When people would ask me where is Spark within Boston, I used to joke sarcastically that Spark Capital was perfectly located (physically, IRL) as a venture firm because it’s where all the entrepreneurs are: the heart of Boston’s fashion/shopping district on Newbury St.
The line usually gets a laugh or two. Everyone knows that in Boston all the entrepreneurs are either in Kendall or the Seaport area. But now my joke is reality (sorta). Starting this month, there is retail presences for 4 dot-com businesses within a one block radius of our offices: Warby Parker, Bonobos, MakerBot, and Gemvara.
Some dot-coms are just doing temporary holiday popup shops. Others are year-round operations. But in all cases, they are playing into the showroom-ification of Brick and Mortar retail, and it’s wild to watch the transition happen right on Spark’s front steps.
When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we’ve brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else:
high-speed pizza delivery
- Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash)
This quote is deliberately over-the-top (like everything Stephenson) and playfully blunt, and always sticks in my memory when I think about “world is flat”-style globalization.
IRL (not in the world of Snow Crash) We owe #3 on this list to Apple (really to Steve Jobs).
We (the US) were thought leaders in software for 3+ decades… but until the iPhone launched we were loosing our edge in mobile. Other countries were faster to adopt text messaging, faster to pick up on mobile as a computing platform, largely powered by Nokia and Blackberry — not US companies. There were large swaths of people in other countries that completely skipped the PC era of computing and when straight to mobile as their on-road to the internet. The US was behind.
…and then the iPhone came. It was invented and designed in America, and the thought leadership it generated help solidify a lead in software innovation we had started to take for granted.
Can Bill de Blasio pass a law that forbids deep packet inspection and filtering based on network content if you want to sell online products and services to NYC residents?
Basically, can we create a free and open internet for just New Yorkers?
This is a wonderful question. My blog post for the day will be answering Ben here.
On the one hand, I love the idea of NYC regulating internet service providers because a free and open internet is essential. Discriminating traffic based on its content would destroy the internet. I am not being sensational. Comcast could create a “fast lane” internet that only Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Netflix could afford to pay. Speed is the most important feature online, and so startups could never viably compete with the giants that can afford “fast lane” access. The wonderfully democratizing property of the internet that allows 2 guys in their basement with a case of red bull and a flat of ramen to viably compete with Google would be dead. It would be the end of an era of wildly exciting emergent innovation.
On the other hand, the idea that local or national governments can make any decisions at all that affect how internet technology can and can’t be implemented is terrible. Every law, however well-intentioned it might be, is a restriction on (internet) freedom, by definition. Local internet regulation would also make it more complicated to serve NYC-based customers because business logic would now be necessary in the stack to make sure that internet service complies with all subscribers’ local laws.
Ideally, internet service providers would simply recognize that the internet is so interesting because of ubiquitous access of all traffic, regardless of origin, and they would not be dumb enough to try to squeeze a couple extra coins out of providing service, when the potential down side is so grave. Because I don’t trust service providers to be smart enough to take this long view, I feel that NYC regulation protecting a free and open internet is a great idea, and I support it.
Lastly, regarding whether or not NYC has the *RIGHT* to regulate the internet locally and forbid deep packet inspection… for me that answer is unequivocally “Yes.” That’s because internet service providers leverage public resources like wireless spectrum, cables in streets and sewers, and other public commons, and as such, governments at their best should help mitigate the tragedy of the commons.
I wonder… could a person phantom trade private company stock? Here’s my thought experiment to answer this question.
To start, every trade needs a buyer and a seller. We’ll call our buyer Alice and our seller Bob. (because I secretly wish I was a badass cryto-expert).
In theory, Alice and Bob could execute a contract in place of physical shares of stock. The contract would behave like phantom stock that’s pegged to the value of a company.
What would the terms of a trade be between Alice and Bob?
What company’s stock is to be traded: Let’s say it’s Yoyodyne, Inc.
What is the agreed upon current valuation of the private company: let’s say… [insert dramatic pause] $1 Billion.
How much of the company is to be bought or sold: 0.05%. (It has to be a % of the fully diluted company instead of an arbitrary share number. Because shares could change over time.)
What’s the dollar value bought/sold: This is just a calculation: $1B * 0.05% = $500,000
When will the trade be initiated: how about tomorrow.
When will the transaction be finished: at the soonest of the following dates: A) let’s say a few days after the IPO so the price settles out a bit, B) the company is acquired at a known exit price*, or C) the company declares bankruptcy.
Is this contract transferrable / resellable: Yes.
*if the exit price is unknown, then Bob and Alice could get an independent third-party expert to assess what they think is the most likely transaction price.
Ok, so those are the terms… but how does it all begin?
Alice pays Bob $500,000 and the contract is simultaneously executed.
Since Bob is our seller, and he very likely doesn’t own stock in Yoyodyne today, he’s essentially taking payment from Alice now in exchange for the promise to deliver shares of Yoyodyne to Alice a couple days after the IPO when he can freely buy the stock on the open market. The IPO could be in a week, a month, a year, ten years… it doesn’t matter.
Bob doesn’t HAVE to wait until the IPO to buy the stock if he can beg, borrow, or steal his way into getting a Yoyodyne investor or employee to sell him the stock in the interim period… but by waiting for the IPO, Bob will be able to get you the stock eventually, if it’s available to the public.
OK, the deal is on. Now how does it end?
If Yoyodyne does IPO, how many shares of Yoyodyne does Bob owe Alice? the answer would look as follows: Total number of fully diluted shares outstanding after IPO * 0.05% * ( 1 - The delta in shares from the start of Alice and Bob’s contract / total number of fully diluted shares oustanding when the contract started).
That line was a little messy cause of all the words… it’s a formula of the following form: # Shares to buy = T * P * (1 - D/T’).
