11 Thoughts For A Thursday: Density, Bitcoin, Female VCs, Raising Money, Google Dependence

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11 Thoughts for a Thursday

About 11 Thoughts For A Thursday: With an endless firehose of opinions, comments, blog posts, articles, tweets, etc., I felt there was a lot of great insight being drowned out. I plan to surface insight that interests me, both new and old. I’ll also be working to extract perspective from some great minds that aren’t very vocal in public print. I am always looking for great insight, so hit me up on Twitter @popo if you spot any.

1. Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator) says this could be the tipping point year for female founders. Y Combinator is already at 25% female founders in the current batch of startups. That led me to wonder what percentage of VCs were female: 14% (I compiled data from the top 10 most active venture capital firms in 2013). This seems correlated to founders — the more successful female entrepreneurs there are in coming years, the more female VCs there will be in years to come. Another profound stat from Y Combinator: 1/3 of all startups with female co-founders were started with their significant other.

2. I met a local startup called Density (from digital agency Rounded out of Syracuse, NY). They recently won the ‘best enterprise hardware’ award at Launch. They have a customized Raspberry Pi device that plugs into a wall and will tell you how many people are in the room. That seems an amazing feat. How it works is that if you’re a restaurant owner (or any venue), you plug it in, and use their app to tell it which of the wifi networks is yours — that’s it, setup is done. Then, you know how all our mobile phones are always looking to see what available wifi networks there are? The Density device is a wifi router itself and thus is signaling it’s own network, which your mobile phone sees and essentially pings. The Density device registers your mobile phone’s unique device ID (like a MAC address) and anonymously keeps track of how many people there are, which is reported in real-time and in trending charts to the restaurant owner via their app.

The Density team said they plugged the device into a venue of 20k people and saw 14k people, thus 71% of people had a mobile device that was looking for wifi networks. It’s not 100% accurate obviously, but wow, this is pretty amazing. Foursquare is able to see where people go, but that’s only on their 25(?) million users. I see Density as a prime Foursquare (or Yelp) acquisition. I’d then send a device to every restaurant (or any venue) that requested one for free, provide basic stats and maybe charge monthly for better stats — or maybe not. Imagine anonymously tracking users as they go from venue to venue around the world, via their device’s MAC address. Again, Foursquare has this data, but on a very self-selecting audience.

3. Related to #2: a study out of the University of Cambridge used location data from Foursquare users to see if they could build a recommendation algorithm to predict what sporting events, concerts and conferences you would want to attend in the future based on what you have attended in the past. This study takes some mental stamina to read through, but being an avid concert-goer, I’d love to know what shows I should be attending that I don’t even know I should be attending (because likely I’m not familiar with the band/artist performing).

I love the future.

4. Yesterday, Google Ventures teamed up with Uber to do UberPITCH. Basically, you requested an UberPITCH vehicle and an investor from Google Ventures would show up in an Uber and you’d get 7 minutes to pitch them, then 7 minutes for Q&A. Essentially, mobile office hours. I think this is a great marketing idea for Uber and Google Ventures, but could also be a TV show — Cash Cab is awesome entertainment. This isn’t the first time someone has pitched a VC in a car ride — Dave McClure (500 Startups) asked via Twitter if someone would give him a ride and they could pitch, which Alex Moore did and Dave joined the seed round of Baydin for $100K in that 40min car ride.

5. Great gem from Goldman Sach’s report on Bitcoin mentioned in the 15-minute podcast from Andreessen Horowitz’s about the state of Bitcoin Ecosystem with Chris Dixon and Balaji Srinivasan: $210 billion in fee savings for payments going through bitcoin in the space of e-commerce and retail. That’s disruption.

6. Seth Goldstein (Turntable.fm and Fred Wilson’s first EIR) has an e-book he co-authored with Michael Simpson out called ‘The Secrets of Raising Money‘, which there are different tiered packages of the ebook — the highest tier includes 8 video interviews with the likes of Fred Wilson. Here’s a few 4-minute previews (including the Fred Wilson interview). They tease me enough to likely buy.

