Hallway Chat, Season 8

Nabeel and I recorded our first podcast of 2021 this week. And this time we were joined by our new Spark colleague, Brian Watson.

In todays show we discuss Apple and service-based software releasing, the PS5 and why we play games, creating a middle class Creator Economy, blogging in 2021 and finding your voice on the internet, being a VC only in up times.

As always, thanks for listening and send us feedback on Twitter (@nabeel, @bijan, @bwats)

Some thoughts on employee stock options in startup land

The vast majority of tech startups grant employees with stock options. The hard truth these stock options are worthless if the company fails. But in many cases they are valuable and in some cases they are life changing. That is how it goes in startup land. Founders and employees are all taking a signficant risk to build or make something that may not work — but providing equity to all employees provides alignment in focus, goals and reward.

I’m now in my 16th year as a venture capitalist and before that I spent about 10 years working inside startups. One of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed is the amount of equity rank and file employees receive in these startups. As the market has become more competitive, executive stock options grants have held relatively steady but founder grants have only gone in one direction — up.

The end result: the individual contributor is receiving less and less equity.

Now, I don’t want to paint with a broad brush. There are great examples of a fair employee option pool. But I’m seeing too many venture backed companies where the employees hold less than 5% of the company. In some cases a lot less. And the VCs don’t own a lot.

I am glad this market has become more competitive and founders have an increased number of sources when it comes to capital. But I encourage us all to think carefully about the employee option pool. Consider where it has been, where things stand now and what sort of impact this all makes on the culture of our industry and the world.

A new day for our country

In a few hours the United States of America will have a new President.

Trump leaves office disgraced with the lowest approval rating in history — the majority of this country understands who serves as President matters. Record turnout, record voters, and our democracy endures.

There are serious, daunting challenges ahead for this country to be sure. But on day 1, we have the most talented, & diverse cabinet to serve and Biden will issue seventeen executive orders to get us on the right path.

I am optimistic, I am hopeful and I am inspired.

The Big Island

After a great deal of thought and planning (and testing) we made a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. Our last trip to the Big Island was over 20 years ago and this island (and the world) was quite a bit different. It was also a time before we had children. This time we spent about a month in a small rental house on the west side of the island and spent our days exploring, hiking, playing board games and reading. We all fell in love with the Big Island. It’s so peaceful, the people are incredibly kind and the food was delicious. I’m completely addicted to loco moco and Kona coffee.

It was a very special trip and I am happy we were able to spend it together as a family.

I brought along two cameras, a medium format Hasselblad (square images) and a 35mm Leica M6. And many rolls of Kodak film.

Yesterday’s assault on the Capitol

The Washington Post’s Editorial Page this morning offers a clearly worded rebuke of the violence and lays the blame where it belongs.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S refusal to accept his election defeat and his relentless incitement of his supporters led Wednesday to the unthinkable: an assault on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob that overwhelmed police and drove Congress from its chambers as it was debating the counting of electoral votes. Responsibility for this act of sedition lies squarely with the president, who has shown that his continued tenure in office poses a grave threat to U.S. democracy. He should be removed.

Worth reading the entire piece.

Three books

Three books I’ve enjoyed immensely of late.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield. If you are a fellow David Bowie fan, I highly recommend this delightful short book from one talented Bowie fan to another. I loved the heartfelt insight and the Sheffield’s writing style. It’s also filled with little known (to me) details about David Jones (Bowie) life.

In the Gold Dust Rush by Jason Lee. This is a collection of black and white photographs made by Jason Lee during a 14 years stretch of traveling the American Southwest. The photographs were all made with black and white film (medium format and 35mm). It has instantly become one of my favorite photo books for sure.

I’m currently in the middle of A Promised Land by Barack Obama. If you are an admirer of the last great American President it’s a fascinating inside account of his life growing up and his experience leading up to and serving as President. I just got to the part where he won his first term. I still have goosebumps. Yes, we can is forever etched in my mind.

Goodbye 2020

What a year.

A brutal year on so many levels. For all of us. Some lost loved ones. Others lost their work or their economic stability. Others fought battles with mental health, stress and depression.

On a personal note and to keep it real I have had my own struggles on and off the cushion. I recently contacted a therapist we are scheduled to connect in early January. In the past I have worked with a coach with great success but a good friend recently suggested that a licensed therapist might be particularly useful for me at this time. I am grateful for my meditation practice.

And while my life continues to be a work in progress, I am so grateful for many things that happened this year. Top of the list is the time with my wife and children. We have never spent this much time together, just the five of us. There have been moments where someone got on someone’s nerves or said the wrong thing during a vulnerable moment. But on the whole it has been a most wonderful silver lining to a crazy year. We have become closer through it all.

I am hopeful for 2021. I am optimistic about science and this vaccine. I am optimistic a new government and new leaders will make a positive impact. I am hopeful that so many of our collective and individual lessons learned this year will inform the future for all of us. For each of us.

And most of all I’m so looking forward to hugging my friends, family and loved ones in the new year. Because, good lord, we could all use more hugs.