I have been fortunate enough to spend my entire career in startups, from an engineer and designer to…

I have been fortunate enough to spend my entire career in startups, from an engineer and designer to a Founder and CEO. I’m now a General Partner at Spark Capital, an early stage venture firm that does things a little different, and has invested in some great companies.  Investments (alphabetical order):


Other: 

This blog has been retired, as I’m mostly getting my thoughts out on other platforms. The three most…

This blog has been retired, as I’m mostly getting my thoughts out on other platforms. The three most commonly used platforms for me now are: 1) Twitter is probably my most frequented spot: I’m nabeel 2) I will occasionally post longer pieces on Medium (potentially) 3) Hallway chat podcasts are available via Soundcloud and iTunes
I am also on Snapchat as nabeel where I post daily right now.  And lastly, I post photography of entrepreneurs, landscapes, and my family on Instagram as nabeelo  And, as always, experimenting with what’s new.

bijan: Nabeel and I recorded episode 20th of our podcast,…



bijan:
Nabeel and I recorded episode 20th of our podcast, Hallway Chat yesterday. Stuff we talked about (not necessarily in this order): -hardware startups -Apple Watch, iPad Pro -Are we overdue for a hot new mobile app, Peach, Snapchat -VC blogs, why we haven’t been writing more and new years resolutions -our tech habits while traveling on vacation -As our firm grows, we chat a bit about internal changes and evolution Please let us know if you have feedback, topic suggestions or questions that we should address in future shows. We would love to hear from you. Leave us your thoughts in the comments or tweet us. Thanks! 
New Hallway Chat! Tweet at us any feedback.

Insiders vs Outsiders

At the age of 13 I was a geeky outsider, and online life (BBSes in that pre-Internet age) allowed me to find the first tribe of people that I really related to. It was that little band of outsiders that got me into coding, hacking, design, and startups. In my first experiences with the online world no one knew your race, age, gender, or really anything except for your ability to make words, code, or art. Silicon Valley thrives and survives because it is a meritocracy, perhaps the most inclusive place in the world. Years ago Paul Graham wrote a piece on “Cities and Ambition” that still resonates with me. His premise was that every major city has a culture with a prevailing value: Cambridge, MA values how smart you are above all else, LA values fame, NY values money, etc. For me the best version of silicon valley has Continue reading "Insiders vs Outsiders"

Charles Eames is a hero of mine, as you may have noticed the quote on the top of this blog is from…

Charles Eames is a hero of mine, as you may have noticed the quote on the top of this blog is from him. He and his wife Ray were amazing designers, but they were also hugely influential in how everyone from a graphic design student to startups to Apple thinks about the process of designing today. It’s his birthday today, so I wanted to share notes from a 1949 talk he gave at UCLA called “Advice to Students.” It’s masterful, and I think of the last line often.
Make a list of books
Develop a curiosity
Look at things as though for the first time
Think of things in relation to each other
Always think of the next larger thing
Avoid the “pat” answer — the formula
Avoid the preconceived idea
Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible
Prepare Continue reading "Charles Eames is a hero of mine, as you may have noticed the quote on the top of this blog is from…"

Introducing our new partner, Kevin Thau

Introducing our new partner, Kevin Thau:

So happy to have Kevin join the family!

bijan:

Today we are announcing Kevin Thau is joining us as a General Partner based in our new office in San Francisco. My partners and I have known Kevin for nearly 10 years, having served on a board of directors at one of Kevin’s companies for pretty much the entire time we have been in business at Spark. In many ways we grew up together in this business. We know each other, work well together and have the highest regard for his character.

“We have exciting news at Spark Capital and I am delighted to share it with you. Today we are…”

We have exciting news at Spark Capital and I am delighted to share it with you.

Today we are announcing Kevin Thau is joining us as a General Partner based in our new office in San Francisco. His professional bio is on our website here.

My partners and I have known Kevin for nearly 10 years, having served on a board of directors at one of Kevin’s companies for pretty much the entire time we have been in business at Spark. In many ways we grew up together in this business. We know each other, work well together and have the highest regard for his character.

I remember when Ev decided to turn off SMS delivery at Twitter back in 2008 because we were paying for every tweet on a variety of mobile carriers. The costs were mounting. It was a painful decision but the right call. Kevin joined Continue reading "“We have exciting news at Spark Capital and I am delighted to share it with you. Today we are…”"

Building a three-sided marketplace

Today Postmates announced a long term exclusive partnership with Starbucks. It’s a big milestone on its own, but it also represents another major step in the transition of Postmates from restaurant delivery service to on-demand logistics network.

The very first meeting I had with Bastian, the Co-Founder and CEO of Postmates, was in their old dingy office in the Mission. It was a multi-hour deep dive into the business, on everything from pricing models, to courier earnings, to user experience. But the moment that has stuck out the most since then was when I asked why Postmates was focused on food.

Postmates since the very beginning has described themselves not just as a food delivery business, but a logistics platform. When I asked Bastian “why food as a focus then?” he immediately got animated, in that way he often does, and started talking a lot about liquidity.

