Last week I was talking to a friend who is in the midst of raising a pretty competitive seed round. Just a day into his process and he was already flirting with that magical line of “oversubscription” (you are ‘oversubscribed” when more money has been committed to you than you are willing to raise). He is an experienced entrepreneur but hadn’t raised capital in a while and he asked me if it was cool to ask investors “how do you add value?” My initial response was a knee-jerk…I told him it pisses me off when a founder asks me this question in a pitch meeting…he asked me why…and I took a pause to think about what was at the root of this response. Ultimately I didn’t like having to answer to someone who was asking me for money… I said if I spend an hour with someone and they can’t tell that I’m going to be valuable in the round without having to ask me explicitly, then I don’t want to be in business with them. I told him that that question comes across as naïve and amateur…which I think it does…that there are ways to direct a conversation to get the answers you are looking for without interviewing someone who you are asking to invest in you. I guess I felt that the question of “why are you value add?” lacked the humility I have always tried to show when raising capital myself. Or maybe it’s that anytime a founder asks me that question it suggests that they read some blog post about how “it’s not just about the money, it’s about the value that an investor brings to the table.” For sure that blog post is true, but you don’t need to prove that you read it in your pitch meetings.
I’ve raised seed capital twice and personally, I would never ask such an explicit question…I would do my homework in advance, study each potential investor’s backgrounds, read the content they have published online, learn the stories of their operational history, and usually talked with people in their portfolio well before I ever met them. I would know the answer to such a question, and never put them on their heels or in a defensive position when my only goal was to get them to lean in…It doesn’t come across as savvy or smart…just naïve.
All that being said, I have reflected on that conversation for three or four days, and found myself trying to isolate and answer explicitly what is my “value add” as an investor…I wanted to understand if part of my knee jerk was due to a discomfort with my own ability to answer the question…so I endeavored to really get it down to what makes my capital greener than the next guy’s or girl’s…I quickly arrived at what I have known for a long time…that the best investors I know all have one outsized talent that they have built a career around, and they compliment that with an astute awareness of where their excellence begins and more importantly ends…what was my outsized talent that I share with my portfolio companies…I’m not an ops mastermind, not a brand guru, no 30 year friendships with Larry Page or Zuck…what do I do that is different than everyone else? Sure I have some good playbooks, blocking and tackling kind of stuff…but at the end of the day I think my contribution lies at the nexus of emotional support and strategic thinking…Although some would say that I am a bit callous to the outside world, I am super in tune with the emotional states of those I work with…I am an introvert and pay really close attention to how I feel and have felt over the past 4 years running startups…it’s a very unusual set of feelings and pressures…people often talk about how lonely it can be…nothing new that I am saying here…but if I think about what I really give to the founders I am close with, it’s an empathetic ear…one that requires no filter…no fear of exposing vulnerability…That empathy, in and of itself can be hard to come by for founders and CEO’s. Sure, a spouse, or close friend can perform a similar role…but without a sharp strategic lens…it is not enough. It’s not just “I understand where you are, things are gong to be ok (although that is nice for sure)…it’s “I get where you are, now here’s what we do.” I often talk about Kenny as someone who helped me develop so much as a CEO…not because he taught me any particular skill, but rather he was just so in tune with where my head was at day to day, and had the experience to tell me how my mindset was either contributing to or fucking up my strategic decision making…I guess I endeavor to fill that similar role with my own portfolio companies…if you ask me how I’m going to add value, my new response will be “I’m going to tell you when your insecurity is fucking up your strategic decision making…like right now…you are asking this stupid question to change the power dynamic of this meeting…you are fucking up because you are not confident. Don’t do this with other investors and you’ll raise your round quicker.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 15 so far )
What is founder? Founder is starter. Starter is not operator, starter is not builder, starter is not marketer. Starter is starter. She who takes nothing and turns it into something…however valueless that something may be. It is not everyone who is starter. In fact, you could argue that starter creates much less value over the life of a company than builder, marketer, operator, but starter is it’s own skill. Yes, many starters are some combination of starter and marketer, builder, operator, etc. but it is a very specific skill set who is able to start and not false start. So what is a starter?
A starter is:
- able to find signal in the noise. People reference vision, but more concretely vision is the ability to see an opportunity while it lives in disparate, uncongealed parts of information and available resources. They can see that things fit together before there is a structure and a name and a brand and a concrete representation of that opportunity.
- A communicator. Able to manifest that concrete representation of a disconnected, unsolidified opportunity. It all begins with words. Before there is a business plan, before there is a pitch deck, before there is product, a starter is able to pull the opportunity into a set of words that elucidates the opportunity to at least one other person. They are able to secure resources against these words, weather those resources be intellectual capital, free legal work, cofounders, early employees, money, or services.
- A guide. Able to compensate for imperfect words and imperfect visualization of the opportunity they see with passion and intellect. As an opportunity congeals, over months and even years, it is still not visible to all. With each step a company takes to pull the invisible into something concrete, the universe of believers grows. The thing that was visible to one becomes visible to many. Securing resources becomes easier, building becomes easier, value creation becomes easier. But early on, in the absence of a widely visible representation of the opportunity, the starter builds believers in herself. Others don’t yet believe in the opportunity because they cannot see it. It hasn’t congealed to a point where it all fits in their heads, but they believe that the starter can see it, and they buy into the aptitude of the starter. They say “I can only see 80% of the pieces, but this person sees something I don’t and based on everything I know of them, I believe they are better equipped to analyze the available information than I.”
- Said another way, the starter, and not the false starter, is correct. They are correct that in the ether exists an opportunity waiting to be pulled together into a structure. People often discount the idea at the onset of a company, and yes, the initial idea always changes, but the successful starter is correct that by endeavoring to pull previously separated pieces together, those pieces being information and resources, that the congealed form, independent of what it turns out to be, will have more value than the separate parts.
