The Story Behind My Investment In HourlyNerd

Toward the end of college, and again toward the end of graduate school, there was a predictable recruiting campaign from all sorts of consulting agencies looking to scoop up and hire labor. In exchange for brand, a high salary, and a bit of prestige, graduates would sign up early in the final year, start a plan to payoff their student debt, and sign-up for intellectually challenging work filtered down through various organizational levels.

I know all of this because I almost lived it. Worse, I wanted to live it. As I saw it all go before my eyes, I also jumped into the fray, practiced case questions, riding off the competitive juices of the process of staged interviews. That process exposed me to the partnership model of consulting shops. The hierarchy could be loosely described as “finders, minders, and grinders.” New graduates were “grinders,” grinding out the work with long hours; “finders” were the partners, who found new clients and managed existing ones; and “minders” sat in between the two, minding up and minding up.

Now, what if online networks could put the clients directly in touch with labor? Could that create more efficient flow of information, better working conditions, and better output?

I think so. A few years ago, I used HourlyNerd for a few projects and was surprised by the output. They used a vetted network of current and recent grad MBA students, matched by background and interest, to create slide decks, conduct research, and so forth. So long as I (the client) was able to scope out what I needed, the workers (students here) were more than capable of producing the work with the added benefit that we never had to meet, we were able to email and chat online, and they could keep their hours and location flexible.

Then, out of the blue, the founders pinged me about their latest round. This is a bit later stage from when I invest, but I asked the founders a ton of questions about their plans to scale, about how their marketplace could propel them beyond a services network. Even though my check was small for them at stage, they made a concerted effort to engage with me around all of my nitpicking questions. Through that process, I learned some interesting facts: Over a yearlong period, the company had nearly tripled its average project size, that most customers repeat purchases frequently, that the marketplace had very good liquidity, and an average sale price that would make an investor pretty happy.

So, I am breaking my own model for Haystack and investing “late” into HourlyNerd, partly because they’re empowering the folks who, like me, could’ve also taken that traditional path into consulting. With a company like this, now those workers are free to interact directly with clients, to build their own reputations around topics, to travel and live where they want to, and much more. It’s a mission I can support — not only with an investment, but also my time. Sign up here and give it a try, they offer a great discount to start.

The Story Behind My Investment In Gyroscope

Gyroscope

In the middle of 2014, one of my friends on Twitter (@Stammy) kept retweeting an account into my feed, usually with a screenshot. Turns out, it was his friend and roommate, and that friend and roommate had created software which just looked different than other products.

I conducted a bit of Internet sleuthing and discovered my friend’s roommate used to work for a company I was dying to invest in earlier but couldn’t convince them. That company creates great web and mobile products, too, so my interest piqued. I asked my friend for an intro, and after a few months, it came through. I rushed to meet the entrepreneur a few days later.

Turns out, my timing was good.

Anand had built the v1 of Gyroscope, currently web-based software which served as a hub for all of a person’s connected device and monitoring/tracking data. By connecting various accounts to your Gyroscope, the products gives you a kaleidoscopic view of where you’ve been, the pictures from those places, how many steps or calories you’ve collected and more. But more than just aggregating data, there’s something about the product, the design and animation, which makes it compelling.

I wasn’t sure where Anand was in his thinking. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to join a company, or still travel. We talked broadly about his options and I didn’t share any of my own views on what he should do, except that if he thought about it and wanted to start a company, I would be his first check and help him close the round.

A few days passed and he got back in touch. He was ready to start. I didn’t expect that, but was psyched about it, no doubt. We put our minds together, came up with a plan, started engaging lawyers, and all those details — we priced the round, I wired my funds, and started making introductions for Anand. We also opened up a small AngelList Syndicate, which has been closed for a while. At the end of it all, a larger fund also came in to give Anand and Eric a good solid cushion to build out v2 of the product.

As 2015 unfolds, the landscape has changed. Apple has committed some of its attention with Apple Watch to digital tracking, fitness, and health sensors. We are accumulating more connected devices which collect more and more data about us or our surroundings. What will do with all of it? Who owns that data? These are big questions, and while I don’t know the answers, I have a good feeling Gyroscope will be in that conversation.

