Hyperpublic

From Disciple of @cdixon to Selectively Stealth

Posted on February 19, 2013. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

Before I started in the venture capital world, an opportunity recognized was an opportunity worth guarding.  Later, after listening to folks who had been around the block, I learned that there was little to no risk in preaching my new ideas to anyone who would listen.  Reading advice such as this post from Chris Dixon only furthered my position that stealth mode was for the naive.

For the last few months I have been working on a new project…and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t reexamined my perspective on what is worth sharing and what is worth holding back. Bijan wrote this post today which crystalized an archetype of founder for whom stealth mode is a reasonable form of operation.  He writes:

“I do appreciate what stealth mode represents to me — namely an idea that takes a long time to build with founders that are wonderfully proud, crazy ambitious with a healthy dose of paranoia.”

A little while ago we incorporated our new company under the name Coopkanics, Inc., not because we had a secret to hide, but simply because we needed to start building “that thing that takes a long time to build”, and while we had a vision for what it was, we didn’t have a brand or a product that was worthy of “market facing” ink.  Our intention was not to be secretive.  Ask me what we’re working on and I’ll tell you.  Out intention is, however, to be straightforward about where we are and where we are not yet.  And right now we’re at “Coopkanicks, Inc.”…3 (arguably) smart guys, who have had some success in the past, working on the biggest thing we could possibly find to work on.  Full of ideas…started to build em, and doing it reasonably efficiently.  Anything more than that would simply be premature, so why sell it?

People always expect you to sell them.  They want you to convince them of your work.  When I meet someone who assumes this position with me, I stare blankly at them.  When I meet someone who wants to engage and contribute, I go as deep as I possibly can.  I guess you could say my position is “selectively stealth.” If you are and idiot, arrogant, or opportunistic “I am working on the mobile internet, and I don’t know much more yet” If you are intelligent, curious, and engaged, “I am working on the mobile internet, and here is everything I know so far.”  Regardless of which conversation I am having, one thing I will not do is sell you.  We are where we are…which is a space that I fear many “stealth founders” can’t live in.

The other side of Bijan’s version of stealth, which I abhor, is the founder who hides behind stealth when they don’t yet know or have confidence in what they are building.  They can’t live with where they are.  It takes a special kind of chicken to mask uncertainty as some sort of strategic decision to stay quiet about one’s work.  If you aren’t confident enough to say “this is what I know, and this is what I don’t know yet” and you’re keeping things under wraps until you have a story to sell, you are doomed.  And if you are hyping your company and brand while playing this game, you are triple doomed.  Unfortunately, I think 1 out of 10 stealth founders are Bijan’s long term thoughtful archetype, and 9 out of 10 are blowing smoke while they try to figure it out behind the curtain.  Those people give stealth a bad name.

I think it’s not about stealth vs. open…I think it’s about sharing what’s worth sharing thoughtfully.

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What Really Happens When You Fail in Startupland

Posted on February 13, 2013. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

This is not going to be an easy topic to talk about, but it needs to be said.  This post is about failure, the way we talk about it in the startup world, and the disparity between the way we talk about it and the way it is.

The party line on failure, if you talk to anybody in the venture world specifically, is that “failure is a badge of honor” or at the very least, “there is nothing wrong with trying and failing.”  This is the line that we tell young founders to encourage them to jump in and take risks.  This is the line that we tell the world so that we appear genteel, respectful of the risks that people take, and admiring of their willingness to risk everything.  It is a pom pom we wave when we are trying to say “we love entrepreneurs and admire their boldness.”

The truth is, and I am speaking from an investor’s standpoint here, we want to believe that we live the reality of this party line.  We want to believe when we lose money with a founder that that loss has no impact on our feelings toward this person…but if I am really honest about it, and I look at empirical data…the party line and the reality don’t always line up.

The truth is, when you fail, your investors tend to have a bad taste in their mouths.  Nobody likes to lose money. Nobody likes to be wrong.  Nobody likes to sit in that space that isn’t so happy…and unfortunately for a founder, his person at the point of failure is an embodiment of many things that nobody likes.  Now sure, an investor doesn’t dislike the founder himself.  If the founder does right and doesn’t succeed, there is no “black ball”, or malevolent desires on behalf of an investor…but I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a slight tinge on that relationship…and unfortunately, in this world, a slight tinge is all the friction necessary to turn momentum into something less.  Note: this tinge is not permanent, and it is not insurmountable…but coming off a failure…you are only as good as your next act…and weather we say it openly or not, clawing your way to the next act, you are starting not at neutral or positive, but with a headwind.

I’ll give the example of my own experience as a founder.  My first company, I raised about $600K.  I operated for a year, failed, and returned about 50% of the capital I raised.  I felt terrible.  Everyone said I did the right thing returning the capital, that I was a standup guy for doing it, but still I lost them money.  Nobody turned their back on me, once the company wound down…but they just weren’t leaning into investing more time and energy on me.  When I went to raise money for my second company, Hyperpublic, weather I asked them or not, not a single investor in my first company invested in my second.  Just gives you a sense of the increased friction you face, coming off a failure.  Sure I was able to raise money from new investors, but I had to answer the question “is so and so from your last company investing?”  and so on.  New investors call old investors and say “What do you think of Jordan?”  Of course, again, investors who lose $ with you don’t “blackball” you, so they say “stand up guy, did the right thing, etc…” but still their signal of not reaching out to put $ into the next thing becomes something a founder has to overcome.

Now, let me show you how powerful the mental impact of a failed venture can be on a relationship.  When I started Hyperpublic, I felt so bad about losing my previous investors’ money, that I cut all of those angels a piece of equity in the cap table of Hyperpublic.  It was free, they didn’t know how much they had, but they signed a piece of paper, that to them was a nice gesture, but still probably worth very little. In their minds they owned a piece of a new thing with an unproven and recently failed person.  Fast forward a few years, I sell Hyperpublic to Groupon, and get to send an email to each of these angels saying “you thought I lost half your money, turns out I doubled your money. Here’s the check.”  Again everyone appreciative.  But now, if I am really honest about it, I only have real relationships with two of the seven or eight investors who lived three years thinking I failed and lost their $.

I listen to the way investors I interact with on a daily basis, from all different funds east and west, talk about their “losers” or the ones that didn’t work out…and it is always the same…a muted expression of disappointment, and slight negative tinge…not a condemnation by any stretch, but we have to be honest about the realities of failure.  It is ok, but it’s a black mark that you have to work your ass off to wash away.  Coming off failure, you are only as good as your present and future.  That’s the reality of the market.  I don’t want it to be this way, but even the most accomplished of people cool off when things go south…which means if you haven’t proved anything, and you fail, you really cool off…only way to heat back up is to earn it back through hard work and new success.

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The Edge

Posted on December 8, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

The edge: the edge is a character trait, type of intelligence, and behavioral style that optimizes for the self irrespective of, but not necessarily at odds with, collective interests.

