Archive for November, 2010

Why We Connect

Posted on November 28, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

STOP: Play this song in the background while you read this post

What is connection?  Connection is an absence of solitude.  It is a recognition, of varying depths, that we are not in this alone.  It is not just a reminder that we can interact with others, but also a reminder that we are the same.  That there is someone else out there who is going through this mind blowing experience of being human, and somehow the fact that this bizarre array of emotions and thoughts and events and actions is not completely unique gives us comfort, that we are somehow doing it right, or that we are normal, or at least that we can handle the next unpredictable turn that is upon us, because the guy to our right, or the person across the street, or our friend, or our mother, has experienced some aspect of our future and lived to breath another breath.

In connection comes a communication of experience that helps us to see where we overlap with the rest of the world.  The closer our connection to another human being, the more of their experience we are able to observe, at closer range, with less filters.  For most people family is the tightest connection we experience to other human beings.  We are able to check the scariest parts of our experience against those of our family.  We gain exposure to issues of health, emotional distress, financial pressure, and even mortality, all up close and personal because these tight connections communicate their own experience to us fully and without fear of judgment or disconnection.

One connective sphere out from family we have friends, who share a subset of their own experience, and remind us that we all are searching for love and success, that we all make bad decisions and have to pay for them, that it feels great to win a basketball game, and that watching a family member die can affect our professional performance.  They are a barometer that communicates not only their experience, but an analysis of their experience that is incremental, educational, and softening to our own jarring life.

Push out further, and we enter the realm of loose ties and connections.  This sphere can be approximated by our 500 Facebook connections, or even our 10,000 friends of friends.  Our connection to these people is distant enough that their experience is heavily filtered when communicated to us. We only see the representation of them that they wish to project to the external world, but we are close enough that we ingest it repeatedly through sheer proximity.  Although the communication is filtered, through repeated exposure we are still able to relate and analyze their experience relative to our own.  We see what they wear, how they move, who they move with, and the various other attributes of their external profile, and yet again we are able to find overlap and similarity in these distant behaviors with our own.

Connection keeps us sane when faced with the aspects of our experience that are difficult to understand. “Where the hell did we come from?”  No idea…this started to freak people out, and then religion comes along and institutionalizes a connection to others who are grappling with the same issue.  It is not so much the answer that religion provided, as evidenced by the multitude of beliefs to which people subscribe, but rather, religion provided a recognition of the question that reminded people that they were not alone in this common human challenge.  Imagine if I walked through life believing that I was the only one who was asking the question of human creation, or that I, alone, was grappling with the concept of God.  That would be maddening, alienating, and potentially debilitating.

One of the oldest forms of connection that I can think of is our connection to our local community.  Trends of cohabitation and urbanization reflect a recognition that the people who surround us can satisfy much of our connective need.  I share space with people in my neighborhood and experience an extremely lightweight connection that in many ways contributes to my sanity.  I am sitting in this café right now, writing this post, and the girl next to me is studying for a biology exam.  I see the diagram of a heart and the path of blood into and out of it, and am reminded of my own high school education.  I see her gaze away form the page, and we share a common affliction known as “distraction.”  This observation of her is an extremely lightweight connection that reminds me that distraction is normal, and that I do not need to freak out just because I cannot focus for 2 hours at a time.  I understand my own experience through the observation of my neighbor’s.

Various discovery and communication mechanisms have been developed to help people map, discover and strengthen their connection to the different groups I have touched upon in this post.  I believe the local and hyperlocal experience has not been mapped, so we’re going to do it at Hyperpublic.  As much as I hate to use the catch phrase, you could say we are building the “local graph.”

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East Village Experiment

Posted on November 22, 2010. Filed under: startups | Tags: , , |

Note: This isn’t really a blogpost, but I couldn’t fit this in a status update or 140 characters and needed the real estate on my blog to explain why I am attempting to extract a local segmentation from my social/professional graph.

