Posts from New York City

Cause & Effect

I've been reading sci-fi and thinking about sci-fi's relationship to technology innovation. I posted last week about Twitter and the Metaverse and noted that Neal Stephenson had imagined things in the early 90s that happened almost twenty years later.

But of course it is possible that many of the things that are built by technologists are reactions to reading sci-fi and wanting to realize the fertile imaginations of sci-fi authors.

So it's not entirely clear exactly who is inspiring who. Like most things, it is likely a bit of both. Technologists create new things. Writers are inspired and create stories that reflect these emerging new technologies. Technologists read those stories and are inspired by them.

It's a virtuous circle. Technology innovation doesn't occur in a vacuum. It happens in a dialog with society. And sci-fi writers are but one example of the way society impacts technology.

I think that's one of the reasons that many of the most interesting bay area startups are choosing to locate themselves in the city. And it is one of the reasons that NYC is developing a vibrant technology community. Society is at its most dense in rich urban environments where society and technology can inspire each other on a daily basis. Steven Johnson wrote about this phenomenon in his excellent Where Good Ideas Come From.

So if you want to know what is going to happen next in the world of technology, you need to be thinking about society and where it is going, how it is interacting with technology, and how it is inspiring technologists. Which is why I am reading a lot of sci-fi this summer.

#Books#VC & Technology

Fun Friday: Routines

Someone suggested to me in the comments this past week that this fun friday be about Routines. If I could recall who it was, I would give them credit. Maybe you can identify yourself in the comments. (update: it was Tyrone. thanks Tyrone).

In any case, we are going to talk about routines today.

Every weekday that I am in NYC, I start my day at 5am. I get up, walk upstairs to my office, take my synthroid, put on some music (turntable or tumblr/ mostly), read the morning news (twitter #discover, techmeme, hacker news), and then open up Typepad and start writing about whatever comes into my head. When that is done, ideally by 6am, I post a song of the day on tumblr, and then do some email.

On tuesday and thursdays I do yoga from 7am to 8am, and I try to get out on my bike a few days a week as well. I mostly ride up the hudson river park bike path but sometimes I will ride down.

When I am not exercising, I wake Josh up at 7:20am and then head downstairs to eat breakfast. My breakfast staple is Kashi Cinnamon Harvest Shreaded Wheat with a sliced banana on it.

Then I get on my Vespa and ride to work. If it is too cold to ride the scooter, I walk to the L train and take it to Union Square. I like to stop by Tarallucci and get an espresso at the bar Roman style. Then I go to work.

Work is usually 8:30am to 6:30pm. It is meetings back to back to back to back.

Then at 6:30pm, I head home, either by scooter or subway, and have dinner with my family. I don't work after dinner. I will do homework with my son or watch sports with him (or both). I am in bed by 10pm. I might read a bit on the iPad or Kindle Fire but I am almost always asleep by 10:30pm at the latest. I will make an exception these coming weeks to watch the Thunder hopefully beat the Spurs and the Heat.

That's my routine during the week when I am in home in NYC. I stick to it. I am not an organized person. But I am a disciplined person. My routine is the key to me getting things done.

What are your routines?


The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs

This weekend finds NYC in between Internet Week (which I largely missed because of my London trip) and Disrupt NYC (which I will be at on and off this coming week). So the development of NYC as a startup hub is very much on my mind. And so I thought I'd post about the development of startup hubs.

This theory, which I like the call The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs, is not new and I certainly didn't come up with it. But I think it is important for everyone to understand and so I'm going to blog about it.

If you study Silicon Valley, what you see is something that looks like a forest where trees grow tall, produce seeds that drop and start new trees, and eventually the older trees mature and stop growing or worse, die of disease and rot, but the new trees grow up even taller and stronger.

In my mental model of Silicon Valley, the first "tree" was Fairchild Semiconductor (founded in 1957) which begat Intel (founded 1968) which begat Apple (1976) and Oracle (1977), which begat Sun (1982), Silicon Graphics (1981), and Cisco (1984) which begat Siebel (1993) and Netscape (1994), which begat Yahoo! (1995) and eBay (1995), which begat Google (1998) and PayPal (1998), which begat YouTube (2005), Facebook (2004), and LinkedIn (2003) which begat Twitter (2006) and Zynga (2007), which begat Square (2010), Dropbox (2008), and many more.

