I Don’t Know

An entrepreneur asked me a great question last week:
When is it OK to say I don’t know in a pitch meeting?
I told her the following things: 1/ This varies from investor to investor. Some investors are looking for founders to have all the answers. 2/ I am not one of those investors but I do want the founders to have some of the answers. 3/ If I asked her how large and valuable her publicly traded competitor is, and she said “I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you on that”, I would be fine with that answer. 4/ If I asked her what the tech stack is that her engineering team is using to build the product, I would be dissapointed if she didn’t know that answer. In general, I believe it is critical that the founder be knowledgeable about all the
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Investment Pace

We were hanging out with friends last night and one of them asked me how many investments I have made this year. I replied “one so far.” He said, “you are not very active.” and I replied “I do one to two deals a year and always have.” Which surprised him. I have been investing in early stage companies since the late 80s and over those thirty plus years, I have personally led investments in about sixty companies. An average of less than two investments per year. Our firm usually makes eight to ten new investments per year, which is one to two new investments per partner per year. When you are making early-stage investments, which require a lot of your personal involvement over a seven to ten year period, you can only take on so many projects. If you assume the average hold period for an
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Tech:NYC Turns Two

It seems like yesterday when a bunch of folks in the NYC tech sector decided that it was time to form an organization to represent the tech sector in NYC. But in fact, it was a little more than two years ago. There was some upfront work we had to do and in the summer of 2016, we announced Tech:NYC. Two years later the organization is 630 member companies strong, including over 500 small early-stage companies. Yesterday, Tech:NYC issued their second annual report, which is just one long web page. I really like this way of doing annual reports. It’s easy to consume and accessible to anyone with a computer or mobile phone. If you are involved with or care about the tech sector in NYC, take a minute to read the annual report (it won’t take much more) and see about all the great things that are going
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The Long Raise

I’ve been chairing a $40 million capital campaign for NYC’s CS4All effort to bring computer science education to every school and every student in the nation’s largest school district. We are just into year four of the ten-year CS4All effort and we are also into year four of the capital campaign. The good news is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on whether you count “soft circles” or not, I think we have about $10 million left to raise. We started out with a bang, announcing $11.5mm in contributions, including those of my wife and me, at the start of the effort. Year one went well, with another roughly eight million raised. Year two was a struggle and year three started out similarly. We made some changes to our team and strategy and message and the second half of year three was much
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Cutting The Cord/Trashing The Dish

Last Sunday I wrote about the over the top video market and made some observations about it in light of the challenges we were having getting our satellite dish working again. In the week that passed, we had another no-show appointment by DirectTV, more success watching whatever we want on our AppleTVs, and on Friday I called up DirectTV and canceled my re-install order for our beach house once and for all and we are now officially off of traditional “cable TV” out here. After canceling our re-install order and shutting down the account we have had for twenty years, I paid for a Hulu and a YouTube TV subscription and checked out DirectTV Now. I was surprised that DirectTV Now has no incentives for existing DirectTV subscribers to purchase it. You don’t get a reduced price or free access. I decided to pass on it and see if Hulu and YouTube
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Opportunity Zones

I was at dinner with my friend Stephen a month or so ago and he was bending my ear about a provision in last year’s tax bill that provides very significant tax incentives to invest in businesses or real estate in certain locations around the US that have been underinvested in. It all sounded way to good to be true and I kind of ignored him. This sort of thing has been part of so many economic development plans over the years that it sounded like more of the same to me. We had dinner again last week and he started in again, but this time we were with some other friends and they chimed in. It turns out the tax incentives are as generous as my friend said and what seemed to me to be too good to be true is in fact true. These locations are called Opportunity
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Priorities and Triage

When my life gets crazy, which it is right now, it helps me to internalize what is most important and triage around that. And I’m not just talking about what tasks to do and what not to do. I’m also talking about prioritizing friends and family, exercise, eating right, communicating, and all the things that at one time or another in my life I have let slide in favor of work. The triage is visible to people, of course, and saying no can be challenging. I saw some friends last night and they invited me to a thing they are doing in a couple weeks. They said “would you like to come?” I said “No”. My friend said, “do you mean you can’t?” And I said “I just mean I won’t.” He got a chuckle out of it but when I’m in triage mode, I can be
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It Feels Like Summer

Speaking of doing things on our phones, I made this playlist on my phone on the train ride into NYC yesterday morning. It was inspired by the Donald Glover/Childish Gambino track of the same name that kicks off the playlist. I got off the train into a steamy NYC and I’m gonna need this playlist to get through the week. Maybe you will too.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Dani Grant — July 17, 2018
A Quick Primer on 5G Albert Wenger — July 16, 2018
World After Capital: Limits of Capitalism (Self-Conservation)