I want to make a list of all the people I know who live in the East Village.  I want to be able to push to this list whenever I find myself doing something local that I’d prefer to do with company than alone.  I want this list to know that they are all welcome to join me when I am grabbing dinner at 10PM on a Tuesday, or when I’m working at a café on Sunday at 5PM, or even when I’m sitting in my apartment thinking to myself “I’m bored, I wish someone would come by and entertain me.”  I also want this list to know that I don’t expect replies.  Not interested/can’t make it? No problem, I wasn’t expecting you to be available, that’s why I’m pushing the same invite to 25 other people.  Really I want to fill my unplanned flex time with people who will enhance my experience.  I want this list to be my, “are you around, I’m doing this in 10 minutes if you want to join” list, which I believe is only relevant to people who live in my neighborhood and can act immediately because of our physical proximity.  I think they are the only ones who would view these “immediate invites” as truly actionable and relevant a high enough % of the time that they would not mind the interruption via SMS/Push Notification.

I tried to build this list with a Groupme, and then realized that Groupme is not the right application for this need because everyone on my list knows me, but not each other.  This list doesn’t want to communicate as a group.  I guess I want to push immediate invitations to a “local subset of my social and professional graphs”  Is there a product out there that I can use to help manage this?

Also, if you are my friend/colleague/or just someone interesting who lives in the East Village and you want to be on my “immediate invitations in the East Village” list, send me a note, drop a comment here, or whatever and I’ll add you.

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Newly Seed Funded? Don’t Commit to Monthly Updates

Posted on November 20, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , |

Ok, you’ve been hustling for 2 months, selling the shit out of your vision to all of these amazing investors, trying to pickup a few nickels to rub together, and finally…finally, finally, finally, you have persuaded 6 or 7 very smart folks to cough up some seed capital.  Today the money hits the bank.  You did it! You got Keith Rabois, Ron Conway, Eric Schmidt, FirstRound Capital, and Jeff Bezos to give you $1 Million.  You go out, drink 15 shots of Tequila, puke, wake up the next day, and you say to yourself “thank god, I can finally get back to thinking about my product.  30 days or so pass, you have a few conversations with one or two of your seed investors, and then you realize “hmmm, I have all these smart people around the table, I should probably try to involve them as much as possible in what we’re doing.”  It has been about a month since you closed the round, and you say “I know!  I will right a MONTHLY update.”

You sit down, and the first sentence of your update reads as follows:

“All, we are so excited to have everyone on board.  This is the first of our monthly updates.  Every month we will write to you and tell you what’s going on with the company and how you can help”

I know this is the first sentence of your update because it was the first sentence of my first update my first month after financing my first company.  I also know this is your first sentence because of the 30 companies I have invested in the last 12 months, about 50% of them are run by first time entrepreneurs, and of those 50%, it is the first sentence of almost everyone’s first update.

Guess what? Of all those founders, myself included, who wrote this first sentence, not a single founder has actually sent an update every single month.  When everything is new, you think you are going to have news for investors every month, but operating a business doesn’t happen in predictable 30 day cycles.  The events, occurrences, accomplishments, and missteps that emerge when executing toward your vision unfold unpredictably.

Repeat entrepreneurs must have picked up on this unpredictability.  I can’t think of a single second/third/fourth time founder in our portfolio who has committed to monthly updates.

My advice: Don’t set a precedent that you will be communicating on a monthly basis, because you’re simply going to look like a loser when you promise that and don’t deliver.  Still send updates, engage your investors, make sure everyone knows what’s going on with the company, but do it organically, when you feel an update is warranted.  It can be 17 days after the previous update, or 60 days after the previous update.  You’ll get more out your investors this way and they’ll get more out of your updates.

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The Social Challenge of Releasing Early

Posted on November 19, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , |

A decision Doug and I made at the onset of our company was to work and build in public.  Doug was lucky enough to participate in Y-Combinator and many of the ideals, this included, that we embody as a team stem from that influence.  The natural tendency when building consumer facing products is to keep your product under wraps until it is “ready” for prime time.  We come from a school where as soon as something is functional, we push it live, and begin to collect data as we iterate and improve.  From an execution standpoint, this methodology has and continues to prove effective.  From a social standpoint, however, it can be challenging.

The challenge is as follows: friends and family who are engaged and interested in your progress can only see what is visible to the public.  They don’t understand that your product is literally a public construction zone, and that you know your UX isn’t compelling or “finished” yet.  It has been an ongoing process for me to try to explain to my dad, for example, what it means to build a data layer on top of all the objects in a local environment.  Or to help my ex-girlfriend from college understand how real estate is related to  Or to tell the litany of early and supportive users why it is that we haven’t given them something more to do on the site than what’s available today.