If I left out important foundational companies of this mental model, please forgive me. That was not meant to be a comprehensive history. It was meant to illustrate how this evolutionary scenario plays out over time.

If you drill down a bit deeper, you see that the founders, investors and early employees generate a tremendous amount of wealth from these big successes. The later employees don't make as much wealth but they do learn a ton and make enough money that they don't need to work for someone else and so they strike out on their own and are often funded by the folks who made the big money in the prior startup. That's how the seed drops from the tree and starts a new tree growing. This continues on and on and on.

If you look at that history of silicon valley, you see that in the forty year history (since Intel's formation), there have been close to ten cycles of maturation and new company formation, and those cycles are getting shorter and the number of important foundational companies that are formed each cycle are increasing.

That makes total sense since this darwinian evolutionary model is non linear. One company begets two and those two companies beget four, and so on and so forth. Of course there are exogenous factors that also play out, like technology changes, financial market cycles, and the availability and cost of talent, and they impact how fast the startup hub economy expands.

This darwinian evolutionary model of startup hub development is not limited to silicon valley. We have seen it play out in other places, most notably Boston, and increasingly in NYC. It is also playing out in markets like Boulder Colorado and Austin Texas and many other parts of the US and many parts of the world.

When I look at a startup hub, I like to figure out what the "Fairchild Semiconductor" of that market was and when it got started. That tells me how far along the development cycle that startup hub is. In NYC, that was Doubleclick which was founded in 1996, the same year as my first venture capital firm, Flatiron Partners, which was founded on two premises, that the Internet would be big and that NYC would be an important locus of Internet innovation. We did not invest in Doubleclick (sadly) but we did invest in a lot of interesting Internet companies in NYC in the late 90s.

So NYC's startub ecosystem is 16 years old now. And we are two cycles in. The companies that are getting started and funded right now in NYC are akin to the Apple/Oracle stage of silicon valley. If you want to push, you could suggest that we are three cycles in now and the companies that are getting funded right now are akin to the Sun/Silicon Graphics/Cisco era. That might be right.

But in any case, NYC's tech sector is not anywhere close in terms of fertility to silicon valley. It will be there in another 25 to 30 years. And silicon valley will be even further along. 

Unless, of course, something else happens.

The technological revolution that preceded the digital revolution was autos and airplanes. They were invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the first commercial startups emerged in the first decade of the 20th century.  The auto/airplane revolution played out until the 1960s/1970s. That suggests that a technology revolution lasts around 75 years.

The transistor was invented in the late 1940s and by 1958 we had commercial startups working on the technology. So if this revolution is anything like the last, the next big thing will be invented any day now and within a decade or two we will be on to the next technology revolution.

And in that case, all bets are off. Silicon Valley could become the next Detroit and who knows what will be the next Silicon Valley.

But of course, all of this is conjecture. History doesn't repeat itself. But it does rhyme. That comes from Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). One of my favorite people ever.

#VC & Technology

And Now A Word From Your Sponsor

I was going to post today on the brewing online privacy discussion in Washington but then I saw this video in my twitter feed. It was made by the New York Tech Meetup and is a three minute public service announcement about doing your startup in NYC. I did sit for the film but was left on the cutting room floor. That's just fine with me. It came out great and so today's post will be an advertisement from NYC to all entrepreneurs out there.

We will resume regular programming tomorrow.


The Next Generation

I got a tweet from a bot that told me yesterday was my fifth anniversary on Twitter.


That got me thinking about how long I'd been doing the things I do every day on the Internet. And I responded with this tweet last night.



It was at age fourteen that I started going down to the West Point computer center and playing around with the mainframes they had there. It was 1975 and I was going into ninth grade. It was super cool to be able to create things on the computer. We mostly hacked up graphics stuff and crude computer games. And we didn't go often. There were only certain times of the week we could go and it was a bit of a walk from our home.

Contrast that to today. I met with about 140 eighth graders yesterday at one of our Academy For Software Engineering open houses. These kids don't have to walk a mile to a computer center that is only open to them a few hours a week in order to hack around. They have laptops in their schools and many of them have laptops at home.

