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Excited to be an Investor in The Wing

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 22:04:19 +0000

It means a lot to me to find financial opportunities investing in companies that I can be really proud of--education companies like Tinybop and Tinkergarten, or companies at the forefront of fair labor practices like Homer Logistics.  There are others that haven't launched that I'm equally as proud and excited about--and now one more has launched.  I'm thrilled to be an investor in The Wing--a Home Base for Women on Their Way.Having a portfolio where half the companies have at least one female founder or person of color has made me think a lot about our culture.  It has been a learning experience around language, power dynamics, perception and the value of listening.  The same can be said for being a witness to this election cycle--where the double standard is fairly obvious.The Wing is a home base for women.  It’s a multi-purpose space designed to make women’s lives easier, born out of the belief that magic is created when women gather together and take up space. Located in the Ladies Mile Historic District in Manhattan, The Wing contains all the practical essentials: plenty of place to work, strong caffeine, strong wifi, a clean shower, changing rooms, and an all the electrical outlets your dying phone could ever need.  Moreover, it has a community built around diverse perspectives, support and empowerment.  Members of The Wing are shaping our culture, our politics, and our technology everyday.The Wing was actually the first brick and mortar space Brooklyn Bridge Ventures has invested in, closing a month before our investment in Ample Hills about a year ago.  Both spaces are about narrative and experience.  As someone who works in a space designed to make people feel at home more than they are at work, I can appreciate firsthand how creativity and productivity stems from comfort.  People, more and more, want to work in places that bring out our truest selves--not places that remind you that you are at work.  Plus, having a shower at a workspace is a godsend for a workout regimen forever getting interrupted by work.Audrey and Lauren have now taken the first steps in creating an amazing platform to change the face of how women connect and influence society.  Professional networking, for hundreds of years, has largely been a male construct, transactional in nature, urgent, and disjointed.  Relationships built at The Wing, on the other hand, will have the space to grow and develop over time, leading to entrepreneurship, impact and influence.  Informative and inspiring event programming will compliment the experience of the space itself.  The goal for The Wing is to build a supportive, empowering and diverse community--and while the physical space looks great on day one, its culture and values will develop over time with the help of its community, and feedback from members and non-members alike.  As an investor in female founders, and founders of color, I've listened to perspectives of what the investment world looks like to those who don't hold the power, who don't have insider connections, and whose presence isn't the norm.  And that's why I felt incredibly fortunate to have been asked to invest in The Wing about a year ago, adding to an already diverse portfolio of founders and companies at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. Inspired by founders like Audrey and Lauren, or Chantel from chloe + isabel, Daniela at goTenna, Christina at Ringly, Nicole at eCreditHero, and others, I've strived to create an investment platform that is the most accessible fund possible.  I am deliberate and intentional about what events I attend, what communities I speak to, and how I connect with founders.  I've eliminated the need for warm intros, or the requirement for technical founders--or even technical companies.  I'm looking for venture returns wherever they can be found--in companies run by a wide variety of founders whose capabilities I've taken the time to get to know, rather than judging by a resume a[...]

Do Androids Get Songs Stuck in Their Heads? My investment in Amper Music.

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 12:45:33 +0000

This weekend, Heathens by Twenty One Pilots has been stuck in my head.  It has such a great sound--and I wanted to figure out what else I could listen to that sounded like it.  I don't mean bands that are liked by other people who like Twenty One Pilots.  I literally mean songs that sound like it...  or maybe just remixed versions of it.  I wanted to engage with music, but I can't, because I don't have the ability to manipulate the "source code" of the song.  But a computer could--and what if a computer could interpret my suggestions in order to manipulate creative works.  Throw in a harpsichord in the background.  Make those staccato guitar riffs louder.Earl grey.  Hot.  But, for music.We're doing that in creative fields already.  I built this website through Squarespace's interface and I didn't have to touch any of the actual code.That's the way I think of what we now call "artificial intelligence".  For all practical purposes, it's an interface--one that can make leaps where my instructions may not have been particularly precise.  It's something that can catapult not only productivity, but also creativity.  As phones and other web services have exploded the amount of audio and video created, the need for music to support it has far outpaced our ability to create it or source it through search.  There just aren't enough musicians in the world to add complementary music to all of my Instagram clips, people's GoPro videos and all the baby's first steps captured by Canary--at least, not if you want it all to be unique.What if you could tell Spotify to play something you've never heard before...  No no, something faster...  with more drums...  and a wailing guitar.  What will the soundtrack for VR look like when you're not just watching a movie, but creating it on the fly.  You're going to want different music depending on whether you choose to jump off the virtual canyon in your virtual squirrel suit or drive the race car.That's why I'm excited about Amper Music, a company that just came out of stealth after Brooklyn Bridge Investors backed it over a year ago.  Amper is a company built by musicians for musicians.  It's not just a "put a quarter in the jukebox and spit out a wave file" toy, but a tool built for professionals whose power can be integrated into a wide variety of consumer applications as well.  Drew and his team have composed for a wide variety of well known films and shows--and in Amper they set out to replicate how a human would go about their composition work.  That's why users will be able to get not just the audio output, but they will be able to manipulate their work as well--because it's not just rendering, but it's actually writing music.  Amper is a companion more than it is any kind of replacement.One day, no vocalist or musician in the world will start from a blank sheet of music.  The computer will "pair program" with them--riffing back, helping them explore sounds, mixing inspirations, etc.It will also help create more composers as well.  How much more exciting would piano lessons have been if I could have skipped a few pages in the practice book and used a computer to help me compose real music?  That would have inspired me to keep going with my work rather than keep playing boring scales over and over.  Amper's AI composer is API-ready and is looking to work with media creation platforms of all kinds.  Media companies are already using it and they're open to adding new beta customers.  If you have any kind of music needs either to compliment media you create, or to jumpstart what your own users create, contact Drew at [...]

How come VCs are... jerks?

