Posts from VC & Technology

Empire AI

Last summer I sat down with Tom Secunda, who co-founded Bloomberg LP with Mike Bloomberg, to talk about areas of shared philanthropic interest. Tom told me that academic institutions do not have access to the kind of AI/ML infrastructure that the top tech companies have and he wanted to fix that. His idea was a consortium of Universities in New York State, the New York State Government, and philanthropic donors. His vision was a large shared facility in upstate NY with state-of-the-art AI/ML infrastructure that participating academic institutions could make available to their faculty for cutting-edge AI/ML research.

Tom is a convincing person. He convinced me that this was a good idea last summer and he went on to convince Governor Hochul and the top Universities in New York State and his fellow philanthropist Jim Simons.

I am glad Governor Hochul and her team were quick to recognize the promise of this idea. Today, Governor Hochul will announce Empire AI in her State of the State Address.

Empire AI will be a “state-of-the-art artificial intelligence computing center in Upstate New York to be used by New York’s leading institutions to promote responsible research and development, create jobs, and unlock AI opportunities focused on public good.”

Over $400mm of public and private funding has been committed over ten years to build and operate the Empire AI facility. New York State is contributing $275mm and over $125mm is coming from participating Universities and philanthropy.

I am excited to see New York State step up like this. Other states, like Massachusetts, have done something similar but this NYS effort is significantly larger. I expect more states will follow now. Cutting-edge AI/ML research should not be limited to large tech companies. We need our academic institutions to be on equal footing. This model, particularly if more states adopt it, can help make that possible.

New York is one of the leading AI centers in the US, along with California and Massachusetts. We see this every day as entrepreneurs building AI companies come knocking on our door. It is very encouraging to see our local government supporting and investing in this new area of economic development.

I want to congratulate Governor Hochul, the leaders of our academic institutions, and Tom Secunda, for their vision and initiative here. This is important.

#machine learning#NYC#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

What Will Happen In 2024

As we enter 2024, the capital markets have found their footing and are moving higher. The Fed has taken interest rates as far as they want at this time and inflation has come down. It seems that a “soft landing” is likely. That is good news for the innovation economy because healthy capital markets are a necessary support system.

However, optimistic capital markets are necessary but not sufficient for a healthy innovation economy. We also need innovation. The good news is we have a lot of that and more is coming in 2024. I have never seen an environment with more innovation in the forty years I have been in the tech sector. It is breathtaking to see.

Let’s start with Artificial intelligence (AI) which was the big event in 2023. The AI “stack” has emerged with Large Language Models and other important models (like audio, imagery, video, etc) operating in the cloud with well-documented and supported APIs that are available to developers to build on. And possibly even more important is the emergence of very good open-source AI models that in many cases can outperform the closed-source models. With the AI stack well developed and supported, we are moving into the application era of AI, much like the browser brought us the application era of the web and the iPhone brought us the application era of the mobile device. This is a big deal. While in 2023, everyone was rightly focused on the large language models like OpenAI, Anthropic, Gemini, Llama, etc, we will see new AI-first applications emerge in 2024 that will start to move the focus and the conversation up the stack. And we will see legacy applications embrace AI to make their products better and to remain competitive with the AI-first disrupters.

But like web3 before it and the internet before that, this new technology will bring litigation and regulatory scrutiny that will raise, and ultimately resolve many important issues. Let’s start with litigation. Should I, as the author of over 9,000 blog posts that have been used to train these large language models, be entitled to some of the revenue they will make? OpenAI generated over $1.5bn in revenue in 2023. Should I get some of that? And do I need to join The New York Times and other publishers in suing to get some of it? That is just one of many issues that these AI models have raised and they will need to be resolved. I believe it will take years of litigation and regulation before we understand what the appropriate business model and norms are for the AI economy. But fortunately, like web3 and the Internet before it, the tech sector will not wait for those issues to be resolved. Trillions of dollars are being invested in the AI sector and that will continue for as far as this eye can see. Innovation never waits for rules and regulations. But it eventually gets them.

