One of the things humans are bad at is remembering the past and incorporating the lessons they learned from difficult experiences. I’m sure there’s a philosophical word for this, but I’ve now heard the phrase “this time it is different” so many times that it doesn’t register with me as a valid input.
I woke up this morning to Howard Lindzon’s post R.I.P Good Times (Said Sequoia in October, 2008) and Nobody Knows Anything pointing to David Frankel’s tweet:
— David Frankel (@dafrankel) May 15, 2018
All of this ultimately led to me reviewing Sequoia’s classic slide deck from 2008.
I remember reading it in 2008. We were about a year into our first Foundry Group fund, which we raised in 2007. That now feels like a very long time ago.
I encourage everyone to review the deck. It would be awesome if an economist (Ian Hathaway, are you out there?) made a new deck with an update to 4 through 38 that extended the time frame (and analysis) to 2018.
There are two great fictional TV series about technology and the computer industry that each have now had three seasons. The one everyone knows about is Silicon Valley. The lessor known one is Halt and Catch Fire. They are both dynamite but for different reasons. And, after three years and some reflection on my part, HCF decimates Silicon Valley (which is mostly a challenge to my friends who have writing credits.)
The foundational difference is that HCF is about the history of the personal computer industry (starting in the early 1980s) while Silicon Valley is a contemporary satire of today’s Silicon Valley.
While contemporary satires can be awesome (like Silicon Valley is), there is no sense of perspective. Since you are generally watching it unfold in real time, after three years you don’t get the historical arc, unless you go back and watch from the first episode. And, when you do, the first few episodes fall short, for a variety of reasons including the writers are getting their satire in gear while figuring out all the other pieces. Basically, it’s really challenging to get started – so in a lot of ways Silicon Valley has it harder than HCF.
Even just the titles tell you this. We all know what Silicon Valley is (or at least we think we do). But, without looking it up, do you know what Halt and Catch Fire refers to? I’ll give you a hint – notice my TLA for it (HCF). I’ll give you another hint – it has something to do with Motorola. And Intel. And the IBM 360. Go read the Wikipedia page on HCF – it’s got the whole story – but the punch line is “The mnemonic HCF is believed to be the first built-in self-test feature on a Motorola microprocessor”
Silicon Valley’s version of this is Hooli. But if they wanted to get it really right, it should have been something like Hooley since the better name would have six letters in it.
There are 100s of these embedded in each show. Watching the opening of Silicon Valley, with the animated Uber and Lyft balloons muscling each other out, is fun. The Twitter golden parachutes are cute. But even though it gets regularly updated, there are quickly artifacts that are out of place. It’s the challenge of current verses history.
Ok – pesca-pescatarian stays with me and I’ve told Dick Costolo that every board meeting at Chorus should include this option.
Shows like these get an awesome chance to have characters that are either direct historical references, historically inspired references, syntheses of historical characters, or completely fictional characters. Each has both, but HCF does the synthesis character much better. And, as part of it, they took on some gender stereotypes in an extremely powerful way through two of the lead female characters.
Finally, as someone who lived in Dallas in the time frame that the first two seasons of HCF unfolded (full time as a senior in high school and then in the summers when I was going to MIT) they just fucking nailed it. While Dell and CompuAdd were in Austin (anyone remember PCs Limited) and Compaq was in Houston, another clone maker (Five Star Electronics) was in Dallas and at least one of the Compaq early players (Kevin Ellington) came from TI in Dallas where he was previously the head of the team that created short lived but excellent TI Professional Computer.
In contrast, while I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley over the last 20 years, I’ve never lived there and don’t feel an emotional attachment to it. I’m a participant, but it’s not “of me”, whereas Dallas is.
All that said, they are both awesome shows that now have enough time in them (three years of episodes) to be worth a watch from start to finish! And, for bonus points, watch the documentary Silicon Cowboys.
If you are over 80 years old, you experienced the transition from the non-dial telephone to the dial telephone, which included the magic “finger stop.”
If you are 30, imagine what you will be reflecting on 50 years from now.
There is a cliche in the financial world that has been around forever.
“Two things drive decisions: Greed and Fear”
For the past few years, we’ve been a zone where greed has been dominating. Every now and then a little fear creeps in and then gets squished into the corner by chants of “things are different this time” and “that’s just PTSD from the Internet bubble.”
Recently, the fear seems to be sticking around. There are plenty of people trying to kick it away, shake it off, or ignore it. But it lingers. And the smell of it gets stronger.
I had an exchange with a CEO the other day who was at an event in the bay area and commented on the attendees at the event. The telling line was:
They’ve never read the RIP Good Times deck, they don’t remember the Bin 38 fiasco, they think it’s the first go round.
I once again rolled out my favorite BSG line.
All this has happened before and all of it will happen again.
I’m a strong believer that you can build great companies in time of both greed and fear. But you have to be paying attention and operating under the right assumptions. You don’t have to believe history repeats itself, but you should accept that history rhymes. And one big rhyme is that the shift from greed to fear happens much faster than the shift from fear to greed.