Mon, 03 Oct 2016 12:08:56 +0000

That was a question posed to me by a new analyst at a venture capital fund.  Admittedly, I finished this person's sentence after their long pause... but the word "jerks" was agreed to as the direction they were taking the question.  While there are lots and lots of really kind, generous people working in venture capital--the recently retired Howard Morgan, Hunter Walk, Brad Feld, and Karin Klein for example--it's really tough to argue that there isn't widespread jerkery.  At least, that's how a lot of entrepreneurs feel.So what gives?  Why do VC's get such a bad rap?  I've got some theories:1) Don't blame the playa, blame the game.Entrepreneurship is a very personal endeavor.  You sink your savings into something, take a pay cut, risk friends and family money into *your* idea.  That's literally your baby--and 98% of the time, a VC will tell you that your baby is ugly.It shouldn't be surprising that more than a few people are going to take issue with that--no matter how nicely we say it.  That being said, there does seem to be something more going on here than just being a professional party pooper.2) Self selection for judgemental power seekers.The media portrays the job of a venture capitalist as one of "picking" a winner.  We're "kingmakers" whose investment has the "Midas Touch."  Forget the fact that a VC's job is more akin to that of a NASCAR passenger, perhaps occasionally pointing out a track hazard or cheering the driver on, but certainly not the main component of success.  From the outside, VC seems like a pretty cushy job where you give a Chuck Norris-like thumbs up or thumbs down every so often--not exactly the kind of thing that someone who wants to be a social worker, missionary, or early childhood educator might want to do.That's probably why the vast majority of applications for VC positions tend to be from males.  Generally speaking, women are more inclined to listen well, work with others and to offer help--so when the job gets seen as just a lone, final yes/no, where you bark out advice after listening to a founder for five minutes, that might seem less interesting.  Perhaps if we spend more time talking about board participation, counseling entrepreneurs on decisions, helping them solve problems and working hard to recruit people, the type of people who apply to the job might change.  3) Access to money.VC, in large part, is done by people with access to money.  Generally speaking, we're a bunch of "haves".  We disproportionately hangout with other "haves", too.  Not only does that create a filter by which people judge investor actions, but it colors our perspective of the world, too.  It can be too easy not to appreciate the struggle of others and to appreciate how hard it is to accomplish the things that we see people do.  "You should just bootstrap this.""Learn how to code and build an MVP.""Raise money from your family first."We're not jerks.  We just live in a white privilege filter bubble.  4) We're told we are smart, even if the jury is still out.Success in venture has a lot to do with luck.  Even people who make successful investments over time have benefitted from luck--mostly around timing and scale.  To continue to get dollars to invest, you have to get lucky enough, early enough to make it look like you know what you're doing.  If Canary hadn't taken off right away, and been within the first year of investing in my first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund, I might not have been able to raise a second fund so easily.It would be super easy for me to think that meant I'm smart--when in reality, it takes *years* for most companies to be built.  Most VCs are out there for six or seven years before it looks like you've got more than one surefire hit on your hands.  Just because you flip a team six months after you funded it doesn't exactly make you the King or Queen of determining which companies will be the i[...]

In Hardware, You're Only as Good as Your Next Product: See goTenna

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 16:00:00 +0000

When hardware maker Quirky went out of business, Ben Einstein at Bolt had this to say:

"A good company builds one product, learns from its customers, and iterates to make that product exceptional. Each step in the process is designed to refine a product and find the often elusive “product/market fit” that is the basis for all successful startups. Imagine if Apple built the first app-free iPhone and then moved on to the Apple Watch, or GoPro only sold one version of its camera and then decided to launch something totally different."

Iterating as a hardware company, of course, isn't the easiest thing in the world.  Design and production cycles are long, and you can't upgrade the physical parts on the fly.  That's why so many companies never make it to a second product.  Take Nest, for example, that wowed the world with its thermostat, but never followed up with anything consumers really felt the same way about.  

Often times, the challenge is coming up with a first product that people like that you can deliver in a reasonable amount of time, knowing it won't have everything you could ever hope to build.  The tricky part is doing that while not distracting yourself and diverting too many resources away from a product that more closely reflects your long term, ultimate goal.

That's why I'm so excited to see a Brooklyn Bridge Ventures portfolio company, goTenna, launch its new product, goTenna Mesh.

goTenna Mesh is the first 100% off-grid, mobile, long-range consumer-ready mesh network device, which will be available internationally. The announcement comes along with the launch of goTenna’s premium service, goTenna Plus, and the release of the goTenna open Software Development Kit (SDK). 

goTenna Mesh pairs with any iOS or Android device to allow users to text and share GPS locations, up to several miles away depending on terrain and elevation. This is the first goTenna product that will be available outside the United States and it will be sold in pairs for $179 but is available in limited quantities at promotional pricing (starting at $129) today on a preorder basis before shipment begins later this year. 

Check out their video for more info.

Unlike traditional networks, a mesh network gets stronger as more people use it.  goTenna Mesh is smaller, sleeker than goTenna’s flagship product, and provides even greater utility thanks to the introduction of mesh networking. By automatically and privately relaying your message through other users if your recipient(s) are not within point-to-point range or are otherwise obstructed, you can effectively double or triple your range and be likelier to get a message through in difficult situations. 

goTenna Mesh is anchored by intelligent mesh protocols (named “Aspen Grove”) that deliver a 100% off-grid, entirely mobile, long-range mesh network. Such a technology has never been achieved outside hulking military tactical systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit. 

Congrats to the goTenna team on a huge accomplishment for their customers.  This is the product that Daniela and Jorge had in mind when they first started the company--when goTenna was just a box full of wires that sent a text across a table to another box full of wires.  I'm excited to have been their first VC backer.

