Monday, August 18, 2014

According to Pew Research Center, these are the list of jobs that are most susceptible and least susceptible to being automated away by robots.

I find the “least susceptible” list kinda funny. The first two line items are Sports Athletes and Firefighters. I would totally watch a version of the NFL that had only robots. :) maybe I’m alone with that opinion.

And firefighters is funny too because drones are likely more well-suited to putting out fires on high floors of apartment buildings than men with trucks and ladders.

Sunday, August 17, 2014
The Challenge in VC
Over four years ago I wrote this old post about the spawn of craigslist. It hit a nerve in the zeitgeist and tends to go re-viral about once a year. That happened again this morning as someone emailed me a usage of this image in a post calling for YouTube to be similarly fragmented.
Looking at the image this morning, I’m struck by the arc of the companies on this list.  Some of them have IPO’d. Others are out of business. If you could have made investments in all of these companies back in 2010, you’d have a portfolio of 34 companies with roughly 6-8 billion dollar outcomes, which would likely be one of the best venture funds of the decade.
The lesson here is that venture capital is less about identifying great investment opportunities and is far more about getting access to those opportunities.  Knowing that this handful of companies would become interesting in 2010 is not what makes a great VC. It’s convincing the entrepreneurs in all these companies to partner with you on their journey; that’s the battle.

The Challenge in VC

Over four years ago I wrote this old post about the spawn of craigslist. It hit a nerve in the zeitgeist and tends to go re-viral about once a year. That happened again this morning as someone emailed me a usage of this image in a post calling for YouTube to be similarly fragmented.

Looking at the image this morning, I’m struck by the arc of the companies on this list.  Some of them have IPO’d. Others are out of business. If you could have made investments in all of these companies back in 2010, you’d have a portfolio of 34 companies with roughly 6-8 billion dollar outcomes, which would likely be one of the best venture funds of the decade.

The lesson here is that venture capital is less about identifying great investment opportunities and is far more about getting access to those opportunities.  Knowing that this handful of companies would become interesting in 2010 is not what makes a great VC. It’s convincing the entrepreneurs in all these companies to partner with you on their journey; that’s the battle.

Friday, August 15, 2014
When you hear someone say, “I was using the Google yesterday, and I found this great recipe.” It rings like the speaker is a novice or trailing adopter.
When you hear someone say, “I was using the Facebook yesterday, and I saw this cute kitten photo.” I have this conflicting internal monologue: “Wait, did they say it wrong, or are they being retro?”

When you hear someone say, “I was using the Google yesterday, and I found this great recipe.” It rings like the speaker is a novice or trailing adopter.

When you hear someone say, “I was using the Facebook yesterday, and I saw this cute kitten photo.” I have this conflicting internal monologue: “Wait, did they say it wrong, or are they being retro?”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Graffiti at 11 Spring Street
I use Graffiti frequently to explain thought leadership to entrepreneurs.
I tell a simple story: at 11 Spring St (depicted above), the Wooster Collective created an a three-day expo of graffiti featuring some of the best graffiti artists in the world. How was that location chosen? Well, for many years it had been a primer location to tag, and it was about to be torn down to build condos, so the expo was a celebration of the many years in which this wall had served as a graffiti nexus point.
If you were a graffiti artist, tagging the wall across the street was not good enough, it was this one building at 11 Spring that was the wall that mattered. This is thought leadership. Be the wall that matters. This phenomenon describes the success of Stack Overflow, Wikipedia, and other crowdsourced resources of top quality. There are countless places to ask and answer tech Q&A, and the internet is littered with forks/clones of Wikipedia… but, the key difference is these two properties have thought leadership. They are the walls that matter.
(Fred had a concise blog post this morning expressing his interest in Graffiti.  I left a comment that turned into a blog post, so this post is a cross-post of my comment there.)

Graffiti at 11 Spring Street

I use Graffiti frequently to explain thought leadership to entrepreneurs.

I tell a simple story: at 11 Spring St (depicted above), the Wooster Collective created an a three-day expo of graffiti featuring some of the best graffiti artists in the world. How was that location chosen? Well, for many years it had been a primer location to tag, and it was about to be torn down to build condos, so the expo was a celebration of the many years in which this wall had served as a graffiti nexus point.