7. Josh Constine (TechCrunch) wrote a great post a couple months ago called ‘A Facebook Life‘. At the beginning I almost stopped reading, but I’m glad I didn’t. The post is ready for a movie studio to option. Hypothetically if it were optioned, I wonder if he owns the rights or if it’s AOL/TechCrunch. Presumably AOL/TechCrunch, but I’d be curious. Well done for summing up the digital life today, Josh.

8. Chris Dixon (Andreessen Horowitz) blogs about the data coming out of Flurry last week showing that the mobile web is losing vs apps, and how this is bad for innovation. Highlight quote from his post, which is scary:

Apps are heavily controlled by the dominant app stores owners, Apple and Google. Google and Apple control what apps are allowed to exist, how apps are built, what apps get promoted, and charge a 30% tax on revenues.

Most worrisome: they reject entire classes of apps without stated reasons or allowing for recourse (e.g. Apple has rejected all apps related to Bitcoin). The open architecture of the web led to an incredible era of experimentation. Many startups were controversial when they were first founded.  What if AOL or some other central gatekeeper had controlled the web, and developers had to ask permission to create Google, Youtube, eBay, Paypal, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Sadly, this is where we’re headed on mobile.

But, I truly believe this is a temporary state of mobile as it evolves (which I somewhat allude to in my post last week). Commenter Zach Weinberg states it well,

Reminds me of how the internet evolved on the desktop. Seems temporary. Fully integrated won first (i.e. AOL) which ultimately got replaced by open web (Browser) as the web caught up in terms of technology (just as fast, easier to browse, find content etc.). Same will happen on mobile. Fully integrated / native apps will win first until the mobile browser technology catches up to be just as fast and fully featured as the native apps.

9. Love this mission from Charlie O’Donnell (Brooklyn Bridge Investments) writes in a blog post this week about how he often invests pre-product and pre-deck:

Personally, I’d rather write that check than wait for tons of traction.  It’s fun for me and particularly rewarding if you can help a company get off the ground at the way too early stage.  Does it scale?  Not at all.  Who cares?  I’m not playing that firm building game and don’t care to.

Incubators and accelerators have become the pre-product money rounds these days, but Charlie is holding down the fort of being a seed capital fund as another option for entrepreneurs. Keep up the enthusiasm Charlie, entrepreneurs need as many options as possible. The timing, location, (etc) of incubators and accelerators doesn’t always align with entrepreneurs.

10. Naval Ravikant (AngelList) sums up the “Series A Crunch” well in a video interview (preview) with Seth Goldstein, saying that these days there is seed capital and growth capital.  Naval says:

If you’re in between — you’ve already raised your money on hope and you haven’t yet clearly reached a break-out inflection point — it’s actually extremely difficult to raise money.

Adam Besvick (Lowercase Capital) blogged this week about how he believes “it’ll be a trend that consumer apps will take longer to “officially” launch as they seek to mitigate as much risk as possible before showing up in the App Store.”

If you are trying to build a VC-backed startup (aka a grand slam, because that’s what VC firms want in terms of financial returns), you need to nail product/market fit in your first raise. If you don’t and your numbers flatline, you’re SOL.

11. Good post outlining the coupon codes industry online and how much $1.8b public company RetailMeNot ($SALE) relies on Google (63% of their traffic). It’s amazing the number of public companies that rely on Google — Demand Media ($DMD) and Synacor ($SYNC) are a couple off the top of my head. Demand Media knows first-hand the consequences when Google changes their algorithms and traffic drops — 40% instant drop in traffic back in 2011. With the big shift of consumers from desktop to mobile, from websites to apps, Google’s dominance as the middle man to consumer intent isn’t going to last and there’s going to be a ripple effect of consequence to those companies that continue to depend on Google. The bright side is that this disruption opens new opportunities for entrepreneurs.    (h/t @ericnagel)

About the Author: Steve Poland is working to bring asynchronous charades to mobile with Act Away (currently fundraising). Follow him on Twitter @popo or reach-out steve@vestedventures.comIf you’d like to receive this weekly column via email, input your email address here (I promise to only send this column weekly and you can unsubscribe at anytime): http://tinyletter.com/popo

11 Thoughts For A Thursday: Mobile Web Is Dead, Tweet-diarrhea, 43North, Founder Visa, Uber

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11 Thoughts for a Thursday

For my early readership, Fred Wilson warned me that it’d be difficult to write posts as long and thoughtful as my original post for this series — he was right and I missed last week. Therefore, I’m going to try altering the format to just provide the 11 item curation.