I can't wait to see what's next! ;)


This is Not the Trump You are Looking For

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 11:21:02 +0000

Early on in this election, my dad was a Trump supporter.  He was tired of politics as usual and decided that he wanted to vote for an "outsider"--someone who speaks from the heart, who isn't burdened by special interests, and who could shake things up.When shoot from the hip Donald Trump stepped up in the election, he appreciated his style.  Trump ran circles around a really awful field of Republican contenders who didn't know what hit them, gaining popularity with a lot of people who felt the same way.Over time, though, lines were crossed--lines of common decency.  Trump went from pushing around the Washington elite to pushing around everyone.  The election seemed to fuel his ego and bravado.  Right around the time Trump criticized the Khan family who had lost their military son, my dad had enough.  He realized Trump wasn't someone he wanted representing this country.I get that feeling of wanting an outsider.  Politicians don't ever seem like they're working for the people anymore--and part of that is because you always feel like you represent "the people".  The truth is, there are a lot of people who don't want what you want, so it's very likely that anyone could ever get elected and fully represent everything you want.Second,  there's a really unfortunate truth to this country.  It is very hard to get elected President without being an "insider"--either Washington or big business.  Perhaps if we elect another actor like Ronald Reagan (who was also Governor of California), that won't be the case, but for the most part, if you have national name recognition, it's because you were elected to a nationally visible post, or because you have boatloads of money to market yourself.  Unfortunately, having boatloads of money usually means not everything you do is going to be acceptable to the American public, as we're finding out with Donald Trump. Trump has expertly lead his companies in and out of the bankruptcy process multiple times--pulling payments out for himself, leaving lots of creditors and small business people left holding his bag.  It's almost like someone somehow getting out at the bottom of a roller coaster and somehow always getting back on at the time--only around for the good parts but never quite being around for the ones that aren't exciting.  While his companies go up and down, Trump shields himself from the bad parts--sometimes legally, sometimes less so.  Trump isn't like Elon Musk, Mike Bloomberg, or Sarah Blakely whose wealth comes from the kind of entrepreneurship where companies are created from scratch and money is made off of equity or revenue.  Trump makes "deals" not companies.  He licenses his name, he flips buildings and he signs contracts.  These are ways to make money that really only enrich himself, not lots of working class people.The other thing about being a Washington "insider" is that while you may owe people some favors, you also know how the system works.  The US Government and the whole international landscape is incredibly complex.  Do you think it would be easy to be President if you didn't understand what ethnic groups are clashing in the Middle East, what they want, and for how long they've been going at it?  Do you think you could understand what to do about China without understanding how their government works, what's allowed and what's not, and how their economy functions?  To be President, you practically need a PhD just to understand the rules of the game.  Not having this basic understanding is like saying you could play baseball because you could run really fast.  There's way more at stake than that--and Donald Trump has shown time and time again that not only is he unprepared, his ego gets in the way of him even caring to know it.Not reading the instructions might be funny or cute when you're putting together your kids' toys the night before [...]

Ahmad Khan Rahami's Grandmother

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:03:19 +0000

I shared a version of this in my weekly tech newsletter yesterday:  

Many of you are new to this newsletter--especially those who came out to our event last Thursday.  It's mostly about tech, but sometimes it isn't.  When it isn't, it's honest and hopefully thought provoking.  You're welcome to stick around and I hope that you do.

It is difficult to write on mornings like this.

On one hand, I know you're all New Yorkers and you're fine.  Even if you lived on that block in Chelsea, you're going to work today, walking past police tape and glass.  You're always fine, New York, even when you're not.  They cannot stop us.

But things aren't fine--not because we're under the threat of terrorism, but because we're consumed by fear.  

Did you watch the media over the weekend?  And Twitter?

In times this this, I cannot help but think of the speech from V from Vendetta:

"...And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well, certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now High Chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent."

I debated long enough over this e-mail to get the notification of a suspect this morning.  All we needed was that name to put gas on the fire.

No one noticed that a Christopher was arrested last weekend in Staten Island with 20 guns in his apartment, loaded with armor piercing bullets.  

No TV news stories.  No public calls for better mental health services.  

But arrest an Ahmad and we're ready to turn the country over to an egomaniac playing our worst fears like a violin--a man who has no respect for the freedoms of speech, of religion and the openness and diversity that made this country great.

I only know about Christopher because he is my cousin.  

Somewhere, Ahmad has a cousin, too.  A cousin who loves this country and can't figure out how someone he knew fell down such a deep, dark hole.  Ahmad maybe also has a grandmother, too--who also had to find out about all this in the newspaper, like mine did.  She reads the paper everyday at 98 years young and I can't even imagine how she felt.

Soon, the hounds will tear into Ahmad's family.  We'll know where he went to school, who his friends are, where he lives.  His family will receive death threats and racist insults.

And Christopher's family--how close we came to all that, yet not at all.  No one cares who we are or what we believe--because we're white and we weren't born into a US funded civil war.  We were all born here, so of course, we can't be the enemy.  

Whatever darkness Ahmad's family tried to escape in Afghanistan caught up with them.  

I feel sorry for them--and feel even worse for us because of the darkness we'll turn to as the fear consumes us.


From Platform to Partner: How Helping Startups is the New MBA Track to VC

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 05:59:13 +0000

Recently, Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital announced Brett Berson's promotion to Partner. For the last six years, Brett had been building the platform team at FRC. The firm scaled assistance to startups in a way that for outpaced the resources any investment team could provide as individuals.

I got to work with Brett for two years while I was investing at First Round, before I started Brooklyn Bridge Ventures.

Over that time, I watched him foster thriving online communities, creating engaging events, and making them better.  His insatiable curiosity helped him learn not only from Josh, and First Round's partners like Howard Morgan--who is moving back to angel investing after a tremendously successful run as one of the most well respected venture capitalists--but from successful founders and startup professionals.

While most people trying to get into venture will tell you how much they know, their experience, or their instincts, Brett kept listening and learning.  By figuring out the best ways to help founders, he learned valuable lessons alongside them--lessons he can now bring to a new generation of founders as their investor.

For everyone who has aspirations to venture capital, it's a lesson well earned by Brett's hard work.  You don't need to start out with money, get a Harvard or Stanford MBA, or sell a company to become a VC. You need to not only want to help founders, but dedicate yourself to learning how to do that better everyday than you did the day before.  

That's what I find missing in most people who want to break into venture.  There's no respect for venture as a craft--as a profession whose skills you can hone and perfect.  

Here's the thing--the skills aren't in the picking, they're in the helping.   

Winners come in time, but access to opportunity comes when can add real value, and when you build a reputation for being the kind of investor a founder wants in their company.  

After everything he has learned, I have no doubt Brett will be one of those investors founders want to work with.


