A Return To Fundamentals

I wrote a fair bit last year about the disconnect between how companies were being valued and the fundamentals of those businesses. It seemed to me that many companies, from the founders, to the leadership teams, and the rank and file employees got more focused on raising capital and valuations than the basics of a business (people, product, customers, revenues, profits, etc).

That is starting to shift. I can feel it. With the public markets bringing high flyers back to reality, you can now buy the best companies out there at multiples of earnings and profits that make some sense in a historical context. And we are seeing reports that many mutual funds and hedge funds are leaving the private markets because the values in the public markets are so compelling. All of this is healthy.

Vitalik Buterin, the founder of the Ethereum project, said this at ETH Denver this past week.

The winters are the time when a lot of those applications fall away and you can see which projects are actually long-term sustainable, like both in their models and in their teams and their people

Vitalik was talking about a “crypto winter” but the basic point is more broadly applicable.

Business models need to be sustainable. Teams need to stick together and ship things. The fundamentals need to be in place for a business to succeed. All the money in the world at eye-popping valuations won’t do that for you.

I have no idea if we are in for another crypto winter. I have no idea if the stock market will continue to go down. I have no idea if the slump in the public markets will seep into the private markets. All of those questions are above my pay grade.

What I do know is that the businesses that focus on the fundamentals will succeed in any market, up or down. And I do feel that there is more of that going on in 2022 than we saw in 2020 and 2021 and that’s a very good thing.

#entrepreneurship#management#VC & Technology

A Blistering Pace

I wrote about pacing a few years ago. I am a fan of a steady pace, not too fast, not too slow. Sometimes the opportunity set forces you to go faster. As I wrote then:

I don’t think a VC firm should manage to a pacing number. It should manage to the opportunity set that it sees.

In the last two years, the VC business has been operating at a blistering pace, the fastest I’ve witnessed in my 35 years in the business (including the 99/00 era). Whether that is because of the opportunity set or the changing dynamics of fundraising (in-person to zoom, endless capital) we will only know in time.

But it is exhausting. Every day I heard some form of this from an entrepreneur, “we got a pre-emptive term sheet and will be making a decision in the next 24 hours.”

Making sound investment decisions in a week is doable. We have done it. We have done it long before the last two years. We have done it a lot more in the last two years. It helps to have a thesis, to know what you are looking for.

But even so, the VC business has turned into a sprint. And you can’t sprint forever.

My friend Howard tweeted out this blog post yesterday and suggested that every VC read it. So I did.

The author, Abraham Thomas, wrote this:

Across every aspect of venture, timelines keep compressing.

Abraham suggests in that post that this hyperactive market has become riskier even though the numbers don’t show it.

I learned a long time ago not to try to time markets. I don’t know if the VC business is near a top or near a bottom. It doesn’t matter to me. I believe you have to just keep investing, slowly and steadily, in the best opportunities that come your way and the rest will take care of itself.

But we all need to pace ourselves. This is not the public markets. Venture investments take many years to unfold. It is a buy and hold business. It is a invest and help business. It is seeding not harvesting. If you start a marathon with a sprint, you are gonna be puking by mile ten. And that’s my concern right now.

#VC & Technology

NFPs

Early in my career, I was taught that any team member was replaceable and that as long as you had sufficient time to find a suitable replacement, you would be fine. I have operated on that basis since then, imparted that wisdom to the founders and teams that I work with, and have always advocated for that approach to management.

But I have learned that on any team there are always a few members who are extremely difficult to replace. While most team members are “fungible”, there are always a few “non-fungible people” and retaining these NFPs can be incredibly important to the long-term success of the business.

The first, and most important, NFP is the founder. The person who originally conceived of the opportunity, recruited the first few team members, scoped (and often built) the first product, brings immense value to the business, mostly around long-term vision, setting the culture and values, and knowing when something is “off.” Retaining the founder’s interest in and involvement with the business is critical. There are times when the founder is bringing more difficulty to the business than value and they should depart. But those situations are to be avoided if possible because of how important a founder is to the business.

