Author Archive

Not All Customers Are Created Equal

The type of language we use is important, and especially so when a founder and investor are discussing a business. Lately, I’ve come across the word “customer” quite often in conversation. It’s a sign of the times today that even early-stage seed level companies are courting and retaining customers (which is the topic for another upcoming post). For now, I want to focus on the word “customer.”

When I hear most founders say it lately, it is intended as monolithic — for instance, “We have seven customers right now.” But, what I hear is something different. My ears and brain interpret the word “customer” differently and therefore, I usually stop and interrupt. I want to know more. All customers are not equal. Here’s how I segment them today — and, please, if you have a better way, please let me know and I’ll update the post.

[Alpha Customers] These are customers of any size (often not paying) who are doing the startup company a favor by testing the software or service. Founders need these customers to refine the product, collect data, etc. Over time, they may, of course, convert to real customers.

[Beta Customers] These are customers who might be paying but are limited to set a set size by the startup and, in good situations, coming off a waiting list as the founders figure out how to scale and meet more demand.

[Reference Customers] I’ve observed some founders using their networks to target bigger, brand named companies as customers and giving away their product or service for free, on the implicit agreement that the larger company would act as a future reference for the startup. For instance, a startup may have a connection to WorkDay, give them their beta mobile app across the company for free, and in return, WorkDay’s CIO (or someone) will act as a reference for future customer leads.

[Real Customers, SMB] How one classifies “small” and “medium” here is up for debate, but maybe it’s all under 1,000 employees. Who knows. The point is, they need to be distinguished from large, enterprise-scale customers.

[Real Customers, Enterprise-Scale] The toughest to get and the most sought after. Logos and scale matters, not only for business purposes, but as a signal toward how the founding team can access and sell into larger companies.

Hey, I’m Writing A Book About Uber

I have some personal news to share. I am going to write a book. Yes, a book that you can physically hold in your hands, or download to your Kindle. Though many people who know me came to know me through my writing on blogs, I don’t consider myself a writer — rather, it is just the way I interact with the world around me and just a byproduct of the work I’ve been doing, either at companies, in venture capital, and as an independent investor. Yet, about a month ago, on a Sunday morning tailgating before a football game with a bunch of colleagues, we had a few beers and got on the topic of an idea that turned into a longer conversation.

And, since then, I couldn’t shake the idea. The more I thought about it, and the more I socialized the idea with friends, they too agreed it would be a good idea and that my background, more diverse than deep in any one category, could provide an interesting lens with which to write this book and share the associated ideas widely. I am going to put my name on the line and use my little platform to market the book. My intention is to make the book an organic extension of this blog, with more organization, and to share the story in an authentic, civil manner and attract the proper audience for it.

“OK, OK,” you say, “What’s the book about already!?” My answer: “Uber.” For lack of a better title, for now, I’ll call it: “The Uber Effect.”

Over the past year, I noticed that I would write more and more on this blog about Uber, and then when I searched the history on the site, I noticed it came up much more than I had imagined. And, recently, it has come up in conversation more, and when people I’m talking with realize the company is a big deal but have a harder time imagining how big the company can get and what type of influence it will collect and exert, those conversations turn into debates that touch on many aspects of how we organize society today. The more and more I think about the company and its growth potential, the more I’ve come to realize it will not just be a financially powerful company, but Uber will hold all other sorts of power related to data, mobility, logistics, commerce, transportation and more. Like Amazon, Google, and Facebook before it, it is a once-in-a-lifetime company, it is on the verge of going public within the next two years, and I have made a personal decision to commit some of my time to organize and tell that story as the drumbeat gets louder.

“What will the book cover?” you ask. I am still sorting that out, but expect it to touch on how mobile devices help create the largest technology market our society has ever witnessed, how humans are migrating to cities worldwide, how centralized systems (like governments) are being challenged by decentralized networks, a citizenry more willing to pay by the mile rather than pay more taxes and the subsequent effects on public transit infrastructure, a bifurcating labor market between high-skilled and not in an age with automation on the horizon, the distribution of knowledge via cloud-based servers and mobile devices, just-in-time inventory management powered by mobile devices, and how autonomous vehicles may turn this all upside down again.