Freedom Means Hearing and Seeing Things You Don't Like

Sun, 11 Sep 2016 14:47:24 +0000

Colin Kaepernick is going to make almost $12 million this year.

He profits from a league that routinely disregards the health and safety of its majority black player base--so, to me, he comes off as a bit hypocritical in his public protest.

And yeah, it bugs me when a guy who has never served in the military won't respect our flag and anthem in front of the veterans who project our freedom.  Our country might not be perfect, but these things are symbols of what we aspire to, and value. In my mind, they're goals, not a status check--and those goals are admirable.  

But he still has every right to do it, just as I have a right to be a bit skeptical about him.  

That's the very definition of freedom of speech.  A lot of people don't seem to understand that letting someone disrespect the flag or the anthem is more patriotic than forcing everyone to act a certain way around it.

And on the anniversary of September 11th, it also makes me sad that we seem to have lost a lot of the ideals that represent why this country got started in the first place.  In the wake of a terrorist attack, our country that was founded by immigrants seeking religious freedom has succumbed to the most ignorant and hateful forms of Islamophobia.  

Instead of welcoming those yearning to be free, we've embraced a political candidate trying to shut us off from the world by promoting hate and division.  

It's as un-American as you can get.  

When immigrants come to this country, they have to learn about what America is all about and how it works.  

Maybe we could all use a lesson ourselves.

America is making room for the person next to you whether you agree with them or not.  



Why Kayaks Belong on NYC's Waterways and Why You Should Care

Wed, 31 Aug 2016 19:37:14 +0000

Last night, while I was speaking on a panel about food entrepreneurship, my cellphone suddenly lit up with frantic texts asking if I was ok.  Something about some kayaks on the Hudson and a crash.I quickly searched Twitter while still on the panel and saw the horrific news.  A group of kayakers had been run over by a ferry boat backing out of a dock near West 39th Street.The reason why people were checking on me is because I've been paddling on NYC's local waters for about 13 years, and encouraging others to do so by helping to run free kayaking programs.  I started volunteering at the Downtown Boathouse in 2003 and helped form the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse in 2010.  Given the sheer numbers of people (in the thousands) these programs put on the water each summer, if you've paddled in Brooklyn Bridge Park, or in Tribeca back in the day, and the amount of hours I've put in, there's a decent chance I'm the guy who helped you into a boat and taught you the proper stroke.Over the years, I've heard every question imaginable about paddling in the Hudson River or the East River.  It usually boils down to the following three questions:1) Is it dirty?2) Is it safe?3) How do I sign up? It's not unlike all the questions I get as a NYC cyclist:1) Don't you sweat? (Is it dirty?)2) Is it safe?3) What kind of bike should I get to start out?What we know from the alterations our streets have gotten over the past few years is that bike safe streets are better streets for everyone.  Streets that have bike lanes actually have better traffic flow, and 40% fewer street fatalities (cyclists and pedestrians).  Basically, pro-bike laws are pro-people laws, and they tip the balance away from a car centric city full of smog, cloverleafs and overpasses.  Well, the same goes for our waterways.  Whether the experience is safe and sanitary all depends on how you apply the law.NYC waterways weren't designed for boats.  They weren't "designed" at all.  They're a natural resource that everyone should derive value from--and the closer you get to them, the more you start to care about their use.  The more people that actually use the water down at the water level, the more people are about the quality of that ecosystem.No one cares more about the water quality of the harbor more than the rowers and paddlers that get right down in it every week.  They can tell you where the combined sewer overflow points are, and which parks have landing points for human powered craft.  These types of issues have repercussions that affect millions of NYC residents, not just the people who show up at free walk up kayaking programs.  Fixing the sewage problem, for example, means redesigning our streets and sidewalks to have more trees and less concrete--so rainwater doesn't just bounce off our streets and into sewers but it actually collects in the soil.  More trees means improved air quality.  It means serious commitment to a cleanup of the Gowanus Canal and the Newtown Creek--both waterways that have dedicated human powered boating programs as part of their advocacy groups. I have also seen firsthand how much kayaking can create a sense of physical accomplishment in inner city kids that never learned to swim, or those who suffer from obesity, or in a veteran who has lost the use of his legs.    There is no other activity in New York City I have seen create more universal joy than what we see among all of the paddlers who participate in our programs.  In twenty plus years of various public kayaking programs across the city, paid and free, these efforts have a stellar safety record.  Kayaking programs have helped the city redesign our relationship with the water.  Brooklyn Bridge Park has two beachfronts and a floating kayak dock to encou[...]

Why Founders are Wrong, Even When They're Right

Mon, 29 Aug 2016 12:43:12 +0000

Investors turn down deals for some pretty dumb reasons.  They lack logic, consistency, and sometimes even a grasp of what their own job is...  You know...  taking actual risk."We're not interested for this round, but come back to us when Sequoia is leading at a $1.5 pre-money, you have seven enterprise customers and you're cashflow positive.  Oh, and make someone from your 25 person Moldova tech team your co-founder.  Don't forget to tell all your founder friends about our ultra-pre-pre-seed program.  We love early."It's easy to get frustrated and focus on all of the things the investor did wrong and the ridiculous questions they asked.You shouldn't, because it's still your fault they didn't invest.Assuming they weren't unethical and they met your character standard, you went into a pitch with the goal of getting money from this person, and they didn't get there.Maybe they didn't even have the guts to say no.But they didn't say "yes", and that was the goal, so that's a failure.  It doesn't pay to look at it any other way--and I think too many founders focus on the investor as the problem versus their pitch or their company.If you walk away from a "no" without any ideas on what you could have done better, especially if you're consistently getting turned down, then you're missing out on a learning opportunity.Let's not forget the possibility that the lesson to be learned is that perhaps your idea just isn't a very good one.  You're still a wonderful person, I'm sure, but your idea or company could be one that is disproportionately unlikely to return investor capital in multiples given the risk.Let's keep in mind that is the definition of good, too:  An investor has to see that you have a statistically significant chance of building a huge company--with "huge" having specific definitions most likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars in enterprise value.There are a lot of "good" ideas out there that don't have that much potential or don't have a very strong chance of getting there.Getting an investment is very difficult thing.  How difficult?  Well, my own statistics are that about 2000 things come across my desk in a year, and I make 8-10 investments.  That's the top 0.5%.Think about that as a race.  How fast are the top half-percentile people running?  Not only are they running really fast, but think about how much they must be training, how they eat, what kind of shape they're in, etc.They've got their race prep *down*.  That's how good you have to be to be in the top 0.5%.  If you didn't train and you didn't finish that high, you wouldn't blame the course, or the weather, or your shoes.  It would just be obvious you weren't that competitive of an athlete.  Sure, you might have had some shoelace issues or maybe a brisk wind, but chances are that wouldn't have mattered.Same with pitching.  Some investors will say yes to deals that others say no to, but statistically, most people who try to pitch are getting no's across the board or by a majority of people--and when that happens, you need to turn the mirror on yourself as a founder.Ask yourself, "What would somebody need to believe to make this investment and how can I better convey that?"Or, perhaps, "How can I make believing in this idea so easy, even a caveman could understand it."(Unfortunately, that's not terribly far from the truth of the situation.)  Still, if you know that's what you're up against, then it's up to you to convince them on their terms.Here are a few ways founders can improve their chances with an investor:1) Make sure you actually have a viable startup idea, *before* you pitch.  Pitching isn't about testing the viability of an idea--it's about getting money for something you already know should ex[...]

