New album coming out this fall and the band has this new track freely available for download. It’s a been awhile since I feel in love with Of Montreal and the last album didn’t do it for me. Maybe this one will change things for me.
Lots of things come to mind each summer. It’s a time when we spend a lot of time outdoors as a family. Our weekends are beyond crazy. Every summer we get to see friends from out of town and we have a few vacations planned. Our firm makes a number of new investments all year long and the summer is no different. I love this time of year.
But there is one other thing that always comes to mind each summer for me - especially since we moved back to Boston.
In the summer of 1992, I was living Boston. I decided one day that I was going to leave Boston and move to San Francisco. I fell for this girl and who lived there and decided that is where i wanted to be. Little did I know I would spend the next 10 years there and marry her too :)
So that summer, I packed everything I owned into my hatchback, took out my life savings (about $3,000 and stuffed it into my backpack) and started driving west. It felt in many ways like I was jumping off a cliff and didn’t know where or how I was going to land. At one point along my journey, I left my backpack and all of my money in a restaurant and drove another 80 miles or so before I realized I left it behind. I drove back to the place at the speed of light and fortunately it was still there. I felt like an idiot and but was so thankful at the same time. More than once along that drive I wondered if I was doing the “right thing” but turning around wasn’t something I considered. The voice inside said, get to San Francisco.
Since then I’ve jumped off a cliff several times. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But all in all I’m glad for the entire set of experiences.
I think this is something that’s important to keep in mind when you think about joining a startup. Who knows how it’s going to turn out. It’s high risk but the ride and opportunity is everything.
Last week Eric Freidman from Foursquare reblogged my roller coaster video and wrote:
In case anyone is wondering, this is exactly what its like to work at a startup.
That’s exactly right. Startups are never easy and never predictable. It requires a leap of faith and an inner voice that says: aw hell, I’m gonna try this and give it my all even though you have no idea how it’s going to turn out
Sometimes you just gotta go for it. And that’s what I think about every time summer comes around.
The YouTube/Viacom lawsuit and why startups need better protection
Last week I took a few days off to get out of town with my family. And I pretty much stayed in vacation mode throughout the weekend.
But the YouTube/Viacom decision has been in my mind since last week. As many of you know by now, Viacom had sued YouTube for copyright infringement. YouTube believed they were protected under safe harbor under DMCA.
The judge in this case stated DMCA works well:
The present case shows that the D.M.C.A. notification regime works efficiently: when Viacom over a period of months accumulated some 100,000 videos and then sent a mass take-down notice on February 2, 2007, by the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them,” Judge Stanton wrote.
That is huge and I was so pleased that the court supported YouTube in this lawsuit.
I’m not a lawyer but to sue Veoh or Youtube to me is like suing Comcast because there is a small percentage of illegal activity taking place over email throughout their broadband network. Or like suing your phone company because someone uses the telephone to do something illegal.
Here’s the bad part: Viacom said it would appeal.
Why is this bad? It’s expensive for any company, even Google to keep defending themselves in court. But at least Google has the resources to defend itself. Startups don’t have this capability and big companies often use litigation as a competitive strategy.
I’ve seen this first hand a number of times and it feels awful. When our portfolio company Veoh was sued by UMG, the court continuously sided with Veoh but UMG kept appealing and that was deadly.
We need a new legal system where small companies get a higher level of protection from large companies that use legal saber rattling and litigation as a weapon. Getting back your legal fees isn’t sufficient. Maybe it’s a higher penalty if the plaintiff’s case doesn’t hold up or a faster/more efficient motion to dismiss process when it’s a startup. I don’t know.
But I do know the current system needs to be fixed.
* * *
this issue of legal “bullying” is another reason why I’m concerned about our patent system. Bigger companies can apply for thousands of patents a year or pay millions to become a member of Nathan Myrvold’s patent farm which has a huge stockpile of cash and patents. It’s an unfair fight. Patent lawsuits are another common way for big companies to bully startups in the courts.
Last night Lauren and I went to see Ben play on a boat sailing around the boston harbor. There was about 100 or so people and they were all die hard fans. Most everyone knew every word to every song. He opened with “Commerce, Tx” and even before he finished the set with Penny I knew this was going to be one awesome show.
Ben told me that it felt like an old basement show. Small and intimate.
We have invested in many first time founding teams that have never participated in a board meeting before.
To make them useful it’s good to be prepared and engage your board.
