My friend Andy Weissman wrote a post today entitled “Interestingness.” Despite voicing a very different perspective than my own on the subject, it’s one of my favorite blog posts of the year, and you should read it. In it, he explores our tendency to be obsessed with greatness. It’s very nuanced, and identifies the relationship between “great” outliers who now, in a media age, are so visible to us, and the questions one asks themselves about purpose and role in life. His message is that not everyone needs to be exceptional, and that when traditional concepts of greatness are not “within grasp”, we needn’t obsess over achieving something held only by scarce outliers who simply appear less scarce in today’s world. I think I got that right, but read the post and then come back…it’s too hard to encapsulate.
Ok, welcome back. So I’d like to explore the concept of “greatness” for a minute. About 6 months ago, I sat on the corner watching a ten year old boy play what I can only assume was concert level piano for a sea of agape mouths…it was simply awe inspiring…after each song, droves of passers by dropped dollars into a hat and I thought to myself…”wow, that is a truly deep expression of human life.” Around the same time, I had been grappling with concepts of energy and the universe…general what are we and where do we come from type questions…and it occurred to me that every human being is an expression of the same fundamental “thing.” You could define that thing however you want…you could say we are all expressions of carbon and other elements in composite, or you could say we are all expressions of the same energy or source, or we are all expressions of god…whatever your affiliation or predilection, we can agree that a human being is a human being, derived from the same source, and simply expressed differently at the “phenotypic” layer…When I close my eyes, and try to see that “source” it generally renders to me as a composite of some sort…in the same way that black is the absence of light and white is all the spectra of light combined…the thing that we are all derived from feels like a combination of every spectra of humanity or life….it is an aggregate, that when expressed in an individual manifests with uneven distribution between each ray in the spectrum…at a crude level this 10 year old boy that I saw in union square was handed a full sliver of musical flow…deeply connected to the “musical pattern or ray” in our source…and perhaps less connected to the ray of love or physical movement (i.e. athleticism), or any other piece of the spectrum. In Andy’s model, this child is an “outlier” or embodies “greatness.”
In my model, he is simply the deep expression of a single facet of a very broad spectrum of human energy. Most people…are more blends…a blend expresses all the elements of the spectrum in a more even distribution…Andy would call a blend “normal.” They are no weaker an aggregate expression…I believe, rather they are equal…but without some outsized sliver of the source…or an uneven distribution…the source or “where we came from” is less visible.
So now we have a new model for expressions of human life, even and uneven distributions, and we understand that outliers show a particularly deep expression of an aggregate composite that we all are derived from…but why were people putting money in the hat? This is where things got interesting to me…I realized that we revel and envy in these deep expressions because they make “the thing we all come from”…weather that’s our humanity, or life, or energy, or god or whatever…more visible in day to day…deep expressions of life remind us what we, ourselves are…what we all have the capacity to do or be…if even we were only dealt a small sliver of the thing we look at and envy or admire…we, as a society and a species, reward these deep expressions of ourselves, these visible reminders of who we are…with resource…with money…we want them to live…we want them to excel…to become even more visible…we want them to remind everyone else what they remind us…that we come from an amazing and shared place…weather a rock star, a performance athlete, an inventor, or a painter…we as a group, systematically sustain the deep expressions, elevate them…in a way that we do not sustain blends…it’s harder to see ourselves in a blend…no piece of the composite is super visible to relate to…we need to work harder to see what we share…or to see ourselves in a blend…even though they come from the same exact place as did the deep expression…
So do we all need to be “great”…I think not…a blend is as “complete” as a “deep and unevenly distributed expression”…but I like to think that life is an exploration…and we know not what pieces of the spectrum we were dished in outsized distribution….and discovery and self discovery to find the parts of the source that we can channel and harness is a life long and worthy pursuit….envying the “outliers” and trying to be them when you’re not is a fools game…discovering weather you might be a different type of outlier…a unique expression of something…I like that as a pursuit…my response to Andy would be “there are a lot of rays in a blend…make sure you explore them all in yourself before throwing in the towel on “greatness.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
I wrote this about the mobile internet a few months ago. I didn’t publish it because it felt pretty raw and not necessarily representative of what I aspired to solve as a company, but I just reread it before sending to a friend, and it still feels pretty true…so here ya go:
when you take your phone out of your pocket, i want you to feel limitless. When you open the internet on your PC there is a sense of infinite opportunity that is lost on mobile
We have sacrificed that sense of infinite opportunity in the name of instant access to known habits and intentions
We have done this because the internet is a vast and nuanced environment. On our phones it is very difficult to move around in it. It’s hard to move between corners of the web. It’s hard to make a mistake. It’s hard to see content and take actions. It’s hard to engage with an internet that was designed under the assumption that you would be seated with a keyboard and mouse when accessing it.