That’s a little complicated, I know, but in plain English: it just means that Bob needs to give to Alice the same % of the company that Alice bought originally, minus any dilution that Alice’s phantom equity suffered from any issuance of stock over the years. Ok? Great. I could write a whole other post on just this formula.
You need to have a bunch of knowledge about the capitalization of Yoyodyne over time in order to fill in all those variables, but if the company has IPO’d then much of this information will be in the S-1 statement, so it’s probably doable.
Great, but companies rarely IPO, so what happens next?
Since very few companies ever IPO, 98 out of 100 times, Bob will pocket Alice’s money and then either A) pay Alice some multiple of the money paid to him in an exit for Yoyodyne or B) Yoyodyne will go out of business and Bob will simply keep Alice’s money.
If Yoyodyne exits without raising any additional money, the multiple in scenario (A) would be calculated simply by: multiple = exit price / initial valuation. So if Yoyodyne sold for… [insert even more dramatic pause] $3 Billion, then Bob would owe Alice:
$3B/$1B * $500,000 = $1,500,000.
If Yoyodyne does raise more money before it exits, then we need to revisit our fun dilution-weighted formula I introduced in the IPO section above. Lets say Yoyodyne sells for $3 billion dollars, but they raised a $200MM round of equity at a $2B valuation in between the start of Alice and Bob’s contract and the exit date. Then Bob would own Alice:
Things get really messy if Yoyodyne issues a dividend unfortunately. Luckily dividends are pretty rare in private venture-backed startup companies. But if Yoyodyne does issue a dividend while privately-held, then A) Alice and Bob might not know it happened and B) Bob should be forced to pay Alice her pro-rata portion of the dividend issued (which is 0.05% * the total dividend payment). Enforcement of this step would be tough due to lack of knowledge, but dividends are rare enough that we can just gloss over this point. I’ve heard VCs with 20+ years of experience say they’ve never seen a dividend in any of their companies.
Wait, but holding on to private phantom stock all the way until IPO sounds way too long for me.
Well, Alice and Bob should only engage in this trade if they can handle the length of time required to get to an outcome. But as a remedy to this potentially very long length, I think these contract should be transferable or resellable.
One day after Alice and Bob sign the deal, Alice now holds a contract in which Bob owes her ~$500,000 of equity value in Yoyodyne. She could sell the contract to Chuck for $550,000 the next day and turn a quick 10% profit if Chuck is really bullish on Yoyodyne and can’t find a deal as good as the one that Alice made with Bob on his own.
It’s important to note that if Alice sells the contract to Chuck for $550,000, that does not change the dollar value of the contract. All those calculations about what Bob owes to his counter-party in various scenarios still uses the original $500,000 number. Chuck would only pay a premium to Alice for this contract if he was really bullish that the value of Yoyodyne was going to substantially increase beyond $1.1B (which is the implied valuation of Yoyodyne now that Chuck bought Alice’s contract for a 10% premium).
I’m still reading this post, please go on.
I’m impressed with your stamina to endure my bad humor and back-of-the-envelope math.
It’s worth pointing out the boundaries of this trade. Bob has capped upside (100% of the sale price: $500,000) and unlimited downside (theoretically, infinity dollars) in this trade; whereas, Alice has capped downside and unlimited upside. In short: naked shorting of stocks is scary.
Because Alice owns phantom stock and not actual stock, she is taking on two risks where VCs only take one risk. The risk that VCs and Alice share is the risk that Yoyodyne will be a failed investment. Alice is taking a second risk that Bob can remain solvent to pay his contract obligation in outsized scenarios. If Yoyodyne IPOs at a $100B valuation, does Bob have the $50MM to make good on his deal? Doubtful…
I’m sure the SEC would have something to say about all this… but in a contract between two consenting adults, I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be legal. I don’t think it would be be advisable (especially for Bob), but advisable and legal are different things. Hey readers (if you made it this far), is there some big gaping hole in my thought experiment?
Dick Costolo (now famously known as the CEO of Twitter) wrote a blog for a year back in ‘07-‘08 called Ask the Wizard. People would email in startup-related questions and Dick would blog his answers. He was then the CEO of FeedBurner, and if you read through the posts, it’s not surprising to learn he is also a recovering stand-up comic.
I was delighted today to find that Dick’s blog is still up. I’m sure he doesn’t answer the emails on it anymore, but the archives are worth a read.
One of the more formative things I did in high school was join the school play. I did a few of them, but one in particular hit me like a ton of bricks. I was the Fire Chief in Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, a one-act absurdist play.
The Fire Chief has a nonsensical monologue called “The Headcold” (P. 32) that runs on for a couple minutes solo. There are a few cues for interruption along the way, so flubbing lines can create big gaps in the script. It’s a real challenge to nail correctly, especially with an absurdist plot with no logical progression and a British accent, and I have never had a particularly good memory.
In every rehearsal I blew the monologue every time. My co-actors and director were disappointed but understanding. I grinded on this monologue like crazy to drive it into my head, but a fear of screwing up made my nerves jump forward in my mind, and then I’d botch the monologue each successive night. Rehearsal was a safe place to fail because there was no audience, but nonetheless, it lead to my own internal mounting disappointment and increasing fear of failure in front of a live audience.
The day before opening night, we did an “advertisement” for the play by performing in front of the entire school at assembly in the morning. I’m sure the director deliberately picked the scene containing my monologue, so it was my first live run.
I failed. I got about half way through the monologue, forgot the next memory block, paused for 5+ seconds of awkward silence frozen on stage, and then inserted a line that I knew was towards the end of my monologue that would cue the next interjections from my co-actors and keep the play moving forward.