He drew on the whiteboard an x/y graph that charted out everything that Postmates could possibly deliver. It was a pretty exhaustive list. On the Y axis he put the size of each market, and then quite insightfully on the X axis he put frequency of use.


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His assertion was that you were teaching consumers a new behavior: that you could get anything from your city to your door in minutes. If he converted a single person to love the service, he wanted to focus on a category that would be purchased frequently, so that merchants and couriers (Postmates) could see the most benefit from one converted customer.

Of course he wanted to be a logistics platform eventually, but restaurants were the thing in that upper right quadrant, the only thing that consumers would buy multiple times a week. Basically, what Beanie Babies and other collectibles were to eBay, restaurants were going to be for Postmates. Only in this case the frequency was even more important because unlike eBay, Uber, and other two-sided marketplaces he was building a three sided marketplace: between couriers, merchants and consumers. 

That bet paid off. A focus on local merchant food delivery allowed Postmates to build the largest on-demand delivery network, with nearly 10k Postmates. They built a network large enough that by late last year they were ready to roll out their logistics platform and API. And after a few months beta period, today they announced their first major partnership with Starbucks.

Obviously Starbucks is a pretty amazing partnership on its own. They have over 21,500 locations across the country, and are the #1 mobile commerce app in the U.S. That will of course mean higher growth for the company, but as with any marketplace it’s also a big benefit for the other participants, namely for Continue reading "Building a three-sided marketplace"

Early Oculus Gear VR experiences

gearvr

The holidays gave me a chance to spend some extended time with the new retail version of the Samsung Gear VR with Oculus. I think this is easily the best product publicly available for experiencing virtual reality. 

Mostly this is due to ease of use and portability. The Gear VR ships with the first version of the Oculus App Store, so all you need to do is slip the phone in the Gear VR, put it on, and you are done. You literally never need to touch the phone except to charge it.  

I now keep the Gear VR in my car or office, and in just a couple weeks I’ve demo’d virtual reality to more people than I had in the previous year with the Oculus DK2 and its predecessors. 

While the day to day experience is polished and easy for anyone, getting things set up the first time definitely had a few hiccups. With that in mind here are a couple notes:

- I’d describe the current virtual reality as a “swivel chair experience.” It’s great to swing around 360 degrees, and helps to keep your shoulders still which is important since the Gear VR doesn’t have positional tracking (it tracks your head not your shoulders). At some future date I’m sure we will get to walking around, haptic chairs, and Omni stands, but for now the swivel chair is it.

- Bluetooth headset is required. I prefer an earbud style so I don’t have another thing to put on top of my head. These Jaybird BlueBuds I got via Wirecutter work really well. 

- The lenses fog up. Use anti-fog wipes like you would for snowboarding goggles, or I just created a little gap in the top of the goggles to let air out (the hole is not viewable with them on).

- If you are looking to make the plunge it’ll cost you about $250 for the Gear VR, and then $700 for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, both can be purchased online but be aware that you need a U.S. unlocked version of the Note 4. I made a mistake first purchasing an unlocked phone on Amazon, only to have return it since it was international. The easiest path for me was just walking into Best Buy and asking for an unlocked Verizon version of the phone. You want an unlocked phone on a carrier that you use for another phone, so you can swap in the sim for carrier supported updates. Other than that you won’t need a contract or monthly payments. 

Once set up though, the thing is a breeze, which of course brings us to the

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Continue reading "Early Oculus Gear VR experiences"

The difference between VR and HMDs

Yesterday, Samsung announced a new 360 degree, 3D camera system. It is ostensibly for capturing content on the Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus. It’s a technical feat, and probably a wonderful product, but it’s not Virtual Reality for me. It’s more accurately a 3D HMD camera system.

Presence

The key difference between HMDs (head mounted displays) and actual Virtual Reality is a sense of Presence. For those that have tried the Oculus Crescent Bay demos you have finally felt it, albeit fleetingly. It’s that moment where your brain goes from trying to convince yourself that you are in this other world, to your brain trying to convince yourself that you aren’t. 

Similarly, you know HMD approaches when you see them, there is limited to no presence. The best example is the Google Cardbord VR Kit. It’s immersive and cool in the way that 3D movies are more immersive and cool. But it’s not changing your perception.

Michael Abrash has given great talks on this over the years, most recently at Oculus’ Connect, where he defines the need to advance in areas of persistence, resolution, latency, and positional tracking in order for a real consumer VR product to be able to reliably create presence. 

Virtual reality isn’t seeing something all around us. It’s the technology to hack into the best information gathering system we have: the visual cortex.

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Why does fussing about what is and isn’t VR matter?

When we confuse the wording, the impact is that we confuse whether we are on the right path to the solution. 

The most critical issue with the Samsung system is that it doesn’t provide positional tracking, one of the key issues for creating presence. As long as you keep your head perfectly still it might work but if you tilt your head the effect is completely broken. This is similar to most camera system approaches from other companies. 