When I meet with these eighth graders I like to ask them "if you had the coding skills to build anything, what would you build?" The answers are inspiring. One young man told me he wanted to build a better operating system. He was going to fork a version of linux and do just that. 



Another eighth grader said he wanted to build a better social network, one that was based on the things that interested him and one that would connect him with kids around the world that were interested in the same things.

The girls in the room were full of ideas as well. They haven't yet reached the age when they are told they shouldn't be software engineers. I hope they can become accomplished software engineers before anyone tells them that.

These eighth graders were mostly born in 1998. They are the same age as Google. They have never known a world without a browser, a search engine, and a way to connect instantly to people on the Internet. They expect things to work a certain way and when they don't, they want to fix them. They are hackers by default.

If there is anything I've learned in the past few weeks as I've met between five hundred and a thousand eighth graders throughout the NYC public school system, it is that computers and the Internet are front and center in this generation's brain regardless of upbringing.

I suspect that is because this next generation has had access to computers in a way that preceding generations did not. As the cost and form factor of powerful computers comes down, computing reaches a broader segment of the population of America and eventually the world. And it is human nature to want to understand, control, and fix the things that you use every day.

So hacker culture is spreading from those with means to a much broader population. And this is happening on a global scale. It's impossible to comprehend what the result of this shift will be. But I think it's going to be transformative in many ways.

#hacking education#Web/Tech

Update On The Teen Art Gallery

The art world is in NY this weekend for the annual Armory Show. Art is everywhere you look right now. And so I thought I'd use this moment to give you all an update on the Kickstarter project I posted about a month ago.

The Teen Art Gallery project was successful. They raised $10,230 against their goal of $10,000. A photo finish it seems. Congratulations to the entrepreneurial teenagers behind this project.

And so now they will be able to put on the two gallery shows they raised the money to support.

The first show will be on the evening of Thursday, March 29th at Rogue Space in Chelsea. Details are here.

I don't know these kids. But I hope to meet them someday. They are taking matters into their own hands and making stuff happen at an early age. I love seeing that.


Academy For Software Engineering

AfseSix weeks ago I wrote a post talking about a new NYC public high school called the Academy For Software Engineering. I wrote that post the day after Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced the creation of this new high school in his State Of The City speech.

In the six weeks since that post, a lot has happened and I want to give everyone an update.

First, and most importantly, we have a leader for the school. His name is Seung Yu. His first name is pronounced like sing. He's been in several new high schools working directly for the Principal waiting for his opportunity to lead a new school and now he has found it. I've been working very closely with Seung for the past four weeks and I'm really impressed with his passion and commitment and considerable talents. 

We are now recruiting the first class of 9th graders. Today and tomorrow are big days as we will be at the citywide High School Fair at Martin Luther King Jr High School on the Upper West Side. The fair is on from 10am to 2pm both days this weekend and Seung and I will be there along with many of the folks on the school's advisory board. Next week on Tuesday night there is an open house for parents and students at Google's office and next weekend there is an open house for parents and students at NYU. And there is one more open house the following week at NYU. If you know any students who are going into ninth grade and are a fit for this school, please tell them and their parents to come to the High School Fair and the Open Houses. That's the best way for them to get into this school.

We also have a full blown web presence now. We have a website, a twitter, and a facebook page. I'd like to thank Sean Gallagher for his tireless and excellent work on all of our physical and virtual brand presence. Sean is creative, technical, and hilarious. His sense of humor and vision will be plastered on this school for many years to come.

I'd also like to thank AVC community member Larry Erlich who left a comment on that first post six weeks ago that he was gifting the school a handful of web domains. That was the gift that kept giving and giving. With Larry's help, we assembled a bunch of domains, decided to use, and lit that one up. Larry has also helped with a bunch of stuff around getting our web presence live. He's an example of what makes this community so great and why it is such a force.

There are literally dozens of people in the NYC tech community who have given massive amounts of their time for this school. The advisory board has people on it from many of the big and small tech companies in NYC. It is led by Evan Korth of NYU who has become a full partner in this effort. Evan's research interest is K-12 computer science education and he's getting a real-time live immersion in that right now.

