Quitting Facebook and B2B Marketing

Brad Feld has an excellent post up about why he is deleting his Facebook account.  Based on his logic, he’s right.  There is no reason for him to have a Facebook account.  He used it for “broadcast only” purposes.  If it’s a one way platform it’s not very useful for you and actually is a pain in the ass.

I am not going to define Brad’s target market for him but I suspect he blogs for a few reasons.  First, for himself.  Second to engage with potential target companies, target LPs, target partners, target customers for the companies they invest in.  Third, he is very active in educating the community on topics related to startups and he has done a very good job of doing it.  Does he need Facebook for that with the plethora of social media outlets? No.  The opportunity cost for him given the demands on his Continue reading "Quitting Facebook and B2B Marketing"

Are Companies Responsible for Employees?

Senator Elizabeth Warren doesn’t think they are and she’s proposing a new bill to put in regulations that would make sure they are.  She wants to establish a new “federal corporate charter” for companies larger than $1B.

Clearly, she detests and abhors Milton Friedman.  I wish Friedman were alive to debate her. He would do so and relish the opportunity.  He would eviscerate her points one by one with logic, smiling all the way.

Here are her points:

In the four decades after World War II, shareholders on net contributed more than $250 billion to U.S. companies. But since 1985 they have extracted almost $7 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars in profits that might otherwise have been reinvested in the workers who helped produce them.

Before “shareholder value maximization” ideology took hold, wages and productivity grew at roughly the same rate. But since the early 1980s, real wages have Continue reading "Are Companies Responsible for Employees?"

The Simple Question That Can Make or Break a Startup

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Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

There’s an unassuming restaurant in Dallas called Chop House Burger, home to handspun milkshakes, truffle parmesan french fries, and six innovative burgers. It’s an eight-year-old restaurant in an industry where 80% of new entrants fail in the first five years. And stitched into its origin story is a clue to why some products (and businesses) succeed in the market while most wither and die.

The burger place spun out of a The Dallas Chop House, a high-end steakhouse two blocks away. The Chop House was known for its ribeye, filet mignon, and flat iron steaks, dry-aged in the restaurant with Himalayan sea salt. In an effort to diversify their menu, the owners also offered a gourmet burger. Despite how good the steaks were, the burger became one of the most popular items on the menu. So the owners decided to build a restaurant around it.

Continue reading "The Simple Question That Can Make or Break a Startup"

What MoviePass Can Teach Us About the Future of Subscription Businesses

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Robert Woloschanowski/EyeEm/Getty Images

It has been a very rough few months for MoviePass. Since I last wrote about the company, theater operator AMC entered the subscription market, to early success, and MoviePass took out and paid back a $6 million emergency loan and flip-flopped both its pricing and its product. Lately the company has resembled a fish out of water, gasping for breath.

Will MoviePass survive? The broad answer is yes; the specific answer is more complicated. It could still manage to remain as a stand-alone business (though it’s unlikely); it might survive as part of another business (through an acquisition); it’s already surviving, in a sense, by having its basic model adopted by companies like AMC. And whether it survives as a corporate entity or not, it will surely be remembered in business lore as a case study or cautionary tale.

I’ve watched a lot of movies

Continue reading "What MoviePass Can Teach Us About the Future of Subscription Businesses"

Caps and Supports Make Markets Gum Up

This is dumb.  New York just capped the amount of licenses that Uber and Lyft can have.  It will cause the rates that NYC people pay for Uber and Lyft to go higher and it will help the cab companies compete.

Here is what a price ceiling does to a market:

The demand for licenses will outstrip the supply.  There will be dead weight loss in the market and fewer drivers and passengers will get served.  This is an example of regulation that shouldn’t be.  Regulation like this encourages bad behavior, not curb it.

Now, crony capitalists will find ways to favor their best politician and get a leg up on licenses.  Bootleg cab companies will startup and work under ground.

It doesn’t surprise me that some drivers wanted the regulations.  Of course, if you already have a license you want to limit competition so you can drive your Continue reading "Caps and Supports Make Markets Gum Up"

Health Tech Conference in Chicago

Chicago’s startup community has made a lot of progress in medical startups over the last few years.  There has been a good emphasis and my friend Jordan has a dedicated fund for medical seed stage startups.  I am not a med tech investor, but I am very supportive of the community.  We talk a lot about changing lives with different startups and I think medical startups offer you the most tangible evidence of that.

There are a lot of resources for med tech in Chicago and the surrounding area.  Labs, wet labs, bench space. Chicago Innovation Mentors does a great job mentoring and fostering small companies.  The University of Illinois in Champaign just started its first ever, and the US first ever, medical school dedicated to engineering.  There is a cutting edge Jump Simulation lab in Peoria, and another in Champaign.  We have a couple of top med schools and Continue reading "Health Tech Conference in Chicago"

The Crypto Pump and Dump

Does it surprise anyone that there are traders doing “pump and dump” in crypto?  It happens in stocks and other heavily regulated asset classes from time to time.

