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2018-04-25T20:18:36.555Z
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Many people will write the history on why Ring became an enormously successful company and why it became a real-world unicorn in a world when many startups are anointed that merely on paper. Since I had a ringside seat to the company before it really existed all the way through the end I thought I’d offer my version and what I think it means for our future.

If you don’t know, Ring offers home security products that started with a video doorbell, then video floodlights, outdoor stickup cams and now in-home security features that innovate in-home security alongside outside protection. It is an LA-based company that was recently acquired by Amazon, which you can read more about in this incredibly well-researched article.

But why did Ring succeed when the entire market kept saying that Nest was going to be the winner? Why did Ring become an enormous success when it produced a hardware product and the market keeps saying, “hardware is too difficult to scale?”

Here are my views …

1. Founder, Founder, Founder

At Upfront we talk regularly about how 70% of our investment decision in Seed and A rounds is the quality of the entrepreneur and 30% is the quality of the idea. Of course we have to believe that there is a viable market, a differentiated product offering and a chance to build something defensible but if you do those basics right you still get crushed without an amazingly talented founder.

The minute your company reaches its peak acceleration in terms of...

Upfront Ventures has a deep-seated commitment to equality in funding & building diverse teams across all ethnicities, nationalities and genders. We do this not just because it’s the right thing to do but also we believe it will help drive large and differentiated returns.

In 2017 we began inserting an “Inclusion Clause” into our term sheets because we believe that the culture one establishes at the earliest stages of one’s business will set out the course of how it will grow and develop. We believe that diverse teams produce diversity of thought and that this leads to better decisions and outcomes.

We have decided to “open source” our language in the hopes that other VCs will use this clause and/or improve upon it so that as an industry we can proactively drive the change we want to see rather than just hoping it will happen.

If your firm is willing to commit to this or any similar “inclusion rule” we hope that you will consider linking to it from your firm’s home URL as a sign of industry solidarity in the hope that others will follow suit. Ours is: upfront.com/inclusion. If you’re an entrepreneur who would like to see this clause in more startups please ask your VC to include it in future term sheets and link to it from their home page.

“We strive to invest in companies that are consciously working to create a diverse leadership team — one that’s inclusive across gender, ethnicity, age and national origins. While we would...

León Krauze from Univisión gave an impassioned keynote presentation at The Upfront Summit on the topic of “invisibility” of immigrant workers in our society. It moved people to tears, was widely Tweeted and several people asked me to share this video.

Invisibility.

The millions of immigrant workers who silently wash dishes in restaurants, are prep cooks, pick the agriculture that feeds us, build our houses, clean our houses, watch our kids and do our gardening are vilified as criminals by those currently in power to exploit the fears of working-class white, non-Hispanic, Americans.

Invisibility.

Our system works on under-the-table payments of below-market wages for jobs that our non-Hispanic citizens don’t want to do and in a country where people our unemployment rate is already so low that some economists are warning about inflation due to full employment. We know the immigrants are there. As a society we’re happy for the cheap labor and hard work yet they’re the first people vilified when a scapegoat is needed.

Invisibility.

As a Jewish person I know something about this scapegoating because it is the history of my people for 2,000+ years including the Pogroms in Eastern Europe that cause my family to escape using fake passports and wind up in South America (Colombia) in search of a better life. So the current race-baiting by this administration hits me directly on both fronts. It is not sufficient for well-meaning people in the administration to stand by and allow racism to emanate from the White...

There has always been tension between CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies and the retailers who sell their products to consumers. If a consumer will pay a fixed price for a product or service then the battle over who gets the margin in any sale is between the person who merchandises a product and the person who manufactures it.

This is an age-old marketplace tension where leverage often determines the value captured. This is true whether it’s physical products or media products. Think about the tension between media companies and cable operators like last year when Viacom threatened to pull Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV, BET, etc. from Charter’s subscribers. This has obviously occurred in battles with tech platforms like Yelp vs. Google or Zynga vs. Facebook).

As always this battle is settled by the degree to which a consumer has a strong preference for a company’s product vs the substitute products it may choose instead. Many of us learned about substitute products in undergrad economics courses. If a perfect substitute can be launched for a product you often see the retailer create a white-labeled version because it then captures all of the margin.

When a product is truly unique and demanded a retailer willingly promotes and sells it en masse in part because it does get margin on the good but also because it brings customers in the door who spend on other products. If the retailer can get the product “exclusively” (even for just a time window) then...