That’s a good segue to web3, which has seen a full frontal attack from regulators and lawmakers in the US and elsewhere. 2023 was the year that web3 held its ground and 2024 will be the year that regulators and lawmakers come to terms with web3. We will finally start to see regulatory clarity emerge in the US like has happened in the EU and elsewhere. 

But as important as regulatory clarity is to web3, it pales in importance with the need for a “ChatGPT moment” for blockchain-based technologies. AI developed for over forty years before its coming out party. I think it will take web3 less than half that time. Satoshi gave us the playbook to build a decentralized internet stack back in 2008 and I feel quite confident that we will have massive mainstream applications running on this decentralized stack well before 2028. I think we will see mainstream decentralized applications emerge in 2024 as we now have inexpensive and fast transactions and simpler user interfaces. Vitalik wrote a nice piece about this a few days ago.

AI and Web3 are two sides of the same coin. AI will help make web3 usable for mainstream applications and web3 will help us trust AI. Together they will lead to a more powerful, more resilient, more trusted, and more equitable Internet. 

But none of that will matter if we don’t accelerate our focus on our warming planet. Earth continues to warm at a faster rate than has been predicted, causing increasing pain and suffering across the globe. It is hard for humans to react to something that is thirty years out. It is a lot easier for humans to react to something that is happening to them right now. So this pain and suffering will force an acceleration of the energy transition from carbon to clean energy.

The energy transition is being powered by innovation in energy generation (renewables, nuclear, etc), energy storage (batteries, storage networks, etc), and smarter energy distribution. In the process of rebuilding the infrastructure and systems by which we power this planet, we are also modernizing the energy stack and making it decentralized, modular, and programmable. If you think you’ve seen this movie before, you have. And the good news is that there could even be a happy ending if we move fast enough to make this transition happen in the next twenty years.

The new energy stack has been coming together for the last decade but slowly and very much under the radar. I believe that 2024 will be a coming out party for the new energy stack and I am excited to be investing in this area and helping to make it happen.

So if we have healthier capital markets and more innovation than ever, what is up with the venture capital ecosystem? Well, that’s not such a happy story. Limited Partners, the folks that provide the capital to the venture capital funds, have taken a beating over the last few years and are cautious right now. In addition, we are seeing many large firms scale back or even shut down. And new firms are struggling to raise funds. This is a rationalization of a sector that got very big very fast in the last decade and will need time to find a new normal. Because venture funds have a ten-year life but often take much longer to fully liquidate, the venture capital business changes more slowly than the businesses it funds. I think we are a couple years into a transition that will take at least the first half of this decade to play out.

So while the capital markets will likely be robust in 2024, I do not expect that venture capital investing and venture capital fund formation to grow that much year over year in 2024. I think both will grow but not nearly as fast as the sectors that surround VC.

To sum it all up, we are in a golden era of innovation with AI and Web3 leading to a new more intelligent, resilient and decentralized Internet and the emergence of a new energy stack which will power our lives new ways that will not continue to warm our planet. There are opportunities every which way I look to back founders and founding teams building these new technologies. I think 2024 is going to be a terrific year for tech.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

What Happened In 2023

I like to bookend the New Year holiday with two posts, one looking back at the year that is ending (What Happened) and one looking forward to the year ahead (What Will Happen). This is the first of these two posts. The second one will run tomorrow.

I ended my What Will Happen In 2023 with this advice:

Buckle up, hang tough, and be smart.

What I did not predict in that post, although we had been discussing the possibility internally at USV for several months at the time I wrote it, was the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and several other banks that focused on the startup and web3 sectors.

I feel like that moment, which hit us in March, marked the bottom of the downturn, although it has taken at least the rest of the year to work through the carnage and there is still a bit more to come.