If you are a founder running a high growth, VC backed company, here are a few questions to ask your investors today.
- What is the maximum amount of monthly net burn you are comfortable with for us right now?
- Based on our current course and speed, we run out of money in X months. If we can’t find a new lead investor, will you write us a check? How much and on what terms?
- If companies start failing left and right, do you think it will impact us in a meaningful way (either good or bad)? If yes, how?
There are no correct answers to these questions but they’ll give you a sense of how your investors are thinking along the greed – fear spectrum. You get bonus points if you ask the investor to walk you through what they were doing the last time things shifted from greed to fear and to tell you stories about things that went well for them, went poorly, and what they learned.
Don’t be afraid to explore what could happen well before it does. Our history rhymes with the famous John Galt quote “Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever.”
Yesterday we closed our fifth fund, Foundry Venture Capital 2016, L.P. As with all four of our other funds, it’s a $225 million fund.
In 2007 we raised our first fund – Foundry Venture Capital 2007. We subsequently raised a $225 million fund in 2010, another one in 2013, and a late stage fund in 2013. Our 2013 fund was originally raised in 2012, but we didn’t start investing it until 2013 so we renamed it 2013.
Except for our late stage fund, each of our funds has 30 investments (+/- 2) in it. Each is $225 million. Each is roughly invested 1/3rd into companies in Colorado, 1/3rd into companies in the bay area, and 1/3rd into companies in the rest of the US (Boston, NY, Seattle, LA, Portland, Austin, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Burlington, and Phoenix.)
Our investment strategy has been unchanged since we raised our first fund in 2007. We are thematic investors, an approach we pioneered with a few other firms that today is trendy (and often mislabeled). We invest $5 million to $15 million in a company over its lifetime. We are early stage investors – if you’ve raised more than $3 million you are too late for us. We only invest in the US, but will invest anywhere in the US. We are syndication agnostic – we’ll invest with other VCs or invest by ourselves.
Our late stage fund gave us flexibility to invest more money in our later stage companies. We aren’t a growth investor, but rather interested in investing more money in our winners. This fund has already seen two big exits – Gnip and Fitbit.
We view our jobs as taking a box full of money that our investors give us and giving them back a bigger box full of more money over time. It’s pretty straightforward. We try to do this our own special way while having a lot of fun doing it. We have a small number of investors (around 20) who we appreciate deeply for supporting us in our journey.
And we couldn’t do any of this without the founders we get to work with. We appreciate them more than anything. Well, other than Jason’s musical abilities. For example:
I hate doing “reflections on the last year” type of stuff so I was delighted to read Fred Wilson’s post this morning titled What Just Happened? It’s his reflection on what happened in our tech world in 2014 and it’s a great summary. Go read it – this post will still be here when you return.
Since I don’t really celebrate Christmas, I end up playing around with software a lot over the holidays. This year my friends at FullContact and Mattermark got the brunt of me using their software, finding bugs, making suggestions, and playing around with competitive stuff. I hope they know that I wasn’t trying to ruin their holidays – I just couldn’t help myself.
I’ve been shifting to almost exclusively reading (a) science fiction and (b) biographies. It’s an interesting mix that, when combined with some of the investments I’m deep in, have started me thinking about the next 30 years of the innovation curve. Every day, when doing something on the computer, I think “this is way too fucking hard” or “why isn’t the data immediately available”, or “why am I having to tell the software to do this”, or “man this is ridiculous how hard it is to make this work.”
But then I read William Hertling’s upcoming book The Turing Exception, remember that The Singularity (first coined in 1958 by John von Neumann, not more recently by Ray Kurzweil, who has made it a very popular idea) is going to happen in 30 years. The AIs that I’m friends with don’t even have names or identities yet, but I expect some of them will within the next few years.
We have a long list of fundamental software problems that haven’t been solved. Identity is completely fucked, as is reputation. Data doesn’t move nicely between things and what we refer to as “big data” is actually going to be viewed as “microscopic data”, or better yet “sub-atomic data” by the time we get to the singularity. My machines all have different interfaces and don’t know how to talk to each other very well. We still haven’t solved the “store all your digital photos and share them without replicating them” problem. Voice recognition and language translation? Privacy and security – don’t even get me started.
Two of our Foundry Group themes – Glue and Protocol – have companies that are working on a wide range of what I’d call fundamental software problems. When I toss in a few of our HCI-themes investments, I realize that there’s a theme that might be missing, which is companies that are solving the next wave of fundamental software problems. These aren’t the ones readily identified today, but the ones that we anticipate will appear alongside the real emergence of the AIs.
It’s pretty easy to get stuck in the now. I don’t make predictions and try not to have a one year view, so it’s useful to read what Fred thinks since I can use him as my proxy AI for the -1/+1 year window. I recognize that I’ve got to pay attention to the now, but my curiosity right now is all about a longer arc. I don’t know whether it’s five, ten, 20, 30, or more years, but I’m spending intellectual energy using these time apertures.
