Posts from Uncategorized

Feature Friday: Plan A Trip

I don’t really use Waze that much. My trips are typically a combo of walking, biking, subways, and driving and Google Maps does a great job of offering all of those options. Waze is made for driving. So I am more of a Google Maps user than a Waze user.

But Waze has one feature that I am increasingly addicted to: the “plan a trip” later feature.

I am going to Brooklyn this morning for a Board Meeting and then I need to be in my office later. So I pulled out my phone, launched Waze, and figured out when I need to leave by (if I am going by car). 

It looks like this:

Given that Google (which owns Waze) has this data, I would love to see Google add this feature to Maps and apply it to subway trips as well.

I would also like Google to add this data to scheduling a meeting in Google Calendar.

Imagine if this feature was available in Resy and Open Table, when you are deciding when to book a table. Imagine if this feature was available any time that you are selecting a time for something and need to travel to it.

We are living in a time when our phones and the services we use know so much about us and the world around us. That is problematic and getting more so. But it is also true that can offer magical experiences that makes our lives so much better. This plan a trip feature and other places it can be applied is an example of the latter.

Funding Friday: Signal Problems

One of the most vexing issues facing NYC right now is our transportation mess and at the heart of it is the subway system.

My favorite chronicler of the subway mess is Aaron Gordon and his Signal Problems blog/newsletter.

If you want an example of the quality and clarity of Aaron’s analysis and writing, I would point you all to his post on Amazon HQ2 and the transportation issues it presents.

So what does all of this have to do with Funding Friday? Well, I am glad you asked. 

Aaron is offering regular readers the opportunity to subscribe for $50/year and help support his efforts to shine a bright light on the MTA and all of its issues. 

I think we need more journalism like the kind that Aaron is providing and so I signed up for the $50 today. 

If you are a NYC resident and ride the subways regularly and want to stay on top of what’s going on, I strongly suggest subscribing to Signal Problems and while you are at it, you might consider helping to fund this effort with an annual (or monthly subscription). You can do that here.

Quizlet Premium Content

Our portfolio company Quizlet is one of the top mobile apps out there with over 50 million people a month using it to learn something.

Quizlet has existed for over a decade as a wikipedia style learning community with its users creating and sharing study sets on pretty much everything and anything. There are over 300 million of these study sets on Quizlet and that number grows larger every day as more people join Quizlet and create and share their study sets.

This week Quizlet announced that premium content creators are now joining the Quizlet community to share, and sell, study sets that they have created. Premium content creators include publishers like Kaplan and Pearson, digital learning platforms like Babbel and Kenhub, and individual experts like Rob Swatski and Miriam Gutierrez.  

If you want to become a Quizlet Verified Creator and publish your premium learning content as a Quizlet Study Set, you can go here and do that.

None of this changes the basic Quizlet experience that 50 million people experience every month.  As Quizlet wrote in the blog post announcing Premium Content:

You can continue to create study sets and study user generated content to practice and master what you’re learning for free — just like you always have. Quizlet Premium Content doesn’t replace the parts of Quizlet you know and love; it’s adding to it, giving you new ways to use the games and activities on Quizlet to study content you don’t have to create yourself (or rely on other users to create!).

I am excited to see Quizlet add premium content to its massive library of learning material. It allows learners to find new content that may meet their learning needs better than the content they or others have created. It allows teachers and other professional learning content creators to get compensated for their premium content on Quizlet. And, of course, it creates a third revenue stream, in addition to advertising and subscriptions, to diversify Quizlet’s business model.

Quizlet is an amazing learning community. Now professionals can join it and add value while getting compensated for that. I am confident that this new premium content will make Quizlet even better.

Giving Tuesday

I don’t care about or participate in Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

But Giving Tuesday is awesome and I never miss the opportunity to participate in a day of collective giving. I love it.

This morning I went on to DonorsChoose and fully funded a project that is near and dear to my heart, teaching early elementary school kids how to write code on tablets with visual programming languages. And in this case, the kids are from a high need neighborhood in the Bronx.

I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes today and give what you can to a cause that is near and dear to your heart. I promise you that it will make you feel great. It really isn’t about how much you give. It is about finding something that matters to you and supporting it with whatever you can afford.

Here are some great resources to find something to support today:

DonorsChoose – Find A Classroom To Support

GoFundMe – Support Holiday Gift and Food Drives Across the US

Twitter – the #givingtuesday hashtag has some excellent giving opportunities on it

I hope you take a few minutes today to give. 

Funding Friday: Ski Maps

This coffee table book of ski maps looks awesome. I backed it today and also got one for our coffee table. You can do the same here.

The Kickstarter 2017 Public Benefit Statement

Our portfolio company Kickstarter is a Public Benefit Corporation.

One of the requirements of a Public Benefit Corporation is that they publish an annual benefit statement outlining how they are doing living up to their PBC charter.

