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

AVC Comments Migration Complete

Back when we launched the new AVC (AVC 3.0) and moved away from the Disqus comment system, I heard loudly and clearly that the folks who have left comments here at AVC, via Disqus, from 2007 to early 2020, would like to have their comments displayed at the bottom of all of those old blog posts.

That was not an easy thing to do because I wanted to migrate all of those comments out of Disqus into the AVC WordPress database so that we have full control over them and how to display them in the new AVC.

Disqus was super helpful in getting the comments out, but we ran into a number of issues given that massive number of comments. There were 459,000 comments left on AVC in the “Disqus era.” Think about that.

Here is an email the team at Storyware, who did the work, sent me explaining their process. They also migrated the comments on GothamGal.com and completed that last month.

At first we tried to use the official Disqus Plugin to migrate your comments, but their plugin resulted in errors each time we tried to process a batch of comments. We then looked at writing a custom migration script for the exported XML file that you obtained from Disqus. With nearly 500k comments, your migration file was 397.3 MB in size. This massive file wasn’t efficient for testing migration scripts so we tabled this, knowing that we would be migrating a small set of Disqus comments for GothamGal. 

The GothamGal export from Disqus turned out to be 27 MB, much smaller in size. We used her export file to then develop a CLI tool to process the XML file and migrate the comments into WordPress. This tool worked well, but it relies on holding a lot of items in memory: an array of the Disqus threads (your posts), an array of your Disqus comments, and an array of processed comments that we can use for associating parents with children. This same script just couldn’t handle an export file that’s the size of the one generated for avc.com

To run the Disqus to WordPress migration for AVC, we developed a plugin that allowed us to perform the following steps:

1/Process all of the threads in the XML file, and store them in a new database table. These threads are needed for grabbing the URL associated with each comment, which can then be used to associate each comment with a post in WordPress. 

2/Process all of the Disqus comments in the XML file and also store these in a new database table, which we can use to gradually migrate the comments into WordPress. We did still have to break the huge AVC Disqus export file into 16 pieces in order to save the comments from the XML file into the database 🙂

3/Use a Laravel-esque Queue system to run batches of migrations in the background, processing 5,000 comments with each batch. We used the WP Queue package from Delicious Brains for the basis of this functionality, and then created a REST endpoint for triggering the Queue to process. 

Storyware plans to clean up the plugin and release it as a developer tool in the near future. 

This turned out to be a pretty big project that took their time and my expense to get done. But I want to honor all of the work that the AVC community put into the comments and that has now been done.

You can see what a long comment thread looks like at the bottom of the infamous Marketing post from 2011.

We have noticed in the migration logs that some comments didn’t make it through because of changes in the associated post’s URL after publication, but the overwhelming majority of all your comments were migrated without issue. I do not plan to fix that. I don’t believe in letting perfect becoming the enemy of the good.

I am relieved that this is now complete. I hope you all are as well.

#Weblogs

Learn To Code If You've Lost Your Job

Learning to code was the thing that unlocked it all for me. I learned to hack in Basic during high school. I parlayed that into a programming job in college, which led to my first job out of college, which then led to a job that helped me pay for graduate school, which led to a job in venture capital.

That is why I have made getting computer science broadly deployed in the K-12 system in NYC and around the US the philanthropic effort that I put most of my charitable time into. I really believe that learning to code can put you on a path of opportunity.

So I was excited to see that our portfolio company Codecademy, which helps anyone learn to code online, has a program to provide 100,000 displaced workers a free subscription to their Pro product.

Here is how it works. For every Codecademy Pro membership that is bought, the company is donating 5 to displaced workers.

So far, that has resulted in 50,000 “scholarships” for displaced workers. And I am confident they will reach their goal of 100,000 scholarships for displaced workers.

If you are a displaced worker and want to learn to code for free, you can apply here (need to login first).

And if you want to learn to code and support five scholarships by doing that, you can do that here.

#hacking education

Quantitative Tightening

I saw this tweet a few days ago and thought “that’s clever”:

On or about May 12th, Bitcoin will go through its third “halvening” in which the rewards for mining bitocin will be cut in half. This will reduce the “inflation rate” of new bitcoins being mined and will also change the economics of mining bitcoin.

In the past, halvenings have been bullish for the price of Bitcoin over the medium to long term, but there is no guarantee it will play out that way this time. There are a bunch of impacts to the Bitcoin ecosystem of a halvening and the past is certainly not a predictor of the future.

However, as the Grayscale tweet above points out, there is a stark contrast between the way Bitcoin works and the way central banks work. Bitcoin is tightening its money supply at the same time central banks are loosening it.

That is a reason to have some exposure to Bitcoin in my view. We are long Bitcoin and have been for many years.

#crypto

Funding Friday: Food Bank NYC

Food Bank For New York City is NYC’s leading hunger-relief organization.

During this crisis, the number of people turning to their emergency food network has increased by 50%.

Here are some interesting stats from their website:

$1 helps provide 5 meals

OR

$1/day helps provide 150 meals every month

I just donated some money to help feed people in need in NYC. If you want to join me, you can do so here.

#Current Affairs#hacking philanthropy

Do People Care About Privacy?

I got a lot of feedback on my post yesterday and a bunch of it was around the issue of privacy and whether we really care to keep our personal data private.

I think we are increasingly aware of our data and the need to have more control over it and how it is used.

