This is your Captain again, I’m canceling drink service

In July I wrote a message to my founders, warning that things could get choppy, titled “This is your Captain speaking, I’m turning on the fasten seat belt sign.”

Well, this is your captain again, and we’ve got turbulence ahead so I’m canceling drink service and asking everyone to check your seatbelts.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

On the day I wrote the last piece the NASDAQ was at 7,932 (July 25th), and over the next couple of months, it crashed over 20% to 6,192.

It’s since recovered to ~7,000.

While no one can time the market, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The Black Swans are hiding all around us in plain sight, while at the same time big tech companies have soaring sales, letting them build mountains and mountains of cash.

When I look out there I see three things that make me cautious:

  1. The Russian investigation combined with the growing impeachment movement
  2. The Chinese trade war combined with the arrest of the Huawei CFO in Canada and another employee in Poland. A Canadian citizen in China has been sentenced to death for drug smuggling, as well — coincidence?
  3. The Corporate Debt bubble

In the last piece, I explained to founders what happens when things collapse. In short, angels and VCs slow or stop investing, and the startups with under a year of revenue and no prospects of hitting breakeven go away.

Will the market crash? No one knows, but I do know that the Boy Scout motto is as true today as it has ever been: be prepared!  

Bottom line: For my founders, I want you all to check that you have 18 months of runway in your bank and a clear path to profitability — if you’re not profitable yet. Be. Pre. Pared.


Corporate Debt

Canadian citizen sentenced to death

Huawei arrest in Poland

Always Have a Plan B and C Teed Up

I spent 10 years living in Los Angeles, traveling up to the Bay Area every other week, sometimes weekly, to do angel investing.

During that time I learned that SFO is a complete disaster, with Karl the Fog creating all kinds of trouble. Also, I was frequently missing flights with insanely unpredictable traffic patterns in L.A. and the Bay.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

When I made a little cheddar, I started treating myself to the fully refundable Southwest Premier tickets, you know the ones, that let you board first and take the aisle seat in row two. The coveted seat that lets you put your bag under the seat in front of you which in turn lets you bolt past the row one customers who are fumbling for their overhead luggage.

So, I started having my EA book me three flights back at 5PM, 6PM and 7PM to avoid the issue of delayed and canceled flights and traffic snafus.

I also started booking two flights out — one landing at San Jose, which is 3x farther from the city but has no delays — in addition to my SFO flight.

So, five flights booked for a two-flight need.

Paranoid? Overkill? Unethical?!

The results speak for themselves: zero missed meetings, no delays and no drama, with the only cost being an extra 30-45 minutes of an EA’s time (to book and refund 3 flights, 2x). If you look at the cost of an EA, say $40 all in, it’s $20-30 to have this kind of parallel planning.

What’s the cost of missing a meeting with a new hire, investor or customer!?

Answer: more than $20!

I bring this up because there is a bigger issue from this lesson, which is, not only should you always have a Plan B, you should have a Plan C as well and, if possible, have them teed up to switch to — in your startup and life.

Inspired by Fred’s post while he was stuck at LAX: “If The Train Is Delayed, Find Another Way Home”

What’s your favorite travel hack? Gray and black hat techniques are welcome but not condoned.

Zuckerberg tries to buy off journalists with .3% of Facebook’s yearly revenue

Yesterday I wrote the first piece in a three-part series about how Facebook could turn around their “WORST. YEAR. EVAR!!!”

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

The basic premise: share revenue with publishers, Instagrammers/influencers, App developers and anyone else creating content on the platform, just like YouTube, Airbnb, Apple and Google’s App Stores and countless other partnership platforms do.

Right on cue, Facebook does the most misguided, heavy-handed and unsustainable version of sharing the wealth, by sharing $100m a year — .3% of their yearly revenue — in a series of grants.

The cynical take is that these kinds of one-time payoffs, to highly influential media organizations, are designed to silence and tamper criticism — they’re buying off influential people for a pittance.

The most gracious take is that Facebook feels bad for being such a horrible partner to the press and democracy.

Either way, it’s not sustainable and it’s braindead stupid. Who on earth is advising Zuckerberg about this?!

