The most important piece of advice for folks starting their careers

[ From a tweet storm last week ]

1/The most important piece of advice I can give folks starting out: be great at an important skill.

The important skills in the world right now include:

a. sales
b. coding
c. product design
d. growth
e. design
f. corporate storyteller

2/Refine your skill faster than your peers.

If you’re a product designer, stop binge-watching TV & read every book on UX. Learn to use every tool you find on the internet.

Many folks will tell you that the world is not a zero sum game, with one person not having to lose at the expense of another winning. This is simply not true, as in most startups there is a very limited number of seats and they go to the people who work the hardest and who have the most skill.

In your career you will find that life is a zero sum game: the winners get the prime positions and the person who comes in second place for that position is the first loser — not the second winner.

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3/Take your skills to a startup. Period. Full Stop.

Don’t worry about your salary, just get enough money to live in a closet close to work. Focus on providing your CEO 10x the value of your contemporaries. Your CEO will notice you, eventually, and she will love you.

CEOs love people who work hard and who refine their skills faster than everyone else (see #2) because those people remind them of themselves. How the f@#4k do you think she got the CEO slot, by waiting in line? By random luck? No, she f@#$king took that slot.

If you’re taking your slot by working harder than everyone else and by refining your skills faster than everyone else she will notice it.

Continue reading The most important piece of advice for folks starting their careers

Circa’s biggest crime was …

This week, a promising startup died: Circa. I was a small investor and a big fan.

There’s a special place in my heart for emerging news brands and curation, and Circa was both.

For background, the company spent $5m building and running a stunning, some say quirky, app powered by a respectable team of news junkies for the past three years.

Compare that to magazine launches in the 90s, which ran $10-20m per year, and you can see how efficient their effort was.

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Sadly, Circa never caught fire. They did have a small, loyal following. Which is really what the first two years of a startup is about: you grab some kindling and light it up. You then hope you can get some embers burning hot. In the case of consumer products, those embers are your early true believers — the superfans.

They had enough of these burning hot embers that I believe they could’ve gotten 3,000 folks to pay $10 a month for it. Not huge money, but enough to keep the brand publishing.

After being shopped for an extended period of time, no one bought the assets, which is puzzling. There is still a possibility this will happen; in a wind-down like this, the board and founders are obligated (sometimes legally, always morally) to sell the assets to recover even a penny on the dollar for investors (which in this case would be ~$50,000).

Last I heard, another dotcom offered $500,000 to pick up the team and platform but the VCs blocked the deal, hoping someone else would pay more. Someone will debate that in the comments, I’m sure.

Continue reading Circa’s biggest crime was …

What I would do if I were CEO of Twitter — a seven-part plan

[ UPDATE: 6/18/15: Listen to Baratunde Thurston read this entire blog post on Soundcloud. Hilarious. ]

I was on CNBC on Monday talking about who would be the next CEO of Twitter. On that hit, I explain why Adam Bain is the next CEO. I thought I would expand upon my thoughts on Twitter in this 2,000 word essay, because it seems no one else has any thoughts. 

At the end of the day, Wall Street ran Twitter’s CEO out despite my piece explaining why this would be a mistake back in January.

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Technically Dick resigned, and is leaving next month, ending his five-year run as the CEO of one of the five greatest Internet companies ever created — Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Amazon lead that group. 

Here is what I would do if I were CEO of Twitter. Or, said another way, here is what Adam should do:

  1. Explain to Wall Street explicitly that Twitter is Not Facebook

Wall Street keeps comparing Twitter to Facebook, hoping that Twitter will become less complex, less intimidating, and more accessible to common folk. These analysts on Wall Street are wickedly smart when it comes to grouping and analyzing things, but in the case of Facebook and Twitter, this is a huge mistake.

Twitter’s users, the ones who are logged in and contributing content to the service, are the politicians, celebrities, business leaders, and journalists in the world who drive massive consumption of culture by passive, non-logged in users.

On Facebook, everyone is the celebrity of their own lives, which is exceptionally boring to everyone on the planet, except maybe the dozen or so people who are part of that life. That’s why, on Facebook, the trending stories in your feed are birth announcements, and on Twitter, it’s what you’re going to read in the New York Times and TMZ tomorrow.