Truth is, I’m still sorting this out, talking to an agent and publishers, but I want to commit to it, so I’m publicly sharing it, and I will need to really sharpen the scope and focus. That’s what the holidays are for, I guess!

All that said, here’s what will not be covered in the book:

One, this book will not be a hit-job on the company, nor an excuse to be an academic cheerleader for the company. I am an Uber “bull” and would love to own stock in the venture, but I have no financial connection to the company and I do believe Uber will face some bumpy times ahead. Uber is also a company which has been described as “unscrupulous” by many, and I will look into those stories. I want to write a fair book.

Two, the book won’t be unnecessarily long — rather, I want to write it in a style that a smart person can dig into it for a few weeks, let it marinate and digest, and then talk about it with other people.

Three, the book won’t go into gossipy detail about the company’s formation or startup competition — nothing wrong with someone else taking up this angle, and I’m sure there’s an audience for it, but it doesn’t interest me personally.

Four, it won’t be an excuse to show off data porn — I don’t want to be reliant on getting proprietary data nor do I want to get into academic debates about how one labeled a graph and such. There will be people who disagree with the book, and that’s great — heck, right now, many smart people think the company is grossly overvalued.

Five, my goal is to not make it the typical business or strategy book — think of the brilliantly short “Holidays On Ice” book by David Sedaris that you can read every holiday season with a heavy dose of the type of writing that’s on this blog already, but much more organized.

And, Six, this won’t be an “official” account or the “official” book on Uber. I won’t have that kind of access nor would make that claim. It will simply be my point of view on the company, in greater detail than could afford on this blog, and something tuned for the more casual reader who is interested in issues like globalization, mobile technology, new business models, labor markets, and reimagining cities.

Anyway, that’s it. I’ll share more details as I organize them. Will probably start with a Table Of Contents. Also, there will be many people reading this and on Twitter with a much better grasp of the company than I have — I want to write this book both for the technology early-adopters who have seen the Uber tidal wave coming for a while, but also for a more general audience who may have not yet. I hope that I can set expectations here and write a book that will appeal to both. Thanks for reading, and thanks to friends already who have listened to my idea and offered feedback and guidance. (And, yeah, there are probably typos in this post, so I’ll have an editor and fact-checker clean up the book.)

Classifying Marketplaces Startups Via SVB Mashup In NYC

Earlier this week in NYC, I was invited to participate on the investor panel at the SVB Marketplaces Mashup. In short, it was an outstanding event. At the bottom of this post, I’ve embedded a hashtag search from the event, and if you touch on marketplaces in your work, I’d recommend scanning the timeline. Before I dig into the meat of the event, I’d like to give a shout out to friends at SVB (like Shai) — I’ve now been to about 5 of their events, and each time, it’s outstanding. They care about the framing of each speech, panel, and cocktail hour. I learn a ton at these events and would highly recommend them as high-signal. (I know this sounds like an ad, but it’s how I feel.)

The main point of this particular event was to talk about marketplaces. And the deck was stacked. Execs from Airbnb, Uber, and the founder of oDesk all gave keynotes sharing key stats and best practices for the cutting edge of marketplace design, growth, policy, and management. The presenter who stole the show was Todd Lutwak, of eBay fame (and now at a16z) — if you can get your hands on his slides, it’s a business school course right in there. As they usually end these events with the investors up on stage, I spent the day going in and out of sessions, catching up with friends, and trying to wrap my own head around marketplace issues that matter in my line of work. And, that is, specifically, that the word “marketplace” is defined by different people differently and, moreover, used to describe specific businesses in a somewhat apt yet not precise way.