What I’m realizing is that if you are trying to execute on a plan that calls for Minimum Viable Product pushes with ongoing iteration and progressive layering in of feature sets and enhanced UX, you need to have strong resolve not to sweat the social challenges of this style.  My partner Ben Lerer recently had a great observation about his own and many of our collective experiences as founders.  He said, “Listen, at the end of the day, there is not a single person on earth that is gong to fully understand the vision in your head.  Your team, your investors, your family, consumers, nobody can see the future of your company and product as clearly as you.  That’s okay, your job is to keep communicating and clarifying it as best you can and keep executing toward what you see in your head.”  I thought these were pretty insightful words and have shared them with a number of my peers.

Anyway, in an effort to help communicate the bigger picture for Hyperpublic we just threw up V1 of an about page.  Notice that it isn’t styled, isn’t succinct, and is definitely a work in progress.  True to form, we thought why not push early, get feedback, and iterate.


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I am tired of reading blog posts from “bubble predictors”

Posted on November 15, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , |

I am tired of reading blog posts from “bubble predictors.”  It’s such an easy position to say things are crazy, this isn’t sustainable, when you don’t set a timeline for when we will begin to see a correction.  Oh really? You think valuations are eventually going to come down after a period of growth.  That’s novel, way to go dude.  Even better when you hedge your call and say “this isn’t sustainable, but I’m going to keep playing, just in a smarter way then everyone else who is doing the same thing.”  I can’t wait for you to point back to your November 14th 2010 post 24 months from now and say “look, I called it, nobody listened.”  If the market corrects in 6 months, you got it just right, if the market corrects in 24 months, you got it just right, what a cowardly position to take.

What pisses me off even more is that every time you voice your nebulous position on the trajectory of our market, you negatively impact it and contribute to the fulfillment of your prediction.  What’s the best way to catalyze a bubble?  Start talking about a bubble.

Generally I’m a fan of Suster’s blog and perspective, but I love how he complains that Angel investing is “driving up prices beyond their inherent value.” Guess what Mark, every single Angel deal that has been done in the last 10 years has been done above it’s inherent value.  That’s because 2 guys and a dog don’t have an inherent value.  Value is entirely market driven at our stage of investing, and if you think the pre-traction consumer facing web application is “inherently” worth $2M pre, but is not “inherently” worth $4M pre, you’re wrong.  Guess how much it’s actually worth?  About $60K, or whatever number you can arrive at by multiplying the number of man hours that went into it by the market rate of that labor elsewhere.

It also pisses me off that people are complaining about the number of angel investors that have entered the market.  Sure, this makes it harder for you to generate returns as an venture investor, when prices go up, etc…but more angel investors mean more founders can start more companies, realize more dreams, and create more innovation than they could 24 months ago.  Personally, I welcome anyone who wants to cut a $50K check to support a new product and pull a smart mind out of wall street or advertising or any other industry that is not pushing the limits of what can be.  I’m not saying all these companies that are getting funded deserve the funding or valuations they are raising at, and many of them will die, but I’d rather see a slew of dead carcasses on the side of the road with a single world changing product leaping over them on the way to victory, than a road with no carcasses and a world that could have been changed but wasn’t because you scared all of the new angels out of the market with your fire and brimstone analysis of why “angel investors who think they are cool at parties aren’t really cool.”

So here’s the deal.  I’m not saying that there is no funding gap, there will be.  I’m not saying that people aren’t overpaying for deals, some are (and btw some are smart to overpay for deals.  You would have said the Bijan overpaid for Twitter and David Sze overpayed for Facebook, and they are both laughing all the way to the bank at the slew of investors who sat on the sidelines when prices got high).   I am simply saying that all of this entrepreneurial activity is a net-positive for the world.  Founders and investors, take note that you are playing in risky waters and lots of you are going to lose lots of time and money over the next 5 years.  Some of you are going to make gobs of money, change the world, and do it on your own terms.  If you don’t like that setup, go be a lawyer.  If you do like that setup, put your head down, make the smartest decisions you can, and play.  Don’t complain about it.

P.S. I realize there is a very good chance I am going to have to eat these words in the foreseeable future, but I have no interest in hedging.  Suster: it’s all love, but I hated your most recent post.


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Founders: Are you Leaning far Enough?

Posted on November 10, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , |

I don’t write very much about my relationship with my partner Kenny Lerer, mostly because he’s not really one for the spotlight, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I’ve absorbed from him over the past 10 months or so.  Yesterday at a breakfast I caught myself advising a young Dartmouth graduate with words that were not in my vocabulary before Kenny became my partner at Lerer Ventures and Hyperpublic.

