Reading about success doesn’t make you successful, but it does tend to make you want to be successful. That’s important. We benefit from positive models that show us what’s possible and make us want to think bigger, work harder, and keep trying—especially when the going gets tough. — Ev
This is what the long game looks like.
“There are fifty or so billionaires and tens of thousands of millionaires in Silicon Valley.” Think about that for a second: tens of thousands of millionaires, almost all them created by companies that didn’t exist two decades ago.
The defining difference between Silicon Valley companies and almost every other industry in the U.S. is the virtually universal practice among tech companies of distributing meaningful equity (usually in the form of stock options) to ordinary employees. Before companies like Fairchild and Hewlett-Packard began the practice fifty years ago, distributing stock options to anyone other than top management was virtually unheard of. But the engineering tradition that spawned Silicon Valley was much more egalitarian than traditional corporate culture. — Steven Johnson
Last week a friend high 5’d me and congratulated me on finally writing a non-portfolio related post. I shrugged and shared that it’s been hard for me to get into a groove writing over the last year. My friend leaned forward and said, “It’s because you’re lying to us”.
I knew exactly what he meant before he continued. “You moved back to Utah almost a year ago and have never written about it”. And he was correct.
Well, sort of correct.
You see, I have written about it. In fact, I’ve had multiple versions of a post on our decision to leave California and move back to Utah last summer saved in my “drafts” folder for over a year. But, I have never been able to push “publish”. So many reasons for not hitting that button.
But he was right, part of my reluctance to write much over the last year has been an inability to find the words or the tone or the time to write about what was a very emotional and defining decision for me and my family.
I don’t know if this will clear the writers block I’ve been feeling for the last year or so, but I hope it makes a dent, and I hope our experiences in Californian can inform those who’ve wrestled with a similar decision.
But the time feels right now, and the anniversary of how this little journey started is this weekend so here goes:
Memorial day weekend 2010, AMR and I embarked on a secret reconnaissance mission to scope homes for a potential move of the Roberts to California’s bay area. Very few people knew we’d been considering the move, and even fewer knew how real our intention was.
After 5 years of near weekly commuting to the Bay Area from Salt Lake City, we were interested to see if relocating could deliver the dual promise of tech nirvana and that elusive work/life balance that didn’t seem to come easily for the hardened road warrior I’d become.
That memorial day weekend we found a little compound in the hills of the east bay that seemed to suit our family’s needs. As we walked the property, AMR and I took especial note of a flourishing lemon tree growing near the back door of the home. Its branches hung low with ripe fruit. Lemon trees had never been an option for us to grow in SLC. They were something totally new to us. Something we could only experience in the moderate climates of California.
The lemon tree became a symbol for us in this new life we were planning to build in those Californian hills.
Shortly after our visit we bought that little compound, packed up everything we owned, and headed West. After settling in for a few weeks, we decided we wanted a lemon tree of our own. We went to the local nursery and picked out the perfect plant. We purchased soil and a pot just like the one we’d seen the previous owners use for theirs. When we returned home, we planted that tree and placed it in the same sunny spot the prior tree had flourished so freely.
As the months passed, we watered and cared for our new tree. When the temperatures dropped, we covered it. When weeds cropped up, we pulled them. Occasionally we would see lemon blossoms and tiny lemon bulbs bloom; yet, regardless of how much attention we showered it with, no lemons grew.
As the months wore on, the lemon tree began to fade further. We tried replanting it. We tried new soils and new fertilizers, but its condition seemed to worsen. The lemon blossoms stopped blooming. The promising bulbs shrank. And one by one the green leaves began to brown and fall from the branches.
We would often ask ourselves how the same plant, in the same pot in the same sunny spot could not flourish like the one that had been there prior? It was baffling and maddening.
But it was also a metaphor for what was happening to us in the bay area.
A year into our new life we were feeling much like our little lemon tree. Tho we’d known many who were flourishing in the same state, in the same city, in the same industry, we weren’t. We felt our metaphorical leaves browning and beginning to fall off. For some reason, we were not taking root in the same soil that had been so rich for so many others.
So after two years in the bay area we decided to pack up that moving truck once again and return to Salt Lake City. Turns out our root structure is much better suited to the rocky soil of Utah’s high deserts. Guess we’re more Quaking Aspen than we are Lemon tree.