Since it’s happening in crypto, it doesn’t mean trading should end in crypto.  It just means that it needs to come out of the dark and be more transparent with regulation that forces transparency.  One of the things that will hurt the crypto industry is disenfranchising retail investors.

My lawyer friend Pat Daugherty of Foley and Lardner used to be an SEC regulator.  He is part of a group that leads a lunch and learn Fin Tech group at the University Club of Chicago.  In that group we don’t pick stocks, but we talk about issues in Industrial Fin Tech or Big Finance.   One of the things Pat has driven home over and over again is that the SEC cares deeply Continue reading "The Crypto Pump and Dump"

Compete Compete Compete

You have to want to compete if you are going to be a startup entrepreneur. If you don’t like competition, don’t even think about doing it.  Go work for someone else.

Competition is underrated today.  Kids are raised to think they are all “special” and everyone gets a trophy.  Each human has an attribute that is indeed special but you have to spend a lot of time figuring out what it is.  Every kid on the soccer field isn’t special and as a matter of fact it’s rare to have even one special kid in an entire league.

Brian Urlacher played for the Chicago Bears.  I saw him play a bunch.  I couldn’t believe how fast he was.  A friend of mine played middle linebacker for the Bears.  His name was Tom Hicks and he started in the mid-70’s. After Butkus and before Singletary.  He wore #54 too!

I was Continue reading "Compete Compete Compete"

A Regulatory Sandbox

Yesterday Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin put out some new policy.  The Trump administration is embracing Fin Tech startups.  This is good for the fin tech world and good for American citizens.  I am sure Trump haters will find a way to twist it into something nefarious.

From the Wall Street Journal article I linked above:

The Treasury Department in a report recommended that regulators adopt changes it said would better support such financial companies. It recommended a “sandbox” giving regulatory relief to startups; encouraged the federal consumer regulator to rescind its payday-lending rule; pushed for a fresh look at rules governing fintech investments by banks; and endorsed an effort by nonbank lenders like LendingClub Corp. to ease the resale of loans.

The regulator of federally chartered banks also said it would start accepting applications from fintech firms “effective immediately,” opening the door for those firms to receive charters that Continue reading "A Regulatory Sandbox"

Our Investment in Holberg Financial

We met Joe Holberg through Rob Topping.  Rob is another Chicago investor.  I never asked Rob how he met Joe but my guess is it was through the Michigan network since they are both alums.

Joe grew up in western Michigan.  He paid his way through school and went on to work for Teach for America and Google.  One day, he woke up with an idea, a cell phone and a computer and started Holberg Financial.  Ironically, my father spent his teen years in western Michigan.  I still have some family there in Three Rivers.

Holberg Financial is a financial health and wellness platform that helps employees reduce financial stress. 85% of Americans are financially stressed and 62% have less than $1,000 in savings. HF is 100% free to employees and 100% unbiased since they don’t sell data, products, or financial services. They just get people the unbiased info Continue reading "Our Investment in Holberg Financial"

These Maxims Are Always True

Barry Ritholtz published this interview with Warren Buffett.  It was Buffet’s first ever television interview.  The interview was in 1985.  Berkshire Hathaway started in 1962.

The video is well worth watching. Some gems:

“When you buy a company if you are worried about the stock market opening tomorrow then you aren’t investing. You shouldn’t worry if the stock market isn’t going to open for the next five years”-this is long focus, not short term focus. Fama would tell you the same thing about investing for retirement.

“Stock prices don’t tell you about how the business is run”-True. They tell you the sentiment of the market given all the public information available.

“I don’t have to play every game”-Buffett focuses on what he knows.

I think what’s interesting about Berkshire, is the first investment he made failed.

In 1962, Warren Buffett began buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway after noticing a pattern Continue reading "These Maxims Are Always True"

The Decentralized Exchange

The crypto world sometimes takes things to extremes and pushes the envelope. I think this is okay. After all, when you take a serious study of economics you always look at extreme cases and what happens at the margin. How much does it cost to make one more? How much revenue can I generate by selling one more?

I am appreciative of the framing and view that people advocating for decentralized exchanges are taking. There is a lot of power concentrated inside an exchange. It’s more than just the data. On the SEC side, there is listing requirements. There are transparency requirements. There are plenty of other rules and regulations that turn over power to centralized exchanges. On the CFTC side, it’s about clearing. Because exchanges own their own clearinghouses, they have an incentive to innovate and respond to customers. But, at the same time they have a lot of Continue reading "The Decentralized Exchange"

Your School

Fred Wilson wrote a post today about where you went to school and the VC biz. He’d like to see some things change and he’d like it sooner rather than later. I don’t disagree but I also know that inertia, network effects and networks are hard to change.