If I had just one wish for VCs it would be that they would preview the Ted Bunch “Man Box” talk at the Upfront Summit at their Monday Partner Meetings. I would love it if startup leadership teams would preview it to their executive leadership.

We need to learn from women and listen to them. We also need to start having a conversation amongst men about how men talk and behave and about the silence that leads to consent if we’re going to make necessary changes.

Ted is from a non-profit organization called “A Call to Men” whose mission is

“A world in which all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.”

I have seen Ted speak multiple times because he was also the lead speaker in the #TimesUp movement in Hollywood event that I was invited to in which the goal was to spur a conversation with men about how we talk and behave in the workplace. He is a very effective communicator with a very important message so we invited him to speak with the 450 VCs and LPs that we had at our investor day at the Upfront Summit.

We also invited Anne-Marie Slaughter to talk to us about “What Real Equality Looks Like” and she was equally incredible but I’ll save her messages for a separate post but if you can’t wait I have linked to her video in the title above. In Ted’s words, “We’re not...

At the recent Upfront Summit my partner Stuart Lander had the opportunity to show some California Love and interview three of the wealthiest Bitcoin owners, each of whom were some of the earliest owners in the asset class and who haven’t sold any of their holdings.

It’s an extraordinary story ranging from Jaime who studies cryptography in college to Bryan who was early in selling products on Silk Road to Steven owns 179,000 Bitcoin worth more than $2 billion.

All three have received death threats and travel with full-time body guards. This interview was truly extraordinary. It’s a short watch — I highly recommend checking it out. Who knows? Maybe you could learn a bit about the next major cryptocurrency trend. The video is 24 karat magic. Enjoy. And if you do please share the video so we share the knowledge.


Three Bitcoin Billionaires Share Their Story of How They Moved Early into the Asset Class was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

“The institution of a free press in America is in a state of crisis greater than I have ever seen in my lifetime, and perhaps in any moment in this nation’s history.” — Dan Rather

I sat down to interview Dan Rather at the 2018 Upfront Summit about his outlook for our country one year into the Trump presidency. The interview was conducted around the thesis of Dan’s newest book, “What Unites Us,” which is a must read. You can watch the interview here or in the embed below. It’s truly an inspirational listen and there are some insightful lessons about democracy itself.

If you don’t know, Dan Rather was a new journalist for CBS News for 44 years including 24 years as the anchor of CBS Evening News. He was a pioneer in reporting the civil rights struggle, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, The Gulf War and so many more historical moments in our history.

“What Unites Us” is a concise reflection of what it means to be an American and the common set of values we hold even in a world in which we feel so divided. You can order it here.

As the title implies, Rather seeks to find the strands that unite us rather than divide us but a lot of our interview and a lot of what Dan talks about publicly is about how much is at stake with the direction of the Trump administration. I’d encourage you to watch it — it is just 25 minutes — because Dan Rather is...

If you haven’t yet heard about Female Founder Office Hours it is an initiative you should be aware of whether you’re male, female or any other gender identify. The idea is simple enough: several female VC partners at top funds will hold 1-hour meetings with 40 promising female entrepreneurs looking to get advice on their business and pitch in a friendly, non-judgmental, safe environment.

I want to outline why I think this is such an important initiative but first want to be sure you know that my partner Kara Nortman and my friend Eva Ho are hosting the next Female Founder Office Hours in our offices on March 13 and you can sign up here → LA Female Office Hours.

Please help share this widely so that more women become aware of this important resource that is being run nationally. For the LA event, for example, they will not only have a selection of great LA VCs but also 10+ senior VC women from the SF Bay Area will be coming down for it.

So why is this initiative so important for men, women and other gender identities?

1. Mentorship / Modeling Behavior

An important part of leadership is being a role model for those who may come after you to look up and say, “If she can do it then why can’t I?” Female Founder Office Hours gives founders the mentorship and the role models to see that it is in not only possible but also to have a...

If a picture is worth a thousand words then you already know that Chamillionaire is having a great time with his new startup Convoz. He’s here on stage with Snoop Dogg and they had just dialed in Shaq to record a live video for his platform. It was just announced today on TechCrunch.