In June of 2017, Apple reported they shared $70 billion with App developers.

Google doesn’t break out YouTube’s revenue, but everyone knows it’s tens of billions, and that they pay out 55% to partners. The rumor in 2015 was $9B in total revenue, and we can assume that has grown to $20b+.

If YouTube paid out 55% of even $10B that’s $5.5b to content creators — we’re talking Netflix-level spend, and 55x the pittance Facebook is splashing around a bunch of journalist nonprofits.

The data in this chart is from Forbes, not YouTube, so it’s likely incomplete, but if this is anywhere in the ballpark, YouTube is paying it’s top five stars MORE than what Facebook is donating to non-profit organizations.

Right now Facebook makes $33B+ a year, or almost $100M a day, off the backs of Instagrammers, Facebook users and publishers — they share zero point zero.

If I were running Facebook I would commit 20% of top-line revenue to creators, from the New York Times to podcasters to App developers, and splash $7B to creators — a fraction of what Apple pays out a year, but what would build a base of stakeholders in the future of Facebook.

Right now Facebook has zero friends in the industry, and legions of enemies and detractors, including the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram. Think about what a poor job Zuckerberg has done building goodwill with his juggernaut. Even the founders he made billionaires are attacking him on the way out the door with their paychecks?

Facebook Misguided Announcement

Apple Inspiring Announcement

Saving Facebook, a Three-Part Strategy for the New CEO

Orson Welles Vintage GIF

Facebook’s self-inflicted wounds come from their founder’s obsession with growth, which at its core was based on three extraordinary tactics: removing friction, staying focused on global growth and stealing other people’s ideas.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

There is no debate over this.

If Zuckerberg had not set the tone of “move fast and break things,” the company would have been more thoughtful about their growth, and if they didn’t steal other people innovations so systematically — from Friendster to FriendFeed to Twitter to Snapchat — they would never have dominated the planet.

Of course, that obsession with speed and copying has resulted in — as Zuck himself instructed — the breaking of things, including our privacy and our democracy.

Well done!

In this three-part series, I’m going to outline what the new CEO of Facebook should do to reverse the massive ill will that’s built up with consumers, partners and governments. (At least the democratic ones; Facebook is well-loved by despots the world over.)

Step One: Share Revenue with Partners

When YouTube has PR issues, they have a large base of YouTubers — partners to whom they pay out billions of dollars — who will go to bat for them. These individuals are not happy with every decision YouTube makes, far from it, but they are loyal to the platform, even in the face of sometimes getting worked over.

Airbnb makes their share of mistakes and has been faced with crisis after crisis, but their Hosts are there to back them up. Heck, a portion of Airbnb’s customers feels so strongly about the company that they will fight for its very existence.

eBay and Etsy have their sellers to spread the gospel, and even Lyft and Uber have driver partners and customers who will sign petitions to bring or keep their services available in contested markets.

Apple and Google are “splashy cashy” with their App partners to the point of creating a category that, candidly, Facebook should own — or at least be a player in.    


Well, Facebook is so sharp-elbowed, that in addition to screwing users and our democracy, they have screwed over their developer and content partners multiple times over the past decade. Not only that, they’ve never built up a reservoir of goodwill.

Imagine if Instagram and Facebook shared revenue with their top users? How about if when you click on a new story on these services, it gave the publisher 70% of the revenue?

These partners would be out there saying “listen, I know Facebook has made mistakes, but Zuck is a good guy. I’m partners with Zuck, Instagram and Facebook, and so are over a million content creators. Trust us, we’re working with them to make this right.”  

Sharing revenue would be trivially easy for Facebook to do, certainly easier than reaching billions of users with their products.

Yet Facebook still has their wallet locked … Why?

It’s all top-down, Zuckerberg simply doesn’t want to share the wealth. We saw this when he deliberately screwed over the Winklevoss twins and his early partner Eduardo Saverin at Facebook (he settled those claims), and we see it now with his sinister pursuit of Snapchat at all costs.

The Snapchat pursuit reinforced Zuck’s “might is right” approach and has painted him as so cutthroat and arrogant — and perhaps clueless to this perception — that it is now easy to root for Facebook’s demise.