In many ways, you could say Apple is spawning a new internet, free of these challenges. The architecture is different (it’s not truly the web), but consumers don’t care. Apps submitted through the appstore are where users get to enjoy some of the experience of the internet (communication, information consumption, etc) delivered by designers and developers who didn’t have a keyboard and mouse in mind when they tried to figure out how to help you do what you are trying to do.
I think this is half right. Apple’s focus on quality and consistency of experience does, in fact, solve much of the frustration existent within the web on your phone. I agree with Apple…I want to banish the “old web” from your phone forever. I want to banish the concept of a centralized browser as the way you access the web on your phone. But the long term solution is not to throw away the infinite opportunity that we have come to expect. It is to design access that honors both that promise of infinity and the requirement of usability, independent of what edge you happen to be interacting from. To get there I think the web needs to be completely reimagined. Some of the underlying infrastructural components that brought infinity to the desktop are surely welcome in this new mobile paradigm (at least evolutions of them, if not mirrors), but new infrastructural components must emanate from the realities of modern hardware and interface. We must think of what the web would look like and feel like and work like had we never seen it on a PC. And we must not let one company’s vision of this future dictate it. Influence it? Most certainly…I am deeply grateful for how far Apple has pulled us into the future. But they will not get us to infinity on their own.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Last night I had dinner with a friend who has been thinking quite existentially of late. He used to work in our world, but had dedicated the last year or so, and most of his mental energy, to what I can only call enlightenment or understanding. It is an unusual path to take for sure. Half of me worries that the is going of the deep end and the other half worries that I am not focusing on these important questions he’s so deeply examining. In the same way that you look at a monk and think “wow, different life choice…I wonder if he’s doing it right and I’m doing it all wrong” I sometimes look at this friend’s year in such fashion.
Anyway, last night we got to talking about existence, the purpose of life, achieving one’s destiny, dealing with death, and a myriad of other related concepts. It was nice to exercise this part of my brain. One thing that I realized, which I think is fascinating, is that weather or not there is something before or after the “embodied life” (embodied life = traditional concept of human life from when we are born till we die), one of things that is unbelievabley special about this period of time, is that we are in a form that is capable of changing things. In a world where there are particles (matter) and waves (energy), the human form is this unusual composite, or combination of the two, that is capable of mixing shit up and moving it around. I can lift a glass, move a particle, rearrange the way that things are in this form. If I were to exist in some form after death, as a tree, or a glass, or pure energy, or really any other distribution or composite of particle and wave, I may well participate in existence, but I may not be able to change it. Especially where you examine such concepts as space and time, it seems that this window of embodied existence, especially on a system level, assuming we are part of a broader system or set of things that exist, is the part of any cycle where we have our chance to rearrange or improve, or simply impact existence as a whole.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I value change deeply. Look upper right of this page and you’ll see how important impact is in a human’s life. Sometimes I wonder if people fear death, especially as it nears, when they are dissatisfied with the way things are in the world (or their small sliver of the world) and they realize that they are running out of time in this special “embodied form” when they have the capacity to change or reorder things. Those who can find peace or satisfaction in the way things are, perhaps come to accept death more easily, where they don’t feel this deep feeling that their work as a change agent is far from done.
