Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Exhausted with the responsibility of having all human knowledge a few taps away in my pocket at all times, I’ve decided to get a new cell phone. 

I just won an eBay auction on a Nokia 3310, and this will now be my full-time cell phone. In an eBay first, the seller is paying me to take it from him; my -$1.12 bid price came through!

Please refrain from texting me unless it’s urgent. Apparently Sprint won’t provide a modern cell plan for this brick, so I’m back to paying $0.15/msg. Plus, I’m concerned responding in T9 mode all day will lead to early onset carpel tunnel syndrome.

Why did I make the jump to this model of brick specifically? One word: Snake.

Exhausted with the responsibility of having all human knowledge a few taps away in my pocket at all times, I’ve decided to get a new cell phone.

I just won an eBay auction on a Nokia 3310, and this will now be my full-time cell phone. In an eBay first, the seller is paying me to take it from him; my -$1.12 bid price came through!

Please refrain from texting me unless it’s urgent. Apparently Sprint won’t provide a modern cell plan for this brick, so I’m back to paying $0.15/msg. Plus, I’m concerned responding in T9 mode all day will lead to early onset carpel tunnel syndrome.

Why did I make the jump to this model of brick specifically? One word: Snake.

Friday, March 28, 2014

seedcamp:

.@andrewparker and @katie_bolin from @sparkcapital meeting the Seedcamp Teams and sharing how they support early stage companies.

This was fun. Thanks seedcamp for making it happen.

How Quickly Should Local Services Add New Geographies?

I regularly meet founders running companies where the services offered are tied to local markets. Spark has made a number of investments with this characteristic, such as: BloomNation, KitchenSurfing, GetYourGuide, and PostMates. A common problem that all these businesses face is the pace at which to expand to new geographies.

There isn’t a single easy answer to this question. Above are two visual representations of the pace at which Uber and Craigslist spread; two of the more successful locally-tied services online. Craigslist obviously grew up in a different era of the web, and Uber has a much tougher time launching a new city than a more digitally-oriented-product startup has, so both of these cases are somewhat exceptional. I also looked for data on Yelp’s pace of expansion, but couldn’t find a good visual.  The "expansion" section of their Wikipedia page is fairly informative on this front. I heard anecdotally that ZipCar deliberately followed Craigslist’s initial cities when choosing where to expand. There’s an argument to be made that every startup is its own exception, so learning from the wildly successful exceptions is informative.

The pace at which you expand a locally-focused startup involves optimizing a set of variables: capital constraints, pace of hiring, data / supply density, customer awareness, and (quite frankly) management ambition. It’s an essential part of the plan for all these types of startups, and it’s a decision that will change multiple times as the company grows.

//HT to @cm as my source on the Uber chart, which inspired this post.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It Gets Better

The most poignant and accurate criticism of Bitcoin today is very simple: how has it made the world a better place?*

It really hasn’t. Payment transactions are not cheaper nor easier (from a cost perspective nor a UX perspective). This new form of currency is not more egalitarian, on the contrary, 75% of it is in the hands of 2000 people, so welcome to the new 1%, or more accurate: .0001%. It’s an energy hog as mining requires more and more power with no side benefit. The level of thievery means that in practice it’s not more secure (despite theoretical security innovations). The dark web usages of the currency are a bummer that taints legitimacy.

All that said, the single best way to be wrong on the Internet is to assume that it doesn’t get better. There is perpetual progress, from multiple parties, both collaborating on GitHub and competing in opposing startups, constantly pushing the rock up the collective hill. That’s just how the Internet has always moved, and Bitcoin, born on the Internet, will be no different.

It gets better.

* (That ultimate Bitcoin bear statement is not my insight (though I wish it was). Happy to quote the source, if he/she desires.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
This is me first experiencing Oculus. Pic by nabeel.

This is me first experiencing Oculus. Pic by nabeel.

Oculus

Ten months ago, Spark was lucky enough to partner with an amazing set of founders in OculusVR, makers of the wildly exciting Oculus Rift. Today Facebook announced an acquisition of the company.  My partner Santo who led the deal has a nice post with his thoughts. Nabeel as usual was also far more eloquent than I.

Congrats to the team on this great outcome, but I want to add to my congrats that I strongly believe this is just the beginning for the company.  Whenever I have a causal coffee meeting with an industry friend or reporter, invariably the question comes up of “what do you think is interesting these days.”  Every time, without fail, the first thing out of my mouth is Oculus.  Every major CE manfacturer, game developer, and large media company is going to need to come up with a VR strategy in the coming years, and it’s because of the key breakthroughs in presence that Oculus made. Excitment is mounting. And creative use cases are emerging.