The edge, or an edge, is not unique to some, but rather present in all…it is a base level intelligence that is responsible for calculating toward optimal outcomes for the individual…what is variable is a higher order function which is an individuals choice of how influential the edge is in how she carries herself in a given setting.  Also variable is the strength of this intelligence…some people are extremely tuned to how their own and others’ actions impact their personal satisfaction…they tend to also be extremely tuned to the presence of edge in those around them…they detect when another is acting from “the edge” and instinctually calculate if the other’s intention is good, bad, or neutral for them…if one chooses to be ruled by the edge, that calculation is immediately followed by the action most likely to minimize adverse impact on one’s self interest.

Ok, sorry for the abstract description, but I wanted to really get across what the edge is.  Some more visible manifestations of the edge, or related real world examples might be seen in, for example, styles of poker.  He who plays extremely tight, with perfect calculation, and optimizes for each individual hand, likely has a strong expression of “the edge.”  He who plays loosely, chats with the table, makes some friends, makes a couple calls for the fun of it, may either not have as developed an edge, or may have made the higher order decision not to be ruled at the action layer by it.  Now, a few things worth pointing out.  The edge player does not necessarily win against a non-edge player…each player has a style that works for them…in the short term, or on a given hand, I’d put my money behind an edge player if I had to bet…but over the life of a game, or many games, the same does not hold…I say this because persistent self optimization is not necessarily the most effective path to overall optimization.

Last night I was talking to a close friend and former Hyperpublic engineer, Eric Tang, about the role of “the edge” in business…and more broadly how to carry yourself in a professional and startup setting.  We talked about a mutual friend who we agreed is incredibly smart and competent.  This friend has ambitions of starting a company one day, and I said “he will be amazing…the only thing that might get in his way is his edge.”  Eric’s response was sort of confused…he viewed the edge to be a powerful tool (which it is) in carving one’s way through startupland…but I explained that in my experience, early startup environments are often to fragile and vulnerable to support a heavy-edged leader (and by translation…culture).  I told him, the edge feels like a sword…that you choose to brandish…and more often than not, I prefer to leave it holstered.  I’d much prefer to lead with love and respect and engender a culture that softens the edges of everyone, than allow for an active “dialog of the edges” to emerge within my organization…

I am not saying that an edge is not important, and there is certainly a time and place for it..in fact, when I do brandish said sword, and act under the influence of the edge…I am fucking ruthless about it…but especially now, a little later in my career…I am very careful and conscious about when I choose to use/listen to it.  I have always had a very tuned edge, and when I was younger, not only was I ruled by it, but I couldn’t fathom why anyone, especially in a professional setting, would choose to mute it.  I viewed those who did not act with the sharpest of edges as less sophisticated of shreud…but I was wrong…I attribute much of my current understanding on this subject to Kenny…who you might have heard…has an edge that will cut glass…but his selection of when that edge gets expressed is masterful and nuanced.  Of course, there are those that get far under persistent influence of the edge…but it is not the only way and not long term optimal approach for many.  If you are playing the long game…and by long game I mean lifelong pursuit of excellence in the professional arena…I believe there is more upside in an optimization strategy that checks the edge’s influence over day to day interaction.

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We Can Do Anything

Posted on December 4, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I don’t know if surprised is the right word…because I’ve now done this enough times to know that nothing is surprising…but amazed certainly seems a fitting alternative.  Amazed that no matter how much things have changed since the last time I did this, some things…that you would think are contextual…are actually constants…each time I start something new…I think I know where I am as a person, I think I know what I have learned…I think I know what I know, I think I know what I care about and what I don’t, and what moves me, and how I want things to be…and I carry that concept of the way things are, quite confidently and assuredly…right up until the moment where I am standing on the diving board, toes hanging over the edge….visualizing my movement though the air, breaking the plane of the water, propelling myself underneath the surface, and ultimately reemerging again…and then, with  a jump…sure enough…it becomes clear that the view from the edge was distorted…and that there are certain dimensions to starting a company that…for lack of a better term…are simply water activated.

Today I am wet…I realize that sounds disgusting…but in the metaphor of diving into the pool, there is no other way to describe it.  That which laid dormant since we sold Hyperpublic to Groupon on February 17th…all which is water activated, seems to have emerged…for good and for bad…I say for good and for bad…because, which will be no surprise to you or anyone reading this blog, this process has inescapable joys and inescapable struggles…there is no “I sold my last company, so this time it will be ‘struggle light’…and there is no ‘I have done this a few times, so this time it won’t be as special’”…in fact…part of what’s special is interacting with and touching the struggles that are constants…the exhileration of a difficult task, the risk in putting yourself out there…the feeling of your heart leaping up into overdrive…inexplicably…when the calendar reminder tells you “10 minutes to game time.”  These are phenomena that no entrepreneur, independent of their past experiences and successes/failures, can…or even wants to…escape…these are the thrills and anxieties of being in the game…and it is a feeling more alive than I can describe.

I was talking to a friend yesterday who is not part of this world and he asked me to share with him “what is it?” “what is this feeling that has you jumping out of your seat?”…he literally couldn’t understand the speed of my energy and wanted me to articulate and share it with him…I thought for a moment, and really tried to isolate what it was that I was experiencing…and the only words I could find…which I think are the right words, were “We can do anything”

the belief and exploration and testing and celebration of this principle is at the core of my joy and why I love to start companies.

A note on team:  if you want to come on this journey…and explore this principle…if you’ve ever read this blog and thought “that dude would be cool to work with”…you are invited. Jordan.cooper@gmail.com…I speak from experience when I say it will be fulfilling and exciting and so so so hard…senior and junior, all skills…problems will be engineering and design intensive.  The bar is excellence…tough to join, once in, you will enjoy the company of people who share your aptitude, ambition, curiosity, ethics, and general dopeness.  If we do it right, you will not be the best on this team, but you will be on the best team…which is way more fun.

 

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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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This Desk

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

This desk. I am so grateful for this desk. It is glass and large and clean. It lives in a giant loft with beautiful art work, air conditioning, cold filtered water, and a conference room.  It shares space with bright people, motivated to make progress, driven by a need to feel as though they are accomplishing. It represents a home away from home, consistency, structure and purpose.  But more, it represents belief…belief that I am, in fact, the best owner of this desk…it was given to me, first, at a time when that was not clear…not obvious…by a man who had an extra desk…I was living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn…with no air conditioning…and not a lot of momentum…every morning I would wake up…strap my computer to my back…and head out to a café to claw my way forward…sitting amongst a mix of lackadaisical unemployed web surfers and hardened coffee shop warriors.  Fighting for the corner seat with a plug, or the couch opposite the beautiful girl had it’s moments, but I longed to move beyond a “desk” that existed only in the company of a mandatory coffee or cookie purchase.

Then, one day…I went to interview for a desk at Polaris’ Dogpatch Labs.  I sat down in a group of 6 or so young founders…all struggling to break free of the “coffee shop” stage of entrepreneurship…and explained to the then-reigning Jon Steinberg how I didn’t have a cofounder or a product or any money but regardless was most worthy of a spot that would bring me into a more legitimate phase of my business.  He rejected me. Trips to the coffee shop started to get more frustrating…my back started to hurt from the shitty chairs and hunched over couch computing…regardless my business was making progress…slowly but surely.

