Archive for April, 2016

Justinkan, Grantcardone, and the voices of Snapchat

Posted on April 28, 2016. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

I spent the day yesterday digging into Snapchat in a pretty deep way. I’ve wanted to do this for a while. One of the most interesting things about Snapchat, is that the user experience completely breaks from all of the conventions that precede it…so really getting into it, and getting the full impact of the experience, requires effort, exploration, and poking around. I’ve been on Snapchat for a very long time, and used it in a pretty superficial way forever…but I’ve always had this feeling like “i’m doing it wrong”…I see a friend use faceswap, or a filter to make lasers come out of their eyes, and I’m too stubborn to admit that I don’t know how to find that in the app. It must be some 3rd party publishing tool they are using? no…you have to long press and hold your thumb down over your face to evoke this hidden feature…somebody has to tell you how to find it…it’s almost a secret…

Even the most fundamental of actions, like finding people to friend or follow on Snapchat is incredibly difficult. I spent a few hours, asking my friends on twitter to send me good accounts, reading lists of “good snappers” to follow, and playing w a 3rd party discovery app called Ghostcodes, trying to build up a good group of people to follow…Why would they make it so hard to find good people…well…for starters this isn’t Twitter…and no matter how much I might want it to be video twitter…it’s not. I think we have a bias when exploring new platforms to bring our habits and expectations with us from the last place we felt at home. I love twitter as a publishing platform (a place where a person can have/express a voice), and there is no question that Snapchat Stories is a new and potentially richer publishing platform…but because I learned to have a voice on Twitter, I keep trying to fit Snapchat into that place where I learned. Here’s where I’m at a disadvantage to the generation who first found their publishing voice on Snapchat. They didn’t bring any bias with them…they learned within the UX and context of Snapchat, how to publish on Snapchat, so their natural instinct is to create and speak in a way that’s native to the platform. One of the first things I considered, was how hard it must be to amass a “following” on Snapchat. Someone like Justin Kan, who has been recognized for creating great content and emerging as in influencer on Snapchat…he must have a fraction of the audience that he does on Twitter…not because he’s better at Twitter than Snapchat, but because it’s so fucking hard to find and follow him on Snapchat. Yes, their are Snapcodes (the weird image/QR code upper right on this page)…but even those are a mystery you have to commit to figure out. I’m pretty tech forward, and only yesterday learned how to properly use them. I was screenshotting Snapcodes for the longest time, and then searching my camera roll in the Snapchat app, to select screenshotted codes to add to my friends list. Turns how, if you just photograph the Snapcode through the Apps camera function, it will auto-friend these people without selecting from camera roll. Where would I have learned that things worked this way? There’s no tutorial, or explanation…and that’s the point. Maybe snapchat doesn’t want to turn into Twitter…maybe they’d prefer your graph of friends/followers to be small, and intimate, and true friends vs followers…maybe Stories aren’t for influencers or publishers…maybe they are for friends and loved ones…or maybe they ARE for influencers and publishers…but only if influencers are willing to play by the rules…which are that the content here is intimate, and raw, and you need to behave like you are speaking to friends, even if you are trying to speak to 1 million of them.

Something interesting I’ve noticed is that the production value of content in my Snapchat feed has risen in the last 6 months or s (if you’ll call it a feed…Stories were very unfeedlike for a while…but with the recent autoplay feature that rolls through all stories without needing to tap, i’d argue that this is now a non-vertical scrolling feed of content). “Production value” is the amount of energy/time/thought/polish/expense that is put into creating content. Blair Witch Project was low production value film. Avatar was a high production value film. Whereas my friends’ stories used to be quick/observational/quirky frames (likely a result of creators who first found their voices on instagram, bringing these habits with them to Snapchat), now my friends are starting to speak into the camera, plan sequenced shots ( a “snapstorm”), and even create art and interstitials between shots in their Stories. This isn’t the poop emoji on a friend’s face anymore…people are trying to say something in this channel now…they are trying to see it while taking advantage of the richer format…they are trying to publish. Interestingly, the ratio of production value to audience is pretty shitty on Snapchat compared to platforms like instagram, twitter, and facebook. It might take me 5 minutes to create something good on Snapchat that only 40 people will see, whereas it might take me 15 seconds to create something good on twitter that 7000 people will see…and still..after a few days getting into it, i’m happy to do it. Why? because it’s fun, and video is richer, and importantly…the environment shapes the content and sets an expectation of levity and fun and rawness that inspires me to make a new style of content that I like and that i’m proud of. All of this is to say that Snapchat stories, while rebuking the legacy of twitter/facebook/instagram at every design turn…is undoubtedly on a course to enable hundreds of millions of voices as it’s users become publishers. I think discovery will get a little easier (as signified by their recent roll out of a url to “addme on Snapchat”, but we’ll probably see some more ground up features designed to make finding voices easier on the platform…one thing you can bet on…is they won’t be the mechanics we’ve seen from other’s in the past…like everything else in the experience, they’ll be original, non-intuitive for migrators from existing platforms, but natural for natives and careful non to disrupt the tone that makes Snapchat content unique.