NFPs are usually individual contributors, not managers. The management function is much easier to replace than a uniquely skilled individual. A common mistake that I and others have made is to promote an NFP into management when they are much happier not managing people. A classic role for an NFP is the CTO of the business. In this role, the person sets the overall technology direction of the business, makes the hardest technical decisions, builds technology themselves, but does not manage the engineering function. In many companies, the CTO has no direct reports.

You can find NFPs in any part of the company. They are not limited to technical functions. You can have an NFP in customer service, finance, legal, marketing, really anywhere. The key is to identify them and recognize them, reward them, compensate them, and retain them.

More and more companies are moving to compensation models where critical individual contributors can make as much, or more, than their manager or any manager. This has long been common in sales where commission models create such opportunities and where there are often NFPs, but I am seeing more and more companies recognize that simply compensating people on the basis of their management level is incorrect and leads to their best people moving into management, underperforming in that role, and departing.

NFPs are pretty rare. Most people are easily replaceable given sufficient time to do a proper search. But there are always a few people who are not replaceable. Identifying them and retaining them should be a key goal of the management of the business.

#management

Get Paid In Crypto

Coinbase launched the first in a series of payroll offerings:

If your employer offers direct deposit, you can deposit some or all of your paycheck in your Coinbase account and immediately convert it into USDC, BTC, ETH or any other asset that is available to you in your Coinbase account.

This is just a first step in a broader set of payroll products for employers and DAOs.

I’ve always been a fan of “averaging into crypto” instead of trying to time the market. I wrote about this back in 2014 when I was buying 1.5 Bitcoin every week. That was back when you could buy a bitcoin for several hundred dollars.

But regardless of how much you can buy, the idea is to just have a regular buy program going on.

Putting some of your paycheck into crypto is a good way to do that and Coinbase now offers that to all of its users.

#crypto

On Covid

Two years ago this weekend, the Gotham Gal and I were in Park City at the annual Sundance Film Festival with another couple we have been great friends with for thirty years. On Monday morning we came down to breakfast and our friends announced they were flying back to NYC a few days early. Our friend Phil has been trading the financial markets for as long as we’ve known him and he knew, about a month before most of us, that something big was going to happen and he wanted to get prepared for it. That’s when it first hit me that we were in for something big. The financial markets tend to see things a bit ahead of us.

If you look at the financial markets now, as I wrote two weeks ago, what we see is the unwinding of the Covid trade. Companies like Zoom and Peloton have seen their stocks come way down. Fiscal and monetary policies around the world that kept people fed and housed for the last two years are being unwound. And the financial markets are reacting as one would expect. Stocks are down. All risk assets are down a lot. This is the “tell” that Covid, as we have known it, is coming to an end in many parts of the world.

There are three primary reasons why Covid, as we have known it, is coming to an end in the wealthier parts of the world. First, we have less severe variants now. Second, most people in the developed world who want to be vaccinated have been vaccinated, many multiple times. And third, we have antivirals that can protect those who get very sick.

One of the first wake-up calls I got early in the pandemic was a blog post I read called “The Hammer And The Dance” that was written by Tomas Pueyo on March 19th, 2020. In that post, he described the series of lockdowns and other drastic measures that we would all go through over the last two years in order to attempt to protect vulnerable populations and the medical system from a virus that would otherwise wreak havoc on the world. He was prescient and accurate. About a week ago Tomas wrote a Twitter thread explaining that we are now in the midst of the end of the pandemic. You can read it here. This tweet particularly rang true to me:

We all have been through a crazy, trying, stressful, and dangerous two years. Many of us have what Tomas calls PCSD, including our governments. And we all need to “unlearn many of the behaviors we’ve learned in the last two years”, particularly our governments.

But I am not one to criticize our governments too much. Almost 6mm people have died because of Covid around the world in the last two years. The death toll in the US is approaching 1mm people. If our governments had not done “The Hammer and the Dance”, those numbers would be massively higher. The death toll from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 was between 20mm and 50mm around the world. We can all find faults with the way our governments handled Covid, but I think it was largely a job well done.