Here is an outline I like to use. Of course there can be versions of this depending on the stage of the company.
But for early stage, I think the following works pretty well.
Overview and metrics
Product update and roadmap
Objectives for the year and progress against those goals
Financial update (income statement and balance sheet)
Assignments and help. Give your board members assignments and hold them accountable
Feedback and open issues.
For an early stage company I’ve seen CEOs drive this agenda in 90minutes and some take 3hours. I’m less hung up on time although sending out materials in advance and keeping the meeting focused are helpful in keeping things on the quicker side.
The VC market seems to go in cycles. We see a bunch of simultaneous investments by lots of VCs into things like storage devices, virtual reality, social networks, etc. Assuming you can talk about generalizations, have you seen any interesting new trends popping up in recent pitches?
you are right and as a result seeing lots of things in payments, mobile, gaming, geo, q&a, etc etc.
one thing not on that “typical” list that I’m digging are startups taking what’s worked well in consumer web services (ie real time, social, profiles, cloud, simple/constrained services, minimum viable product, UE obsession) and bringing that to other markets like retail, fashion, health, careers/jobs, education and finance.
Do you like your schedule as a VC? Like you may not work that long hours but you are still happy, right?
I am planning to be a VC and I consider myself a family man. I would love to have the flexibility. Am I right?
I love my work but this isn’t the job for you if you are optimizing for flexibility.
Does age of the founders matter when you are looking to invest in a company? How does it affect your decision making?
nope, we like to invest in first time founders and folks that have done it before. it’s about team, idea and product. I was just asked about this topic in the Boston Globe last week so you may find this article useful/interesting.
“However, on at least six occasions during my tests, the new iPhone was either reporting “no service” or searching for a network while the old one, held in my other hand, was showing at least a couple of bars. Neither Apple nor AT&T could explain this. The iPhone 4 quickly recovered in these situations, showing service after a few seconds, but it was still troubling.”—
This morning I drove to work and a guy in front of me was weaving in and out of traffic. Frantically.
It was pretty clear this guy was late for a meeting, the airport or whatever. And he was creating a headache for everyone else around him. His problem became everyone else’s problem.
Unfortunately this sort of thing can happen in the world of startups and venture capital as well. A board member has problems with his own portfolio and he takes out his own issues on an unsuspecting startup. Or someone at the office comes to work lit like a roman candle because they didn’t get any sleep last night because of a personal matter impacting their lives.
Their problem becomes your problem.
I think the only way to deal with this issue is by taking it head on. For the never-happy board member, I will often talk to this person out of the board room and calmly review the issues related to the non-offending startup that got hit with emotional shrapnel.
Same is true for the colleague at work that comes to work in a funk.
A vc friend of mine recently told me that he is only interested in bringing someone on to his team if his personal life is in good shape and a high priority in his life. It makes complete sense on many levels. First, it respects the individual and it also is mindful that our various lives spill over and get mashed up with each other.
One more thing (since i”m mindful that this is starting to sound like a “know it all” post which god knows isnt how i feel), we are all guilty of this from time to time. So when we find ourselves as the root of the issue, take a breath and go for a walk.
“Around that time, I attended an offsite of a larger private equity firm and there was a organizational psychologist who gave a talk on work life balance. He said something I’ll never forget. He said that you have about ten to twelve years to connect with your kids and then they turn into teenagers, tune you out, then turn into adults and build their own lives. I thought about my kids who were five, three, and a baby and realized that time was short and I needed to be present in their lives in every way that I could. And I committed right there and then to do that. And I’ve done a pretty decent job of it. Not perfect by any means. But much better than my yoga practice.”—A VC: Being Present
Whitney posted this as a comment to an earlier post I had the other day about comments funny enough. I thought it deserved it’s own attention.
It’s a wonderful description of the power and potential of our portfolio company ExFM.
In one sense, ExFM turns us into smart spiders. Each of us is going out there and actively crawling the web in search of music that interests us. Just by sitting back and watching what its users do, ExFM is searching out the incredibly odd musical corners of the Web: who’s posting psychedelic Swedish drone folk tracks? ExFM knows, and it knows who reblogged that track and who listened to it, too.
But because we’re *smart* spiders, ExFM can start to assign significance to the fact that you and I share some sites but not others. They can assign significance to the fact that a particular song is posted by ten of the sources in your library when normally there’s very little overlap. They can take this huge web of music being posted online and use [in the best possible sense of the word] you, me, and the rest of the user community as guides for understanding what’s happening and why.
