Posts from Web/Tech

What Will Happen In 2023

I want to focus this post on the macro environment for tech, startups, web3, and climate because that is where my head is at right now.

I believe that sometime in the first half of 2023, the central banks around the world will start backing off the tightening that they have been engaged in as inflation continues to ease and the economy continues to cool. Interest rates will level off in the first half of 2023 and I think there is a good chance of a “soft landing” or a very mild recession in 2023.

With that macro view in mind, what would that mean for tech, startups, and web3?

The largest tech companies will emerge from this downturn leaner and more profitable and growing more slowly. They will be mature businesses that behave like the blue chips that they are. I think these companies, like Apple, Amazon, and possibly Google, will see their stocks come back into favor ahead of everything else in tech. I am hedging on Google because I believe the massive advances in AI/ML that we are seeing right now may be a threat to their core search franchise.

Startups are going to have a tough year in 2023. While many have gotten their burn rates way down, most startups still are losing money and will eventually need to raise capital in 2023. Because most startups avoided raising in 2022, there will be a glut of startup companies in the market for capital this year and while there is plenty of venture capital sitting on the sidelines waiting to be deployed, VCs will be much more selective, instead of funding everything that moves as we’ve done over the last few years.

Good businesses with product market fit, positive unit economics, and strong leadership teams will raise capital although it will be at the new normal in terms of valuation. I believe that “new normal” is more or less where we were in 2015 where seed rounds were done around $10mm, A rounds were done around $15mm to $25mm, B rounds were done around $25mm to $50mm, and growth rounds had a cap at 10x revenues. This new normal will lead to many flat rounds, down rounds, inside rounds, and rounds with a lot of structure on them. None of that is good, but the worst of those options is rounds with a lot of structure. I believe founders and CEOS and Boards should take the pain of a new valuation (flat, down, whatever) over structure.

But there is a huge number of startups out there that have not really found product market fit, have not created positive unit economics, and have unresolved issues in their founding teams and leadership teams. These startups will struggle to raise capital at any price and most of them will fail. This has already started to happen but because so much capital was raised in 2021 and the early part of 2022, it has taken longer for these companies to fail. I think we will see a lot of startups in this category go under or taken out in fire sales in the first half of 2023.

While all of that sounds gloomy and downright horrible, I do think the startup sector will end the year in a much better place. The good companies will have gotten funded, the bad ones will have shut down, and VCs will be back to competing with each other to win deals, which is where founders always want VCs to be.

I think web3 will behave similarly in some respects but different in others.

I think the large caps in web3 (BTC and ETH mainly) will start to attract more interest from investors and should do well in 2023. I am more bullish on ETH personally because it has the best underlying economic model of any web3 asset.

Like the startup sector more broadly, web3 will go through a triage of sorts in 2023. Projects and protocols that have found product market fit, have real token economics, and ship new features quickly will attract new interest and rise in value. But many web3 projects have not found product market fit, have weak or no token economics, and do not execute well and I think we will see many of them continue to flounder and fail in 2023.

There is a much larger overhang in web3 right now when compared to the broader startup and tech sectors. There are entities that are insolvent but have not been restructured. There are funds that are so far under water that they may be forced to liquidate. These kinds of activities will produce ongoing sell pressure on web3 tokens for at least the first quarter of 2023 and maybe for much longer.

While there are compelling values out there in web3, I am not convinced that it is safe to go back into the water just yet unless you have a very strong stomach and a very long time horizon.

Climate, where USV has been actively investing for the last three years and now has two funds dedicated to the sector, has mostly been spared the carnage that has hit the other parts of USV’s portfolio. 2022 brought largely good news to the sector in the form of the oddly named Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that will flow billions of dollars of capital into the sector over the next decade. Many leading VC firms have dedicated climate funds now and we see huge amounts of capital available for climate startups with strong teams and novel approaches.