About 11 Thoughts For A Thursday: With an endless firehose of opinions, comments, blog posts, articles, tweets, etc., I felt there was a lot of great insight being drowned out. I plan to surface insight that interests me, both new and old. I’ll also be working to extract perspective from some great minds that aren’t very vocal in public print. I am always looking for great insight, so hit me up on Twitter @popo if you spot any.

1. Apparently the mobile web is dead and it’s all about native apps now, according to stats from Flurry. Basically the ‘mobile web’ in this instance has to do with browsing websites from your mobile device — aka, using Safari or Chrome (Safari dropped from 12% to 7% usage from March 2013 to March 2014. What’s happened is that the content people would be viewing in a browser, is still being viewed but rather in specialized apps with built-in browsers. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest — these are all essentially mobile web browsers these days, but not *technically*. Content links simply open in those apps themselves as they have built-in web browser functionality — I recall that a lot of content years ago use to open externally into the Safari app on your mobile device.

Something to take from this data is that your company should likely have an app. Although I do question whether all businesses should have their own apps — like restaurants or plumbers. Those businesses might be just offering content like their menu, hours, and photos of their work. At the moment as a consumer, it’d be tedious to have to download an app each time I wanted info for that type of a business. Maybe that experience becomes frictionless someday.

2. Om Malik wrote a post a few weeks ago about ‘Tweet-diarrhea‘, in which he says it all started with Marc Andreessen. Now it does seem like others at Andreessen-Horowitz are following suit, including a 41-tweet perspective on ‘full stack’ by General Partner Balaji Srinivasan, which then ends up getting retweeting practically tweet-by-tweet by Marc Andreessen. Honestly, I love the insight and perspective that Marc is adding, but any insight over 2 tweets deserves a blog post in my opinion. Having to scroll through my feed the other day of those 41-tweets (FORTY ONE!) was cluttered and annoying. Was it really easier for him to tweet all of that vs blog it? If you have that much to say, blog it and let others curate it into tweets.

3. My hometown Buffalo is holding a $5 million business competition: 43North. There are 11 awards from $250K – $1mm each. You can submit a plan, a startup or an already established business. If you’re a winner, you give up 5% equity and move the business to Buffalo. This is the first year of the program, so they lack a brand, but being the largest competition in the world, I really thought this would get more press than it has. Business (plan) competitions in tech seems like an outdated concept given incubators and accelerators these days, but this competition is open for most all industries. The competition is part of the “Buffalo Billion”, in which NY State is trying to jumpstart the economy here in Buffalo and attract businesses to create jobs.

4. Fred Wilson wrote about the 43North competition and the nugget of wisdom was in the comments section by FAKE GRIMLOCK, in which he said, “YOU WANT REAL JUMPSTART? PAY 50% SALARY OF ALL STARTUP DEVS IN BUFFALO FOR 1 YEAR. THAT HOW STARTUP A TOWN.” Brilliant idea. I have no political clout or know how to run with that idea, but I’d love to see New York implement that.

5. The other comment nugget from Fred’s post came from James Harradence, whom said “They should add some sort of immigration angle. A young person with entrepreneurial ambition would find access to the US market very attractive.” Craig Kanalley (Buffalo Sabres Social Media Director) added, “Couldn’t this be tied to universities somehow? Come for education + incentives to stay.”The University of Buffalo (UB) has a ton of international students, whom we educate and most then leave the area. Why? Well for one thing, in my opinion and from what I’ve heard from some, there are two campuses for UB, one is in Buffalo and one is in Amherst (a suburb of Buffalo). The majority of students are at the campus in Amherst and they think that is Buffalo. Most haven’t been downtown or if they have, they went to Chippewa (a street that encapsulates a couple blocks of bars/nightclubs geared towards the younger crowd). I wish there was a big initiative by UB to get students more intertwined and exposed to all of downtown Buffalo — our architecture, our parks, our museums, and our awesome neighborhoods that are different in their own rights. I know we could cut off some of the brain drain. We have a great opportunity with nearly 40,000 students attending that school each year.