While I was a little embarrassed in talking to my friends after the assembly, failing publicly was freeing. Most students didn’t notice the failure (because they didn’t know the script, and its an absurdist plot anyway), and those that did suspect anything was wrong were more impressed by what worked right than what went wrong.
I had built up public failure in my mind into such a big deal, that once I actually failed in public, I was liberated by the experience. I realized it was bearable… not good, but also not the monster I thought it would be.
I think you can predict the end of this story. On all 4 nights the play ran, I nailed the monologue perfectly, now freed from the distraction of failure’s specter.
It was a formative event because the experience is transferable to all angles of my life. It helps me take risks I would never otherwise take. I’ve never used this story with any of the companies I work with (it’s too personal and random for a board mtg or business conversation), but I am often reminded of it when I see Founders learn similar lessons from small failures, and how they later shape larger successes with the experience of failure.
There will only ever be 21 Million Bitcoins created, the currency is systematically capped.
But, a Bitcoin is infinitely subdividable. Meaning the decimal places to describe the fraction of a Bitcoin are limitless. (Technically, the decimal places are limited by the size of the memory block chosen to store Bitcoins, but if we need more decimal places in the future to subdivide further, we can always choose a bigger memory block size.)
Bitcoin being both limited and limitless makes my mind spin.
Merchants and consumers intimidated by the cost of a single Bitcoin could collectively agree tomorrow that all Bitcoins are best measured in mBTC denomination. 1 mBTC = .001 BTC (it’s a millibitcoin). So now there would be 21 Billion mBTC in circulation. What’s the difference? Bitcoin is not asset backed and has no intrinsic value, so why not just shift the decimal place?
If people knew there will only ever be 21 Billion mBTC in circulation instead of 21 million, would the exuberance for stockpiling Bitcoin diminish? 21 Billion widgets sounds less scare than 21 Million widgets.
Not compelled by my argument? Well, what if we move a couple thousand decimal places…? A million? When there is 21 Googol xBTC, is that enough to convey limitlessness?
And if there are infinity Bitcoins available, how much would you pay for one? This is the question a non-early adopter would need to ask self-reflectively when first buying into Bitcoin.
I know, I know. I can already hear the naysayers reading this post. They’ll say: “Andrew, you’re making a 4th grade math mistake. If we just change the decimal place, then I now own my same portion of Bitcoins that I did before. My 2 Bitcoins becomes 2,000 or 2 million, etc… So infinite subdividability is meaningless and the number of Bitcoins are still fixed at 21 Million.”
In the context of early adopters, this feedback is correct and I agree. But if Bitcoin is only ever relevant to early adopters, it will fail. It’s disruptive power is perfectly correlated with Metcalfe’s Law. What good is a currency that is only accepted by a small fraction of the world.
In the context of mainstream participants in the global ecosystem (non-early adopters who do not benefit from the near term Bitcoin inflation because they do not own any coins), I think my argument that, practically (not theoretically), there are limitless Bitcoins is more persuasive. And the value of a single Bitcoin will only be measured in its purchasing power with merchants that accept Bitcoin, or the work you’re willing to do to be paid in Bitcoin. Without that counter-party context, Bitcoin is limitless and inherently worthless to the non-early adopter.
There is a natural balance in user interface design that must be struck between being “innovative” and being “different”.
By “innovative” I mean: Novel, unique. A substancial improvement over the status quo way of doing things. Something that feels genuinely better.
By “different” I mean: not the way people are used to doing thing, and thus, inherently inferior to the status quo. Playing on people’s muscle memory is powerful, and if you’re constantly changing the locations of buttons or redesigning workflow in your app, the “different” experience can frustrate existing users endlessly. An interface should feel natural… like you’re seeing straight-through the interface into your work uninhibited. The interface should just fade away from consciousness. Being “different” gets in the way of seeing straight-through and resurfaces the interface into consciousness.
As an investor in technology, I’m often willing to overlook the difficulties of something being “different” in order to embrace “innovative” products. But, mainstream audiences don’t have that same willingness.
This balance between “innovative” and “different” is one I have known in interface design since it was taught to me in school, so it something I have been aware of for 10+ years. But, I’ve only recently started to see how cleanly this metaphor extends to building a business.
Look at where Tesla is succeeding where so many other electric car prototypes have failed. Electric cars wildly innovative, but the innovation is so advanced that “different” creeps in too. Electric cars need to be charged for a relatively lengthy period of time instead of just pumped up with a new tank of gas in 45 seconds. They don’t *rev* or feel muscular. People’s crappy experience with the diminishing performance of rechargable batteries everywhere else in their life has taught them to be inherently distrustful of electric cars.
Telsa put so much thought and care and “innovation” into the design of their business that they’re finally managing to push the “innovation/different” balance into positive territory. It’s an uphill battle (I battle I believe Tesla can win) because they innovated so much that they’re by-definition “different.”
There are three hours left before midnight, and I have not published a blog post for today. I was going to let this one slide, but I really want to hit the big green button on my Lift app, so I’m just going to talk to my “create post” box for a bit here. No big lessons or thesis, just free form. Proceed with caution.
I have no shortage of things to talk about. On the work side: Twitter IPO, Sincerely acquisition, and a bunch of other action in the portfolio. I could talk about the panel I participated in last night, kindly hosted by Slate and MassChallenge. But this day has been a blur, and so I’ve been unable to form well-considered opinions on any front.
I’m blurry because in the time I have spent in venture, I’ve never seen an IPO. Considering the IPO used to be the primary source of out-sized liquidity for venture-backed companies in the 80s and 90s, working over 7 years across two firms with zero IPOs (until today) is pretty unusual.
Thanks to Ev, Jack, Biz and Dick for their tireless work, unflappable vision, and tight product execution. It has been amazing to watch (and I can safely promise all readers out there, I did nothing more than watch).