Last year I predicted 2022 would be a big year for carbon credits and while we saw a lot of growth in the market for these credits, particularly among the large tech companies, I was way too optimistic about how fast the market would grow. That said, I think 2023 will bring more growth in this market which provides the underlying business model to many of the new climate startups VCs are funding right now.

We are also seeing a noticeable movement of tech and startup talent into the climate sector in search of new problems to solve, more meaning in their work, and many more job openings too. I think 2023 will be a big year for this talent migration.

There is a pattern to much of this and it is that 2023 is going to be a tough year for most but those that get through it should find themselves in a good place, with leaner cost structures, less competition, and healthier employer/employee dynamics. Surviving is thriving in 2023.

So to everyone who is reading this, Happy 2023. Buckle up, hang tough, and be smart.

#blockchain#climate crisis#crypto#economics#employment#entrepreneurship#management#stocks#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Web3

What Happened In 2022

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

What happened in 2022 is the bottom fell out of the capital markets and the startup and tech sector more broadly.

Back in February 2021, I wrote a post called How This Ends. In it, I wrote:

I believe it ends when the Covid 19 pandemic is over and the global economy recovers. Those two things won’t necessarily happen at the same time. There is a wide range of recovery scenarios and nobody really knows how long it will take the global economy to recover from the pandemic.

But at some point, economies will recover, central banks will tighten the money supply, and interest rates will rise. We may see price inflation of consumer goods and labor too, although that is less clear.

When economies recover and interest rates rise, the air will come out of the asset price bubbles that have built up and the go go markets will hit the brakes.

I went on to say that I had no idea when all of that would happen, but I was confident it would.

Well, it happened in 2022.

The air came out of the asset price bubbles that had built up over the last decade and were accelerated/exaggerated by the pandemic. There have been a number of other factors at work, like a war in Europe, that made things even worse, but it is my view that most of what happened in 2022 was entirely predictable, expected, and necessary.

In the areas that USV works in; tech, startups, and web3, there have been a number of important downstream effects of the popping of the bubble and they are worth enumerating.

As the capital markets, including crypto/web3, came undone, companies reacted by adjusting their burn rates to reflect that the growth at any cost phase was over and it was time to get on a path to breakeven. That has meant layoffs across the tech, startup, and web3 sectors. The voracious appetite for talent has waned. Spending for growth has largely stopped and most tech companies and startups are growing more slowly but with better unit economics and lower cash burn.

Some startups have failed, particularly the ones with upside-down unit economics or with a lack of product market fit. I think we have just seen the start of this trend and I plan to talk more about this in tomorrow’s post.

The sector with the largest impact, obviously, has been web3. Many large centralized entities; lenders, exchanges, crypto funds, etc, blew up when the value of web3 assets declined 70-90% over the course of 2022. The carnage has been massive and reminds me of what happened to the web sector in 2000/2001. Some of this has been markets doing their thing, but not all of it was. There was fraud, mismanagement, irresponsible risk-taking, and more, at play in the web3 sector.

And yet, I am not aware of any leading decentralized protocols blowing up in 2022. The smart contracts that run these protocols did what they were programmed to do and they have come through intact. It is a testament to the power of decentralized protocols over centralized entities and, for me, the major lesson of 2022 in web3.

I used the word necessary a few paragraphs ago to describe what happened in 2022. I understand that this year has been painful for most and devastating for many. I am not immune to it. Our family’s net worth has taken a massive hit. The carrying value of USV’s assets under management has been cut in half this year. And yet, I am fine, my family is fine, and USV is fine. Many are not. I understand that and have a lot of empathy for those who lost so much, including their jobs, this year.

And yet, I know that the unwinding of an unhealthy and unsustainable growth at all costs/cheap capital environment was necessary and will be healthy in the long run. We already see many of our portfolio companies operating at much more sensible cost structures with clear paths to profitability at much lower growth rates.

The ending of the war for talent in tech also is incredibly healthy. Some leading tech company CEOs I know believe they can operate with much lower headcounts in product/engineering/design than they have been for the long term. That talent can move into new startups and new growth areas, like climate and healthcare, that need it.