The Story Behind My Investment In VSporto

JasperBack in 2014, Pascal, another early-stage SF investor who invests in companies at the intersection of local and mobile, introduced me to a kid from Mississippi who is now in the Bay Area starting his company. I searched my email and it turned out Jacob from Exitround (a portfolio company) also tried to make this connection a long time ago, but for whatever reason, we never synched up. The kid’s name: Keith. His company: podcasting.

Ugh.

I get so many pitches around podcasting. It’s hard because it’s just not an area I want to invest in, so I figured some polite way to not engage further. But, then, something interesting happened — I asked Keith about how he started on this, and his answer begin with something to the effect of: “I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old…”

Oh, really? I rarely hear that, so I listened more (see the pic here, from 1999). Turns out Keith is a huge, huge mega-fan of the Buffalo Bills, so huge that he started building and managing fan sites for the team back when he was 12, living in Mississippi. Since then, Keith went to school, was a producer with Sirius Radio, and during that time, had a novel idea for a product: An app which played fan-oriented podcasts for college sports teams.

To get his idea going, Keith and his team figured out something clever: In many cities where college football was big, VSporto discovered, vetted, and created a monetary incentive for superfans of the local college teams to create a podcast around the team. VSporto aggregates these, pays out CPMs, and builds micro-apps for mobile devices that just focus on a particular school. In this on-demand economy, people are changing jobs and careers quickly. For VSporto, they’ve noticed that people quit their basic day jobs to pursue their interests and talents for podcasting and creating media around the subject they love.

Say you went to Florida State University — VSporto would have ~15 podcasters (or more) who create content, and the app broadcasts those streams through the week leading up to the game. Additionally, one might think the football season lasts a few weeks, but in many of these towns, it’s a full-time job just being a fan.

Check out Vsporto here. To date, they have ten (10) team apps and engagement time for MAUs could be from 47-93 minutes. The average listener goes through two podcasts per day, and nearly 1 out of 5 users will also download the app of the opponent their team is playing; many of their apps have been ranked quite high in the Sports category, which is notable for such a seemingly niche app. The engagement is so deep that the team visited a specific college campus for a football game and hosted a viewing party: Over 200 people showed up. As VSporto commissions content, the company also holds the licensing rights to the media, such as being able to license the content out to various radio stations.

This startup broke a lot of rules for me. I don’t want to invest in podcasting, but they figured out a medium not many others would stick with; and I don’t like to invest often in pure mobile apps because the distribution is choked. When I heard this, I sort of took the meeting as a courtesy, but a few minutes, that’s when it hit me that this is exactly why I don’t like to answer those “What are you looking for?” questions often posed to investors. If I knew what to expect, I would go and try to build it. In this case, I had to have enough patterns around podcasting and Apple’s iOS to make a decision about whether to get involved. I would have never thought of combining commissioned content with an array of scattered apps that all meet on the backend.

It’s early days for VSporto, but I never worry about Keith and the team. They are the only team I know who would have the passion to pursue this idea of building and stitching together niche markets. It is my privilege to support them, to have introduced them to other investors, and to have opened their round on AngelList. In terms of relaying a story about a founder and an a unique approach, it’s probably one of my favorite stories to show and tell.

Meerkasting In A Brave New World

Meerkat has the makings of not only becoming a big, important platform, but you can already start to see how disruptive it may be given all the reactions it generates (“get off my lawn!”) and serious questions it raises about other media networks and platforms. Observing the way folks are using it and how different people are tweeting about its varied potential for over a week now, I believe it has the makings of that rare disruptive platform. Here’s how I think about it:

  1. The best “entry point” into a live experience: So far, we think of Twitter as the real-time network, so it must be that a livestream product would need Twitter as a base. I don’t think this is true. Think of other avenues where real-time information has currency — sports, finance, etc. — and also of online communities and niches that run within these verticals. For instance, breaking news about a football team midweek could affect Vegas odds, fantasy rosters, and more. The best analysts in right now tweet or work for big sports networks (like ESPN); pretty soon, they can just “Meerkast” instead of traditional TV (ESPN) or online (Twitter) broadcast.
  2. Twitter needs Periscope to grow: Twitter has a user growth issue, and offering Periscope “in-line” as a broadcast feature to major celebrities will be a killer feature for the users, but also to help Twitter grow. Media like this can help onboard new users and give them an excuse to follow a few accounts. “OMG, Steph Curry is practicing dunks right now and giving away a few signed balls on Twitter, I need to watch this right now.” Furthermore, these notifications on mobile could have way more currency and make Twitter notices look static. Contrast a notification like “Steph Curry just tweeted: xxx” vs “Steph Curry is practicing dunks….right now. Tune in and win!”
  3. Meerkat can be extensible: While Periscope will live within Twitter, Meerkat can use all of this attention to encourage creators and audience members to create their own accounts and extend the network to other big social media sites. Imagine being able to read a LinkedIn Influencer piece while you’re browsing the site and then see your favorite business authors or self-help coaches give live training via Meerkat. Or a platform like Pinterest, imagine curators showcasing a wedding they’ve planned or a party, or showing off goods they want to sell exclusively on Meerkat.
  4. Speaking of sales, Meerkat’s nativity could lead to money: If Meerkat can figure out the right entry points to grab your attention into their native app or their web browser while you’re logged in as a Meerkat user (regardless of entry point), they can also leverage payment gateways to help facilitate transactions with the ease of a click. Imagine that Taylor Swift is practicing a new single that’s not yet polished, and for charity, she wants to sell the song for $0.99, so as a viewer you can offer to pay and the money is collected and routed to Taylor’s account. Taylor would also know which fans hang out in the room (better analytics on mobile vs multiple tabs on browsers). Hopefully, the infrastructure will support such a big network.
  5. And, speaking of infrastructure, Meerkat’s is great so far: Garry Tan has one of my favorite lines: “The best software is invisible.” So far, Meerkat just works, but to pull off high-fidelity, real-time, synchronous broadcast from one device to many requires robust infrastructure that cannot just be engineered in a month. This gives them the type of defensibility an external investor would look for and also raises the bar for Twitter/Periscope upon release. As more mobile devices come on board, it will not only strain those users devices (video bandwidth is costly in many ways), but may also require a different network architecture that a blockchain-enabled mesh could provide. The timing may be impeccable here.
  6. Mobile software is eating mobile hardware: Just a few months ago, GoPro was the talk of the town; now, our phones are GoPros, thanks to Meerkat’s timing. Will people Meerkast from comedy clubs, sports arenas, private boardrooms, and so on and so on? As there are endless possibilities for celebs and big brands to leverage this new channel, but what about individuals who can disrupt what is bread and butter to networks like CNN, ESPN, The Cooking Channel, and so on…instead of paying a toll to cable operators and studios, content creators now could have yet another layer stripped away and capture more value. There are too many examples to list here, so just pick your favorite show, guesstimate the economics, and now add more to the protagonists and you’ll start to see how Meerkat can leverage the web to trigger this transfer.
  7. The end-user watch points are also aplenty: Where will I watch my favorite Meerkasts — on my mobile devices? In the browser? As a channel or network of channels inside Netflix or Roku or Apple TV? If Twitter only offers Periscope, is there room for Meerkasts to extend and not need to rely on Twitter? You bet there is! And, what if I could watch a Meerkast via virtual reality? A sideline reporter or a network of cameras on a football field could capture the live feed, and I could view in total immersion — in real time.

And, therein lies the challenge and opportunity. The challenge is that while we’re enjoying the flurry of experimentation today, the cost of watching video (especially poorly produced grainy and unstable video) is very high to the audience. It can feel noisy or disorienting. Very few things will have real-time currency, but as more people experiment, no doubt interesting things will emerge. Also, Meerkat couldn’t’ve exploded without ambushing Twitter, and now that Twitter also has its own competitive product, has a huge incentive to bring the feature in-line and give preference to Periscope. While we have Net Neutrality now for our big pipes, the social and interest pipes on top of the web do not have their own flavor of net neutrality. Now, Meerkat will have to go through the work of building out user accounts, finding other networks to integrate with, and helping those with large and niche audiences produce this new style of media. That’s the opportunity ahead, and I’m sure the team will have enough talent and dollars chasing it to see if they can make it into a reality.