One of the hardest skills for me to build as a recovering developer / product manager is long-term thinking. It’s so easy to get sucked down to the 2-inch level and obsess over every feature launch, news story, or competitor funding. But venture works on a very different time scale, and the ability to think and hypothesize long term is essential.
One tool I pull out occasionally to help improve in long term thinking is looking at Techmeme archives from prior years. For example, here is Techmeme from 5 years ago. For context at the time, the bottom was falling out of the economy, banks were collapsing, and Barack Obama had just been elected president for the first time. The key headlines on Techmeme in this context were:
Yahoo under Jerry Yang leadership wishes it had sold to Microsoft a year prior.
Fast forward 5 years (and two management changes) later, Yahoo is making some interesting moves and is currently trading at exactly the Microsoft offer price of $33/sh. Jerry Yang is quoted 5 years ago as saying that the entire digital advertising industry is $40BN and is still in the early innings. By contrast, today Yahoo’s market cap is $35BN.
Once thought safe, WPA wifi encryption is cracked.
This is a particularly appealing headline given the modern day context of the NSA subverting major open security standards for the benefit of spying. I bet 5 years ago, the false security we felt in trusting encryption was much worse than we knew.
Youtube launched a bunch of new features of their embedded player, such as search and closed captioning.
There is a perennial pendulum in consumer-facing web services between owning your own destination where you drive users towards VS distributing your service outwards to places users already are. First, Myspace was a honeypot where they owned their own property. Then, Youtube built a massive media property in part on the back of an embedded player that didn’t require user to always come to Youtube.com to consume content. Next, Facebook created their own destination, but opened it up in unprecedented ways for other companies to build on their property. Subsequently, Facebook then constrained their previously unprecedented openness, and materially harmed a bunch of the companies that built on their ecosystem, and then it became trendy to own your own property again, so you could built a company unmitigated by gatekeepers. Then came mobile, and the App Store as the next distribution goldmine and new gatekeeper. The pendulum continues to swing back and forth on this topic, and will swing in perpetuity into the future.
This is all a simple exercise. Look at old headlines are reflect. Being able to analyze outcomes using 20/20 hindsight is no where as difficult as having foresight in contemporary times. But it helps train pattern recognition, and as such is a worthy and interesting exercise.
Fantasy Sports as an Ideal Model for Second Screen
Fantasy sports feels like the best implementation of a “second screen” media experience to pair with TV. Because:
A) It helps fans care about games that would otherwise be uninteresting. When the game is a blow out, or when the teams are small non-market teams, fantasy owners still care how individual players perform.
B) What happens on the “second screen” doesn’t happen only during the game. There is a week of preparation, news, trades, etc that pull consumers into the experience outside of just Sunday’s games.
C) The biggest issue with watching live sports is the deluge of ads and other crap time. A three hour football games has roughly one hour of football action. That’s two hours of down time or ads. Fantasy helps make those 2 hours of cruft more watchable.
I’m surprised that other forms of TV have not learned from the success of fantasy sports on the second screen. Inspired by the Crowley brothers, I played a version of fantasy Bachelor, and it substantially enhances the show. I’m surprised ABC has not adopted this game directly and built a product around it.
What’s so interesting about how well fantasy sports fits as a second screen experience is that it’s not a game built natively for second screens. Instead, it’s an adaptation. Fantasy is an offline game that has been around since the 70s. It has only entered the Zeitgeist in the past decade, in combination with the rise in mobile technology.
Fantasy also dovetails really nicely with Twitter; every Sunday I do Twitter searches for all my players in order to stalk injury news or particularly juicy matchups. i think the popularity of Twitter amongst professional athletes has really given fantasy sports adoption a boost.
I suspect we’ll see more games as second screen experiences going forward. Fantasy is too successful as a model to ignore.
A couple months ago, I saw that one of my favorite data structures (the Trie) was mentioned in a HackerNews post. So, I commented on the post and told a small anecdote about the first time I saw a Trie in college, which was on an exam.
Multiple of the people who responded were surprised that I had not implemented a Trie in high school. It is a common enough data structure to be taught in a intro-ish class apparently.
I was stunned by their surprise! Is teaching computer science in high school relatively commonplace now? If so, what got bumped…? Calculus? My junior year in high school was the first year comp sci was ever offered in my high school, and I think only like 5 people took it.
I’m so glad to hear that CompSci has become a real option in high school education; it’s an indespensible tool set for the future information workers (read: all white collar labor) of the world. Program or be programmed.
I’m delighted to share that I am now a general partner with Spark Capital. The team at Spark is an amazing group of people who teach me something new every day. I really appreciate all their support, and this endorsement of my work to date means a lot. I’m delighted we’ll have the opportunity to work together for many years to come.
While it’s great news, I view this less as an accomplishment and more as another beginning. I’m still really early in my venture career. I’ve got a lot in front of me I hope to build. I’m really grateful to the founding teams that I’ve been lucky enough to partner with to date.
The couple people I’ve shared this news with (before writing this post) all asked the same question, “What’s different now?” The answer is really nothing: I’m going to continue put my head down and do whatever I can to help founders build long-term enduring companies that make a big dent in the universe. It’s a great reason to get out of bed every morning.
I’ve spent 24 hours in Android. I’m dual-wielding phones. I’m on a hand-me-down Galaxy SIII on Sprint running Jellybean. This is a random collection of initial reactions.
The bigger screen is just better than an iPhone. No caveats, full stop. It makes my iphone screen feel tiny and sad and dim.
The touch “action” on the screen feels fine. It’s a little “different” than on Apple hardware, but not materially better or worse. Maybe 2-3ms laggier, but that could just be issues in the software layer of the stack.
