Union-Square-Ventures

Can You Teach Someone to Be an Entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurial Design, aka “Internet School” or, as guest speakers/entrepreneurs referred to it, “the class I wish that I had five years ago!,” ended last week. My description of the class crafted by Gary Chou and Christina Cacioppo of Union Square Ventures won’t do justice to the impact that the work had on us, but here goes.

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We’re excited to announce that we’ve closed a $3.2M Series A fundraising round led by Union Square Ventures. USV brings a huge amount of experience with industry-changing companies, and we’re proud to have them on board.

In the last year, VHX has grown from 2 people and a comedy special into an 8-person team with a solid software platform and dozens of great releases. The filmmakers, distributors, studios, and publishers we’ve worked with have helped shape two simple ideas about the future of premium video distribution:

  • Creators want well-designed websites, control of their own content, and a direct relationship with their audience.

  • Consumers want to watch high-quality videos that are restriction-free and available everywhere, and are happy to pay for it.

Taking a look at each VHX team members’ home media setup is a glaring example of just how complex and fragmented the video experience is: TVs, tablets, game consoles, phones, Chromecasts. The way we discover and watch video is changing every day, and varies wildly from country-to-country.

We are building a publishing platform that helps close these gaps between interest and availability. And our approach introduces new ways to sell content, and allows more people to be involved in that process.

We are looking for beta testers: Filmmakers, distributors, publishers, educators, and moving-picture-creators who want to put the new platform to use. If you’re ready to sell work, we can power your website.

We are looking for new team members: Great people who love videos and are passionate about creating for creators. We are building a watching experience that’s better than Netflix, keeps artists and fans as close as Kickstarter, and empowers publishers as much as Tumblr did for us.

Most importantly, we have free stickers for you: Fill out this form and we’ll put some in the mail.

Thanks for tuning in.

When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed.
Disclosure

Today is one of my favorite days of the year.  We are having the Union Square Ventures portfolio summit where for one day founders and/or CEOs of our portfolio companies come together.  It is an amazing opportunity for everyone involved to learn from each other and hopefully establish relationships that will continue to bear fruit during the year.  It is also a great reminder that by now we have 37 active portfolio companies which brings me to the subject of this post: disclosure.

I had recently gotten to the end of a gripping but unfinished story on Wattpad, one of our portfolio companies.  So I decided to comment and ask the author to add to the story.  Wattpad sent that comment out as a tweet and it got picked up by a new  Twitter account called MrDisclosure, pointing out that I had not disclosed in that tweet that we were investors in Wattpad.  This got me thinking about whether or not it is a reasonable expectation for me to indicate on each individual tweet whether or not we are investors in a company mentioned in the tweet.

Leaving aside that we are investors in Twitter (should every tweet include that?) we are also investors in foursquare and I frequently post my checkins to Twitter.  We are also investors in Tumblr where I am writing this very post and will cross-post automatically to Twitter. You get the idea.  There are a great many services that we are investors in that I both actively use and that are connected in some way or another to Twitter.  Trying to edit every tweet to include an extra #investor tag for disclosure seems impractical.

I also don’t think it is necessary.  My Twitter profile links straight to the Union Square Ventures web site, from which it is one more click to see our portfolio.  I also happen to have fewer than 10,000 followers on Twitter and am pretty sure that most of them know I work in VC and am therefore likely to have investments that I will tweet about.  Finally, if you really do care, all you need to do is follow MrDisclosure and you will be notified.

JBP4USV: The End of the Road

It’s painful for me to write this first sentence, so let’s just get it out of the way…

Yesterday afternoon I was informed that Union Square Ventures was no longer interested in considering me for the analyst position. I did not make the cut.

I am immediately taken back to the beginning of the summer and one of my first posts entitled ”Their Mistake, My Fault" about receiving my TechStars rejection email. Looking back at this post, I am reminded of three things:

  1. I was overly optimistic about my chances to get into extremely competitive TechStars NYC program at the time. Looking back at the teams that were selected and just completed the program, these teams totally blew us out of the water for the various reasons stated in my post. So it was certainly not “TechStars Mistake” — they made the right choice. It was our ambitious mistake, but I’m still very happy for the experience of applying.
  2. I love my enthusiasm and optimism in the face of rejection. It’s awkward for me to quote myself, but this statement is totally appropriate (again). “I don’t make excuses or have regrets. I make shit happen and learn from the past.”
  3. Mark Suster again provides comfort with his sympathetic post that sums up my feelings exactly — “Embrace Your Loses - They Will Make You Stronger

Reading through Mark’s post again, it’s scary how accurate his assessment reflects what I am going through right now. It is so authentic and real, and that’s why I love it and have to quote his whole opening paragraph just to make myself feel better.