All of this brings me to the following: whether there is something after this, whether I will persist or not, I do not know. What I do know, is that I have this unusual super power that all other embodied beings have, which is to change and reorder the way things are…I can change existence…and I’ll be damned if I don’t use it, consciously, every single day. I can’t help but view this embodied life, however long or short it may be, as an incredible opportunity…and one that I am deeply grateful to have.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I just read the news that Andrew Mason is out. Before you hate, ask yourself, what the fuck have you done lately? Every VC that opines or sneers, remember he created billions of dollars in value for his early shareholders. For those founders that hate, remember that he was a fucking kid, like any of us, who started something from nothing and scaled into the leader of an organization with tens of thousands of people. We admire the founder who raises a $20M brow-raising growth round from a big name VC…Mason raised more than $1 Billion in private capital from Accel, NEA, Andreesen, Greylock, Kleiner and on and on…oh and by the way…CEO of Starbucks on the board…no bigs…lot’s of us founders hobnob with likes of Howard Schultz… it’s not the $1B raised that’s impressive…of course…raising a lot of money doesn’t mean you were successful, but even if you look at it objectively, with the current depressed public pricing, he created a multi-billion publicly traded company…fought his way through one of the most competitive, blood thirsty markets in the world, remained last man standing, while every other company in the space fell one by one…he fought this ridiculous battle and won… ask yourself, how would you have performed in this fight? Why is Groupon GRPN and Buywithme…oh wait…yea…to what end I don’t know…we’ll see who takes over, we’ll see where the company lands and how it evolves, but as a founder, Andrew Mason was a dazzling success…as a public CEO maybe less so…fine…but strictly as a founder, if we measure his run against what every founder reading this aspires to do…he will have outperformed all of you…remember that before you grin and make and off-color comment about how “Mason is finally out” or how “Groupon is a mess.” The “mess” Andrew Mason created is 10x the scale of the greatest accomplishment you will ever have….dude built the fastest growing company in the world…respect
Oh, and for the overly smart analysts and financiers in the making on wall st, who are making jokes around the water cooler and discrediting Mason with “I told you so’s” as though you are somehow his intellectual or professional superior…unless your name is the one on the door to your office building…get real…you are not even in the same atmosphere.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 18 so far )
I stare at the white box, curser flashing in my face. Scrolling through an index of recent observations…trying to pick out unique thoughts, pointed words, and determining what/if any of the days experiences are worth sharing with the twitterverse. I consider my agendas…what I want to communicate to the world…in this case my professional world…and the cursor continues to blink…I keep things tight at the moment….bite my lip and sit out of the mobile web conversation…bite my lip and don’t rail the arrogant VC that presumes I want his money (a presumption that couldn’t be further from the truth)…wrapped up in this self involved process of strategic content creation…as I replay the index, and tire of the mundane, or already said…I glance to the right of this empty white box, and see Eghosa’s tweet in which he admits he has wept…a rare display of emotion in a usually strategic feed of self-advancements and clever quips…click through to the words of a mother who has lost her 6 year old Noah…and sure enough, I well up myself. I am not a parent. The loss of a child is not a pain I immediately understand. Her words bring me into the pain. I have thought about the massacre in Newtown on a number of different levels…I have been involved in conversations around policy and action…but only in reading the words of a mother, speaking to her slain son…do I begin to feel Newtown. I am so sad. My heart aches…my agenda for creating this content is base…it stems from a need to share with you the fact that I am human…to revel in humanity…to trump professional agendas and express a sense of connection to Noah and his mom, and you, and every other being on this earth. We advance products that strive to connect all human beings on earth. We laud Facebook for connected a billion people together partially because of the beautiful visualization of humanity it provides. It seems as though we should attack products that rip us apart with the same force and energy. Demandaplan is a good place to start: http://we.demandaplan.org/Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
I was walking on the beach today, as I have done almost every day for the last week and a half, and as usual, over the sounds of crashing waves, the mind wanders to one of 3 or 4 topics that are not fully resolved in my mind. Today and in general I have been grappling with the question of “what’s next?” There have only been a few times in my life where I have stared at a blank slate and agonized over what to draw. When I left General Catalyst to start my first company the slate was not blank. Even before I knew what I would build, I knew the next step was to build something, and that was direction enough. I had such a chip on my shoulder after GC decided not to blank check invest in me as a founder that I had rocket fuel in the tank driving me toward entrepreneurship right out of the gate. That endeavor was less about what I was going to build and more about becoming an entrepreneur…one of the many lessons I learned from that failed experience was that all the will in the world to start something is not enough to succeed at building something.
