Thursday, December 6, 2012
Friday, November 30, 2012
Saturday, November 17, 2012
If you only look at software, Google is all search; Facebook is all Facebook; Amazon is all e-commerce; and Apple, Oracle, Intel, HP, and IBM don't exist.
Monday, November 5, 2012
So many people helped me out this week. I'm particularly grateful to my friend Gina Shedid, who took me in to her Brooklyn home and made it possible for me to comfortably get through the week with all of the first-world amenities that we usually take for granted: electricity, heat, and internet. Gina is an incredible hostess and I encourage you to send your friends to stay with her on Airbnb. Her hospitality even made it into the news.
Friends with whom I had quarreled put differences aside to reach out and make sure I was OK. My friend Kate McCarn and her boyfriend helped her 80 year old aunt down 17 flights of stairs, put her up in their 1-br apartment, and were still generous enough to invite me to crash with them for as long as I needed.
The security receptionist at a Class-A midtown office building let me work out of the lobby on Tuesday afternoon with my phone and laptop plugged into the front desk, when I was frantically trying to complete my application to YCombinator which was due that night (it was later postponed to Friday, but I didn't know that at the time). It turned out he had slept in the building for the past two days and was going to stay there until subway service was restored. I'm not sure if that was because he was paid hourly and needed the money badly enough to put up with the conditions or because he couldn't afford to take a taxi home, but either way it helped me realize how lucky I am to be able to enjoy what I've always thought of as a very modest lifestyle.
When my key got stuck in the lock - which of course had to happen just then - someone I had never met from a neighboring building lent me her cell phone to call a locksmith and her WD-40 when I couldn't get through.
I am going to volunteer in the Rockaways in the morning, which were hit much worse than we were here in the city and really need our help. When people tell me how great it is that I'm doing this, I just think of all the people that were there for me when I needed them. How could I do any less?
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
IT services - 16 months, $23.4Bn start to finish:
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
What about forgiving ourselves though?
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Why should every tech startup be one business guy and the rest engineers? Why should you always finish the product before you build the business? A true entrepreneur doesn't hold up his business because he can't find one factor input. She fakes it, makes it work, pushes forward by sheer willpower. He does it manually until it's clear that there's a business and has developers clamoring to be his CTO.
It's one thing if you are selling technology, be it hardware or software; it's another if you are a tech-enabled business using the web for greater efficiency and scale. Saying you need to be a programmer to start a web-based startup is like saying you need to be an architect and a bricklayer to start a brick and mortar business. Get your business going, then you'll find the greatest architect ever and have more than a dream to sell him on.
[this post is likely to draw some controversy, not only b/c it goes against tech startup orthodoxy, but also b/c I didn't edit it before pressing 'Publish']
Should product be separate from business? As if business would sully it? Like asking about a business model at NYTM?
Are more people likely to use Uber b/c it has a great "product", or because of the availability of cars?
Twitter still has a horrible "product" - but nobody really cares.
I think we are moving into a post-product world, where people understand that the role "product" is to deliver the business, not the other way around.
Friday, September 7, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Sunday, August 12, 2012
It makes computing accessible. It appeals to our intuitive senses. Where in the real world have you ever seen a WIMP interface? Maybe in your file cabinet, at best. WIMP is like doing everything with buttons and levers whose experience is disconnected from their effects. MPG is like manipulating the world directly. This is why kids get it so quickly, why it's so much more enjoyable than WIMP.
Apple realized this breakthrough, not just with the iPhone but with the iPod, whose controls were already gesture based (albeit with only two gestures). Previous to the iPhone, touch screen phone UIs were just WIMP based interfaces in which a stylus or finger replaced the mouse as pointer.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me"
- "The New Colossus," Emma Lazarus, 1883
This year I'm especially proud to be an American. Working in VC has given me insight into so many founders' stories and helped me see how much of our innovation has come from immigrants and their children. US immigration policy is unnecessarily restrictive, but once you are here the sky is the limit. Other countries may have higher percentages of foreign-born citizens, and there are always the gold rush countries de jour (China and Dubai come to mind in recent times), but those places will never accept outsiders as their own. America is still the place whose national dream anyone can aspire to, and this is why the world's hungriest and most ambitious individuals still to come here to seek their fortunes, as they have for centuries. Democracy, capitalism, freedom of speech, and rule of law are the foundation; but immigration is the engine that will keep America exceptional long after China's economic growth slows.