After the event, I was hanging out with Andy and we talked about how, on one hand, marketplaces are going to increase in number. Of course, they’re antifragile! And yet, on the other hand, how we don’t have a good way of classifying them. So, below is a more structured recounting of our chat. I don’t share this framework as an absolute, so I’d love your feedback and thoughts on what makes sense and what needs work. At a high-level, I see four (4) types of businesses than one could classify as a marketplace, though I do believe resiliency is a function of how pure the marketplace is:

Pure Marketplaces: Connecting buyers directly with sellers. These are the eBays of the world, using the web to find equilibrium between supply and demand of goods and services. There are very few of these that don’t need much curation or policing, but ones that get big in this category get *really* big. See: Airbnb. And if the web spawned an eBay, imagine what mobile could create — see: Uber.

Curated Marketplaces: Some marketplaces need curation. Ride share companies need to vet drivers and conduct background checks, for instance.

Other Business Models With Marketplace Dynamics: Companies I’m involved with like Instacart and DoorDash are sometimes called marketplaces, but I don’t think that’s quite right. To me, they’re e/m commerce companies that contain a marketplace dynamic, like metered pricing, and having their drivers pick times and jobs to claim.

Marketplaces Plus Subscription Services: This was brought up at the panel and I was curious to hear of these models. I asked Andy and he too hadn’t heard of them. Josh from Sigma West wrote a great post on this hybrid model (click here), and I’d love to see more of these, if anything that all investors, private to public, love the resilience of marketplace models and love the predictability of SaaS business models. (Josh is a great thinker on this subject, I’d also point out to this post he wrote about slicing marketplaces startups yet another way.)


The Three Push Notification Taxes

Push notifications are awesome, right? I think so, and have for a while. Yet, recently, they’ve been on my end ever since iOS 8 reveals which apps take up battery power. And, then, a funny thing happened — my love for push notifications was called into question. As I’ve been mulling it over, I have found there are three big problems with notifications (as they are construed today). I call these “The Three Push Notification Taxes:”

[1] User Interface & Control Tax: The whole way Apple has dealt with user permissions and how the average person controls their notifications just doesn’t make sense to me. I find it tiring to manage all the various options (pop up vs banner, badge vs sound, etc.), so I can’t imagine what the average consumer does other than just throw up their hands and move on. The result is that we all get more notifications, usually, because competition for attention and distribution is so intense on mobile, developers live by the push notification to get users back into their app, which helps foster two more taxes…

[2] Cognitive Load Tax: Interruptions, galore. We all know this. Yes, “Do Not Disturb” is a great meta-OS level settings options to suppress any notification outside of a phone call from a contact marked “favorite,” but in the absence of that, notification buzzes, sounds, vibrations, and “pings” ring through the rooms and our minds, splitting our focus for even a split-millisecond. (I’ve been reading “Organized Mind” and have been lately obsessed with the author’s simple yet powerful framing — that we as humans evolved in a simple hunter-gatherer setting and had to make a normal set of simple decisions a day, but today, we have to make so many more. Given how much we look at our phones to begin with, push notifications add an extra cognitive tax on our brains.)

[3] Battery Tax: Yeah, but we’re not going to stop looking at notifications, right? I thought so too, until iOS 8 created a setting under “usage” to determine which apps were hogging battery power. I have been following mine over the weeks. The highest one is TweetBot, because I live inside that app. It makes sense. But, consistently, “Homescreen” has been either #2 or #3 ranked battery hog offender. Turns out, notifications sent by the device when “Do Not Disturb” is not activated essentially “wake up” the screen of the phone, which requires battery — significant battery. Even with tightly groomed controls for push rules, I may get over 100 push notifications per day, and that means my phone needs to wake up for each one and then stay lit for a while after the push, soaking up battery rays in the process. (Open this Twitter thread and see screenshots of battery usage from other people.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of push notifications and all the new interactive features that will roll out moving forward. And, most people won’t likely care about the points I’ve made above, but I found myself questioning enabling push outside of some key apps, and now a few days in (with “Do Not Disturb” on most of the times), I’ve noticed things feel calmer as I’ve minimized these taxes. I still get push, but I control which apps (about 10, most infrequent) can notify me, and I have to physically wake up the phone (which impacts battery) in order to see them. Since, I’ve experience better battery performance, better app experiences, and less of a cognitive burden to shoulder. What’s concerning for iOS, however, is the Apple Watch. Notifications become more important as people may begin to “glance” at their phones more.