There’s still a lot that in Snapchat where I still feel an outsider. I know native users are having rich 1-1 chats, acting less as publishers and more as messagers…my limited 1-1 messaging has felt disjointed…a function again, of bringing my expectations from SMS, Facebook, and email. I guess as more of my graph is willing to “relearn” how to message in this channel, volume will pick up, and I’ll get the full experience…but for now I can only look enviously at Olivia’s 10 year old brother who didn’t have to unlearn SMS to enjoy 1-1 messaging in Snapchat.

As an aside, for those who are still feeling a little “outsider,” here is a bit of a cross section of usernames to get you started. not all people who’s Stories i like, but a bunch of the different flavors of publishing that people are doing on the platform:

arnoldschnitzel (feels like you are a perpetual student in his kindergarden cop class)
justinkan (creative content creation/style)
grantcardone (this guy is the worst…but worth seeing just how terrible he is)
man_repeller (professional publisher migrating to snapchat)
micdotcom (professional publisher migrating to snapchat)
rbfishman (lifestyles of the young and handsome socialite/entrepreneur)
yesjulz (party/nightlife)
therealdrmiami (platic surgeon in MIA)
msuster (vc blogger…using it as educational platform)
kimkardashian (celebrity)
djkhaled305 (celebrity)

i don’t have the energy to upload all their snapcodes for you…touche snapchat…

and i’m jordancooper1…but instead of name lookup…maybe be advanced about it, open snapchat, and use the snapchat camera to photograph that weird picture in the upper right on this screen (or screengrab it from mobile and figure out how to add by Snapcode in the settings…)

Have fun.


p.s. i think it would be cool if Snapchat adopted the ghost emoji as a replacement for the @ sign before their user handles. so instead of i’m @jordancooper on twitter…i could be “Ghost on Apple iOS 9.3jordancooper” on Snapchat

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A Viral VC Model

Posted on April 25, 2016. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

I’ve been spending some time thinking about disruptive models in venture capital lately…here’s a little thought experiment:
If you are a founder raising seed capital…while personalities and people deploying capital vary, the product investors are selling (institutional seed capital) is for the most part pretty consistent…money is money. Yes, folks tweak terms so that their product is more or less dilutive, more or less controlling, etc…but standardization of docs and rampant access to capital have kind of leveled out these variables, and really reduced a founders’ choice of provider down to “do i like this person? do i think they can help me? and do i care or do i just need the money and believe they won’t hurt me?” I’ve seen a few interesting wrinkles in the capital structure/vc product that enable different investment approaches on the investor side (i.e. angelist, special purpose vehicles, etc), but most of these variations from the standard don’t dramatically impact founders math or incentive structures when making decisions about with whom to partner.

Something that is pretty clear, is that more and more founders are and want to be investors as well. In 2010, when I first joined Kenny and Ben as a Partner in Lerer Ventures, while simultaneously building Hyperpublic, people really had a hard time understanding how I could or would want to do be an investor and an operator at the same time. Today, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a founder/operator who isn’t also a venture partner/advisor/scout/angelist syndicate lead, etc… for some vc related entity. I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s obviously a thing. Over a 5 or 6 year period, exercising both my investment and operational minds, I found many points where one activity would feed and improve the other…so much so that I don’t think it’s surprising that more operators are looking to get involved in early stage investing while executing on their own endeavors. It’s great data, a great networking platform, and it keeps you creative and broad while your deep into your own endeavor.

What if there was a new VC fund that bent the financial product being offered to you, the perspective founder…let’s call this new fund ViralVC. ViralVC doesn’t exist and I don’t plan to make it exist, but for purposes of this explanation, the pronoun “I” represents the Managing Partner of ViralVC. What if my $200K investment in your company came with a matching $200K check for you to invest in another company? What if taking my investment enabled you to make an investment without risking your own personal capital? If the deal works out, you can keep half the carry and build your credibility and track record as an investor. If the deal doesn’t work out, no worries…make it up to me by crushing it with your own business, which we’re already partnered on by way of my initial investment. I kind of like this idea of every investment a fund makes perpetuating a second investment, and using the initial portfolio of founders/their DNA as the filter for who else is interesting and special and of a similar value set.

Most seed funds hit a point where their partnership doesn’t scale to cover the number of investments they want to make/manage, but what if a portfolio of founders played a more active, yet non-distracting, role in investment identification and management. Theoretically, a seed fund could scale to distribute very large sums of money without bumping up against the constraints of today…I could see a path to deploying funds well beyond the $100M fund size that most seed funds max out at…in fact, i could see a path to responsibly, intelligently, and profitably deploying on the order of billions of dollars of capital into the seed stage asset class, simply by giving every recipient of capital a matching check to invest capital, so long as they agree to shepherd the investment and treat it with care. If you make great initial decisions on where to invest capital and in what founders, and apply a simple rule for portfolio founders like “your matching check is unconditional, so long as I, the managing partner, gets to meet the recipient, and we together agree it is a good investment. if i don’t agree, we don’t invest in this company, but you retain your matching check, go find someone else/better/different.”

