Well, that was interesting.
I get many more private emails in response to blog posts than comments. Yesterday, in response to Reflecting on Ponzi Schemes, I got a few that said anyone under 35 needs a net native currency, and that’s crypto. A few others said some versions of all governments are Ponzi schemes. And I got a few that implied I hated crypto.
Earlier last year, one of my partners told me that I’d developed a reputation with other VCs (presumably our partner funds) that I hate crypto. At the time, I deflected and said that I didn’t hate crypto; I just thought there was considerable Ponzi-like behavior in crypto. I’m regularly cynical about things on our internal Slack channel and periodically post about big blowups, including in crypto.
I realize that I’m conflating speculation vs. investment. The part of crypto I don’t like is the rampant speculation. This morning, a friend of mine sent me an email about some money I owed him for a thing we are doing together. He said, “If you paypal me I’ll buy some bitcoin with it. Looks like it’s starting to firm up.”
Here were the bitcoin prices when he sent me the email and when I Paypalled him the money ($1,456.42).
1/15/23 9:51 PM MT: $21,158.55
1/16/23 7:28 PM MT: $20,879.14
That’s a 1.33% difference. It cost me nothing to Paypal him the money. It would have cost me $19.37 to pay him via Bitcoin just because of the timing difference. That has nothing to do with the transaction cost. It’s entirely a result of speculative activity.
I mean, c’mon. Yeah, I know credit cards have fees, and endless payment rails in the system extract money along the way. But there are also ACH and Debit Cards. And free checking accounts, although I guess it would cost me $0.60 for a stamp. Wait, $0.60 for a stamp? The last time I bought a stamp, they were $0.29. And yes, I know some of you out there have never bought a stamp.
It’s hard for me to hate crypto. It’s been economically very good to me. I accidentally bought twice as many bitcoins as I needed for an online programming course I took in 2013 for about $100 each. I sold the FIL I got from investing in their SAFT as it vested (daily) and was amazed at how much money resulted. The Helium that I earned, which seemed to have no functional utility whatsoever, generated a nice multiple on the cost of all the routers I bought, even though today I earn nothing because of whatever algorithm changes they’ve made, so the network is now functionally and economically worthless. And, the crypto funds we have invested in have done exceptionally well … mostly.
I regularly hear to be patient. It’s like the Internet was in 1999 – ahead of its time. The builders are building, and it’ll take over everything in the future.
Ok. That’s cool. Just beware of the Ponzi schemes.
Others, especially those in the crypto industry, were saying some version of “Well, FTX Might Looking Like a Ponzi Scheme, But Crypto is Legit and Isn’t a Ponzi Scheme.” But then someone else in the Crypto industry, on the same website, wrote Crypto Ponzi Schemes: How to Identify and Protect Yourself From These Scams. Ok. How confusing.
What should an investor believe? The SEC has an official publication, Ponzi schemes Using virtual Currencies. It’s … not helpful … and implies almost everything in crypto is a Ponzi scheme. At least it has some phone numbers you can call if you have questions. Yeah, still not helpful.
Yesterday, I binge-watched MADOFF: The Monster of Wall Street. I was tired, so I just sat around and absorbed four hours of a $65 billion, over 20-year Ponzi scheme. It’s worth watching for historical context.
While longer and less dramatic, it’s more informative than The Wizard of Lies, which stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as Bernie and Ruth Madoff. However, De Niro completely nails the role of the monster of wall street.
As crypto continues to evolve, it’s worth remembering the part human nature and greed play in all of this. Whenever an economic bubble bursts, Ponzi’s and fraud are revealed. And there’s plenty of it, especially human nature and greed, all the time, everywhere, in finance.
Amy and I watch The Big Short every couple of years to stay grounded in reality.
Pro tip: whenever you see the phrase “guaranteed returns,” close your browser tab.
Six months ago I wrote When The Big Companies Show Up about Sony releasing their first holographic display and what I thought about that development, given my role as an investor via Foundry and board member in the 40-person purveyor of fine holographic interfaces in Brooklyn called Looking Glass. In that post, I wrote:
“When I ponder my life in 2040, I am confident that I will not be spending 12 hours a day in videoconferences on a 2D display. I’m also not going to have a headset encapsulating my face. I’m ready for my holographic future, and I’m having fun being an investor in a company that helps create it.”
That future is coming fast, and last week I was involved in several discussions about holograms.
The first was with Shawn Frayne, the CEO of Looking Glass, reporting that by the summer they will have shipped a personal holographic display to 10,000 people around the world.
The second was a chat about Google announcing a holographic system of their own at Google I/O. Following is a brief excerpt from one of the articles floating around about that announcement:
“Pichai said “We have developed a breakthrough light field display,” probably with the help of the people and IP it scooped up from Lytro, the light field camera company that didn’t manage to get its own tech off the ground and dissolved in 2018.
Light field cameras and displays create and show 3D imagery using a variety of techniques that are very difficult to explain or show in 2D. The startup Looking Glass has made several that are extremely arresting to view in person, showing 3D models and photographic scenes that truly look like tiny holograms.
