Electrifying Heating And Cooling

It’s winter in NYC now and I am reminded of all the apartments the Gotham Gal and I lived in during our 20s and 30s in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The typical heating system was hot water or steam-powered radiators that clanged all night long and had two settings, on and off. Sometimes the handle wouldn’t work and you could not turn them off. So we would open the windows to manage the temperature in the apartment. I am certain that much of NYC apartment living still works this way in 2020.

Contrast that with an apartment building we just completed in Brooklyn that uses passive house design to keep the apartment warm in the winter and cool in the summer, has super efficient electrical heating and cooling systems in the apartments that are managed by smart thermostats, and all of this is powered by solar arrays on the roof and upper facade.

Tenants in our new apartment can program the heating and cooling in the apartment to tune it to their daily needs and can also participate in demand response programs to get compensated for not using electricity when demand is very high.

The apartments buildings we lived in during our 20s and 30s typically had oil or gas fired boilers to power the radiators and so when we were heating our apartment and the backyard to via our open window, we were consuming carbon energy and contributing to the climate crisis.

This new building we just made could in theory operate entirely off the grid although in practice that won’t happen for a host of reasons.

We are still living in the past in many parts of NYC and the US and the world even though we can live in the future. It is simply a question of investment dollars. It requires capital to convert a building from the old way to the new way. And many property owners either don’t have the capital or don’t want to spend the capital.

The Green New Deal in NYC is going to change this. Property owners are now required to get their buildings into the modern era or get fined significantly. That will unlock capital to property owners because the returns on converting to electric heating and cooling are going to be even higher when you put the avoidance of fines into the models.

This is a good thing and long overdue. It feels great to make a modern clean building and offer it to tenants. And more and more property owners are going to get that feeling over the next decade.

#climate crisis

The Rise Of Everywhere

This is a theme I have come back to many times over the last decade but in the wake of all of the headlines about high profile founders, VCs, and companies leaving the bay area, I thought I would return to it.

There is no question that the bay area is losing some talent to other markets but I don’t think that is anywhere near the most important thing. It is also the case that Google and Apple show no signs of leaving the bay area any time soon. Silicon Valley will remain a mecca for talent and tech for as far into the future as I can see.

What is more important is the rise of everywhere. In the most recent Pitchbook 2021 predictions, they project that Silicon Valley will make up less than 20% of all VC deals in 2021. The way that happens is not less funding in Silicon Valley. The way that happens is way more funding everywhere else.

In the first decade of USV, the 2000s, we mostly invested in NYC and Silicon Valley. In the second decade of USV, the 2010s, we invested throughout North America and Western Europe. In the third decade of USV, I suspect we will extend our geographic range even further. We already have.

If there is one megachange in VC from the pandemic (there may be many), I think it is the comfort with making investments over video without the founder or the VC traveling to meet each other. Related to that is the rising comfort of VCs and founders working closely with each other over video and not traveling to work with each other in person.

I am not saying that founders will stop traveling to raise money, although I think that may stick post-pandemic. And I am not saying that VCs will stop traveling to attend board meetings. But I am saying that we will see less of both and the result of that will be a massive increase in the geographic range of where investors can and will invest.

If you add to that the rising comfort of companies employing people remotely and the rising number of people in tech living somewhere other than the big tech hubs, we will see a massive increase in the number of founders starting companies in places other than Silicon Valley, NYC, and a few other locations. This is not just happening in the US, this is happening everywhere.

So let’s stop worrying about Silicon Valley, it will be fine, and start celebrating the rise of tech entrepreneurship everywhere. That is a profound thing for the world and something to be incredibly happy about.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Innovation In Capital Markets

A few years ago, maybe in 2016, we held a discussion of blockchain and crypto technologies at the annual meeting of our limited partners. I recall someone in the audience suggesting that the NYSE and Nasdaq could rebuild their markets on top of these technologies. I replied that I thought it was more likely that new markets built on blockchains and existing for crypto assets would emerge to compete with them.

And here we are, with a 24×7 global marketplace for crypto assets that has a market capitalization of over half a trillion and daily volumes in the hundreds of billions. This pales in comparison to the legacy capital markets, but that is always the case with a new entrant on the scene.

The legacy capital markets are not sitting still. There is real innovation happening in the IPO process for example.