Fred’s post came out of Richard Kerby’s post on Medium. My friend Rick Zullo is partners with Richard and was tweeting about it yesterday. They have a VC firm in NYC. Jason Rowley of TechCrunch wrote a series of posts about where VCs went to school and what they studied.

Unfortunately, it does matter.

It’s reflected in the cost of tuition and the difficulty in getting in. There is only one Stanford. There is only one Harvard. I think it will change but change will be slow. There are factors outside of network that bear on the reasons why.

In my own Continue reading "Your School"

Designing For Underrepresented Technologists First

I’ve written several times about leveling the playing field for women in tech, including our own actions at the Foundry Group. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground for how to do this better.

Recently, I was connected to Kate Catlin, the Founder of Find My Flock, by my partner Jason. From the outside, it looks like Find My Flock is a tech job board that is enthusiastically open to all. What isn’t obvious is that they did 100% of their product research, design, and UX testing with developers who happen to be women and/or people of color.

This led to some very specific features:

Just Do One

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to a startup when they have several different projects they can do. All of them are staring them in the face. All of them seem meaningful. All of them seem like they will bring something back to the company.

Yet, they sit there on the shelf.

Often, it’s hard to decide what to do. Where do I start? What if I start this one and then the other one would have been the better choice?

Best to just start doing one. Do the one that you rank which has the highest return. The other ones will always be there.

Focus never killed a startup

Facebook Crash Didn’t Crash Everything

Facebook crashed last week.  The numbers are astounding.  But, the company is still in business and it’s not laying off anyone.  They are resilient.   The drop hurt the $QQQ, and it certainly affected companies like Twitter $TWTR.  Twitter is trying to get rid of fake robot accounts too.  But, a lot of the tech stocks were unaffected.

I think those are good developments.  I don’t think when those companies were started the founders envisioned people doing any nefarious stuff or being fake on their platforms.  For most of us, it’s hard to even imagine setting up a fake profile and attacking people or causes with it.

By the way, even though the Russians and foreign entities created fake profiles, it didn’t affect the outcome of the election.  Social media is powerful, but not that powerful.  At some point, it does come down to candidates.  Hillary wasn’t a very good Continue reading "Facebook Crash Didn’t Crash Everything"

Video Of The Week: Ten Ways To Be Your Own Boss

I spoke to a group of women entrepreneurs a few weeks ago, and one asked me “why do you need to raise VC?”

And the answer is “you don’t.”

The vast majority of entrepreneurs out there don’t raise VC. Many don’t raise any money to start their businesses.

As I was answering that question, I thought about a talk I gave at the 99U Conference back in 2012 called “Ten Ways To Be Your Own Boss.”

I’m sure I have posted this here before, probably back in 2012, but I thought I’d post it again.

It makes the point that you don’t need VC to be an entrepreneur pretty nicely.

Being Tenacious

One thing entrepreneurs have to be is tenacious. Often, tenacity is misconstrued with stubbornness. Stubbornness is doing the same thing over and over again. It’s being Sisiphus. Tenacity is a sticktoitiveness. It’s riding the storm out, and adapting as the various waves roll in.

Jerry Colonna calls it being fierce.  I think I like the word tenacious because all the coaches I was exposed to used that particular word.

I want to be clear, this post is not about every single entrepreneur I have invested in. But, I do want to highlight a couple from my angel portfolio that have illustrated tenacity. That’s not to say others are not tenacious. They are. It’s just these guys were top of mind recently. None of what I am typing is meant to call out anyone or ridicule anyone. It’s just illustrative of entrepreneurship.

Both companies are still in business today and it’s Continue reading "Being Tenacious"

I Don’t Know

An entrepreneur asked me a great question last week:

When is it OK to say I don’t know in a pitch meeting?

I told her the following things:

1/ This varies from investor to investor. Some investors are looking for founders to have all the answers.

2/ I am not one of those investors but I do want the founders to have some of the answers.

3/ If I asked her how large and valuable her publicly traded competitor is, and she said “I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you on that”, I would be fine with that answer.

4/ If I asked her what the tech stack is that her engineering team is using to build the product, I would be dissapointed if she didn’t know that answer.

In general, I believe it is critical that the founder be knowledgeable about all the

Continue reading "I Don’t Know"

Great Deals Come Together Easily

I once heard Warren Buffett say that deals that come together rather seamlessly and easily are good for each side.  If you find yourself in a lot of back and forth, a lot of knits and frustration over terms, money and other things, it’s likely not going to be a fun investment to be in long term.

I think this is true.

I find people that over negotiate, or negotiate for continual strategic advantage, or negotiate for win-lose are pains in the butt.  You always lose money.  I once worked a year on a deal.  We were going to a meeting. I always show up early to meetings if I possibly can.  I detest being late with a passion.  The guy I Continue reading "Great Deals Come Together Easily"