A final, personal aside about Meerkasts and blogging — nothing I do in life ever has true real-time currency, so in a Meerkat world, I’m likely to be a consumer, not a creator. In the world of text, I can create, but blogging for me is a way to structure thoughts over time — I’ve been tweeting and thinking about Meerkast for a week, and finally had a chance to write this as my daughter is napping. By contrast, I technically could’ve opened up my Meerkat and broadcast this to you all, but it wouldn’t have been as structured, and it would’ve been significantly more boring!

 

The Rigidity Of Investment Slide Decks

It’s common practice among investors (and LPs) to “share decks.” In a world where all the action is in the private markets and where deal flow is never ending, scanning a deck shared and received via email is the quickest way to make a first impression and make a subconscious decision to invest more time in the opportunity itself. To be clear for this post, once bigger institutions start getting involved, having a set of slide decks (one to be emailed, one to present with) is critical, though as the market is pushing me to invest earlier and earlier, I’ve made some of my recent very early-investments either with an unpolished deck or no deck at all. And, it all got me thinking — at the very earliest of stages, does a deck even matter?

I mentioned this on Twitter, which sparked quite a discussion, and cited a post by Charles Hudson:

A number of people who I respect and who have way more experience than I do commented that decks are critical as a test to see how a founder can distill and communicate succinctly. It’s a critical form of business communications. No argument from me — though in the very early stages, what if the product isn’t well defined yet? What if the team is still forming? What if there’s data but it’s paltry? What if the product or service requires a behavior change or new market to form?

When I’ve met these most recent founders, they were working on a product or service, trying to design their model, and I saw something big in the mess of each early-stage company. In some cases, I went in and offered up my point of view of how it could be explained, especially to an investor audience. I don’t believe people starting these new companies spend too much time trying to fit their creation into a few slides or model — in fact, the opposite can be a negative signal, an overly polished slide in the early-stages can oftentimes reek. And, sometimes people creating this stuff don’t fully grasp what they could potentially have — which is why I get interested and involved early.

So, yes, eventually, you’ll need a deck. No argument there. But in the very early stages, other things can go a long way. People using and talking about your product on blogs and Twitter; or people talking about your service in the press (organically); or simply speaking to investors who can offer their own POV on how they conceive of your model after a phone or f2f conversation. Here, a short 3-5 slide investment deck may be worthwhile, just listing team, product, and vision — as a vehicle to get the call or get the meeting. Like Charles, I find the live conversation to be the most revealing.

Five Years Into “SoLoMo”

In 2010, John Doerr coined the term “SoLoMo,” the combination of social , local, and mobile. Doerr, who correctly called and invested in technology’s two previous waves (personal computing and networking, and Internet 1.o like Amazon and Google), now believed SoLoMo was the next wave.

And, now in 2015, looking back, he was absolutely right, though not always in the exact ways in which he envisioned.

  • Social: For instance, it turns out our phones, phone numbers, and various messaging apps (like Snapchat, Instagram, and Whatsapp) are social but not because of Facebook or Twitter’s graph, but because of our phones being social devices themselves.
  • Local: We have spent the past five (5) years basically using mobile phones to rewrite and reinvent the local goods and services delivery model. Pick any consumer behavior which occurs which some frequency — transportation, buying food, laundry, home & office cleaning, parking cars and valets, dog boarding and dog walking, and so many others. Most people spend their money within a specific radius of their home, and with phones, entrepreneurs have built entirely new consumer brands (with Uber leading the way, of course) to reinvent local.
  • Mobile: This is the easy one, as we’re doing all of this on our phones. This was the main driver of the trend. In 2010, we all didn’t realize how much of a driver, as in 2015, it all seems obvious now.

Looking back on the creation of the acronym in 2010, which also became a bit of a joke given how it sounds, it’s pretty clear to me it was spot-on and prescient. How it all unfolded was a bit different, and it’s still happening, creating multiple billion-dollar companies almost out of thin air.

