Posts from Uncategorized

A Trip Down Memory Lane

With the news of Google and Amazon’s huge expansions into NYC, many people are asking “how did NYC tech get to this place?”  Well, I am going to post a 25 minute video history lesson at the end of this blog post that explains that.

But first, I’d like to talk about how I ended up doing that history lesson, which in and of itself is a history lesson.

When the Internet sector started to emerge from its nuclear winter in the late 2003/early 2004 (which is also when Brad Burnham and I went out and raised the first USV fund), those of us who were still working in the Inernet sector were looking around for a narrative and a rallying cry.

Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle came up with it. They called the re-emergence of the Internet/web sector “Web 2.0” and they launched a conference called Web 2.0 Summit in the fall of 2004. It became the hub of the renewed vitality of the tech/internet sector and we went out to SF every year to attend it.

By 2008, it was clear that NYC was increasingly an important part of the Web 2.0 story, by virtue of companies like Etsy, Tumblr, Delicious, and other important “web 2” companies started in NYC (and funded by USV).

So John and Tim decided to host a Web 2.0 Summit in NYC in 2008 and to celebrate that, they asked me to give a history lesson in the emergence of tech in NYC in the mid 90s. I did that and it remains one of my favorite talks I have given.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed doing it.

Supersize Your DJ Set

Our portfolio company SoundCloud just launched a pretty cool thing. If you are a DJ and use one of the popular DJ software products, you can plug SoundCloud into it and make your mixes right from the cloud.

Here’s a 15 second video advertisement for this new feature:

SoundCloud has announced that this feature is coming to all of the popular DJ software products soon. 

It is great to see SoundCloud, a company that got its start with DJs, bringing all that it has built over the years back to it early users.

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.