Archive for September, 2012

Thoughts From the Dugout of Team Suffering

Posted on September 30, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

Last night I went to a party where I ran into Adam Rich.  Adam is co-founder of Thrillist and runs the editorial side of their business.  I went over to say hi to him, and after some friendly chatter, he mentioned that he’s been reading my tweets and that he’s been enjoying them…he said “they’re good…but they’ve been better.”  I realize how absurd this sounds to be discussing seriously…and it was a joke…but it was serious too.  “My tweets” in this conversation was a euphemism for public voice, and encompassed in his statement was an indication that my blog isn’t as interesting to him as it used to be.  I asked him, “what’s missing?” and his response was “you.”  He said anyone who reads my blog could and also probably does read Business Insider, etc…so he doesn’t need analysis on the market, or trends or how to xx …he said anyone can write that and there is a surplus of places to find it.  I thought for a moment, and frankly agreed.

It hasn’t always been this way, but it is now.  Startup content is a saturated market.  It used to be that Fred Wilson or Chris Dixon would write about term sheets or fundraising or distribution or whatever, and because this knowledge was previously inaccessible to young and first time founders, it was enough and extremely compelling to shine light on these subjects.  When I started writing this blog, I did the same…I’d find areas that Fred and Chris hadn’t covered and I’d write about them.

Mixed in with the inside baseball of startups and venture capital, I used to write a lot about my personal journey and feelings and experiences as I navigated life as an entrepreneur (I think this is the “you” that Adam was referencing)…I was not shy about sitting down to this computer, saying “how do you feel write now?” and then writing 3 paragraphs about the day’s stress and hopefully some solution I had hacked together to resolve or at least live through it.  This was easy content for me to write because it was me and every other kid hustling his ass off in the same boat, just trying to survive and snatch some small victories from the “other guys.”

So who were the “other guys?”  They were fancy VC’s, successful entrepreneurs, market incumbents, and generally anyone who was up high, looking down at all of us…doubting us…comfy and cozy in their fucking mansions and fancy cars…getting in our way and frankly not empathizing with our day to day struggles…they were the guys who forgot that they were once like us…they were the guys who would never let you know that they put their pants on one leg at a time…guys like this. my blog was in many ways a rebellion against anyone who was not on our team.  Our team was comprised of the unproven, the hungry, the uncomfortable, the underdogs…frankly our team was “team suffering.”

Wins on “team suffering” were also not hard to articulate or write about.  When you posted for a month about how you can’t sleep because of what this life is doing to you, and then you finally win a deal or get some funding or whatever, the market roots for you.  They champion you.  They have seen and read your pain, and know you are not an “other guy” and they want you to win…in both adversity and victory, as long as you are on “team suffering” the market supports you.  This support fueled me and also kept my spirits high.  Instead of looking for support from my family or friends, I really looked to “team suffering” to help me through startup life.  I felt a sense of belonging and deep community here, and the more I shared, the more people would emerge and express empathy, compassion, and frankly affection.  I deeply valued my position on “team suffering” and felt lucky that on occasion, through this blog, I could act as a megaphone for what my peers and friends were experiencing.

Which brings me back to Adam’s comment that what my blog is missing is “[me]”.  I hear that, and I agree.  The reality is that I’m not suffering right now.  My challenges, while real, will not resound with the community that I have long and continue to feel a part of.  They are not the daily struggles of “team suffering”…and I will not amplify the voice of “the other guys” because I fucking hate them.  So I’m kind of voiceless until I start making life hard again…which I’m working on…

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My Ambitions

Posted on September 25, 2012. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

Paul Graham recently wrote: “[a startup] is at first is no more than a declaration of one’s ambitions.”

My ambition is global in scale, but the inverse in culture. On one hand, I am obsessed with the human population as a system. I despise the concept of borders and the segmentation of our population by arbitrary lines on a map. I do not value what is near over what is far away, and I aspire to build a business that directly or indirectly reminds people that we are one. Jack Dorsey recently quoted William Gibson in saying: “the future has already arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed yet. So our job as founders, as entrepreneurs…is to distribute the future that’s already here…and to do so as quickly as possible with the right amount of purpose and right amount of values” In the future I see, there is only one country. It is earth. Language as a barrier is nothing more than an absurdity. Physical distance as a barrier is nothing more than absurdity. I want to pull people into a future where we value a human life and experience equally, independent of our social of physical proximity to it. There are many ways to destroy the distance between people. The most visible leaps in this arena seem to exist in the networked communication between individuals. Whether the telephone, the internet, the Facebook (see how I did that.. ha), or the Twitter…step function changes in the way people communicate are narrowing the chasm between distant individuals, and more profoundly, amending the young individuals’ concept of self as distinct from another, whether that other be local or international. These are beautiful and evolutionarily significant efforts to pull our population into the future. There are, however, many other forms that this progress can take. A product or service that achieves global penetration shows the world common experience, despite our differences. There is something about McDonalds at the end of the earth that reminds us that we are far away, but the same. A beautiful vision that isolates some facet of humanity or human experience, and displays it back to the user or consumer, can speed our acceleration to a single networked system. An airline, or cruise ship operator, that enables us to break through physical deterrents, to interact with the previously separate, again pulls us into the future I see. My ambition is along these lines. There is value in achieving this phenomenon domestically, in showing the farmer in Indiana his sameness to the ballerina in New York City…but my ambition is bigger… it is global.