We’ve known each other for nearly a decade and he’s been a friend, a co-investor in startups and a mentor to many startups with whom I’ve worked. As you can imagine, when you introduce tech professionals or VCs to a grammy-award winning rap artist they start with pre-conceived ideas but of course that “pattern matching” is what leads our industry to underestimate people. Cham is generationally talented and his insights about what make audiences tick has led him to be a valued investor and mentor at companies like Maker Studios and Cruise (acquired for $700 million and $1 billion respectively).

So of course when Cham wanted to build his own startup I was first in line asking to fund him. In creating Convoz, I have watched Cham literally dissect every screen interaction, UX navigation, social integration, etc. He has embodied the typical founder journey you would expect from any dropout kid from Stanford or Harvard. I would put him high on the list of startup founders who have a deep knowledge of the users they serve, what is unique about their app and how to build a product for scale.

Along with his co-founder

Men use similar tropes on why #MeToo may go too far. It’s time to break these down.

It’s time for more men to start saying, “enough is enough,” “I believe her,” and “I will step out of my comfort zone and speak up so that others feel empowered to follow me.”

Men will make mistakes. But mistakes are much better than silence. Mistakes are better than condoning misconduct, harassment, bias or abuse.

I find myself fighting indifference even on some company boards where misconduct has occurred, been identified and has been swept under the rug of being “a gray area.” As a board member, sadly you don’t always have the power alone to act on your own and your motives can be questioned, too. Founder CEOs can have more power than you might imagine.

In any event, I was reflected on Twitter tonight about the disappointing and SHOCKING (to me) stories I read tonight and this about Russell Simmons, Salma Hayeck’s op ed about Harvey Weinstein, potential misconduct by Tavis Smiley that follows Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Louis CK, Shervin Pishevar and so many others that my head is going to explode. The stories about Dustin Hoffman — so hard to read about how he tormented this young woman and made her life miserable.

Every day when I see names “trending on Twitter” I think to myself, “Oy. Did they die or harass?” That’s my starting point. Do you find yourself having the same thought?

I suppose all this has done is shine a light on what so many...

Time Magazine published its “person of the year” edition today and honored “the silence breakers” for speaking up and forcing our society to confront its position towards men in power exploiting their power for sexual gain. Real change is clearly needed.

These brave women who have taken on personal risks and faced doubters to change the culture globally to stop sexual misconduct, harassment & gender bias deserve the recognition x1000 along with the many other women who have spoken up.

As I talked with my wife about it she tells me, “The problem is that every woman has had some bad experience in their lives or careers but it’s risky to speak up for fear of retribution or being labeled ‘a complainer.’” She sent me this very powerful article that talks about how men have viewed the #MeToo movement and I found this instructional.

Men must speak up, too. We must create space for women to have their voices be heard and respected and believed.

I titled this post “We Must Have Zero Tolerance in Venture Capital” but of course I could just say “zero tolerance anywhere” because that’s true. As a VC let me specifically just speak out for our industry.

As VCs we find ourselves in power relationships in nearly every interaction we have, which means we need a much higher standard of accountability for our actions. There are things that are never appropriate, like physically forcing yourself on another human who doesn’t want to be touched or groped. When...

Nearly every successful tech startup I’ve observed over the past 20 years has gone through a similar growth pattern: Innovate, systematize then scale operations.

An alternate outcome that I also unfortunately observe in some cases are companies who had extreme early success with an initial product adoption but failed in key areas that limited the growth and therefore the ultimate financial outcomes. They made one or more of these grievous errors:

  • They didn’t build an experienced or well-rounded management team,
  • They didn’t establish a well-articulated strategy or source of differentiation so that when they had hundreds of employees joined they could all pull in the same direction and for a common purpose
  • They didn’t establish a strong culture or norms that allowed for great decision-making without the founders having to intervene
  • They didn’t devolve authority or decision-making outside of the founders or a tight-knit executive group leading to delays by indecision or lack of authority
  • They failed to invest in internal systems to support growth
  • They didn’t establish enduring processes to allow the broader company to have a roadmap for how to operate.

Understanding how your company will change as you move through these phases is critical if you hope to scale to a large business one day.

Innovate

In the early years of a startup there is a lot of kinetic energy of enthusiastic innovators looking to launch a product that changes how an industry works. There is excitement about the possibilities of real change and an infectious “naive optimism” about how everything is possible. Many of us who have...

We all have a pretty good idea about things that drag down our productivity or suck up time that would be better spent on more fulfilling activities.