Monday, June 25, 2012
When I was working for UniTeller, a money transfer startup doing family remittances to Latin America, in 2004-2005, my boss called my El Ingeñiero Elpern (Engineer Elpern) , but this was a conscious effort by him to pump me up in the eyes of our latinoamericano partners, who have great respect for titles. We both knew the game we were playing and that we were being a little hand wavy with the word. I have a computer science degree but not an engineering degree, and frankly being called an engineer made me a little uncomfortable.
Over the past couple of years however I've noticed the usage of these words become much looser, particularly in the startup world: people without founder experience are calling themselves entrepreneurs, and people without a real engineering or computer science background calling themselves engineers. When it's just one person, you can say they're exaggerating. When it's a few, you can rant about people who don't know what the words mean, and hope it's just a fad. When it becomes the norm, you have to accept that language has changed and go with it.
This raises the question: if the entrepreneur title no longer requires starting something new, and the engineer title no longer requires the study of engineering, what do these words mean?  Is anyone with startup experience an entrepreneur, and anyone who can code an engineer? Or is there a particular bar for using these terms, like being a high-level employee at a startup or being particularly proficient at coding?
Oh, and I'm now an entrepreneur and an engineer, according to my Twitter and About.me profiles.
 A uniquely Latin American title that is analogous to the use of Dr. to mean someone who has an MD, but for an engineering degree.
 In the startup community we don't confer these titles with formal status, but they still manifest themselves in the headlines we write for ourselves, whether on About.me, LinkedIn, or a company site, to say nothing of the way these terms define our self-image.
Academics study the past, at best the present. Entrepreneurs predict the future, by building it.
Title quote by Peter Drucker
Friday, June 22, 2012
In the dot-com era tech was popular for tech's sake. It was this exciting new thing, the Internet, and you could make millions just by adding dot-com to your name. It was revolutionary, the most exciting new thing since railroads, it was the tracks and the trains, the distribution and the cargo. The rush was on, everyone knew what they were chasing, but no one really understood what it was.
Today, there is a giddiness inside the tech sector, but not in the rest of the economy. People already know what the Web is; the difference b/w PC and mobile and tablet is fairly incremental. There have been some important innovations, like MPG replacing WIMP as the dominant UI model, NoSQL databases, REST APIs, and App Stores, but again these are all evolutionary compared with the Web. Today's tech world is Web native, and so we take it for granted. Everyone understands what it is, but no one knows what we're chasing.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Most startup folks would say no; these speakers are unlikely to say anything new about the topic that I don't already know, and the attendees probably aren't decision-makers. If I had to pay I would agree, but since I don't it gave me an interesting opportunity to reflect.
What if the benefit from attending a corporate event is not to meet power brokers or learn new ideas, but to understand how the people who will be driving adoption of your product see the world?
Friday, June 1, 2012
Did SOPA/PIPA represent a tipping point in market leverage between traditional content producers (media) and the new content distributors (tech)? What sort of holdups might we see in the future of this relationship?
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Netflix recently provided a great example of this. On last week's earnings call, Netflix CFO David Wells blamed a lack of competition for their sluggish growth in Latin America. From GigaOm: "Without other companies showing local consumers that “streaming video actually works,” Netflix endures the entire burden of marketing an consumer education [sic]." 
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Once upon a time in this country the consumption of alcohhol on Sundays was seen as a great danger, so we passed laws banning the sale of liquor on Sundays. In many states we still have this law, which we find antiquated today.
Today we feel that exposing our data is a great danger, and so we are creating laws to ban what companies can do with our data, and when they can collect it. I wonder if 100 years from now privacy laws will be the new Blue Laws: out of touch legislation that doesn't actually protect us any better.
We need to develop a legal and criminal system that acknowledges that our data is going to be out there no matter what we do about it, and figures out ways to protect and serve in that reality.
If you win the war, great, you get the spoils, but if you lose - or win but aren't able to take the spoils - you just burned up most of your productive resources for no return.
Our empire will be different. We've learned some of the lessons of military overreach, and we live an era where it is not accepted for the winner to plunder the spoils of war so the incentive for conquest is much diminished.
