What I learned from SnapChat’s Bob Marley face

May 4, 2016

SnapChat took some heat for introducing a feature that would replace someone’s face with Bob Marley’s. Whether it’s a large-scale resurgence of “blackface”, which was the point of much media coverage, is but one shocking thing about this.

The other shocking thing is that we are really only moments away, in tech development time, from being able to completely hide how we look on any video.  This isn’t just airbrushing, where Cindy Crawford’s mole can disappear or Britney Spears can look young and svelte again.

No, this is entirely made-up visuals in everything from home videos and selfies to hollywood movies to VR headsets.  You and your spouse could be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie when you’re using your VR headsets.  I suspect a baby boom would not be far behind.

You can also be someone else when using any video version of Reddit and the like, where cyberbullying and racism is facilitated by everyone being anonymous.  I see no reason for that to change when we move from text to video with these technologies.  Reality will continue to bend, and social norms will lag technology and contribute to, um, “unusual” and even unfortunate behavior.

Presidential primaries are less democratic than American Idol

April 21, 2016

Presidential primaries are not democracy in action. Presidential primaries are opinion polling. They are convoluted beauty pageants for ugly people.

Remember that the Republican and Democratic parties are not the government, they are private institutions (which are actually conglomerations of a bunch of state or local institutions). They can listen to the voters or not.  Their rules can be whatever they want them to be.  In 1920, for example, only convention delegates that could demonstrate the ownership of a car could vote at convention, delivering the nomination to Calvin Coolidge and his coalition of wealthy supporters and Detroit auto workers.  OK, I just made that up, but the rules committees could have approved that, and any other rule they wanted.  “Only candidates name Steph Curry can be on the ballot?  No problem, we can do that.”

On the Democratic side, while delegates are awarded roughly proportionally to the vote, 15% of the total convention votes go to 719 party members as an insurance policy in a close battle.  That’s similar to letting your children walk through a department store by themselves — except for that funny looking kid leash you’ve attached to them.


You the voter are that kid.  The party is the disembodied hand.

The Republican side is far more complex, with each state having different rules, and different number of human votes adding up to delegates (from 810 votes per delegate in Maine to 95,601 votes per delegate in Illinois.  That’s pretty far from one person, one vote).  There’s enough room for unintended consequences that the rules designed to help insiders like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are helping outsiders like Trump.  It’s like Cupid’s Arrow killing its target, or like this:


Squashed by the party’s own rules.

American Idol, despite some controversy, is basically far more democratic.  Sure, they get the occasional ballot stuffing argument or hanging chad like recount.  But it is still a paragon not a pariah of voting rules compared to presidential primaries.  You call the number that corresponds to your candidate, and they record the vote.  If you are super passionate, you can even call more than once and they will record up to 10 votes per voter (that may sound undemocratic, but it is an alternative voting format similar to weighted or ranked choice voting, and some vote scholars think it’s a good idea).  You can’t even write a multi-million dollar check to your favorite finalist.  How novel.

So basically, this would be an upgrade for the American Primary Voter:


Alphabet clamps down on GOOG

March 24, 2016

This may be the first time I get to say “I told you so”.  In August, I predicted that the creation of the holding company structure at Google would lead to the eventual shutdown or sale of various high concept pieces of Google.

It’s begun.

Today, Alphabet announced the free spending days are over.  “The fiscal discipline era has now descended upon everything” says Tony Fadell, whose Nest was purchased for over $3 billion in what the company may now refer to as the “drunken sailor era”.

GOOG is also seeking to sell Boston Dynamics, the maker of spooky humanoid robots and even spookier videos of humans beating up said robots.  It makes me fearful of the coming robot apocalypse.  Although not as fearful as the potential Trumpocalypse, now trending at 2 of 4 horsemen at website Slate.

We should expect more from Alphabet in this vein.  Entrepreneurs seeking to sell their companies to Google for 3,000x revenues have probably seen the window close.  The loss of free Odwalla can’t be far behind.

Logic takes a holiday in politics

March 20, 2016

This is a partial list of things I don’t understand that are used for rationale in our current political dialogue:

  1. “The President should not nominate a Supreme Court Justice in an election year”, but the 34 Senators and 438 Congresspeople that are up for re-election this year keep doing their work?  Shouldn’t Chuck Grassley wait until the people have a voice in his reelection before he takes a stand this year?  Do we elect Presidents for 3 years, Senators for 5, and Congresspeople for 1 year?
  2. Constitutional originalism — does that mean that the “right to bear arms” is limited to single shot, muzzle loading muskets?  Are black people only counted as 3/5ths of a human?
  3. Protesters are violating our First Amendment rights to free speech!”  I am baffled that no one points out that the First Amendment only prevents Congress, not individuals or corporations, from limiting speech.  It is uninvolved in various people trying to yell over each other at a campaign rally.  You can even punch protestors, if you want, but you’ve now violated a different law.
  4. Back to the Supreme Court nominating process.   The Constitution doesn’t say the Senate has to vote on nominees, simply that they should “Advise and Consent“.  Does that mean that doing nothing is an implicit consent, similar to a pocket veto being an implicit veto?  Or does it mean that the Senate will devolve into not holding hearings on any vacancies until the President and the Senate are part of the same party?


Terrorism, war, or domestic guns the problem?

January 6, 2016

I grew up in a gun-toting part of the US. I went out shooting with my dad when I was a kid. My classmates would go out deer hunting before school during deer season. I get it. It’s part of the fabric of big swaths of US Society. It’s like those bucolic scenes of fly fishing on a lazy river, with trees in the background and butterflies fluttering, but with loud bangs. I am of this tribe.

But i’m also a big believer in looking at data, or as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but your not entitled to your own facts.”

So, some facts:

1) Gun homicide in the US kills more Americans in one year than terrorism has killed in the last 60 years.  And it’s not even close.

gun deaths

2) In the US, firearms have killed more people just since 1968 than were killed in all US wars since the Revolutionary War.  World War II had fewer US casualties than US gun violence since 1999. (More data at the link and description of methodology)

  • All US War Casualties = 1,396,733.
  • Firearm deaths in US since 1968 = 1,516,833
  • WWII US casualties 405,399.
  • Firearm deaths in US 1999-2015 = 519,338

I’m not sure why there isn’t more indignation.  Perhaps it’s because there are safe neighborhoods in the US.  Maybe it doesn’t affect the middle class voter enough, either in terms of a feeling of security or in the pocketbook.  Or the news cycle doesn’t address these issues.  Maybe we’re just numb.

On a per capita basis, we should be putting up memorials at a feverish pace:

  • For every WWII memorial, there would be a gun violence memorial every 15 years.
  • For every Vietnam memorial, there should be a gun violence memorial for deaths in the last 2 1/2 years.  There would be 20 gun violence memorials per Vietnam memorial just since the end of the Vietnam war.

Soldiers die valiantly defending their homeland and way of life.  Gun violence victims die in their living rooms, at work, walking their newborns in strollers, basically living the way of life so protected by soldiers.




Ask a VC

September 14, 2015

Here’s a rough transcript of a call in show I did.  Not just rough, but also long.  If you are a Twitter addict, just read the first 140 characters of each paragraph….


VC Fundraising: Real Advice From A Real VC

If you could have a VC’s undivided attention for fifteen minutes, what would you ask? Our Ask The VC webinar was an open forum with Sean Foote, Founder of Co=Creation=Capital. If you missed it, in addition to reading this rundown of the highlights, you can view the presentation deck on SlideShare.

Understanding what VCs are looking for is top of mind for many founders seeking funding. The more you know about their investing mindset, the greater your chances of insuring you’re a match.

How VCs Invest

The central tension between buyers (VCs) and sellers (founders) is this: buyers believe their company’s value exceeds its price. Sellers meanwhile believe the converse.

VCs are rational. They need to generate annual 30% gross returns just to be an average fund. That’s 5x in 5 years. The economics of investing: out of 10 portfolio companies, half will go bankrupt; four will break even. VCs get it wrong a lot. That means VCs need always try for winners that can return 46x — just to be average. With the stakes so high, they look for extraordinarily high growth companies that will make them the most money for the least amount of risk. They also want to invest in “intriguing companies” that have positive momentum, and make for good cocktail party chat. But their bottom-line goal is to make money for their current fund so they can raise another one.

Because of those parameters, VCs don’t want to invest in revolutionary things. They want to invest in companies that generate revolutionary returns. So your job in a pitch is to convince them that you are innovative and doing great things, but that you are not risky. When you’re making your pitch, do whatever’s necessary to reduce your perception of risk. That includes staying away from words like: novel and revolutionary. It also means knowing what your greatest risks are and finding ways to reduce them. This is key to getting funded.

2 thing you don’t know about venture capitalists

VCs are not risk capital. Opportunities that deliver good returns for a low investment is the single most important factor in getting them to invest.

Nothing gets VCs to fund a term sheet faster than knowing that there’s interest from other investors that might shut them out of a deal. Sound analogous to other situations in life?

On seed funding:

It’s a sellers’ (entrepreneur’s) market. There were 20,000+ angel investments in 2014. Seed money is raised on a concept and based on an investor believing in you. Once you get past this “concept play” stage, your revenue and business model should be vetted and investors shift to measuring you on the strength of your execution. You need to be able demonstrate what you will accomplish with investor’s money. This is an important step in the mindset of entrepreneurs.

While Sean and Co=Creation “love single founder teams” and engineering oriented founders,
once you get to the stage where you’re ready to raise VC capital, it’s great to have “at least one person on top of tech and one on top of business” operations.

On meeting startup investors:

VC see anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 companies a year — and invest in 2-3 of them. In order to break through the noise, find a way to get introduced. LinkedIn is one source. For seed investors, try AngelList and incubators.

And do your due diligence. The relationship between VCs and their portfolio companies is similar to marriage, with at least one big difference: the lifespan of an average VC deal is nine to ten years. That’s versus seven years for the average U.S. marriage.

On pitching:

Think of the vetting process during your pitch as similar to being out on a first date. VCs will be scrutinizing your composure and assessing how well you think on your feet. Expect some give and take: for Sean, “intentional interruption is a good test to see how people react.”

Be personable.

Be yourself.

Don’t jump the gun on valuation — “We’ll let the market set the price” is a good answer to give if you’re asked.

Don’t expect feedback at the end of the meeting, but do ask for it.

Don’t join the “race to the bottom” by skipping financials in your pitch deck. Particularly after Seed stage

As we’ve covered in earlier posts, creating a financial model with at least three years of financial projections shows that you’ve thought through your financials and understand your business model. For Sean, five years is the right time horizon. Models that show only one year of projections just don’t fly. That doesn’t mean that investors will believe your projections; “we know it’s not a real number” but your longer-term forecasts (3-5 years out) allow you to “sell some sizzle.” Just make sure your near and intermediate term ones (years 1-2) also have “some steak.” The whole process says you’ve thought about the business model.

Reading the (VC) tea leaves

Anything besides a signed (and ultimately funded) term sheet is a “no.” That’s not to say you should expect to clinch a deal on the basis of one meeting. But at some point, if you find yourself getting requests for more information or being told “let us know when you find a lead investor,” the answer is “no.” On the other hand, if the VCs you’re meeting with are discussing valuation, that is a good signal.

Finally, manage the relationship. Follow up and make sure you stay on investors’ radar. Also keep in mind that a first pitch meeting is a lot like being on an interview or a first date. Don’t burn your bridges. Even a “no” from the person you’re sitting in front of might lead to introductions to other potential investors who are a better fit. Or even a “yes” eventually. Sean’s fund invested in Pandora’s Series A after saying “no” 3 times.

Look at Me! Wait, Don’t Look at Me!

August 24, 2015

I was embarrassed by the outpouring of support for my “impossible” seven day bicycle stage race through the Pyrenees. I’m back, I did finish, and I wasn’t last. I’m declaring victory over my old illness.

The embarrassment comes because I didn’t intend to spotlight me, particularly in this current social world where everyone is their own reality TV star. Exercise-based challenges are fun, but they have far less meaning than the really hard struggles that many of us go through or may even avoid. That’s why people raise money with their exercise — to give it more than simply selfish meaning.

So, I hope we all engage in the process of breaking down our own barriers, and thus help make the world a better place.


Now, having said that, you may still be curious about how this Haute Route thing went. They do great videos on their Youtube channel.  Just click through.  Super inspirational and artistic.

And here is the first thing I wrote on the plane on the way back.  Not so much a race report as what was going through my mind on the first day I didn’t wake up and get on the bike.

As I reread it now, it seems so self-indulgent, so read ahead at your own risk.


I remember the pain.  More than I can endure.  Surely.  Pain that makes me want to stop, that whispers that you can make it stop.  And then keeping on.  I remember the world narrowing down to me, the pain, and the few feet of road ahead of me.  And then the next few feet.  And the next few feet.  With groans leaving me against my will.

I remember finishing.  The sweet release. Joy of accomplishing what seemed impossible.  And then the immediate realization that it’s not done.  Now, immediately, my thoughts go to what comes between now and tomorrow.  Preparation, food, water, rest.   Laying out my clothes for tomorrow, my food.   Unpacking and repacking my kit.  Giving a personal pep talk. A few delightful retellings of joy and sorrow and cringing anticipation for tomorrow.   New found friends connected by a bond of experience and hurt.   A tiny, safer echo of war veterans swapping tales.

Waking up is the hardest part.   Surely this can’t happen again. Surely my body can’t feel this badly and still be asked to bicycle up two Mount Everests of altitude this week.   But that’s what we ask.   Put on clothes, leave the hotel forever, and head to a cold starting line.  More logistics, and far too soon I’m straddling my bike, listening to the countdown of minutes.   I place my hands on the hoods, and there’s a physical reminder.  This is the position of past days.  And the position of today.   The pain position.  I realize I’m trapped in a cycle.  I chose it.   And then with the start, so many things fall away.   No fear, no logistics, just the blessed simplicity of a hard task ahead, and the gift of the tools in my possession to do it.   As the pedals turn, I’m suddenly, fundamentally, happy.

Google reorganization is the beginning of the Google breakup

August 11, 2015

Google announced yesterday a new corporate structure, which allows for more transparency into the parts of the business that aren’t Google search. That includes self-driving cars, a pill that attempts to cure cancer, google glass. Basically, all the things that Google does that lose money. And let’s be clear, basically everything loses money except for the Adwords mothership. The mothership, though, makes more than $1B in spare cash every month.

I’m terrible with predictions, but here is my prediction. This is the beginning of the breakup of Google. First comes transparency, and then there will be a clear push to get rid of all those bits that are fun and edgy but are nothing but cost centers.

There, I said it. It’s published. Put this one right next to my iphone flop prediction.

Do something you think impossible

August 10, 2015

I’m about to do something I think is impossible, or at least improbable, and I think you should, too.

The backstory: While I was recovering from nasty Bangladeshi intestinal parasites, and also recovering from being hit by a car, I was riding my indoor bike trainer. I could barely bend my leg, I couldn’t put weight on my broken arm, but I wanted to ride.

On TV, my recorder had recorded various inspirational bicycling shows. One of them was the Haute Route (www.hauteroute.org). 7 days of Tour de France hill stages, 80-100 miles a day, 10,000 feet of climbing every day. I said to myself “If only I can get healthy, someday I’ll do that, and that will be the day I declare I’m cured.”

Now if you don’t bike ride, let me put this in perspective. The hardest races or rides I ever do, maybe once a year, are just one day of these 7 days. I looked at this Haute Route thing as nearly impossible, exactly as I did the Ironman years ago.

One shouldn’t attempt the impossible without preparation, so I’ve been training up for this. My wife says she’s a “bicycling widow” as I spend 6 hours a day on our anniversary weekend trip riding up hills and down hills, then turn around and do it again. She deserves credit for her patience and support.

Now, I’m doing it. I’m heading out on Wednesday to France to do this ride, which starts Saturday.

I’m scared, and looking at the speeds of my training, compared to last year’s participants, I most likely will be the absolute slowest rider. It turns out this isn’t a tour, it’s a race! I believe they do automatic Facebook updates, so when you see me in last place, please help my ego to remember I’m not racing the front riders, I’m racing failure. I’m racing illness.

I don’t know what scares you, or what you think is impossible. It might be a physical challenge like mine. It might be a struggle with a spouse, or family. It could be addiction to substances or Facebook. It could be something you’ve been meaning to do or to fix but cannot make yourself do it. I highly encourage the effort, because I know one thing:

Once you’ve done the impossible, you can do anything.

The VC guide to bubbles, unicorns and viral cats

August 5, 2015

Yes, in public, I did say “entrepreneurs should do everything they can not to have to raise money from people like me.  But if you need money, and you are offered it, take it!  Nothing prevents bankruptcy better than money.”

Here’s the link to the article covering my speech at the London Business School:  http://www.londonentrepreneurshipreview.com/article/vc-guide-tech-bubbles-unicorns-and-viral-cats