Dedicated buttons at the bottom are annoying because they don’t “afford” anything (as in, affordances, the HCI term) in a given context. There’s a back button, a menu button, and a home button. Anytime I’m on an interface and I’m unsure how to get back to where I was before, I never think to hit the dedicated back button because it’s not baked into the UI at that time. I’m sure as I spend more than 24 hours with Android, it will get better, but for now it just feels like bad design that would make Don Norman justifiably grumble.
I don’t like having an external LED indicator light on my phone. I know the lack of an indicator light is a lot of BB-converts’ biggest complaint about Apple hardware. But the light is distracting as my phone sits on the desk in front of me. My phone should only grab my attention when it is absolutely essential… the light seems to pop up at all kinds of mundane moments.
iOS is an automatic transmission car and Android is stick shift. Android gives you far more control, and in the right hands it is a preferable experience… but Android require more work to guide appropriately and more often than not, iOS’s default untweakable choices are good enough.
Vertically integrated Google experience is delicious. If you live in Google’s world, Android is a much better experience. Sign in once, and everything “just works”. Particularly for email.
The Google Play store is a nicer experience than Apple’s App Store. It’s easier to browse/search. The recommendations are better. It’s better “merchandised.”
Samsung and Google apps appear to be doing battle with each other right in front of me as I learn the device. I went to a calendar app called “Calendar.” I think it’s the native Android calendar experience. I then got a modal pop-up telling me that if I want to use Samsung Kies functionality (WTF is Kies? the modal didn’t explain…), it won’t sync properly with “Calendar” and instead I have to use the “My Calendar” app. Seriously? It feels like the days of PC browser software trying to “un-default” each other in the middle of last decade.
I don’t understand why these devices don’t come with root access by default? Do I not own my own phone?
Rooting the phone was fairly easy (with some software called Odin3), but once I was done, my phone wasn’t any better yet. I thought “rooting” would magically install some awesome new skin/ROM, but instead all that happened was I now had root access on my same old phone. It was kind of a letdown.
I then tried turning to CyanogenMod to make my phone instantly more awesome. I couldn’t find a compatible build on the downloads page :/ . I then tried exploring the wikis to figure out support for my phone, but I ended up concluding I would need to compile my own build from the SDK which was going to take hours, plus 35 gigs on my laptop, which wasn’t going to happen today. So, that was a dead end.
I still haven’t found a good new ROM, any recommendations? I wish there was one simple piece of software that instantly removes all the sprint/samsung bloatware and just immediately makes my device have the best Android experience possible. I guess that button is called “buying a Nexus.”
Something happened in the last 2-3 years to broadcast sports statistics that is driving me crazy. I don’t know if it was sabermetrics, or Michael Lewis, or Nate Silver, or whatever… but somewhere along the line the producers for televised sporting events woke up and said “we gotta get us some of that stats stuff all the cool kids are predicting elections with.” IBM sold them some big honking glorified random number generator, and then the results are spit out with flashy graphical treatments on the screen with no story or substance behind them. All sizzle, no steak.
Here’s an example off the top of my head: last night during the world series, Joe Buck started reading a set of stats fed into his ear that went as follows. XYZ Player (I forget which one… one of the Cardinals) has finally woken up in post season play. In his first 8 games, he was batting .100. In the next 8 games, he was batting .300.
That sounds interesting on the surface, but what’s the chance it’s just random? If post season play ended last night, and XYZ had equal at bats in the first 8 and second 8 games, he’d have batted .200 in all of post season play. Given that every time he steps to the plate, he only has a 1/5th chance of getting a hit, it’s generally an infrequent event and thus spotty. What’s the possibility that *randomly* he happened to get half as many hits in the first 8 games as opposed to the second 8 games? In more technical terms, what’s the p-value?
I have no problem at all with Joe Buck making subjective statements about players performance. That’s the point of color commentary. What drives me nuts is when data is used to back up statements that either A) don’t actually support the argument being made or B) are little more than a normal distribution properly exhibiting its randomness, but meaning is falsely being imposed on the randomness. I’d much rather hear Joe Buck say “XYZ’s been hitting much better lately, it’s been remarkable to watch him blossom in the post-season,” and leave out the potentially faulty statistics.
apologies for the interruption. Back to regularly schedule programming of tech news and Spiderman pics by tomorrow, i promise.
A while back, I was working with a CEO who was fundraising from VCs other than Spark. He showed me the list of all the VCs he was talking to, and where they all were in the process. At the time, a few of the VCs had decided to say “no.” I asked this founder who said “no” the best and how did he/she say it? Because I don’t believe in kiss-and-telling, I’ll leave the name of the VC out (I will say it is a VC I respect), but the way the VC passed stuck with me, and I felt it’s worth sharing.
The VC essential said: “Thanks for your time, but we have other investments we are looking at now that we’re more interested in.” This paraphrase was worded more nicely and drawn out over a full paragraph, but this was the gist. There was no constructive feedback.
I looked at this note and initially was surprised the entrepreneur liked this note the best. The reasoning the entrepreneur gave me for his preference was: A) it was dead honest, B) it wasn’t made-up feedback and C) it was a prompt response.
(B) is the most interesting part to me. When a VC is in the business of saying “no” 99% of the time, coming up with a good reason to say “no” is often a half-truth. The “no” might simply translate to “I’m not interested” in reality, but then the VC will create constructive feedback in exchange for the entrepreneur taking the time to pitch. The feedback will be a half-truth because it might be a well-founded critique of the business’s biggest issue, but even if you did fix the business in according with the feedback, the VC would still be uninterested.
The entrepreneur’s reaction to this note continues to stick with me. I am struck by the simplicity of all sides of the outcome.
I don’t understand how new information can still be surfacing out of the Snowden leaks. The NSA must be aware of what information is in the hands of the press at this point. (If they aren’t… shame on them… they’re not just spies, they’re *bad* spies). So, why don’t they get ahead of the leaks and simply acknowledge what’s in the documents before the Guardian continues to release scoops over the next 6 months?