Like all transitions, this is messy, painful, disruptive, and ugly. And this year has been all of that and more. I am happy to see it in the rearview mirror and looking forward to better things in 2023. Which will be my topic for tomorrow.

#blockchain#crypto#Current Affairs#economics#employment#entrepreneurship#management#stocks#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Web3

Sign Everything

The advances in AI over the last year are mind-boggling. I attended a dinner this past week with USV portfolio founders and one who works in education told us that ChatGPT has effectively ended the essay as a way for teachers to assess student progress. It will be easier for a student to prompt ChatGPT to write the essay than to write it themselves.

It is not just language models that are making huge advances. AIs can produce incredible audio and video as well. I am certain that an AI can produce a podcast or video of me saying something I did not say and would not say. I haven’t seen it yet, but it is inevitable.

So what do we do about this world we are living in where content can be created by machines and ascribed to us?

I think we will need to sign everything to signify its validity. When I say sign, I am thinking cryptographically signed, like you sign a transaction in your web3 wallet.

I post my blogs at AVC.com and also at AVC.Mirror.xyz which is a web3 blogging platform that allows me to sign my posts and store them on-chain. This is an attestation at the end of last week’s blog post.

You can see that “author address” and click on it to see that it is one of the various web3 addresses I own/control. That signifies that it was me who posted the blog. It is also stored on-chain on the Arweave blockchain so that the content exists independently of the blogging platform. That is also important to me.

I think AI and Web3 are two sides of the same coin. As machines increasingly do the work that humans used to do, we will need tools to manage our identity and our humanity. Web3 is producing those tools and some of us are already using them to write, tweet/cast, make and collect art, and do a host of other things that machines can also do. Web3 will be the human place to do these things when machines start corrupting the traditional places we do/did these things.

#art#blockchain#bots#crypto#digital collectibles#hacking education#machine learning#non fungible tokens#streaming audio#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Web3

Some Thoughts On Twitter (continued)

I wrote the post at the bottom and linked here when Elon Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter in late April. I am relieved that Musk has decided he does not want to own Twitter. I never thought he would be a good shepherd of the Twitter network and maybe now we have the opportunity to find a better ownership/governance model for it.

I understand why the Twitter Board and management team feel they must force Musk to perform on the agreed-upon deal. They have shareholders to protect and an obligation to do what is best for them. If Musk really does not want to own Twitter and is not just trying to renegotiate the deal, then eventually both sides will come to some settlement that enriches Twitter and lets Musk out of the deal. That will likely be a lot more than the $1bn breakup fee. I hope that we don’t end up with Musk owning Twitter at a lower price. That would be a bad outcome for the shareholders and for the Twitter network.

I would like to see the Twitter Board and management team continue to press Musk to perform on the deal, and at the same time start working on a plan to decentralize Twitter and move it to the thing it has always wanted to be which is a core communications protocol for the Internet. A first step in that direction would to broadly re-open the API and allow third-party clients to be built on Twitter with a business model that covers the costs of operating the Twitter network. Longer-term, Twitter should move to a fully decentralized protocol, like Bitcoin or Ethereum, but that will take some time to do.


When I read the news a few weeks ago that Elon Musk had offered to buy Twitter, I wrote this:

I continue to believe that decentralization is the right long-term answer for a core communications protocol of the Internet and hope that Elon will think about doing just that once he owns it and is not concerned with the stock price and meeting quarterly revenue targets.

My partner Albert wrote this yesterday:

Albert’s suggestion would return Twitter to where it was a decade and a half ago when it first launched and that would be a fantastic first step towards full decentralization.

I continue to believe that a single person owning one of the most important communications protocols of the internet is a bad idea, but maybe it can be a bridge to something better.

Certainly being a public company has not been the right ownership model to make the big fundamental changes which are badly needed.