In the US, the Trump administration prioritized vaccines with Operation Warp Speed which was a massive success. The Biden administration prioritized getting those vaccines distributed broadly and prioritized the most vulnerable populations. In NYS and NYC, vaccine mandates helped to get over 95% of NYers vaccinated and almost 75% “fully vaccinated“.

And yet, most Americans find fault with our government’s response. Trump lost his re-election bid at least in part because of Covid. And Biden is facing massive unpopularity, also at least in part because of Covid. We have people who oppose vaccination and masks. We have people who believe that everyone should be required to be vaccinated and masked. Nobody can agree on anything and everyone is angry.

It is time to stop obsessing about Covid. It is time to stop politicizing Covid. It is time to stop tweeting about Covid. It is time to stop reading about Covid. It is time to start healing and it is time to start moving on.

We can live with Covid and most of us will. The current death rate of Covid in the US is about what a bad flu season would be. We have vaccines if you want them. We will have anti-virals if you need them. We should take a lesson from many Asian countries and mask up if we are feeling sick from now on. And you can wear masks if you are uncomfortable on the plane or the subway. We’ve normalized mask-wearing in the US now and that is a good thing.

We’ve got other pressing matters to deal with. We have a warming planet that desperately needs our attention. We have economic challenges that need our attention. We have gun violence in our cities. We have other health care challenges to tackle. Covid was terrible, we are scarred from it, but we cannot let it divide us and we cannot let it drive us crazy. There are more important things facing us and let’s go deal with them now.

#Current Affairs

New Leadership At Tech:NYC

Six years ago this month Julie Samuels got together with a group of technology leaders in NYC and we decided to form an industry group for the growing tech sector in NYC. I agreed to co-chair the organization and have been in the chair role since then. We called it Tech:NYC and I first wrote about it here at AVC in March of 2016.

Last year, after more than five years at the helm, Julie decided it was time to pass the baton to a new leader and she and I and a group of board members spent the fall talking to lots of people and we found a fantastic new leader named Jason Clark. Jason starts as the Executive Director of Tech:NYC next week.

Jason takes over an organization of 800+ member companies, from the largest names in tech to the three-person startup you have yet to hear of. Tech:NYC has succeeded in getting tech “at the table” in Albany and City Hall and helping to make the tech sector more civic-minded and more integrated into the city and state. Julie and her team have done a tremendous job of taking an idea and making it a reality and I am incredibly grateful for her leadership.

The tech sector finds itself at an interesting moment in NYC. It is quickly becoming the largest employer in NYC and is bringing much-needed innovation to the city, state, and world. We have new leaders in Eric Adams and Kathy Hochul who are eager to work closely with the tech sector to do new things and move the region forward. But with great success comes great responsibility and the tech sector needs to employ a broader and more diverse group of NYers, it needs to be more civic-minded, it needs to be more philanthropic, and it needs to think beyond Manhattan out to the five boroughs and on to New York State and the NY Metropolitan region.

And Jason is the perfect leader to take Tech:NYC in those directions. Jason is a born and bred NYer, from southern Queens, a product of the NYC public schools, a lawyer who has started a law firm and worked in the Attorney General’s office in Harlem, and a former candidate for public office for the City Council seat in his home neighborhood in southeast Queens. Jason has the relationships, the lived experiences, and the mindset to lead NYC’s tech sector in the directions it must go as it becomes the leading industry and employer in the city and state.

I welcome Jason to Tech:NYC and look forward to working closely with him and the city and state leaders to step up to the opportunity that is in front of us. It is an exciting time.

Also, Jason is already on the hunt for a strong policy director with lots of tech experience. If you would like to fill that role or know someone great, please visit this job spec with instructions on how to get into the process.

#NYC#policy#Politics

Exciting Protocol Lead Opportunity

Last month our portfolio company Kickstarter announced the creation of a protocol organization that will develop a web3 protocol for the crowdfunding of creative projects.

They are now assembling a protocol team and are talking to candidates to lead that effort. The protocol lead role is an exciting one that combines product leadership, smart contract development, team management, and a lot more.