Around the same time I visited Kenny in his office in the Meatpacking district…I’m not sure if he could tell how run down I was or not (I had about $1000 left in my bank account and had basically stopped going out to dinner, or movies, or any of the discretionary “luxuries” of life) but he didn’t seem phased by my messy hair and unshaved countenance.  I would have worked for free…just to have a desk…a nice glass desk…in an open loft…with bright people…motivated to make progress…but then it was agreed…I would start investing with him and Benji…and build my company out of his space…and be a real partner…and say goodbye to the pretty girl on the couch….and just in time…I popped into a different sphere of operation…no longer at risk.  I love this desk…while meant for sitting….it gave me something firm to stand on.

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Fix your own fucking printer (a non-tech founder’s guide to starting up)

Posted on May 7, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I’ve spent 4 years going from non-technical founder/CEO to reasonably technical founder/CEO…along the way I learned a ton of “business guy don’ts” that are common mistakes non-technical founders make that hurt engineering culture.  Here are some of the biggies to avoid:

1)   Don’t ask how long something is going to take to build. Just because you don’t understand the scope of the feature or build for which you are advocating doesn’t mean you are exonerated for your ignorance.  You have to make an effort to get better at understanding the scope and challenges of software development even if you’re not programming yourself.  Instead of asking how long something will take (which teaches you almost nothing), ask how hard something is to build and where the challenges are.  Listen to the answer, understand which components are unknowns and which are easy plugins.  It’s so disrespectful not to invest the minimal energy required to start answering your own questions…and you will suck as a CEO or founder if you can’t get a grip on the pace and predictability of your product cycles.

2)   Don’t ask your engineering team to help you set up email on your iphone.  Just because you don’t want to put the effort into googling “how do I set up exchange on my iphone” doesn’t mean it’s ok to ask your engineers to do it for you.  Again, totally disrepsectful…these people on your team are Stanford educated computer scientists, not IT guys…one, it’s disrespectful of their time and two (and more importantly) it shows a lack of willingness to make yourself (even slightly) more technically competent than you are…just because you didn’t study C.S. doesn’t mean you get a “freebe” when it comes to anything with an on/off switch.

3)   Don’t spit out every single product idea or feature idea you had on the walk to work during your morning standup. It’s great that you’re creative and thinking toward the future, but you’re engineering team has a very full plate all the time…each cool idea you have represents serious time and effort from the team…there can be a feeling of “we are already overwhelmed, you’re not appreciating the challenges of what we’re working on right now.”  Very important to communicate what we’re building toward and to have an open dialogue about new ideas and directions, but how and when you present that information as well as how clearly you indicate importance and where in the roadmap these new ideas lie is super important to be mindful of.

4)   Recognize and celebrate the wins (even if they aren’t customer facing).  This can’t be bullshit…it’s not just “oh, today we say good job because you’ve been working so hard)….actually understand what the hell people are grinding on day in and day out…if someone has been working on deduplication for the past month…what are the metrics that we’re measuring progress based on…how are we doing, what’s good and what’s great? What are the approaches that others have used? Where’s our innovation? Did we do something smarter than state of the art?  Understanding the build with this level of intimacy allows you to know where special things happen on the engineering side.  When they do, we stop and show appreciation and respect.  The sales guy who brings in $100K gets celebrated all the time because everyone at the company can comprehend his contribution…it is essential that everyone at the company understand the contributions of our engineers.

5)   Minimize interruptions.  Control yourself when you have ideas or questions that you want to discuss with your engineering team…just because you just thought of something cool, doesn’t mean it’s the right time to tap an engineer on the shoulder…not every engineer is the same, but many appreciate uninterrupted time to get through a challenge or problem…wait until the headphones are off or you are walking to lunch to discuss whatever you wanted to…tap an engineer on the shoulder every 30 minutes while their editor is open and you will officially be the worst person in the world

6)   Don’t fake the funk.  Pretending you understand things that you don’t is the worst.  Don’t sit down with a new recruit and talk about the awesome technical challenges associated with your product if you have no fucking idea what they are and why they are interesting…just saying “obviously was have some awesome big data challenges” rings incredibly hollow if you don’t even know your own stack and what challenges your engineering team is actually tackling…let your engineers speak about what’s interesting technically. “I’ll let our VP Engineering tell you about all the interesting work we are doing” rings a lot more true than your BS attempt to check the recruiting box of “engineers are attracted to hard problems, show them your product presents interesting challenges.”  Further, the quality of your engineering team will sell itself…know where your competencies begin and end and be ready and wiling to defer where appropriate.  That demonstrates a healthy working relationship between tech and non-tech as well.  That chemistry is perceptible and a positive to outsiders if you can show you have developed it.

7)   Fix your own fucking printer

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8 steps to building an A+ engineering team

Posted on April 16, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital | Tags: , |

One of my favorite new founders in the Lerer Ventures family just sent me a note asking for tips as he starts to build out his engineering team. As I’m sitting in an airport w time on my hands, I went long form. Thought I’d open source an early playbook. This advice is most applicable to recently funded seed stage founders:

1) only hire 9s and 10s. Dont just fill the seat, keep bar really high

2) make fast decisions. When you find a guy you like culturally, put him through half day interview process, test both technical aptitude and ambitions/ability to give everything they have to your co

3) if they pass both, offer next day, overpay on cash by 10k what you were going to offer, overpay on equity by 50% of what you were going to offer

4) give them no more than 3 days before offer expires and be ready to move on to new candidates if they don’t commit. Worst thing you can do is convince someone who doesn’t really want it to join.

5) with every hire ask yourself “is this someone who I can recruit against? Will every candidate going forward WANT to work with them? Do they demonstrate that we are a culture of excellence?”

6) create a culture of recruiting within your engineering team. Make sure everyone knows that “we are always recruiting A level engineers, independent of need, roadmap, or operational context.”

7) invest in teaching your entire engineering team how to be effective recruiters. It is a huge part of everyone’s job, not just founders…

8) contribute to the Enginnering community. Give talks, free advice, help neubs build their first rails app, open up your office to anyone that wants to come hack on whatever they are working on. The community is not some stocked pond that you can go fishing in when you need something built. Give to it before you try to take from it. Instill this ethos in your company’s culture.

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On Heading West

Posted on March 23, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups |

Today was my last day ever at Hyperpublic Headquarters.  You wake up every day, walk to work, pick up a coffee, swipe your key card, and focus every shred of energy you have on advancing one mission, and then…in the blink of an eye…it ends.  Today I woke up, ate my breakfast, picked up a coffee, and got to the office…but not to push things forward…rather…to say goodbye.  I said goodbye to what had become my home for the last two years…I literally spent more time in that office than I did in my apartment…but our space was home in more dimensions than simply time spent.  A home is where your family lives…Doug and I started a family at 416 West 13th st…As two young Russian guys carted our furniture away, I poured through stacks of paper, scribbles and notes, and master plans…pitch decks, newspaper clippings, trinkets acquired along the way.  A bottle of whiskey with a lego cowboy strapped to the mouth, a spinning mobile with the name Nina scrawled in white chalk…a set of objects that encased the stories of how our family was formed, and the way that we lived.

