Do the work, skip the party

drunken partyAs the money pool increases, the attention pool decreases

We talk a lot about bubbles in tech because, like real estate executives, we had our world turned upside down by one.

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Bubbles have popped five times in my life.

The 1987 crash and subsequent pullback in consumer spending largely caused my dad to lose his bar when I was 17. In 1990 the recession, driven by the Iraq war, terrorized everyone in college for years. There were literally no jobs for people with five to ten years of experience. With 0 years under your belt your options were to stay in school or be a waiter — if you were lucky.

Those two crashes were modest when compared to the big three.

First, the dotcom crash killed my magazine, Silicon Alley Reporter, and then 9/11 killed thousands of my fellow New Yorkers. As we rebuilt we got the biggest sucker punch ever from the “financial crisis” of 2007, which I refer to as “a-hole bankers fuck everyone in order to get bigger houses in the Hamptons” crisis.

Given these blow-ups, everyone is waiting for the stock market to crash today. Can’t blame ‘em, the movie seems to play out like clockwork. In fact, I keep asking my insiders to give me the top three reasons why things might blow up.

Best they can come up with right now:

  1. The crazy bear (Putin) does some crazy shit.
  2. China’s incomprensible economy suddenly becomes understandable — and it ain’t pretty!
  3. The maniac generals in Pakistan, who thought it wise to house Osama Bin Laden in their West Point, decide to jump the fence… with their nukes!

All of this is so outside of any of our control it’s not worth worrying about. Play a little defense is all we can do, so I’m refusing to pay $8-12m for brand-new startups and moving the majority of my personal net worth out of public stocks (especially in emerging markets).

Continue reading Do the work, skip the party

Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk & investor Chris Sacca on This Week in Startups

Two legends, skateboarder Tony Hawk & investor Chris Sacca, on their long-time friendship, taking huge risks, hustling to success, giving back, and defining legacy

Today’s episode features two superstars in their respective fields. Tony Hawk is the masterful professional skateboarder who catapulted his sport into the national spotlight, and Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital is a legendary angel investor (Twitter, Uber, Instagram, Kickstarter). Tony and Chris have been long-time friends and both talk in-depth with Jason at the LAUNCH Festival 2015. It’s an awesome, dynamic conversation about their friendship, how each took massive risks to reach the top of their profession (eating ramen for years… borrowing money from assistants…), how Tony’s video game was a tipping point for skateboarding and why he he shows up unannounced to random parks to skate with kids, the amount of hustle it takes to be great, how moving outside of Silicon Valley actually helped Chris’s business, how Tony and Chris think about their legacies, what they are each looking forward to in the future, and how Tony uses Twitter for a worldwide treasure hunt, and how Chris is looking forward to another crash in tech so the pretenders clear out. Join us!

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The Startup Martian: Can You Get There on What You Got?


I’ve been listening to a fabulous audiobook called “The Martian,” in which an astronaut is left behind on Mars with a limited amount of food. It’s riveting. *

The stranded botanist/engineer has to “make it work with what he’s got.”

This of course got me thinking, what if your startup was left behind? What if the eight months of runway you have was all you were going to have — would you survive?

[ * You can get “The Martian” free at Audible used to sponsor my podcast and they seem to have left this free audiobook promotion up. ]

In boom times most founders don’t think like this because, to continue the analogy, there is a never ending stream of resupply ships in our startup galaxy. Very few people are looking at “months until I run out” — let alone “days until out.”

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Most Founders Don’t Know When They Run Out

I’ve made it a mission of force that the founders in which I invest know — off the top of their heads — how many months of runway they have. It’s so important that I ask them to make it the first line of their monthly investor updates (I wrote a blog post on why investor updates are so important).

“How many months of runway do you have?” I asked one awesome founder.

“I’m not sure …” he replied.

“How much are you spending and making each month?” I asked.

“Umm … well, we don’t charge for our product yet since we’re going for growth, so I know one number perfectly: zero revenue” he replied.

“OK, so your spend is your burn — what are you spending?” I asked.

“Well, I think we spent like $60k or $80k last month … but we had the legal issue, so maybe $100k? But wait, we had to put down $50k for our office rental …” he blabbered.

“Stop.” I paused, before continuing, “It’s your job to know. Go back to your team, pull up every month’s P&L and review it with everyone. Every week get your balance from your bank accounts sent to you and know what you got!”

He nodded. He got it together and now he knows.