Five Lessons Learned Getting to a Second Fund

Mon, 22 Aug 2016 11:50:42 +0000

Today, I'm happy to announce that Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, the firm I founded and continue to run as the sole General Partner, has raised a second fund, totalling $15.1 million in commitments.  Nearly all of our existing investors returned, and they were joined by a couple of new family offices and a prominent college endowment.  What does this mean?Most importantly, I get to keep going.  Having a job is way better than being out of one.Fifty investors took a shot on me four years ago to lead rounds in New York City at the earliest of stages--prototypes, betas, Powerpoints, napkins, or just people.  I had all of seven deals to my name in a short, two year track record.  Granted, two of those companies had exited for great returns, but it was also on behalf of a brand name firm whose name I wouldn't get to carry around all the time anymore.  Who knew whether I'd even be able to get into any deals on my own?Thirty-five deals later, the first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund has invested in great companies like Canary, Orchard, Floored, Tinybop, Ringly, goTenna, Hungryroot, Ample Hills, Tinkergarten, Homer, Logcheck, and others that I am proud to be associated with--not just because they are doing well, but because their founders work hard, treat people right and have great insight and curiosity around the problems they've tackled.Second, we have more to offer founders.  Before, when I would lead a deal, I might be able to write a check of about $200k or so.  Now, that number will grow to $350k and the firm will be able to do a small amount of follow on investment.  Truth be told, I still believe the best ROI to be had is in the very first round, but now even a small follow on will help an entrepreneur answer whether all their existing investors are participating.  I won't lead another round, but even this small amount can help make that next round's story straightforward and consistent. Nothing else is really changing.  The fund doesn't have a specific industry focus and it will continue to work with New York City companies.  The increase in fund size doesn't mean I'll be going any later either.  We'll still focus on companies that have yet to raise $750k in prior rounds. There are some things I learned about running a first fund over and above finding great companies that I think are important for new managers to keep in mind:1) Venture capital will be humbling.  You're going to wind up failing a lot.  You're probably not going to have the "coolest" fund or always be first to the trend with the most hype around it.  The founders that are going to make your career aren't the ones that everyone knows already, inviting to all the best parties.  They're the ones working on the companies that were a struggle to get people to invest in--so much so that you'll question your own judgement a lot when you're the first yes.  2) Focus on getting known for being helpful and hardworking--by actually being helpful and hardworking.  It's easy to get swept up into the cult-like status around venture capitalists as kingmakers or thought leaders.  The truth is you won't really know how good you are for years and years--so don't be so quick to think you know what you're doing, no matter what the media tells you.  This will be my seventh year of leading investments and it's been fifteen years since I first joined the asset class--and I still feel like my learning has just begun.  Don't worry too much about the new new fund everyone wants to write about more than they want to cover what you're doing.  3) Have a consistent focus.  Since I started working at First Round Capital back in 2009, very few early stage investors seem to be doing the sam[...]

How to Run Startup PR Like an Election Campaign

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 11:47:22 +0000

Campaigns, conventional or not, are highly motivated and energetic storytelling machines.  They come up with a narrative, figure out who they want to get it in front of, and work like all hell every single minute to get it out there.That's the kind of pace a startup needs to be on--except that most startups treat their PR as if all you need to do is to launch your message at a debate and cross your fingers after that.Here are five things startup founders can take away from the way campaigns work:1) Campaigns have a message.And it's not only "Vote for my candidate".  It's more complex than that.  Sometimes they want you to believe the economy is good or job creation is sluggish or we're at war with terrorism or values or crumbling or whatever.  There are other things they know will get you to cast a vote your way if you believe.  So, maybe some of your campaign is about having the best computer vision team or being smart about retail distribution--or that cars will drive themselves one day.  Whatever the underlying supportive arguments those are, startups need to layer them on top of each other to support the key things you need--sales, funding, hiring, etc.2) Campaigns work on a schedule.First we're going to go to this state and say this to this audience, then we're going to that state and then we're going to hit up this talk show.  Campaigns are about editorial logistics.  Who are we telling today's message to and where?  So many startups but all their eggs in one basket--the launch--but fail to create anything that looks like an editorial schedule that thinks about opportunities to share your message over time.  What conferences should we be asking to speak at over time?  What events should we run ourselves?  When will we write this blog post.Without a schedule and a plan, you're just a lunatic with a Twitter account shouting at everyone.3) Campaigns win influencers.They get endorsements.  Teachers unions, former Presidents, celebs--who can influence votes and tell everyone else to vote for us.This way, you have an answer to "Says who?"Startups should be doing the same thing.  Everyone should have a list of 25-50 people or groups that would be key endorsers.  It's one thing for someone to say they bought your product, but if you can get them on message, talking about you in their own blog posts or interviews, that's ideal. You can just e-mail around and ask, but the most surefire way to do this is the old fashioned power lunch/power smoothie/office visit--i.e. time spent face to face.  It's slow and it's plodding, but if you can sit with someone and convince them to get behind what you're doing, they're going to feel more special, more invested, and you'll get more of your message across, versus just asking for a Retweet.4) Campaigns are tenacious.  Polls may only come out weekly, but campaigns act as if every single day is a battle in the war for human attention.  The moment a story comes out, the candidate spin machine is all over it.  They never miss an opportunity to have their people commenting on TV or in the news and that's the pace your message needs to be closer to.Every single time a piece of press comes out about your space and you're not mentioned in it is a missed opportunity--and you better be all over that reporter, fixing that mistake, inviting them to see what you have going on, etc.5) Campaigns run events.If you can't find enough opportunities to share your message, you need to create some of your own.  Hosting discussions, demos, dinners will be well worth the cost if you can get the right people there and in numbers--or if you can create content out of it.Bonus:Is it not obvious that video is the kill[...]