In the early days of a startup it’s common and necessary for the founder(s) to be involved in every decision. From the strategic to the mundane.
Some love it and others do it out of necessity.
But as the company grows the founder(s) have a decision to make. Do they keep a very tight reign or do they delegate responsibility across the company.
And the question is how and when do they make those decisions.
Unfortunately there isn’t a good general answer that works for every situation.
After being in a number of startups myself and seeing our firm invest in over 40 companies, a few things come to mind.
1. The founders have to do what’s natural to them. Forcing them to be something they are not is where the trouble starts. Sometimes founders will try to convince themsleves they can delegate when they just can’t. So they let the team work on a proeject but then the founder can’t hold back anymore and they come down like a bolt of lightening towards the end of the process. Very disruptive and problematic. I’ve seen it up close and it sucks.
2. Years ago, I was always against the idea of hiring a President/COO/GM for a young company. It just felt like overkill or a layer that was unnecessary. But I’ve learned that a strong, organized, driver #2 exec in the company can provide enormous benefits to a “control freak” founder. Getting this right isn’t easy. Finding someone with the skills but also chemically works with the team is hard. Yet if you find the person it’s pure gold. The trust then goes from 1 person (the founder) to 2 people and then the COO/GM can delegate appropriately. It’s a highly effective fan out effect. As a result decisions get more efficient, hiring is more efficient and things start moving.
3. Sometimes founders will find themselves completely burnt out. That is usually a clear sign that they absolutely need to delegate and the board should help coach the founder to see that and figure out a plan to make a change. The change could mean changing the organizational structure (e.g. add management) or narrow the function of the founder. I’ve seen both work well. Some it does mean a founder needs to move on.
Much of this depends on the culture of the company you want to build.
The best advice to help you evolve from a micro-manager to someone that can lead and delegate is to simply hire the very best people you can find. They will demand more responsibility and you will sleep better at night.
* * *
As a parent, I’m learning how to evolve from a “micromanager” to someone that can let others (ie my kids) make their own decisions. It’s isn’t easy but I’m learning its the best thing I can do.
I am looking to apply to the Start@Spark program. I have a great idea, executive summary, and prototype for my concept, but have not put a management team in place. My thought is I would rather have a support team/VC partner in place so I can be properly advised and perhaps referred to a strong management team. What would you advise?
We don’t need to see a mgmt team in place for an early stage company seeking seed capital. Actually it probably doesn’t make sense to have a “management team in place” right now anyway.
Great idea and prototype is what we would like to see at this stage.
Used to be, back in the early days of DF, that those complaining about the lack of comments simply were under the impression that a site without comments was not truly a “weblog”. (My stock answer at the time: “OK, then it’s not a weblog.”) Typically these weren’t even complaints, per se, but rather simply queries: Why not?
Now that DF has achieved a modicum of popularity, however, what I tend to get instead aren’t queries or complaints about the lack of comments, but rather demands that I add them — demands from entitled people who see that I’ve built something very nice that draws much attention, and who believe they have a right to share in it.
That’s pretty clear and a rationale point of view. Obviously I don’t share it since I have comments enabled here. But then again my site and his are like night in day in terms of traffic.
I would love it if every person had a blog that commented on this site and others. I would encourage you start your own if you haven’t done so already and treat your site with care, kindness and respect. And feed it daily. It’s you and represents you. So take care of it.
It’s my firm belief that all websites eventually attract the attention and respect that they deserve. The hard work is in the “eventually” part.
I think what’s missing though is a way to easily discover blogs that link to anothers so you can discover and participate in the conversation. Without comments, discovering new blogs can be challenging.
I remember several years ago, I would visit technorati and enter the url for my blog and see any incoming links from other sites. Unfortunately in recent years Technorati doesn’t work properly and misses many (most?) incoming links which is a bummer.
It would be great if there was another way to discover these incoming links.
It could look like a distributed version of Techmeme across the web that clusters posts by subject matter. Enter in a blog post url and see related posts and all incoming links from social media sites as well. Right now Techmeme is the go to start page for the major news of the day with particular attention to Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter.
But clearly we all have a lot more to share on our blogs. The question remains: how do we discover them. I think it’s still a challenge and worth figuring out.