Continue reading The Startup Martian: Can You Get There on What You Got?

News Roundtable with Liz Gannes (Re/code) & Matt Mazzeo (Lowercase Capital) on This Week in Startups

News Roundtable! Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins: notes & lessons from the courtroom, gender bias in SV & VC culture, viva la mobile video live-streaming!, Jay Z’s Tidal polarizes

It’s the News Roundtable! Today Jason hosts Liz Gannes, Senior Editor of Re/code, and Matt Mazzeo, VC at Lowercase Capital. Liz covered the trial of Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins and shares her courtroom insights and analysis about the case and its ramifications. The trio then dives deep into a discussion of gender discrimination and unconscious bias in Silicon Valley and VC culture, and emerge with key takeaways and thoughts on facilitating dialogue and forward progress. And it’s off to the races with the latest in mobile live video and all the ways Periscope & Meerkat are creating content, forging new communities, and changing the social game … forever? (At the very least, you should follow @mazzeo to catch his daily Morning Coffee streaming sessions!) Stay to the end to see Jason wager a bet Matt over the upcoming Presidential election (will this be a Nixon/Kennedy moment?), a lively debate over Jay Z’s new music service Tidal, and further reflections and reactions from Liz on the jury’s verdict at the Pao trial.

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Periscope CEO & Cofounder Kayvon Beykpour on This Week in Startups

Periscope’s CEO/Cofounder Kayvon Beykpour on selling to Twitter, going supernova, and leading the future of live video streaming

Live-video streaming is shaking the tech world and today Jason talks to major player Kayvon Beykpour, CEO & Cofounder of the recently Twitter-acquired Periscope. Jason periscopes this rollicking conversation (see those hearts fly!), as Kayvon (@kayvz) shares his views on the perceived dogfight with Meerkat, why Periscope sold to Twitter before launching, his current & future product strategy, and why the time is now for live-video streaming. They also dive into Periscope’s lessons from early adopters, Kayvon’s inspiration for the product idea, where exactly monetization sits on his radar, how Kayvon’s Iranian-born parents sparked his entrepreneurial spirit, and much more. Tune in!

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Top accelerator CEOs Clara Brenner (Tumml), Brady Forrest (Highway1) & Halle Tecco (RockHealth) on This Week in Startups

Tumml CEO Clara Brenner, Highway1 CEO Brady Forrest & RockHealth CEO Halle Tecco share mission, strategy, diversity & what they look for in founders

Tumml, Highway1, and RockHealth are three of the leading startup accelerators/incubators in the country, each focusing on different verticals: urban problems, hardware, and healthcare, respectively. At LAUNCH Festival 2015 Tumml CEO Clara Brenner, Highway1 CEO Brady Forrest, and RockHealth CEO Halle Tecco all joined Jason for a fascinating panel discussion on their mission, strategy, industry trends, and the funding landscape. Among the many topics discussed: what it takes to be accepted into their accelerators, diversity in tech, is incubator-hopping good or bad?, the dangers of attending a predatory accelerator, why RockHealth is actually a seed fund, whether companies really need prototypes, having domain expertise versus fresh eyes, thoughts on co-investing with large venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz — and much more.

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What it’s Like to Work for Me (in 2015)

I’m hiring right now because things are going really well.

Instead of just throwing out a bunch of job descriptions I thought I would write a blog post to let folks who come work for me understand what they should expect from the experience.

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Now, a lot of people ask my former employees, many of whom are life-long friends, “What’s it like to work for Jason?”

The answer really depends on when you worked for me. In the first act of my career I was an adrenalin-driven founder, who demanded massive effort from everyone — including myself. We got a lot accomplished, but frankly, I burned people out because I was unreasonable, impatient, and brutal to non-performers.

When I was in my 20s I would have no problem telling someone who worked for me if I thought their idea was “stupid,” their effort “pathetic” or work product “terrible.” People who were tough thrived and the culture was intense.

However, I probably lost good people and there were many uncomfortable, and unnecessary, moments.

Such is the life of a young founder with no experience and who grew up working in a bar in Brooklyn. I don’t fault myself for it and I don’t have a lot of regret.

However, I’ve worked to evolve my sometimes brutal, samurai approach. In fact, these days I think a lot about my legacy, the enjoyment of working on my teams, and how many all-stars I can develop.