- Confident. Yes, the skill set of a starter is unique, but still way more prevalent than the number of founders in the world. The starter is willing to bet on themselves. Not only will they chase an opportunity before it is fully visible, they will chase it despite being the absolute first person to recognize it. Yes many people have the same ideas, but starters recognize the combination of information and available resources to them as a viable combination, and embark. They are willing to do so with no social validation. They begin to put the parts into words and structure before a single other person has validated this expenditure of time and emotion. They are fueled from within.
So is a starter an idea man? Maybe…partially, but he is more. He is a puzzle master. Fitting pieces of information and resources that were previously separate together. And…if he is good, he is correct…and the image on the non-existent cover to the box turns out, as he projected, to be beautiful.
To all the starters and would be starters out there, may 2012 bring you that corner piece you’ve been searching forRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Last night I was talking with the brilliant Eric Tang about my upcoming trip to Tokyo. Eric’s mom is Japanese and he was sharing some of the cultural nuances that await us. One of the ones that I found most interesting was what appears to be an EXTENSIVE happy hour culture. Apparently from the hours of 7:00 to 11:00 after work EVERY day, the entire workforce goes to bars to drink with their colleagues. It isn’t a once a weak, or special occasion thing, but rather a requisite for professional ascent. “If you’re not going to drink with your coworkers every day after work, you won’t succeed.”
Max chimed in that in some of the other Asian countries in which he’s spent time, deals are closed over many drinks, and it is an important step in the development of trust that you drink with potential business partners.
These two anecdotes got me thinking about why and what is at the root of this behavior and it reminded me of a lesson that I learned about 5 years ago when first observing different professional archetypes. I studied how people form strong business relationships and I decided that there are two ways to build extremely tight, long term business relationships:
1) Make a lot of money with someone. With spectacular success comes a very strong bond that can mint a lifelong business relationship. Not surprising…if you make $50 million with a partner, you guys are going to likely continue to do things together for years to come.
2) Do something very bad with together. In compromising morally, and collaborating on something illicit or illegal, you are also bonded for life. With vulnerability and liability comes a life long bond as well. Said another way…those who have “the dirt” on each other stay incredibly close.
I have seen incredibly tight professional relationships that were born out of both of these beginnings and (obviously) have chosen to eschew the second in pursuit of the first…not that that is necessarily the fastest path to a killer and powerful network, but it is certainly the most righteous…
Regardless, returning to the institution of getting drunk to form professional bonds in Asian cultures…although obviously not immoral or in any way negative as a practice…I do think the behavior is an extension of the psychological phenomenon at the root of methodology number 2. With danger, slightly bad behavior, and shared time in the realm of mischief perhaps the wheels are greased in advance of achieving method number 1.
So yea, if you ever wonder how the two incredibly close, incredibly rich 50 year old guys built such a strong business relationship…it’s a decent bet that they either did bad things together at some point or absolutely crushed it together (or both)…Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Here are some totally uninformed predictions for 2012. This cold weather and xmas vibe in NYC has me thinking in terms of random annual delineations:
1) Facebook’s IPO will represent the top tick of the tech/venture cycle. (It won’t be a precipitous decline after, but that will be the peak of this cycle) The early bubble prognosticators who have attempted to “call the bust” were a healthy 12-18 months early. I would be a seller between now and then OR make sure you have the revenue/financing to make it through the 24 months after, because things are going to be nice and illiquid (or semi-liquid…like flan…or something like that).
2) Twitter will try to go public shortly after Facebook. They will try to get out and enjoy the stupid public market’s inability to discern between 2 “social media companies.” Shareholders in Twitter will get rich. Public market buyers who go long and hold will take a bath.
3) The big boys are going to have their day. As the Series A crunch materializes…and believe me…it is materializing…a swath of seed funded companies that aren’t “slap you in the face breaking out” will have to work very hard to get their follow on capital. Many won’t. Large venture funds, who will no longer be distracted by the now past window for late stage growth checks in scaled assets (Airbnb, Linkedin, Gilt, etc…), will return to their roots in Series A investments. Bottom heavy firms like Bessemer and Bain Capital Ventures, who have the resources to comb through the noise of seed funded companies looking for A rounds are well positioned to find the diamonds in the rough. Those funds will make some spectacular bets at spectacular prices.
4) Foursquare is going to have a bananas year. As someone who watches the space closer than most, I can honestly say they make all the right moves. The decision making and vision within that company is not to be underestimated. The geo-enabled ad curve and SMB/Merchant tech adoption curves are aligning perfectly. If I could buy stock at current market valuation in any single company on the web, I’d put my $ here.
5) Oracle is going to buy 10Gen (MongoDB) for more than $400M
6) Commerce 2.0 is going to fall out of favor. Venture $ will continue to chase the early and steep revenue curves but as multiple years of data on the early innovators emerges, it will show flattening curves and margin challenges. Those that were “first” by vertical will exit and exit well. All the rest will mature into unexciting semi-scaled assets incapable of raising B and C round $ to sustain. See “e-commerce” in Wikipedia for analog.
7) Data is the new content. Content is data. Kenny once taught me that there is a cycle of opportunity that shifts between distribution and creation of content. Once content is created, innovation in distribution is where you get rich. Once distribution is fully built out and commoditized, content creation to fill the new pipes is where you get rich (the two curves go back and forth). If Data is the new content, we’ve been in a phase of massive creation for the past few years…it’s time to build out distribution…The distribution layer in the data ecosystem is going to be an epic market. API infrastructure, new authentication paradigms, and the tracking of data’s movement across environments are going to be hotbeds for early stage innovation and investment.