Perhaps I’m being naive and this is an impossible solution. Or perhaps the remainder of the documents are so damaging that the only strategy the NSA can practically employ is the ostrich theory.
There’s an expression used in tough times. Its crude (apologies), but it’s perfectly suited to the NSA’s problem: If you’re going to eat shit, eat shit in big gulps.
It’s time for the NSA to own up and put this mess behind them. If they don’t, the pain will just be prolonged.
The latest version of the Mac OS X (named Mavericks) costs $0.00. Despite updates to the iPad, Mac Pro, and laptop lines, most pundits say that giving the next version of the OS away for free is the biggest news of the day. Some saw it as a shot over the bow of Microsoft.
I disagree. I find it rather meaningless. OS X Mavericks runs exclusively on Apple hardware. If you pay $1,200 for a laptop with the OS given away for free, or if you pay $1,100 plus an additional $100 for a new OS, the difference is irrelevant. Either way, your all-in cost is $1,200.
I’m glad to hear it’s a free upgrade for anyone running any version of OS X. I like the idea that more people will not feel economic friction when they decide whether or not to update to the latest OS. But it’s still just a pricing game, because anyone that benefits paid the Apple tax premium on hardware in the first place.
Even if you don’t believe in the Apple tax premium on hardware (which was universally accepted as *truth* in the early 2000s, but has since faded over time), the only way to compare a Mac to a PC is by their all-in cost, so the free OS is still a meaningless landmark because it’s largely going to produce apples-to-oranges comparison enthusiasm, as linked above.
If Apple’s latest OS X could run on any hardware, then I’d agree this is a fundamentally disruptive new strategy, as interesting as Linux or Android. But it can’t… so it’s not interesting. You’re in Apple’s world, and they’ll extract their revenue from your total value as a customer to them, one way or another.
The real story, if you want to write a story about OS pricing, is Android. We are quickly approaching a world where the majority of the population runs a free, open source OS on their primary computing device. It’s bananas!
@ScottKirsner: UberX drivers in BOS planning to strike from 3-8 PM today; they’re upset by Uber’s recent fare cuts in their category. ~500 UberXers here.
500 is a big number… I never would have guessed UberX has 500 drivers in Boston, period (let alone, participating in a strike). Impressive by UberX… and impressive by the strikers.
Since there is no “Union,” are non-striking drivers “scabs?” I wonder if there are UberX drivers who are simply unaware a strike is about to occur because they didn’t attend the meeting of drivers last week, and will “scab” by accident. In a distributed labor system, such organized labor glitches will occur that would be impossible in an IRL business with a proper union.
The work and creativity that goes into creating all the GIFs that circle the Internet is substantial. Yet, none of them carry any recognition of authorship with them. What’s the primary motivation of a GIF creator? Loves making things go viral, regardless of lack of credit? Or something else?
I took an UberX ride in Boston this morning, and during the ride, the driver told me a wild story about self-organization of labor in our brave new peer economy. Everything I’m writing in this post is simply relayed from the driver, so I have not verified any truth to it beyond this one first-party source. But, even with that caveat, I think it’s interesting.
The driver said that UberX recently changed their fee structure in such a way that adversely affects drivers. Uber brought all the drivers together to the Boston office to announce the change, in an open “townhall-style” meeting format.
Prior to this meeting, none of the UberX drivers knew who each other were, so they had no way to collectively organize and coordinate their actions/requests. Occasionally they’d see each other around town and discover they were both using Uber, but since there is no centralized pool where cars are returned at the end of the shift, there’s no easy means of getting to know your fellow drivers.
This meeting announcing the fee change was the first time the drivers all got to meet each other in person. So, one driver started passing around a paper to collect names and emails of everyone in the room. Then, this leader-driver created a FB group after the meeting ended which now has hundreds of members. There is now chatter in the FB group about how best to respond to the fee change (switch over to Lyft? organize a “strike”? collectively bargain to reverse the fee change?).
What does it even mean to “strike” in a world where “showing up to work” is simply opening an app whenever you want, in an entirely voluntary and self-directed manner?
I felt like the driver telling me the story was using tactics and principles to settle labor issues that were invented to negotiate with an offline, centralized, top-down employer. What are the equivalent tools for labor to collectively bargain in the peer economy?
I’ve noticed that many apps are now realizing the power of sharing content via email and are adding the ability to send content from within the apps to friends over email.
The workflow typically goes something like this: You click the share button, click “email”, type your note and your recipient email address, then click send. This whole time, you stay in a modal popup in the web app… you’re never kicked over to your email client.
The recipient gets an email from “email@example.com” with a reply-to address of the original sender. The email is typically beautiful with HTML and good styling.
The benefits to this approach:
1) you don’t have to kick a user out of your app (or web app) and into their email client’s new message creation flow.
2) the app can inject tracking pixels to know how the email is performing.
3) you can format it beautifully. HTML emails generated by web apps will always “look nicer” than my quick plain text notes I shoot around during the day.
4) this approach requires less work (just a couple entry fields) on behalf of the user, so its more likely to get completed (ie higher conversion on “email send” funnel).
The downsides to this approach:
1) you hurt on deliverability because the sender score being evaluated is that of the social network, instead of that of the user.
2)it looks a bit spammy… plaxo and linkedin has trained us (the users) to assume that when an email from a social network written on behalf of a friend hits our inbox, it’s a spammy mistake abusing said user’s address book.
3) dressed-up HTML doesn’t feel like an authentic note from a friend. I imagine the virality of this format is lower than an authentic note.
4) I don’t have all my friend emails memorized, and there is no email autocomplete inside a web app modal, so there are some people whom I’d like to send an email but can’t because I don’t remember their address.
