“I can tell if a podcast is going to stink beforehand if the person has a PR person asking for questions.” Digiday’s Brian Morrissey on Digital Media, VC and Light at the End of the Tunnel.

Twitter Friend. Digiday’s Brian Morrissey is a Twitter Friend. That is, we’ve never met IRL but through his tweets, his podcast and our occasional DMs, he feels, well, familiar. So I decided to ask him Five Questions and get to know Brian a bit better.

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Hunter Walk: What’s Digiday and how’d you end up there?

Brian Morrissey: Digiday is a media brand focused on the changing nature of the media and marketing businesses as they collide with digital technology. I joined Digiday seven years ago after many years reporting on the industry. At the time, Digiday was mostly an events-focused company. The idea was to build a publishing-focused brand with events as a revenue base while we figured out our own differentiation in a crowded market — and then added business lines around advertising, custom content and now subscriptions.

We’ve since expanded under Digiday Media to have other Continue reading "“I can tell if a podcast is going to stink beforehand if the person has a PR person asking for questions.” Digiday’s Brian Morrissey on Digital Media, VC and Light at the End of the Tunnel."

CoLiving & Shared Housing Isn’t Just for Urban Millennial Bros

“Luke opened the shared fridge and, since it was after 4pm, chugged his Kombucha/Soylent Keto shake. ‘I go no-solids after 3pm’ he said, something the rugged 23 year old couldn’t have imagined thinking just six months ago, before joining this shared residential collective in SF’s SOMA. ‘I pay $650 a month for a closet but the real value is being among this crew, we’ve even nicknamed ourselves the ‘Code & Hodl Crew.’ Luke flashed a goofy gang sign, where his fingers kinda made the shape of a B-T-C, the abbreviation for bitcoin.”

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THAT’S the way most stories about coliving sound today and whether or not such prose accurately represents the current state of the market, it certainly won’t be the future. My belief is that we’re going to continue seeing movement towards various coliving/shared housing arrangements, among a broad swarth of socioeconomic, demographic and geographic cohorts.

[Plug: if Continue reading "CoLiving & Shared Housing Isn’t Just for Urban Millennial Bros"

Future of Commerce and Retail Hot Takes With Web Smith

When a guy has the Twitter handle @web, that makes you want to learn more. I’ve been fortunate enough to hang virtually with Web Smith for the last few years which has exposed me to sharp thinking about brands, retail, parenting and, uniquely in my echo chamber, Columbus, Ohio. Web’s 2PM email newsletter is a Must Read for anyone trying to stay ahead of the curve on where commerce is going (it’s free but there’s a membership program providing access to additional analysis and data resources, which I recommend). Web let me shoot him some questions and his Five Question Interview is below.

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Web Smith

Hunter Walk: Tell us what you’re up to now and a little background about how you got here.

Web Smith: Well admittedly, I’ve bounced around a bit but I’ve had the pleasure of building some great relationships within the industry. My wife’s career is Continue reading "Future of Commerce and Retail Hot Takes With Web Smith"

We’re Running Web 2018 With Web 2008 Dashboards. And That’s a Problem.

The dashboards we look at to monitor the health of our products are lagging the experiences our user communities are having.

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Back and forth flame wars on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere register as “engagement” and high clickthrough on “new comment” mobile notifications. As cortisol levels spike and keyboards get punched and one or more users eventually abandon the service, or feel a little angrier, or radicalize into an identity at odds with where they started out, just because that’s what makes them feel like part of a tribe.

“Time on site” and “minutes of video watched” are up-and-to-the-right indicators. More is better, caveated that we also measure “short clicks” and other indications that the user can’t find something to do or isn’t getting the right answer. But so long as they’re watching more, reading more, going deeper down the rabbit hole, that’s fine. A user eating snacks engineered to take Continue reading "We’re Running Web 2018 With Web 2008 Dashboards. And That’s a Problem."

A Nutrition Label for Internet Privacy. And Apple Should Lead the Way.

WANT: a more standardized, human-readable format for conveying Privacy Policies and Terms of Service.

FDA Nutrition Labels, which were only first required within the last few decades and underwent a reformatting a couple years back, seem to be a reasonable direction to follow.

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There’s a site called TOSDR (Terms of Service Didn’t Read) which tries to simplify this complexity into a summary [Wired article].

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That’s an ok start but I’d prefer to see this integrated into the products themselves versus third party destination. Apple is in a great position to drive standardization here – what if 2018 was year of the Privacy Label in the iOS App Store? Elevate this display to the same level of importance as User Reviews. Perhaps even factor into App Store ranking and promotion. Would Tim Cook go so far as to say that Apple shouldn’t promote any app that abuses user data? Continue reading "A Nutrition Label for Internet Privacy. And Apple Should Lead the Way."

In Living Color: Pantone’s Palette and Popular Culture

Forget “person of the year,” how about “color of the year?” #MAGA Red would definitely win for 2015 and it seems somewhat fitting that only a year before that, the blackest black possible was invented (and subsequently licensed by an artist for his exclusive use).