  1. Steady Growth is Good Growth & The Reddit Paradox

Twitter has grown exactly 5-10% quarter over quarter since inception. The fact that it has not tanked, been disintermediated, or otherwise copied is due to the small miracle of network effects and Dick’s steady hand. 

While the analysts might want to see dramatic action to run Twitter from 300m to 1b users, there is a strong case that doing so would drive away Twitter’s already brilliant community. 

This is the so-called “Reddit Paradox” in full effect: live by your core community, die by your core community. In Reddit’s case, they’ve built a huge, engaged community of primarily highly intelligent, technically savvy, and frequently precocious boys (it’s mainly male) to a scale no one believed would ever be possible — and then you put the most polarizing female figure in Silicon Valley in charge of it! In the middle of the highest profile sexism case in our lifetimes!

How is that working out for Reddit? Can Ellen Pao convince a large portion (but not all) of the core users, who have defined Reddit for the past decade, to stop their gallows humor in the comments, their politically incorrect pugnaciousness, their hilarious-and-sometimes-scary criticism of people and their obsession with p0rn? 

Sure she can!

[ insert Facepalm meme here saying “Ellen Pao, the fearless leader Reddit wants!” ]

Continue reading What I would do if I were CEO of Twitter — a seven-part plan

Apple is launching search engine to destroy Google — and you’re already using it

whacked

Apple is launching a search engine called “Spotlight,” at a pace of 3% a quarter — if you have an iPhone or Mac you’ve been using it for a while!

Google has gone from unstoppable to “about to be stopped,” in the minds of the smartest folks in the industry. Search ads are Google’s cash cow; unfortunately, for them, it seems that Google is not advancing the platform (outside of slamming massive amounts of “paid inclusion”).

ads 1“Paid Inclusion” is basically the ads that consumers think are content, but are really ads.

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You can see this on your desktop by doing a search for “used iPhone.” The majority of the screen real estate is now ads! In the example above 11 of the 12 links are advertisements!

Wow.

On top of that, < 1% of the screen real estate is dedicated to telling this insane fact to consumers! See the tiny ‘AD’ and ‘SPONSORED’ logos? Yeah, barely noticeable … by design.

In the old days Google used to highlight the ads with a background color … over time they have included smaller and smaller notes; this is, of course, a huge debate in the industry. In fact, people have done studies to prove that a large percentage of users don’t know they are clicking on ads.

Continue reading Apple is launching search engine to destroy Google — and you’re already using it

The best job for an audio/video genius in San Francisco!

16078702253_798ca60c79_kFor the past six years I’ve taped over 500 episodes of my podcast, This Week in Startups. We’ve had the most amazing guests on the show, from Travis at Uber (Ep180) to Peter Thiel (Ep525) to Chris Sacca (Ep291) to Glenn Beck (Ep526) to VC John Doerr (Ep520) to Anne Wojcicki (Ep521) to Reid Hoffman (Ep490) to Fred Wilson (Ep523) to Yancey at Kickstarter (Ep524) to Chamath (Ep480) to Evan from Twitter (Ep345) to Kevin from Instagram (Ep196) to Andrew from Groupon (Ep52) to Tim Ferriss (Ep484) … the list goes on and on and on and on.

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The show has massive reach and massive resources now. We tape in our own studio, we have the latest cameras, microphones and technology.

We have an Emmy-Award winning producer named Jacqui!

We do live shows that sell out in seconds with 500 attendees.

Most importantly, we have hell of a good time! We laugh and joke and sit in awe of the subjects we get to interview.

The show is doing so well that we are adding two full-time directors and video editors. We are looking for at least one with a lot of experience, and the second one can either have a lot of experience or a lot of hustle!

You can Apply here.

If you ever want to reach me and pitch me on working on my team, I have the winners@launch.co email always open!

Working for me will level you up and you’ll have me as an advocate for life. I’ve invested in my alumni’s startups, and helped get my former team members the greatest gigs in the world. I’m loyal like a bulldog and I love seeing my people do their best work and go onto great things.

plunge

Working for me is like joining the Navy Seals: most folks can’t do it, but those who can go on to change the world — and push themselves to a level they didn’t even know they could.