If you were a graffiti artist, tagging the wall across the street was not good enough, it was this one building at 11 Spring that was the wall that mattered. This is thought leadership. Be the wall that matters. This phenomenon describes the success of Stack Overflow, Wikipedia, and other crowdsourced resources of top quality. There are countless places to ask and answer tech Q&A, and the internet is littered with forks/clones of Wikipedia… but, the key difference is these two properties have thought leadership. They are the walls that matter.

(Fred had a concise blog post this morning expressing his interest in Graffiti.  I left a comment that turned into a blog post, so this post is a cross-post of my comment there.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Value of the Stellar Currency

Stellar is fascinating.  I’ve spent much of my day today learning everything I can about it.  

I’m curious about what the total value of the currency is worth at this beta beginning.  There’s a couple answers:

1) Stripe made a $3,000,000 loan to Stellar to fund initial operations.  Stellar repaid this loan using 2% of all stellars*.  This means $3MM / 2% = $150MM stellar market cap.

2) On reddit people are offering the following conversion rates:

- 4000 stellars for 1 hr of full-stack dev consulting work.  1 hr of a dev’s time =~ $100. So, that’s a 40 stellar : $1 ratio. There are 100 Billion stellars in existence. Which implies a stellar market cap of: $2.5B.

- Paying $2 for 5000 stellar. So that’s a 2500 stellar : $1 ratio. Which implies a stellar market cap of: $40MM.

Both of those are only offered rates.  Nothing has actually transacted at those prices as far as I can tell. So, they represent the bid side of the bid/ask spread. 

3) Stellar.org is giving away 19% of all stellars to owners of Bitcoin. This ratio implies a value of 1450 stellar : 1 BTC, which is a 2.4 stellar : $1 ratio (using today’s BTC price of $601.97). Which implies a stellar market cap of: $41.5B

This last # is pretty fishy because you don’t have to actually exchange your BTC to get your 1450 stellars… it’s just a gift for being an early supporter of bitcoin.  So, it’s not really a conversion rate.

In conclusion, what is a stellar actually worth? Whatever someone will pay for it. Which of these valuations holds the most veracity, I guess the $150MM number… although $3MM is really just option value to Stripe, so it’s not perfect. The best valuation metric would be to know the salaries being paid in Stellar, compared to market rate alternatives.

——

* lowercase = currency unit.  Uppercase = the non-profit company.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blockchain Origins

I’ve been taking the Cryptography class on Coursera recently, taught by Dan Boneh.  It’s terrific… just difficult enough to be a fulfilling challenge, but easy enough that I haven’t churned (yet).

We recently studied a practical application of the Cipher Block encryption methodology called Cipher Block Chaining (CBC).  Here’s a diagram from Quora that articulates how CBC works:

It immediately reminded me of the bitcoin blockchain diagram from Santoshi’s original bitcoin white paper:

The key relation in both images that the output cipher from each round of encryption is fed into the input of the encryption of the subsequent round, to create a chain. It’s very elegant. I never knew the origin of this structure before… and I’m sure its roots go back beyond CBC.  

I love moments of abstraction connection like this… this is why I take Coursera classes. They’re very academic, which doesn’t seem useful at first, but I find they make me look at my day-to-day interactions through a new lens, which spurs serendipitous moments of creative connections I would otherwise miss. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Timehop Raises $10MM, led by Shasta Ventures
Jonathan, Benny, and the rest of the Timehop team announced today that they raised their Series B, a $10MM round from Shasta Ventures, with participation from Spark, OATV, and Randi Zuckerberg.
Timehop has been growing their user base incredibly well. More people read their Timehop each day than read NYTimes and USA Today. I’ve been asked frequently (as recently as today) what is their secret to their App Store success, and I’ve blogged about my response before. Quite simply, their secret is that there is no secret; just persistent high-quality product iteration. I’m sure that answer sounds too easy to be true, but it’s actually incredibly hard to execute: it takes dedication to constantly refine and improve a product, polishing every last rounded corner.
I’m delighted Shasta has joined the investor syndicate. The interactions I’ve had with Sean Flynn, the partner at Shasta that led the deal and joined the Board, have been terrific, and I know they’ll be a great partner for the company going forward.
I’m so impressed by Timehop’s continued execution. Frankly, I’m a fanboy. This round is another validation point for the great progress they’ve been making. Onwards! :)

Timehop Raises $10MM, led by Shasta Ventures

Jonathan, Benny, and the rest of the Timehop team announced today that they raised their Series B, a $10MM round from Shasta Ventures, with participation from Spark, OATV, and Randi Zuckerberg.

