion tomorrow.

#entrepreneurship

My 1985 Nike Air Jordan Investment

Earlier this week I purchased 1% of a collection of five 1985 Nike Air Jordan sneakers using our portfolio company Otis’ mobile app.

I paid $330 for ten shares (out of a total of 1000 shares) implying a value of $33,000 for the five pairs, or roughly $6600 each.

This page shows the highlights of this sale, including a video, a link to the investment deck, and a link to the offering circular.

The Air Jordans offering sold out quickly but luckily I got a push notification on my phone alerting me to the “drop” and I was able to secure an interest in the collection in less than a minute. It was a lot of fun to do. I have bought interests in nine collectibles via the Otis app over the last few months.

The idea of breaking up collectibles into small interests and creating/making a market in them is a very interesting idea. It allows people who appreciate these items and understand their value to participate in the appreciation without having to be super wealthy. I like that very much.

I also like that Otis is a “crypto adjacent” business. Our friend Jesse Walden coined that term and I really love it. It suggests that there are non-crypto based applications, like Otis, that will deliver on some of the promises of crypto and prime the pump for what a fully crypto-based application can do for us. Otis could have been built on a blockchain and these security interests in Air Jordans could trade on a blockchain, but that is not how it works today. It may go there in the future. But regardless, we are starting to see how technologies like crypto can open up a market to everyone, or at least a lot more people, and that is very exciting to me.

#crypto#digital collectibles#entrepreneurship#Sports

Being In The Flow

I have been investing in developer tools since the earliest days of my VC career. The first investment I led in the late 80s was a financing that provided the funds to acquire a programming editor called Brief. It was a text-based editor for PCs. That investment worked out but we didn’t make a lot of money on it. Brief was eclipsed by other better editors.

But that did not cool my interest in developer tools. I have always believed that supporting the people who build software is a great business and it is.

At USV, we have made developer tools a key area of investment and some of our most well-known successes like MongoDB, Twilio, and Stripe are developer tools.

But as I learned from my Brief experience, all developer tools are not equal in terms of creating business value.

Last week, I was discussing this in a texting session with my partner Nick. And he observed that the tools that have produced the most value for the founders and investors, including USV, are the tools that are “in the flow” and not on the side.

That was quite an “aha moment” for me as it clarified something that I have longed felt intuitively but could not articulate. Now I can.

I think this is true for many other areas of software. If you build software that sits in the flow of something important (mission critical, recurring, etc) then it will increase in value over time, and sustain its value, much more significantly than something that “sits on the side.”

So when thinking about what to build or what to invest in (it is the same thing, just depends on if you are investing time or money), try to be in the flow.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Entertainment vs Utility

The news this week that HQ Trivia has finally called it quits reminded me of this post I wrote back in 2012 about the difference in sustainability (and thus value) between entertainment and utility apps.

What is interesting to me is if you could use a social app or an entertainment app to get to another place (distribution, platform, blockchain, financial services, etc, etc). That feels like a much more sustainable place to be.

But very few social apps and games have been able to do that. And the result has been a predictable boom/bust cycle that has not produced a lot of value for founders or investors.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Tech Jobs For All Who Want Them

The tech sector is the fastest growing sector of the economy in NYC and around the US and around the world. The tech sector offers high paying jobs and a growing number of them.

But, as we all know, the tech sector lacks the gender and racial diversity that would allow everyone to benefit from this growing sector of the economy. Most of the studies that have looked at the lack of diversity point to a skills gap standing in the way.

So last year Tech:NYC (where I am co-chair) and a few large employers (Google, Verizon, Bloomberg LP) and the Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund commissioned a study of the skills training programs in NYC to see where there are gaps and what must be done to close them so that tech jobs are available to everyone in NYC who wants one.

This report was done by the Center for an Urban Future and was released yesterday. You can read it here.

What the report reveals is that NYC has a rich and expanding ecosystem of tech skills training opportunities, including K-12 and adult education. But, as we all know, the quality is uneven and so are the outcomes.

The report makes twelve recommendations which are detailed here. They are:

1. Make a significant new public investment in expanding and improving New York City’s tech education and training ecosystem. 

2. Set clear and ambitious goals to greatly expand the pipeline of New Yorkers into technology careers. 

3. Prioritize long-term investments in K–12 computing education. 

4. Scale up tech training with a focus on programs that develop in-depth, career-ready skills. 

5. Build the pipeline of educators and facilitators serving both K–12 and career readiness efforts. 

6. Close the geographic gaps in tech education and skills-building programs. 

7. New York City’s tech sector should play a larger role in developing, recruiting, and retaining diverse talent. 

8. Increase access to tech apprenticeships and paid STEM internships through industry partnerships, CS4All, and the city’s current Summer Youth Employment Program. 

9. Expand efforts to market STEM programs to underrepresented students and their families. 

10. Develop and fund links from the numerous computer literacy and basic digital skills-building programs to the in-depth programs that can lead to employment. 

11. Expand the number of bridge programs to provide crucial new on-ramps to further tech education and training for New Yorkers with fundamental skills needs. 

12. Develop major new supports for the non-tuition costs of adult workforce training. 

I participated on the advisory board of this study and support all of these recommendations. Elected officials and policy makers in NYC (and really everywhere) should read and heed these recommendations.

The tech sector faces many headwinds in society right now for a host of reasons. Not all of them can be solved by an employee base that mirrors the planet. But many of them can be and we need to work to get there.

I want to thank the Center For An Urban Future, Tech:NYC, Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund, Google, Verizon, and Bloomberg LP for giving us a roadmap on how to get there.

#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#hacking education#hacking government#management#NYC#policy#Politics