This Week in Startups is pure joy at this point, with a ton of resources to do things correctly.

Join us as we tell these stories!

Jeff Dachis, Founder & CEO of OneDrop (previously Razorfish), on This Week in Startups

Jeff Dachis, former CEO/Founder Razorfish, is changing the way people manage diabetes with his new data analytics & social platform OneDrop

Producer Jacqui here. On today’s show is entrepreneur extraordinaire Jeff Dachis, former CEO/Founder of Razorfish & current CEO/Founder of OneDrop.today, an incredible management & social platform for people with diabetes that won Best Design at LAUNCH Festival 2015. Soon after Jeff learned that he had diabetes in 2013, he discovered the complete lack of tools available to manage it — and decided to invent them. OneDrop, a Waze for diabetes, pulls together data that is normally siloed, and gives users all the information they need, in one place: tracking glucose levels, meals consumed, exercise & activity information, and much more. OneDrop also connects users, letting them share their data & support each other’s endeavors. Jeff walks us through an awesome demo of his product, including sneak previews of features & new monitors coming soon. It’s a rich conversation in which Jason and Jeff also discuss the need for more prevention-based healthcare solutions in our problem-based system, health care versus self care, disease management as a market, the differences between diabetes types 1 and 2 (and the future/hope for each…), what Jeff has learned on his entrepreneurial journey since web 1.0 (hint: talent is everything) — and more. Join us!!

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Drones in 2015 are like VHS recorders in 1985

vhs dork

A year ago I thought drones were stupid and overhyped. They crashed, they were expensive, and there wasn’t much use for them.

This year I got to spend time flying drones with Chris Anderson at 3DR’s HQ in Berkeley. They’re located in the middle of an industrial park reminiscent of the original Terminator set — it’s awesome.

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After seeing his latest product I’m 100% convinced that drones are nearly ready for prime time.

Using a drone in 2015 is like using a VHS recorder in 1985: you look like a huge attention-seeking dork, but everyone wants to talk to you about the technology. My Great Uncle Joe DeFalco used to be the family “VHS recording dork” at the drunken McCabe/Kennedy holiday parties in Brooklyn and Jersey, walking up to everyone yelling “Identify yourself!”

It was like being interrogated by the Stasi, but despite how annoying he was, those tapes are invaluable today.

30 years later we all have an HD camera in our pockets and are creating walls of video recordings at amusement parks. In fact, you could fit about 50 mobile phones in amount of space that an old VHS tape took up.

There are three reasons I think drones are no longer toys:

  1. They are dead simple to fly
  2. They don’t require massive maintenance & assembly
  3. The “prosumer grade” ones are now $1,000
  4. Commercial applications are everywhere
  5. Regulation is reaching reasonable

Continue reading Drones in 2015 are like VHS recorders in 1985

Trading Open Standards for Corporate Ones

Twitter has a horrible trolling problem, and they’re tackling it head on by banning the accounts of uber-Trolls like Charles Johnson of gotnews.com — who is a true piece of work. Also, Twitter today warned white supremacist @rabite to stop encouraging his followers to harass people.

Trolls can ruin your Tweeting experience by flooding your stream with stupidity, hate, and threats — or as these evil bastards sometimes call their abuse, “criticism” or “satire.”

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Sometimes these people call it both criticism and satire! Sometimes these people are mentally ill, other times they are drunk or high. In all cases they are saying things that we don’t need to hear.

Twitter has had enough and they are policing these abusive tweets. Tweets are famously 140 characters, and the customer service team is going to study those characters to figure out how to solve this problem.

However, after a lot of study it turns out the characters are not the real problem — it’s the words. Trolls are using words that hurt people, and the customer support team is going to put an end to these words, or more specifically, the combination of these words in sequences — also known on the platform as “sentences.”

Sentences are really the problem you see, because the individual words can’t actually hurt you that much. When put in a certain order, they form ideas.

Ideas are really the problem and I for one salute the anonymous human agents at Twitter who will sort through the ideas people are sharing on Twitter and remove the ones that make Twitter less fun for people.

No one deserves to wake up, open their Twitter stream, and be faced with ideas that they don’t like or agree with. No one.