I believe Kickstarter is at the forefront of a wave of companies that have been built on web2 technologies that will be adopting web3 approaches to move their products and stakeholder networks forward. And so leading this protocol effort will be an opportunity to help shape what that looks like.

If you are interested in this role or know someone who would be great for it, please email me and I will make the connection.

#crowdfunding#Web3

The Selloff

The stock and crypto markets have started off the year in selloff mode, with the Nasdaq down almost 5% this week and the big crypto assets down almost 10% this week. But this selloff has been going on for a lot longer than one week. It has been going on since early November when the Nasdaq peaked at $16k and BTC hit $67k. Since then it’s been downhill and the biggest carnage has been in the highflying “cloud” stocks. The Gotham Gal and I own a few stocks that have been cut in half in the last two months. Yes, they lost half of their value in the last two months.

Of course, these highflying stocks have only given up some of their gains over the last two years. In the case of a few of our public stock holdings, they went up 10x in the last two years and are now “only” up 5x. Easy come, easy go.

Even at these new “discount” prices, none of these stocks look cheap to me. Most are still trading well in excess of 10x revenues which has always been my baseline for a subscription-based software business. I don’t know where they will bottom out, but it certainly could be lower. Or the sector could have already bottomed out in this first week of 2022 blowout sale. One never knows where the bottom is until you are well on your way back up.

The capital markets have been awash in money for the entire pandemic and it has resulted in some crazy prices being paid for public stocks and for growth rounds in high-performing privately held companies. The optimist in me sees this selloff as a return to normalcy, in the capital markets and in the world we live in. It’s hard to see a return to normalcy when offices remain closed, events are being postponed or moving to virtual. But markets tend to see things first and I do wonder if the capital markets are coming back to earth in anticipation of things getting better this year.

It also makes me wonder if the “pay any price” mentality in venture may ease up a bit this year. When the IPO markets or the M&A markets can’t/won’t be able to pay more for a business than the private markets are paying, that’s unsustainable. It can last a few quarters, maybe even a year. It can’t last forever. We will see.

#crypto#stocks#VC & Technology

What Is Going To Happen In 2022

So last year I made a bunch of predictions that with one exception were kind of obvious. I don’t want to do that again, so I am going to list five things that I think will happen this year that most people would not likely agree with.

1/ As the pandemic evolves into an endemic in the first half of 2022, companies will reopen their offices and their employees will largely opt to go back to working together in offices.

I qualified this with “largely” because I don’t think we will go back to everyone in the office again. Companies have become much more comfortable hiring remote employees who don’t live near a company office. Employees have made it clear that they want/need the flexibility to work from home a day or two a week. Some companies have moved to an entirely remote work environment. But I think the dominant form of working will return to “in office, with others” by the end of this year.

2/ Carbon offsets, effectively a voluntary form of self carbon taxation, will take off in 2022 and by the end of the year, we will have a global market in excess of $10bn (up ~10x in 2022).

I think the big unlock will be bridging between the existing carbon offset market and the crypto markets where decentralized finance tools can bring massive innovation and demand to this market very quickly.

3/ K12 systems around the US (and around the world) faced with teacher shortages and desperate to erase several years of learning shortfalls, will increasingly adopt online learning services in the school building in lieu of and in addition to in-class learning.

This may be obvious. I don’t really know. But there are many forms of learning that work in addition and in compliment to teacher-led classes and school leaders will need to be open to using them aggressively to turn around several years of learning losses.

4/ Twitter opens up its APIs and allows anyone to operate Twitter clients that compete with its own.

Now I am going out on a limb. But why not? That would be so amazing if it happened.

5/ As I predicted back in the spring of 2017 [8:30 into this video], only five years too soon, Ethereum’s market cap will surpass Bitcoin’s in 2022. I hope I get at least as much abuse for this prediction as I did for that one.

Ethereum’s merge in 2022, combined with the understanding that productive assets must be worth more than non-productive assets, make this a fairly obvious prediction. But I got it wrong last time, so I surely can get it wrong again.

I hope that 2022 brings us more positive surprises and less negative surprises than the last two years.

Happy 2022 everyone!

#climate crisis#crypto#hacking education#VC & Technology