Brief Reactions To AVC Review Of iOS

Earlier this week, Fred wrote an interesting post on his reactions to a new iPhone, with the caveat that he’s been on Android for years and not a fan of Apple’s closed system. Here’s a link to the original post, and I’ve copied it below in italics and added some of my own color to it, as I found it to be a fair critique of a few iOS nits I have as well. My hope is someone at Apple on iOS plays devil’s advocate on some of these decisions to keep the OS options for users strong.

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I got my new iPhone6 from T-Mobile on Thursday. I spent Thursday evening setting it up and putting all the Android apps I regularly use on it. I’ve been using it as my primary phone since Thursday night and after three full days on it, I have some early observations.

1) The TouchID service is pretty great. I secure my phone with a password and although its a little thing to simply be able to hold your thumb down instead, little things sometimes are the biggest things and TouchID is like that. I really like it.

The future potential effects of TouchID are underreported. It makes navigation, access, and confirmation much easier for users and developers. If you’re interested, I wrote some thoughts on the power of TouchID last year, see here.

2) I miss the three buttons at the bottom of an Android phone. I’m never sure how to get back to a previous screen on iOS. I’ve come to realize that by tapping at the top of the screen, I can often get back to the previous screen. But it is super nice to have a back button that works identically on every app and I miss that.

I’m too biased to iOS, but I like being stuck in an app silo. It’s not perfect, but I prefer to go home and then to a new app than a clunky deep-linked transition to another app.

3) I don’t like having two maps services on the phone. Some apps default to Apple Maps and I prefer Google Maps. Maybe its possible to change the defaults so that all the apps go to Google Maps but I’m not sure how to do that.

This is true. Apple should allow users to default set their preferred Maps in the OS itself and carry across all applications. Some apps like Sunrise let the user deep link right from its app to Google Maps, but this is more of a power user move and Apple (for obvious reasons) likely doesn’t want to do any favors here, though I think they should.

4) I don’t understand why Google doesn’t make GCal for iPhone. I really dislike the native mail and calendar programs for iOS and wish I could use the native google apps for both mail and calendar. This is probably the number one reason I will most likely go back to Android. Mail and Calendar and Maps are three huge things for me and I’m not comfortable with the Apple versions of those products.

Another mystery, I also don’t understand why Google hasn’t built a Calendar app for iOS. Maybe it’s to keep users like Fred on Android, as the integrated Google services experience on Android (Mail to maps to calendar etc.) cannot be found on iOS. Strategy tax at play.

5) Notifications on iOS works a lot like Android now. But I miss getting the notifications across the top of my home screen. Having to swipe down to see them is one step more than I’d like to have to do. I realize you get a notifications count on the app icon, but if that app is not on the home screen, I don’t see it.

So, turns out one can get notifications at the top of screens on iOS, but it drops down over the content (as opposed to over the status bar in Android), and Apple makes notification management UI nearly impossible for the average person to manage.

6) I like the “today” tab in the notifications service. Its a lot like what Google has done with Google Now. I think Google should copy Apple and put Google Now into the notifications service.

As I am writing this it occurs to me that I am trying to use iOS like I use Android. I’ve set up my iPhone home screen to be as identical to my Android home screen as I can. I’m trying to make iOS work the way I am used to working. I realize it would be better to fully embrace iOS and go with the flow. But I’m not sure I can do that. I am a creature of habit even though my move to iOS was all about getting out of my comfort zone.

It is interesting to me that the two dominant operating systems are becoming more similar as Apple copies the best parts of Android (notifications being a prime example) and Google copies the best parts of iOS. It was not that hard to move from Android to iOS (other than downloading all of those apps and configuring them). When I go back to Android in three to six months, I don’t think that change will be particularly hard either.

Will be interesting to see if Fred goes back to Android in 2015. He may find new apps he loves and then can’t get them on Android.