Two years ago I made a commitment to stop bringing my mobile phone into my bedroom and with like a 95% compliance rate this made a big improvement. At nighttime I don’t check my email or social feed right before bed, which helps me from having last-minute anxiety before going to sleep. But more concerning for me is that I often found myself checking email or social feeds in bed in the morning and this is a TOTAL waste.

  1. I prefer to have peacefulness in the morning and time to think / chill out / zone out. This is critical to peace of mine, but …
  2. If I DO need to get work done I’m infinitely more productive if I come to my computer with a big screen and keyboard.

So my goal was to either have more time to just think or relax OR admit that I have work to do and do it more productively. I’m happy to say that this has been a huge improvement in my life and productivity and I notice the downside of this behavior when I travel and have my mobile phone in my hotel room. I sink back into old habits and regret the wasted time.

But.

I had a more important breakthrough about 90 days ago.

I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone. This has been game changing. I’m...

Why the Former President of Nickelodeon Joined mitú as CEO. (Hint: 60 million US Latinos driving US growth engine)

I am beyond excited to announce the Herb Scannell has agreed to move from NYC to Los Angeles to take on the role of CEO at mitú, the fast growing Latino digital media company, serving more than 100 million monthly unique viewers.

Herb is a Puerto-Rican American media executive who was previously the President of Nickelodeon. He oversaw the launch of iconic properties including Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob & Rugrats — all multi-billion-dollar global powerhouses. Nickelodeon under Herb was the top-rated network in cable for 10 straight years. He was also Vice Chairman of MTV Networks and oversaw adult brands Spike and TV Land.

He left traditional media at the top of his game to be the founding CEO of Next New Networks, one of the first digital video startups, backed by Spark Capital and bought by YouTube in 2011. After a stint as the President of North America at BBC Worldwide, Herb is returning to his roots in both digital and Latino.

But why?

Latino is the Next Big Break Out

At this year’s recent Emmy awards Stephen Colbert rightly pointed out that there had been a marked increase in the number of successes by creators with diverse backgrounds and then proceeded to name several prominent African-American actors, directors and writers that were present.

The obvious slight he made that went largely unnoticed was the lack of Latino representation and it’s a big freaking market gap...

If you read the headlines you may well think cryptocurrencies are a either a radically new way of paying that is our savior from ossified, corrupt governments or on the other side that they are speculative Ponzi schemes. The reality of course is that cryptocurrencies can be both and can be liberating and corrupting at the same time.

My goal with this post is to lay out a simple framework for anybody unsure whom to listen to orient your own views and develop a healthy skepticism for arguments lacking merit often by friends telling you how much money they’ve made.

I’ll lay out the cases for and against cryptocurrencies:

A. The Simple Case for Cryptocurrencies

Currency is something most of us take for granted in our daily lives and don’t give much thought as to where money came from, how it became accepted and trusted and how it’s evolved over time. It’s pretty tough to have a view on cryptocurrency if you don’t have a history of currency.

Currencies only began in earnest about 2,500 years ago and ever since have been a great enabler of democracy and social mobility, not the other way around. By making it easier to capture value for goods & services that ordinary people provide and by creating a means of storing value today that can be used in the future — currencies have literally changed society and the world.

Currencies enabled the creation of the first modern corporation (around 400 years ago to allow groups of shipping merchants to pool together...

It’s been a tough year globally. Many feel the division in our families and societies. It has been heart-breaking to see progress reversed and social & racial tensions exacerbated unnecessarily.

Much of the focus on the public discourse has been how social media and the polarization of information sources has worsened the problem. We seem to be stuck on the narrative that our angst is tied to the arguments we’re having on Facebook, Twitter or the Thanksgiving dinner table.

I feel the weight of these differences, too. There was a period of time where we were encouraged to open up our horizons and make sure we were listening to the viewpoints of others. I did much reflecting and listening and reading.

I wanted to better understand the African American journey and anxiety better so I read “Between the World and Me” which was important to me even if its conclusions were sometimes hard to read. I watched 13th and cried.

I was touched by the messages of J.D. Vance and his poignant comment that white liberals go so far to try and remove any racial & religious prejudices from their minds & hearts yet still condescend and show prejudice against poor, white, working class populations of what we call “fly over states” or areas like Appalachia. It was hard for me to disagree with this view when I heard it so I read his biography “Hillbilly Elegy” and recommend it highly. The first step of understanding is reading an informed...

