Archive for December, 2011

Profile of a Starter

Posted on December 31, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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 🙂

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They did a bad bad thing

Posted on December 14, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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)…

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My Predictions for 2012

Posted on December 11, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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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The 2 states in which a blogger doesn’t suck

Posted on December 7, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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.

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Victory is When UX Escapes the Walls of an Application

Posted on December 1, 2011. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

Today at dinner i realized that UX in great social applications begins long before a user opens an app.  Users’ thoughts are influenced by the channel in which they plan to share them.  Similarly when a user decides to create a piece of content it is influenced and shaped by the channel in which she plans to share. When I share a piece of content, like a picture, the flow is not capture a picture and then decide where to share it, it’s capture a picture based on where I intend to share it.  Same thing with writing.  I don’t write 2 sentences and then decided if it’s more appropriate for Facebook or Twitter, I write 2 sentences with the intention of pushing into a specific application and my knowledge of the dynamics within that application influence those two sentences.  So I guess I believe that content, weather it be photo, text, or otherwise, is created in the mind before it is captured digitally, and that UX of the application for which it is intended begins at the point of creation (or thought).  I think UX begins in the user’s mind and not on her iPhone.  I’m inspired and in awe of applications that manage to shape my thought creation and that create flows that begin before I ever reach for my phone, let alone open their app.

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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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