Continue reading Trading Open Standards for Corporate Ones

#TWiSTLive at Samsung Global Innovation Center with Amir Rubin, CEO of Sixense

#TWiSTLive at Samsung Global Innovation Center: Virtual reality demo & fireside chat with Amir Rubin, industry pioneer & CEO of Sixense

#TWiSTLive!! Virtual reality is an exciting & hotly debated space. Its potential is massive, but will it ever really “arrive”? In today’s live show, recorded at Samsung Global Innovation Center, Jason answers this question with a resounding YES, as he demos the latest & greatest VR and hosts a riveting fireside chat with Amir Rubin, VR pioneer & CEO of Sixense, a premiere virtual reality platform. After a lively demo of Sixense’s cutting-edge, award-winning products, Jason talks with Amir about his inspirations, the state of the field, and what’s coming. We learn why VR is not just about gaming but about every industry (esp. healthcare, education), why motion sickness is no longer an issue, how technologies like 3D printing help VR immensely, how developers are building amazing applications on the Sixense platform, how every phone going forward will be VR ready, why VR is so effective in training for high-risk jobs like welders & pilots, why service providers will give VR headsets away for free, how VR is going to be a new way for creative people to monetize their skills, how movie studios can use VR for you to actually experience being the super hero, why the biggest challenge facing VR is educating consumers — and much much more!

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News Roundtable with Jessica Lessin (The Information) & Ari Levy (CNBC) on This Week in Startups

News Roundtable: Secret’s bank heist, Google as Game of Thrones, Apple TV’s fate, Facebook’s about-face in revenue sharing, the combustible combo of venture+journalism, weed on demand

It’s News Roundtable Friday! Joining Jason today is Jessica Lessin, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Information and Ari Levy, Senior Technology Reporter at CNBC. The three tackle the latest, greatest, juiciest stories of late in this epic episode. Nothing is left off the table. Secret’s bank heist, how Google is like Game of Thrones, is Android poised for world domination?, the combustible combination of venture + journalism, and several of the greatest existential questions of our time: what is the future of advertising on mobile, what happens when you give nerds $20m, and when will Amazon start delivering weed?? And, oh, so much more.

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Des Traynor, Cofounder of Intercom, on This Week in Startups

LAUNCH Incubator 2: Des Traynor, Cofounder Intercom, on product vision, roadmap, virality, & everything you need to know for “Starting Up”

LAUNCH Incubator series is back! Today’s episode features returning speaker, Des Traynor, Cofounder of Intercom (www.intercom.io), who dazzles with a whole new tactical talk on “Starting Up.” Des’s presentation to the class covers everything from the importance of needing a vision (and what one looks like) to defining your roadmap, from the ins and outs of knowing your true competitors & marketplace (including markets to avoid) to getting your product to go viral (hint: design viral!), from best practices in launching a new feature to which features you should be mostly focusing on — and much more. Don’t miss this!

**For copy of slides email Des directly at des-slides@intercom.io**

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TrueCar’s Scott Painter & Zenefits’ Parker Conrad on This Week in Startups

True Car’s Scott Painter & Zenefits’ Parker Conrad bring new power to consumers & successfully reinvent entrenched industries: car-buying and human resources

Today’s awesome two-part episode from Launch Festival 2015 features Founder/CEO of TrueCar Scott Painter and Cofounder/CEO of Zenefits Parker Conrad. Jason first sat down for a fascinating discussion with Scott about the mission of TrueCar (simple: a better way to buy a car), and how his business disrupts the industry. We learn how they have grown from $10m-$200m in revenue since launching at the Launch Festival a few years ago, how they overcame being boycotted by 33% of the car dealers on their platform in 2011, why car dealer problems are actually bigger than car buyer problems, why Scott is not a huge believer in self-driving cars (his 20-year plan does not involve autonomous cars) or in car ownership going away (the car industry is at an all-time high), and why Apple should buy Tesla for any price. In part two Jason talks with Parker Conrad about the inspiration behind Zenefits (hint: Parker’s pain in doing all the HR as Cofounder in his last company), and how the company is absolutely crushing it. In their discussion they cover Zenefits’ meteoric rise as the fastest growing SaaS company ever (grown to 800 employees in two years) with no plans to slow down, why “the Salesforce for employment” is an interesting analogy for the Zenefits business, how Andreessen Horowitz was a huge help in landing David Sacks (former Yammer Founder/CEO) as COO, how Jason switched his companies to Zenefits last year & is saving huge $$ — and much more!