This is Kickstarter’s PBC Charter.

And this is their 2017 Public Benefit Statement, which was published yesterday.

Here is a page from the 2017 statement, which shows how much funding they provided to creative projects across the categories they support.

That is a lot of economic activity, almost 20,000 creative projects were brought to life by Kickstarter PBC and its creator and backer communities.

Innovation takes many forms. Innovation in governance and business model is particularly important right now. And Kickstarter PBC is exploring a new way of running a for profit business and showing the way for others who might want to do the same.

The Overpay Critique

It is so easy to look at a headline announcing a deal and say “they overpaid.” I have done that myself plenty of times. It’s a natural emotional reaction.

But what I have learned is that you can’t really critique an investment until you know how it plays out.

Some things that look so expensive turn out to have been bargains in hindsight.

And, of course, some overpays are just that. Prices that nobody can make money on.

The current debate raging in NYC about the Amazon deal that the Governor and Mayor made reminds me of that.

Everyone is saying “they paid billions of taxpayer dollars to the richest company in the world” as an argument that they overpaid for the deal.

But this line in the Mayor’s OpEd yesterday in the Daily News got my attention:

New York City alone will net $13.5 billion in tax revenue from the new headquarters, and the state another $14 billion. That’s a nine-fold return on our investment

If these numbers are correct, the billions NYC and NYS spent to incentivize Amazon to come to NYC, will have been a great investment. 

We would take 9x on our money any day at USV.

It is easy and natural to critique an investment on the headline number. But the headline number is only half the story. You really need to see how it pans out to know if it was an overpay.

Economic Development

On the west side of Manhattan, from the west village, where we live, to the Javits Center on 34th Street and the west side highway, runs an abandoned elevated train track called The Highline.

Eleven years ago, the Gotham Gal and I took a walk on the old Highline with Joshua David, one of the two founders of Friends Of The Highline, and I wrote this post about what was going to happen.

The Highline cost something like $400mm to renovate. Some of the funds came from the city and state, but most came from private donations, like the one the Gotham Gal and I made after taking that walk.

And then we got to watch what happened. The neighborhood exploded and is still exploding. There has to have been tens of billions of dollars of investment in real estate along The Highline over the last ten years and it is still going on. I am not including Hudson Yards, which sits at the northern end of The Highline, which is another economic development story but not the one I am telling.

This is a photo of the northern spur of The Highline I took about a year ago from the top floor of one of the buildings in Hudson Yards

And into those buildings move companies and people. New homes get created. Then the coffee shops and grocery stores and restaurants come. And the local economy expands, by a lot. The city and the state taxes this economic activity and its coffers fill up a bit more as a result.

When we took that first walk on The Highline, I asked Joshua if there was some way to tax the land owners along The Highline to fund the renovation of it. It was obvious to me that the value of that land was going to go up a lot. He told me there was not. That seemed like a missed opportunity to me back then and still does. I suspect the increased land values along The Highline are an order of magnitude higher than the total investment in The Highline. 

That is the power of economic development. It is a virtuous circle. You invest, you grow, you produce economic returns, you invest, you grow. Rinse and repeat.

Why am I telling you this story today?

Well I got this tweet in my timeline sometime yesterday:

It is a great question. And some economist should do the work. The city probably already has.

My bet is that the City will get a return on this investment. Possibly a very large one. Twenty-five thousands jobs and all of the economic activity those jobs create are going to do a lot for Long Island City and all of NYC. 

The annual salaries for those 25,000 employees will be more than the $1.5-2bn that the city and state are committing to this project. When you add to that the real estate that will be constructed and renovated, all of the new homes that will be created for people, and the salaries for all of those construction workers, the local commerce (coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, etc) and the salaries that all of those employees will take home, etc, etc, I think it is a “no brainer” to be honest.

You can all tell from the posts I have written on this subject over the last week that I am a big fan of economic development. I think it is one of the things that makes a city vital and allows a city to retain its vitality. In the thirty five years we have lived in NYC, we have seen much of Manhattan and Brooklyn rebuilt. Now we are seeing Queens do the same thing. The Bronx and Staten Island are not sitting idle either. It is a magnificent thing to see and I pinch myself every time I think about it.

Welcome Amazon

The New York Times is reporting that Amazon has officially chosen NYC and DC as the locations for its big planned expansion, known as HQ2.

This is big news for NYC, as I wrote about last week.

I would like to welcome Amazon to NYC. I think this is going to work out great for Amazon and for NYC.

I know there are plenty of “not in my back yard” opponents to this idea and folks who think growth is bad and we should not grow until we fix things that are straining under the load.

I appreciate all of those concerns. They are valid at some level.

But I am a fan of grow, prosper, invest, fix, grow, prosper.

And we are doing that in NYC right now.