If you think my predictions suck, step up with your own in the comments…
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Taking inspiration from Chris Dixon, who tweeted that he is forcing himself to publish as a means to fight writers block, I have decided to do the same. It used to be that I would sit down and say “what happened today that was interesting?” I’d think of a cool conversation or an interesting thing that I learned and then write about it. At some point an agenda started to weasel it’s way into my blog. What does this post say about my company? What does this post say about my fund? What does this post say about me? Those questions tended to influence my writing adversely. Rather than communicate a point or thought in its raw and unadulterated form, I was conscious of my audience. “what if this investor is reading this post?” “What if our new hire is reading this post?” The filters that are placed on raw content dilute it. It is easy to be raw and honest and take risks with the online content you produce in 2 general states. State 1 is when you have nothing to lose. When I started writing this blog, it was literally from the ashes. I had just shut down a company, I was wandering aimlessly though startupland without a real brand or agenda, and I just started writing to organize my thoughts, engage the community, and really to communicate that despite my failed attempt at building a company, that I was smart and had something to contribute. I could call out big shots and fear nothing in the way of recourse. I could write every awesome idea I had, because I had no platform or ability to monetize them. I could let my mind throw up in wordpress and the reality was no adverse reaction could take me any further down than the depths of “no man’s land.” As I built momentum, the blog became my platform, the community engaged in my environment, and I began to cobble together resources that would ultimately become Hyperpublic. As my company grew, and as Lerer Ventures grew, I found I had to check certain ideas. The ratio of published to unpublished writing began to change, and I held back concepts and ideas that could have an adverse affect on goals that I was better positioned to achieve. I believe that this tension, which Fred has written about a few times, as have others, led to a filtering of content to which I see but one resolution. And it is in that resolution that I arrive at State 2 of unfiltered or honest content creation. That state is “Fuck you, I’m crushing it, and even if I do lose something for writing this it doesn’t matter, because I’m untouchable.” Perhaps the greatest example of someone who has embodied that ethos, weather or not he is the most deserving example of it, is Dave Mcclure. Love him or hate him, he doesn’t give a fuck and will write whatever is on his mind with little filter. The result is entertaining content and a good read. Most everyone else lies somewhere in the middle. Some days we feel throttled, other days we feel free. Perhaps lately Dixon was throttled by his effort to sell Hunch. One wrong misstep, one wrong post, and Ebay could have walked. Sometimes we are dealing with heavy shit, where the stakes are high, and it is hard to find a subject matter or thought train that isn’t sensitive to share. Sometimes so much mental bandwidth is wrapped in a realm where the potential loss associated with publishing stifles our ability to put pen to paper. Today, somehow, someone else’s expression of the frustration associated with this state released the strangle hold that my mind had on my words. So post I shall, and hopefully again tomorrow.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
Tents and blue tarps form small villages within a crowded park. Young, dreadlocked faces sit on display, conscious of their viewers but focused on existing independent of the passers by. A steady stream of sympathizers, or should I say sympathizers and spectators, or is there really a difference, walk down congested aisles, in between the tarps, reading signs, and glancing, occasionally engaging someone from “within” the movement. But really what is “within” in a movement such as this. Where do we draw the line between observation, perpetuation, and participation. With no policy or defined agenda, it seems “within” extends well beyond the walls of Zuccotti park. To participate in Occupy Wall Street I believe lies simply in consumption of it without disdain. Defined along those lines, I see a movement that has grown in mass to a level well beyond the General Assemblies and regional offshoots, to a much more mainstream demographic that I will identify not as sympathetic to the “cause” if there is a “cause,” but rather “perpetuetic” of a loosely defined message that has somehow come to be in vogue. Say what you will about the lack of organization or clear asks, one thing is for sure: it is not cool to be against Occupy Wall Street. My peers who work at hedge funds take girlfriends there on dates. The most influential venture capitalist in New York tweets that he is going to “listen and learn,” and beautifully clad models and fashionistas walk amongst the tents in Prada, rubbing elbows with the gutter punks who have not showered in weeks. What emminated from an ambition to shine a spotlight on the wealth gap and the disparate realities between the 99% and 1% (of wealth), has somehow gained support amongst a typically apolitical, and certainly unconscious segment of the population. There is a social identity that has formed around acceptance of Occupy Wall Street, and it has roots in much more generic empathy toward concepts of protest, and movement, and change in general. Independent of socioeconomic background and political ideology, we want to believe that we live in a place where people have an ability to change the way things are….in any direction….right or left, up or down, there is something about spread and traction that inspires and excites. The sheer fact that that which is not understood initially gains strength and does not die, causes the neutral to sway into momentum. Suddenly, the spread starts skipping or jumping beyond adjacent groups or demographics into unpredictable pockets and populations and people begin to believe that it will have some permanence. I see this happen with social applications such as Twitter or Instagram, and the characteristics and dynamics of Occupy Wall Street’s spread look very similar. Those initially unwilling to invest in or support, out of a belief that their effort would dissipate into the ether, observe those around them engaging, and themselves become involved. The neutral are starting to sway toward momentum, the output of which may just be something sustaining. I don’t think the deoccupation of Zuccotti park, which seems inevitable in the near term, will mark the end of this movement’s impact. No piece of legislation or individual election will define the “outcome” of this phenomenon. I believe the greatest impact possible will come in the form of a shift in collective consciousness of the neutral and even opposed 2 or 3 or 4 degrees from where it is today. The shift will not necessarily be toward empathy for the 99%, but perhaps more fundamentally toward an awareness and belief in bottoms up change that perhaps has been lost over the past several decades. We currently live in a “post-social media” world, where young and old generations have come to understand that their voices and sentiments can spread well beyond the bounds of their immediate surroundings, and I am fascinated by a physical representation of that confidence that is embodied within the Occupy Wall Street movement. Like any current that spreads through and across social graphs, amplification through the media (which may be the most notable accelerant that has resulted from physical assembly vs virtual discussion of the wealth gap) has perhaps brought attention to an application of post-social thinking less visible than “find your friends.” Could it be that the seemingly small gift of an amplified individual voice has set the stage for an irreversible redistribution of influence from the top to the bottom? Maybe it’s not the 1% of wealth that the 99% are catalyzing against…maybe it’s the 99% of influence that the 1% of influence are re-appropriating?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Today we released a bunch of the secret stuff we’ve been working on at Hyperpublic. See it live at http://hyperpublic.com/
Thanks to Techcrunch for communicating the awesomeness. Read article here: “Hyperpublic Launches Free POI Database, Now Helps Developers Monetize Local Apps”
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Today I walked down the street and saw a 230 pound father at a loss for words as he tried to come to terms with his inability to support his son. A 15 year old boy holding a plane white plastic bag, uncomfortably back pedaled as his dad tried to discipline him for purchasing the contents of this bag. “I need a pair of pants dad…why’d you leave me in the store, what’s going on here?” The dad grasped for words or an explanation, but could only push questions back to his son. “Why’d you buy those pants? What were you thinking? Do you want to be able to eat lunch this weekend?” It was clear they had both been shopping together, perhaps a little tardy in back to school necessities, and from the looks of it, they were very tight on their budget. Gently and slowly the two arrived at a middle ground, moving beyond the purchase, as it was clear the child had not acted out of greed, and they walked down the street, arm on shoulder, both knowing that times are hard.