In the sheen of what I am humbled to call “success” I can’t help but admit an overarching feeling of melancholy…a bitter sweet…that on some days skews more bitter than sweet.  Not every company operates like a family…it is a very particular style of interaction and culture that I think I saw glimpses of at General Catalyst, but really learned from Kenny…There are so many benefits to what I can only call familial execution, organic and filled to the brim with respect, where management is trumped by collective pride and shared values…it is the only way I will build going forward…but when your team becomes your family, it makes transition pretty emotional… this change represents the end of something…as long as we were Hyperpublic, our family would remain comfortable and in tact.

I am not sad about turning over our company to Groupon.  I’d imagine it’s a similar feeling to sending your child to college.  Rather, I am fearful of coming change to the chemistry of my family…but perhaps…I should not be…perhaps we are so strong…that we will remain family through the years…from company to company…life event to life event…and that this is the end of our family’s formation, but the beginning of it’s growth and maturation…If we did it right…this will be the way things go down…but still it hurts to move…to a new house…to a new neighborhood…and to a new phase of life that despite 2 months of negotiation and planning, seems to have snuck up on us so fast.

This is a wave that comes across me, one in a set of beautiful swells, and amazing feelings of happiness and excitement and perfect rides, but a wave nonetheless that crashes down as we continue to surf through the adventures of startupland.

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Fighting blindspots and understanding Pinterest

Posted on January 26, 2012. Filed under: Hyperpublic, venture capital |

Many times when something new breaks out on the internet, I understand it intuitively.  I am a user of most of what is being used.  Maybe not a dedicated user, but I get to the point in a service where I understand the behavior and mechanics that are driving adoption and/or change.  I cannot stand having blind spots.  I remember when David Sze at Greylock invested in Facebook at a $500M valuation.  Articles were abound asking “Why is Google afraid of Facebook?”  The idea that social syndication was a threat to search and intent based discovery was so so new.  I was the youngest person at General Catalyst at the time and probably the most active on Facebook  and I remember sitting in a partner meeting with a group of incredible intelligent and accomplished people, and having to get up on the whiteboard and explain that Facebook was not just about images and voyeurism, but rather a distribution and discovery channel for web content.  I look back on that moment as one of the points where I realized that generational change creates blind spots specifically in the most disruptive phenomena that contributes to tectonic change.  For every Fred Wilson, who seems immune to such generational disadvantage, there are 50 VC’s who do not understand the new new thing on the web as a user or early adopter.  I once talked to a portfolio founder of Fred’s who was building a pretty avant guard product at the time, and he told me “that Fred is working really hard to understand my product as a user.”  I thought to myself…”ok, even the best needs to put effort into the areas where pure intuition allows for a blind spot.”  I took that idea, put it in my back pocket, and committed to fighting the blind spots.

About 6 months ago it became clear to me that something different was happening at Pinterest.  The number of mentions, the way people referenced it, there was something going on, but as a user, for some reason, I was blind to it.  I created a “to do” on my Asana task list “understand pinterest.”  It sat in my queue for months, as we’ve been busy at Hyperpublic and Lerer Ventures…but on Monday, while home sick…I decided to dig in and try to fight my blind spot.  I am still working on “getting it,” but here’s what I’ve got so far:

1)   I don’t know if I’m using it like most people yet, but I think I see how they are using it.  It is a interesting combination of utility and publishing platform.  There are elements of twitter/wordpress/tumblr insofar as the aggregate of my pinboards represent me and give me a voice, but it does not feel like nearly as active or loud a voice as the aforementioned channels.  I see two possible reasons why I feel this:

  1. Pinterest is more powerful for image/visual based thinkers who express and understand in those mediums.  If this is the only reason, I worry about a ceiling for addressable market relative to twitter/fbook which would cap the service at a number of users south of 100M for example.
  2. While I do have a voice in the service, an equal or perhaps greater driver of content creation (pinning/annotation) is in personal organization and utility.  People are migrating part of the ux currently served by their “to do” lists to this more image/nav friendly environment.  Examples of this behavior would be “wedding ideas,” “places I want to go,” or “home decorating ideas.”  In this case, although public, the primary purpose of “creating content” is personal utility and it just happens that I don’t mind publishing this organizational effort.  The mechanics for interaction and feedback on my work seem light relative to comments section of wordpress or the deeply ingrained @reply system within twitter (although i believe there is a voice in my boards nonetheless).

2)   If b is correct, the effect is twofold: i) as a user I do not expect all the content I create/curate to be actively consumed (as opposed to twitter or wordpress where I believe my followers are hanging on my every tweet (jkjk), ii) there is a form of passive syndication that may be at the core of explosive activity and enhanced syndication of content relative to the prior channels.

PASSIVE SYNDICATION EXPLANATION: When I pin either 1) with the primary motivation of organization or 2) repin with the primary motivation of organization, I believe I am syndicating semi-consciously. That image or piece of content gets published to my follower bases in a similar fashion to a Retweet on twitter, but I am not shy about what I pin and what it says about me in the same way as I would be on twitter.  This act of repinning in my mind is closer to the “star tweet” function in twitter.  Where I am taking an action to save or personally consume later, but for twitter to achieve similar syndication mechanics, they would have to create a rule which says “RT everytime I star a Tweet” (which btw might be a good IFTTT if you want to mess with pinterest dynamics in the twitter channel)

With that passive syndication phenomena, they are effectively lowering the social commitment of a user to engage in “share.”  As a result, it may not be that they are opening up a new concentric circle of users as publishing platforms have before them (i.e. what mircroblogging did to the addressable user base of traditional blogging), but rather that they have expanded the addressable sharer base of content on what will be a smaller base of total users.  Or said another way, the ratio of sharers/users in Pinterest is probably way higher than in Facebook/Twitter. In this progression I would think of the tools that have expanded addressable sharer base in the past as: Email/distributed
share this buds” -> microblog platforms/Facebook news feed -> Facbook distributed like / twitter “tweet this” button -> Pinterest “PASSIVE SYNDICATION” / repin

NOTE/DISCLAIMER: Sadly TUMBLR remains a blindspot for me, probably for the same reasons that Pinterest was…so some of these mechanics, (although I don’t think the “repin utility function”) may exist in that channel and are therefore not new.

Is this right?  What am I missing?  What is Pinterest????

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On Endurance, Recruiting & Catching Big Waves

Posted on September 21, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, venture capital |

I read somewhere that half of building a successful company is simply staying alive and keeping the doors open as the weak fold.  I always thought this was a stupid adage.  How could simply existing position you to build the next Google?  I now realize that endurance is not to be underestimated.  At Hyperpublic, endurance is in our DNA to the point where we now hire for endurance explicitly.  It’s no surprise that founders who are capable of pushing through hard times succeed more than wimps, but the waves and swings of building something from the ether are not just felt by founders.  Every single person at HP has a sense of our wins and losses, risks and rewards, and more generally our momentum as a company.  When we lose a key hire that everyone loved, it’s a blow.  When we pickup a key hire that everyone loved, it’s a celebration.  When Google announces a product that is directly competitive with something we’ve been hustling toward, it’s scary, and when our product outperforms their efforts it’s the coolest feeling in the world.