History is really helpful in understanding this time frame. Ben Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington in the late 1700s. Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the mid 1800s. John Rockefeller in the early 1900s. The word software didn’t even exist.
We’ve got some doozies coming in the next 50 years. It’s going to be fun.
Amy and I recently agreed to support the new Museum of Boulder with a substantial gift that entitles us to sponsor all the bathrooms in the new museum.
This highly interactive museum of history, science, and technology of Boulder will be located in the old Masonic Lodge building at the corner of Pine and Broadway. The Boulder History Museum purchased that building last year and is raising money for the renovation of the building and the construction of the new exhibits and facilities.
The “old” museum is located at 12th and Euclid in the Harbeck House and, while this is a beautiful old house, it lacks the space for the exhibits and programs that are envisioned for the new museum.
The new museum (renamed the Museum of Boulder because of its greatly expanded scope) will include a permanent exhibit space exploring the past, present, and future of Boulder and a large temporary exhibit gallery so that Boulder can host Smithsonian quality traveling exhibits. The building will also contain a children’s museum, expanded educational facilities, and a Maker Space. Permanent exhibits will include the overall history of Boulder and the evolution of the Food, Fitness, Science and Technology innovations, and businesses in Boulder.
Amy and I are pleased to support the campaign to build the new museum and urge others to contribute to this worthwhile cause. For more information or to get a tour of the new building, contact Nancy Geyer, the CEO of the Museum, at email@example.com.
I got asked today for a picture of the four founders of Techstars together (me, David Cohen, David Brown, and Jared Polis.) I did a search and came up with a few, but also stumbled upon this beauty. This is the original promotion video for the first Techstars program, filmed at the end of 2006 and apparently uploaded to Youtube on January 14, 2007.
Following are my comments on the video.
- Look how young David Cohen looks.
- Notice all the excellent red and white fonts.
- Danny Newman needs a haircut.
- Jared Polis wasn’t yet a congressman.
- Our Donkey Kong machine worked.
- Foundry Group wasn’t yet started.
- Our office (and the film) was done in our old office in Superior.
- I hadn’t started wearing Robert Graham shirts yet.
- My Treadputer v1.0 was up and running.
- David Brown looks exactly like he does today.
- We didn’t have the .com domain yet.
It used to be hard to find historical artifacts like this. They lived in an attic or a basement and were covered by dust. The web is just amazing.
“History is written by the victors” – maybe said by Winston Churchill
“History is Written By the Winners” – George Orwell
“To the victor belong the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy
Yesterday I wrote a post about my first experience as a venture capitalist. I didn’t try to dramatize anything – I just wrote what I remembered. I got a handful of emails from people involved in some way.
One line that jumped out at me was “Nice to see at least one guy who is not into rewriting history.”
Another that jumped out at me from a different person was “I didn’t know the history with you and Netgen. Sorry that it was a hard experience. The ironic thing is I have always considered you one of the three fairy godfathers of Netgen.”
Today Fred Wilson wrote a fantastic post titled “My First Investment“. He bluntly referred to it “a shitshow” in a comment on my post. Joanne Wilson also wrote about her first angel investment (Curbed) which recently had a nice exit.
I love these origin stories – both the successes and the failures. While I didn’t experience Fred and Joanne’s, they both write from the heart so I expect they are their truthful stories. But as I read so many other origin stories, especially those that are presented by third parties as histories or by respected thinkers, politicians, or journalists as justification for their current position, I’m reminded of the quotes at the beginning of this post.
I ran across a great juxtaposition of this today. On Twitter, I saw a link to a NY Times OpEd from David Brooks on marijuana titled “Weed: Been There. Done That.” I normally don’t pay any attention to what Brooks writes, but I clicked since it showed up in my Twitter stream and read it. It felt like bizarre, sanctimonious bullshit, especially the punchline “In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.”
So I tweeted something about whether Brooks still drinks alcohol in an effort to be amusing. I was then pointed on Twitter to an amazing post by Gary Greenberg, who was one of the people Brooks referred to in his OpEd about the kids he used to get high with. It was titled “I smoked pot with David Brooks.” Now, I don’t know Brooks or Greenberg, nor do I really have any stake in the discussion between them, but I thought it was an amazing example of how as humans we tend to rewrite history to fit our current circumstance.
Now, I don’t really care about the legalization of marijuana. I don’t smoke pot and haven’t since the one time I tried it in college and hated it. But I also don’t care if others smoke it – I have a lot of friends who enjoy it. And since I’m ignoring politics in 2014, I’m not going to pay attention to the legalization discussion.
But I do find the dissonance in origin stories to be fascinating. Maybe Brooks is remembering things differently. Maybe he’s limited by the number of words the NY Times allows him. Maybe he cares more about making a point about society linked to the legalization of marijuana. Or maybe he was drunk when he wrote this OpEd. I don’t know – that doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that it’s important to always remember how origin stories get rewritten by the winners, by people in power, by people trying to justify their position, or just because it’s human nature. Being TAGFEE is really, really hard.