Timehop has been growing their user base incredibly well. More people read their Timehop each day than read NYTimes and USA Today. I’ve been asked frequently (as recently as today) what is their secret to their App Store success, and I’ve blogged about my response before. Quite simply, their secret is that there is no secret; just persistent high-quality product iteration. I’m sure that answer sounds too easy to be true, but it’s actually incredibly hard to execute: it takes dedication to constantly refine and improve a product, polishing every last rounded corner.

I’m delighted Shasta has joined the investor syndicate. The interactions I’ve had with Sean Flynn, the partner at Shasta that led the deal and joined the Board, have been terrific, and I know they’ll be a great partner for the company going forward.

I’m so impressed by Timehop’s continued execution. Frankly, I’m a fanboy. This round is another validation point for the great progress they’ve been making. Onwards! :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

This! This is why I self-identify as product-obsessed when it comes to making an investment decision. Because there is only your product. The product of your labor speaks volumes more than anything you can ever say or explain.

"That’s the thing. It’s a whole thing, and it’s there and that is it."

(Source: noblette)

Project Hieroglyph Close to Release

In 2011 Neal Stephenson penned an essay called Innovation Starvation about our current stagnation in accomplish big honking technical marvels. He is not alone in this worry, a classic fear often ascribed to pessimistic curmudgeons that pine for the good old days, but unlike that stereotype, Stephenson’s essay is great because it present a path forward, led by sci-fi.  

The primary reason I read sci-fi is to be inspired by what’s possible, to view through a window a compelling and convincing possible future. Stephenson takes my interest one step further by saying that it’s sci-fi authors’ responsibility to create the hieroglyphs for future innovations.  Hieroglyphs? Stepheson describes it best:

 Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

I agreed back in 2011 when I originally read this essay, and the concept of sci-fi as hieroglyphs has been banging around in the brain every since.  I saw a great quote tweeted out by Ian Hogarth today, quoting a blog post by Albert Wenger. He said, “[I]t is almost too easy to write a dystopia these days. The real challenge, it seems to me, is to write a new utopia.” Cue vigorous nodding in agreement, and the quote reminded me of Stephenson’s essay.

So, I googled the essay, and in the process of falling down the Internet rabbit hole, I discovered that the Arizona State University had partnered with Stephenson to create an organization dedicated to fostering the next generation of moon-shots, through sci-fi. It’s called Project Hieroglyph and their first anthology of fiction is being released in September. This sounds like a terrific read and I can’t wait to check it out. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Venture for America: Three Years Later

Three years ago, I blogged briefly about Venture for America (VfA), a non-profit that places America’s top college graduating talent into CEO apprenticeship roles in small business in declining US cities. This simple graphic from the About page really says it all:

This week, the VfA team kindly invited me down to Brown for a panel on Entrepreneurship*. Participating in this event gave me an appreciation for just how far VfA has come in three years. They’ve made some big splashes, like Tony Hsieh’s $1MM committment to VfA to help revitalize businesses in downtown Las Vegas.

But what was most striking to me was the evidence of true, organic growth, directly in line with the company mission. Because the organization is 3 years old and it’s a two year fellowship program, the data is starting to come in. The original class of fellows are graduating from their two year apprenticeships, and I had the privilege to hear about some of their journeys. The businesses the fellows joined were not rocketships (zero businesses are ever straight-up-and-to-the-right… despite the “overnight success” stories journalists love to write in retrospect), and the fellows had to deal with the same startup highs and lows I see founders deal with on a daily basis. All the stories I heard, positive or not, ended with lessons learned and new strengths found.

The most inspiring story I heard was of one fellow who was placed in a company in Detroit. Inspired by his experience, he’s forming a his own company at the end of his fellowship, a new CPG company selling dried pasta made from chickpeas. He has hired another VfA fellow to help him build the business, and they’ll be living in a Detroit apartment building with six other VfA fellows, some of whom bought the building and will be renovating and renting the property as a business. This is the VfA mission at work, playing out as well as I could possibly imagine. I was so inspired.

So congrats to Andy Yang, Eileen Lee, Mike Tarullo, and the rest of the VfA team on all their success. It’s amazing to see what they’ve built from scratch, and I look forward to their continued success in bringing more jobs into cities where they are most needed.

———-
*Given that I’ve never been an Entrepreneur, I stayed as humble as possible and tried to field only VC related questions. My co-panelists had built some impressive businesses.