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#TWiSTLive: May 20 with Amir Rubin, CEO Sixense, “Ask Jason” on stage + VR workshop

I’d like you to join me on Wednesday, May 20th for our next #TWiSTLive at Samsung Global Innovation Center in Mountain View. It’ll be an awesome event, starting early with public office hours with me (“Ask Jason” or pitch your company idea on stage) and a hands-on VR workshop hosted by Andrew Dickerson, Director of Software Development, GearVP.

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There will be plenty of networking opps with cocktails and appetizers before and after the show’s main event: my fireside chat with Amir Rubin. Amir is CEO of Sixense and has 20+ years expertise in developing products in simulation, video games, virtual reality & motion tracking. Full event agenda is below.

Tickets are $50.00, but use code SAMSUNGGIC here to get tickets today for FREE. Secure them now because this event will sell out!! See you there!

best, @jason

TWiST Live! Agenda

12:00pm: Registration opens for VR workshop with Andrew Dickerson, Director of Software Development, GearVP, Samsung. RSVP for workshop, “Introduction to Gear VR Development in Unity.”

12:30-3:00pm: VR Workshop

1:30pm: Registration opens for TWiST live event & public office hours with Jason Calacanis (**come early for your chance to “Ask Jason” or pitch on stage!**)

2:30-3:30pm: On-stage “Ask Jason” office hours with Jason Calacanis and Samsung

2:00-4:00pm: Running demos on VR headsets

4:00-5:00pm: Appetizers & cocktails

5:00-6:00pm: Jason Calacanis fireside chat with Amir Rubin, CEO, Sixense

6:00-7:00pm: Cocktail networking hour

 

The Last Mile (TLM) founder Chris Redlitz & graduate Kenyatta Leal on This Week in Startups

In-prison accelerator The Last Mile teaches inmates technology & entrepreneurship, giving them essential skills & the promise of a better life; Founder Chris Redlitz & graduate Kenyatta Leal explain exactly how

It’s one of Jason’s favorite episodes. In the studio is Chris Redlitz, Partner at Transmedia Capital and Founder of The Last Mile (TLM), a program that teaches prisoners technology and entrepreneurship to gain essential job skills and prevent recidivism. Joining as well is Last Mile grad Kenyatta Leal, former San Quentin inmate of 19 years and current Manager of Campus Services at RocketSpace. Chris shares his inspiration for The Last Mile, its incredible success, and ambitious & promising future, while Kenyatta describes in-depth the harsh realities of prison life, along with the critical skills/lessons he learned at TLM and the euphoric moment of experiencing freedom again. The three dive into many different riveting discussions, including the alarming incarceration rates in the U.S., the pathology of the broken the prison/punishment system, how programs like The Last Mile give great hope and purpose, and a vision for a better future. You don’t want to miss this!

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We’re gonna miss you, Goldie; R.I.P. Dave Goldberg

option 2

You meet a lot of people in this life.

Many are angry, most are anxious, and some are clueless. Few are content, very few care about others more than they care about themselves.

As you get older, your radar gets better and your time becomes precious. You narrow down the number of people in your life to only the good ones, trying as hard as you can to double down on the time you spend with them.

Dave Goldberg was the good guy at our poker game that everyone wanted to spend more time with. He was the guy we all wanted to be a little more like. He was a mensch amongst the good ones. 

He was a better friend, a better husband, a better father, a better leader, and a better person than all of us — and we knew that.

Goldie set the standard we all tried to reach.

He carried himself with an effortlessness that you can only have when you’ve found peace in your life. An effortlessness, a calm, that reminded you of a Priest or a Jedi Knight, who had seen it all and had figured it out.

He focused on his family, his friends, and his team at work. He had time for you, he listened, he considered things and spoke like an old, wise man. Wasn’t uncommon for him to take a moment or two to think through what he was going to say — and the impact it would have on the person he was saying it to.