How to Make Time

Mon, 15 Aug 2016 06:05:45 +0000

There is always more to do.

Right now, I have about 1000 unread e-mails in my inbox and I have a bunch of personal errands and projects around the house that I've been unable to get to.  

One of the hardest things to learn is that if I don't get to all the e-mails, that's ok.  You can't live your life in your inbox.

You have to put your personal priorities into your schedule or else other people will put theirs on yours.  Each week, I take another look at my calendar...  Did anything get on there that shouldn't be on there.  I'll cancel if I have to.  

I put in the things in my personal life that make me happy--bike rides to the beach to catch the sunset, kayak volunteering, softball, seeing my family--and work my job around them.  That includes my health--working out and sleep.  

Each week, I try to maximize the amount of time I spend doing things I look forward to, and minimize things done that I don't--things I accepted out of a misplaced sense of obligation or because someone else wants me to, even though I don't.  

I'm a solo General Partner with no partner meetings.  I don't take any meetings with founders where I don't think I can realistically get to a yes--and that means no quick 20 minute meetings.  Small things and quick favors add up.  

I don't do "office hours" at any accelerators--instead opting for a full meeting the one or two  companies (if there is even one) that I really get excited about.  You can't spend full time attention on things you're half interested in. 

I don't do panel prep calls.  If you asked me to speak on a panel, just tell me how you want the narrative to work and you run the panel.  I know what to say because if I didn't, you wouldn't have asked me on.  I'm happy to contribute two hours to be there, travel inclusive, but not two and a half or three because of the stupid prep call.  Volunteering your time shouldn't cost you extra time.

I overindex for groups I can actively curate.  Instead of going to happy hours sponsored by various vendors, I run one or two dinners per month where I can invite the attendees or get recommendations on who I should meet.

Synergies are important.  The more you spend time with people who share interests with you, or where you can make your interests overlap, the more you'll get out of each moment.

It's not a perfect system, but it gets a lot more out of the clock than average.


Punching Above Your Weight as a Founder: Why I invested in Bizly

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 18:39:33 +0000

I'm a founder.Sure, I'm an investor, too, but I started Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, the firm I invest out of.  That means that in addition to thinking about what kinds of investments I'm going to make, I need to think about where I'm going to work, payroll, business cards, all that stuff.  As we've seen, the "business stack" of a variety of services entrepreneurs run on everyday has changed dramatically over the last few years.  Google Apps enabled e-mail on demand without a server, Uber enables transportation on demand, and WeWork offers space on demand.The reason why WeWork became so successful was because they realized that space wasn't just about space.  It was about support--how could they make your work life easier?  That meant over-investing in technology to improve convenience and connect their members.  In this way, space is something more than just a room with chairs and a table.Founders know that space needs to be something more when they interact with clients and customers, when they onboard people, and when they focus on culture through offsites and events.  It's not just about people in a room, but a particular environment they want to create.  Just last week, I had a meeting with my Limited Partners at the Highline Hotel--a beautiful building that used to be part of a seminary built in the early 1800's.  The room was eclectic and cool, and afterwards I adjourned to its beautiful outdoor courtyard to meet up with a potential new investor that I had invested to come to the meeting.  It was exactly the kind of vibe I wanted.  High quality, but interesting and comfortable.  And yes, I closed that investor.  I also closed on a seriously great sandwich at the hotel bar.  The food their is excellent.  I got the space through Bizly, a company that I invested in that just launched to the public today.  Bizly takes advantage of the vast supply of conference space in some of the best and coolest designed hotels in the world, as well as the top notch staffs that run them.With a Bizly room, you get all the benefits of doing your meetings in a hotel--food and beverage service, someone to help you with A/V, and the ability to hit up a lobby bar or restaurant before or after--without all the hassle.  No faxing, phone calls or contracts required.Businesspeople know how important all these amenities can be, because it's more than just a room that closes a deal or that inspires a team to come up with a new insight at an offsite.  I'm excited to work with Ron Shah on this company and it's a testament to the kind of long term relationships that have building the deal flow pipeline at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures.  I was introduced to Ron almost three years ago by one of my investors as someone I should invite to my annual Shake Shack party.  He was an investor at his own firm at the time--a fund that had a lot of international LPs.  He had a lot of insight into the business travel market from the perspective of a small fund trying to impress a lot of big names--and after a year plus of talking with him through various iterations of the business, I decided to back what became Bizly.  It just makes sense--take advantage of the best existing supply without the overhead of needing to own or rent that supply yourself.  I'm excited to see it come to fruition and I'll offer up a discount code.  Use "BBV" and get $25 towards a very cool meeting space at Bizly. [...]

I love Donald Trump voters.