#Web/Tech#Web3

Staying Positive

The last six months have been a challenging time for tech and tech startups. Macro events have weighed on the sector, valuations have come crashing down, revenue growth has slowed (or stopped), and layoffs are happening across the sector.

Many of the folks I work with are frustrated. The things that were working in their business stopped working and they can’t get it moving again. They are struggling to project the business and plan for the year and next year. They feel terrible about letting so many great people go and blame themselves for it.

It helps to work with many companies in times like this. We see this happening almost everywhere. And so we have some perspective. Yes, it is our collective fault for getting out over our skis during the good times and not seeing tougher times ahead. Yes, we could have and should have been more conservative with our growth plans and hiring. Yes, it is our fault for putting our companies in the position where they have to let go of so many people.

But it is also the case that the number one thing in times like this is staying in the game so you can play another round. You don’t want to go bust right now. So it is time to take your lumps, learn some valuable lessons from them, and move on.

It is also time to stay positive. When you are the leader of a company (or anything else), you have to lead with optimism, enthusiasm, and positive energy. There are people out there declaring tech is dead, web3 is over, and cheering on the fall from grace. It is best to ignore all of that, focus on what you are building, and find some wins for the team, and for yourself.

The great thing about working in tech is that there are always new problems to solve, new markets to create, new products to ship. The macro events don’t change that. So focus yourself and your team on building and shipping those things, get some wins, and move forward with optimism and positive energy. It will be infectious.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech#Web3

Some Thoughts On Twitter

When I read the news a few weeks ago that Elon Musk had offered to buy Twitter, I wrote this:

I continue to believe that decentralization is the right long-term answer for a core communications protocol of the Internet and hope that Elon will think about doing just that once he owns it and is not concerned with the stock price and meeting quarterly revenue targets.

My partner Albert wrote this yesterday:

Albert’s suggestion would return Twitter to where it was a decade and a half ago when it first launched and that would be a fantastic first step towards full decentralization.

I continue to believe that a single person owning one of the most important communications protocols of the internet is a bad idea, but maybe it can be a bridge to something better.

Certainly being a public company has not been the right ownership model to make the big fundamental changes which are badly needed.

#Web/Tech

Content Moderation and Free Speech

Mike Masnick wrote a good piece on this topic on his Techdirt blog last week.

I particularly like this part:

First, let’s look at the world without any content moderation. A website that has no content moderation but allows anyone to post will fill up with spam. Even this tiny website gets thousands of spam comments a day. Most of them are (thankfully) caught by the layers upon layers of filtering tools we’ve set up.

Would anyone argue that it is “against the principles of free speech” to filter spam? I would hope not.

But once you’ve admitted that it’s okay to filter spam, you’ve already admitted that content moderation is okay — you’re just haggling over how much and where to draw the lines.

And, really, the spam example is instructive in many ways. People recognize that if a website is overrun with spam, it’s actually detrimental for speech overall, because how can anyone communicate when all of the communication is interrupted or hard to find due to spam?

https://www.techdirt.com/2022/03/30/why-moderating-content-actually-does-more-to-support-the-principles-of-free-speech/

I, like many in tech, would prefer a world where there is little to no moderation and where you get a lively expression of different views. I use Twitter explicitly to hear voices I don’t hear in my day-to-day routines.

But as Mike notes, you must moderate content online in order to create spaces where conversations can be had.

And inevitably, this leads me to the same conclusion that Mike comes to at the end of his post. What we need are way more venues for conversations and way more venues with different moderation policies.

In other words, the concept of free speech should support a diversity of communities — not all speech on every community (or any particular community). And content moderation is what makes that possible.

https://www.techdirt.com/2022/03/30/why-moderating-content-actually-does-more-to-support-the-principles-of-free-speech/

The early days of Twitter are instructive here. The Twitter website was unreliable and the API allowed anyone to build a third-party client. So many Twitter users used a different user interface to access Twitter and use Twitter. Had that architecture endured it could have created many “clients” with different moderation policies. Just like we have many email clients. It did not endure and so we have one company controlling the moderation policy of the entire Twitter conversation. That is not ideal.