Fast forward about a year and half, I had just shutdown my first company, lost 50% of my investors’ money, returned the other half…and again…I faced a blank slate. This time I wasn’t so sure I would build again. Maybe I was supposed to be an investor? Maybe I was better at that? Maybe I was supposed to build again…but what? Would I be able to raise capital again even though I lost money for investors? Was I emotionally ready to jump back in or did I want the safety of sitting behind some Sandhill desk, working hard, but working for someone else…not putting my identity and name on the line…collecting a cushy salary and waxing philosophical…
In making the “what’s next” decision in the face of a blank slate, I created a new set of filters…they were different than the first time I decided to start a company. I had already been a CEO and gone through the process of raising money, building a product (sort of), managing a board etc…so just those activities didn’t feel like enough anymore…what I would build had to satisfy a more rigid set of filters. Industry became much more important to me having flamed out in a market that I didn’t understand and never really figured out. Team chemistry and DNA was a much deeper focus. Ability to generate revenue immediately was a new filter (b/c I wasn’t sure I’d be able to raise capital without traction now, and I was basically out of $ and living pretty poorly), social proximity to the value chain was a filter (or more broadly “actionability”)…and so on and so on.
I kept a spreadsheet where I power ranked all of my ideas by an aggregate of these various filters…and ultimately decided to jump back in and build what became Hyperpublic.
Now again, I find myself facing the blank slate. In many ways, it is blanker than ever before. More is possible, less constraints, and more knowledge/domain expertise. I have batted around a bunch of half baked shit over the past few months…not jumping into the blank slate fully…mostly because I knew it would be healthy and valuable to heal and recover from a hell of a battle with HP. As the summer winds to an end and I walk along the beach, I have begun to bring some real process back into “what’s next?” I always keep an ideas spreadsheet, but today on the beach I realized something that was causing me great angst. I haven’t been able to build real conviction around a new goal/direction, and I realized it is because I haven’t built new filters…new to fit a new context…I am very gut driven, and my gut has held me back from many potential directions over the past few months…but that is just intuition listening to new filters that the mind has not properly articulated or realized.
Today I isolated the first major new filter that a new company must satisfy. I made a new spreadsheet. Many of the filter columns are the same as before, but I added a box: “Would I be happy living in this company for the next 10 years (Y/N)? This is not will this be successful or can we make money or can we do it or is this the direction the market is going or anything else like that. This is, “change your focal length, don’t build to sell, forget about following your passion, passion is powerful, but this is will you be happy and comfortable in this space building this thing with this impact and mission, because once you push your stack in, it’s for the long haul. Reality changing innovation takes a long time to come to fruition. The larger the vision, the longer the focal length and time it takes to get there. Are you patient enough? Can you live in this new vision and company for a long time, without getting bored or antsy? Can you build a life and a family and identity around this new company? Is it sustainable, not just as a company, but as your company?”