Whether Google’s approach is similar or different, the effect appears to be equally impressive, as the participants indicate.”
Needless to say, the Looking Glass community has some strong opinions about this new development.
Knowing Google, there is little chance that #ProjectStarline will ever turn into a real product that people can buy.— Jan Kaiser 🛡️ (@jankais3r) May 18, 2021
On the other hand, @LKGGlass has been selling volumetric displays since at least 2018.
Go check them out. https://t.co/LvxnPNZwyM
Will Google or Sony or Looking Glass or some other contender deliver on the full potential of the holographic future we’ve all been waiting for? While my bet is on Looking Glass, this future now feels more inevitable than ever.
If you’re interested in building out this future with the band of misfits at Looking Glass, drop me an email and I’ll connect you.
In February, we announced our investment in Gig Wage. After some entertaining back and forth, I encouraged Craig Lewis, the founder/CEO of Gig Wage, to write up a quick story of how things unfolded, as he remembered them, and I’d post it here. I love founder stories, and origin stories, and always learn something from reflecting on them. So, in Craig’s words …
Two tech guys from Dallas walk into a bar…
Before I met Brad in person, I had known about him because he’s pretty much startup-famous from his books and from co-founding Techstars, but I didn’t know much about Foundry Group. I hadn’t even read any of his books at the time, but I knew I was interested in meeting him.
Brad and I first met at an event two years ago at UTD (University of Texas at Dallas), where he would be speaking. We met at the bar, I had my favorite go-to drink, the “Black American” (my concoction, inspired by a White Russian), and Brad was having water since he doesn’t drink.
My first impression of Brad was that he’s freaking brilliant. You can tell when someone’s done a lot and is smart from their experience. I figured, ‘this guy’s seen it all from A to Z and has probably seen it from Z to A and then back again.’ And he could have easily been not cool, but he was totally humble and down-to-earth, and we just kind of vibed. When we spoke, it didn’t seem like an investor-entrepreneur thing, just two guys from Dallas talking tech.
Fast forward to about a year later, we had recently received an investment from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Revolution. Entrepreneurs who are part of his portfolio take part in a quarterly book club, where we all read a book and one entrepreneur is chosen to interview the author of the book. I happened to be able to interview Brad when we got an early look at the latest edition of his book Venture Deals. Between meeting Brad and interviewing him, he had set up a few introductions for me, which was cool of him, and when we got to the interview, it was casual, like we knew each other from around and had kind of been in touch before. We did a live webinar Q+A for all of the entrepreneurs in the book club. After getting through all my questions about his book, we ended up talking about entrepreneurship, technology, and venture capital.
That’s when I started to realize that he’s a prolific investor, and I started to understand the Foundry Group a little better, although it didn’t fully click for me until we went through Techstars and I met Jaclyn Hester. She was able to quickly get up to speed on the company we were building and my vision for Gig Wage. Funny enough, we still didn’t think we were going to do anything, but the managing director for Techstars (who I later ended up hiring) told me that Foundry Group is super legit. Eventually, we connected the dots and realized that my relationship with Brad was just organically building up to an investment from Foundry Group. As it was happening, these events just seemed like different moments, but looking back, it’s obvious that every piece of it mattered and eventually led us to where we are today.
When looking for an investment, it’s more about who wants to invest in us and what steps they take to invest in us than the other way around. We typically aren’t going around reaching out to see whose investments we can secure. What happened with Brad and the Foundry Group came down to them showing excitement for Gig Wage, not by me strategically or intentionally pursuing them by any means. I realized our goals aligned, and that’s pretty much how it happened.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve been involved in and advocating for legal immigration since 2010, when, with a half dozen other VCs and entrepreneurs, I co-created the Startup Visa initiative. Since then, I’ve been involved in many immigration-related activities, including the Global EIR program, a docu-drama called For Here or To Go, and direct involvement in helping many immigrants to the US get their visas and green cards.
When PSL started ideating on Boundless, I was lucky to be at the PSL office and participate in one of the extended sessions. I introduced them to Doug Rand, who I’d worked with during the Obama administration on several things, including Startup America and the USCIS EIR program. Shortly after, I met Xiao Wang, the entrepreneur PSL recruited to be the founding CEO of Boundless.
Working with Xiao and the team he’s built has been incredibly rewarding. In early 2017, the US government posture toward immigration took a strong negative turn, and from that point forward, Boundless faced massive headwinds at every turn. Rather than complain or fold up shop like several of their early competitors did, Boundless focused on a long-term vision of being the best possible resource for legal immigration into the US. As a result, their business grew with extremely high customer satisfaction while navigating the endless changes and stresses coming from the US government around immigration.
Last summer, Boundless acquired RapidVisa and significantly expanded its business and types of visas that it could support. Whenever a company acquires a similar-sized business, tough choices ensue as the two companies are integrated. The teams at Boundless and RapidVisa made these choices deliberately and thoughtfully, setting Boundless up for growth from a more meaningful base.