Finally, I need to call out the NYC DOE. It's easy to dismiss government as big, slow, dumb, bureaucratic, and ineffective. I know I've been guilty of that myself. But I have to tell you that the DOE has impressed me again and again in this effort. The folks we work with are smart, committed, decisive, and most surprisingly, they are risk takers. There are too many of them to mention here, but they know who they are and I am extremely grateful for their efforts to get this school off the ground.

I'll end with a video that the folks at Makerbot (also on the advisory board) put together to explain this school and what its all about to the parents and students who are considering it. Please pass this on to any 8th graders you know in the NYC school system that you think might like to go to a high school and learn how to make software. 


NYC BigApps 3.0

I've been involved with NYC BigApps since its creation three years ago. It's a great program. NYC opens up some of its data sources to developers who use the data to build new mobile and web apps. The judges vote on them (I'm one of the judges) and there are prizes awareded which total $50,000. A number of startups have come out of this program and I've met quite a few great developers through this effort.

The submissions for year three are in and they are solicting public opinion on them here. There are 96 apps this year to be considered so that's a lot of product to review. You don't have to review all of them (I do) so just go take a look and let the organizers know which ones you think are the best. There are nine days left in the voting phase. There are two popular choice awards that will be given based on the public voting.

All the winners will be announced at the annual BigApps event in late March.


Building The Ecosystem

I've always seen the work that my colleauges and I do as more than venture capital investing. That is our main job and we need to do it very well. But we also need to work to make sure the macro environment for our investing activities remains attractive.

There are two primary activities that Union Square Ventures focuses on in addition to our core venture capital activities of backing and then working closely with entrepreneurs and their teams. They are policy advocacy around protecting the freedom to innovate and efforts to build the ecosystem for startups and entrepreneurship. Longtime readers of this blog understand this from the many many blog posts on these two topics.

I'd like to talk a little about building the ecosystem this morning. We view "the ecosystem" both globally and locally. We want to work to build a world where entrepreneurship is available everywhere. But we also want to do everything we can to grow and nurture the entrepreneurial community in New York City. And we believe that the things we support in NYC can and will be copied throughout the world so that our local ecosystem efforts support our global ecosystem efforts.

I've talked at length about many of our local ecosystem efforts and I don't want this post to be a laundry list of the things we are working on. Many of you are quite familiar with them. I would like to talk about a specific thing that two of my colleagues are doing that inspires me.

Last week, Gary and Christina asked me to stop by our event space late one afternoon and spend 45 minutes talking to a group of a dozen or so interaction designers. I talked to them about writing, the importance of taking the time every day to put words down "on paper" and how that forces you to think crisply and clearly. It was a great discussion.

This was part of a three hour class that Gary and Christina teach master students at the School Of Visual Arts (SVA) here in NYC. The class is a requirement for the Interaction Design program and it is called Entrepreneurial Design. Gary blogged about the class here and Christina blogged about it too.

The idea to teach this class came out of Gary's observation that almost all of our portfolio companies are suffering from a dearth of talent in interaction design and that we needed to do something to help produce more talent in this area. Gary and Christina didn't ask for permission to teach this class from anyone in our firm. They just did it. Freedom to innovate in action. I love it.

Things like this make a difference. They add up and build on each other. USV is not alone in this effort. Our colleagues in the startup and venture community in NYC and our colleagues around the world are actively doing things just like this. And the result is a thriving global startup movement that is getting stronger every day.

#VC & Technology

The Teen Art Gallery

This is the kind of thing that happens in the age of the Internet and Kickstarter. My daughter Emily told me one of her friends was involved in opening an art gallery and they are using Kickstarter to raise the funds to make it happen.

In their own words, the "Teen Art Gallery is an organization run for teens by teens that features young artists, ages 12-19, in New York City galleries."

If you go about 2mins into this video below, you will see that the teenagers have built an entire organization, filled with themselves, to run this business. Entrepreneurship in action!

They are raising $10,000 to fund two gallery shows this spring in NYC. They've raised almost $4000 so far and have 25 days left. So it's crunch time. The Gotham Gal and I have funded this project and I thought some of you out there might want to join us.

It's youth, art & entrepreneurship all wrapped up into one. And that's a good thing.