Welcoming Katie Bolin to the Spark Team
I first met Katie Bolin about a year and a half ago. One of our portfolio companies at Spark was actively recruiting her for an analytical role, and unfortunately in the end, lost out to Google in pulling her onboard. My colleague Alex was incredibly impressed with her in the process of helping the company recruit her, so he recommended I meet with her, despite the fact she was already committed to Google. “She’s someone we should keep close to,” I believe were his words. We met, and our conversation exceeded the high expectations Alex had set.
Fast forward to today: I’m thrilled to announce a new addition to the team at Spark Capital. Katie Bolin is joining Spark as an Associate. As a member of our investment team, Katie is going to be involved with portfolio companies as well as researching new markets, meeting new startups and evaluating new investment opportunities. She will be based in our Boston office.
Katie has spent much of her career focused on media planning analysis, across both Google and Digitas. And, in an interesting counter-balance Katie spent the first two years of her career in the education world, between Teach for America and tutoring. Katie’s currently on a mission to visit all 50 states (“doesn’t count if you don’t stay overnight”) and is an active Marathoner.
Katie’s arrival is mirrored in David Haber's departure. David was our most recent Associate at Spark, and he really broke the mold for how we think about this job. He went incredibly deep into the intersection of the internet and finance, sourced a few deals in his exploration of the space, and ultimately decided to leave to pursue his own startup, Bond Street. We owe a debt of gratitude to David for his contributions to Spark over the past few years, and we eagerly anticipate the big things to come as he builds Bond Street.
We took a long time to find someone for this role. It’s not easy to find someone with the passion for startups, intelligence, and chemistry that we look for as a member of our small team. We want to surround ourselves with the best people at Spark. I’m delighted to be working with Katie. Please join me in welcoming her, and Katie has posted her introduction on her blog.
Blogging into the Blockchain
They say, “The Internet Never Forgets.” Meaning: when you post something online, it will be there forever.
But it’s not really true.
Digital data rot is a real issue. I removed 2.5 years of blog posts from the web when I moved from Wordpress.org to Tumblr for blogging, and they are all pretty much lost for good (a deliberate decision on my part). I still have the Wordpress SQL table backed up, but I doubt I’ll ever open it.
Recently I’ve been exploring whether or not it would be possible to blog into the Bitcoin blockchain. There is a comments field in a transaction that can be used to write a note. These notes are most easily explored via blockchain.info. So essentially blockchain.info would become the blog host, but the underlying database would be the blockchain itself.
The more data a given transaction contains (measured in bits) the higher the fee required to process the transaction. This is a deliberate design decision to discourage people from junking up the blockchain with miscellaneous crap or overly lengthy transactions that involve too many transactions. So, blogging via the blockchain could get expensive. But perhaps the fees are worth the permanence…
It feels like the digital equivalent of writing in wet cement.
At a USV Annual Meeting of their Limited Partners (LPs) many years ago, Biz Stone asked a question during Q&A at the end of the meeting. He asked the partners (then Fred, Brad, and newly minted Albert), do you specifically seek to fund companies that also have a social mission in addition to a profit motive.
It’s not an easy question in front of a room full of LPs because the point of a VC fund is to maximize cash return for LPs and GPs alike. At the same time, you don’t want to just say “we maximize return” because that’s cold and callous. Brad nailed the question by saying (paraphrased): We invest in large networks of engaged users, and when a company lacks a social mission it is nearly impossible for the company to attract the interest of users. So, we don’t specifically seek out companies with a social mission. But if there isn’t a social mission, it’s very unlikely to be successful long term.
The capitalist in me feels this is exactly right, and that moment many years ago is a North Star for me in venture investing.
The lefty in me wonders what a venture firm would look like if it went a step further. What if a VC firm by its very definition sought out companies that had a clear social mission as a part of its long term goals. And the firm measured and regularly reported on the progress of this mission. KP (for better or for worse) tried this when they leaned heavily into cleantech for much of the last decade. As a priority, I’m sure the partners at that firm thought cleantech could be profitable investments, but I am also sure they wanted to save the world.
As a VC with a double priority of both profit motive and social consciousness, I feel an easy trap to fall into would be failing to identify that the next big thing starts out looking like a toy. In seeking socially beneficial investments, it would be easy to discard seed stage media companies as too trivial or not meaningful enough. How could 140 character about sandwich choices save the world? And that trap would have been lethal to returns in both profit and social impact over the past 4+ years: some of the most originally-toyish companies have gone on to make the largest impacts.
Upworthy is doing a wonderful job of taking the data insights from their large traffic and condensing them into easily consummable lessons on their blog. If you’re curious about how Upworthy measures their own success and how different traffic in their distribution engine performs, I high recommend following them on Tumblr. The last two posts specifically about attention minutes are just great. Here’s a nice pull quote as a parting shot:
So what have we learned from Attention Minutes so far? Whether your content is short or long, whether your audience comes from Facebook or Google, whether lots of people have seen your content before or it’s brand new, quality is what counts.
Publish great stuff, and people will stick with it and share it with their friends. Hardly a revolutionary idea, but it’s good to confirm it with data.