Our empire will achieve overreach because of health care costs. When the age of American greatness ends we will look back on it and say that the trigger for decline was not our WWII (British Empire), nor our Afghanistan (USSR), but a decision the Supreme Court made in 2012.
I hope that our Justices are wise.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
David Biesel wrote a great post about the challenges of giving overly direct feedback to an entrepreneur when passing on their business . One of his interesting points is that "The more negative the feedback (even if genuinely constructive), the less likely an entrepreneur will return ... whenever his business and/or financing details have markedly progressed." VCs know that an entrepreneur whose business they don't think is a good fit today may be a great fit somewhere down the road; David's fund has made more than half of its investments in founders they previously passed on.
For me the "aha" moment came when reading this line:
... great entrepreneurs ... hear critiques as a learning opportunity to refining their business or how they effectively communicate about it. Great entrepreneurs also value people who are honest and direct about their concerns, and use those points as a foundation for addressing them to build a relationship over time.In other words, great entrepreneurs are people to whom you can give blunt and honest feedback without worrying about their holding it against you. Honest and blunt feedback may turn away some entrepreneurs, but these are not the people we want to invest in.
This realization also helped me reconcile with the difficulty of having to professionally say no to people I personally like: the best friends, like the best founders, are mature enough to handle criticism, know in what circumstances certain relationships and people fit together and when they don't, and these are the people I want to surround myself with in work and life.
[First in what will hopefully be a series of posts about learning the VC trade]
Monday, February 20, 2012
- [first initial][last name]@
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
- You start with coffee.
- There are lots of "dates."
- If you're not interested you try to let the other side down gently - "I don't want to lead you on."
- The side that starts off aloof can be the side that ends up falling in love - and the one that gets its heart broken.
- Begging the other side to give things another chance rarely works.
- You can't reason your way into a relationship (aka He's Just Not That Into You)
- There may be numbers involved but ultimately it's based on a feeling.
- Timing is everything - "This just isn't the right time for me to get into a relationship."
- "You remind me of an ex" (another company/investor that left a bad taste).
- It's not about one side choosing the other but about both sides finding the right match.
- You hope it's about more than the money.
- The holy grail is a true partnership.
- When the relationship is ready to be consummated there is paperwork to sign.
- Moving too fast often produces bad results.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
From a revenue perspective, it depends on the size of the transaction to which the gift card or coupon is applied. Most gift cards don't change the amount of revenue a retailer receives. That is to say, there is no discount given with the gift card so a $50 gift card represents $50 in revenue to the retailer. The retailer may pay for distribution of the gift card, in the form of a discount to face value, but this is a separate question.*** From an accounting perspective I don't know if the retailer can recognize revenue at the time the gift card is sold or has to wait until it is spent. A coupon cuts into their revenue, as by definition it is a reduction in what the customer would otherwise have paid for the same items.
The above, of course, assumes that the customer would have bought the same items at full price regardless of whether an incentive (gift card or coupon) was offered. There is a lot of research and writing on how gift cards and coupons affect purchasing behavior, but that is beyond the scope of this question. What I have anecdotally observed is that versus gift cards, coupons tend to drive more spend outside of the item on which the coupon is used. I.e. I'm more likely to walk into a store to use a coupon and find myself buying more things than just what the coupon is for than I am to do the same with a gift card. To use one example, if I buy $50 of goods in a store and use a $10 coupon, the coupon will directly reduce revenue to the retailer by $10, but it may have indirectly increased revenue by $40. The real question on the use of coupons and other discounts is not their effect on current-period revenue but their effect on margins and as a customer acquisition tool (see for example AT&T's argument that while it loses money on each iPhone it sells at a discount to what it buys them at, it makes up for that loss by the lifetime value of an iPhone subscriber).
With the gift card in fact I may never spend the full value of the gift card, a phenomenon called breakage which benefits the retailer and is built into the business model of the gift card industry.
Coupons do not generally affect the balance sheet. Gift cards on the other hand represent a liability, as their balance is indeed owed to the gift card holders, much like a bank deposit. To continue the bank deposit analogy, it is unlikely that all gift card holders would ask for what is owed to them at once. The exception would be a run on a bank, or in the case of a retailer, fear of a bankruptcy. For this reason retailers whose outstanding gift card liabilities represent a material part of their assets should disclose not only the size of this liability but how quickly they expect it to be redeemed (I don't know if this is actually required by the SEC).