With the new Biden administration, the US government’s posture on immigration has shifted again. As a result, Xiao now finds himself as the CEO of the largest company in its category, with huge tailwinds after navigating and surviving four years of headwinds. I’m excited to be part of the next phase of Boundless’s journey.
“Either this is madness or it is Hell.”
“It is neither,” calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, “it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions: open your eye once again and try to look steadily.”
-Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I’m not a fan of prognostications. In a collision of complex systems like what we are all living through right now, predicting the future is especially pointless.
That’s why I’m happy when I don’t need to make a prediction when something long promised in science fiction futures arrives in the present.
That just happened today with holograms.
For anyone who watched Minority Report the first time and wondered when they’d be able to make their own holographic home movies; for those of you that work or play in 3D; and even for anyone that bought the iPhone 12 Pro because it has a LiDAR scanner, today you can get your first personal holographic display, Looking Glass Portrait, for the radical price of $199.
This is meeting a moment when millions of phones can already capture depth maps sufficient to generate a holographic image every time they snap a Portrait mode photo. Compute is so cheap that with clever techniques even lightweight computers like a Raspberry Pi can be coaxed to run holographic media. And 3D modeling and 3D design are becoming so standard that it won’t be long before the “3D” distinction fades away (just as we no longer have to say we work on computers with “color graphical user interfaces”).
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when 2040 rolls around, I know I’m not going to be spending 12 hours a day in 2D videoconferences. And I won’t be viewing 3D information on flat screens. In all of the chaos of 2020, it’s a welcome diversion to know that the holographic future is arriving, and I’m delighted to be an investor in a company like Looking Glass Factory that’s making it happen.
Get your first personal holographic display here today.
I find it fascinating when a large company enters a new arena.
Some of you will remember this happening back in 1981 when IBM announced it was getting into the personal computer market. This was a field that up until that point had been completely dominated by smaller players like Apple. Steve Jobs’s response was the now-infamous full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal welcoming IBM to the game.
Fast forward to today. Sony just announced they are going to start shipping a holographic display. This is the first large company entering this nascent field that I’m aware up. And, as far as I know, the only company actually shipping a product at this point is Looking Glass (I sit on the board, and Foundry is an investor.)
As the quote attributed to Mark Twain says (but ironically unclear whether he actually said it), “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
In an effort to rhyme, Looking Glass CEO Shawn Frayne’s welcome letter to Sony, inspired in font and spirit by the original Apple 1981 ad, follows.
When I ponder my life in 2040, I am confident that I will not be spending 12 hours a day in videoconferences on a 2D display. I’m also not going to have a headset encapsulating my face. I’m ready for my holographic future, and I’m having fun being an investor in a company that helps create it.
Let the games begin! Looking Glass has some fun stuff up their sleeves that they are releasing on December 2. Sign up here to be the first to know.
Historically, almost everything I do uses a network model. Foundry Group runs as a network. If you take a look at the Foundry Group partner funds or talk to us about our investment strategy, you’ll immediately see the texture of a network. Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. All of my ideas around Startup Communities incorporate network theory. If you are involved in any organizations I’ve helped create, such as Energize Colorado, you’ll immediately recognize the network model underlying them.
For me, a network is very different than a social network such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now that my entire life has shifted to a virtual one, I’ve been playing around with a lot of new network concepts and how they apply to work.
My long time friend Matt Blumberg just launched a new company today called Bolster. It’s a new way to scale your executive team and board. Fred Wilson, also a long time friend of Matt’s, has a great detailed post up today about it titled Bolster Your Management Team And Board that goes through Bolster in detail. A key section from Fred’s post is:
The Bolster team believes that scaling a high growth company means that you need to adapt, grow, and supplement your management team continuously along the way. And a big part of doing that is accessing “fractional talent” which means people that don’t work for your company full-time and permanently. All of this is outlined in the Bolster Founding Manifesto which explains why they started this company.
Sign up for Bolster if you:
While we are not direct investors in Bolster, we are indirect investors in three of Bolster’s investors: High Alpha, USV, and Costanoa. It’s a great example of our investment strategy around a network model.
I know the near term plans for Bolster and there’s an enormous amount of value coming quickly around executive and board hires, especially on the dimension of networks, inclusion, and diversity. I encourage you to give it a try and get involved at the beginning.
Misty Robotics’ goal is to create a robot platform (hardware and software) that any developer can use to build useful and immediately applicable robot applications.
A number of early customers have started building solutions. When the Covid crisis hit, companies started to realize that to be safe, checking people’s temperature on entry into a building would be a powerful preventative measure. So, Misty decided to build a specific application for temperature screening.
It took about 30 days to go from idea to beta application that is validated in office environments. The application includes:
I think it’s an awesome alternative to the approach of having a human being do the screening. The idea of having a human greeter temperature screen people on entry into an office environment just sounds like an unsafe, tedious, and uncomfortable job to me right now.
Misty is in beta with this and already has several paid beta customers. If you are interested in learning more, sign up for a demo.