My Six Takeaways From Apple’s Watch Keynote

FullSizeRender (2)Yesterday, Apple unveiled Apple Watch. I followed along via Twitter, read some blogs, and also had a bit of an idea of what was going to be released. But then, late last night, when everyone had gone to bed, I watched the Watch portion of the keynote address by Tim Cook and Kevin Lynch, and putting on my mobile operator and product marketing hat, here’s what stuck out to me as a sentimental watch geek — I’ve saved my old watches (above) and can’t wait to get Apple Watch:

  • Patience with v1 Speeds: This is very much v1. It took a while to load, not just WiFi enabled, but for core apps which wouldn’t need to access the network. We have to remember how slow the first iPhone would feel now. The issue here is the potential mismatch in compute speed for my 6+ vs the v1 Watch. For certain things, it may “feel” slow and, as a result, I may go for my phone out of habit and a need for speed.
  • Gestures Too Deep?: I’m sure this will be fixed eventually, but I noticed it took Kevin Lynch a long time to “heart” a photo on Instagram. So many taps and swipes. Instagram is such a beautiful app, I’d rather just go to my phone. Contrast that with the face itself, just being notified about the next meeting, and those are the types of quick glances I want — I don’t want to go to deep into nested settings or interaction flows on the Watch.
  • Can’t wait for third party apps: Again, the team at Instagram can write blazing fast mobile-native software. We are going to have to experience some core apps from Cupertino and wait for the platform to iron out kinks, but when the 3rd party folks are ready, it will be a great moment. Right now, I’d love to have apps on my phone be location aware and send me pictures of faces and places around me….however, I love the friends dial on the Watch, it’s like the “favorites” in Contacts, but done in a much more intuitive, easy to access manner.
  • Status symbol, fashion, luxury: Much has been written about this, but one thought which occurred to me — with the decline of car ownership rates as the new generation comes into their own, Watch could fill that space as a status symbol, like fine-crafted jewelry, which sits on our wrist (whereas it’s polite to keep our phones away during coffee or dinner). When we wave our hands, or call for a waiter, or give a presentation — it will be right there, all different colors, different faces, out in public. “Oh, Sally has the Watch Edition, 18k gold — she must be doing really well.”
  • Siri needs to step up its game: I want to just talk into my phone and say “Uber,” and have the Uber come. I don’t want to scroll through the tiny Watch face to go 3-4 gestures deep. On my 6+, Siri is just not good. Apple needs to figure this out, I hope they do. (More on how Watch can increase lift for on-demand services, like Uber.) Watch as a passive consumption or data collection device makes sense, but as an input device,
  • The initial killer app is two-factor authentication: The biggest thing Watch pessimists and Android fans are missing is the unique ability of Apple, within its iOS ecosystem, to provide two-factor authentication for users to pay or verify identity or a check-in with a very natural gesture. People can say Apple Pay isn’t that great, credit cards work fine — but now just move your wrist past the payment terminal, the Watch communicates with your phone, and you don’t have to grab the credit card from your wallet or grab the phone. Checking into a bar, restaurant (hello, beacons?), or for your flight. When people start seeing this work while waiting in line at Starbucks or boarding their next flight, over and over again, they’ll want that interaction — and it’s an interaction which won’t be available on Android, that’s for sure, as it requires the thoughtful, patient integration of TouchID, Passbook, Apple Pay and Watch. This will be the killer use case for v1. Developers will build the next killer app, no doubt.

Apple Watch, Voice Control, and On-Demand Services

dick-tracy-5

When it comes to “The On-Demand Economy,” this blog has been a broken record. But, with today’s news about Apple Watch, one of the first thoughts that came to mind is — the new watch could actually increase the frequency of on-demand service orders made by customers — over time. Briefly, to review how I define this category, from an earlier post:

There are two types of species in this genus: (1) services which are truly on-demand, like Uber, Lyft, and Postmates, where users demand a good/service, which then triggers the system to fulfill that demand; and (2) services which allow the consumer to transact by phone, but the service is delivered at a scheduled time, like Instacart — here, the consumer experience feels close enough to on-demand that it all gets wrapped up into one moniker.