That look-forward post also missed the biggest new thing in tech, Chat GPT, which had initially launched about a month before I wrote it. That was a big miss as 2023 will most certainly be remembered as the year that AI went mainstream with consumers, thanks to Chat GPT and other consumer interfaces to large AI models.

To some extent, these two things are related. The end of the 2022/2023 tech/startup downturn happened when two things came together. The first is the end of a period of rising interest rates that had sent the stock market and broader capital markets reeling. The second is the emergence of a new tech megatrend, AI, which has been developing in front of our very eyes for as long as I have been in tech, so that is over forty years now.

But before something can become mainstream, it takes a consumer interface that allows everyone to see the power of the technology firsthand. That thing was Chat GPT and it will rightly take its place along with the iPhone, Netscape, the Macintosh, and other consumer products that brought a new technology into the mainstream and provided for a wave of technology innovation that followed.

Of course, a lot of other things happened in tech, startups, and web3 in 2023, but these two things are the ones that matter the most. Markets have settled down and are poised to move higher and we’ve got a new megatrend that will drive innovation, investing, and the economy.

So while it was a very difficult year, I also think 2023 was an incredibly important year and sets us up for an exciting new period in tech. More on that tomorrow.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Open Office Hours at NYC Tech Week

NYC Tech Week is next week. It will be a week filled with events for the tech sector to engage and connect with each other.

A particularly great part of tech week is VC Open Office Hours.

There are over 100 VC investors signed up to participate next week.

Here is how it works:

1/ you select four investors (out of more than 100) that you want to meet

2/ you get up to four twenty minute meetings

3/ you discuss your idea with the investor in hopes of getting them interested enough to take another meeting

4/ nobody should expect to walk out with a commitment to invest

As of this moment (Thursday morning Oct 12th) about half of the available slots are still open. But if you want to participate, you probably should act fast as I think this will sell out by the end of today, certainly by the end of tomorrow.

Go here to participate.

#NYC#VC & Technology

The New York Tech Sector

The New York Times had a piece yesterday suggesting that tech will no longer be a growth engine for NYC and the surrounding metro area as it has been for the last twenty years. I am not going to link to the piece because it is behind a paywall but if you want to read it, you can google “Tech Firms Once Powered New York’s Economy. Now They’re Scaling Back.” I talked to one of the reporters who worked on the piece and told him that their angle was incorrect. But when a publication has their mind made up on the angle, there isn’t much you can do to convince them otherwise.

If you take a real estate angle, which is how the New York Times approached the story, it is true that technology companies, large and small, are cutting back on their space needs. But that is more a reflection of the era of remote/hybrid workforces than anything else.

Here is what I told the reporter working on the story:

1/ Office leases to tech companies are down. The tech sector has embraced remote and hybrid workforces and their office space needs reflect that.

2/ Rank and file tech workers in NYC are roughly flat as many workers have left the NYC metro area but just as many have come here from other locations.

3/ Top talent in tech has massively increased in NYC since the pandemic as people with in-demand skills can now work anywhere and don’t have to be in the Bay Area anymore. There are significantly more USV portfolio company leaders in NYC today than there were before the pandemic.

I saw a headline the other day that said that more than half of the top 50 AI companies are in the Bay Area and another 10% are in NYC and nowhere else has a significant number of them. So in many ways, not much has changed with respect to the centers of gravity of the technology sectors.

Technology is the growth sector of this century and new sectors like AI, renewable energy, web3, etc will power the economies of many regions around the world. NYC will be a significant beneficiary of this, as it has been for the last twenty years.

The idea that the tech sector will not be a growth engine for NYC anymore is laughable. But that won’t stop people from suggesting otherwise.

#NYC#VC & Technology

How This Ends (Part Three)

The venture capital sector has been in a sustained downturn for almost eighteen months. How does this downturn end? Well, it may have already ended, but let’s see about that. We will know for sure in a few quarters.