“Every alpha tester has received all my contact info including phone number. I’ve encouraged them to reach out with any concerns they might have. But, as the business scales, I’m not sure that that approach is going to scale as well. Maybe it will. I’ve been around for a while. I remember when the Internet really did feel like a family of friends. Maybe it can be that again.”—My friend Stuart Roseman, founder of SaneBox
“Starting today, you can tag Tweets with specific places, including all World Cup stadiums in South Africa, and create new Twitter Places. You can also click a Twitter Place within a Tweet to see recent Tweets from a particular location.”—
I used to run with the Garmin Forerunner. But it was just too big and clunky for my taste. The software was also a let down.
These days I workout with Nike+ and the iPhone. It’s a fun way to keep track of my runs. But I don’t always carry the iphone with me and you can’t keep the app running in the background - and with limited battery capacity, I’m not sure I would want to do that anyway.
FIitbit is a tiny device that you wear and it keeps track of your movements all day long. An easy way to think about Fitbit is as a fancy connected pedometer. But I believe it’s more than that.
First, it’s very cool looking. It’s also really tiny, battery lasts forever and the UI is clean and well done on the device.
But the best part - it’s an internet connected device. Set up is very simple and then after that everytime the fitbit comes close to the (included) cradle it will send data to your online profile.
The website is cool. Simple charts, stats & analytics are built in. You can also compete or just compare your fitness habits with friends. I think building social stuff into health products like this make so much sense.
As you can see I’m just getting started. I didn’t bring it with me camping this weekend because we left at the crack of dawn and I accidently left it at home (total bummer). I plan on keeping fitbit with me everywhere I go.
Fitbit also comes with a wrist strap so you can monitor your sleep history. I plan on doing that this week. I’m extremely curious to know how well I’m sleeping these days. I have a hunch but I’d rather see the data :)
Take your eyes off the screen and smell the flowers
A few summers ago, I answered a txt on my phone in the car while in traffic.
I looked up from the screen and had to hit the breaks. I was safe and didn’t hit anyone but it was stupid and close.
It was a wake up call. And I don’t do that anymore. I have bluetooth in the car and that’s how I do voice. I won’t txt while the car is in motion.
Last week I received another wake up a call. Someone sent me a picture of myself checking email on my phone while crossing the street.
Now, I’m hoping that i waited for the light to turn red and it was safe to walk but I really don’t know for sure. But here’s what I do know. From the photo, it looked like a nice day outside. I was wearing just a sweater and the sky was blue.
Did I really have to write an email while crossing the street.
Of course not.
It’s a good reminder to put the toys down and smell the flowers.
The first desktop applications I used were macdraw, macwrite and eudora. They were simple, elegant and I felt like they were made for me.
But as new versions rolled out they became increasingly richer with new capabilities. Some of them died because a new thing with more stuff offered users additional functionality with each year.
But 20 years later I am so pleased that these desktop applications are evolving in more interesting ways.
Web applications have changed my life. I use google docs instead of ms office. I use aviary instead of adobe creative suite. And I use gmail instead of apple mail.
Web apps or apps in the cloud offer so many compelling things and it’s nice to avoid installing updates, fucked up crashing and heavy apps.
For the past month, I’ve been beta testing the next version of a well known desktop office suite. And here’s the thing, this version is much better than the last version. But in a very predictable way. It’s a bit more stable and brings a ton of new features that I will never ever use.
Compare that unnamed desktop suite with Apple’s iPad apps.
Keynote on iPad is way more interesting than it’s desktop counterpart. I honestly don’t know how to add animations on keynote for Mac OS. But it’s a breeze to do on the iPad. And while I know how to add images and shapes on keynote on the Mac, it’s just much more fun and inspiring to do it on keynote for iPad.
Some say the iPad is best suited for content consumption and not content creation. I believe it’s partially true because many app developers haven’t changed their perspective for a touch interface.
And that perspective is a big deal and a big opportunity.
If you notice Steve Jobs only mentioned Mac OS X once in his wwdc opening speech. Once.
It’s clear that he has big plans for iPhone OS (which is now called iOS). New devices like next gen laptops and desktop computers running iOS and touch screen displays are going to require brand new ways of creating apps that are native to touch.
I am so excited about the possibilities.
(excuse the typos and lack of links. Wrote this on my iPhone).
“During the ’90s, I spent countless hours trekking down to Wall Street because the bankers wanted to have a meeting about how do we make New York more like Silicon Valley. My answer was always the same. You don’t. What you could do is make New York a good place to start a business. The people who move here-they are some driven motherfuckers. They will figure it out.”—Clay Shirky (via pegobry)