Instagram and WhatsApp founders criticizing Zuck on the way out only reinforces what we all know: business is personal and Zuck does not treat people well on a personal basis.

This needs to change when the new Facebook CEO starts, or when someone convinces Zuck to reboot his approach. The latter is a better solution, as you always want the founder to stay at the controls, but this requires the founder to evolve — something Zuckerberg hasn’t done (which reinforces the growing legion of “I’m quitting facebook!” and “I hope Facebook fails!”).

Easy solution: give Instagrammers and Facebook’s developers and publishers 100% of their year-one revenue to kick off the program, and then land on 55-70% going forward (like YouTube and the App stores do, respectively).

Can you imagine the goodwill that will grow out of Facebook sharing the wealth?

Zuckerberg can’t, but the rest of us can. Someone forward this email to Mark and say “something to consider, even if the messenger isn’t your favorite person.”

Bottom line: Sharing revenue with partners will give facebook amazing PR and those partners re-engaging the platform could reverse the “peak Facebook” and “Facebook is in decline” narrative.

A carry comp kerfuffle in Micro VC land

The SJW crowd piled on to a job posting for a part-time VC job at a micro VC yesterday. The job posting was for 20 hours a week and the compensation was based on a share of the carry.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

Here is how carry works, briefly: if the Fund invests $2m on behalf of investors and turns it into $22M (11x, cash on cash) the gain would be $20M. The carry would be 20-30% of that gain, depending on the deal with LPs (limited partners), which means $4-6M in gain.

[ Note: A 10x fund is the outlier goal. ]

If the Fund manager gives this “Chief of Staff” position 20% of the carry it would be $800-1.2m for a part-time job. Note: 20% would be very generous if the person had cash comp, but if the person takes no cash I would say 20% would be in the ball part. Twenty percent of a 20-30% carry is 4-6% carry to the Chief of Staff.

If the micro VC did 3x “cash on cash” it would have $4m in gains and $800-$1.2m in carry. The individual in this back-end comp position would get $160-240k.

If this position vested over say four years, that would be something in the range of 4,000 hours of work for $160,000 to $2.4m — or $40 an hour to $600 an hour.

Of course, you wouldn’t have any comp today — that’s the trade-off you have the choice to make.

The argument here, of course, is that the micro VC, who is offering this partnership opportunity, and who gets zero cash comp himself, is taking advantage of the person who takes this part-time gig.

Oh lordy, lordy … I wish I had seen this job description when I was in my 20s! Please take advantage of me and take 10 or 20 years out of my career path.

The micro VC has since, under the weight of the social media mob, put the job up as cash and carry or just carry — at the candidate’s choice. CANDIDATES: take as little cash as possible and fight for every point of carry! The math above is going to change your life and the cash comp never will.

Seriously, if I were 25 years old and applied to this position I would rather sleep on my mom’s couch, drive for Lyft 40 hours a week and get all the carry I could. 60 hours a week isn’t a death sentence, and if you want to propel yourself to the next level the quickest way to do that is to get equity compensation.

Sure, a single parent with three kids is not going to be able to take this gig. Neither is a married couple with a $10,000 a month mortgage and three kids in private school — that couple needs to work at Yahoo! or IBM and take down big salaries — which is their choice for starting a family and buying a big house with a huge mortgage.

Certainly, my mom, who worked 4-5 jobs a week and clocked 70-80 hours a week to provide for our family, wouldn’t have been able to — but one of her three sons would have! That’s the American dream as far as it was taught to me: the parents bust their asses and give their kids the killer opportunity.

I look at an opportunity like this and compare it to spending $30,000 a year on college, or people staying at home playing video games/watching TV for 4-5 hours a day — which is the national average!  

Think about that for a moment, if your child presented you with the scenario of working 1,000 hours for no cash comp with lottery-ticket-level back end vs. four years of college and $120k in debt, which would you advise them?

If your kid is playing video games and/or watching YouTube/Netflix for five hours a day, getting them to pull the plug on that nonsense and invest in their career is a serious discussion some parents need to have.