But if you want to see the world we are headed into, I think it is better to look at the crypto markets. They operate day and night, they are global, and anyone can buy, sell, hold, and send these assets as long as they have a crypto wallet and a browser or a phone. You don’t have to be wealthy to invest in crypto startups. Anyone can do it.

The crypto markets are also innovating in areas like lockups, vesting, and governance. In a traditional IPO, the existing shareholders are typically locked up for 180 days and then the lockups come off entirely. In the crypto markets, we see all sorts of different forms of vesting and lockups being tried. What is emerging are lockups for existing holders that are much longer, but with small amounts of early and regular liquidity.

We are also seeing a lot of innovation around governance, with crypto projects working on ways to allow the community of token holders to have real say in the way a crypto project operates. We have seen a number of communities make very significant changes in things like total supply of tokens, inflation rates, and technology roadmaps in recent months. I cannot think of a public company that allows its shareholders that level of impact on their direction.

Right now these markets are operating as parallel universes, but I don’t think that will be the case forever. It is fairly simple to tokenize equity securities and trade the tokenized version in the crypto markets. That is not really happening just yet, but I expect that it will in the not too distant future. Then we will have the opportunity to see two identical assets trade in the traditional and emerging markets. There will be arbitrage opportunities and more when this happens and the new markets will put pressure on the traditional markets to adapt and change and evolve as fast as they can. That will be hard, if not impossible.

The global nature of the crypto markets is also a challenge for regulators, who have stood in the way of innovation and continue to do so. Why, for example, does one have to be wealthy to invest in startups in the US? That’s simply a way to keep the wealthy rich and everyone else not rich. If you trade crypto assets and something is not available in the US, you can trade or lend or stake elsewhere. And many/most do that. This allows innovation to happen in crypto even when some jurisdictions, like the US, are slow to embrace and hostile toward innovation in capital markets.

So if you want to see the future of capital markets look here, not there. That’s where all of the innovation, experimentation, and new stuff is happening.

#blockchain#crypto#hacking finance#stocks

Open Up Instead Of Break Up

In the wake of the news yesterday that the FTC plus 46 states and a few other locales sued Facebook for being a monopoly, I want to, yet again, argue for a different, more modern, and more powerful regulatory approach to tech monopolies. I first posted this a year and a half ago, and have reposted it at least once since.

There have been many calls to break up the large Internet monopolies; Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.

Breaking up a large monopoly feels like a very 19th/20th century move to me.

I would prefer that politicians and policy makers think about opening up as the better intervention.

A good way to explain this is to go back to the architecture that Twitter used in its early days when there were many third-party Twitter clients. Imagine if Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc were protocols, not applications, and there were many high-quality clients to participate in these networks.

Then the clients could innovate on things like content filtering, promotion of high quality content, business model, etc

If we are going to “break up” these large social media platforms, I would urge elected officials and regulators to think about pushing them to move from platforms to protocols instead of just ripping them apart.

We could do the same thing with search. Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo has built a nice search business by building a different user interface on top of one of the two leading search indexes. If we made it easier and reliable for others to innovate on top of the core search engine, then there might be many more options in search.

In mobile, a good first step is to open up the app stores and allow the browsers to have the same access to the operating system as native mobile apps.

In commerce, if I could checkout as easily everywhere as easily as I can on Amazon, there would be more competition for my shopping dollars.

I think you get the idea. It is very true that the big Internet services have built centralized monopolies and have consolidated their market positions. We do need more competition in these core services. And the best way to do that is to force them to open up their services, not break them up.


Michelle Zatlyn on Gotham Gal's Podcast

Michelle Zatlyn is the co-founder and COO of our former portfolio and now public company Cloudflare (NYSE: NET). In this conversation she did with the Gotham Gal a few weeks ago, she talks about how she and her co-founder Matthew decided to work on cybersecurity versus many other ideas they had. I love that they had the “would I be proud to work on this?” test. Michelle explained that “making the Internet safer for businesses to operate on” passed that test and that’s what got them to start Cloudflare.

The conversation is on YouTube and I have embedded it below for those who read on the web.


Rapid Innovation

When people ask me why I prefer to invest in software-based innovation vs other important areas like biotech, hardware, energy, etc, I always point to the speed at which software can be built, released, and iterated on.