Today I saw a 15 year old kid, with burnt orange hair, methodically and rhythmically dance around a chess board in Washington square park, deconstructed a toothless 40 year old hustler as AM radio pushed muted sounds of an undefined baseball game. The clock showed only 5 minutes per side, moves emerged in seconds as both players physically bobbed back and forth to the rhythm of the game. The host of this match, like his 10 bretheren on the benches left and right, did not have the aesthetic of a grand master champion. Had he not been sitting in front of a board, you might have put a quarter in his cup, but his moves were swift and decisive, and he had clearly been hustling at the table all day. 1:20 left and the kid exposes a weakness in the game. He watches carefully as a wave of defeat washes over the face of the hustler. Humbly, he continues back and forth for another few moves, but both men understand what has just occurred. “You got me” proclaims the bum as he reaches into his pocket and reveals a crumbled wad of dollar bills. As he reaches forward with the money, the kid is joined by his mother and sister who had been off a safe distance to the right. In a humble southern accent, the kid relieves the bum of his debt “Oh, I don’t need any money, it was just fun playing with you.” As he sinks into the background of a crowded park corner, his mother sings to a deaf ear “he’s been waiting a very long time to come here and do that.”
I sit and watch the riders, moving unpredictably across the stones of union square. Flipping, slipping, wheels on end, the bikes catch light from passing traffic. I play a song, we listen closely, but laughter and rumblings fill the air, media stands no chance against a see of people, flitting, flooding every sense as I sit, listening, and watching, the real life version of life unfold before my eyes. Screens light the sky for moments, but drown against the pulsing adolescence of an Indian Summer night. I talk and think and watch and walk back to the walls that will separate me from this night. But rest not with stress, for this is New York, where tomorrow will hold 1000 more versions of today.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
I sit awake, mentally constipated, physically stifled by a heat that leaves me sticking to my self and melting at the feet of an overheated macbook pro. Only a pillow and case separate my skin from this radiating collection of chips and bits, spitting out songs that remind me of when I was poor and down to the last dollars in my bank account. I am transported back to summers ago, navigating similar weather, again then, as always, without an air conditioner or defense against summer’s maddening fever.
I don’t have air conditioning because I loath the artificial, stale, manufactured environment that it delivers. I sweat and dehydrate in the throws of a 90 degree July day because I don’t want to escape this feeling. This feeling connects me to a much less cerebral side of myself.
A $300 Dyson fan blows hot, stiff air onto my face. It is “bladeless” and free thanks to some PR agency that decided it wise to run a “technology influencer” campaign in which influential, albeit illiquid, founders like me get to cool off without the deathly risks of traditional “bladed” alternatives. In fairness, a General Partner at Redpoint visited HP’s offices on Friday and was immediately drawn to the fan’s sleek design and form. He went so far as to request the manufacturer’s name, and certainly has $400 to blow on a gimmicky appliance, so I guess that PR agency isn’t so dumb after all.
I prepare for a week of hustle, resist an inbox with 86 unread messages because the NY Times told me it was bad to email in the 30 minutes before bed, and pull myself deep into my consciousness, trying to reflect on the blur of weeks past. I look at the present and wonder how deep satisfaction and extreme impatience can be such close friends inside the sticky epithelial walls of my being. My room fucking sucks. I live on 10th st between 1st and A, where every truck and van that needs to head East while avoiding Thompkins Sq park seems to break abruptly and often not 50 feet from my window. I have one poster on my wall and stacks of objects collected over years of non-materialistic indifference piled atop of Crate & Barrel furniture and Pinesol covered floors.
Alert after alert light my phone and send friendly dings of seduction echoing through this tinder box I call my bedroom. My mind clears, words come more smoothly, heat retreats in the face of a strain of thought more interesting than discomfort. Gchat pops, I break briefly, but do not respond. I am present in this moment, and do not wish to be interrupted.
Tomorrow I will fall to these alerts, engage with the fabric I have woven for myself, ingest, process, and react to a never ending stream of data and opportunity, but not tonight. Tonight I will remember what it is like to be hot. I am Jordan, human and weak, defenseless against the will of summer. I will wait for rain to fall, and cool the cooking pavement, for no deal, dollar, or data is going to help me sleep in this heat that I have waited all year to suffer.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Last night I hung out with an incredibly smart first time entrepreneur. He is super young and thirsty for knowledge and does an amazing job of communicating with his investors and advisors as he navigates his role as CEO of a venture backed company. In listening to him articulate his appreciation for the support of the various mentors in his life, I realized that I used to have a very similar architecture of outside influencers on my own professional decisions. Sometime between my first exposure to startupland and now, I moved from a position of asking tons of questions and relying on others, to giving tons of advice and having others rely upon me. Generally speaking, I am thrilled that I am able to communicate my learning to young founders and those endeavoring into entrepreneurship for the first time, but last night I realized that this shift might not be 100% positive.