Now, before you attack me as a cold-hearted capitalist (the latter true, the former only half true), you should know that we don’t do unpaid internships or free positions of any type. We don’t need to do that, as we have a modestly profitable business and, candidly, the risks around internships are too great these days (bad PR, a distraction for management and legal exposure).

Bottom line: the social media mob is giving really bad advice in this case. Trust me, someone who fought their way into the industry and became the GOAT angel: take the carry not the cash!

Why aren’t VC firms focused on slow/modest growth startups?

Yesterday’s post mocking the New York Times’ link-baiting story created a lot of debate on Twitter.

One thing that came up was, why don’t venture capitalists fund slower growth startups? Or, said another way, why don’t VCs invest in startups that grow at a normal pace?

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

The number one job of a venture capitalist is to stay a venture capitalist.

This might sound cynical but, as a VC, if you don’t return enough money to your LPs (limited partners, a VC’s investors) you will not be able to raise your next fund. If you don’t raise your next fund, you’re not collecting management fees to pay yourself and your team, and you don’t have a chip stack to play in “the big game.”

If you want to STAY a venture capitalist you need to land these “dragon egg” investments — the ones that create enough value to give your LPs their money back. Dragon eggs are typically 20-40x your money back. So, you invest $7 million and get back $140-280 million.

That means, if you bought 20% of a startup for $7m, that startup was worth ~$35m, and then has to become a ~$700m to ~$1.4b exit for you to BREAK EVEN. Everyone makes money AFTER that investment, not before.

That is not easy.

VCs need to have double-digit returns every year (look up IRR for more on this) and essentially match stock market returns, with the chance of crushing them. If you match the stock market consistently, the thinking is you will eventually hit a Google or Facebook or Amazon.

“Stay in the game, stay in the game,” is the mantra.

The binary outcomes are just so yum yum, that you want to keep seeing flops (to use a poker analogy) and STAY. IN. THE. GAME.

So, the logical follow-up question is, why don’t LPs want to invest in VC funds that target slow growth startups?

That answer is even simpler, they have better options. If you want to return low single-digit returns, you can simply put your money in bonds, REITs or dividend-paying stocks — and not pay the significant fees associated with venture capital.  

What about you, Jason?

For background, I’m an angel and seed investor, so my job is much different than a VC’s. I invest in 50+ startups a year and 24 of 25 investments do not result in a meaningful return (i.e., zero to 5x).

I’m banking on hitting a serious return every 25 investments, with serious being defined as greater than 50x, cash on cash (REALLY HARD TO DO).

So far, after 200+ investments, I’ve got Uber, Thumbtack, Wealthfront, Robinhood, Desktop Metal, Datastax, and as outliers, with a couple of dozen startups doing well to very well. I would expect one or two more of those to break out, putting me at eight or 10 outlier investments (one every 20 to 25 investments).

Bottom line: there are zero LPs interested in funding startups with modest to normal growth prospects, and candidly, I don’t meet many founders who don’t want to build large businesses (obviously some selection bias there, as a Mount Rushmore-level angel investor, people don’t come to me with dry cleaners and pizzerias that often).

WARNING: Venture Capital is for founders who want to grow fast (duh)

Once again, the press is here to remind poor, unsuspecting founders that venture capital can — GASP! — result in your startup trying to grow too fast. From today’s New York Times comes the link-baiting title: “More Start-Ups Have an Unfamiliar Message for Venture Capitalists: Get Lost:”

The V.C. business model, on which much of the modern tech industry was built, is simple: Start-ups raise piles of money from investors, and then use the cash to grow aggressively — faster than the competition, faster than regulators, faster than most normal businesses would consider sane. Larger and larger rounds of funding follow. The end goal is to sell or go public, producing astonishing returns for early investors. The setup has spawned household names like Facebook, Google and Uber, as well as hundreds of other so-called unicorn companies valued at more than $1 billion.

New York Times

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

Wait, venture capitalists give you millions of dollars in order to get huge returns?! Capital can be used to grow faster than competitors — tell me more, New York Times!

But for every unicorn, there are countless other start-ups that grew too fast, burned through investors’ money and died — possibly unnecessarily. Start-up business plans are designed for the rosiest possible outcome, and the money intensifies both successes and failures. Social media is littered with tales of companies that withered under the pressure of hypergrowth, were crushed by so-called “toxic V.C.s” or were forced to raise too much venture capital — something known as the “foie gras effect.”