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 13:52:45 +0000

I do.  And you should, too, no matter who you're voting for.Because that's the only choice... Cory Booker is right.  Love your neighbor.  That's step one.Calling them stupid, racist, or anything else isn't going to change their minds.  It's only going to reenforce the very reasons why they're voting for Trump in the first place.They've been left out by nearly every politician they've ever come across.  They've fought for our country and they're now out of work.  They've worked hard to instill a set of values in their families and they see a world where those values are changing rapidly.  They fear for their safety--and for anyone who hasn't turned off the news in disgust, wouldn't you, too?Sometimes I think that's the real enemy, by the way...   Not Trump, not Hillary, but the fucking television. Do I really need to know about every single time someone gets killed in a terrible way in the world?  I hate the news for making me think of the world as a terrible place--and making money off of it.You want to hate someone?  Hate CNN for profiting off our fear.  Some of Trump's supporters align their values with what Trump talks about, but a great many simply do not feel comfortable voting for Hillary Clinton--or they don't like Bill Clinton.  They're disgusted by Bill's extramarital affairs and his behavior in the White House.  I can respect that--but I would respect it more if they held Donald Trump to the same standard.  I love the fact that they feel a strong sense of moral obligation and that this election for them is about trust.They don't like hearing about lying, about e-mails, about cover-ups.  I wonder what they think when they hear that Trump won't show us what's on his tax return?  I have to imagine that makes them upset--because that's the kind of covering up they don't like about Hillary.For once, they just want someone elected to come clean and be honest.  I respect that.And it is because I do care about *all* of the people in this country that it made me sick to listen to Donald Trump speak at the RNC last week--because I knew that his supporters were being lied to.You may have worked in a *real* job--building something--not something ridiculous like I do where I invest rich people's money to try and find the next Facebook.  I get that probably shouldn't be a job and you might not respect me for it.  Sometimes, I don't believe it myself that I get paid to do that.You toiled hard on a line making the very things I use everyday and then, one day, your plant closed.  Or, maybe you worked in one of those places that collapsed when the town's major employer picked up shop and moved away.Foreign countries and executives looking after their bottom line "stole" your economic security and that of your friends, family, and neighbors.So when Trump says he's going to bring those jobs back, that sounds great.  I get it.Only... it's never going to happen.  That's just not the way the world works.  The stock market pressures companies to look after only their bottom line, our current capitalist, public market system makes it impossible for corporate CEOs to look after anything different.  They get fired when the stock goes down.If you don't like capitalism--well, that's a different story.  We could go with socialism, but I'm pretty sure you don't want that either.  And in fact, since the 1970's, that kind of bottom line thinking is pretty much why you've been getting screwed as a middle class.  Someone came up with the notion that the point of a company wasn't to employ people or care about the community--it [...]

The Myth of the Top Investor

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 11:51:14 +0000

Someone asked me recently if they should raise a fund, because they had access to investments that were being made by "top, brand name investors".  Whether there even is such a thing relies heavily on your perspective.It is absolutely true that many of the firms you've heard of being called the "top" funds consistently perform in the top quartile, even decile, of all funds, over time--Sequoia, Accel, etc.If you drill into that data, what you wind up seeing is that they get a disproportionate access to many of the "once in a lifetime" type exits--the Facebooks, Whatsapps, Googles, etc.They do not, necessarily, have a better than average winning percentage.So what does that mean?It means that if you ever have an opportunity to be a Limited Partner in Sequoia, and to do so over multiple funds--with a very long term (20+ years) time horizon--you should probably do it.  A few home runs over time will likely net you huge returns in the end.  What doesn't it mean?What it doesn't mean is that by co-investing with them, you're guaranteed any success.  For one, the sample size is far too small for you to have that much more of a chance of being in those one or two deals.  Unless you're doing lots and lots of deals, your own chances of being in one that hits is far too low for it to make a difference whether Sequoia is in one of them.  In fact, there's a good chance that if you're an average Joe and they're in your deal, they might not be showing the same kind of conviction in this opportunity they would if they were trying to take the whole thing.It also doesn't mean that, if you're an entrepreneur, they're the right partner for you.  Much like those damn Yankees, these winning franchises have had a number of employees come and go over the years, many of whom weren't so good at their jobs.  On the Yankees, for every Derek Jeter, you had a few Bubby Crosbys.  So you might get a top partner on your deal at one of these firms--someone who is responsible for the kinds of multi-generational wealth creation kinds of deals, or you might get someone who is relatively new, or simply has yet to prove out their Midas touch when it comes to investing.  Perhaps the investor you're turning down is the next pre-Twitter Fred Wilson.  Was Fred a "great" investor before Twitter, or did the experiences and network that he picked up in that deal put him into an elite class?  Probably a little bit of both--but he certainly didn't have the same kind of brand beforehand, and I'm sure lost a deal or two to "top" firms because of that.  In fact, most investors would agree that as a founder, *you* are the one that creates the value.  You may decide you want Benchmark in your round for signalling purposes, because you know they're seen as successful, but you would undoubtedly be just as successful no matter who you took money from.Does Harvard make smart kids or do smart kids want to go to Harvard?  Would they have done just fine anywhere else?On top of all this, these "top" firms aren't the only ones who get into these top deals.  Given the size of these funds, they often don't participate with more than a token amount, if at all, in the seed rounds of top returners.  They simply can't manage deals that small on a regular basis because of the time and effort for the amount of money at stake.  So, from a fund perspective, there are certainly other funds that do just as well in a given cycle.  Lastly, it takes a long time and many many funds to tell whether or not the funds that we think of as top are actually top performers--and even then it's not clear that the[...]

The Thing About the Best Pitches

Mon, 18 Jul 2016 11:48:00 +0000

The best pitches have a hook.  The very first sentence gets me leaning forward, not back.

They have an unrelenting storyline--and they don't let a boring team slide get in the way if your team isn't the most exciting part of what you're doing.  

They mostly talk about where you're going, because the what you've done up until now in a seed pitch usually isn't that much.

The best pitches acknowledge the reason why we're here--for you to ask me for money and for me to make a bundle of it investing in you.  If we don't talk about how that's going to happen, what's the point?  Ask for an amount, tell me what you're going to do with it, and tell me how that leads to a big exit.

They don't come from templates.  Every startup is different.

They don't have the word advisor in them--because that's just a code word for "Someone who didn't invest, but probably could have."

The best pitches follow the word problem with... you know... an actual problem, versus something that maybe could be better but otherwise has been working ok for quite a while now at a huge scale.  