I said the word “presence” in the last paragraph. “Presence” is a very loaded term in the VR world, one that is well defined in this document on what VR could and should be within the next two years. Remember how we were promised Jetpacks as kids, among other things? Well one of those promises was immersive VR, and we finally have our Apple II model of VR thanks to Oculus (though I doubt you’ll believe me until you try an Oculus Rift for yourself… and I don’t blame you for your skepticism… I was a skeptic until I first tried it too).

Congrats to Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe and the rest of the Oculus team on an amazing year, and more importantly, I can’t wait to live in the future they have peeled back for all of us to glimpse.

Made on the Internet

I liked John Lilly’s blog post today about where he lives online.  I very much agree… i feel like my “Home” online is dispersed; whereas, historically it was highly concentrated (first AOL chatrooms… then Usenet… then Quake CTF, and so on until social media). 

Despite not have a core “Home” today, I feel like that sense of Home is more digital for me now than it has ever been.  Maybe it’s because I travel a lot for my job (regularly rotating through 4 US cities), but I don’t feel a deep sense of Boston pride, nor did I feel New York pride when I lived there.  I have Internet pride more than Boston pride. Stories of net neutrality bad actors make me more angry than stories of corrupt Boston politicians.

I always find it a bit quirky and either intentionally or unintentionally ironic when I see a website or app emblazon their about page with a “Made in X” logo.  For Runkeeper it’s Boston, for Wattpad it’s Canada, for Foursquare it’s NY and SF. The ironic part is the way they recall the tag you’d find in a pair of jeans that would say “Made in Bangladesh.” One the one hand, Made in X feels like a mark denoting pride of authorship. But on the other hand, the Internet is so flat, that the location of the makers feels irrelevant. I feel like more than anything else, these products are Made on the Internet, more so than their respective geographies.  

Some companies in our portfolio take this a step further: the distributed teams. Upworthy is a distributed team, the team lives in Google Hangouts. Although the Wikimedia Foundation is headquartered in SF, I think there too, Wikipedia is far more a product of the Internet than of any one geography. I wonder if Internet companies will start to embrace the pride in their Internet origins as the novelty of existing online starts to fade. 

Friday, March 21, 2014
newyorker:

A cartoon of the day by Barbara Smaller. For more cartoons: http://nyr.kr/1cRJHPs

Not only would this be a more profitable decision for network television, there’s a solid chance the average IQ of consumers would increase post-change.

newyorker:

A cartoon of the day by Barbara Smaller. For more cartoons: http://nyr.kr/1cRJHPs

Not only would this be a more profitable decision for network television, there’s a solid chance the average IQ of consumers would increase post-change.

What It Means to Offer Internet Connectivity to an End-Consumer

The argument over net neutrality is being muddled by semantic definition arguments. I have a very simple fix as a proposal.

When a service provider markets to an end-consumer unlimited Internet access for a monthly fee, the ISP has an obligation to take all commercially reasonable action to maximize the bandwidth of all traffic towards the cap of the subscription.  To be explicitly specific: If Comcast offers John Smith in Iowa a 20mb/s connection to the Internet for $39.99/mo, Comcast must take all commercially reasonable steps to ensure that John gets 20mb/s access at all times to all services. Comcast is only responsible for it’s own network and its end of the interconnection to other networks. 

If Comcast does anything to degrade John’s internet access to certain services on the Internet, it is misleading to claim they are offering “Internet” access at all.  It’s an abuse of marketing, a misrepresentation of the service offered, and in my opinion solid ground for a class-action lawsuit.

If Comcast wants to market an Internet-alternative service, lets call it Smuckynet, they are totally free to do so. Smuckynet access could be a subset of the Internet, and could require non-net-neutral tolls to content providers.  We live in an open, free market, and if there is consumer demand for Smuckynet, then I wish Comcast the best of luck with their new product and congratulate them in advance on their future success. I for one would never pay for Smuckynet.  I might use it for free if offered, the same way I used Facebook and Google for free, knowing that ultimately, I am the product.

Offering unlimited Internet access to end-consumers at a premium price, while subversively and deliberately gating traffic to popular web services in order to extract business ransom has to stop. It is misleading to claim this is Internet access; in practice is a different product from Internet access, one that turns the end-consumer into a product to be sold to the content providers.

I do not trust the ISPs to self-regulate on their offering of “Internet” access due to the natural monopoly created by running cables to homes. The possible conclusion as to whether government regulation is the correction solution is left as an exercise for the reader, based on your personal politics.