Archive for October, 2013

Wildcard Programming Challenge

Posted on October 31, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

photo (8)In my experience, there are two types of startups in New York City. Those that are driven by engineering and design, and those that are driven by revenue and sales. While this may not please the business people of the world, I don’t give a shit about sales right now and revenue thinking is almost nowhere to be found in Wildcard’s culture. There will come a time for that, but right now all I care about is building the future that hundreds of millions of people will use to interact with the information and experiences of the internet on their phones.

In order to achieve this goal, we place the highest value on world class engineering practice and world class design process. Our core engineering team hails from the computer science programs of Penn, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon, and everyone on our engineering team has built meaningful technology that has ultimately been acquired and used at web scale. We are hackers at heart and wanted to design a little programming challenge that should be fun for anyone who shares our values and interests. It’s not a competition, but if your skills are sharp, it should take you between 30 minutes and 2 hours to complete, and there are some cool prizes to be had by those that submit successful solutions.

So if you want to take the Wildcard Programming Challenge, get comfy, click this link, and have fun.

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Understanding Snapchat

Posted on October 24, 2013. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

I just came from dinner with my friend Kortina. For those who don’t know him, he started a company called Venmo. If you’ve used the app, you know that he is a “contemporary mobile thinker,” and yet he confessed something to me at dinner which is a sign that we are both getting a little old…he said, “dude, i’ll be honest with you, I don’t even understand Snapchat.” The context was that there was this new generation of users and popular applications to which we recognized we have a harder time relating. At 31 years old, for most of our professional lives we were the generation that the older guys were trying to understand, and mainstream applications spoke to us naturally…but now here was this megasuccess that we had to work…really hard…to understand..something had changed. I confessed that it took me a long time to really “get snapchat”, and by “get it” I mean understand why it was unique or special and how i could be a user that derived pleasure from it…Kortina said, “so you use it? What is it really?” My first reply, for simplicity, was “think of it as the easiest way to video chat on your phone.” His response: “I get that, but is that it? Does the disappearing thing even matter?” I thought for a moment, and then replied “yes…but not in the way that you think. The disappearing content isn’t about changing the nature of the content that you share…it’s not about making things more lewd or dangerous because you know they are going to disappear…that might happen, but I think the impact of the disappearing unit on the uniqueness of the application lies in the relationship that the recipient, not the sender, has with the content. Because the content will disappear, it commands the recipients full attention…knowing that they have one chance to consume it…and perhaps more importantly…the recipient can’t become “attached” to the media in the same way that they can a photo in instagram or facebook for example. there is no deep analysis…no scrutiny…no returning to it…or pining over it…or revisiting it to take another sip of the feeling it gave you the first time you consumed it…and in that ephemerality, in the inability to “attach” to what you receive through snapchat, comes a lightness…and it’s that lightness that is special…it says…this isn’t so fucking important…this isn’t a deep statement…this isn’t a reference point or something for you to really think about…to me the disappearing unit is about levity, not scandal or sex or illicit media that has found it’s share channel…I think the illicit content exists, but it’s not at the core of the innovation i see in the experience.”

So yea…that’s two newly old guys trying real hard to understand the products that matter in today’s world.

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10x improvement

Posted on October 10, 2013. Filed under: startups, venture capital, wildcard |

I spent time this morning with Brian Pokorny.  I always like coming out to the west coast because people here have different language, different frameworks, and different models for how they think about problems and opportunities.  It’s not surprising…while the internet is a global phenomenon, there is a local bias in the data we consume, simply as a function of who we talk to everyday and what they are building and thinking about.  I am intimately familiar with the lessons of the last 500 companies to succeed and fail in New York City, and familiar, but less so, with the stories behind their west coast counterparts.  Today Brian planted a thought in my head, that has stuck.  In discussing our plans for Wildcard, and what an experience might look like that achieved broad adoption, the notion of a “10x improvement” was surfaced.  Brian’s suggestion, which I think I agree with, is that in order for a non-social application (or a “utility”) to penetrate a large amount of consumers, it needs to represent a 10x improvement over existing and entrenched alternatives.  Now I don’t know if it’s 10x, or 9x, or 5x, but the spirit behind it is right.  For people to recognize Wildcards as a better alternative to mobile web pages, the experience needs to be a slap you in the face improvement over similar solutions found in Safari, Chrome, and the distributed forms of those experiences.  That’s a high fucking bar…but I think it’s the right one to try to clear…so what does a 10x improvement mean in the context of Wildcard…I thought about this for a while, and I came to the conclusion that speed is everything.  For Wildcard to win, we need to be able to take actions that require 60 seconds of a user’s time in Safari, and achieve them in 6 through Wildcard.  As crazy as that sounds…I think that is the opportunity we’re chasing…and while a big swing for sure…I think it’s one we can achieve.  There are a lot of different ways to shave 54 seconds off a minute, and we are pushing on all of them…In the course of the conversation, we shared examples of others who pushed on utility innovation, and no doubt the road is littered with $20-70M outcomes that had to fall into a larger distribution platform in order for their innovation to reach many…we referenced those outcomes as “misses,” and thought of ways to avoid such an outcome…there were distribution hacks, indirect product designs that were A to B to C type strategies…but at the end of the day, after thinking through all, I actually believed our best chance at breaking into the Evernote/Dropbox/Google sphere, was to continue to pursue the 10x form of our product…It’s not a new concept that I didn’t understand before…obviously our experience has to crush the shitty mobile web experience currently enjoyed by hundreds of millions today, but thinking through a lens of 10x improvement really isolates the one key thing that will warrant a population’s change in daily behavior…in the case of Wildcard, in a world with load times, and errant clicks, and inefficient attempts at known desktop behaviors…we will strive to make your interaction with the information and actions of the internet 10x faster than this clumsy bullshit you are using today.

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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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