It is a tremendously unforgiving filter, but it is now defined, and into the Fall we hurl, head first, and for the first time not angry or defensive, not with any chip on the shoulder, but wrought with anticipation, excitement, and a sense of pace…no need to frontload the conversion of ambition into action and energy. What does a company look like where we amortize our ambition and energy over a longer term horizon…still acting with urgency in the throws of the fight, but having bitch slapped the shit filter that is “satisfies my fear/insecurity of failure (Y/N)” so far down that it can only be heard on a day when the ocean is still and not a single wave crashes as we walk on the beach, contemplating what’s next.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
Something I find interesting is that there is a liquid market for “soft-landings” in todays technology landscape. If you build and don’t succeed, there are 10 or so places you can go to be acquihired…these conversations don’t begin with product or technology, but rather resumes and technical interviews. We are in a moment in time when downside case is not, in fact, a goose egg, as it has been portrayed for so many years…people think that when you startup a technology company, the likelihood of crapping out is great, and that is true…but today’s “crap out” actually looks more like a set of cushy jobs at “Bigco” with your closest friends and colleagues at about 130% of market salaries…
No founder endeavors to build for a soft landing…but even for investors, these deals can yield 25-100 cents on the dollar depending on how much $ was raised and how the acquirer performs over the year or two post deal. Note, however, that the soft landings that you read about where a team was acquihired, at least from what I’ve seen in the current market are not the “1 Million per engineer” that we scrawl on the backs of envelopes around board tables…the buyers that I see active in this “soft landing” market are increasingly frugal when it comes to doling out for even strong teams…deals are looking more like $2-4M in common/restricted stock with 4 year earn outs and less than $1M paid out to the cap table than they are “singles” from an investor’s standpoint. And…when you amortize the equity grants over 4 years, that “purchase price” starts to look a lot like market comp + 30% where the excess can be justified as a backloaded recruiting cost.
In these deals, Bigco’s M&A group looks a lot like HR on steroids. Should you find yourself in a position where “soft landing” or “crash landing” are the two options, and it’s time to figure out how to make it happen…here are a few rules of thumb:
1) Time is the buyer’s most valuable asset. A corp dev team has effectively infinite options for “soft landing” targets…especially post seed boom…so you are but one opportunity in a pretty full pipeline. The key metric that corp dev will look at out of the gate is “likelihood of close”…where they don’t want to waste their cycles on you if A) your not excited, B) your not reasonable, and C) your not efficient. Going into “soft landing” conversations with any posture other than “I want to get a deal done” seems like a pretty sure way to get booted out of the funnel. Now, if you have any options, or are strategic to Bigco, or have technology that will be usefull post deal, you are not in the “soft landing” funnel I am describing and there’s a whole other set of nuances to consider, but just for “soft landings” I think the best approach is to make corp dev believe that their investment in recruiting you will yield fruit…
2) An initial offer can often be 50% or what they’re willing to pay. Don’t be spooked or offended by the first offer Bigco makes
3) If your deal is a soft landing…nobody is getting rich. Not founders, not investors, not employess…and that’s fine…you are fighting to make a less than ideal outcome as good as possible. A typical “trick” that Bigco will employ is separating founders’ interests from investor’s interest. Large stock grants in the employee pool and minimal payouts to investors is the most classic example…buyers will keep dropping little carrots along the way in a negotiation…you have options on what you can push for in a series of terms…my suggestion is to optimize for investors and employees first, and yourselves as founders last…life is long, build good will…don’t be penny wise and pound foolish because this isn’t the deal that will define your career or lifestyle on the upside, but if handled poorly, could define it on the downside.