I HATE LOSING. I hate it. I really, really, really, hate it. It chaps my hide. It rips at my core. I don’t get over it easily. I lose sleep. I fucking hate losing. It’s not so much the actual outcome that I hate - it’s the process. The fact that I lost when I should have won.”

And in that final sentence he says it all. “The fact that I lost when I should have won.” I look back on the TechStars rejection, and I now can say we should not have been in the same class as those companies. But this is different. Maybe in time I will come to feel the same way I did about TechStars, but this, right now, is different.

I am still convinced that if I made it through the initial screening process, I would have been the last one standing at the end of the interviewing process. I know there are some extremely talented people interviewing for the position, and this is by no means a knock on them. I honestly believe that I would have come out on top given the opportunity to go through the in-person interviewing. Maybe it speaks to my strength to interview in person or to the fact that I could have done better with the video interviews, but I know I would have shined.

(Oh, and for the record, I am aware of how ridiculous that last statement may sound. I know. I didn’t even make the cut for the top 10% of the applicants and I’m still convinced I’m the best person for that position. That’s just who I am.)

So now that I have that out of my system, it’s time to move on.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for USV, and I wish nothing but the best for all the candidates who are still in the mix. Honestly. I am not a sore loser or hold grudges. I live. I learn. And I become better because of my loses. USV is a tremendous company and means so much to the NYC tech community, and I know they will continue to do well.

I certainly have learned a lot from this process, and I am truly thankful for that. I will second guess myself on a lot of it, but that’s just the way I am. I hate losing and hate rejection, but I accept it as an integral part of how I improve and grow.

At the end of the day, this rejection is just another stepping stone of my personal philosophy on life:

Learn. Grow. Dominate.

Union Square Ventures Invests In Duck Duck Go's Search Algorithm

Duck Duck Go has been competing with Google on search for the last four years. Up until now, the startup had been completely bootstrapped. But now Duck Duck Go is tweaking its business model. Founder Gabriel Weinberg has decided to raise money from Union Square Ventures. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Weinberg recently hired Duck Duck Go’s first employee. The decision to grow the company internally is based on Duck Duck Go’s recent external growth. Pageviews are up. Duck Duck Go is receiving about 300,000 search queries per day, which is up from the 200,000 received in June.

USV partner Brad Burnham will join Duck Duck Go’s board. Jim Young from i/o ventures and Joshua Schachter from Tasty Labs also participated in the round, along with a few other angels. The money will be used to make new hires, which will allow for a faster release cycle. 

Why Bitcoin might still be a big deal

Welcome to 2015!

To start off the year, I thought I would talk about something pretty geeky, but very forward looking: Bitcoin.

I wrote about Bitcoin just over a year ago when I was first starting to wrap my head around it, but a lot has happened since then. Many of you might know that 2014 was a terrible year for Bitcoin and that its price has declined significantly (chart from Coinbase):

But does that mean Bitcoin is a flop, or that the hype has just died down a bit?

If you follow what’s being discussed within the tech community, you’ll know that there are still lots of people who are bullish on Bitcoin. But more precisely, they are bullish on the underlying architecture behind Bitcoin and something that is called the Blockchain.

I’m not going to get too technical in this post (if you want that, go here), but I do want to talk about three things (that I’ve mostly learned from the folks over at Union Square Ventures): the Blockchain, why it matters, and what it could mean for specific industries such as transportation and real estate. I promise to make it relevant at the end.

The way to think about all of this is in layers.

The Blockchain is the foundation or base of Bitcoin. It’s essentially a decentralized public ledger that keeps track of all the Bitcoin transactions. Decentralized means that not one single person or company owns the database. It’s free for anyone and everyone to see. This structure is important because it enables peer-to-peer transactions across the internet, as opposed to going through a bank or other intermediary.

But the key takeaway is that Bitcoin is simply one example of a “protocol" built on top of the Blockchain. And there are many others in the works, including a protocol for realtime ride sharing (Lazooz) and a protocol for a decentralized peer-to-peer marketplace (OpenBazaar). And so the real innovation is the Blockchain, not Bitcoin itself.

Why does this matter?

It matters because these protocols are, again, not owned by a single entity, which is remarkably different than the way most things work today. Take for example the residential real estate industry. In the Greater Toronto Area, the data that emerges from home listings and sales is owned by the Toronto Real Estate Board.

And since this data is privately owned, a lot of it remains only accessible to “members” or real estate agents. The Competition Bureau has been fighting for more openness, but the Toronto Real Estate Board obviously wants to keep as much of this data as it can to itself. Who can blame them.