Continue reading What it’s Like to Work for Me (in 2015)

The Facebook Serpent and the Content Farmer (or how Google & Facebook can rebuild our trust)

“Farmer! Farmer! You are so wise and you work so hard on your content … we have so little, but we can offer you one billion members!” said the snake.

“But snake, I’ve spoken to the App developers and they told me that once they engaged you, you bit them something awful …” replied the farmer.

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“Oh, yes … we made a bit of a mistake there. They were too spammy and they got too much traffic, so we needed to throttle them down, and paying for installs was the only way we could manage it — that won’t happen here!” replied the snake.

“But snake, I’ve spoken to the brands and celebrities who spent millions building their fan pages with Likes. They say it was great for years, until you bit them with your venom,” replied the content farmer.

“Ohhh … yeeessssssss, that was unfortunate. You must believe me, we are not going to do that again! We learned our lesson and have taken the feedback to heart. This time it will be different,” hissed the snake.

“And you say you have billions of members? You’ll send them to us?” queried the content farmer.

“Yessssss …. yessss ….. and we’ll even split the money and send people back to your sssssssite!” said the snake.

“OK, I’ll try it … but I’m watching you, snake!” admonished the content farmer.

And with that, the farmer picked up the snake and put him in his pocket. He walked back to the farmhouse and said to his mother, “mother, mother, our hungry days are over … potato soup and stale bread no more!”

“That sounds too good to be true,” said mother, concerned.

Continue reading The Facebook Serpent and the Content Farmer (or how Google & Facebook can rebuild our trust)

Eric Migicovsky, Founder & CEO of Pebble, on This Week in Startups

Pebble smashes Kickstarter for the 2nd time as Founder & CEO Eric Migicovsky goes back to fans and comes up $20m

The Pebble watch made crowdfunding history in 2012 when it raised $10m from 69,000 backers on Kickstarter — and now they’ve smashed the record again, with $20m+ from 77,000 backers for their 3.0 Pebble Time. On the last day of his historic campaign, Pebble Founder & CEO Eric Migicovsky sits down with Jason to talk about his inspiration for creating the watch, why he went back to Kickstarter, Pebble’s amazing fan base, and his vision for its future (alongside the mighty Apple). It’s a fascinating discussion covering the signature developments in the new watch (hello, color!), lessons learned over each iteration of the watch, how app developers can use and optimize the platform and the massive opportunities in the Pebble Timeline API, what about Apple?!, including what Eric thinks of the Apple watch and why he hasn’t changed his strategy in its specter, the two metrics Eric cares most about, the company’s sustainability, profitability, future, community, and much more.

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The future of restaurants is no restaurant (or why we invested $275,000 in BENTO)

Here in San Francisco the future has arrived and it’s really awesome. You can get whatever you want almost instantly at a very reasonable cost. It’s called the on-demand economy, and it’s been driven by the phenomenal success of Uber (in which I was lucky enough to be one of the first angel investors).

The “Uber of…” is a common theme today and I think perhaps the next biggest entry into the space will be food and I’ve placed a bet on one of them: BENTO.

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Here’s how it works:

  1. You open an App and you pick your main course and four sides.
  2. In under 15 minutes someone is outside your house with a thin, rectangular box — the slickest packaging you’ve ever seen for delivery food.
  3. You meet the driver outside and get your food.

You just paid $12 per person for a generous dinner that took under two minutes to order, 15 minutes to get to your house, and you will probably have some leftovers for tomorrow.

How is this possible, you ask? Well, it’s not rocket science:

  1. A central kitchen makes “pods” of food and packs them into hot and cold bags.
  2. Those hot and cold bags plug into the cigarette lighter in the car so the food stays warm or cold.
  3. The driver assembles your BENTO box outside your house.
  4. Because you come and get your food at the curb there only needs to be one person in the car, they don’t have to park or risk a ticket. So, a quick walk to the curb combined with an iPhone App makes this business model actually work! If you had two drivers or had to park I’m guessing the price would be 30-50% more. In other words, you would have to pay $10 extra to have it brought to your door.
  5. There are a lot of types of Asian food that travel well and are delicious (soba, veggies, curry, etc.) and BENTO focuses on those.
  6. They obviously stay away from things that don’t travel well (tempura, fried dumplings — which get soggy).
  7. They don’t have the overhead of a storefront.

Continue reading The future of restaurants is no restaurant (or why we invested $275,000 in BENTO)

Mansplaining the Ellen Pao trial & fixing the gender issue in venture capital

In today’s edition of “mansplaining,” I’m going to talk about two topics I’ve been told never to discuss as a male angel investor: Ellen Pao & the lack of female venture capitalists.