This particular breakfast, I found myself listening to a relatively analytical young guy who had obviously spent a lot of time thinking about his next moves.  For some reason there was friction between his decions and subsequent actions.  What I told him, which is advice that Kenny has given me and other founders I know repeatedly, is that he really needs to “lean into” the direction that he’s decided to go in.

It sounds like a minor point, but I believe that this mentality is the difference between grounding out to the short stop and hitting a line drive into left field.  Many good entrepreneurs and strategists are able to assess a situation and make a good decision (let’s call that “pitch selection”), but that is only part of what makes you a great batter.  I’ve always been good at deciding what pitch to swing it, but there’s another decision after “pitch selection” that is extremely important.  Let’s call that decision “commitment to the pitch.”  If you decide to swing but sit on your heels and slap at it, you’ll poke the ball through sometimes, ground out frequently, but often make contact.  I’ll call that low commitment, low risk.

On the other hand, if you “lean into” the pitch, get on the balls of your feet, and swing hard and all the way through the ball without hesitation, your contact and results will be much stronger when you connect.  Granted, you’re going to whiff more often, and that curve ball is going to leave you on your ass in the batters box, but generally speaking, I believe you’ve got a better chance of putting the ball where you want to with this approach.

What I’m seeing is that despite much nuance in the course that you charter for a go forward strategy, exaggerating the most important aspect of your ultimate destination sets a tone and point to drive to that may be a simplification of the vision, but a necessary means to landing where you want to land.

So Kenny would say, and I think I agree, if the most important thing at Hyperpublic is that we end up achieving hyperlocality, despite an incredibly complex path to get there, we as a company really need to “lean into” that aspect of our product and our future.

Isolate the goal, exaggerate it, and don’t be afraid to commit heavily to what you’ve decided is correct.  Are you leaning far enough?

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5 tips for your first day at a new startup

Posted on November 8, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , |

First days at work can be weird.  I remember my first day at General Catalyst.  I got there super early because nobody told me what time to arrive, sat at my desk attempting to look busy and re-reading every page of the company website which I had already read 5 times, and sort of waited for someone to give me something to do.  I remember thinking to myself, “my job for the next few weeks is just to build relationships with all these new people.”  As much as I wanted to have an impact on day 1, find the next Google right our of the gate, and come up the curve faster than anyone before me, the reality is there is a period of acclimation and integration that precedes any truly meaningful contributions you can make to a new company.

Here’s a list of the top 5 things to do when you are starting someplace new.

1) Listen: Listen intently to everything anyone shares with you.  You’ll have plenty of time to speak and show your talents, but the beginning is all about absorption of the culture, knowledge, and people that have to date defined the environment that you are entering into.

2) ASK QUESTIONS: Keep a note pad, write down every single question that comes up over the course of your days, and then corner somebody when they have a minute and get all your questions answered.  No question is too stupid, admit everything you don’t know (even if you feel like you should know it already).  Don’t waste time pretending to understand things you don’t.  Nobody cares what you know the day you arrive, only how fast you pick up what you need to know.

3) Your work can wait: If anybody asks you to hang out and grab a beer or see a movie, even if you have a ton of work to get done, always say yes. Your work can wait, it’s super important to build relationships and get to know the people you’ll be working with every day.

4) Be yourself: It’s hard to let your guard down and be yourself on day one, but the sooner you can feel comfortable in your own skin, the better off your going to be.  You have an opportunity and a responsibility to impact the culture of your company in a positive way.  Allow the great aspects of your personality to shine, even if they are not represented or visible in the people around you.

5) TRY: The only thing you need to worry about in the first few months of a new job is putting everything you possibly can into it.  This is a time to make sacrifices in all other realms of life until you have come up the curve and are contributing at a level that you are proud of.  By definition, you are going to be inefficient at the onset of a new job.  The best way to combat inefficiency is through effort and hard work.  Long term, tunnel vision and an imbalanced work/life situation will catch up with you, but short term I think it makes sense to let your family and friends know that you are going to be MIA for a few months while you’re finding your groove.

I guess this is on my mind because we have two new team members starting today at hyperpublic.  Welcome Eric and Jonathan.  Can’t tell you how excited we are to have you both on board.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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