But what if somebody came along and created a new protocol for a decentralized peer-to-peer home marketplace? In that case no one would own the data, which means everyone would have access to it. And that would completely change the landscape. I’m fuzzy on what this protocol would even look like, but it seems entirely possible given what else is in the works.

And if this Bitcoin Blockchain revolution does actually take place, it wouldn’t be restricted to only non-tech legacy industries. Joel Monegro of Union Square Ventures believes that “decentralized protocols” such as Lazooz and OpenBazaar (mentioned above) could even have a big impact on companies such as Uber and eBay, respectively.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this, but I want to understand it and I thought you all might as well. Because even though it seems very tech right now, the implications would also be very non-tech if it turns out to be true.

There was some great conversation at last night’s Future of Entertainment Speaker Series. We pulled choice quotes from Andy Weissman and host Marc Schiller

"Any creator should be having a direct relationship with their fans" -Andy Weissman

"I don’t ever want a press hit without the film being available for pre-order." -Marc Schiller

"My kids are growing up without Star Wars because we don’t have a DVD player and can’t watch it online” -Andy Weissman

Codecademy

Andy has a great post over at the USV blog announcing our investment in Codecademy. Knowing how computers work and how to program them I believe will be quintessential knowledge for everyone. It is shocking to me that I had to enroll my kids separately to have them learn typing. While they have learned a bit of Scratch in school, it has been an afterthought as opposed to being integral to their curriculum.

That’s why I am so excited to see the emergence of so many resources and services that completely bypass schools and let everyone learn these essentials directly.  There are many wonderful in-person classes on Skillshare and with Codecademy there is now a great start on self-paced and highly interactive learning.  For people who are more advanced there is Stanford’s AI class.

So everyone go and learn. Together, we will program the future!  

Marketing Fundamentals Canvas for Union Square Ventures

This post first appeared on Medium and includes my full analysis.

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About a year ago, I decided to rewrite Union Square Ventures’ creative logo brief as the firm was redesigning its logo and website. The exercise proved very useful to USV, which benefited from a more compelling way to present its briefing information, as well as the broader tech community, which could see this framework in action.

Today, I’m applying my recently launched marketing fundamentals canvas to USV. I’ve deconstructed each of firm’s key marketing areas to provide clarity around its unique value proposition in the market, target audience and long-term direction. As you can seee, the canvas is a powerful yet flexible tool that applies to VC firms just as much as it does to startups.

Note that I’ve based my assumptions on publicly available information about the firm as well as my personal knowledge.


Union Square Ventures’ Marketing Fundamentals Canvas

I invite you share your thoughts and feedback on USV’s marketing canvas below.

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First U.S. Bitcoin Exchange Set to Open Coinbase Has Backing From the NYSE, Banks and Venture Capitalists

The virtual currency bitcoin is getting a very real boost on Monday, with the opening of the first licensed U.S. exchange.

Coinbase Inc., a startup backed by $106 million from the New York Stock Exchange, banks and venture-capital firms, said its exchange will offer greater security for individuals and institutions to trade bitcoin and monitor real-time pricing of the cryptocurrency.

The exchange could bring needed legitimacy to the currency, which isn’t backed by a central government and is traded over virtual exchanges, primarily overseas. Coinbase said it has insurance, offering traders some assurance that their money won’t disappear.

Bitcoin enthusiasts have been buffeted by the collapse of Japan-based exchange Mt. Gox last year—taking with it around half a billion dollars of investors’ money—and a security breach earlier this month at Slovenia-based exchange Bitstamp. The value of a bitcoin itself, determined by trading on existing exchanges, has fallen to about $240, from a peak in late 2013 of more than $1,200.

“To have an organized exchange that has the backing of thoughtful venture capitalists and investors addresses one of the main problems with bitcoin: its extreme volatility,” said Campbell R. Harvey, a Duke University finance professor who has studied cryptocurrencies. “Bitcoin has been sorely in need of something like this.”

Coinbase’s founders say they have been working for five months to win licenses from state financial regulators. They have regulatory approval in half of U.S. states, including large population centers like New York and California. For now, Coinbase can do business with account holders only in states where it has approval.

Coinbase will take a small percentage—likely less than 1%—of most transactions, said Fred Ehrsam, 26 years old, a co-founder. The exchange will initially be limited to users in the U.S., but Chief Executive Brian Armstrong, 32, said he plans to expand overseas.

Mr. Armstrong said he expected to attract both individuals and businesses looking to trade bitcoin. “Our goal is to become the world’s largest exchange,” he said.

Others are looking to open U.S.-based bitcoin exchanges, including Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the twin brothers known for their early feuds with Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg .

Financial regulators, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, have been scrutinizing bitcoin recently. Benjamin Lawsky , the superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, is working on a so-called BitLicense for firms looking to offer digital-currency services in the state; Coinbase is operating under earlier regulations. Mr. Lawsky’s plan is seen as a template for legislation in other jurisdictions, and it may give outsiders more confidence in the currency.