It occurred to me that when you get into the rhythm of doling out advice, it can become easy to stop asking for and receiving it. I used to pride myself on climbing curves quickly due to a complete lack of regard for pride when expressing ignorance to outsiders, and last night I noticed that I am not having enough conversations on the receiving end of advice and mentorship. Sure I have Kenny and some other investors in HP who are providing feedback and valuable thinking to the company, but I miss the days when I used to Google the 10 most important people who would have a perspective on whatever I was working on, and then email them begging for 30 minutes to share their thoughts.
Somehow, as I have grown up in this world, it feels harder to reach out to strangers, friends and more experienced folks and bow at their feet in recognition of the delta between what they have achieved and where I am in my career, and that is something I am going to correct today. Right this second. The notion that you somehow arrive at a point where you are too far along for guidance and advice is absurd, and I’m hugely grateful to this young entrepreneur for reminding me of that. As HP continues to grow and mature, I consistently encounter new situations and challenges that I have not seen before. So far, we have done a good job of moving through these new situations gracefully and successfully, but the curve is always steeper when you ask a million questions.
Time to go cold email Sergei and Larry…”dear Sergei, I am a young entrepreneur in NYC building a mobile first, local search product. I am looking for advice and mentorship from founders who have built similar businesses in the past and I would love to run my thinking by you if you have time for a short call or meeting. I will be in Silicon Valley the week of August 8th, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” God that feels good, can’t believe I lost that scrap for a minute…Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I’m always amazed when people who I meet for the first time come up to me and say “I really love Hyperpublic, it’s awesome.” I think to myself, “gee, that’s weird. Unless this person is a developer, I can’t imagine what they love about us.” I ask for a layer of detail and they pretend to appreciate the display application that we’ve pushed at Hyperpublic.com. I say “thanks very much, but there really isn’t a lot to do there, Hyperpublic,com is just meant to show engineers and developers what types of data we’re working with and making available through the HP API.” They sort of smile awkwardly, and that’s pretty much that.
In light of those types of interactions, I thought I’d uncover a little detail about what we’ve been up to at HP. Really, I’d prefer to stay under the radar, given the massive companies triangulating around our space, but recruiting an A+ team has become our number one priority and I want the top engineers in NYC and beyond to understand what we’re focused on and how interesting it is to be a part of the effort under way at HP.
Hyperpublic.com represents about 2% of our attention and bandwidth at HP, with the other 98% focused on the crawling, ingestion, normalization, organization, dissemination and surfacing of geocoded data. We see a world where consumers are starting to believe that they can navigate the physical world with the same ease and insight that they navigate the web. In order for that belief to become a reality, someone needs to build and organize an underlying geodata set that is incrementally specific to what is available within the tools consumers are most commonly using to effect local discovery on mobile devices today. At HP, we are building the infrastructure that will allow hundreds of thousands of location based and location aware applications to satisfy their users’ demands for more acute and deliberate movement through physical space. We are not a recommendation engine, we are not a reviews product, we are not a social network, we are a data platform. There is a killer application for the dataset we are working with, we have a pretty good sense of what it is, and if you like building Google scale consumer utilities, we are hiring PM/Mobile Dev/Back End Devs for our Apps team, but to date, our IP and accomplishments are squarely in the realm of “big data.”
The good news is, we’ve captured and organized hundreds of millions of local objects and metadata points and our asset is scaling very fast. The bad (and good if you are a masochist) news is there is effectively an infinite amount of data that exists in the physical world (hard to index infinity). If you are excited about working with large data sets, mashing up disparate data sources linked by a common lat/lon in order to deduce interesting signal and product, or generally excited about working with a team of deeply thoughtful engineers in New York City, we’d love to share some more secrets with you. Email: Jordan.email@example.com. I don’t care if you are looking for a job, or happy at your job, or whatever. Emailing me does not = applying for a job, it just means you want to understand WTF I’m talking about. For the right people, our effort will consume you. Oh, and we pay absurdly well, full healthcare, real equity, flexible schedule, wonderful people, yada yada yada.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Lerer Ventures has been growing up over the past few months. Super pumped to announce the addition of Steve Schlafman to our team. Steve is joining us as a Principal most recently from Stickybits (aka Turntable.fm), but as you’ll see below, he’s had amazing experience both as an operator and an investor prior to LV. He’s a deeply thoughtful guy so I asked Steve to write a guest post to share his latest decision to join the fund. Without further ado, Steve Schlafman:
Betting on NYC and Joining Lerer Ventures
By Steve Schlafman
Only a year ago I decided to leave my dream job at The Kraft Group / The New England Patriots to jump head first into the NYC startup scene. During my time at The Kraft Group, I focused on early stage investments, strategic partnerships and digital media strategy. While I enjoyed living in my hometown of Boston (Go Sox!) and working for a highly respectable and influential company, I recognized something special was happening a few hundred miles south. The NYC tech community was heating up, and I was itching to join a startup.
That opportunity came when Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein of Stickybits (now Turntable.fm) made me an offer to join the company as their VP of Biz Dev and first business hire. I arrived last summer and worked out of DogPatch Labs. Immediately I realized that the startup culture here had a distinct energy and momentum, different than anything I had experienced in Boston, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans or LA.
After spending the last twelve months entrenched in the NYC tech community, I’m now convinced that we are witnessing a tech renaissance – and in less than a decade, the tech industry will certainly be as influential (if not more) than any other sector in NYC.
Here are my top 9 reasons why I think NYC has all the elements of a world-leading tech ecosystem:
- Talent: Startups in New York City are attracting talent from cities across the country, well-established companies in NYC, and world-class universities. New York has always been known for creativity and innovation in the arts. For the very first time, the creatives in NYC are shifting their focus to digital.
- Co-Working Spaces: Co-working spaces like General Assembly and DogPatch Labs are helping entrepreneurs get their business off the ground and get plugged into an instant network. For a comprehensive guide to NYC co-working spaces, see A Hitchhikers guide to NYC.