We have a duopoly in mobile operating systems and that seems how the mobile market will operate, at least in the near future. Both Apple and Google are spending huge sums of money to stay competitive with each other. Both make fantastic mobile operating systems that work really well. As I’ve said before, mobile has matured. Maybe if I’m looking to get outside of my comfort zone, I need to be looking somewhere else for a new and different experience.

This final paragraph presents the great conundrum in consumer investing today — all of our attention is glued to these devices, which in sum make up the largest technology market we’ve ever seen. Yet, despite that, distribution is constrained (note use of the word “mature”), so people are looking elsewhere for breakout potential.

Notes From 2014 Venture Alpha West (VCJ)

Earlier this week, my friend Alastair Goldfisher from the Venture Capital Journal invited me to participate on a panel as part of Venture Alpha West 2014 in Half Moon Bay. I didn’t know what to expect, but randomly, I bumped into a bunch of old friends, saw Renee DiResta and Matt Withieler speak on hardware, and the topics overall touched on my two core areas of interest: investing and mobile technology. Here are some brief notes from the event:

Hardware: OATV’s DiResta gave a keynote on the rise of the hardware maker movement and what she expects to unfold over the next 3-5 years. Flybridge’s Witheiler was on a panel discussing how VCs leverage crowdfunding platforms to estimate consumer demand and then use online channels to sell goods directly to customers. Having had the luck to invest in hardware companies like Coin, Navdy, and Skylock, I see the potential though still remain scared about distribution after the Nest sale. My biggest takeaway on hardware from the event is that enterprise-focused and/or commercial grade solutions for hardware are likely a much more attractive investment category given the pain of consumer distribution and price points.

Wearables: There were many panels on wearables. I’m a bit of a Grinch here, sorry. Apple’s Watch aside, I think the idea of wearable technology is cool, but I don’t see consumers flocking for this. Yes, there will be commercial applications like Nike Golf or putting sensors on delivery-people, etc. But, so many new sensors and APIs from the iPhone replace so many of the first generation trackers. So, I’m a wearables Grinch. I know, I know. But, I need to be convinced, so I’m open to your best arguments. Send ‘em my way!

The LP View of VC Today: Feel free to stop reading here. Yes, more conversations with the LP world. What I took away from my time here was that (1) there’s a lot of money waiting on the sidelines to invest in venture and/or directly in startups; (2) many LPs are concerned about the valuations that VCs are paying right now; (3) yet they remain excited about the early stages of venture, which are not impacted by macro concerns. Innovation never stops. Most of all, LPs seem to be obsessed with either networking their way into investing in the biggest brand name funds; if they can’t, they try to find strategic value (stage, sector, geography) with the hopes of balancing their own portfolios. They’re also more and more interested in Opportunity Funds to invest in follow-on rounds and take some pro-rata, as well as investing directly into companies alongside their VC fund managers. (The issue that arises here is many of these FoF or institutions aren’t set up to conduct their own due diligence in a short period of time to vet the opportunities, but nevertheless, the existence of VCs in many cases is also being called into question. It’s the wild west!)

The Post Seed Conference (Dec 2 in SF)

After my last mobile gig ended, I also took some time to reevaluate what firms I was working with. While I’ve had a bumpy ride into the world of venture, I have also been super lucky to work with friends at great firms. As Labor Day rolled around, I had the chance to deepen some of those relationships as Venture Advisors to two firms — GGV and Bullpen Capital. They’re both at very different stages of the market, so it works. And, it’s a blast. I’ll write more about the transition and experience soon.

In my work with Bullpen, we work in the early-stages of the market, right before companies are ready to talk to the larger, more traditional funds. You may have picked up people using all kinds of labels, and even I’ll admit, it’s tiring and hard to keep straight. There are folks who invest early, folks who invest a bit later, and plenty of folks who invest when things are working. Over the summer, my colleague Paul Martino had an idea — convene a conference on this very topic, and let’s discuss it, and figure it out. As is the case with many moves, Martino was right — I’m pleased to announce that on Tuesday, December 2 in San Francisco, Vator, Venture51, and Bullpen are co-hosting the first-ever “Post Seed Conference,” gathering the best and brightest minds on the current state of early-stage financing for a one-day, single-track event for investors, founders, limited partners, and members of the startup, technology, and financial press.