Now, imagine the last time you called an Uber or ordered Postmates. You reached for your phone. If the app wasn’t on your homescreen, you scrolled a few pages or swiped down to search and input for the app. The app loaded, and you directed it to order you a car or burrito. With Apple Watch, you can order an Uber with a few taps of your phone. While cool, the interface is pretty small, and it may be that at least in the early days, opening the Uber app on the phone could be more efficient than on a Watch, though the Watch could be a great screen for viewing car arrival times.

Ok, so now imagine if you need to order an Uber, you just bring your hand toward your nose, and talk to the Watch via Siri, a la Dick Tracy. Even though Siri seems to be getting less useful as iOS hardware gets better, there could be a day where it actually works well deep into third party apps. And, if that capability extends to watches, we could have that Dick Tracy moment, ordering an Uber by speaking into our wristwatches. It would be the fastest input channel possible, and if it works, it could actually increase the amount of services ordered on-demand — it will be even easier to buy convenience.

Women On Stage In Venture Capital

In this post, I will talk about the presence of women on stage at venture capital (VC) events or as part of digital media. In the past, I created and produced about 75 short TV interviews on TechCrunch TV from about 2012-13, and after that show was cancelled, created and produced interviews with eight (8) VCs which spanned 12 episodes in total. Last year, I helped organize the Post-Seed Conference in SF (Dec ’14), and this year, as a friend, I helped StrictlyVC design and launch the “StrictlyVC Insider Series,” for which there has been an inaugural event and one coming up in May ’15.

Every now and then, someone will inquire about why there aren’t more women involved in these events or on digital media. Sometimes, these inquiries start as accusations rather than trying to open up a conversation with me, so in this post, I will do my best to detail some things I believe everyone should know and discuss openly:

TechCrunch TV: From 2012-13, while I was an official contributor to the publication, I created and helped produce a weekly TV show which included all founders and investors and one journalist (who happens to cover VC). Out of the 75 guests, there were only three female guests, but I certainly did ask many visible women to be on the show, and for whatever reason, they either declined or didn’t return my email. Looking back, I could have pushed it more as an issue, but I wasn’t consciously trying to achieve gender balance on the show.

Sunday Conversations: After the TechCrunch TV show was cancelled, I had a friend who kindly offered to sponsor all the video, editing, and production o the interviews, and for my first interview, I chose the guest who was slated to be on TechCrunch TV as that show was put to bed. After that, I chose a small handful of VC general partners and, in early 2014, decided to not continue them past 2014. I have since stopped, and the last four (4) were all of Keith Rabois. I extended the series with Rabois because of the overwhelming response from the audience who wanted more. I did not ask any VC women general partners to be on the show because almost as soon as it started, it was over.

[Today, I posted the audio and video from Sunday Conversations, and it triggered a conversation on Twitter. You can click here to open up the thread. As I mentioned, as soon as I started the show I basically made a decision to shut it down as my friend was producing the video out of his pocket. So, yes, there were no women out of these eight (8) guests, and had I continued the show, I would most certainly have tried again to bring women GPs on the show. I was surprised to learn some people didn’t believe that I had asked female guests in the past with TCTV, so all I can do is state here that I most certainly did. Many times.]

The Post-Seed Conference: In the organization of this conference, the organizing committee (which comprised of a woman entrepreneur) actively discussed this issue, and we all independently sent requests for speaking to a number of people; in my case, those requests were mostly not returned on email. Did I send an email to every single general partner at a VC firm? No, but I definitely spent time thinking about it and inviting people to speak, and it’s important for me that people know that. I recognize what people see is what they see, so I’m sharing a bit more about what went on behind the scenes. Right before the event, a female friend emailed me the note below, which triggered a conversation. I tried to explain that we did absolutely consider it and sent out invites, but they were not returned:

Hey! Would love to attend. I have to be honest though, I was shocked guys who I really respect like you and (redacted) would be cool with an event that has only 2 women speaking, both journalists it looks like? There are so many great female investors, I know women can be harder to come by and get to say yes but I can think of 20 women who are in sf and would be great, at least 5 of whom would say yes even on this short notice. Is there room to add more speakers on the panels? An investing conference that ends 2014 with no women investors feels like a step backwards :(

The StrictlyVC Insider Series: This was started by and is run by Connie Loizos. She is a friend, and I offered to help her organize a small handful of speaking events for her brand and newsletter this year. I will bring it up as a topic of discussion for one of the events.