Continue reading We’re gonna miss you, Goldie; R.I.P. Dave Goldberg

Let’s all laugh at my horrible 2006 post: “YouTube is not a real business”

There’s a great debate over at YCombinator about my blog post from 2006 titled, “YouTube is not a real business.”

What a horrible headline in 2015 — but I stand behind half of it to this day!

The fact that YouTube exists today is nothing short of a miracle. You have to give kudos to the team, Sequoia Capital and Google, for literally saving this business.

At the time I wrote that post, YouTube was not a real business; it was a very simple website largely built off copyright violations with unsustainable legal and bandwidth bills. The fact that they were forced to sell a business that is now worth $100-150b for $1.6b is a good indication for how close to the brink of destruction they were.

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There are three important lessons here for founders:

  1. Breaking the Rules Can Pay Off

Google made a sick, sick bet and won big by buying a huge lawsuit and a growing business. They broke a ton of M&A rules and got 100x on their investment. Given that Napster, Kazaa, and countless other “media sharing” services had been absolutely crushed, it is a true testament to Google’s legal and leadership teams that they took this risk. It was not clear that they would win their cases, but they did.

While the management team at YouTube might not have directly supported copyright violations, they did aggressively pursue a “we’re sorry that’s not our problem — we’re a platform” approach. An approach that is now the standard for disruptive startups.

  1. Content ID was a brilliant innovation

YouTube was able to calm down many a pissed off media holder when they showed them content ID: “Look, we know this is your video so we will shut it down or let you claim it — and the revenue from it — for all time! What would you like us to do?” Think of how fucking brilliant that was. That’s perhaps the biggest lesson: you can innovate your way out of legal trouble!

Continue reading Let’s all laugh at my horrible 2006 post: “YouTube is not a real business”

Welcome to SCALE

climbingHaving invested in over 100 startups, I’m always concerned when founders spend their time going to conferences. Most conferences are designed for some combination of schmoozing and panels of CEOs debating three or four inane questions provided by a subpar moderator.

My advice to founders has been: “Let’s not waste time and money on conferences until our startup is scaling.”

That’s when it hit me, no one is doing a conference about SCALING your company!!!

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So, last year I invited 900 founders to SCALE to learn, in detail, what they could do to grow their company. It was a huge success. In fact, many of the founders of my portfolio companies told me it was the best two days they spent all year.

We’re doing SCALE again this year, October 13-14 in San Francisco, and I’m inviting you to come!

If you are the founder of a company and you don’t have the money to attend, you can apply for a free ticket here. Like all of our events, we give 80% of the tickets to founders for free. Yes, free. We just ask that you fill out a questionnaire which helps us, you guessed it, convince sponsors to help us put on the show.

1. Free tickets for founders (with questionnaire)
2. Paid for everyone else (service providers, VCs, big companies, etc.)
3. Speaker proposals are being accepted

Every single speaker who makes it to the SCALE stage has to come to mandatory rehearsals with me, and if their presentation doesn’t hit our standards for being worth it for our founders, we don’t let them on stage. We require that our sponsors come to rehearsals as well!

Last year we asked our audience to rate the 54 speakers and we ranked them. The top 25 speakers are listed below in order (we won’t disclose the rankings of those numbered 26 to 54 — though we did send them their scores!).

Fascinatingly, five of the top 25 speakers (including #1!) were sponsors who really thought about how they could teach our founders something important. So, when Des Traynor from Intercom talked about maintaining product market fit and knowing when to kill a feature, and Paul Midgen explained how Message Bus decided to pivot based on five key guidelines, people got massive value.