Learn more here and buy your tickets now: beta.postseed.co (contents in this link is evolving, but you can order tickets now; we also created a ticket for founders priced at $349.)

When I say the “best and brightest minds” with respect to early stage financing, I mean it. We have three (3) keynote 1:1 sessions lined up, and these folks are some of the best in the game: One-on-one fireside chats with Keith Rabois, Naval Ravikant, and Chris Dixon. We are going to dig into every contested aspect of the early-stage ecosystem today — notes, caps, signaling, upstream financing, syndicates, and more. (I’m going to close the event with a 1:1 with Naval, which I’m of course really excited about. We all know Keith is going to say some awesome stuff, and Chris is certainly one of the most original thinkers on financing out there. And, these are just the keynotes.)

Additionally, we’ll have a number of panels as well, and among the topics we’re set to cover (full agenda will be posted soon):

  • How are leading early-stage VCs thinking about the gap between seed and Series A, and navigating through it?
  • Crowdfunding platforms are helping to create this gap, but can they also help to fill it with capital?
  • What does it take to get a true Series A round done in 2015?
  • Will $5 million be the new $500k in the Internet of Things and Wearables Era?
  • Learn whether pro rata is a right or privilege.
  • If there’s a bubble, how do you not pay up?

I’m happy to answer any questions if you have ‘em. If you use AngelList, invest in early-stage companies, are a founder or thinking of starting a company, if you’re a limited partner in the asset class or thinking about investing in the category, or if you cover the early-stage startup world, this conference will be a great way to not only dial into today’s current issues, but also meet with a great set of speakers and panelists and press to meet face-to-face. On behalf of Bullpen, hope you can make it.

“A Round By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet”

** Update: I rec’d a lot of email/DMs on this one. My takeaway from this is there’s a mismatch of expectations when founders meet VCs. The founders may perceive they’ve raised Seed and are “going for A,” while VCs may perceive that same company to have already raised an A and, therefore, expect B-level metrics.

Monday night was a night on Twitter I did not expect. It’s easy to say that all the naming of rounds (seeds vs A vs ____) is semantic and tired — that’s true. What is interesting (to me), however, is the general knowledge gap between bigger institutional funds and the seed ecosystem at large. If you open this tweet and click through the various threads, the key lesson for me is that founders at the seed stage should be aware of how a larger VC firm will evaluate them based on the amount of money they’ve raised to date.

In particular, and this is just one person’s POV, but one of the largest, most public VCs said he viewed startups that took on around $3m or more in seed funding or notes had already raised their “A round.” Yes, semantics again, but founders are obsessed with these monikers, so everyone else is, too. A step further, for seeded companies that have raised this or more, a VC firm may benchmark that opportunity against other Series B deals they’ve done and/or are evaluating at that time.

This is all important today because (1) most people who aren’t on the inside don’t understand these goalposts; and (2) founders are operating in a climate where they can raise many rounds within a set of rolling closes of notes with caps. So, lamenting about what rounds are named misses the main point: Now that this knowledge has been made public, how will it impact how much founders raise, will it impact seed investors from continuing to invest in or bridge their companies? Whether or not $3m is the right benchmark, people are searching for guidance, and in the absence of perfect information or standardized milestones for companies to hit, a discussion like tonight’s helps shine a spotlight on companies who raise too much in the seed round.

It is not about the semantics. That may be obvious to some, but it’s great to have a leader in the world of VC just come out and say it so clearly. Not many people would.

Reflecting On Cendana’s LP/GP Summit

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Cendana Capital’s & SVB’s annual “LP/GP Summit” at the Bloomberg offices in San Francisco. I asked the head of Cendana if I could briefly summarize my takeaways of the event (without ascribing any comments made on stage to anyone in particular), and Michael graciously agreed. As I am new to the investing game and the smallest player by every standard, these types events are really impactful for me. Please note, Cendana is focused on early-stage VC or microVC, and less so on the bigger funds. I’m like a sponge trying to soak up everything I hear. So, here are “The Big Takeaways” for me:

[Before I do this, a few big disclaimers as inevitably people will read this with all different perspectives and points of view. What’s below does not necessarily apply broadly -- rather, it’s based on what I’ve observed. Many funds have different relationships with their LPs. Therefore, these are my observations, and only that -- my perspective on what I’ve noticed, and it’s likely to be at odds with what others may have seen.]