It’s not a new idea for seed funds to invest in “connecting founders to each other” or “platform” as a form of scale, but it is new to make founders in your portfolio into investors of your capital, in an unconditional, non-one off way. I think the key would be to build great systems of communication and reporting to mange the network of investments and founders as it scaled beyond the first few generations of investment…and to build a crystal clear and well understood set of values for the community to abide by…so clear that even at large numbers, the group could operate as a cohesive unit to maintain and manage a consistent brand to the market and perspective founders…also key would be to deeply scrutinize the dna of early founders/recipients, knowing that the out years DNA of the portfolio will emanate directly and as much from them as it would from you, the Managing Partner of the fund.

So now, as a founder you could take someone else’s money, or you could take ViralVC’s money that comes with a matching check for you to deploy, significant upset economics, new experience and information, admission into a community of like minded founders, and the ability to give this exact same gift/value proposition you’ve received to whoever you believe in, regardless of how well networked or branded or popular they might be.

Kind of an interesting thought exercise…as ViralVC, you could lose a lot of money quickly executing on this model…but you could also completely upend the seed stage asset class if you did it right…

Come to think of it, what fun is a thought experiment without putting it to the test. I’ve got a $25K angel check for anyone who’s raising. If you earn it, I’ve got another $25K check for you to deploy (you keep 50% of the carry). Any market, any layer in the stack…just be original and genuine and creative and wierd. (put ViralVC in the subject).

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experiencing loss by not really experiencing it

Posted on April 18, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

When I was freshman in college my Grandma Norni died. I was extremely close to her. I remember hearing the news, I remember attending her funeral…and most of all I remember the feeling of wanting to cry, but for some reason not being able to. It was a very unsatisfying feeling to know that type of pain, while lacking the ability to access the release of crying…

Fast forward 3 years…normal day at college…I return home to my apartment to find my roommate Tim watching a film with his girlfriend in the living room. I wasn’t gonna tune in in the middle of it, so I just grabbed some food, opened my computer, and started to do my own thing. At some point, I glanced up at the screen, and happened to catch a 60 second scene of a woman in a hospital, deciding whether to take her husband off life support, and something insane happened…i felt this deep sensation come over me and I cried harder than I have ever cried in my life…heaving…couldn’t catch my breath for like 5 minutes….and the whole time Tim and his girlfriend just stared at me like “what the fuck is going on with this dude?”…inbetween gasps i’d belt out “i’m fine, i’m fine”…but it was very bizarre. I wasn’t sad at all…it was totally physical…and I was almost watching myself have this insane reaction to a film and characters that I had no invesment or context around…Something about that scene had tapped or unlocked this very deep pain I had buried somewhere in my brain when my grandma died. It was total catharsis…it stopped…and I just looked at them and was like “sorry…i know that must have been weird…i’m totally fine.” I tried to explain it to them that that release was from her death 3 years ago, but i couldn’t really explain.

Last week I sat down for coffee with one of my board members who has known me for 10 years…he told me he was sorry I had to go through the experience of killing the Wildcard app and letting most of our team go. He’s not the only one…a number of other folks who care about me, have also asked “how are you, how are you doing?” and my honest answer is “i’m really fine.” There’s something not totally right about putting 2.5 years of energy into a product and vision and team, wiping it clean, and then waking up the next day ready to roll…but in some sense that is very much where I am…it’s only when I really think about it, do I realize that I have this weird capacity to stuff painful moments deep down into places that won’t be discovered until 3 years from now when I stumble across some film or song that unlocks them. I feel like I haven’t really gotten to say goodbye to Wildcard, and that I probably won’t get to before diving into the next direction…

Fast forward to today. We have $3M in the bank, our burn is now less than $50K a month, and my mind has already moved on to self-driving cars, and healthcare, neural networks, diagnostics, climate change…and a bunch of new areas that really excite me…i’m reading ferociously, which is how i learn best…i’m starting to feel very creative again…i feel unconstrained…and open…and my mind just doesn’t seem interested in examining the loss…i wish i could tap into my heart and really say goodbye to the Wildcard chapter before letting my brain take me forward so quickly…but I guess I have this tendency, which i’m guessing many founders have, to move through pain quickly…and whether I like it or not, the pain of Wildcard’s end seems to be in the rear view mirror for now.

So yea…I guess this post was about trying to articulate how I’m experiencing loss…trying to find catharsis…trying to answer that question “how are you doing?”…even if the answer is “i’m experiencing loss, by not really experiencing it…”

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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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