Contrast this with Ethereum. We have a single protocol with many self custody wallets. Each self custody wallet has a slightly different user interface that allows users to access the Ethereum network in slightly different ways. But all of the teams working on the Ethereum ecosystem have a shared incentive to improve the network because they all own ETH. So a single protocol with a rich variety of third-party clients becomes sustainable.

If we want free speech then we want less concentration of market power and business models that allow for that. Advertising does not. Token-based business models do.

#Web/Tech#Web3

Analog Summer

It is officially summer now and with adult vaccination rates passing 70% in many parts of the US, people are out and about. I’ve heard the term “analog summer” used to describe this moment. If the past 15 months have been a digital lockdown, then the next three months are going to mark a return to analog activities; beaches, parks, concerts, bars, restaurants, nightlife, etc, etc.

We’ve already seen the effect of this change in behavior in our portfolio companies, many of which benefited significantly from the digital lockdown. Digital providers of education, entertainment, shopping, and so much more had banner months in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

I am looking forward to the analog summer. I can’t wait to do all of the things that we could not do in the last year and a half. I think it will be a much-needed return to normal for all of us.

As for our portfolio and the tech sector more broadly, I am not too concerned about the return to normal. These businesses all got a huge boost in business over the last year and they aren’t going to give it all back. But their growth rates will be more like what they were in 2019 than 2020. And they will be growing from a much larger base.

I think we all learned some new behaviors during the pandemic and while we are eager to shed some of them this summer, I think we will keep a lot of them going forward. The covid pandemic will mark an inflection point in the adoption of digital services and our analog summer, as great as it is going to be, will not change that.

#Web/Tech

Stack Overflow For Teams Goes Freemium

I could not help but use the word Freemium in the headline to this post. For those that don’t know, the word Freemium was invented here at AVC, back in 2006. I am quite proud of that fact, even though I did not come up with the word myself.

With that business taken care of, let’s move on to the topic of the day.

Our portfolio company Stack Overflow, best know for its massive free knowledge sharing service for programmers, has been building a companion business over the last few years called Stack Overflow For Teams. Teams is the same knowledge-sharing software that programmers know and love but for private sharing inside of companies.

Since launching Teams, it has been free for the first thirty days. But it takes longer than that to build great knowledge sharing inside of companies. So last week, Stack launched a new version of Stack Overflow For Teams that is now free forever for teams of 50 or less.

If you use Stack Overflow and love how it surfaces the answers to your questions and you want to use it for your team, you can do that for free right now. Go here and click Create A Free Team.

A Freemium Stack for your team. I love it.

#Web/Tech

Open Source Exposure Alerting Apps

The Linux Foundation announced its Linux Foundation Public Health initiative yesterday.

They are starting with two open-source exposure alerting apps called Covid Shield and Covid Green. These are two apps that use the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) infrastructure. The codebase for both apps has been open-sourced.

The Linux Foundation had this to say:

“To catalyze this open source development, Linux Foundation Public Health is building a global community of leading technology and consulting companies, public health authorities, epidemiologists and other public health specialists, privacy and security experts, and individual developers,” said Dan Kohn, LFPH general manager. “While we’re excited to launch with two very important open source projects, we think our convening function to enable collaboration to battle this pandemic may be our biggest impact.”

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/tech-leaders-and-health-authorities-from-around-the-globe-collaborate-to-combat-covid-19-301096039.html

Countries, states, public health organizations, etc can build on these open source code bases to create exposure alerting and other apps that can help with the Covid pandemic and potentially other public health issues going forward.

I quite like how this is playing out. Google and Apple have built the base level infrastructure, the open source community is coming together to build the application level code base, and governments and public health organizations can take all of that and put applications into the market.

I am hoping we will see applications built this way coming to market in the near future.

#Current Affairs#mobile#Web/Tech