I’m glad web apps are seeing the power of email as a channel. I’m just skeptical that this common approach to implementation is as effective as just helping users send a text link to a friend from their own email clients. I’d love to talk to a PM at a social network who has implemented this feature to learn more about the design decisions.
This week I encountered three different people whose opinions I respect who made an argument that generally goes something like:
"Entrepreneurs should stop working on trivial or simple ideas. Instead they should work on hard problems worthy of their time."
I totally understand the point of view here. It’s hard to argue that yet another grocery list shopping app is going to make a meaningful difference in the world.
But I don’t agree. This point of view has some fallacies:
1. The difficulty of a problem is slightly correlated with the impactfulness of the solution, but not perfectly correlated. SpaceX is both insanely difficult and highly impactful. Starting another airline is incredibly difficult, insanely capital intensive, has huge regulatory hurdles, and yet another airline would be a relatively meaningless contribution to human progress.
2. If the next big thing starts out looking like a toy, it might seem like a trivial idea is being solved. Its not until the entire world uses said “toy” that it becomes clear that the solution is far more impactful than originally thought.
3. Hard problems are often known problems. So, they are an exercise in trying to steal market share from existing competitors. This rarely (if ever) results in a fundamentally transformative company that changes the structure of markets. In order to have this kind of impactful change, you need to be in the market creation business, not the market stealing business. Market creation comes from solving problems that are so ubiquitous they are practically unseen right in front of your eyes. (Think: Henry Ford building cars instead of faster horses).
I’ll close with a wonderful tweet I read on this subject. Founders Fund website famously states on the splash page: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” In response, I recently read a tweet from @fraserspeirs:
"I wanted flying cars and all I got was the entire planet communicating instantly via massively powerful pocket computers"
Spot on. (side note: I love it when someone’s 140 character tweet captures everything I try to say in a multi-paragraph blog post, and more.)
Three years ago I wrote a post announcing that my better half @DrDiver matched in residency at Brigham/MGH, and we were moving to Boston.
In a fortunate example of history repeating itself, yesterday @DrDiver and I got wonderful news: she matched in Fellowship at MGH, and we are staying in Boston.
I’m so proud of what she has accomplished. It’s an amazing program, made stronger by an equally amazing new Fellow. I feel so lucky to have a front row seat to watch her develop into a badass cancer surgeon.
Panjo just announced today a partnership with vBulletin, which will make Panjo a pre-installed plugin in all vBulletin installations and upgrades going forward. It’s a big deal that will make Panjo substantially easier for communities to adopt. I’m really impressed with Chad and his team in executing this partnership, and I look forward to watching the many marketplaces that will blossom on the back of this partnership.
PandoDaily has nice coverage of the partnership. A slightly related aside: The article is written by Michael Carney. I didn’t talk to Michael about this story, but I have spoken with Michael in the past about other items, and I’m really impressed with his thoughtfulness. He’s an exciting new writer that I look forward to learning from in the coming years.
Q:You once called open source “brutal”. What did you mean by that?
A:Well, I think I was asked why open source works and when you think about how software engineering management works in industry, it shouldn’t. Disparate, distributed, non-homogenous teams are extremely difficult to run in a company, but in open source it creates some world-class terrific software. Why is that?
I think that it is because open source projects are able to only work with the productive people and ignore everyone else. That behavior can come across as very harsh or exclusionary, and that’s because it is that: brutally harsh and exclusionary of anyone who isn’t contributing.
This is why project forking is so important. If a person is rejected from a project for whatever reason, they can fork and take the project in a new direction, and if their ideas and execution is superior to the primary project, that fork becomes the new reality and those people that rejected that developer are now the rejected.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that survival of the fittest as practiced in the open source world is a pretty brutal mechanism, but it works very very well for producing quality software. Boy is it hard on newcomers though…
What Chris is describing could be more optimistically stated as both incredible product focus and also a meritocracy of open source software. Chris chooses to paint description in a darker shade by calling the result “brutal.”
I wish more things in this world could be forked if they’re not going in the direction you like. Think that new Coke formula is a mistake? Just fork the old formula. Think the ending to A.I. sucked? Just fork it.
The times I have run Monte Carlo simulations have been A) on paper in high school B) in code in college and C) in Excel in the professional world.
They are always illuminating, but each time I have built one, it feels overly bespoke. There must be a piece of software that builds the MC framework for me, so I just need to define the choices, probability weights, and conditional relationships. Anyone have a recommendation for me?
I do book reviews on this blog regularly, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a game review. Yet, in a given year I play about half as many games as books I read, so there is plenty of content to discuss. If you’re not a gamer, then just skip this post and I’ll see you tomorrow.
I finished BioShock Infinite (BSI) yesterday. It’s a first-person shooter (FPS) with a strong emphasis on storytelling.
I’ve always felt that an FPS is the superior format for a video game to use for storytelling because there is nothing like looking through a protagonist’s perspective to help you identify with the protagonist and immerse yourself in the game. Yet, the storyline in most FPS games is superficial-to-non-existent. Your average FPS has a MacGuffin and a bunch of disposable bad guys between you and your goal. BSI’s story nowhere nearly as contrived… it reminded me of watching a deeper-than-average scifi movie like say Inception or Looper (but not quite Blade Runner status).
BSI is an escort game archetype, much like Resident Evil 4 (RE4). However, contrasting all the ways in which Ashley in RE4 was painfully annoying (protecting her felt like a nagging errand), Elizabeth in BSI is terrific (she can hold her own, and is an invaluable team member). It feels like escort done right.