The NASDAQ peaked at roughly 16,000 in November 2021. By June 2022, it was down 33%. It stayed down for all of 2022 and ended the year at roughly 10,500.

But this year the NASDAQ is up almost 40%.

What is driving this? If I had to pick one thing, I would say inflation and interest rates. Yeah, those are two things but they are tied together in times like this. As I laid out in the prior versions of How This Ends (here and here), I believe post-pandemic inflation forced the Fed to raise rates aggressively, blowing a huge hole in the asset bubble that built up during the pandemic.

Last week we got some great news. Inflation is way down in the US. That means rates may have peaked and will stabilize or possibly come down. I don’t know if the Fed makes any more moves or not. But I am not sure that really matters. What matters most to markets is expectations and I think inflation and interest rate expectations have settled down.

Private capital markets, like venture capital, lag public markets by a few quarters. That is because it takes time for private market investors to react to the public markets. The NASDAQ peaked in Nov 2021, but VC markets did not really start slowing down until the second quarter of 2022.

Now that the NASDAQ has posted a couple of strong quarters, I would expect venture capital to respond. But it won’t happen overnight. We are in the summer doldrums. It takes time for VCs to raise new funds. And deals take months to come together.

So my guess is we are mostly through this downturn. We will know for sure in a couple of quarters.

#stocks#VC & Technology

The Freedom To Innovate

Back in 2014, USV got subpoenaed by the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) over our web3 investing activities. We hired a law firm, answered the subpoena, and that ultimately landed me in public testimony in front of the DFS staff.

In my testimony, I explained to the DFS staff that the difference between the US and China is that the US respects the freedom to innovate:

I was reminded of that moment yesterday when, in our quarterly call with our Limited Partners at USV, we were asked if the regulatory pressure on web3 in the US would result in us cutting back our web3 investing.

To which I responded:

When they want to shut it down, I say double down

The most powerful technologies send waves of fear through the establishment.

When you see that fear in their eyes, invest in the cause of that fear.

#VC & Technology#Web3

The Newest Members of the USV Team

Last Thursday, three new blog posts hit announcing our three new analysts:

This is our tradition at USV. When someone starts at USV, we ask them to write a post on the USV blog introducing themselves. This helps founders who come to talk to us about their companies understand the folks they will be talking to.

Grace joins us from Silver Lake where she was working on their ESG strategy.

Nikhil joins us from Daffy where he was helping to build charitable giving software.

Matt joins us from Aerofarms where he was working on vertical farming.

At USV, they will work with all of us areas helping us find, invest in, and support founders working in our thesis areas. I am excited to work with them for the next two years.

#VC & Technology

The VC's Customer

I saw Dan Primack assert that the venture capitalist’s customer is their limited partners in this tweet about the Citizen app, the recap, and their VCs:

I DM’d Dan to let him know that is not the right way to think about the venture capital business.

Back in 2005, in the early days of this blog, I wrote this post on the topic.

The entrepreneur is the customer and the LP is the shareholder. That’s the only way to think about the venture capital business that makes sense to me.

I encourage everyone to read that post. It is one of the most important things I’ve written about the VC/founder relationship and I would not change a single word in it almost twenty years later.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

What Does "Native" Mean

When a new technology comes to market, we often look for “native” applications of that technology.

What is a “native” AI application?

What is a “native” Web3 application?

I have not seen a better articulation of “native” than my partner Albert’s post from 2009 on native mobile applications.

He started out by laying out the new primitives that mobile smartphones made available to developers. In the case of mobile, he cited:

  • Location
  • Proximity
  • Touch
  • Audio Input
  • Video Input

He then went on to say that it would be the combination of these primitives, more than any individual one, that would make for native mobile applications.

And then he went on to lay out some of the applications he was seeing that were native.

If you want to figure out what the native AI applications or the native Web3 applications will be, or the native AI/Web3 applications, start by laying out the new primitives and going from there.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Web3