The best pitches are ambitious--they ask for enough and aim to do something big.

They're told, not read--it's your story and if you can't remember it, no one else will.


Confessions of a Privileged White Male and Former Conservative

Sun, 10 Jul 2016 14:01:04 +0000

I was born in Brooklyn in 1979, which means that the number one issue growing up in the 1980's and early 1990's was crime.  In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in the city, nearly 10x the annual rate we have now.By the way, I'm white and back then, similar to now, you can't talk about crime without taking about race.I grew up in Bensonhurst.  You might remember that as the area of Brooklyn where Yusef Hawkins was killed in 1989.  Hawkins, who was black, and a group of his black friends came to the neighborhood to buy a car posted in an ad.  They walked right into a group of Italian kids (I'm 1/2 Italian) who were waiting to ambush a group of black or latino guys who supposedly had dated a neighborhood girl.  Hawkins and his friends were attacked by a group of over a dozen young white men with baseball bats, and one who had a gun.  He was shot to death at the age of 16.Around the neighborhood, people whispered about what black kids were doing in "our" neighborhood and how they weren't supposed to be there.  Actually, no, they didn't whisper.  They said it out loud--all the time--just like people are talking now about how struggling on the ground with a cop (or not struggling at all or "heightened circumstances") is a justification for getting shot by one.  I was socialized to think of crime as the kind of thing where whites were the victim and people of color were the perpetrators.What I didn't know at the time was how much the media reinforced that.  Crimes with white victims get disproportionately covered, especially when they are committed by blacks.  I didn't know either that most people get killed by their own race.  As a white person, I'm about ten times more likely to get killed by another white person as I am likely to be killed by anyone of color.  That's not what I thought as a kid.  I never would have believed that stat.  So when we elected a "tough on crime" Republican Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, that cemented my Republican leanings.  I mean, why would you be anything other than tough on crime?  Was soft on crime even a position that reasonable people would take?I didn't remember at all that, actually, Giuliani's black predecessor, David Dinkins, presided over the beginning of NYC's historic drop in crime.  I also didn't remember that he, not Giuliani, hired Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.  What he also did, unlike Giuliani, was advocate civilian review boards and neighborhood policing where cops worked together with their communities as partners.  I was for the death penalty--because there were some really bad people out there and they didn't seem to deserve to be alive.I never read the statistics about how the death penalty was more expensive, and not a deterrent to crime at all.  I felt on the Republican side of a lot of other issues, too... Welfare?  A handout.  People should work for a living.  After all, my parents did.  Both of them.I didn't see how far ahead of the game I was having two parents at home, neither of whom had spent any time incarcerated.  Abortion?  How could you be for killing babies?I didn't bother looking into the policies that tied into abortion, like women's health, contraception availability, sex education, etc.  I'll never ever be "pro" abortion, but when you start looking at unwanted pregnancy as the key statistic to address and not abortion itself, you realize that the only way you solve that is with policies that include a women's right to make decisions around her own body.And, [...]

Are those people idiots? How to think about competition.

Sun, 26 Jun 2016 14:17:27 +0000

A lot of founders who pitch me tell me that they're the only ones doing something.  They're in the same ballpark as a major player, doing something just one tiny bit off from what they are, and they expect this company to get their lunch eaten over the next seven years while an IPO-sized company is grown right under their noses.

The people who work at your competition...   Are those people idiots?

So there's this super obvious key to victory that doesn't require more than a seed round to prove out, and you've got someone already in the space with all the connections and awareness they need, but... what... They're just twiddling their thumbs like idiots?

I can't tell you how many times I've asked people that question.  It's not that I think competition really matters a whole lot in the early going--but what matters more is that you understand your market.  

I want you to be able to thoughtfully articulate why the competition is hamstrung.  Maybe you differ in your view of where the future of this industry is.  Maybe they got caught up using the wrong technology.  Maybe your whole design DNA is different.

Maybe it's just that they just don't care, or that their people aren't good enough to execute what you can execute.

Or, maybe their team is actually stupid.  That could be your bet--but if it is, own it.  Make it an intentional bet, not your fallback bet because you were too lazy to do any real market research or that you're not a team who knows enough about a market to be in it.  



Writing Checks Doesn't Make You an Investor

Tue, 21 Jun 2016 11:34:37 +0000

I met with a family office investor yesterday and we were talking about his family's interest in diversifying their investments into early stage companies.

They mostly participated in real estate transactions--an asset class where actual due diligence is conducted, deals take months, even years to close, and assets are sometimes held for decades.  It's an asset class built on relationships.  You become a steward of not just property, but of neighborhoods, homes, offices--the places where people conduct their lives.  These are incredibly impactful relationships dependent on trust.  You might work with the same group of investors, contractors, agents and management companies for decades.

A lot of these people have started getting into the angel investing world.  The growth of co-working shed light on just how big an impact thousands of small startups can make on a market--and when these companies make it, they take down some significant space.  Participating in the upside of a company that started out as three people and now has a full floor in your building seems attractive to many.  

Something he said at the meeting struck me.  He said that he might like to get into the business of investing, but if he's going to, he'd actually like to get into the business, and "just writing checks doesn't mean you're in the business."

Here's what it means to me to actually be "in the business" of investing:

It means building long term relationships and acting in such a way--professionally--that you care about maintaining your reputation.

It means establishing a track record of not only success, but of trust.  This includes transparency around what deals you've worked on, and what your role was.  

It means having a strategy that leverages advantages and resources you have, and doing your homework.  

It means actively trying to learn and improve.  

You might not have a year to close a transaction, but that doesn't mean you can't be smart and professional about how you go about your business.  

Anyone can write a check--chasing the "hot" deal like a dog chases a car.  Without a plan, without a network, without trust, without transparency, or a path to learning that doesn't mean you're an investor.  

That makes you a gambler, or a hobbyist.

If you're a VC, you should do whatever you can to make your limited partners feel like investors.  Aim for engagements that make them more than just check writers.  You can do this through transparency, communication, opportunities to meet companies, like co-investing, talks, content and networking opportunities. 

It's better for them and for you--because check writers come and go, but investors are much more likely to see things play out over the long term.