Continue reading Welcome to SCALE

Amazing angels Joanne Wilson, Adeo Ressi, Gil Penchina & Naval Ravikant on This Week in Startups

Amazing angels Joanne Wilson, Adeo Ressi, Gil Penchina & Naval Ravikant on innovative investment, diversity, deal competition, failures, founder relationships & what truly makes a product angel-ready

Joanne Wilson, Adeo Ressi, Gil Penchina, and Naval Ravikant are four of the leading angel investors in the country. Joanne “Gotham Gal” has over 40 angel investments (75% of which are with women founders), Adeo is the Founder/CEO of The Founder’s Institute, Gil is the leading angel investor using the AngelList Syndicates platform with over 12 syndicates, and Naval is the Cofounder/CEO of AngelList. They all join Jason for a compelling panel discussion during Launch Festival 2015 on how AngelList continues to disrupt early-stage investing (although it is still an early adopter product), why Gil chose to use the AngelList platform instead of joining a traditional VC firm, how The Founder’s Institute is investing in entrepreneurs all over the world (and why it’s okay if they aren’t aiming for billion dollar exits), the state of gender diversity and equality in venture capital, how Joanne is empowering women founders with her investments and “Women’s Entrepreneur Festival,” why it is likely that 7 out of 10 angel investments will fail, what is wrong and what is changing with the current venture capital model, why founder/angel investor relationships is like dating, and each of the panelists tell us the one thing founders can do to make their product more angel ready.

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Why we invested $25,000 in Signpost in 2010 — and $500,000 today!

Back in 2010 the hottest startup on the planet was Groupon. It was growing revenues faster than anyone had ever seen, certainly faster than Google and Facebook.

Everyone you know had two or three Groupons they were waiting to redeem, and Living Social was booming as well. The country was beat up by the financial crisis, and many thought it was the “end of days.”

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Startups were taking a beating. In fact, they were unfundable and the great startups were raising their angel rounds at a $3-4m pre-money valuation.

At that time I decided I would invest in a few companies, and my first cohort included Signpost (then Postabon), Backupify, Chartbeat, Thumbtack, and Uber.

Now, back then you could only pitch to angels if you paid to do so. I found that so infuriating that I started something called the Open Angel Forum. [ You can read a post from Rob May of Backupify about that night, held at Matt Coffin’s old house. ]

The companies I mentioned above all pitched at the various OAFs around the country — for free of course.

Stu got up and pitched his vision for a crowdsourced Groupon called Postabon — as in ‘post a good thing’ — and it was such a horrible name!

To give you an idea of how long ago this investment took place, well, peep at the hysterical looking phones on the Postabon landing page — that’s the original iPhone!!!

Postabon Homepage

However, the product looked really slick and Stu presented it well. I remember thinking to myself, “I have no idea if that will work, but this guy is executing at a high-level and he sure is passionate about it.”

Continue reading Why we invested $25,000 in Signpost in 2010 — and $500,000 today!

WARNING: avoid the “Apply to Present” & “Angel Pitch Contest” event scams

follow the queen

A few days ago I talked about “doing the work” and skipping the party. Conferences tend to be one of the big things that people distract themselves with instead of doing the hard work of making a product that people actually use and get value from.

Some conferences will waste your precious time, but today I want to warn founders about an evil subculture of event producers who are designing events to scam founders — who are sometimes desperate for attention — out of their money! 

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The scams work like this:

  1. Apply for our Summit, Startup Showcase, or Angel Pitching contest.
  2. Founders spend hours and hours applying.
  3. Scumbag event producers call founders to “congratulate” them that they’ve been accepted and that the team is “super excited” about their prospects of getting press and investment from the event.
  4. Founders are stoked and start working on their presentation — investing days in the process!
  5. The signup package from the scumbag event producers arrives and it includes a $1,000 to $20,000 fee. Some true scumbags take 5% of the equity and angel investment raised at the event as a kicker!
  6. Founders are super vested at this point, and have been sold hard on the efficacy of the event. Typically the event producers share a long list of VCs and founders who have previously invested. These founders are desperate for attention and they are talked into spending the money.
  7. Founders demo at event, the room is half empty or worse — it’s filled with lawyers, headhunters, and other service providers who are pretending to be angel investors (they invested in their cousin’s company back in 1999!). Those service providers waste more of the founders’ time — and try and extract more money from them!

Grifters and scumbags have been using this scam on actors for so long that the Screen Actors Guild has rules against it!

Scam artists have been doing this for so long in the modeling space that the FTC — yes, our government’s trade agency — has issued warnings about it.

Continue reading WARNING: avoid the “Apply to Present” & “Angel Pitch Contest” event scams