- Meetups: Meetups are critical to our ecosystem because they physically connect the community, facilitate new relationships, foster collaboration and encourage discussion. To stay on top of the latest events, subscribe to Charlie O’Donnell’s weekly email and the NYC Startup Digest.
- Hackathons: These are essential to any thriving tech community because they provide developers and designers with an opportunity to improve and showcase their skills, build and test new products / ideas, and meet other members of the community. A handful of recent hackathons include: TechCrunch Disrupt, Startup Weekend, Music Hack Day, News+Gaming Hackathon, and FourSquare hackathon. To catch details on the latest hackathons, follow John Britton on Twitter.
- Strategic Partners: NYC has a treasure trove of strategic partners including large financial institutions, advertising agencies, and media companies. Even the tech titans have established and grown their offices here over the past decade to take advantage of the talent and innovation that is taking place.
- Customers / Users – NYC has the largest population and highest population density of any city in the US by more than a factor of 2. Additionally, there are tens of thousands of large, medium and small businesses. Because users and customers are everywhere, it’s arguably the perfect petri dish to test / launch new products.
- Government Support: Mayor Bloomberg’s office has made a commitment to the local tech industry and he recently hired Rachel Sterne as NYC’s Chief Digital Officer. Additionally, the mayor’s office recently released NYC’s Digital Roadmap outlining the path to embrace NYC’s potential as the world’s leading digital city.
- Breakout Companies: The city now has more than a dozen breakout companies such as FourSquare, Etsy, BuddyMedia, Tumblr, Gilt Groupe, and Kickstarter. And there are some super innovative newcomers like Turntable.fm, Skillshare, GroupMe, Lot18, Canvas and Kohort.
- Venture Capital: It might be the best time since the 90s to raise money as an entrepreneur. Capital is abundant and the terms are favorable. West coast firms like Accel have set up shop here in the city. Others like SV Angel have partnered with Lerer Ventures to gain access to the many great entrepreneurs here in NYC. Even investors from Boston are spending more time here than ever before.
That said, I’ve decided to go all in and bet the house on NYC. I’m extremely bullish on this amazing city and I’m thrilled to announce that I have joined Lerer Ventures as a Principal to help Kenny, Ben, Eric and Jordan partner with and support this world-class community.
Here’s 6 reasons Lerer Ventures is getting me out of bed in the morning/and keeping me up late at night:
- Team: Companies are only as good as their people. That said, I’m most stoked to join Lerer Ventures because the team is first class. Everyone here has built, operated, sold and invested in startups. And each person has a high degree of intellectual horsepower and a strong moral compass. Additionally, the firm has expertise in media and entertainment, technology, publishing, e-commerce, and finance, which aligns with my experience.
- New Fund: During TechCrunch Disrupt in May of this year, the firm announced a new $25M seed fund, which will be used to back even more awesome companies in NYC and elsewhere.
- Value Add Investor: Working at The Kraft Group taught me that all money is not the same and entrepreneurs should always strive to find smart money. I’ve already witnessed Lerer Ventures working tirelessly for our portfolio companies. Whether it’s making high value introductions or helping our entrepreneurs think about their business strategy, the firm is continually helping entrepreneurs grow as business leaders and build special companies.
- Portfolio: I absolutely love our current portfolio because they are run by awesome entrepreneurs and have innovative products and business models. Some of our partners include BirchBox, WarbyParker, GroupMe, Greplin, BankSimple, Pulse, and OnSwipe. I’m very much looking forward to helping our existing (and future) portfolio companies any way I possibly can.
- Investment Focus: The fund has a heavy emphasis on the core competencies of New York and many sectors that I’m particularly passionate about. This includes, but is not limited to, social commerce, media, ad tech, gaming, and mobile / social broadly speaking.
- Co-Investors: Lerer Ventures has a strategic relationship with SV Angel and we regularly invest alongside some of the most respected firms including Union Square Ventures, Founder Collective, IA Ventures, First Round Capital, Accel Partners, and Softbank.
I love nothing more than learning about new companies, meeting passionate entrepreneurs, and helping them succeed, so don’t hesitate to connect with me.
I’m looking forward to working you all in the coming years and supporting NYC as the premier digital city on the globe.
Have a great summer and here’s how we can keep in touch:
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/schlaf
- LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/edit?trk=hb_tab_pro_top
- Tumblr: http://schlafnotes.tumblr.com
- OfficeHours: http://ohours.org/schlaf
1) the sex is not in the seed: market and media attention is moving away from seed phenomenon to late stage $1B rounds. Both the capital markets (public and private) and M&A markets for scaled late stage assets is extremely liquid. Founders who have built companies with $20M+ revenue can exit at least part of their position should they wish to.
2) Previously “disruptive” concepts such as “social” and “commerce 2.0” are no longer disruptive, but rather expected and moving toward commodity. Those that have moved first in applying social and subscription mechanics to successful 1.0 models have built valuable positions, those thinking that they are a “social” ______ going forward should note that the entire market is or will soon use the same mechanics and “social” will not be a form of differentiation.
3) Once the concept of social has penetrated every corner of the web, a new wave of applications will disrupt through the capture and application of data to 2.0 socially enabled models. This has begun already, but activity and innovation for the coming “data disruption” or “3.0” web exists at the infrastructure and business to business layer to date. Massive companies will be built in the development of plumbing for a “data enabled” consumer web.
4) Massive dollars have flown into the consumer application layer in the mobile ecosystem. Pressure to monetize those applications is going to get ugly, with a coming but not yet arrived mobile ad ecosystem. The “first wave” of mobile applications that have been created and fueled by an optimistic seed market are going to be in for a wake up call come Series B. Many will die, attention will flow toward building out a more sophisticated and liquid mobile ad ecosystem, mobile targeting and adtech will heat up, and only after will we see massive shift in ad dollars to support the mobile consumer application layer.