Maybe it was the 2 hours of commuting I was having to do every day. Or the soul crushing traffic we had to fight to get anywhere. Or the… I’ll stop there and say the Bay Area isn’t for everybody. It certainly wasn’t for us (go read this piece if you want some advice from an insider on how to think about a move the San Francisco).
Needless to say, my move back to SLC still has me coming to the Bay Area often enough that a year later some people haven’t realized I’ve moved at all. But I have, and we’re happy to be home. Again.
After all the talk of VCs vs. Founders.
This is the kind of relationship we’re all hoping to build with the founders we back.
Congratulations to all involved.
Last week Timehop reminded me of a dinner I threw for 10 strangers in New York a year ago. On a lark I decided to organize a group of folks who followed me across various channels of social media so I could put some names and personalities with you all. It was a really fun night filled with interesting conversations and new connections.
One diner at the table mentioned he’d just left his gig to pursue a few ideas for companies he couldn’t shake. As the dinner wound down I wished him well on his new adventures and encouraged him to stay in touch as his ideas became more tangible.
About 6 months ago that diner reached out to show off what he’d been working on and introduce me to his business partner. As Andrew cracked open the door on his Chelsea walk up apartment/office we were all smiles. When he introduced me to the problem they were working on I was impressed. When he introduced me to his partner Mark, I was intrigued. You see Mark was one of the founding members of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and lead all of the agencies work on mobile payments and other emerging payment technologies. He’s seen it all.
With that experience they’ve decided to take on a problem faced by restaurants and their patrons. After the meeting, they lined me up with a dinner to test out the service they’d been building and its potential was immediately eye opening.
Yesterday Techcrunch announced a small round of funding we’ve lead to bring Andrew and Mark’s creation, Cover, to market. Tho intentionally light on details, the TC piece gives a fairly good sense for where we’re going with this one.
More details to come, but we’re happy to be adding Cover to the OATV team and thrilled to be a part of what they’re building.
Fittingly, it all started over a meal one year ago…
Instead of doing a check-in that had an optional photo, we thought, Why don’t we do a photo that has an optional check-in? — @kevin
While technology is doing amazing things to democratize what used to be exclusive to the rich, it’s still got a long way to go. Uber, despite its slogan, isn’t “everyone’s private driver,” it’s the upper middle class’s private driver. There are people in real need. And yes, cell phone penetration is amazing, but people are still hungry. So we need a fusion of the two ideas: the optimism of tech, so that policy doesn’t shoot behind the adoption curve, but the compassion to understand what problems the market isn’t (yet) addressing. — Tim in the comments of toady’s post.
…”look at how rich people are living today”.
Was said as a passing comment in a recent conversation. But I couldn’t let it just pass.
Think about it.
When you imagine Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall St. what image do you have in mind? Mine is the one of the poster boy of wealth clutching his massive brick of a mobile phone while brokering another million dollar deal. That film was release in 1987. At that time, cell phones cost $2,000 and calls were 50 cents a minute.
I didn’t get my first mobile phone until 1999.
In 2012 global mobile penetration hit 91%.
The same can be said for most emergent technologies. Flat panel TVs were once the purview of the truly wealthy. Now you can pick one up with your tub of red vines at Costco. Home theaters were once reserved for the wealthy. Now a McMansion in suburbia isn’t complete with a projector and surround sound.
3 years ago, opening the Uber app and ordering a black car was a true indulgence. Far more expensive than a cab, but so convenient and such a better experience than “slumming it”. Only 3 years later and I can use Uber’s (or Sidecar or Lyft or Hailo or…) app to request a car for the price of a cab, and sometimes even less.
So what are the 1% doing today that the 99% us aren’t yet?
The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed indeed.
About two years ago I found myself in a nondescript neighborhood near the San Francisco Airport. I was parked in front of a house, which resembled most houses on the street. As I walked to the door, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. As I entered, it was clearly some sort of startup flop house with clutter strewn throughout and whiteboards where most in suburbia would be hanging faux-art.
Then I was led into the garage.
Inside was a labyrinth of sheet rock, tarps, pulsating lights and industrial lab equipment. Turns out these flop house residents were actually PhDs from various Ivy League schools building a startup to pursue a new and novel type of therapeutic drug.
When asked why they chose to build out their own lab as opposed to working in the comfort of the labs at their various alma maters they said there was never any available time for the work they wanted to do. The labs were over scheduled and inaccessible.