I want to tell you a short story of falling in love, apparent love lost, and then an awesome reunion.  And I want to tell it to you in the context of endurance, persistence, and a team pulling together in the valley only to emerge at a crest of a bigger wave. About 6 months ago, Hyperpublic was 4 people.  3 of us were immensely dedicated and tough, 1 of us was less so, and we were having a hell of a time getting from 4 to 5.  We set a bar incredibly high for who we’d invite to join our cadre, and only shot for the top talent in the market.  We’d meet people, show them our skills, articulate our vision as best we could, and try to mask the fact that we were wildly under-resourced to accomplish the goals we had set out to achieve.  People would dig our team and our vibe, and then accept offers at more well defined companies, with established teams and roles and clear and digestible products.  No doubt, it was a low when we’d sell the shit out of someone we liked and then they’d take a gig at Foursquare.  Our trajectory was sort of raise a hot seed round –  build – realize we need way more help building – struggle against bigger companies in the fight for talent – put head down and keep pushing. So that’s the backdrop of what I’ll call a valley in the story of our company.

Around this time I remember Doug coming back from a Penn Engineering competition that he had judged and telling me about this guy from Comscore who was amazing. “We have to get him,” Doug commanded.  I got on the phone with this supposed company maker on a Saturday morning (at that point and still today I’d get on the phone at 4:00AM for anyone we’re considering as a team member) and walking in circles through Thompkins Square parking, I listened to him talk about the R&D efforts of Comscore, and we started finishing each others sentences.  It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to know that this guy was destined to be a part of our team.  We immediately bought him a train ticket from Washington D.C. even though he said he wasn’t looking for a job, and began what would become a 6 month courtship.  What we didn’t know at the time was that this guy had received half a dozen ridiculous offers as we were getting to know him, and he ultimately called me and said, “listen, I love you guys and what your doing, but I’m going to take a job with XYZ behemoth.”  I didn’t take no for an answer 3 or 4 times and then I finally accepted his decision, and moved on.

The HP crew went back to work as usual, made a ton of progress, pushed the company forward thin staffed, made a couple of amazing hires, and one very important fire, and sort of pulled ourselves out of the 4 person valley.  All the while, Doug and I found ourselves comparing new applicants to a “Jeff Weinstein” and saying “He’s no Jeff Weinstein” or “He could be a Jeff Weinstein type.”

At some point I got fed up with referencing the guy we wanted when considering alternatives and I sent him an out of the blue email. “Hey, here’s where we are.  We are ready for you, if I were to offer you [insert big numbers and tons of responsibility here], what would you say?  We caught up, started talking again, and over the course of a few weeks, many late night conversations, and a delayed but still present meeting of the minds, we signed a deal.

Jeff started this week, joined an amazing team that we constructed organically, from the bottom up, the company is on a crest, the details of which I can’t wait to share (as soon as Techcrunch rights their ship and we can make some announcements without fighting Erick Schonfelds 200,001 unread messages in his inbox), and all of this would not have been possible if we did not have endurance flowing through our veins.

So now back to the adage: “Half of  building a company is simply staying alive”… I think about this quote now, and although we were never at risk of dying, endurance through the periods between crests does seem to be the surest path to catching big waves…

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4 Life Hacks derived from 7 Days without Internet

Posted on September 12, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I just got back from 7 days rafting down Grand Canyon with no internet.  I’m still processing what I learned on the trip, but Fall is here and it’s time to start hacking my brain again.  You’re not going to learn anything from reading this post, but I decided to publish as a form of social governance to ensure I stick to what I’ve decided to attempt:

1)   no email in bed in the morning:  I’ve decided to cut the habit of rolling over and scanning my inbox first thing in the morning.  I want to wake up, brush my teeth, shower and get dressed before absorbing the fire hose of new stimulus that is waiting for me on my iPhone.  I realized during my time “unplugged” in the Grand Canyon that the first 20 minutes of a morning can be an awesome time for reflective thinking.  An opportunity to digest the previous day’s information with the benefit of rest and a quiet mind, enables you to look at what’s going on in life through a slightly slower and more thoughtful lens.  I don’t think anything is going to change with regard to my output or response if I delay my morning consumption of emails, but I’m looking forward to a couple light bulbs in the shower that have nothing to do with whatever unfiltered mail was sent to me overnight. My friend Andy Weissman told me once that he keeps a Crayon in the shower to write down the ideas that emerge during this super valuable thinking time…I’m going to quiet some of the noise of “post alarm clock stimulus” and arm my bathtub with a few Crayolas…

2)   No news before 6:00PM:  I went an entire week without a single piece of news, and again arrived at some insights that were much deeper and more interesting than my normal day to day thinking.  I’m thinking that my current daily architecture of breakfast meeting, catch up on news and inbox, create and add to do list, execute on specific tasks and analysis is incorrectly ordered.  I think I’ve been wasting high value bandwidth when energy and attention is very high in the morning on passive news and email consumption, while tackling more mentally intensive tasks late in the day when my mind is less sharp.  News is never-ending, so I’ve decided to push all consumption of it to the less mentally productive portion of  late day. If I fatigue I’d rather not get to that last article or two in tech crunch or hackernews in exchange for crushing the operations that can really move the needle early in the day.  I haven’t decided yet if this means no logging into twitter before 6:00PM, but maybe…

3)   Gym in the morning: ever aspired to and never realized, but I think I’m going to make another real run at exercising early in the morning as opposed to after work.  When I was away, I spent a ton of time hiking and exercising and focusing on improving my physical state.  No new surprises here, I’ve always known that a healthy body contributes to a sharper mind, but the last few months the gym has taken a backseat to late nights at work and late meals with slightly-neglected friends and family.  So…in the gym by 8:00AM is the new plan.  Doesn’t hurt that I moved to an apartment yesterday that is ½ a block from my gym and 5 blocks from work.  Gained an hour in commute time, going to put it to good use.  Maybe also some morning runs on the Hudson river if anyone wants to get into the mix, holler…maybe also some running meetings…a strategy pioneered by my college roommate and founder of the awesome @sonarme app, Brett Martin…

4)   Experimentation: Abrupt changes in context and routine always unlock hidden and interesting things.  If you have any life hacks that you’ve found particularly useful or interesting, please share with me or in the comments. I’d love to give them a whirl.

Not sure what other life hacks will emerge, but the most salient takeaway from rafting down a river with no internet for 7 days is that life in startupland in NYC is VERY VERY noisy.  As a result, I’ve decided to experiment with the yield of building a little structured quiet into each day.

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Moving in Ambiguous Markets

Posted on August 25, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I love times like this.  It’s one of those times when markets don’t know what to do.  Uncertainty in a market is code for all the fucking idiots that represent the middle of a market (aka the followers) don’t know what to do because the thought leaders have begun to diverge in their opinions of future direction and “what’s going to happen.”  I love times like this because pricing starts to fluctuate, and opportunity becomes more accessible with the middle of the market sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to tell them what to do.  Even if the middle of the market is active, they still look to follow, and without a loud signal of consensus, 50% of that middle pushes their stack behind thought leaders who are thinking wrong.  Again, markets become inefficient, and in that inefficiency lies opportunity.  I love this type of market because it rewards conviction.  Swift, decisive action, without looking over your shoulder at the guy or girl who disagrees wins the day when ambiguity is abound, and doubt is the equivalent of playing poker on “tilt.”  Also, in times of ambiguity, markets move more predictably around events.  In the absence of strong directional signal from the thought leaders in a market, the middle moves and overreacts to the sentiment of events, independent of their magnitude or actual implications.  Again, opportunity follows.

