Archive for May, 2015

Wierd idea: The Moody’s or S&P of startupland

Posted on May 27, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Last night I went for a long run along the west side highway. The first few miles of my runs tend to be a mediation of sorts. The ideas and pressures and things that are unresolved tend to percolate to the surface of my consciousness…and when I realize they are there…I let them go and the mind moves on. Depending on my stress level, this usually leaves miles 3-6 as pretty creative space. Everything afflictive has been recognized and released…and I start to think about possibilities…I love possibility…it’s in the suspension of disbelief that I have my most exciting thoughts. Last nights run led me to thinking about accreditation in the startup world. With more and more companies being started every day, and more and more noise (but also hidden signal), I thought about how independent accreditation or ratings could be a valuable and necessary layer in the venture and startup ecosystem. Today, that role is largely played by angel investors and incubators. For 7% of your company, Y-Combinator will put a badge on your startup that says “these folks are legit.” Techstars, Dreamit, Angelpad, whatever…all serve as light accreditation layers signaling to the market that you are worth investors’ attention. The capital and even operational/strategic value that they deliver varies from incubator to incubator, but I’d argue that the YC badge, and a known quality level for those who attain it, ends up playing a pretty critical role not just in a startup’s trajectory, but also in investors’ modus operandi. Angel investors used to perform a similar function. If you got Chris Dixon’s money, or Michael Dearing’s money 5 years ago, that meant something…a big vc fund would look at any deal that had that badge…today, with so many deals, so much spray and pray, so much leverage (via angelist, seed funds, whatever) behind angels’ brands, that accreditation might not mean as much as it used to. So the dynamics are changing a bit on how startups become recognized as legit, and as incubators try to scale, angels lever, and there are WAY more of both at this layer in the stack…I was wondering if a new sliver of acrediditation might be possible and even valuable. What if there were a brand analgous to Moody’s or S&P that was objective and able to rate or rank early stage companies as being legit or not legit…this layer would not be an investor…it would not be a “help you build your thing provider” or a “i’ll introduce you to Series A funds provider”…it would decouple the value add from the accreditation, and simply say “this co is a 7, and that co is a 4” perfectly objective, without further incentive, and it would publish this data to the market as a whole. It would use filters akin to the most sophisticated incubator or angel investors, but build a brand in objective rating. Startups that believed they were more legit than the attention they were garnering could go get rated (just like a company goes to Moody’s to get their bonds rated to attract more capital)…and investors who built trust in the service could use the data to focus on legit opportunities and filter out the noisy stuff. How this service would make money I didn’t quite hash out. I hate businesses that charge startups for help raising capital…so even though moody’s gets paid to rate bonds, I’d prefer it if this rating service wasn’t “pay to get ranked.” I don’t think charing investors for access to the published ratings would be a good model, or a service to the companies that went through the rating process. It’d be nice if the service could take 1% instead of 7% for the service of accreditation, but that sort of fucks up the incentive structure and objectivity…unless of course it was more of a “seal of approval” than a rating, where the mark of legitimacy was doled out sparingly…but i really liked the idea that every co that wanted a rating would get one…and that dynamic would prevent shitty startups from seeking ratings…so there’s more work to do on the business model side, but I think it would be fun to explore this accreditation layer in the stack, in a non-schlocky, non-bank your startup and get you in front of investors kind of way.

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Saying Goodbye to Lerer Ventures

Posted on May 19, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized |

All good things must come to an end some time…today we told the team that this current fund is the last one I’ll be investing with Lerer Ventures. After 6 truly extraordinary years, it’s time…I’m so grateful to have had this experience and the opportunity to create LV. More than half of my professional life has been spent working with Kenny and Ben, and more recently Eric and the rest of the LHV team, and it has been a true honor and pleasure. I can’t adequately express my gratitude to the fam…i’ve become the person and professional that I am today through your mentorship, friendship and love. Thank you.

Being an investor is obviously a big piece of where and how I feel creative. I don’t think I’ll ever stop exercising that creativity. I don’t know exactly what shape it will take next, but I find myself looking forward at a blank canvas…and I really like that feeling. I think I’ll live in it for a while and see what kind of trouble I can’t stir up. Oh, and for founders in the portfolio, don’t worry, i’m here to support you same as always.

man…you think through this stuff on paper…and know it’s right…but boy does it feel intense when plans become reality

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Facebook Instant Articles, Cards, and a developing native web

Posted on May 13, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Today Facebook launched a test with Publishers which I’ve been following for quite some time given it’s proximity to our work here at Wildcard. The program enables Facebook to render 3rd party content from publishers like the New York Times, BBC, and Buzzfeed natively within Facebook. So when your friends share a link to the NYT in Facebook, instead of having to click it and get sent out of Facebook to the NYT website, the articles content is displayed in the Facebook app…it feels like it’s part of the app…and you don’t have to wait to load a webpage…does that sound familiar? The New York times says “the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site.”

I’m really excited to see FB take such a strong position that links to webpages is an unacceptable user experience on mobile. For us at Wildcard, we have built the technology to enable any app, including our own, to display 3rd party content natively in the same way that this Facebook trial does. We built the tools for publishers to push their content in in this format, we built the tools for an app to display it alongside the content from their own API seamlessly, and we built our vision of what this native web consumption experience can feel like to consumers in our IOS app. The thing that we have not done yet, which Facebook obviously put a ton of time and energy into, is figure out how the money flows to publishers in a way that aligns the users’ experience in a discovery channel like FB or Google Now and the publishers top line. The NYT makes money off of display ads on webpages…and those ads don’t follow their content into environments that render it natively…and while the publishing world is aware that they need to think beyond this form of monetization…giving up this revenue this quarter or next in exchange for other value like native app installs, subscription, etc…is a tall order for most top line focussed businesses. It’s a pretty thorny problem…where Snapchat discover (which also hosts publisher content natively), and Facebook have the scale to monetize on behalf of CNN or the NYT and then provide a rev share to ease the pain into what is obviously an inevitable future, Groupme or Foursquare might not. But Groupme users should be able to read the NYT 10x faster like they do in FB now…and Foursquare users should be able to read the Eater review 10x faster like they do in Facebook…even “native” monetization solutions like outbrain and taboola that could follow publishers’ content around to these new discovery environments rely on real estate that surrounds an article…which is not available when content is rendered in a 3rd party app.

We’ve been thinking a lot about what native monetization looks like for CNN or NYT beyond the FB specific program or the Snapchat specific program, under the assumption that all apps will be able to display their content 10x faster in a native app based internet…but frankly we aren’t big enough to be the defining force that answers this question over the next 24 months. I think the question will get answered in this time frame…we can and have built the infrastructure to enable such a reality…and I’m hopeful and excited to see giants like FB hacking away at the business model for publishers to win while graduating from a mobile webpage based mindset….because loading webpages on phones is simply unacceptable.

Today is just another step in the direction of replacing links to webpages with native renderings of content and experience. Call it a card…call it an instant article…call it a rich pin…I don’t care…it’s a win for users and a deep confirmation of the future I’ve been obsessed with for the last 2 years.

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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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