In fact, I’m fairly certain that no angels or VCs are blogging about the Ellen Pao case — or tweeting about it. That’s the state of our industry and it’s sad.

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How strange is it that an issue as important as equality is not being talked about?

I think we need to talk about it, so in this piece I’ll address three things in the hope we can start a dialogue as the Pao case comes to a conclusion.

  1. The private conversations around the Ellen Pao case
  2. Why venture capital is a boys club
  3. The quickest way to solve diversity in venture capital
  1. Ellen Pao v. KPCB

For those of you who don’t read the news, Ellen Pao is currently suing one of the most storied venture capital firms in the world, Kleiner Perkins. The trial is heading into closing arguments, and almost everyone in Silicon Valley isn’t talking about it publicly.

Behind closed doors, the majority opinion from people in the know (male and female) goes something like this (note: this is not my take, this is what the majority of people are saying):

  1. KPCB hired a sexual predator who harassed women
  2. KPCB fired the bastard (and he’s on the lam, so he doesn’t have to testify!)
  3. KPCB has the largest percentage of female partners of any firm, and has actually worked hard on that issue (and to this day has a bunch of talented women at the firm)
  4. Ellen Pao is very hardworking, smart, and a little political

Folks are not really debating A through D above. It’s kind of a given, from the people I talk to.

Now, these folks in the know I’ve talked to are debating the following issues (again, note, this is not my take, necessarily):

  1. Was Ellen Pao actually harassed or denied advancement because of her gender — or was she just not a great partner/VC?
  2. Should Ellen’s experience be a referendum on the male-dominated VC industry? (Pao has said she is doing this to change the culture at KPCB.)
  3. What impact, if any, does Pao’s consensual affair with this man, before the (assumed) harassment started, have?
  4. Pao’s husband has a history of suing for discrimination, and some believe he’s putting her up to this in some Svengali kind of way. Does this matter? (Courts have said no.)
  5. Is this case going to cause VCs to hire fewer women because KPCB worked hard to include more women and it has blown up in their face?

Now, if you’re wondering what my position on all this is, here it is: I don’t know enough to make a judgement!

It’s super complicated, and that’s why there is a jury putting 100s of hours of their lives into sorting this mess out.

What is undeniable, however, is that venture capital is absurdly male-dominated and changing very, very slowly.

That sucks and needs to change.

Continue reading Mansplaining the Ellen Pao trial & fixing the gender issue in venture capital

Should you pick YCombinator or the LAUNCH Incubator — the shocking answer!


Someone on Quora asked, “What is Jason Calacanis’ Launch Incubator like and should I apply to that or YCombinator?

The easy answer to that question is, you should certainly apply to both because the chances of getting accepted to either program is low (like really, really, really low).

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Your Chances Are Low

For background, we had 150 folks apply to the 1st Incubator class and we wanted to accept 20 of them. We settled on seven. It was a 5% chance of getting into the first class vs. really, really tough competitors.

However, three of the startups accepted I had a previous relationship with. In truth, we only accepted four out of 150 people who came through the front door — less than 3%!

YCombinator probably has 1-2k applicants each cycle and they have accepted 50-100+ of these. So, 2.5-5% of applicants get accepted, I’m guessing.

Payoff is High, But Don’t Get High on Your Own Supply

Getting into either program will change your life forever. Acceptance ensures, unless you are a complete and utter screw-up, that you will land enough funding to go for at least 12 to 18 months.

Additionally, being anointed a YCombinator company means your valuation will be two to three times what you would get by not being a YCombinator company. Said another way, having the YC name means you can screw investors!

I say that in a joking way, but there is a serious anti-YC sentiment in the industry around the issue of valuation and entitlement. As one very, very prominent investor said to me recently, “Total public market cap of YCombinator companies? $0!”

Another VC, who made their bones doing elite-level growth, said to me that YCombinator’s scale has resulted in a cookie-cutter approach to growth that was easily detected if you did any level of diligence. He actually used the word “fraud” to describe the growth, before toning it down to “gamed growth.”

From my position, meeting with a half-dozen YC companies per month, I can confirm that they are “going for it” in terms of valuation universally, and yes, some are goosing their growth numbers by simply buying Facebook Ads and saying silly things like, “We’re growing 15% per week!” and “500% per month,” before backing off when asked for the actual numbers (i.e., we went from seven clients to eight clients — a big % on a small number).

All of this is to say that getting accepted to the elite YC program is a double-edged sword, which is not dissimilar to Harvard: you’re clearly smart, but you’re not that special.

Continue reading Should you pick YCombinator or the LAUNCH Incubator — the shocking answer!

Some thoughts on the surprise shutdown of GigaOm

A lot of folks have been asking me to comment on the shocking shutdown of the tech publication, GigaOm.

It is shocking for three reasons:

1. We are in a booming market right now.
2. GigaOm is widely respected.
3. The company had three revenue streams: conferences, research, and advertising.

For background, I’ve been friends with Om for decades and I consider him one of my dearest friends. We have spent many holidays together and he is one of the kindest, most considerate people I know — he’s also a fantastic writer and clever conversationalist (two compliments I reserve for very few).

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I haven’t talked to Om about the shutdown in detail. I did send him my condolences and tried to get him to come have a drink with me. Whenever any of my friends get their asses kicked, the first thing I do is reach out to them, because I’ve learned over time that the true nature of friendship is seen most clearly when things are most dark.

Here’s what we know about the situation at GigaOm:

a. Om hadn’t been involved in day-to-day operations for some time.
b. The company raised over $20m from investors.
c. The company had massive debt.
d. The company had a research product that was, reportedly, not clicking.
e. The company had 70+ FTEs.
f. The company had taken on loans (a.k.a., ‘debt financing’).
g. The employees had no idea this was coming.
h. No austerity measures were taken (i.e., cutting the staff in half).

This leaves a few major possibilities of what happened:

1. The company had the ability to draw down additional debt, but the bank pulled that option. Banks can pull funding agreements if you break what’s called “the covenants.” These tend to revolve around the financial health of the business and can include things like the ratio of earnings, revenue, etc., to the debt or to the debt service (the quarterly payment).

2. The investors had consistently bailed out the management team, creating a culture of “one more bridge!” I’ve seen this happen many times — it gets ugly.

3. The business was wildly mismanaged.

4. The business lines deteriorated rapidly and unexpectedly.

5. Some combination of the above (likely).

Continue reading Some thoughts on the surprise shutdown of GigaOm

Video of the Week: Fred Wilson, one of the 10 greatest VCs of all time (who hates when I say that!)

I’ve known Fred Wilson for two decades and I was finally able to get him to sit down with me at the LAUNCH Festival this month.

Took me seven years to get him to the Festival but it was well worth it.

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Many felt this was the best fireside chat of the event, which I would credit to the fact that he’s hitting the peak of his career — and to those 20 years of friendship.

One thing I’ve found is that when folks “summit,” they make great interviews (and people). There is something about hitting the peak that allows one to see the journey they completed clearly. They can appreciate the views, they can see the other summits, and other climbers.

Sometimes they can see the end of the journey and start focusing on their legacy.

Side note: my big, fat, soft, and orange “couchchairs” are really working to relax my guests.

Have a great Sunday everyone!

best @jason

PS – I’m playing the long game with the top speakers, lobbying them year after year, slowing checking them off my list. Next year I’m hoping we get a couple more of the great ones: Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk, Jony Ive, Reed Hastings, Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin. Not to mention some of the up and coming folks like Satya Nadella, Marissa Mayer and Sophia Amoruso. If you’re friendly with one of those folks, or a fan of the Festival/TWIST, I appreciate the whisper campaign: i.e., “I’d love to see Reed Hastings sit down with @Jason for a conversation.” 

PPS – The Launch Incubator second session is open for applications … apply!


The LAUNCH Incubator: Round Two!

[ tl;dr: I want you to Apply to the LAUNCH Incubator ]

Seven companies from my incubator debuted at the LAUNCH Festival last week to a massive crush of consumer and investor interest.

The “Magnificent Seven” (M7) beat out 150+ applicants to spend 12 grueling weeks with me in The LAUNCH Incubator. Every week they came in for a four-hour session where they presented their progress and got brutally candid and invaluable insights from the world’s greatest founders & investors. 

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Every company received $25,000 on the way in the door, followed by another $225,000 from my fund and my LAUNCH syndicate. One VC who saw the companies early offered to match our $250,000 in the seven companies — after meeting with the M7 for two hours. He said it was the best class of incubator companies he had ever seen.

[ Note: if you are an accredited investor, you can angel invest alongside me in these incubator companies at reasonable valuations. If you’re not rich, well, the government says you’re too naive to invest in startups — but that might change! ]

In the second week of April we will start our Spring incubator with the “next M7” and I’m wondering if you have what it takes. Or maybe you know someone who does, and you can forward this to them.

What Founders Are Saying

Only apply to the LAUNCH Incubator if you want to get Jedi-level presentation training, get a “yes” from every angel investor you talk to, attract a world-class team, build a world-class product and get expert feedback on your product from Jason’s amazing weekly special guests… More
Brian Alvey, Recurrency

Continue reading The LAUNCH Incubator: Round Two!

Founders: this is what the world would look like if the stock market went down 50%

end of the worldLast night I took the bulldogs out for their nightly constitutional and reflected on how amazing my first six months in the Bay Area have been.

San Francisco truly is the city of the future, with the most intelligent and driven minds in the world riffing on each other; while 1/3rd of the backdrop turns into Manhattan, the other 2/3rds remain the “uniquely” permissive, flawed-but-beautiful and kooky utopian kids that the Summer of Love created.

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This week at *the* poker game, the self-made Texan and the self-made Sri Lankan debated the bubble between the bad beats that were bestowed upon “the World’s Greatest.”

I started to model, “Gosh, what exactly would it look like if the stock market tanked again?” Ignore the debate whether there is a bubble, because, let’s face it, there are two distinct bubbles in the financial space that everyone agrees on: late-stage private and seed funding.

Late-stage deals are being priced at public valuations, which isn’t a major deal since it’s public investors who are buying them (and blocking out the little guy). If those big money funds lose a little cheddar it’s not that big of a deal — they can afford it.

The early-stage valuations, where I spend my time, are literally 3-5x, which leads me to say to many folks who tell me their valuations, “We’re going to pass, based on valuation.”

Of course, the good founders always ask, “What would you price our round at?” I give them the bad news: 12 weeks of progress and a two-person team? Hmmm … how about $250k for 10%?” Not surprisingly, half don’t take it — but the other half that do? Well, I spend all my time growing those companies … because I have an actual stake in them! (Note: I’ve done deals at double and triple that as well, but they tend to have something special: like a founder who has an exit or something).

Continue reading Founders: this is what the world would look like if the stock market went down 50%

What I learned running The LAUNCH Incubator for 12 weeks

As many of you know, 17 weeks ago I announced that my team would host our first incubator class. We came at it with a very simple strategy: six companies, 12 weeks, and a big debut at the LAUNCH Festival. 

We had over 150 companies apply and my team wanted to accept 20 of them. My gut told me 20 was way too many, so we accepted seven.

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Here are the five things I learned from doing this.

1. Seven is the right number

It turns out that seven is a magical number for running an incubator. Why? Well, every week each company was able to give their pitch to the speaker for five minutes and get a massive 10 minutes of feedback.

I was speaking with a YC founder this week and I asked them how much time they got with the weekly speaker and they said zero minutes. It turns out that YC’s latest class has 110+ startups, so with three founders coming to each talk, they have 300 folks in the audience (at least, according to this founder).

YC is the gold standard, but with that many per class, the startups are relegated to having office hours with the founders. There is just something magical about all seven startups getting feedback from the most powerful and smart people in the world — for 12 weeks straight!

Additionally, if you say no to two out of three companies you WANT TO ACCEPT you are going to create a competitive climate for your incubator. This means everyone realizes that they got a coveted slot and they should do everything they can to a) keep it, and b) milk it.

Continue reading What I learned running The LAUNCH Incubator for 12 weeks

Here’s the roadmap you need to create for your startup — and why it’s important

Yesterday I talked about the importance of setting goals in relation to my angel investing. Today I want to talk about the importance of a roadmap for your startup.

Now, I’m not talking about a product roadmap, I’m talking about a startup roadmap that details all aspects of the business.

Goals are big, audacious, and when done right, singular. By comparison, a roadmap is how you plan on reaching that goal, including the milestones along the way.

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For my big, audacious goal was “to build the world’s greatest news product.”