BSI is the best FPS I’ve played since Portal 2. Yet it excels in very different ways than Portal 2, so it’s funny to think of those two games in comparison. Portal 2 (and also Portal) is notable for the fact that you never shoot a single bullet. The violence caused in the game is nothing more than a redirection of the violent traps thrown at you. When stripped of its story, it’s really just one large physics puzzle. It’s a wonderful inversion of the standard FPS formula. BSI by contrast is incredibly violent, but in a gloriously extravagant manner that feels far more Tarantino-esque than the splatter-house film grime that inspired him. BSI’s violence feels more like an artistic celebration of the medium; a pinnacle of FPS violence.
Lastly, like any good video game, there are moments in BSI where you are flying around an arena on Skyline systems (think: zip lines on steroids) that just feel like unadulterated fun. Flying across a Skyline while unloading a machine gun should appeal to the 12 year old in anyone.
If you played and beat any Halo game in the past, you can complete BioShock Infinite on Normal difficulty in under 12 hours, so it’s not an unreasonable time commitment. If you like FPS games, I highly recommend it.
I just spent a few hours eating lunch with 40+ undergrads currently taking (and TF-ing) Harvard’s CS50 - Intro to Computer Science (CS) course.
I really believe in CS education. Especially if you don’t think you want to be a developer when you work in the real world. In a world where we are surrounded by computers constantly, you either program or be programmed. Knowledge of how programming works (and its limitations) is an essential skill for distinguishing computers from magic.
I was interested to learn that Harvard still starts their intro class in “C.” Students in their first 6 weeks are faced with all the challenges that pointers and manual memory management present. By contrast, many prominent CS programs (notably Berkeley and MIT) are moving their intro CS classes to Python. Neither approach is right or wrong, IMHO. I learned in C and loved it. But I know it can be challenging to beginners that are just dipping their toes into CS.
If you skipped CS in your undergrad experience, you can take CS50 from Harvard online for free via The EdX MOOC platform. The next session starts in January, and the class gets rave reviews, so mark your calendars.
Silk Road takes deposit of Bitcoins by users in order to facilitate trading of illicit goods, largely drugs. Since the FBI seized the site, they logically also seized all the Bitcoins being stored in the system. The FBI says they seized $3.6MM worth of Bitcoins, which is the largest Bitcoin seizure in history.
That’s a lot of money. When ill-gotten drug profits are seized, they are used to fund operations of the legal department that seized the assets (in this case, the FBI). The New Yorker had an amazing story about just how profitable seizures are for government agencies, and how they are abused. But, since this seizure was in Bitcoins, I wonder what the government will do with it?
Will they attempt to sell it in public Bitcoin exchanges for US$? Will they spend Bitcoins directly to purchase assets/equipment for law enforcement activity? Or will they simply sit on it (possibly unknowingly)? Because there is a public registry of all transactions of all coins (the blockchain), will we (the tech-savvy public) be able to see how the government uses their seized coins?
When the seizure of Silk Road was announced, the price of Bitcoins dropped 20% in all major exchanges. But, assuming the Feds don’t know how to manage their seized Bitcoins properly, there are now $3.6MM less Bitcoins in circulation and so the implied value of all the remaining Bitcoins should theoretically increase. The seizure might be great news for Bitcoin, not bad news.
It’s a new frontier for asset seizure, and I wonder if we’ll ever know how it shapes up, or if it will simply transpire behind closed doors.
Today Quantopian is announcing that they raised a $6.7MM Series A from Khosla and Spark. They also added former Thomson Reuters exec Jessica Stauth as VP of Quant Strategy. It’s a big day for the company, and I’m pumped for everyone on the team there. Ben Ling will be joining the board from Khosla, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work with him.
It’s amazing to think how far Fawce has come from when I first met him two years ago. Filling up the tank in this round is an important enabling step towards the end goal of democratizing access to systematic investing, but of course raising capital is not a goal in and of itself. What I really find impressive looking in retrospect is the community building Fawce and his team has executed. He has taken the most insular, paranoid, anti-sharing demographic of people head-on and cultivated a place where people are openly sharing ideas and best practices in systematic investing.
The company still has much open road in front of them to execute on their vision. But going from cold start to burgeoning community is a remarkable feat, and I hope everyone on the team there feels really proud of what they’ve accomplished to date.
More coverage of the financing and the mission at PandoDaily. And, to represent the community more visually, here’s a photo from the most recent meetup, held last week at Spark NY.
im a gamer. i live my life RPG style. i take risks. i barge into strangers houses. i drink weird liquids that give me powers and enchantments. i inspect shrubs and bushes for secret gems. i cast spells. i hoard all my healing items. i run away from all my enemies. i have many swords. im a gamer. im a hero. im strong
I think about this all the time, but in a totally different way.
When you play an RPG, you build up this huge inventory of healing items, armor, weapons, magical items, etc. The durable items (armor and weapons that can withstand more than a single use) you optimize well and put on immediately. But the consumable items that disappear after a single use… Well, your hoard them like crazy. The ultimate purpose of hoarding is to store them up for the tougher battles later, the toughest being the inevitable final boss battle of the game.
As you’re fighting the final boss, you’re never 100% certain you’re actually fighting the final boss form. The way “forms” work is that each time you think you’ve killed the final boss, he resurrects in a new, scarier, more powerful form with a full health bar. In theory, the final boss form is the baddest, nastiest monster you’ll fight in the whole game, so you’ll want to hold back your strongest consumable items in case you need them during the final boss form.
Then, when you ultimately beat the final boss form, the game ends, credits roll, sprites hug and laugh and cry and wave, loose ends of story are tied up in pixelated 16-bit glory, and you’re ultimately dropped back on the title screen.
All your hoarding of items was pointless. It’s the best way to learn the life lesson “You can’t take it with you!” without actually dying in real life.
So, that’s how I try to emulate my life after RPGs, I try to use my best consumables along the way. I’m sure I’ll make it through the final boss form just fine, either way.