This is a personal comfort thing for me. I am not saying that these other areas are not important. They are. Society needs innovation in areas outside of software. And there are fantastic returns to be had to those who are prepared to take on those risks.

But there is something very frustrating about innovation that cannot be released to the market quickly.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I read David Wallace-Wells’ piece in NY Magazine about the Moderna Covid Vaccine. David writes:

By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial. This is — as the country and the world are rightly celebrating — the fastest timeline of development in the history of vaccines. It also means that for the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it .


You can’t make a vaccine and ship it to the world as soon as you’ve made it. There are many good reasons for that. But if that were not the case, as David points out, we might have been able to avoid the entire pandemic. We had the technology to end the pandemic before it landed in most of the world.

And it makes me wonder if there are lessons from the world of software, where we “move fast and break things”, that can be adopted by other areas of innovation. Can we re-imagine how we test medical innovations so that they can come to market and save lives much more quickly? Can we re-architect how the energy markets work so that they can be re-shaped as quickly as software markets are? Can we stitch atoms together more like we stitch bits together so that physical things (buildings, devices, etc) can adapt more quickly?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I am just wondering outloud. But I know this, innovating in software is so much easier than innovating elsewhere and it would be better if that were not the case.

#VC & Technology

Expand E-Rate To Low Income Households

E-Rate is a program put in place in the 1996 Telecommunications Act to expand Universal Service Fund fees to schools in order to help them upgrade their telecom infrastructure. Telcos charge customers Universal Service Fund fees so that they can provide “universal service”, originally aimed at rural and other locations that were/are not profitable to service otherwise.

E-Rate has largely been successful in helping schools move from no internet, to DSL and low bandwidth internet, to cable and fiber over the last twenty years.

But now we have the realization that remote, blended, and hybrid learning models, brought on by the pandemic and likely here to stay in some form, require something more. They require that EVERY child needs a reliable high bandwidth connection to the internet from their home.

School districts all over the country have been scrambling for the last nine months to raise money from charitable sources so that they can provide hot spots and other ways to get kids internet in their homes so they can attend school. I have participated in a number of these campaigns and they have been heroic in many ways, but it is still not enough.

The FCC can do something simple and powerful. They can do it now. They can expand E-Rate to include low income households who need reliable and high bandwidth internet so that their children can attend school.

I would like to see them do that asap.

#hacking education#hacking government#policy

Digital Dollars

I have written about stablecoins a bunch here at AVC. I believe cryptocurrencies that are not highly volatile are important for use cases like e-commerce. I explained why here.

So we need crypto assets that are price stabilized and one of the best ways to do that is to peg a crypto asset to a fiat currency like the dollar. You do that by fully reserving the asset with dollars.

The two most popular digital dollars are USDT (Tether) and USDC. There is almost $20bn of circulating supply of USDT and just over $3bn of USDC.

There has always been some concern that USDT is not fully reserved. I share that concern. I am more confident that USDC is fully reserved and it is the digital dollar that I hold and use.

We got some big news yesterday about USDC which is that the VISA card network is going to “help select Visa credit card issuers start integrating the USDC software into their platforms and send and receive USDC payments.”

I think this is going to give more payment networks and financial services platforms the confidence to also integrate USDC. I could imagine USDC having a circulating supply of the current size of Tether by this time next year. We will see.

There are concerns for those, like me, who are big fans of digital dollars. A few members of Congress yesterday proposed a bill requiring stablecoin issuers to be banks. I appreciate that our elected officials want to provide for consumer safety and confidence. But forcing all of this innovation into the banking system is the surest way to kill it that I have ever heard of. Maybe that is what they want to do. We cannot allow that. The crypto sector and innovative financial services companies like VISA will need to spend time on the Hill educating our elected officials on what good regulation looks like and what bad regulation looks like. All we seem to be getting out of DC right now is on the bad side.

Finally, I should mention that while we are debating the role of digital dollars here in the US, China is rolling out its own digital Yuan. Goldman Sachs estimates that over a billion people will be using the Digital Yuan within a decade. I think that is way too pessimistic.

I think everyone who uses fiat currency right now will be using digital/crypto versions of these fiat currencies within a decade. The only question is which ones we will use the most. If we want the Digital Dollar to be in the top two or three, we had better get behind the ones that are out there and support the issuances of new ones too.