Bitcoins are created using high-powered computers that “mine” for the currency by solving complex mathematical equations. They are exchanged digitally either for currency, or goods and services. Ownership and transactions are recorded in a so-called blockchain, which backers say reduces the risk of fraud.

Bitcoin grew to prominence in recent years in part because of the ease with which it can be transferred.

Coindesk, which tracks the price of bitcoins, says 82,000 businesses accept the currency, double that of a year earlier, including e-commerce site Overstock.com Inc. and Expedia Inc., as well as many small retailers. The value of all bitcoin is $3.2 billion, according to Coindesk’s price index.

The NYSE invested in Coinbase during a $75 million round of fundraising that closed this month. Other investors include USAA Bank, the venture arm of Spain’s Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, former Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit and former Thomson Reuters Corp. CEO Tom Glocer. Venture backers include Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.

The NYSE’s investment was intended in part to “keep an eye on bitcoin as it matures as a legitimate currency,” President Tom Farley said. “Any currency relies on its acceptance.” The Coinbase exchange “is an important step for the currency to become socially acceptable.”

Coinbase counts about 2.2 million consumer wallets and nearly 40,000 merchants that use its services. The company has about 75 employees and plans to operate in 30 countries by year-end, up from 19 today.

3D printing is hands down the most exciting space in the contemporary tech scene. In a city of underdogs, the 3D printing outfits are the most underdog of all. Also, they’ve got cool hardware, just try Makerbot.

But hold on, because Shapeways isn’t just another 3D printing company. Sure, their business works by printing out customer submitted design. They’re also based in the Netherlands. This geographic difference isn’t going to keep Shapeways from changing in a big way though thanks to a generous funding round led by Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures.

Social Media is DEAD.

Fred Wilson: you should know him…

He’s cool

He’s artsy

He’s (probably) a stoner

And his firm, Union Square Ventures, has invested in sites like tumblr, twitter, zynga, and foursquare in their early stages. SO he knows everything.

In this article I came across back when I was on my death bed in Milwaukee (and due to continuously having my life flash before my eyes, I forgot to send this to you all), he reviews what happened in 2014 in the Internet world, and in turn giving us a sneak peak and what’s to come in 2015.

You should read it, it’s smart.

LONG STORY SHORT: While we still use social apps, there isn’t much innovation in them. Messaging is the new social platform.

We're Almost There - Presenters at the Meetup!

We’re only four days away from the event and can’t wait to see you all there. As we’re getting closer to the event, we’re finalizing the lineup of folks that will be showcasing their startups.

Check out this amazing lineup of presenters:

  • 10gen/mongoDB - Nosh Petigara - Director of Product Strategy - @noshinosh
  • Aviary - Michael Galpert - Co-Founder - @msg
  • blip.tv - Dina Kaplan - Chief Operating Officer - @dinakaplan
  • BuddyMedia - Patrick Stokes - Chief Product Officer - @patr1cks
  • BuzzFeed - Jonah Peretti - Founder - @peretti
  • foursquare - Naveen Selvadurai - Co-Founder - @naveen
  • Harvest -Danny Wen - Co-Founder - @dannywen
  • Harvest - Karen Schoellkopf - Community Manager - @kgunette
  • Harvest - Sri Vemuri - Marketing Manager - @sriandthecity
  • Hashable - Teddy Jawde - VP of Product  - @tjawde
  • HowAboutWe - Aaron Schildkrout - CEO - @schildkrout
  • HowAboutWe - Brian Schechter - CEO - @bschech
  • Kaltura - Jason Levitt - Director, Developer Network - @kaltura
  • Knewton - Ashley Miller - Software Engineer - @knewton_ashley
  • Lot18 - Philip James - Founder - @philipjkjames
  • Lot18 - Adam Gotterer - Chief Architect - @adamgotterer
  • Meetup - Greg Whalin - Co-Founder/CTO - @gwhalin
  • Pixable - Andres Blank - Co-Founder/COO - @andresblank
  • SecondMarket - Dominic Preuss - Chief Product Officer - @deesix
  • Shapeways - Peter Weijmarshausen - CEO - @weijmarshausen
  • Solvate - Meghan Paul - Product Manager - @megabucks11
  • Solvate - Michael Tarullo - Director of Client Services - @tarullo
  • YipIt - Vinicius Vacanti - Co-Founder/CEO - @vacanti
  • Zemanta - Bostjan Spetic - CEO - @igzebedze

Visit our Eventbrite page to RSVP and find out more about the event.

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Brad Burnham - A Narrative on the Threat to Internet Freedom