What I’d really love to see is a camera system that WAS able to capture real life and project it into a virtual space. To create true telepresence: my grandparents visiting their grandchildren, or being at the bottom of the ocean, or in a meeting with my Spark partners in New York. Not a 3D animation of those events with avatars, and not a 3D projection of those events, but really being present in those moments. 

I’m excited about that future.

Apple Watch and the age of glanceability

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Apple execs seemed pretty excited about the new Apple Watch, but there are still plenty of people that think that consumer electronics companies obsession with watches is akin to 3D TVs — chasing innovation for innovations sake. They are likely wrong.

Back at Ambient Devices in 2001 as we were thinking about the future of our products & glanceable computing we used to have a chart that had “real-time need” on one axis and “glanceablility” on the other axis. I thought of that graph today as Apple announced their watch.

A platform is nothing without its core uses, and despite showcasing a plethora of apps it seems they spent a majority of their energy on three uses:

1. Payment, with the announcement of Apple Pay.

2. Health, with applications for both casual users and fitness buffs. Plus light sensors to read heartrate and blood flow.

3. Communication, with a series of innovations to try and push the watch out of “read only” mode. This included added emoji-texting, a new tap/swipe/heartbeat language, and analyzing text in an sms for one click responses.

It’s hard to say which of these, if any, will be killer apps without actually using them, but they all have one thing in common… combining a real-time need that can be solved at a glance.

When skeptics talk about not really needing or wanting a smart watch “because they have their phone” this reminds me of folks who didn’t think they needed a smart phone because they have a laptop. You absolutely could have used Instagram, Uber, Google Maps, and Postmates in a pre-mobile world — in fact their analogs existed in many cases — but the immediacy of the phone and its sensors made mobile phones the perfect instantiation of these ideas. Taking them from merely interesting to truly magical.

Similarly, for applications where seconds matter, context is important, and the problem can be solved at a glance there is a disruptive new platform — your wrist.

As for Apple’s core three applications, I’m probably most excited about the innovation in communication. Payment has the largest potential of course, as grabbing my phone to pay isn’t much better than grabbing my wallet, but Apple Pay relies on NFC and I’m skeptical they will be the one’s to finally crack that particular nut. The health and wellness products are wonderfully designed, but they didn’t really focus on realtime feedback and coaching as much as they probably should to warrant being on your wrist. Meanwhile the communication innovations seem like subtle but potentially important ways to make you feel more connected throughout the day.

Of course, chances are that there are use cases still around the corner that will ultimately Continue reading "Apple Watch and the age of glanceability"

Pitching your current investors

It catches many founders by surprise, but one of the hardest pitches to a venture capital firm is actually the pitch to your current investors. My friend Rob Go wrote about this not long ago, but it comes up regularly so I wanted to tackle some successful strategies I’ve seen.

The most common reason founders end up presenting to their current VCs is when raising a new round of capital and looking for pro-rata support. Or perhaps everyone is contemplating an inside round. Other times it is just an update because it has been a while and the business has materially changed.

There are two dynamics at play that cause these conversations to be awkward. 

The first is that the internal pitch is often one of the very first times a founder is presenting for that round of financing, and they treat it as a “dry run” for the real pitches Continue reading "Pitching your current investors"

Pitching your current investors

It catches many founders by surprise, but one of the hardest pitches to a venture capital firm is actually the pitch to your current investors. My friend Rob Go wrote about this not long ago, but it comes up regularly so I wanted to tackle some successful strategies I’ve seen.

The most common reason founders end up presenting to their current VCs is when raising a new round of capital and looking for pro-rata support. Or perhaps everyone is contemplating an inside round. Other times it is just an update because it has been a while and the business has materially changed.

There are two dynamics at play that cause these conversations to be awkward. 

The first is that the internal pitch is often one of the very first times a founder is presenting for that round of financing, and they treat it as a “dry run” for the real pitches to come later. On the flip side sometimes a founder is talking to the partnership after a lot of other options have been exhausted and an internal round is on the table (that also probably means the team is exhausted of pitching). This is just an issue of being under, or over, practiced.  

The second is that founders can feel an awkward sense of telling people a bunch of things they already know. It’s like telling that really funny college story to friends, only your wife has heard it 10 times already… and the whole room is your wife.  

The folks that have been the most successful at the internal pitch just seem to a do a good job of owning it up to these issues.

The analogy I like to pitch like you are a band performing for your favorite fans. Just because they know the song doesn’t mean you can skip to the chorus. In fact it means you have to amp it up a notch, show them you still care. When I say performing I don’t mean being inauthentic, just that you shouldn’t be afraid of showing the passion you still have for your company. 

Secondly, treat it like a real pitch. I highly recommend that you do the internal pitch early, as good internal VCs will be able to give you tough feedback that will make you excel with outsiders. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t practiced against smaller investors or advisors beforehand. In sports you don’t wait for the first game of the season to start practicing, even though you know you’ll get better as the season goes on. 

Lastly, one trick I always used to try and keep it fresh was to insert an anecdote or extra slide that was Continue reading "Pitching your current investors"