Ultimately, now in 2015, I have my own blog, and I help out a little with StrictlyVC. I do not engage in organizing any other media or events, so it’s important people recognize this — just this blog and maybe 2-3 events with StrictlyVC. I will do my best to get more women in venture involved. People will see what they want to see, but it’s critical people know that many people do not respond to requests to appear at an event or on media. I’m sure there are many good reasons. Maybe they don’t want the scrutiny at work; maybe they don’t want to be part of a quota; maybe they don’t want to talk about this topic specifically, which would invariably come up; maybe they get too many requests because they’re visible and people are trying to get them on stage more. I could go on and on.

I do not recruit people into general partnerships, so this is a small way for me to bring the issue into the light, though of course, there are other inescapable facts about diversity in venture capital which I don’t have control over. I can think of one thing to do where I’m in total control of what is produced — on my blog — and I will email a bunch of female VCs to see if they’ll share their thoughts on email so I can reproduce them here in a compendium. I hope they respond, but I understand if they don’t want to, as well. (If someone has an email list of women VCs, could you please send that to me or post it here? Thank you.)

Dinner with Ben Thompson and GGV Capital

FullSizeRenderLast night, we hosted a small dinner @ Hakkasan to welcome Ben Thompson of Stratechery to town. In my work with GGV Capital, which for many years has been investing cross-border between Asia and the U.S., listening to Thompson speak over dinner was both expansive and current — in my opinion, he is the single best technology analyst out there today, so we were lucky to have his time. It was a long dinner and many friends of GGV’s showed up (thank you for coming!), here are some of the brief points the discussion created:

  • The effect of Asia-based messaging apps: I kicked off the discussion to focus on a topic I’ve been wrestling — what should we expect our U.S. messaging apps to do given what’s been going on in Asia? Thompson pointed out that since SMS is mostly free in America, there hasn’t been the glaring need for apps in the same way that consumers felt it in Asia. As a result, he postulates the evolution of functionality in our own messaging apps may not move quickly as SMS is good enough for many use cases.
  • Peer-to-peer and on-demand services in Asia vs U.S.: Thompson pointed out that the sheer density of many cities across Asia make it so that the things citizens need is often no more than 5 minutes from their houses, whereas the U.S., is very spread out and built mostly around a car culture. This makes sharing and on-demand more likely, whereas there’s less need in his region of the world, relatively speaking.
  • What to expect from Apple Watch: I’m getting so excited about this. come Monday it is really going to dominate chatter and change the conversation in a big way. Thompson made a number of nuanced points about Apple Watch — the battery life will depress it out of the gate, but Apple’s core audience will give it enough lift to experiment. Thompson also pointed out that, just like the iPod was a very visible device to others, many people will see others with the Watch and start looking at it, start thinking about buying on. It will foster curiosity. The Apple Watch will also help Apple leverage its various APIs like HealthKit, CarPlay, WatchKit, etc.
  • Global battlegrounds: Thompson remarked the Chinese companies will own China, and Apple will do well there, too; while in the U.S., obviously Apple, Google, and Facebook reign supreme. The new battleground for these companies will be in developing countries.
  • On Xiaomi: Thompson believes Xiaomi’s scrappiness will afford it a massive advantage as it figured out a way to bring high technology to even poor geeks in China — not just the upper classes — and that this DNA will afford them the opportunity to expand their reach in China and places like India, for instance.
  • Facebook is the most underrated company in the Valley: Someone asked about Internet.org, and Thompson pointed out just how aggressive Facebook is being in other parts of the world, essentially giving away bandwidth and cutting zero-rating deals with carriers to essentially become the company which controls media consumption, which in turn helps them control advertising. When you think about it this way, it makes $200b as a market cap seem small for $FB.

Thanks again to Ben for sharing his thoughts so openly, to GGV for organizing and hosting, and to all the guests who showed up for a great evening.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2015 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus