to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That’s a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close? None. Not one. He has, however, categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefits the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital. (That’s the loophole that lets Mitt Romney pay only 14 percent of his income in taxes, a lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families.)
I Should Write More Often
I should write more often. I like doing it. It helps me crystalize my thoughts both about the venture and startup industry and the subject matter that permeates each work day. When I first started at RRE one of the insights I had (now pretty obvious) was that effective communication with a readership was actually a critically important bits of connective tissue that have been developed in connection with the opening up of the venture capital industry. Long before I invested for a living I was reading David Hornik’s blog and Bill Gurley’s, eventually I added Fred’s and Brad’s. When I was an entrepreneur and later while I was in business school these guys taught me the venture industry even though I’d never met most of them.
Yet as important as the conveyance of information is (not to assert that I have a ton of information that can’t be easily accessed through other sources, including the individuals listed above), I think there’s an even more important reason to keep writing and letting people know what one is thinking. Ours has become a rapid-paced and ultra-competitive business. It wasn’t always so. In some prior eras the basic modality of startup finance involved lengthy courtship periods between startups and investors and often by the time a financing is consummated there’d be a strong relationship in place. In today’s world of “looks neat, here’s a check”, a method that is widely lauded in some corners of the ecosystem, this simply isn’t happening.
Writing and sharing thoughts is more than just information – it’s a durable and long-standing expression of values that can be quickly accessed and assessed. If I meet a company and the process is moving swiftly, it’s of enormous help if both the founder(s) and I maintain a creative, substantive and active written presence on the web. Being able to see how someone thinks about events, trends, new products and ideas – all of that enables a richer and more nuanced view than what you can get in a few pitch-oriented meetings. If a founder is pitching me I know I’m getting very particular facet of that person. Similarly if a financing is competitive the founder knows he’s getting a facet of me. There are a lot of reasons for founders and investors to choose one another – I know that shared values and vision and core personality grain are all important reasons why I choose to back the founders I work with and why they chose me.
Over the past 30 days I’ve watched my wife go through a 30-day “challenge” of writing something public every day (here). Now – she’s a much better writer than I am, but it has inspired me to recommit to sharing such thoughts as I have with those who may choose to read them and hopefully share their thoughts back. There’s so much amazing stuff going on right now. The whole ecosystem (startups, the internet, NYC, down to my little family of three) is in the crucible. There is no shortage of things for us to talk about.
Anyone who wants to know what the Occupy Wall Street protests are all about need only look at the way Bank of America does business. It comes down to this: These guys are some of the very biggest assholes on Earth. They lie, cheat and steal as reflexively as addicts, they laugh at people who are suffering and don’t have money, they pay themselves huge salaries with money stolen from old people and taxpayers – and on top of it all, they completely suck at banking. And yet the state won’t let them go out of business, no matter how much they deserve it, and it won’t slap them in jail, no matter what crimes they commit. That makes them not bankers or capitalists, but a class of person that was never supposed to exist in America: royalty.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed to ensure America’s freedom to travel. Instead, they have made air travel the most difficult means of mass transit in the United States, at the same time failing to make air travel any more secure.
The iPad is the First Screen
Yesterday a couple of my colleagues and I met with a senior executive at one of the world’s biggest media companies to talk about what we’re seeing in the world and a few of our companies. As part of the general level setting she asked how we were seeing the development of the “second screen” as a media consumption device. And after pausing for a beat to make sure the answer wasn’t going to be obnoxious, I responded that of course we think it’s a hugely important media consumption device – that television has been important for decades and will continue to be important.
The release of the new iPad yesterday is a good opportunity to pause and pull back and reconsider how media is making its way into the living room (and into other rooms of the house). If you polled the average household in 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982 or 1992 what you’d have found is essentially the same thing – people got their media on a box with a CRT in it. The delivery mechanism shifted over time from OTA to cable or a dish, the picture got colorful, but for the most part over a 40 year period things didn’t change much. In 2002 you’d have found a few people with DVR’s and a small handful with HDTVs tuning what they could find over the air in 1080i or 720p. There were researchers and engineers building plasma displays but they weren’t commercialized. In 2002 people were still basically just “watching TV”.
Consider the evolution of television viewing over this past decade. The notion of buying a CRT box, bringing it home, plugging into a set top box and then coming home from work and just flipping around and watching programming that’s being shown at the time is almost unthinkably quaint, and not just to we in the tech community but to mainstream users.
- DVR is ubiquitous
- Most TVs are flat and display HD (many display 1080P)
- VOD is widely deployed
But really, those are the incremental changes, not the big ones. People now watch services like Hulu on their non-television devices and consider that “watching TV”. We download content to our phones and watch when we’re on the move.
And when we sit in front of the big screen 10-15 feet away, we do with another device on our laps. And that’s the thought that went through my head as I was asked about the “second screen”. My media diet today still includes movies and the occasional television show (the new season of Game of Thrones starts in a few weeks…) but it also includes web content, social media destinations and games. And if I’m home and not at my desk, chances are it’s the iPad that delivers the majority of this to me, even if The Daily Show is playing (via DRV of course) on our bigger screen in the living room.
We’re less than two years into this experiment – the first generation iPad was released in April 2010. Much of the content delivery and infrastructure that will enable the transition to first screen-ness isn’t built yet, but this is happening incredibly quickly. The future vision of the big screen isn’t the multi-paneled screen showing nine programs at a time depicted in Back to the Future II, it’s each family member watching the programming they like on a screen they control. And that’s the first screen. The big, linear shared experience is the second screen.
The “Inflected Right”
You know how, like, pretty much everyone, like makes fun of teenage girls for like, always talking like this?
Have you noticed that people in tech do almost the exact same thing, but with a different linguistic crutch? Consider the following made-up exchange:
A: So you know, right, there’s no way that Google can catch us. They just don’t get product, right?
B: Yep! Think about Google Wave, right?
Over the past year or so I’ve noticed an extraordinary amount of “inflected right” popping up in the discussions among entrepreneurs, VC’s and other people in and around tech. People pepper their dialog with the word right, typically at the beginning or end of phrases. I’ve been in meetings where, like “um” with a person who struggles with articulation, it’s astonishingly common once you start listening for it. Pay attention during your next two or three conversations with people in tech who you don’t really know – I’ll bet at least one of them uses this crutch a few times and probably much more than that.
What’s the purpose of this? It’s essentially an “um” for tech. Valley girls (do they still have those?) started saying “like” instead of “um” – I have no idea why, really. But I think in tech the inflected right is a way to use the pauses inside of sentences as a way to sound self-confident (arrogant if you prefer), as if one is semi-implicitly coopting the listener into one’s point of view.
“Those guys are killing it, right?” – I assert that a company is doing well, and I assume that you agree with me and self-confirm with my inflected right. Now it is kind of difficult for you to disagree without it being awkward.
It’s clearly a relatively trivial quibble, but I think it actually foreshadows some of what’s happening in our ecosystem. Words matter and speech matters, and the inflected right is subtle evidence of groupthink and conclusory thinking. Also, it’s annoying.
Lastly, I know that I sometimes do it. So if you catch me using the inflected right, bust my chops for it. Because it’s annoying when I do it too.
How to Make an Introduction
It wouldn’t have occurred to me to write about how to make introductions, but I’m surprised at how many people get it wrong. The most common error is making a connection between two people when at least one of them doesn’t actually want to be connected.
VC’s tend to receive a lot of introductions and we are often asked to make introductions on behalf of portfolio CEO’s, people looking for jobs or just folks trying to expand their networks. We spend much of our time seeing new companies and meeting people, so our willingness and ability to make these connections is an important part of the value we are able to deliver. And on the flip side, being someone to whom inbound introductions flow is part of our competitive positioning relative to others in our business.
When I’m asked to make an introduction to someone I usually ask one threshold question – am I sure this introduction is welcome and will it deliver value to the person I’m being asked to hit up. In the majority of cases I actually don’t know in advance.
This is why the key best practice in making introductions is to ask the person on the other end whether the introduction is welcome and of interest or not.
If your friend is starting a company and asks for an intro to RRE, the best practice is to ping me or one of my colleagues and ask if it’s ok to make the introduction. This isn’t because we’re so important – it’s because if you’re someone we respect and you introduce us to a company and cc the founder, we’re going to take the meeting largely to avoid being rude to you and to your friend even if we aren’t that interested. If the company is outside of our interest areas, tangentially competitive with an existing investment or obviously not a fit for other reasons, you’ll have wasted not just our time but your friend the entrepreneur’s time as well.
VC’s should follow this rule too. I know that one of the frustrations that sometimes accompanies having VC board members is the random (and often frequent) introductions that come in over the transom. The VC is trying to be helpful by connecting a company to a high level person in a big company, a strong-looking candidate seeking a new gig or a high-placed investment banker. But VC’s should heed this warning – if you aren’t sure your portfolio CEO wants to talk to someone, ask them first, otherwise you’re wasting their time. In an era of text messages, twitter DM’s or good old-fashioned IM, pinging them to check first is a much lighter touch than an email intro that obligates them to reply.
There are exceptions to this rule of course. If I know a company is actively recruiting people for a role, it’s not necessary to take this intermediate step. And there are people who I trust enough that if something clears their filter I’ll take the introduction no questions asked. But that understanding is pretty explicit.
Bottom line – for both founders and investors our most precious resource is our time. If you want to do someone a favor by connecting them with someone who has asked for an introduction, do both parties the courtesy of taking the time to ensure that it’s a welcome introduction.
The Economists’ statement opposing the Bush tax cuts was a statement signed by roughly 450 economists, including ten of the twenty-four American Nobel Prize laureates alive at the time, in February 2003 who urged the U.S. President George W. Bush not to enact the 2003 tax cuts; seeking and sought to gather public support for the position. The statement was printed as a full-page ad in The New York Times and released to the public through the Economic Policy Institute. According to the statement, the 450 plus economists who signed the statement believe that the 2003 Bush tax cuts will increase inequality and the budget deficit, decreasing the ability of the U.S. government to fund essential services, while failing to produce economic growth.
In rebuttal, 250 plus economists who supported the tax plan wrote that the new plan would “create more employment, economic growth, and opportunities for all Americans.”
Well, I guess we know who won that bet.
Add this to the long list of data points that suggests that perhaps our national leadership should listen to people who, you know, know stuff.
Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner. After inventing, and then perfecting, the modern politics of personal destruction, Gingrich has decided now to bank on the dark fears of the worst element of the Republican base to seize the nomination — using skills refined over four decades.