When people ask me about this, I like to show them this chart:

That is the daily search traffic on our portfolio company DuckDuckGo’s private search engine.

The 65mm searches a day on DuckDuckGo is about 1% of Google’s estimated 7bn searches a day.

But it is also the case that search activity on DuckDuckGo is growing faster than Google’s search activity. If that continues to be the case, then that 1% can grow to something much more than that over the next decade.

People do care about privacy, but the sacrifices we make for privacy must come at a low enough cost that we will make them. As DuckDuckGo has improved its product, more people have used it. The combination of increasing awareness of the issue of data privacy combined with better user experiences for privacy-focused competitors will drive us all to an online experience where privacy has a lot more value to everyone.

#Web/Tech

Exposure Alerting

Christina Farr at CNBC has a good post that details the back story of how Apple and Google came together to implement an interoperable system and a set of APIs and SDKs to allow third parties to build exposure alerting apps on their mobile operating systems.

Like many in tech, I have been interested in exposure alerting (which we used to call digital contact tracing) since this pandemic started spreading around the world. I have always believed that these little computers we carry around with us can help solve many challenging problems and this sure feels like one of them.

But I was concerned about the need for interoperability, privacy, and security. I told everyone who I talked to about this problem in February and March that I felt like Apple and Google had to implement something in their mobile operating systems for this to work. And I was deeply concerned that would not/could not happen.

But it did. And when I heard the news, I was so pleased. Difficult times can make for interesting bedfellows.

This tweet cited in Christina’s story is great:

https://twitter.com/marcelsalathe/status/1253051812183183365?s=20

Apple and Google’s APIs are coming on May 1st and I hope to install an exposure alerting app that runs on them on my phone as soon after that as I can. I hope all of you join me in doing that.

#Current Affairs#mobile

Timing, Luck, and Surviving

This moment we have been living through over the last two months has put pressure on many companies to figure out how to keep the lights on and stay in business. It has also been a second wind for some companies that have been struggling to survive in difficult sectors like delivery, food, and e-commerce.

At the intersection of those two things lies a truth that I have seen over the years. If you stick around long enough, you can often catch a lucky break. But that lucky break can’t come for you if you didn’t figure out how to stick around long enough.

Survival instincts are something that I have learned to appreciate in founders. There are other things that are important too, possibly more important, like the ability to get the right product to market, the ability to sell, recruit and raise, and the ability to inspire and lead. Those are all necessary for success.

But the survival instinct is related to luck, which is an underrated factor in success. You can’t be lucky unless you are at the right place at the right time. And you have to survive for that to happen.

#life lessons

Not All Gross Margin Is The Same

I wrote a blog post in September of last year arguing that gross margins and operating margins really matter when valuing companies. I argued that “software companies with software margins” are better businesses than tech companies that are not really software companies but a tech-enabled version of some other business.

But gross margins, in particular, can be tricky to compare. In some cases, a software business is in the middle of the revenue flow, takes the revenue, and then passes on a lot of it, and is left with what looks like a low margin, but is in fact a high margin.

An example of that is the Dutch payment processing company Adyen. Here is a screenshot of a part of Adyen’s income statement from Yahoo Finance:

So Adyen operated in the last twelve months with an 18.7% gross margin. Many would think that was a “very low margin business.” But the truth is Adyen is simply passing through that $2.1bn of revenue to financial institutions in the form of interchange and other fees. They do very little with that money.

Let’s compare that with the big retailer Macy’s. Here is a screenshot of a part of Macy’s income statement from Yahoo Finance:

So Macy’s operated at a 40.1% gross margin over the last twelve months, more than double what Adyen operated at.

That $15bn cost of revenue on Macy’s Income Statement is the cost of purchasing everything you might find in a Macy’s store, the inventory costs associated with that, and the cost and effort of displaying all of that inventory in the stores.

So while it is the case that Macy’s has more than double the gross margin of Adyen, I believe Adyen has a much more attractive business from a margin perspective than Macy’s.

That is because Macy’s expends enormous amounts of working capital and operating expense and effort in its $15bn cost of revenue where Adyen expends very little working capital and operating expense and effort in its $2.1bn cost of revenue.

The trick, I think, is to wrap your head around the cost of revenue or cost of goods sold line item in the income statement and think about what is going on there. If it is very little to no effort, and largely just an accounting entry, then you may have a “low margin business” that is actually a high margin business. On the other hand, if it is a lot of work and capital investment to produce those margins, well then you have what you have and that is often a low margin business.

#stocks#VC & Technology

Funding Friday: ROAR

Yesterday, Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner/creator of Prune, a tiny twenty-year-old restaurant in the east village that The Gotham Gal and I and our family have always loved, wrote a piece in the New York Times that really captures the sense of loss we all feel around our favorite local places, particularly for the people who made them what they are every day, day after day, year after year.

I can’t get her words and the images and emotions they convey out of my head.

So I want this Funding Friday to be for people like her, who have given a large part of who they are to serving us.

And the cause I’ve selected is ROAR, Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants. You can follow them here:

ROAR’s Twitter

ROAR’s Instagram

ROAR and Robin Hood, one of NYC’s leading charitable organizations, are partnering with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) to provide direct cash assistance to restaurant workers in New York City facing unprecedented economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We made a donation today and if you’d like to join us, you can do that here.

#crowdfunding#hacking philanthropy#NYC