That garage and that insight of limited access to equipment and expertise for new types of research stuck with and began to gnaw at me over the last few years.
There are many reasons for stalls in scientific breakthroughs, but limited access should not be one of them.
Around the same time I found myself in this DIY garage lab, a company was started to tackle this problem of unlocking access and research resources. Their approach was to create a marketplace where researchers could post the projects they needed completed and providers could fullfil those request for a fee. Today, the company has facilitated over 1,000 transactions that each move the advancement of scientific discovery forward in large and small ways
That company’s name is Science Exchange and today we’re please to be included as they announce their latest round of funding.
We believe they have an opportunity to become a huge marketplace as well as becoming a marketplace whose work will have a huge impact on our society.
And we’re thrilled to be working with them to build it.
Back when we used to buy records, then cassette tapes then CDs there always seemed to be a tiny slip of paper wedged in the case or printed on the liner notes encouraging purchasers to send a check and a self addressed envelope to the artists to join their fan club. Benefits of club membership ranged from stickers to personal notes from band members, to early access to concert tickets, to merchandise only available to those in the club.
These fan clubs elevated the average music consumer to a new level of insider status.
We’ve been witnessing an explosion of creativity of late on the web. These days a musician doesn’t need a record label to front the high upfront costs of big name producers and expensive studio time nor an artists need big name gallery representation to get their work in front of prospective collectors. The web provides a perfect showcase to display and promote creative works. And some fans are finding was to support these creatives, primarily on a project basis via crowd funding sites.
Last year we funded a small company called Artists Wanted who had built a business around contests that elevated unknown artists and photographers work into high profile gallery and large scale public showings. Along the way, participants built beautiful online portfolios of their work as well as attracted supporters who would promote their contest submissions. The “currency” of these supporters was simply soliciting votes for the artists they loved across their various social networks.
The company, now known as See.me, has seen tremendous growth since taking funding- scaling from 10s of thousands of photographers and fine artist to well over half a million members across a wide range of creative pursuits. Many of these creatives have been discovered on the site and commercial opportunities have been opened to them.
But, the native currency of the site has remained fans promoting artists work across their social networks.
Last week the See.me team quietly rolled out a new service that introduces a new form of currency into the system- financial support. From their announcement:
If you choose, you can accept contributions through your See.Me profile so that anyone, anywhere in the world can support your creative work.Think of it like the old system of patronage, but instead of one wealthy family supporting a handful of artists, millions of viewers can contribute ongoing financial support to a wide and varied community.
You can easily add rewards to encourage contributions and your supporters will receive monthly updates as you add new work and come up with new ideas. By posting new work often, you will increase the chances of earning recurring support from your community. There are no limitations on how much you can make, and you can accept contributions for as long as you like.
This idea of patronage, or fan clubs, has the common thread of building tools for creatives to directly connect with an audience that both appreciates, consumes and supports their work. By adding financial support into the system, our hope is to see a much wider range of creatives able to purse their ideas and passions full time.
The system is being phased in, but you can see a few of the accounts that have gone live with the feature now. Here, you’ll see the work of a circus performer planning to stage an underground performance for supporters in an abandoned factory in Brooklyn. Here, you’ll see the work of a blind photographer who wants to push his gallery work offering signed prints to his supporters. Here, you’ll meet a an innovative musician sharing unreleased tracks with, and planning private shows for, supporters.
If you’re a creative looking for a home on the web to share your work and connect with your audience give See.me a look. If you’re someone who appreciates the work of creatives and likes discovering their work before anyone else, I think you’ll find many new ways to connect with and support this community.
A CEO recently shared this slide with me as a tool they used to explain their recent funding to team members.
The reality of this particular business was that they were already profitable. Some of the employees couldn’t understand why they’d raise money when they didn’t need it.
I thought this graph told the story well.
Los Angeles & Tech -
Last week Tara and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with Bryce Roberts while he was in town scoping things out. Today he posted some notes about Los Angeles and it’s tech scene(s) that I wanted to follow up on because, well, you know I have a lot to say on the subject. If you haven’t read…
Thoughts on yesterday’s post from a true OG of the LA tech community.
It’s the presence and efforts of people like Sean and Tara that give me a lot confidence and optimism for what LA could become.