Writing On My Phone

We write on our phones all day long. Texts, emails, searches, etc. But long form writing is a different thing. I’m not sure how much long form writing happens on phones. I’ve been mostly writing my daily posts on my phone in the last month and I quite like it. I am writing this post on my phone on a train to NYC this morning. It has a more casual feel. The words flow naturally from my head to my thumbs to the screen. I feel connected to the writing in a way that doesn’t quite happen on a big screen. I like that I can write on my phone anywhere. On a park bench. On a train. Sitting on the beach. Being able to write anywhere makes it less of a chore and more of a treat. Like having a moleskin with you all the time. I don’t write
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Going Over The Top

I have long had an interest in determining when the video offerings available “over the top” will be sufficient so that customers will no longer need to buy video from their cable providers. I was writing about this issue in the early days of AVC, fifteen years ago, but certainly, that was way too early for the over the top market to develop. USV had an investment in this market, the hardware device Boxee, that missed the mark and was beaten by Roku and, most significantly, by AppleTV. I have not written as much about this topic in recent years as my interests have been elsewhere, but I continue to pay attention to this sector. Over the last few weeks, we have been moving into a new home where we have broadband internet and satellite television. The broadband has been working well but we have had installation issues with the satellite.
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Funding Friday: The Backtrack Box

Dylan is a musician, an entrepreneur, a hacker, and a geek. That’s quite a combination and a good one at that. He’s come up with a better way for live musicians to play their back tracks without the need for a computer and lots of cables. It is called The Backtrack Box and he’s raising funds to manufacture it on Kickstarter. I backed this project earlier this week and think it is the perfect Kickstarter project; creative, unique, and something that should exist in the world.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — July 13, 2018
Principles (Introduction)

Trophy Board Members

I am not reading Bad Blood, the book about Theranos, but many of my friends and colleagues are. One of the many “tells” that Theranos was not a good company was the board chock full of trophy board members. A “trophy” board member is someone with a big name who, in theory, brings credibility and connections to your company. They are often out of the world of politics, or a Fortune 500 CEO job, or Wall Street. I dislike trophy board members and advise our portfolio companies to avoid them. But they don’t always take our advice. One good example is Lending Club, a very good company run by a very good entrepreneur, who got thrown under the bus, in my view, by his trophy board. USV is an investor in that entrepreneur’s new company which says all you need to know about where we come out on that one.
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The Web 3 Stack

Web 3 is the next generation of the web in which decentralized apps (dApps) operate on top of a shared data layer and users have control of their data and the ability to move between dApps with little to no switching costs. Think about the way domains and email addresses work. We (individuals and/or companies) own these identifying data elements and we can provision them in any app we want (I provision my email addresses in gmail and my domains in wordpress but I could choose many other options). In Web 3, this is how all of our data will work. But we have a long way to go to get there. The infrastructure for Web 3 is immature and at least a few years away from being mature and stable enough to build mission-critical dApps on. We can see glimpses of Web 3 in games and collectibles, where the stakes are
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Streaks

My son told me he wanted to learn Japanese. I told him to check out our portfolio company Duolingo‘s awesome language learning product of the same name. He told me that he has used Duolingo and likes it, particularly the ability to generate streaks. He told me that once you have a streak going, you really want to keep it going and that keeps you at the language learning exercises that are the heart of Duolingo. Yesterday, I kicked off my weekly game of Swarm (from our portfolio company Foursquare) with some big point generating check-ins. My daughter, who I play the game each week with (among others) also had a quick start. I texted her and she texted me back: Streaks are a terrific game mechanic and can be used to motivate user behavior. But streaks are also powerful in real life. This blog is a good
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Honu – A CryptoKitty Charity Auction

I am excited by the potential of cryptocurrencies and cryptogoods to change, and hopefully improve, the way we raise funds for charity. Cryptogoods are particularly interesting as they are scarce and unique digital goods. AVC community member Arnold Waldstein tipped me off to a really good example of this:

Little Honu (Hawaiian for turtle) is part kitten, part sea turtle. Honu is the first of a lineage of CryptoKittens ‘hatched’ to both raise funds and be ambassadors for their causes and to be bought, sold, and bred within the game itself.

Honu will be auctioned to raise funds for charity. The auction starts today, on Monday the 9th, ends Sunday the 15th. Auction proceeds go directly to two sea turtle conservation projects in the Caribbean: Operation Jairo and Unite BVI. Previous CryptoKitty charity auctions have raised in excess of $140K.  Donations are tax exempt for the winner
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Governance

Software systems have largely been governed by the companies that operate them. The Washington Post reports that Twitter has been suspending more than a million accounts a day recently. That certainly is necessary given all of the fake accounts, bots, spammers, and worse plaguing Twitter. Twitter, the company, is making those determinations. Twitter the company governs Twitter the software. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Back in 2007, a few years too early :), my partner Brad argued on usv.com that governance was the next big thing in software. I suspect Brad was right, but maybe a decade and a half or possibly two decades too early in making that call. One of the many interesting ideas that have emerged from the crypto sector is the idea of decentralized governance. Decentralized governance can be implemented in many ways but the basic idea is that the token holders
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