5) From that point forward, “mobile first” will be a derisked strategy for consumer facing entrepreneurs, while today it is brilliant but risky given the future expectations of the capital markets for follow-on financing.
6) At the nexus of the 3.0 data enabled web, mobile ad value chain, mobile first consumer application wave, and allocation of investment dollars over the next 36 months lies the location datapoint and if we don’t fuck it up, Hyperpublic. If you believe points 1-5, we’re hiring across the stack, technical and non-technical: Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.orgRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
PREFACE: This is a little heady, and i definitely missed in places, but i think there are a few nuggets if you persist through the post. Sorry, wrote it on the back of an envelope on the street…
So much of the data we consume that informs our decisions and our being is “pushed” at us, we do not “pull” or ask for it. We place ourselves in contexts where we are likely to consume certain patterns of data, but it is the decisions and will of other individuals that move through the context in which we exist at any given moment that determine what we do and who we become. A man walks by me in a purple shirt and a yellow hat and I am literally changed forever. There is not a single moment of my life that will not be influenced by this occurrence. My local decisions (where to live, where to eat, etc.) are simply attempts at placing myself into contexts in which those that move into them and therefore shape/define me will be of a type and quality that furthers me in a direction consistent with my concept of my future self/life.
In an analog life, people fearlessly move into a physical environment where others see and observe them. They are conscious of the context which they have entered and there is a predictability around the result of their presence in it. As we shift into a digital age, there are increasing numbers of those who view the digital realm as an extension of the context they enter (“physical/digital thinkers”). They are aware that their position in space is not the only dimension they enter and act accordingly. They have no fear of their visibility and presence in the non-physical dimension. Those that grew up in a world where this dimension was not a part of day to day context (“physical world thinkers”), cannot process or understand their presence within it and therefor fear being “consumed” by others within it, despite the fact that they lack fear of similar self-exposure and consumption within the physical context.
One potential mitagant to this type of fear is a stronger feedback loop from the digital realm. When a “physical world thinker” is observed in the physical world, his image, movement, words, and even affinities are observed by those within eyesight. The observed can not only gauge reaction from thsoe consuming his image, but he can also make some assessment and observe “who” is consuming his image. Although he cannot attach an identity to or attain certainty around the qualities of those within his physical context, he takes comfort in the consumption of even light and insignificant data about those consuming him.
Conversely, when an image of that same person is captured within the physical world, but then housed in the digital dimension of the same “context” (i.e. a photo stored online), the consumed is no longer capable of seeing “who” is consuming him. In neither dimension does the consumed actually know those consuming him, but without a visible and physical representation of those consuming, the “physical world thinker” perceives instability and lack of safety. The “physical/digital thinker,” who recognizes this newly emerged dimension to context does not fear her presence within the digital dimension, as she can “see” it despite it’s lack of physical visibility in the moment. She carries around a device in her back pocket (smartphone) which is a window into that dimension of her present context, accessible only seconds from the point in which she demands entrance. We increasingly move between the physical and digital dimensions of our context, to the point where the “self” exists no more in one dimension than the other. I believe fear of the self being visible in the digital dimension will one day be perceived in a similar vein to our present day concept of agoraphobia.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
On Sunday I ran my first ever Half Marathon. Yesterday one of the guys at Hyperpublic asked me if it was hard. I thought about it for a minute and said, “you know, it really wasn’t that hard.” There were 10,000 other people of all shapes, sizes and ages who were able to run the 13.1 miles, and the reality is, it’s not some huge accomplishment to run that distance. There are hundreds of thousands of people who run at 2x the distance in traditional marathons every year. As I reflect on the race, I am drawn less toward the physical implications of completion, and much more toward the mental aspects of it. The coolest thing about finishing that race was that I took something that at first glance, seemed unattainable, and then I attained it. I had never run 13.1 miles before (i think the furthest i had ever run was about 8), so when faced with the prospect of running, my mind immediately assumed that I could not run 13.1. Typically, it is at these moments, where I confront something unattainable, that I am most motivated to attempt.
Each time, in life, that you reach something that at first seems impossible (or even improbable), it inspires you to attempt the next. Having repeatedly attempted the unlikely across facets of life ranging from physical, mental, professional, romantic, and beyond, I have developed a confidence that the seemingly unattainable, is in fact within reach. There have been times when I have reached for these improbabilities and come up short…but i have defied my “instinctual odds” enough times to know that initial disbelief is not a good barometer for what I should and should not attempt. My dad asked me if I felt proud to have finished the race, and I replied, “no, I don’t feel proud, I feel empowered.” Empowered to attempt something greater, or harder, or further away, because I yet again proved wrong the rational or fearful side of myself that ascribes to a mantra of “can’t.”
I often tell people who feel trapped or incapable of doing what they really want that “there is no such thing as can’t,” and I genuinely believe that. I literally cannot thing of a single thing in this world that is impossible. There is much that is hard, or highly improbable, but there is no goal that is not worth attempting for fear that it is not reachable. If you’re an entrepreneur, but really if you are anyone at all, try to isolate the moments in your life that your mind reverts to a concept of “can’t.” Take a couple hacks at things that seem impossible. As soon as you attain one, the world will never look the same.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
Dear seed investors, let me give you a little tip that you wouldn’t ever arrive at if you haven’t been a seed-backed entrepreneur. When one of you portfolio companies sends you an email update with what’s been going on at the company…respond. It doesn’t have to be anything earth shattering, in fact it can even be two words, but some acknowledgement that you have, in fact, read the update, would be more appreciated than you know.
We are invested in almost 40 companies at Lerer Ventures, and I read every single word of every single update that every single founder sends to me. I always make a point of writing back, sometimes with ideas and questions, other times just a “great update, thanks,” but something to let the founder know that we are reading and listening. I think I developed this practice out of my own experience, sending out updates to a syndicate of 5-8 investors, and than anxiously awaiting feedback. The strange thing is, it is not uncommon to send out an update and then….crickets….nobody writes back.