 

This NYTimes article on color king Pantone was just plain fun – filled with lush tones and genesis stories for the seminal colors of our recent history.

 

It’s also a business story, noting how the company has expanded their own brand into Pantone notebooks, products and even a children’s book. Seriously, this children’s book is gorgeous. No judgment if you order it for yourself!

 

Colors impact us in ways we’re not always conscious of – for example, pink prisons result in fewer behavioral issues for incarcerated juveniles. There’s been other research about red, blue and green offices walls being best for

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Continue reading "In Living Color: Pantone’s Palette and Popular Culture"

And When My Time Is Up, Have I Done Enough: Fred Wilson’s Post on ‘Time & Money’

Like many in the venture community, especially us newer investors, I enjoy Fred Wilson’s “process” posts, where he shares a POV on the practice of our profession. Even more than his answers, it’s his questions I find so valuable, because those questions are universally applicable while his answers might differ from my answers, just as USV and Homebrew are different. But asking myself Fred’s questions clarifies my own approach.

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In his recent entry “Time and Money,” Fred covers the relationship between the two in working with, and supporting, a company. Like we do at the seed stage, USV almost always plays the role of “lead investor.”

He writes: “Time is a valuable resource for all parties and it should be a factor that both sides include in the deal making analysis. But it often is not.”

And later: “The truth about these situations is a

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Continue reading "And When My Time Is Up, Have I Done Enough: Fred Wilson’s Post on ‘Time & Money’"

And When My Time Is Up, Have I Done Enough: Fred Wilson’s Post on ‘Time & Money’

Like many in the venture community, especially us newer investors, I enjoy Fred Wilson’s “process” posts, where he shares a POV on the practice of our profession. Even more than his answers, it’s his questions I find so valuable, because those questions are universally applicable while his answers might differ from my answers, just as USV and Homebrew are different. But asking myself Fred’s questions clarifies my own approach.

Eliza

In his recent entry “Time and Money,” Fred covers the relationship between the two in working with, and supporting, a company. Like we do at the seed stage, USV almost always plays the role of “lead investor.”

He writes: “Time is a valuable resource for all parties and it should be a factor that both sides include in the deal making analysis. But it often is not.”

And later: “The truth about these situations is a

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 6.02.37 PM
Continue reading "And When My Time Is Up, Have I Done Enough: Fred Wilson’s Post on ‘Time & Money’"

The SF Scooter Wars & Proposal for Urban Safe Harbor Zones

In case you haven’t heard, civil war broke out in San Francisco last month, and it’s over dockless scooters. Battery-powered single-rider scooters which can be signed out using a mobile app and then left wherever the rider disembarks. The economics only work when you’ve got a density of riders so multiple companies descended on San Francisco, each hoping to beat the other in a landgrab. My understanding is that most (all?) of them launched without any particular outreach to SF city government, preferring to take an “ask for forgiveness” approach given that (a) they’re not illegal, (b) regulatory impact falls between multiple agencies and (c) venture-backed startups live and die on growth.

[*since publishing, one person reached out to say at least two of the scooter companies reached out to one of the city departments pre-launch and got implicit ok. I don’t have details to confirm one way or

scooters
flying scooter
Continue reading "The SF Scooter Wars & Proposal for Urban Safe Harbor Zones"

The SF Scooter Wars & Proposal for Urban Safe Harbor Zones

In case you haven’t heard, civil war broke out in San Francisco last month, and it’s over dockless scooters. Battery-powered single-rider scooters which can be signed out using a mobile app and then left wherever the rider disembarks. The economics only work when you’ve got a density of riders so multiple companies descended on San Francisco, each hoping to beat the other in a landgrab. My understanding is that most (all?) of them launched without any particular outreach to SF city government, preferring to take an “ask for forgiveness” approach given that (a) they’re not illegal, (b) regulatory impact falls between multiple agencies and (c) venture-backed startups live and die on growth.

[*since publishing, one person reached out to say at least two of the scooter companies reached out to one of the city departments pre-launch and got implicit ok. I don’t have details to confirm one way or

scooters
flying scooter
Continue reading "The SF Scooter Wars & Proposal for Urban Safe Harbor Zones"

The Empty Chair at the Table During Meetings: Who Should Be In The Room That Isn’t

When you sit at a management meeting are you representing yourself or someone who isn’t in the room? I was recently chatting with a startup CTO, who recently joined his company’s Board, about the responsibilities of being a Director. That it’s not a role about advocating for your own interests but instead trying to make the best decisions on behalf of the company. There’s a great passage about this from a podcast with USV’s Fred Wilson and Reboot’s Jerry Colonna:

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I also recently came across another variation of this “who isn’t in the room” metaphor in a conversation Greylock’s Reid Hoffman had with Starbucks’ Howard Schultz.

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I really like these ideas as guardrails to make sure that as individuals and as groups, you’re not making decisions that run in opposition – strategically or ethically – to the constituencies which aren’t – or can’t be – represented in management conversations.

For VCs, Your Thesis Is Your Portfolio Page, Everything Else is Just Hopes and Dreams

“We invest in rebellious outliers.” “We invest in the Future of Work.” “We invest in frontier technologies.” “We invest in diverse founders.” “We invest with social good in mind.”