4) Pay attention to tax implications of the deal and make sure that it is structured in a way that is efficient for founders and employees…it will be more work for Bigco (and sometimes…hopefully…they have got it down to science already), but it’s worth fighting that battle up front
5) Talk to your lawyers all the time…don’t sneeze without their blessing…this is a scenario where it’s worth the $ to pick up the phone before acting
6) Your tone when talking to the buyer should always be “I’m pumped…assuming” or “We’re excited…as long as.” Bigco doesn’t want to buy you if you don’t want to be there…just like startups don’t want to hire people who don’t want to be there…so always lean in…but establish caveats… “assuming the vesting schedule is reasonable” “as long as we all get to work on things that interest us” etc…leverage is a very tricky animal, especially when they know you don’t really have any…but the threat that you will walk away once they’ve invested in the process is the only thing you’ve got, so love them…but don’t let them believe you’ll do the deal no matter what…because if they think that…they are sure to serve up “what”
7) If you find your way to the “close,” congratulations. These are strange times…there will come another era where failure = 0. You happened to crap out at the right time.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I don’t know how to say this any other way, but things just aren’t awesome. This isn’t about bubbles, and it’s not about froth, it’s about people in our ecosystem moving at strange frequencies…it’s about healthy naïveté transforming into irrational confidence. It’s about founders not appreciating the risk and commitment of their chosen paths. It’s about the look in an average founder’s eye, lacking the edge that keeps one’s game tight. It’s about the fall of the letters CEO. No longer something to be placed on a pedestal, revered and wondered at…CEO is the new “Analyst.” It’s about the obvious thinkers…the ones who arrive at logical conclusions, the ones who think the same…getting into a game that used to be dominated by abnormal thinkers…it’s about a lack of soul searching…surface decisions driving surface thinkers into surface startups…it’s about nothing being new…me too…me too….me too…it’s about we’re different because we’re social…or you don’t understand we’re taking a traditional enterprise model and turning it on it’s head with…wait for it…a SAAS model…it’s about a new publishing platform…no a new publishing platform…no a new publishing platform…but this one is DRAG AND DROP…don’t you see…you can change the font without going into a drop down menu…it’s about what YOUR FRIENDS LIKE…don’t you get it…it’s not just what YOU like…you can actually see what YOUR FRIENDS LIKE…and SHARE what you like with your friends…REALLY REALLY…the big difference is that you can SHARE not just with your FRIENDS…but with your FRIENDS OF FRIENDS…get it…it’s like…people you should probably care about more than strangers…even though you don’t know them…It’s about CURATION…it’s UNDERWEAR commerce but for GUYS…CURATED…get it…Guys wear underwear…call it commerce 2.0….No it’s Socks for GUYS…no it’s BASICS for guys…no it’s GLASSES for GUYS… No COSMETICS for GUYS…don’t you see, it’s been tried before…but this one is really for what GUYS WANT and what GUYS care about…and…it comes in a BOX…are we qualified to build it…HELL YEA we are…you know why? Because we just quit our jobs in professional services…and…WE’RE GUYS…so we know what GUYS want…It’s about increments on increments on increments…it’s about capital markets getting lazy…about capital markets suffering from this biggest clusterfuck of FOMO in the history of FOMO…it’s about “I don’t know if this is going to work or not…but fucking XYZ is investing prelaunch…so it’s now or never…and I don’t see anything better coming down the pipe…because if it’s not this me too, my next meeting is gonna be a me too too…so what am I really choosing between…it’s about the NOISE…frankly…things aren’t hard enough right now. it’s making everyone sloppy….sloppy thinking…sloppy investing…ambition light…image heavy…uninspired entrepreneurship…we are wading through a see of uninspired activity…searching…endlessly for that glimmer of ambition…that crazy look in a crazy founder’s eye…that says I would not last 4 seconds at Bain Consulting and I might have killed a turtle when I was 7 to see if reincarnation was real…where are you strange thinkers? Where are you weirdo’s? For god’s sake, get weird. Do different…PLEASE…the fate of our ecosystem rests in your hands…in your mind lives the step function we desperately need…inspire usRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 30 so far )
This has been an interesting few months…after we sold Hyperpublic to Groupon, my calendar freed up pretty quickly…I had more time than I knew what to do with…I think I invested in 4 or 5 companies through Lerer Ventures, and spent a few months in San Francisco hanging out with our west coast portfolio companies and friends that we don’t get to see as much…but for the most part I just recovered…when people asked me what I was doing, my typical answer was “healing”…which is true…you don’t realize how much physical and mental damage you endure as a startup founder until you are abruptly pulled out of the fray…