The outstanding liability is one reason that gift cards expire after a certain period. One can imagine an extreme case for an older retailer that if there were no expiry date, the sum of all of the gift cards ever issued that were lost or otherwise not redeemed might end up being more than the rest of the retailer's balance sheet! (the other reason is the breakage component of the gift card business model that is mentioned above)
Which Is Better for the Retailer
The answer to this one, like all good questions, is "it depends." This is really a narrower form of the question "What is a good pricing strategy?"
As Aditya points out, a gift card preserves brand equity better for luxury or higher end brands. On the other hand, for a retailer whose brand positioning includes being low cost - e.g. Walmart, T-Mobile, most grocery stores and pharmacies - a coupon might enhance their image.
For more directly financial advantages to each form of shopping incentive, the answer is completely dependent on the particulars of the campaign, including the size of the coupon/gift card, the nature of the incentive, the item or items being discounted, the distribution channel, etc. For example, a coupon can be for a percentage vs fixed discount; for a particular item vs run of store; have variable expiration dates; have a minimum spend to trigger the coupon (e.g. $10 off your purchase of $100 or more).
* I helped Univision launch their gift card in addition to broader experience w/ other forms of payments.
** Because isn't that what business models really are - ways of influencing consumer behavior?
*** If you are interested, this is referred to as B2B gift cards - as opposed to B2C that are sold directly by the retailer to the consumer - and includes channels such as employee incentives (when a corporation buys gift cards to give their employees), gift card malls (online or offline locations that offer a wide selection of gift cards in one place. You'll often see these in drug stores near the checkout areas), and scrip (gift cards used as fundraising solutions, wherein community organizations such as schools buys gift cards at a discount and then resell them to community members at face value, collecting the difference as a donation). All of these channels share the characteristic that there is a wholesale buyer of the cards, who receives an appropriate wholesale discount.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
In an opinion piece in the NY Times on Friday, Susan Cain makes the case that "privacy makes us more productive"
"In a fascinating study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between organizations. What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly."She goes on to note that teamwork is still important, but that electronic teamwork is most effective:
"[While] recent studies suggest that influential academic work is increasingly conducted by teams rather than by individuals ... teams whose members collaborate remotely, from separate universities, appear to be the most influential of all."Since correlation does not imply causation, one could argue that better programmers have better concentration, rather than that more interruptions cause worse programming, or that remote collaboration by individuals at separate universities is more successful because these highly-specialized teams are not limited to the local talent pool.
The point however is not that one way of working is better than the other, but rather than every team needs to find its own balance.
I tend to find that at the beginning of any working relationship, or when a new group is formed, that more face time is helpful to establish trust, rapport, and informal rapid decision-making protocols. I prefer to do most of my work independently, but to have many informal phone and email touchpoints, as well as regularly scheduled time together in the same location.
Regular and informal scheduling allows face-to-face interactions to occur naturally, without the choice of medium sending too strong of a signal or dominating the content and tone of the conversation. At Genacast I am based in New York while Gil and Austin are based in Philly, but Gil and I tend to be in the same city twice a week. This may change as my time with the firm increases, but I find it very helpful for learning from him and for getting to know each other's styles.
 The Rise of the New Groupthink
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I just watched his "How to Pitch a VC (aka Startup Viagra: How to Give a VC a Hard-On)," and I was blown away (in keeping with my new "no hyperlinks" policy, the link is at the bottom). Of the dozens of presentations out there on the topic, this the best I've seen. Every entrepreneur thinking about raising venture capital should watch it. Hell, even if you're not an entrepreneur you should watch it; many of his points are valid for any type of pitch presentation from sales to job interviews to biz dev partnerships. For examples: always lead with a single "splash page" slide that leaves the audience with an image of what you are about, because that might be the only slide you get to show.
Watch if you haven't already:
Monday, January 2, 2012
I've had enough with FOMO, so for 2012 I am making the following resolution: No Mo' FOMO. Instead of FOMO let's try CWID: Content w/ What I'm Doing.