6. Sam Altman was named the new president of Y Combinator (YC), taking the reigns over from Paul Graham. He’s 29 and Re/code did a piece about him that’s worth the read — he’s a fascinating guy. Warning: The article will make you feel lazy after reading how much Sam accomplishes in a day.

I digress, I really wanted to bring up his blog post The Founder Visa (again). It’s an open proposal to the US Government to allocate 100 visas to founders per year, under the direction of YC. This is after no(?) progress being made when YC requested 10,000 per year, five years ago. Essentially the argument is that we welcome all of these super smart people from other countries to the USA, educate them, then kick them out to go back to their home countries to start businesses, create jobs, and compete with the USA — because it is so difficult for them to stay here permanently. I admire YC’s initiative and I found it amazing how many people were quite frankly pissed off at YC (see comments) finding the proposal self-serving in that YC would want all the power over these visas — ultimately giving YC an advantage over entrepreneurs trying to stay in the USA. I understand the reaction, but it sounds like a bunch of whining. YC is trying to open the door to government for all VCs to have this opportunity, but the initiative needs to start somehow — and the simpler the better. YC has proved itself a leader in funding entrepreneurs that build companies that have created thousands (tens of thousands?) of jobs in less than ten years time.

7. Uber is doing $40mm/week and are doing more trips in SF than the taxi industry. It’s great to see this success for Travis Kalanick and team. He opened his home to me years back while I attended TechCrunch Disrupt. His energy was infectious. He’d have these late-night “jam sessions” as he called them, in which a bunch of super smart geeks would come over and they’d be whiteboarding up any of their startup ideas. They’d be going til all hours of the night and this was a regular thing! This is of course when he wasn’t schooling you at Mario Kart in his basement. Hunter Walk (Partner at Homebrew) had some interesting ideas about restaurants paying for your Uber if you dined with them — or discounting your bar tab.

8. Interesting idea from former TechCrunch writer Nick Gonzalez (Nervora), “What if apps of the future eschewed advertising and instead made money by mining cryptocurrency in the background while in use?” From those I’ve spoken with, this seemed far-fetched, but it was accomplished this past week — even if it wasn’t with permission from the users. It does seem there must be something our idle plugged-in devices could be mining while we sleep or are watching Netflix. Who remembers SETI@home?

9. During the Oscars last month I tweeted, “‘What’s a tweet? What’s Twitter? What’s a selfie?’ – thoughts by likely 50% of the people watching the Oscars right now”. I was wrong. Twitter’s audience for the Oscars was 37mm vs ABC’s audience of 43mm. Ellen’s selfie picture got 32mm impressions, although that doesn’t include all the impressions that picture generated from TV and print media showing off that picture. Twitter has become the second screen experience.

10. Some great historical items that take a couple seconds to view: The Future Of Gaming and a 1933 book passage about the California Gold Rush.

11. Lastly for a laugh: Startups Anonymous: “What I’d Really Like To Say To Investors”. This post literally made me laugh-out-loud at one point. Being in the thick of fundraising for my startup Act Away, some of these comments are spot on.

If you’d like to receive this weekly column via email, input your email address here (I promise to only send this column weekly and you can unsubscribe at anytime): http://tinyletter.com/popo

About the Author: Steve Poland is working to bring asynchronous charades to mobile with Act Away (currently fundraising). Follow him on Twitter @popo or reach-out steve@vestedventures.com.

11 Thoughts for a Thursday: Secret, Flappocalypse, Unbundling of the Web

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11 Thoughts for a Thursday

When less than 7,000 of us early-adopters arrived in Austin from all over the world for SXSW Interactive conference in 2007, we were met with Twitter visualization displays in the hallways. These screens cost $11k and were about the only money Twitter ever spent on marketing, as Evan Williams has told. Back then, we didn’t all have our heads buried in our phones like we do these days, and even if we had, one place you want to have your head up is when you’re about to get off an escalator. Thus, one of these screens was positioned at the top of the main escalator.  This screen was able to capture your undivided attention for a moment. That moment was all that was needed as new bite-sized “tweets” bubbled up on the screen sharing attendees’ thoughts from a panel they were at, what party they were headed off to, etc. After we all left SXSW that year, we went back to our cities and spread the word about what Twitter was. SXSW allowed us to really “get it” and understand the need for Twitter.