When I say my ambition is the inverse in culture, I mean it. The inverse of global is local, and the extreme of local is self. Inbetween local and self (so perhaps not the true inverse) is family, and that is how I want to live my days. A family irrationally values its members over all else. It does not recognize someone socially or physically distant as equal. It is an irrational allegiance and loyalty and love and respect for a small and distinct group…it does not scale. At Hyperpublic our culture was family. We were only 10 people when we were acquired by Groupon and I loved spending the majority of my hours with our family. So my ambition is to do the impossible. To build a culture of family into a business that scales globally. Like everything else in my life, in business I admire and envy paradox. And so, in my new startup, which is a tiny little baby, virtually undefined, I endeavor to build this paradox. That’s as far as I’ve gotten (well maybe a little further), but these are my ambitions, clearly stated, and now, at least according to PG, I am a startup.

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7 thoughts about sensors

Posted on September 17, 2012. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

So…here are a few thoughts about the sensor market:

1) sensors that track human behavior are pretty boring. You can put it them in a wristband, or a shoe, or a phone, or a necklace but fundamentally there is only so much you can do with the information of how many steps I take and what direction I am going. Accelerometer, altimeter, pedometer…all pretty boring no matter how an application wraps the information. There is a reason that the output of these sensors has stopped at the visualization layer, and not really broken into intelligence…it’s because that shit is not very meaningful…in a vacuum at least.

2) Sensors that track things are fascinating but early: You can put them in your home, you can put them on your garage door, you can put them on your pill bottle, or your tooth brush, or your car, etc…and they can tell you what’s going on with any given thing. Is it getting hot, is it getting cold, is it on, is it off, is it moving or stationary, etc, etc., etc. Here the applications can become more interesting…but there are challenges abound. Size, cost, form, connectivity protocol, and very importantly distribution and the related network requirements for truly meaningful aplications all hamper what we can loosely refer to as “the internet of things”

3) Sensors that track things do not share a standard protocol but there aint gonna be twelve base stations in my house, so something is gonna have to give on data portability at the API/cloud layer…but none of this is defined and its hard to see a software application being built independent of the hardware layer due to lack of penetration in the short run…so it seems like a long slug to be the centralized consumptive/intelligence layer in the near term…unless…you are the incumbent/enterprise…which brings me to #4

4) In the near term, dense sensor distribution seems more plausible through the large OEM than direct to consumer…but…the General Electrics and Time Warners of the world that are positioned to scale distribution of the base station and/or the connected things both lack the critical software application DNA to complete the picture at the consumer layer…

5) so fuck, where is the opportunity? For one, I think you could build a nice little business providing turnkey sensor/software solutions to large OEMs…but boy will that be a bitch of a sales cycle…regardless, I think you could do it for them…probably through a lens of analytics…it’s not enough to promise the OEM’s better user experience for their customers…I think the sale looks something like “you sell 2 million blenders a year, and the second they leave the shelf at Walmart, they go dark and you have no idea what usage and performance look like until some small portion of the user base tries to return it or replace it…by letting us connect all of your things with sensors that talk to a base station and ultimately the cloud, we can give you insight that will inform your product development and marketing decisions in a much more intelligent way.” In software and application development, we get amazing, near real time analytics on what people are doing with our products…and OEM manufacturing should step into the 21st century product development cycle…I think.

6) But…#5 is not for everyone…so what else can we do today? I believe the holy grail lies not in the internet of things alone, nor in wearable technology and sensors alone, but rather in the interaction between these two types of sensor systems…It is in the combination of what we are doing and what our things are doing that we find the raw inputs necessary to build true intelligence atop physical sensors…I cannot see any alternative today other than an attempt to turn the mobile device into a base station for physically distributed sensors on things…and somehow figure out your way around power requirements, etc…I’d like to build a Mophie that interacts with very cheap sensors on everything I own and use…but that is very challenging…and goddam it, every layer you’d like to play at to get to the holy grail is a capital investment in the tens and likely hundreds of millions of dollars

7) Which leaves us at the layer of end to end, software/hardware solutions in a specific vertical with real world utility value in the near term and a flexible path and position to platform or horizontal consumptive layer as hundreds of companies attempt to build out these networks…most will fail, but infrastructure, density, and standards will emerge…and if you are in the game with a real business and domain expertise over the next 10 years with a brand and one if not a few end to end vertical solutions in the space…maybe…just maybe…you get to take the whole enchilada?