In order to do that I had a number of steps on the roadmap, including:

  1. Define a new content unit — the update.
  2. Hit 24-hour news coverage for one full year.
  3. Delight 1,000 people per day.
  4. Create a world-class App that was so good Apple featured it.
  5. Delight 10,000 people per day.
  6. Create vertical Apps around passionate topics.
  7. Find partners for those vertical Apps.
  9. Delight 25,000 people per day.
  10. Raised TKTKTK in funding.
  11. Delight 250,000 people per day.
  13. Delight 1M people per day.
  15. Delight 10M people per day.
  16. Raise TKTKTKT in funding.
  17. Hit TKTKTK in revenue.
  19. Delight 50M people per day.
  20. Hit TKTKTK in revenue.
  22. Delight 100M people per day.
  23. Hit TKTKTK in revenue.
  25. Goal achieved: The world’s greatest news product hit scale & sustainability.

In this document I’ve replaced my specific strategies with TK (“to come,” for those of you not in editorial circles). Don’t want to show all my cards!

Continue reading Here’s the roadmap you need to create for your startup — and why it’s important

Why setting goals is important: an inside look at one of my five goals


Setting goals is important, both personally and for your organization.

Today I want to talk about one of the five goals I set over the past couple of years, why I set it, and how I am executing it.

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Goal: Be the Most Sought-After Angel Investor in the World

Five years ago I started angel investing, and got lucky enough to invest in Uber’s and Thumbtack’s first rounds (under $10m valuation — combined). I hit two unicorns in my first 10 investments, and one more since then. Also in that first dozen were Signpost and Chartbeat, which are also well on their way to greatness.

That hit-rate lead me to believe, “Heck, I just might be good at this!”

So I set a big, audacious goal for myself to be, “The World’s Greatest Angel Investor.”

The problem with that goal is, well, what does it even mean to be the greatest? Largest returns? Most investments? Greatest according to whom?

After some reflection, I realized that what’s important when judging an angel investor is how sought-after they are. Great founders have their choice of investors, especially in a hot market, so being the *best* really means being so helpful that they come to you.

Additionally, it’s super efficient if the founders come to you because, well, you spend less time hunting for them.

Efficiently Going After a Single Goal

Since I had this singular goal in investing I decided to optimize my “platform” around being helpful. My theory being that if we are absurdly helpful, word will spread — and boy has it!

My 10-person team doesn’t angel invest, they are building a platform to help startups across a dozen different product lines, of which a half-dozen are public knowledge:

Continue reading Why setting goals is important: an inside look at one of my five goals

The 11 winners of the LAUNCH Festival 2015 (and why they won)

gladiator wheet fieldWe just finished up a marathon three days at the LAUNCH Festival here in San Francisco. We had 11,700 folks registered and thousands in the audience for three packed days, across two stages.

This year we truly tipped over from a ‘conference’ (what we called the event for the first four years) to a Festival (what we’ve called the event for the last four years).

50 startups competed on stage and there were 11 winners. In this email I will explain why they won, in my opinion.

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Important note on judging: There are six members of our Grand Jury at LAUNCH. They see every single presentation and pick the winners. I am not part of the Grand Jury. As the event has grown to include “The Incubator” and the LAUNCH Fund, we have decided that companies we have invested in via these two entities are disqualified from winning the top prize. This seems only fair to us!*

Abra – Overall Winner

Bitcoin has suffered because no one has created a killer app for it — Abra just did. Their BHAG is to create “human ATMs,” who are essentially Uber drivers with cash. You give a person in Los Angeles cash and they send it to a “human ATM” (HATMs) in Mexico. Those HATMs get to take a percentage of the transaction that they set. That percentage is transparent, so a marketplace will emerge, driving fees down and increasing performance (just like the rating system and UberX vs. Uber Premium dynamic). The key to all of this is that Abra NEVER holds the money. Instead, it uses bitcoin to move your money around the world. If you lose your phone, you lose your money (small risk, big upside is not using Western Union).

Recurrency – Best Incubator Company

Recurrency allows you to give a $1 or more per week donation to anyone on any social network — even if they don’t ask for it! This week I gave Howard Stern’s wife Beth O. a $1 per week donation because she rescues bulldogs, and Mark Cuban a $1 per week for being a badass. They would never set up a Kickstarter, and they don’t need the money — but I want to thank them in a small way every week, knowing that they will pay it forward. I hope Beth directs her $1 per week to the Twitter handle of a great organization, and that Mark forwards the $1 per week to someone who he thinks makes a great impact on the world. This idea is crazy, big and hard… which is why the Grand Jury LOVED it!

Continue reading The 11 winners of the LAUNCH Festival 2015 (and why they won)