As 2014’s SXSW Interactive festival came to a close last week and over 30,000 attendees dispersed back to their cities, the app that was expected to steal the limelight did do that in fact — Secret isn’t a secret anymore. They closed on a $8.6 million round that weekend only adding to their buzz. When I downloaded Secret weeks ago, it was an aha moment for me. Being able to say stuff in an anonymous fashion to friends is an experience I didn’t realize was missing, but an experience I saw value in immediately. I also saw the need of this for the business community. In fact my first secret I posted was “I feel Secret will become the next FuckedCompany community. Airing out the dirty laundry of founders, VCs, employers & leaking news. All those tweets you always wanted to write but never wanted to attach to your name. This is gonna be huge.”

What I found very interesting is the mechanism for how content gets distributed through all of Secret. As I understand it, if I were to post a secret, then only my friends (matched from my iPhone’s address book) will see the secret. If a friend likes my secret, then the secret spreads to their friends. If one of those people liked my secret, it would spread to their friends, and so on, until it reaches a certain amount of likes at which point the secret goes viral and everyone potentially sees it in Secret.

Despite knowing that my secrets are anonymous and that I could say anything I want, there is a restraint that occurs knowing that only my friends will see my message — at least initially. I try to respect my friends and not say something completely immature or ridiculous.

My feed of secrets included humor, “One time I farted in a Pringles can and told my friend to open it”, honesty, “I’m stressed out almost all of the time”, and shocking, “My thoughts of suicide are getting louder.”, which was deemed from “Your circle”. One of my friends has contemplated suicide? Surreal. Granted it’s anonymous and could be a false statement, but in this Secret community it is taken seriously. The comment thread went long, with friends of that person commenting anonymously as well, offering support and open stories.

In the past 7 years and seeing thousands of startups, I have only had four really big aha moments: Twitter in 2007, Foursquare in 2009, Turntable.fm in 2011, and now Secret in 2014. My track record isn’t perfect (Turntable.fm just shut down officially after 4 years this week) and we’ll see how Secret plays out, but I’m long on Secret.

1. This post ’11 Thoughts’ is hopefully the first of many more to come. With an endless firehose of opinions, comments, blog posts, articles, tweets, etc., I felt there was a lot of great insight being drowned out. I plan to surface insight that interests me, both new and old. I’ll also be working to extract perspective from some great minds that aren’t very vocal in public print. I’m always looking for great insight, so hit me up on Twitter @popo if you spot any.

2. The flappocalypse is still upon us. Flappy Bird only exists on the devices that downloaded it before the game owner abruptly removed it from the Appstore, but you can have your pick from hundreds of clones, with new ones spiraling out of the ether… every 24 minutes. Dong Nguyen broke his silence last week in a rare interview scooped by Rolling Stone, in which he shares how he thinks of the target audience for his games, “I pictured how people play, one hand holding the train strap.” Dong says he is working on three new games simultaneously and we should be seeing one of them this month. My favorite quote from the article is in Dong asking the reporter if Flappy Bird made them laugh, “The bird is flying along peacefully and all of a sudden you die!”, he said with a chuckle. The only time that game made me laugh was when watching friends be tortured by its’ gameplay.

3. As of this writing, 12% of the top 100 free apps in the Apple Appstore and three of the top 10 free apps are Flappy Bird clones (down from more than half of the top 10 at one point). Whether you feel the Appstore ranking algorithms are broken or not, Ouriel Ohayon (Appsfire) put it best: “There is 1 key learning from this flappy thing: kids own the top ranks. Not Apple. Not ad networks, Not Facebook. Not bots. Just kids.”