If anyone has opinions, please share…but that’s kind of how it looks to me

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The Health of Our Ecosystem

Posted on September 11, 2012. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

For the last six years I have been a member of the startup and venture capital community.  There are many participants in this community.  Some skew toward action and definition of the community, some toward observation and commentary, and some toward follower/trend amplification.

The Actor: the actor is most important. His/Her decisions become reality.  They build a product.  They sell a product. They sell a company. They defeat an incumbent. The Actor is in the game. Making the play.  There are many different types of actors.  The main segmentation I would propose is based on the genesis of their actions.  Many actors are influenced by competitors, or investors, or press, but the purest actor…the one that matters the most, acts from intuition and an internal calling that is insulated but aware of these many influences. I’ll come back to the Actor, but for now, think Actor = On the ground, doer.

The Observer/Commentator: The Observer/Commentator watches the startup ecosystem as a anthropologic activity.  Many Actors are not observer/commentators and don’t give a shit what direction the ecosystem is going in.  Financing trends, bad behavior, the interaction between engineers and business people, the democratization of application development…none of that matters to many actors…often Actors are laser focused.  They don’t need to opine, they don’t tweet, and they don’t consume the commentary of the ecosystem.  And that’s all good.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are Observers / Commentators who don’t Act at all…the Press is the most salient example, but there are also some others who live and breath the conversation without any Doing.  And then there are the in-betweens. Sort of player/coach types if you will.  On the ground, Acting, trying to make moves, but watching and commenting as they go.  Dixon, Vacanti, etc.

The Follower/Amplifier: I have never been a fan of trend amplification, but it has it’s roll.  One brilliant actor does something incredible, and the amplifiers make sure it is noticed.  Some Actors are Follower/Amplifiers, Some Observer/Commentators are Follower/Amplifiers, and then there are many hangers on who are nothing more than Follower/Amplifiers.  The Follower/Amplifier listens to the Observer/Commentator and just echoes whatever direction the ecosystem’s sentiment is moving in.  They can echo that sentiment in words, or companies, or opinions, or spread…they are simply the megaphone that talks to the ecosystem and those outside of it.

I break out these three groups of participants for a reason.  As I said, I have only been in this business for six years, but in that time I’ve enjoyed being an Observer as well as an Actor.  The two are intimately tied for me…which was never a problem so long as I “observed” a healthy ecosystem….somewhere along the way over the past 6 months or so…I increasingly worried about the direction and health of the ecosystem. I’ve voiced that sentiment many times on this blog, trying to Commentate where I could, and hopefully contribute to it’s health, but a few months ago I began to worry so much that it began to change my behavior as an Actor…I became uninspired. It took me a while to really see this, but I think a big part of my challenge was simply in wading through the noise of the Follower/Amplifiers.  They have always been around, I’ve always been pretty good at cutting through their effect, but one of the major macro trends that we experienced as an ecosystem over the last two years as an unhealthy shift in the ratio of Actors to Follower/Amplifiers.  Basically the market was flooded with a group of entrants, disguised as Actors, who by definition and character are in fact Follower/Amplifiers…in this case the entrance itself was following a trend to entrepreneurship and startups resultant from some broader Macro themes and a potentially irresponsible Commentating effort by the Press in a time where our ecosystem was a lone bright spot in a bleak broader economic landscape…

So anyway, the noise got so loud, because of this unusual Amplifier volume, that it became hard to see the thing that really inspired me and made me want to be a part of this ecosystem.  The pure actor, the one acting from within, who shared the values and motivations that I had developed through a genuine adoration and infatuation with the entrepreneurial process and life, became nearly invisible in the sea of noise.  I worried that the ecosystem that I loved was gone forever…

But that was naïve…the very nature of the Actor is that they are immune to the noise. The pure Actor innovates, and pushes, and breaks through the noise.  They rise above, and as sure as the sun rises, they will continue to enter the ecosystem…noise or no noise.  I realized that their voice was not gone or absent, just masked.  This was not a supply problem, but a discovery problem.  It became difficult to discover inspiring people…it used to be that you couldn’t walk 10 feet in this world without tripping over one.

But I am happy to report that the Actors are alive and well.  I have met some new ones…brand new entrants…spinning almost on their own axis…a sub-ecosystem if you will…in some cases an ecosystem of one…but they are familiar, and remind me of what I love and fell in love with when I joined this community six years ago.

As things cool off, the Follower/Amplifiers begin to shut the fuck up, and if you put your ear very very close to the ecosystem, you can make out the voice of the pure Actor…and soon the Observer/Commentator will hear it…a familiar drum beat that was muted by the noise, and they will report as it is and the remaining Amplifiers will Amplify and the ecosystem will know…that it is once again healthy.

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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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