To all you chumps who aren’t sure if now is a good time to start a company, or to be a seed investor, or an A round investor, or a last money in investor, or long public equities, or long internet stocks, etc. , etc., etc.  sack up, there’s money to be made in every market all the time.  If you were good when times were clear, you can be good now.  Stop watching the game waiting to see how it ends, pick your helmet up off the ground, and run the fucking ball into the end zone yourself.  God.

And to all you thought leaders out there, enjoy.  Now is your time.  Move fast, ignore signal from the middle of the market, it is the uninformed parrot of ambiguity.

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Data for Dummies

Posted on August 19, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, venture capital |

It occurs to me lately that the world of data and big data is very opaque and confusing to normal people and even most internet people.  Frankly, if I’m super honest, it was pretty opaque to me even a year ago.  I remember going to a talk at Hunch last year when Dixon was running his Tuesday night discussion groups where Roger Ehrenberg and the IA team broke down the ins and outs of big data.  I left thinking to myself, WTF are these guys talking about…since then, data has become my life…in this post I will attempt to outline a sort of Data for Dummies…and what you will realize, I hope, is that data is actually your life too:

There is an infinite amount of data in the world.  The cup on your desk right now is a datapoint.  Actually, embedded within that cup are multiple data points.  There is a datapoint that says “this cup exists at this physical location,” another point that says “this cup is 4.2 inches high” a third that says this cup is “paper” and so on and so forth.  How I choose to organize this information, or what dimension of the cup I choose to focus on when structuring, storing, or visualizing the information about this cup are choices that differ based on what application or use I have for it.  When people say that there is more data today than there was 10 years ago, that is misleading.  The big data explosion is not that we are creating new data that did not exist in this volume previously (although we are insofar as population is growing, more activity is happening within a given unit of time on earth than was previously, etc…), but in the context of big data as it is commonly thrown around, the major difference is that higher volume of data is being captured in digital format.  So, the cup has always existed, but now there are 10 images of the cup that have been taken with smartphone cameras, and the distributor of this cup has tracked its movement through space because they’ve moved to SAAS based POS solution that keeps a record of various dimensions of its existence, and one person tweeted about almost spilling it, and that tweet had a geopoint attached to it, so I know it’s here, and all of the sudden, there are 15 different representations of the dimensions of this cup that I am able to access, assuming I know where to look and how to query the environment which holds this information (or the environment in which it was captured).  So, for every piece of data that exists in the world, for every event, every object, every occurrence, really for everything that exists or happens in our universe, there are an increasing number of accounts and representations of it turning up, largely in siloed digital environments.  The interesting thing is all of these various environments that house the record of what is happening, and moving, and existing each day on earth choose to look at an occurrence or object through a different lens.  Some look at the cups height, some look at its location, and some look at it’s material, and each environment stores the information of the cup along the axis that it cares about.

So, the amount that I can deduce or understand or act upon with a single dimension of the cup is small, relative to what I can achieve if I see every dimension of the cup.  Sure, a perfect dataset would be if a single person sat down and documented every single aspect and element of it’s existence, but that is not the way information is created and captured in real life.  Enter crawling, ingestion, and normalization.  The process by which we are able to find every representation of the cup that has been captured in any environment and determine that each representation, in fact, references this same very cup.  Think of this layer in the big data stack as the “glue” in some senses.  The output of this effort is a much more complete set of information about this cup than exists in any one siloed location, and now when presented to a 3rd party who would like to make a decision about this cup, my aggregate representation of the cup is more valuable than any single element of the cup that has been captured previously.

**BTW, in that example, the cup could be the cup, the transaction, the event, the person, the moment, etc, etc., etc.

Ok, so there is interesting work being done around capturing every dimension of the cup and creating a better representation of the cup.  But what about cases where there is an object that exists but no representations of it have been captured in any format.?  Or more realistically, no representations of it have been captured in a digital format that can improve my understanding of the aggregate object.  In those cases, we can analyze existing bodies of data that are similar to the object that we lack a representation for and make very very good guesses (think 90% accuracy) as to what the dimensions of this unrecorded object are.  When you hear people reference “Machine Learning” they are talking about training a machine on a known set of data to make smart guesses about unknown but related information.  So, there is interesting work being done in the classification of information, and ascription of properties to objects or occurrences for which we have imperfect information.

Once we have done our best to capture every explicit and inferred dimension of the cup’s existence, we are able to build applications that wish to call any specific dimension of the cup in order to enhance an end users interaction with that cup, cups in general, or even the space in which the cup exists.  Because someone has organized all of the data elements of the cup into a single easy to understand, and complete representation of the cup, I am able to create an iphone app that tells you where you can find cups in the Meatpacking district, or where you can find paper goods in the meatpacking district, or where you can find 4.2 inch objects in the meatpacking district, or what people have drank water in the last 30 minutes, etc., etc. etc.  The applications of an infinite dataset are infinite as well.  Much time and energy are spent determining which applications are most immediately valuable to users and therefore monetizable, but at a more fundamental level, the potential applications of big data are growing at as fast or even faster rate than the capture of big data.  It is for this reason, that efforts around plumbing and infrastructure in this ecosystem have the potential to be enormously valuable and important, albeit not tangibly monetizable without pushing up stack to capture near term value.  In some case the enterprise customer appears attractive, but personally the sex of a perfect representation of the cup lies in how that existence changes an individuals interaction with space, the world, other people, and ultimately time.  We are moving in a direction where an increasing number, and ultimately every decision that I make is augmented, enhanced, or at least influenced by my access to these increasingly complete digital representations of life that go far beyond what I am able to understand and intake based solely on my physical senses.  Basically, humans and machines are collectively TiVoing real life and space and time, but the “Play” button on that recording totally sucks, and there are is a ton of opportunity in giving consumers easy access to the recording.

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Building an engineering team from the bottom up

Posted on August 2, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I was at lunch last week with a repeat entrepreneur turned VC , and I was talking to him about growing our team at Hyperpublic.  I told him that we had been successful at building our team from the ground up, but that we had recently lost a very senior engineering manager to a larger, better resourced startup in NY.  I talked about how nice it would have been to bring someone on who could blow out our engineering team quickly, and he shared a perspective that I hadn’t heard before but totally internalized.  He said that in the long term, he has seen great engineering cultures ruined by the introduction of a fast influx of new, tightly networked blood (i.e. the 10 guys/girls who that senior engineer has worked with previously…aka “getting the band back together”), and that he prefers to back teams that develop the way we have grown to date.