4. Kids were the way to get onto desktop computers and capture search market share in the form of cleverly disguised toolbars that would set your default search engine and homepage. IAC’s Mindspark focuses on this by running virtual world Zwinky, Webfetti, MyWebFace.com, GirlSense.com, MyFuncards.com, Smiley Central, Cursor Mania, and more. Kids would install these toolbars/extensions (they still do) and typically parents lack the technical savviness to uninstall these toolbars and revert back their default search engine and homepages.

I expect we’ll see something similar happen on mobile devices with games and kid-appealing apps acting as trojan horses to capture our attention for promoting other more profitable apps to us.  If I install a game and turn notifications on for it, then that developer could notify me of their next app (or of some other app in which they are compensated for promoting to me). As the battle continues for apps hoping to achieve placement on the coveted homescreens of our devices, simply getting on our devices is an achievement.

5. King (the company behind Candy Crush) filed for their IPO recently, it’s always fun to find nuggets from S-1 filings. Thomas BCN uncovers King spent $1M per day on user acquisition and reaped $4M per day in revenue from Candy Crush in 2013. Talk about crushing it.

6. “Whales” is the industry term to describe the big spenders. A new report from Swrve says 0.15% of mobile players account for 50% of mobile games revenue. I wonder if the whales know we call them whales and I really wonder if the whales even realize they are whales, or if they simply think their spending habits are the norm.

7. If you’re looking for an industry to disrupt in the USA, look no further than this telling graph shared by Conrad Hackett (Pew Research). I  find it absurd that in the past year at a doctor’s office, I had to remember if I were up-to-date on my tetanus shot or not. I’ll admit to not knowing enough on the digitization of health care, but how my health information isn’t available in a shared digital file for doctors that I give access to, blows my mind.

8. Related: I would gladly share my health records anonymously for collective medical research intelligence. We’re in the first inning of wearable computing — it’ll be amazing once better data related to our health is collected from our phones, tablets, armbands, glasses, rings, clothing, etc. Once this happens, I believe we’ll see drastic reductions in obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, smoking, alcohol consumption, cancer, as well as an increased life expectancy. Collective intelligence will hopefully lead to a cure for cancer and other diseases, as asserted by Nick Denton (Gawker). I imagine someday your glasses will instantly show you a modified restaurant menu with only the items under 600 calories, because that’s all you have left for your daily caloric intake.

9. An observation from Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp,  Roberto Bonanzinga (Balderton Capital) notes that Blackberry blew it because they could have built $19b of shareholder value with BBM. You know who  had the opportunity to have built $19b of shareholder value before everyone else? AOL. They once owned messaging and let it slip away.

10. AOL also owned mapping as Rakesh Agrawal (PayPal) points out, “Mapquest is an amazing case study in how to screw up a brand. AOL owned mapping and let Google take it.”

11. If you took a screenshot of AOL or Yahoo in 1999, you could mark it up with startups that carved up the product/service/content niches of those portals over the following years. Andrew Parker (Spark Capital) took a screenshot of Craigslist in 2010 and marked it up with the names of startups that were carving up the niches of Craigslist, essentially the “unbundling” of Craigslist. Some of these have grown into huge businesses (AirBNB, Stubhub, Etsy, OKCupid, PoF, HomeAway).

Today in 2014 with the massive usage shift from desktop computing to mobile, we’re seeing the unbundling of the web into applications that each serve a specific purpose. An example is Facebook.com, which has been unbundling itself into a portfolio of mobile apps. Benedict Evans (Andreessen Horowitz) made a related observation, “Mobile is about focus on the essentials. If you don’t really know what’s essential about your company, mobile makes that painfully clear.”

Any product/service that began on the desktop and hasn’t yet been able to transition its’ userbase to mobile, is a sitting duck. There is ample opportunity for mobile entrepreneurs to carve up the web — we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. There are 600+ million websites, while only 1 million apps exist in Apple’s Appstore.

If you’d like to receive this weekly column via email, input your email address here (I promise to only send this column weekly and you can unsubscribe at anytime): http://tinyletter.com/popo

About the Author: Steve Poland was one of the earliest writers at TechCrunch and is now working to bring asynchronous charades to mobile with his unlaunched startup Act Away (fundraising). Steve has current availability to take on one consulting client. Follow him on Twitter @popo or reach-out steve@vestedventures.com.

photo credit: Scott Beale