Many board meetings are bored meetings. Management teams whisk through slides trying to get through a presentation to share how great things are going and they are eager to get through the meeting so they can get back to their real jobs. This is a shame since the value that the right board could add is immense if you select the right board members and manage them effectively.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about what the role of a board actually is. In short the board is there to represent the interest of all shareholders (big & small) of the company and all other stakeholders (debt, creditors, employees, etc.). The board’s job is to review the company’s financial performance and strategy and help provide counsel to the executive team.

Some boards are highly functional, many are not. Sometimes dysfunctional boards are a result of having investors who don’t really understand their role on the board or have the right skills or experiences to be helpful. Sometimes poorly run boards are a function of the executive team not knowing how to get the most out their boards (and also their investors).

I can’t change who your board members are so let me offer some thoughts on how to make your interactions with your board more productive.

Communicate frequently and proactively

The most effective CEOs that I’ve observed send regular, short, board update emails every few weeks or monthly just to give the board a sense of what is going on....

There’s a lot of mystique about what happens at board meetings and a lot of imagined board-room drama. I read commentary or Twitter or blogs and realize that there are also strongly held convictions that there are these evil VCs who do terrible things to mostly altruistic founders.

The image of boards and of investors vs. founder conflicts has been so at odds with my experiences on dozens of boards over the past 20 years that I thought it was worth sharing what I actually see.

As a starting point the board is intended to have legal and financial responsibilities to a few key constituencies: shareholders, debt holders, creditors, employees, government and major parties with whom the business operates.

In some ways being a board member is like how I’ve heard people describe learning to become a pilot: Many hours of boredom followed by some brief moments of absolute panic and fear. In fact, as one Twitter commenter observed to what do board do, “Often, not much.” That’s true. Executives run the day-to-day so often the board is more involved as a sparring partner at key intervals.

The administrative work we actually do at board meetings?

  • Agreeing an annual budget
  • Setting a 409a valuation used to price stock options
  • Agreeing stock option allocations
  • Reviewing financial performance
  • Talking about the organizational structure and where we need to bolster things
  • Discussing sales & marketing strategies, product launches, technical challenges
  • Talking about law suits (patents, trademarks, employee disputes)
  • And so forth

Between board meetings we do calls to discuss performance or major initiatives. Often we are asked...

What Does it Mean to be American?

The journey to build a nation of immigrants has led to the strongest, most vibrant society in history. Our creativity and innovation have been unmatched precisely BECAUSE we’re a liberal democracy, are tolerant of outsiders and embrace change. If we want to continue to be a global leader we must follow and embrace this path.

Starting back in 2015 and throughout much of 2016 people started commenting that my blog had become a lot more political. I guess I didn’t see it quite that way. My blog has always been a mixture of what was on my mind and a blend of venture, startup life, tech views and current society events that related to my interests: Venture, startup & tech.

So as societal movements had impacts on startups affecting LGBTQ issues, for example, I was public about my support. In fact, I originally spoke out publicly in favor of gay rights when it was somehow still controversial to do so back in 2010 after California had made some bad political choices. I felt it was both a business issue and a human issue and deserved to have support of non-gay leaders. And when the tides turned towards more inclusiveness I cheered it on whether it was on this blog or through Twitter / Facebook / Snapchat.

Being transparent in 2010 felt like more of an anomaly but being transparent in 2017 feels like more of a requirement to me. So as the election of...

Like many people these days, I spent much of my 20’s and early 30’s thinking about work & fun and not too much about “the future.” Like characters from one of my favorite novels “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” life seemed very light.

My first son was born the day before my 35th birthday so the decade that followed was very heavy and consequential. Life mattered for more than my pure enjoyment — I had to be responsible for the futures of these two lovable, little boys. I still worked hard and the balance of my time and energy went into family. My relationships narrowed to a smaller set of people who really mattered to me, my number of frivolous hobbies dwindled to only the most valuable and time became my scarcest commodity. If you’ve lived a decade with young children you know that it’s both unbelievably rewarding and also physically and emotionally exhausting.

Many of my friends and colleagues also find themselves in the “sandwich years” of aging parents where responsibilities increase for your elders at the same time as for your kids and mortality becomes a reality. During this decade we lost a close family member we loved to cancer and realized that life is too short and if we didn’t take advantage of the blessings we had to spend time together we would be shortchanging ourselves and our children.

So for the past 7 years we have ramped up the amount of sibling, cousin, grandparent, extended family time...