New York times

What!??! Startups burn through the money that investors give to them?! I thought startups were suppposed to put these funds in municiple bonds!

And social media is filled with companies that grew too fast … say it ain’t so, New York Times.

Everyone in Silicon Valley, the founders most of all, understand the deal: VCs give you the money to take a shot at changing the world. Most of the time it doesn’t work out and that’s OK because when it does work out the world’s greatest companies are built.

As far as I’m concerned, you live once and if you’ve got a shot at changing the world you should go big or go home — it’s not like VCs are going to ask you for their money back.

Can a great company be built outside of the venture capital industry? Of course!

Can a huge, billion dollar company be built without investment in a short period of time? It’s very uncommon.

If you want to bootstrap and/or build a boutique business, have at it, but the ground truth I see every day, and I invested in 50+ startups in 2018, is that founders love their angel investors and covet landing venture capitalists that will bet on them changing the world.

Venture capital is a giant, hard to understand and imperfect gift to humanity. It’s the best option for high-growth startups today, and while it might be hard to understand from the outside, it’s awesome that it exists.

When I travel around the world, everyone wants to rebuild what we have here in Silicon Valley, and many ecosystems are making serious progress.

If you don’t want venture capital and you want to grow slow, go for it. Use your credit cards, savings, revenue or bank loans (do those exist?) to get it.

If you do want venture capital in order to go big and change the world, gear up for battle, as you have to beat out hundreds of other founders to get it.

Bottom line: Founders are smart and it is no news flash to them that going big with venture capital is riskier than building a small business.

Podcast Recommendation: “Cafe Insider” & “Stay Tuned with Preet”

Yesterday I shared my personal theory on what makes a great podcaster and recommended “The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast.”

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

Today I’m recommending another person I think fits my three criteria, which are, as a refresher:

  1. They’re successful in their field, but not the most successful
  2. The have strong opinions and like to mix it up, but they know how to listen
  3. They don’t care what people think of them, but they want people to tune in

Preet Bharara was the former Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, was fired by Trump and is part of the composite that Brian Koppelman used for the brilliant and sharp-elbowed AG played by Paul Giamatti in the extraordinary “Billions”.

[It’s important to note the word composite in the previous paragraph, because as Preet hilariously told on an early podcast, he told his mother that the AG in “Billions” was based on him and — spoiler alert — in the first scene of the first episode of “Billions,” said AG is the recipient of a sexual act commonly referred to as being showered by a precious metal.]

Preet has two podcasts, the first is “Stay Tuned with Preet” and the second is “Cafe Insider.” It’s confusing, but stick with me. ST is a chart-topper, with the standard podcasting segments: news, interview and listener questions.

“Cafe Insider” isn’t available as an RSS feed but rather, on a landing page, and is unlocked for $5 a month or $50 a year.

In CI, Preet and Anne Milgram, the former AG of New Jersey, break down the news. Like Bret’s paywalled podcast, “Cafe Insider” feels more informal and freewheelin’. The hosts aren’t overproduced or edited, which is what makes for a great podcast in my opinion.

I’m not a fan of the overproduced public-radio style podcast, where the dual sins of audience manipulation (by audio devices, like music and pauses) and the shaping of narrative (with editing) often results in the obscurification of the messy reality of life.

Things just aren’t as [INSERT AUDIO DROP TO TUG AT LISTENER’S EMOTION, FOLLOWED BY A PAUSE] as simple as they seem.

I highly recommend listening to TuneIn and, if you like Preet’s soothing tones and front-line insights, pay for a year of “Cafe Insider.” Paying for content, if you have the means, is a vote of confidence that compels podcasters to keep going.


Yesterday: Podcat Recommendation: Bret Easton Ellis

Cafe Insider

Stay Tunned (on TuneIn)

Podcast Recommendation: Bret Easton Ellis

My theory of podcasting is that the best shows are hosted by iconoclasts who share three traits:

  1. They’re successful in their field, but not the most successful
  2. The have strong opinions and like to mix it up, but they know how to listen
  3. They don’t care what people think of them, but they want people to tune in

These people are unmanageable by the corporate entertainment complex, so you won’t find them on cable TV.  