I hear, read, see examples every day of investors espousing differentiated theses with regards to why they exist. Why a founder should take their dollars. And why a LP should give them theirs. Sometimes there’s substance behind these statements; others are rickety content marketing or breathless trend hopping. Fortunately there’s a source of eventual truth! Your portfolio page. Your portfolio page is your thesis. It’s where you’ve committed dollars, not just Medium posts. It’s who has actually taken your checks, not the deals you wish you were in.

One challenge for seed investors especially is that your portfolio page is a lagging indicator of your interests. Startups often don’t announce their initial funding for quarters or

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Continue reading "For VCs, Your Thesis Is Your Portfolio Page, Everything Else is Just Hopes and Dreams"

YouTube Lets People Decide Their Own Truths – And That Was Once a Good Thing

The most intense week of my life occurred in the spring of 2009. A small group of tech folks were in Baghdad – and not just the Green Zone. We traveled across the city to meet with government, military, NGOs, professors and students. It was the kids who made the most impact upon me, specifically a 17 year old girl. I still remember what she told me about YouTube, where I was running product at the time.

She was very thankful for YouTube. First, because it made her feel connected to other teenagers across the world. She saw that even though her circumstances were quite crazy, that at a human level she was no different than a boy in Tokyo, or a girl in San Paolo. Friends, parents, school, crushes. YouTube turned her into a global citizen.

Second, she told me that YouTube was valuable because it allowed her to

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Continue reading "YouTube Lets People Decide Their Own Truths – And That Was Once a Good Thing"

Giving Visionary Women Their Due

Even though I finished reading Emily Chang’s Brotopia last month, it’s lingered. One passage in particular — Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway, talking about how we call many men in tech “visionary” but fail to apply this characteristic as often (or at all) to women.

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Reflecting on Jennifer’s assertion, I thought of our experience with theSkimm, one of the most dynamic audience companies out there today and a startup we were fortunate to first back in 2013. While reading Brotopia, we were also helping theSkimm finish up their new financing, with Google Ventures and Spanx founder Sara Blakely joining the cap table. Over the past five years, I’ve witnessed theSkimm be underestimated by the venture capital industry, by pundits and press. During that time I’ve heard many male media founders lauded as “visionary” – Jonah Peretti, Shane Smith, Bill Simmons. They certainly deserve it. I’ve rarely Continue reading "Giving Visionary Women Their Due"

Giving Visionary Women Their Due

Even though I finished reading Emily Chang’s Brotopia last month, it’s lingered. One passage in particular — Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway, talking about how we call many men in tech “visionary” but fail to apply this characteristic as often (or at all) to women.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 4.24.25 PM

Reflecting on Jennifer’s assertion, I thought of our experience with theSkimm, one of the most dynamic audience companies out there today and a startup we were fortunate to first back in 2013. While reading Brotopia, we were also helping theSkimm finish up their new financing, with Google Ventures and Spanx founder Sara Blakely joining the cap table. Over the past five years, I’ve witnessed theSkimm be underestimated by the venture capital industry, by pundits and press. During that time I’ve heard many male media founders lauded as “visionary” – Jonah Peretti, Shane Smith, Bill Simmons. They certainly deserve it. I’ve rarely Continue reading "Giving Visionary Women Their Due"

Human Resources Policy at Startups

One thing we try to do at Homebrew is help startups who *aren’t* part of the portfolio and one way we do that is by providing whatever we can publicly, not just to the companies we’ve backed. Our Head of Talent Beth Scheer is the catalyst for a lot of this and she just published great Human Resources Policy materials which have been vetted by legal (in the US) and other subject experts. Take a look,

Human Resources Policy at Startups

One thing we try to do at Homebrew is help startups who *aren’t* part of the portfolio and one way we do that is by providing whatever we can publicly, not just to the companies we’ve backed. Our Head of Talent Beth Scheer is the catalyst for a lot of this and she just published great Human Resources Policy materials which have been vetted by legal (in the US) and other subject experts. Take a look,

Is The Quest For “Software Margins” To Blame For Twitter’s Trolls, Facebook’s Russians and YouTube’s Fake News?

Nothing gets an investor’s heart racing like the phrase “software margins.” It’s shorthand for the concept than businesses which are primarily bits (not atoms) have some very attractive characteristics: fixed development costs, economies of scale in deployment & servicing, and “winner take most” markets with pricing power. The resulting impact is very profitable, fast-growing success stories with high gross and net margins. Dismissing a company as “nice but doesn’t have software margins’ is the “yeah, nice personality I guess” of venture investing.

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Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash

So if you believe that in order to access growth capital and consistently trade at a high multiple as a public stock a company needs to maintain the margin-profile of a best-of-class software company, what might be the tradeoffs?

Well, maybe you focus engineering efforts disproportionately on growth and revenue-generating projects. And perhaps you see Sales & Marketing as necessary but Continue reading "Is The Quest For “Software Margins” To Blame For Twitter’s Trolls, Facebook’s Russians and YouTube’s Fake News?"