One of our founders sent me a note a few months ago, thanking me for my attention and saying “you’re the only one who ever writes back to our updates, I really appreciate it.” I told her, it’s not that the others aren’t reading, it’s just that they are detatched enough from the vulnerabilities of being an early stage founder that they either never knew or have forgotten what it’s like to send out an update and not hear anything back. 90% of seed investors probably do read what’s going on, ingest it, make decisions and give advice going forward based on the content of the update, but they just don’t think to take the extra 60 seconds to 5 minutes to close the feedback loop with their founders.
So investors: we write you updates because we want to make sure you know what’s going on, but also because we want to get feedback on our thinking and progress. I know we interact in person and on the phone in between updates, but take a second to respond to what we’ve sent you. It means a lot to us to know you’re engaged.
And entrepreneurs: it’s not that your investors aren’t listening or don’t care, they are just viewing your update as information and not a request for response. If you hear crickets…don’t sweat it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
I read in the Economist this week that an estimated 5,000,000 people move away from rural environments into cities every month. That means that almost 1% of the human population will move to urban environments in 2011. Pretty staggering to think what this means for the physical distribution of people in even 100 years. On the surface, it looks like urbanization is the future and we will all live in cities one day. I have written previously about the fallacy of assuming trends like this are linear, as opposed to cyclical, and lately I’ve been thinking about urbanization through this lens. The impetus: parallels between our 7 Billion person system and the system of the web.
The concept of urbanization is a very 1.0 idea. The web used to be dominated by destination sites that demanded that every node on the web travel to a central destination to extract whatever value they sought. So if you were in the market for a new car or a piece of news or a date, you would travel to Cars.com, Newyorktimes.com, and craigslist respectively. Everyone had to go to the central location because that’s where everyone else was, and that’s where information or value was most easily transferred. Similarly, in our physical system, nodes (people) are flocking to the destination (cities) in order to extract greater value than is achievable in the country. Urbanization is an optimization effort on the part of our system, increasing productivity, yield, and ultimately health of the system.
But wait a minute….destination sites are the past, not the future. Now the web is distributed. Nodes no longer have to travel to a destination in order to extract information or value, the information value flows away from the destination to the node. This is a more efficient and more optimized architecture than the 1.0 destination, and in theory, could be predictive of our physical system’s evolution.
So maybe this trend toward urbanization will, in fact, reverse over a long enough time horizon. As resources/land becomes scarce and expensive in urban environments it makes sense that the population would redistribute, sending value away from the destination to the less populated areas where people could exist in a more distributed fashion. The internet itself, has actually lowered the requirements of city dwelling insofar as we don’t need to share physical proximity to other nodes in our system in order to move information between us.
I see the main constraint of a distributed human system being our inability to move physical matter as effortlessly as we do digital matter. Innovations in transportation have helped to ease this constraint. As we have moved from the invention of the wheel, to the bicycle, to the car, ship, and now the plane, our system is able to push physical matter between hubs with an ease that alleviates the need for a “destination” architecture to some degree, but the constraint is still very real.
I look to innovation in transportation as the gating factor on weather our physical system could ever achieve a perfectly distributed architecture. Perhaps teleportation will be the catalyst that will drive nodes away from cities back out to the rural environments from whence they cameRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
So it’s 70 degrees and sunny in Palo Alto right now. I am sitting in a cavernous and empty loft in new york city, listening to a rainy sleet drip against the air conditioner outside my window. You are riding your bike down University Avenue right now, waving to all your friends who work at Facebook and in 2 weeks your life is going to change forever. In 2 weeks you are going to quit your job at Google or Quora, throw all your shit in a suitcase, throw that suitcase in the back of your Prius, and you’re going to drive that little Prius 3000 miles from Palo Alto to the NYC. You’re going to crash on your awesome friend’s couch for a few weeks while you take in NYC and learn what makes each neighborhood so fucking awesome and different and unique and stimulating and your going to taste the energy here. You’re going to discover all of the amazing things in this city, you’re going to snap photos of the places you discover and want to remember, and you’re going to use Hyperpublic to capture and organize this experience of discovery. You’re going to leave the sun and the valley, and the echo chamber and the quiet and your going to venture out on this Odyssey because your are the next person we are going to hire at Hyperpublic. You are going to propel yourself into the depths of a New York winter because you have the opportunity to not only join but define what is going to become the first multi-billion dollar public true technology company to be built in New York City. You are going to introduce a piece of the valley’s DNA into a market that desperately needs it.
As a city, we are long on design/UX innovation and weak on deeper technical DNA. New York has always had a creative class, but only recently have they been empowered to productize that creativity on the web. Always lacking deeper technical DNA, in a world where building robust applications was actually difficult, this creative class was not capable of harnessing it’s vision and talent into products. As the cost and difficulty of building an application has reduced, talented but not deeply technical New Yorkers have become capable of supporting and productizing the vision locked within our creative class. This change, in conjunction with an influx of capital from Boston/Sillicon Valley, and the mass dissemination of tactical startup advice through social media channels, has set the stage for an explosion of activity and innovation that our city has not seen…ever.
Hyperpublic has begun to build the infrastructure that will support the swelling tidal wave of lightweight social and mobile applications that leverage the location datapoint and that interact with the physical/local environment. These are applications only conceivable within the parameters of an urban landscape, and there are going to be tens of thousands of them…
When you move here, you will be in the top 2% of engineers in New York City. We welcome you with open arms.
This is our app: http://hyperpublic.com/
This is what’s underneath the hood: http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/01/hyperpublic/
This is how you make it happen: Jordan@hyperpublic.comRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
If you worked here, you’d be participating in the most anticipated intraoffice pool tournament of the year today. Our shit is so fun, make our shit your shit, quit your boring job and help us grow next year’s bracket from 6 to 32. Happy Holidays!
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