I looked at the senior guy we lost as a sort of “shot in the arm” for our team that needs to grow from 7 to 25 in the next 18 months, but perhaps discounted the change that would come with that type of super-condensed growth.  We have managed to assemble an incredible engineering team at HP over the past 10 months, but the process to get here was far from streamlined.  We did not have senior DNA on our team who could build a 10 person team over night, but rather started with just Doug and I, both in our 20’s, with some awesome networks (Y-Combinator, LV, GC, UPenn CS, Carnegie Melon CS, etc…) but lacking a deep “stable” of talent accrued over 20 year careers.  We built very organically, from the bottom up, relying heavily on our personal networks, one off hack challenges, and the help of our more technical investors, but it required massive effort and patience.  My cofounder Doug was (correctly) adamant about not lowering our bar under any circumstance, and we chose to execute resource constrained (and by definition more slowly) as opposed to bringing on people who were not a perfect fit.  Sometimes maintaining that discipline was challenging in the face of a never ending product roadmap and a fast moving market, but we shared a belief that to get the smartest people in New York to join us, we would show ourselves to be peers.  Each time we added someone great, we became a more attractive team to join, and today things are a lot easier than they were 10 months ago.  Granted, we’ve executed across other facets of the business and have matured as a company, but the smartest people we interview always seem to zero in on who they will be sitting next to if they join.

This dude’s advice, that I hope he won’t mind my sharing, was that “there are no shortcuts to building a great company.”  I liked that concept. We continue to hire across the stack at all levels of experience, but perhaps now with an increased weariness for anything that looks like a shortcut.

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Population Density, Local, and the Disruptive Snowman

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic |

Riddle: Two men sit on a bus together, discussing life and change, on the way to a paintball facility in Coram, NY.  The bus is a standard luxury coach, with let’s call it 50 seats, including the driver’s and the one in the restroom.  At any given moment, what is the maximum number of people on the bus with them?

Answer: 7 Billion

Explanation: Our environment is no longer defined simply by its physical components.  The matter that occupies a given space is, indeed, a major contributor to the definition of a given environment, but with the rise of mobile connectivity, physically remote actors are influencing, and in fact redefining every environment through which we move.

Many people, particularly of older generations, are uncomfortable with the increased presence of non-physical parties in a given situation or environment.  I think part of the reason for this is because people select their physical space based on what type of interaction and experience they wish to have in a given moment.  It used to be, when physical matter largely defined a space, certain spaces would induce predictable behavior and experience.

For example, 5 years ago, if I got on my bike and road to the beach, I could be reasonably certain that I would see ocean, waves, sand, people laying on towels, relaxing, laughter, running, sunshine, and not a whole lot more.  I could also be reasonably certain that I would not see or experience violence, aggression, snowmen, racially charged activism, etc…  The one less predictable contributor to my experience at the beach (or the primary variable), is the specific people who move into that physical space during the same window of time that I occupy it.  They, too, define, my environment, but given that they also use similar logic when making their decisions as to what space they will occupy, I can assume they will also behave consistent with the parameters defined by the predictable physical elements of the beach.

So…I enter the space known as “beach” when I want to behave consistently with the way others who are consuming those predictable physical elements will likely be behaving.

Today, when I go to the beach, I see all the aforementioned predictable physical and elements, but I also see a snowman on Instagram, posted in the same moment as I watch a wave crash, by an 18 year old Inuit girl in the arctic circle.  She is part of my environment as well.  Her contribution shapes my experience in that moment, and all of the sudden I have consumed an input that will change the way I move through the physical environment “beach”.  I become aware, for a moment, of the concept of winter, and remember that this sunshine will not last, and maybe I move from running and laughing to frowning, and when I frown, the girl on the next towel over sees and consumes my frown, but she came to the beach for laughter and happiness, and now, in this moment, the beach is no longer consistent with her expectation of “the beach.”

Now you might be thinking, “well, Jordan, you are just one person out of 1000 at the beach, and one photo of a snowman isn’t going to change the beach” to which I would respond, “you’re right, I am just 1 in a 1000, but the volume of people who engage with non-physically present actors or participants within a physical space is growing at breakneck rates.  And what’s more, the frequency in a given time interval, that they engage with those non-physically present beings is rising even faster.”

So what does all this mean?  It means that older generations are being forced to redefine their concepts of previously predictable environments in a way that makes them uncomfortable.  It means that, in general, environments and experiences in a physical space are no longer as predictable as they used to be.  It means that the variable of “people” that causes deviance from the expected experience in a given environment is now a much more heavily weighted input because population density has been turned on it’s head, and now 1 Million people occupy or are present in a space that previously held 1000.

We are entering a time when millions of people are beginning to occupy moments and spaces previously held by hundreds.  Local environments will never be the same.

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Keith Rabois says “great entrepreneurs don’t blog”

Posted on May 25, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Keith Rabois for the first time.  By his definition, at this very moment, I am wasting my time.  It’s 6:35PM on a Wednesday afternoon, I have the Techcrunch Disrupt Demo’s ustreaming in the background (my roomate from college is in the finals), flipping back and forth between email and this blog post, and in Keith’s eyes, the yield on this time I am spending writing this post is so low, that he has taken the position that “entrepreneurs and VC’s should not blog.”

I talked about the blog as an enterprise tool.  A way to amplify your voice if you have smart or unique thinking, and an effective distribution channel to reach the people that matter to you or your business.  We discussed the “rise of Chris Dixon,” his emulation of Fred Wilson, the early writing of Paul Graham, Marc Andreesen, and so on, and as we went through the list of people who have effectively used the blog to enhance their market position, we realized that it is not that blogging is a waste of time, but rather that the majority of those who blog simply suck.  And if you are great or different or continually creative enough to write fresh content effortlessly, then at worst (and in Keith’s opinion) it’s “no harm no foul” and at best (and in my opinion) it is hugely valuable.

As I left that conversation and continued to think about his distaste for this medium, I could not understand how someone so talented and accomplished in our space could be missing the boat on what seems to be such an obvious and valuable tool for young entrepreneurs, and then it hit me.  “Keith Rabois doesn’t see the value of the blog as a platform because Keith Rabois is Ketih Rabois.”  I played back the conversation and listened to him rattle off the top 10 entrepreneurs in the valley, none of whom blog, and it occurred to me that the blog is not a tool for the Keith Rabois’ or Steve Jobs’ of the world, who have decades of history to stand on.  It is a tool for those who are making their mark in the present (I would put the Fred’s and Dixon’s of the world into that category). I now see why Keith pointed out the lack of blogging by market leaders on the West Coast…it is because on the West Coast, the market leaders are leaders who have earned that title for work they have done over the past 25 years.  They are entrenched, their personal platforms built before blogging existed, and now they rest on those platforms, not needing to amplify their voice of prove that they are equal to or better than those that call themselves leaders.  On the east coast, however, I look around at who is leading our market (many of whom blog), who is top of the pack, and they are all entrepreneurs and investors who are “famous” or respected for what they are doing RIGHT NOW. In New York we don’t have a 30 year startup history that defines who is who and who is best.  It’s much more of a wild wild west.  If you are making moves, changing markets, and better than the noise, the blog is an essential outlet for you to compensate where 30 years of word of mouth don’t proceed your every sneeze.