Last week I moved back to New York City. I did enjoy the hiking and biking and reading and general calm of SF…but “relaxation” is not a comfortable state for me…during that time I kicked my lens out really far…read about things that won’t have an actionable application for 10-30 years, and generally looked at the world from afar (which is not something you get to do operating a company and living in “execution mode”)…I am done looking far out for a while…and am starting to reign it back in to some sort of actionable focal length…actually, to this day…focal length of vision is an area that is hard to get my arms around…with Hyperpublic, while we had really interesting thoughts about what we could grow into, we built something that had a pretty short time to maturity and market value…as I think about new projects, I am pushing to extend that vision and time to maturity by 3-5 years…but timing markets/trend/consumer curves is always a bit of a moving target…
Anyway, now is a pretty creative period for me…most of my thinking has been pretty insular and self-directed…but I’m ready to start thinking collectively again…and bouncing some things off other people…one thing I learned over the past two years at Hyperpublic is that I get the most value out of thinking and ideating with engineers…we were a 10 person company with 9 engineers and although I didn’t write a line of code at HP, our lead engineer, Eric Tang, recently described me as “conceptually technical”…which is a phrase that I definitely identify with…when I think about products, I don’t have a visual mind…I have a reasonable intuition around experience but not good enough to drive product/ux of a consumer application…when I think about product in my head I tend to see the plumbing…I visualize the back end…the api connections…the data structures…the algorithmic logic…etc…and it just happens that most frictionless conversation around these topics happens with engineers…
I am fortunate to have a lot of really creative engineers in my life, but sadly…many of them are now 3000 miles away from me in Palo Alto…so I’d like to build a new “study group” if you will…no agenda…come with your ideas, whatever you’ve been thinking about…happy to riff on it, help define it…talk about market potential…steps from here to there…I’m not looking for investment pitches…just creative thinking and some new people to think with. For ease, I have cleared my entire schedule next week in New York. If you are a computer scientist or data scientist and want to shoot the shit or just say hi…I have open office hours in Soho from 10:00AM – 6:00PM every day. Just mail Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org with “day and time request” in the subject line…if you want to include a sentence about your background/interests/side projects etc…that’d be cool. Word
**Some themes I’ve been thinking about**
1) the interface layer between hardware/software and users
2) new applications of personal data exhaust
3) creative input mechanisms for non-sensor based information
4) wearable technology
5) intracorporeal (in body) hardware/software/sensor solutions
6) non-healthcare applications of physiological information
7) interfaceless software applicationsRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Why do I “heart” some photos and not others? Why am i sparing? I know it will make the photographer feel good. it subtly strengthens my relationship with them. it doesn’t cost me anything…but why when I scroll through 10 photos on Instagram will i only “give out” one heart? Am I worried about being perceived as “loose” or “easy” with my hearts? Do I think they’ll have less positive impact or perceived value by my graph if I “heart” too much? Does what I heart say something about me to my graph? Do i want the publisher/content creator to appreciate my taste, think of me as discerning, or maybe I just want to have power and be judgmental…and dole out accolades only as I please…only when I feel like a piece of content or a photo is worthy…maybe it’s just about me and holding even the slightest modicum of authority over my friends and acquaintences…I spend my “likes” and my “hearts” like a spend money…only where i see fit, only when I see value…and what I spend it on says something about me and also says something to the recipient of that value…but if i spent money on everything I would be wasteful…and I don’t want to be wasteful with my social accolades…because they will lose their value from every dimension…so no…that awesome puppy you just published to instagram??? i’m not gonna heart it…because I hearted your sunset yesterday…and i’m not that easyRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 10 so far )
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 for :)Read 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 )
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