Today, everyone wants to invest directly. / This was the biggest theme of the day, and as I’ve been mentioning on Twitter, everyone and their parents want to invest directly into private companies. Crowdfunding, AngelList, Kickstarter, and so on. By now, we all now private companies can stay private longer, so as the opportunity set in the private sector grows, money on the sidelines is getting hungry. And, I mean HUNGRY. LPs increasingly want to not just follow-on into their GP investments, they want to co-invest at the time of the original check. // The inverse of “everyone wanting to invest directly” is that what people are saying is: “I don’t want to pay fees.” This can cause tension between LPs and GPs, and brings up all sorts of issues around which LPs are shown opportunities from which GPs, and so forth. There’s something broken in the VC fund model (fees or carry, or both) that’s aggravating LPs at a time when the real growth of new companies is captured by private investors.

LPs expect GPs to design their funds to be ahead of the curve. / It’s 2014. Venture has been through a few industry corrections and every smart person I talk to about this expect a few more. In a somewhat similar fashion as GPs scout the landscape for founders to back, so to do LPs scout for GPs to invest with (and alongside of). What does this mean in reality? It means larger funds (over $100M) might be expected to have budgeted fees instead of fees based on a percentage of total capital managed. Some larger firms have done this a while ago, and we should expect more will. LPs are looking for GPs to commit even more of their own capital to the fund. // On top of this, LPs seem to be digging into just “who” are GPs they’re partnering with, how they interact, how long they’ve known each other. One LP said that a common mistake in meetings was to notice GPs talking over each other. I chuckled at that one.

***A few other observations***

A dollar travels far before it reaches a founder. / Overall, now a week or so after the event, I find myself still thinking about how far a dollar travels to reach a founder. This stuff is all over the Internet in detail if someone wants to dig into it, but I’ll offer up a basic example to illustrate: Consider back to when you were in high school, working over the summer to earn some money toward college tuition. Those tuition dollars (along with other university revenues, like donations) go into the school’s endowment, which in turn hires sophisticated investment professionals to manage the endowment and grow it. One of the ways an endowment management team can grow the pie is by allocating a portion of its assets into riskier categories, such as venture capital. From there, they allocate funds directly to VC firms whose names you’d recognize and/or into “Fund of Funds” (FoF) which in turn invest those dollars (for a fee and carry rights) to VC firms. The VCs take fees on the money they manage and then allocate that pool to founders — though “some” also invest in smaller funds, if you can believe it. // In the previous example, you can replace a university’s endowment with a range of institutions or organizations which manage big sums of dough — corporations, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, hedge funds, governments, wealth families, and so forth. However the dollar reaches these funds, it then is allocated and depleted a bit with fees every time new hands touch it. In the event a single dollar isn’t returned, it’s OK because it’s usually a small portion of the overall cash the original lender manages; but, when a single dollar put into Facebook when it was worth $100M is returned, it’s the type of money multiplier rarely seen.

Given that context, here are few things I’d point out that happen in the world of venture that may not be totally obvious to folks who observe, especially the founders who are busy team-building, product-building, and growing the company:

  • It’s easy to assume VCs are just investing other peoples’ money. There’s some truth to it, but in most funds, the LPs have the GPs also commit their own money to the fund, and that number seems to be increasing.
  • When there’s a big exit or uptick in the price of a company, the press and chattering class can easily latch on to what the estimated stake of a fund’s rake is. For instance, when Facebook was creeping up to $50Bn in the private markets and equity shareholders were selling some stake, people may have thought Fund X owned $Y because of some estimate of percentage ownership. That’s only part of the story — those proceeds are mainly sent to the LPs, usually 80%, and the GPs can take home the remaining 20%, give or take.
  • Investing is definitely easier than founding and/or building a company, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cushy or easy job. Yes, there are perks, but there is a lot of pressure, uncertainty, long feedback loops, and if someone doesn’t do well, the post-VC career options can taste a bit overripe. I don’t think anyone needs to feel sorry for a VC, but saying it’s an easy job doesn’t match reality.
  • Historically, lenders aren’t viewed favorably. In today’s climate, investors have become more public to share their thinking but also to help differentiate their offering beyond the same dollar everyone else has. That, combined with all new classes of early-stage investors and more diverse pools of financing available to founders combine to put a bright spotlight on VC firms that are not performing and/or not behaving well and/or who can’t raise future funds. There’s probably a ton of legacy stuff that still needs to shake out, a lot of which likely originated way before I became interested in this stuff. And, while I would welcome things getting better, I do find the chatter online against investors to be different from the reality I’ve seen firsthand. Yes, there are unsavory actors and plenty of time-crunched distracted VCs, but overwhelmingly I see professional investors who work basically around the clock to help their companies, to help out people in the ecosystem, and to advance the careers of the executives and recruits around them. That story isn’t often told, but maybe that will change as time carries on.

Hypnotic Effects Of Snapchat Stories

Snapchat is the subject of more tech chatter (again!) because of the popularity of “Stories” and this video describing all the facets of what makes the product for young people today. You must watch this video. I started thinking more about Snapchat today, and I showed my wife a few of the “Stories” from today — the Stanford vs Notre Dame game (she works at the University) and the Hot Air Balloon contest. She’s heard of Snapchat, but doesn’t know what it is — she watched the stories and figured out she needed to keep her finger on the screen. She loved them. Stories are, no doubt, more dynamic, real-time, and engaging/real than what we’ve been trained to see when we visit Facebook. So, all of this got me thinking again:

Snapchat Posts Drive Web Traffic: I’ve written a few times about Snapchat on this blog. While my site doesn’t generate or receive huge traffic numbers, people come to read about Snapchat all the time. It’s a curious phenomenon, and people are curious enough to Google it and learn more about it. It also cuts against many popular notions — its users don’t interact with the web when using the product, it is about impermanence while Facebook is a long-term record, etc. Here are some of the old posts that seemed to strike a chord with readers: If Snapchat Is The Next Big Thing (Feb 2013); Musing About Potential Snapchat Business Models (June 2013); Ephemerality Aside, Snapchat Sends Its First Permanent Message (Nov 2013) How Snapchat Became The Breakout Consumer Product Of 2013 (Dec 2013).

Snapchat V1 May Have Been A Fluke, But “Stories” Prove Product Genius: My wife asked me today, “What are “Stories?” I showed her on and then tweeted this line: “Snapchat Stories = mobile-native, user-generated, crowdsourced video clips curated for a current event = the most engaging real-time media.” Think about this. Snapchat has the mobile broadcast DNA of Twitter + Instagram, the photosharing & messaging of Facebook & Whatsapp, and the original, user-generated videos of Vine and YouTube. Wow. Power play. Who knows what motivated the founders to create the initial engagement hook of their first version. Maybe genius, maybe a fluke. Stories prove they’re product geniuses. The content in Stories is just right.

The Search For “The Instagram Of Video.” Remember Viddy? A few investors certainly do. At that time, people assumed Instagram’s success would open the door for a video counterpart, so we saw SocialCam, Vine, and Instagram included video. Earlier today, I tweeted: “Turns out “The Instagram for Video” wasn’t SocialCam or Viddy or Vine or even Instagram. It was Snapchat.” A clunky line, but you get the idea. Of course, all of this could be moot if the company won’t make the turn from product sensation into business. Admittedly, I thought at the start of 2014 that Snapchat would be acquired this year because the market was hot, they could get Whatsapp-style bids with stocks surging, and because going through the revenue game could present a risk. So, I came out and wrote “Prediction: Snapchat Will Be Acquired In 2014.” Looks like that post will be wrong ;-)

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

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