We had a new intern at Hyperpublic who started last week.  I made a list of goals for him this summer, and one of my unconscious instincts was to have him “start a blog.”  A blog is a way for small but smart voices to rise and be heard by loud and large incumbents.  It is a way to communicate to the market that “I met Keith Rabois, he didn’t think I was dumb, and felt it worth his time to talk to me for 20 minutes.”  Oh and look, I mentioned my startup in a post that got syndicated 10,000 times, 300 people clicked through to my site, 30 converted into users, 2 sent me emails and asked for meetings, one is a talented database engineer, and the other was some random kid in Nairobi.  All that for 30 minutes of time, 30 minutes I didn’t spend emailing, or calling, or meeting, or whatever, but 30 minutes I did spend reflecting on a conversation that I enjoyed.  Internalizing what I learned.  Cementing my ideas as I movie forward.   “And look Keith…I’m talking to you right now…you’re reading this.  You will now remember me, vs. every other hand you shook at Conway’s party.  In the next five years we will have an opportunity to create value together.  When that day comes (and it may be soon because I’m fascinated by the intersection of transaction and geodata), if we aren’t already better friends, I will send you an email, with a link to this post, and you will take my call, because I think different, and I got creative, and this is how blogs work.  Are you sure you don’t want one?”

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Twas the night before Disrupt

Posted on May 20, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

Twas the night before Disrupt and all through New York

Hackers were getting pumped to meet the mythed startup stork

Who would swoop down from the heavens swaddling cloth in his beak

On a mission to deliver the next Groupme so to speak

*

Hotels are all booked, Kayak can’t save you now

But thanks to AirB&B, you can unfurrow your brow

Yes, we are living in the future, hotels headed way of the finch

And Uber’s gonna make your transportation a cinch

*

So what’s going on here, we hear New York is on fire?

Is this boom for real, or simply a figmant of desire?

What I can say for sure is we’re crawling with VC

Fresh off the Acela from a tech hub that used to be…

*

Yes it seems things have shifted, Boston is shrinking

And West Coast dudes are clearly now into group thinking

That “maybe we need a presence” in the big apple

But khaki’s don’t fly hear, and with skinny jeans they can’t grapple

*

You see, startup world, who’s watching all this from far

This isn’t the valley and we don’t give a shit about your car

We are the creative class that’s been here for years

And now that applications are cheap and easy, we’re gonna leave you in tears

*

We may not have search engineers nor are we downstack

But web development is prevalent, and UX is the new black

So when you get off the plane and utter “Palantir”

We’ll smile kindly and reply, “can @Dens buy you a beer?”

*

But back to Disrupt, it’s a veritable who’s who

With Conway, and Fred, Moot, and maybe even you?

Yes you, Techcrunch reader, coming up through the ranks

With an app only on Testflight and no $ in the bank

*

You too, can rub elbows with the great Christopher “moot”

If you hack for 24 hours, and present to the suits

And if you are brave enough to use the new Hyperpublic API

Who has two thumbs and a Lerer checkbook? Yep… this guy

*

All joking aside, we welcome you all to NYC

Land of the Mets, MongoDB and Jay Z

Where “dreams are made” and dumb angel money lost

Strap into your seat and rise above the froth

*

Who will become this year’s bell of the ball?

Get Roelof on his knees reduced to a crawl

Who has a vision that will change life as we know it

The stage is set, Disrupt is where you can show it

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Sharing the spotlight is the fastest way into the spotlight

Posted on March 7, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I had dinner on Saturday night with my best friends dad.  He is an extremely accomplished Surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, and typically has some nuggets of wisdom if you shut up and listen for a while.  We spent a bunch of time discussing what he looks for when recruiting doctors to his practice, and the overlap in philosophy was striking.  He talked a lot about hiring based on capacity vs. historical performance (which is a practice I employ both when building the team at Hyperpublic, and also when deciding who to invest in at Lerer Ventures).  His reasoning was rooted in a concept that sometimes the real game changers need to enter an environment of increased challenge or competiveness in order to really step on the gas and outperform.  So if candidates demonstrated competency at the lower rungs of their professional development, but showed a strong delta between performance and perceived capacity, they represented something of a “value buy” insofar as a new environment might unlock some pent up talent/performance.

The conversation carried on, and as the parallels between his experience building a team and a career in medicine continued to reflect my own experiences doing the same in tech, I found myself taking notes… I particularly liked his perspective that: “The more you give other people credit, the more likely you are to be successful.” It’s a counterintuitive concept in a world where everyone is trying to get ahead, and build a track record, and get recognized for their accomplishments, but I do think there is real truth to his words.  Some of the most successful people I have met demonstrate the outsized skill of “lifting others up.”  One of my mentors, Hemant, was fabulous at giving credit and recognizing the contributions of others.  His ability to share the spotlight meant that there was always room in others’ spotlights for him.

Dr. Lawrence went on to observe what he described as an “I culture,” where everyone wants to talk about themselves and what they’ve done or are doing.  He said that he finds the most productive conversations to be ones where the word I is not used, and challenged us to start replacing “I” with “we.”  I think I may be guilty of subscribing a bit to an “I culture.”  Social media only amplifies an individual’s voice and nurtures the concept of “I” vs. “we.”  I recently gave a presentation in which one of the slides was titled “I have invested in 40 companies in the last 14 months.”  The reality is that it wasn’t me who invested in 40 companies, it was “us” that invested in 40 companies.  And by us, I mean Ken, Ben, Jonah, Eric, Moot, and me.  In a world where personal branding is an ugly but potentially necessary element of day to day, I’m going to start making a more conscious effort to turn the dial to 11 on “collective (vs. individual) branding.”  Thanks Dr. Lawrence for shedding some perspective on this subject, hopefully others will absorb your words as completely as I did.

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Fred Wilson Nails Early Stage Distribution Playbook

Posted on February 25, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, venture capital | Tags: |

Fred Wilson just wrote a post on marketing/distribution for early stage companies that is an absolute must read (to the point that I feel a need to reblog it).  His main point is that spending money to grow before your product is awesome enough to grow organically, is a waste of time and resource.  I’ve been thinking about this a ton vis a vis hyperpublic and also in preparation for a talk a gave on Wedneday at Jon Steinberg’s Viral Meetup at General Assembly.  I just wrote a response to Fred’s post which I’ll reproduce below because I think his lesson goes beyond just how to think about paid growth, but also to how to think about spread in general, and when the right time is to optimize for spread:

My response to Fred:

“wow…weird…almost identical to my talk at Viral meetup on Wednesday…but I went even further. forget about paying for traffic in early days, but I also said forget about trying to induce virality in early days. your last point about making the product not suck was my entire point. I talked about the idea of “gift virality” which I’ll define as “users perpetuating your product out of affection to the recipient.” If I think about why I share Groupme, it’s not because I’m unlocking a new feature by hitting Fbook like, or even saying something about myself, by displaying my usage. I pass groupme along because it’s a gift i can give to friends that doesn’t cost me anything. Too many viral mechanics focus on rewarding or incentivizing spread before the product has become awesome enough that it is a “gift.” That type of inducement is non-replicable and short term. Rather than chasing the techcrunch company that got 1 million users in 48 hours, especially for early stage companies that are resource constrained, I would argue that early teams should spend all their attention turning their product into a gift. Once that’s achieved, all of the mechanics which you very clearly and helpfully outline are known science. Too many consumer internet apps chase growth before their product is awesome. It’s important to have users and data to make a product better, but optimizing for spread before your product is a “gift” (especially for utility based products) is a distraction and inefficient use of internal bandwidth. Paying for growth is an amplification of that mistake. Both induced viral mechanics and early paid acquisition are band-aids that artificially inflate but do not solve the problem of distribution. Great post Fred, one of my favorites you’ve ever written”

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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 Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)

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