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): ]

Sure, they would be great guests themselves, but only on a longer form talk show. If you run a network, you would never give them their own show, and if you did it would end in a barn fire.

One of my favorite podcasts is the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, by the famous author of books like “Less Than Zero” and “American Psycho.”

He starts the podcast with a monologue, something he clearly puts a lot of time into. In these wonderful essays, he will weave together his thoughts on movies, directors and the culture we’re living in. He will get into his personal life, talking regularly about his video game playing, millennial boyfriend and his never-ending, career-long list of tv and movie projects that have failed to get off the ground (“Less Than Zero,” the TV series!).

Next up, he will talk to a guest for an hour or two, and maybe answer some listener questions from time to time. He recently had author Ben Fritz on (who I think used to work for me) and Rachel Kushner, as well as Andrew McCarthy and Nick Jarecki back in 2017.

He doesn’t care what you think of his opinion, and he is willing to change his mind. He appreciates talking to people he doesn’t agree with, and he frequently disagrees with guests.  

These days my movie programming starts with Bret’s suggestions, and then I go to Metacritic to fill in my programming lineup. (How do you make your picks? Comments are open below.)

He used to be on a podcasting network, reading ads half-heartedly (if not sarcastically), but now has a private Patreon feed. This means you have to pay for it, for $2-10 an episode, with higher prices getting you a couple extra minutes of content.

He’s controversial, non-corporate and articulate, and sponsors won’t touch him since he likes to touch the third rail. I don’t agree with everything he says, and sometimes he says stuff that is brutally candid and politically incorrect (his next book, non-fiction, is called WHITE), but he’s smart and entertaining and worth checking out.

Lean Management: The Power of the EOD Report

Wanted to talk to you today about a lightweight management technique I’ve developed over the years called “The EOD and EOW.”

When we hire someone, I tell them that we don’t have management at LAUNCH, that it’s a flat organization and our goal is to stay small but increase our efficiency.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending):

There isn’t a massive reporting structure and you have to manage yourself, and the primary way we do that is an end of day report called the EOD.

The implicit deal is that you’re not going to be micromanaged, or candidly, managed at all, but you will need to “put up numbers” and be accountable to the rest of the team.

The report format is simple and has the following characteristics:

  1. It’s a bullet point list of what you worked on today.
  2. It should take no longer than five minutes to write.
  3. It should include links (i.e., Google sheets, Asana projects, Squarespace, ad campaigns, video clips, etc.).
  4. It can include any blockers or challenging problems you’re facing.
  5. Bonus points if you include a graph, table or chart once and awhile.
  6. Bonus points if you educate the rest of the team in your email.

It’s at once deceptively easy and frustrating at times. If you’re in your email box all day, on social media or reading the news, you might find yourself with zero bullet points at lunchtime (we don’t put in stuff like “checked email” or “read the news” in our EODs).

If you’re not GSDing (getting sh@W$%t done) the EOD lets you know that. So, we now explain to new team members — especially “young guns” (people with under 10 years experience) — that if they are concerned about their EODs being light, to talk to some team members and say, “how can I help more? I’m concerned I’m not contributing enough.”

Ninety percent of the time the people we hire embrace this agreement and crush it. Ten percent of the time we have folks who “forget” to do their EOD, or they send their EOD the next day. Sometimes folks figure out that they’re not passionate about our mission and they’re not a culture fit for our company, and we part ways.

Other times managers realize that they made a bad hire because the person doesn’t have time management skills or, well, enough skills to GSD!

Senior folks in the organization (my top four people, whom I refer to as the “Fantastic Four”) do an EOW (end of the week, sent to each other and to me).

Folks in the organization added to the EOD process by creating a draft email at the start of the day with the top three bullets of what they want to get done.

This may all seem super obvious, but if you deploy the EOD/EOW system, at least in a small company, you’ll find out that performance increases and “lack of communication” errors and frustrations go way down.

You also inspire the ETBs (early true believers) and flush out the clock punchers.