It’s the second week of December, which is about the time that all of the predictions for 2019 start occurring. Last week’s announcements of the confidential S-1 filing of Lyft, Uber, and Slack helped prime the pump for some of these. By the way, did anyone other than me think it was a strange turn of events that companies are now announcing their confidential S-1 filing?
Fred Wilson’s post Thinking Ahead To 2019 is worth reading. Unlike the endless stream of predictions that are about to come out, it’s an analysis of the spread between the public market and private company valuations. Fred is not predicting anything in particular but makes several useful observations, including the following:
“And yet storm clouds are on the horizon for the capital markets in 2019. Rates have risen significantly in the last eighteen months, pulling capital out of the equity markets and into the fixed income markets. There are some leading indicators that suggest a business slowdown is on the horizon, which would be the first one in the US in a decade. And, of course, the situation in DC is getting dicey and that will weigh on markets as well.”
Last week I was talking to a friend who is a growth investor. He and his firm see most of the bay area growth deals (e.g. the unicorns stampede to their front door). He made an observation that a number of deals he’s now seeing are for flat rounds with companies that need to raise more money to keep going and he’s feeling the slow down of investor interest at this level. This dynamic is reflected in the article Scooter Firm Chases Funding to Staunch Losses about the current Lime and Bird financings.
Any student of history knows that there is a linkage between the push to the public markets, demand dynamics of the public markets, and the availability and attractiveness of capital in the private markets. If you lived through the Internet-bubble between 1999 and 2002 you know this cycle well. And, you know that the companies that survived it were the ones with very strong fundamental businesses (e.g. Google), regardless of whether they were private or public at the time.
At the same time, entire categories collapsed. The web hosting business – lead by Exodus – almost entirely went bankrupt or was restructured. Out of this mess came several long-term companies and a huge number of pennies on the dollar type acquisitions. If you were on the winning side of this, it was incredibly lucrative, because even in a massive collapse there is a huge long-term opportunity. But you had to be thinking about the economics and capital structure of the business, versus just chasing growth with more equity dollars.
I have no interest in predicting anything, including how any specific category or company will perform. I also have no idea what the timing of anything is. I do know that if you are an entrepreneur or investor, you should pay attention to the context but be very focused on building a durable long-term business. And this moment in time is one that feels like you should be aware of how much capital you have, how you are spending it, and when (or if) you will need to raise more.
Remember – it can all go to zero (a post I wrote when Bitcoin was at $12,000.)
Before you have an allergic reaction to the title of the post and respond with “you are stupid”, bear with me for a second as I set up the problem.
I’ve been a heavy Slack user for at least six months (probably closer to nine). We started using it internally at Foundry Group and then I joined a number of Slack instances of companies that we are investors in. For at least three months, I joined a number of relevant channels for each organization and tried to participate. I use Slack on the Mac primary so I used the left side bar to have multiple teams active, tuned my notifications so they weren’t overwhelming, and engaged as best as I could. I tried to post on Slack when I had an issue with the company – usually around a product – that needed to be communicated to a group instead of one person. And, for a few of the CEOs, we used Slack as our primary DM channel.
I hit the Slack wall about a month ago and stopped regularly engaging with the organizations other than Foundry Group. There is a long list of functional issues with how Slack handles things across orgs that makes using it this way a burden that suddenly felt worse to me than email. I could go through them and I expect Slack will eventually address some of them since I can’t imagine that I’m the only person in the world struggling to try to deal with Slack across 15 organizations, but the thing that really perplexed me was a new phenomenon that I noticed a month or so ago.
I’m increasingly being invited to other Slack groups of curated people.
This hit me in the face over the weekend when I was invited to a new Slack group by someone well-known. It’s a fascinating group of randomly connected people who ramped up a handful of channels over the weekend. I stayed on top of it until Monday morning and then was swept away in my normal week.
I just went and checked it again. There are over 60 members, but there were less than 30 new Slack messages since the last time I checked. Most were in one channel. As I skimmed it, I thought to myself that this would have been just as effective, or possibly more effective, as a typical group email list. And, since I do most of my group email lists in Google Groups, they are easily searchable and archivable, so the archive/search argument goes away away immediately.
As the amount of time I have to spend engaging with Slack increases, it suddenly feels more ponderous. And, when I started thinking about it in the context of the very active Foundry Group CEO list, it felt much less effective to switch this to a real time channel, as very few of the interactions necessitate real time.
So – I’m trying to get my mind around the value of Slack instead of an email list for large, cross-organization communication. Other than “it’s a new thing”, what are the foundational benefits of it. If you are someone engaged in a large, cross-organizational Slack group, now is the time to weigh in and give me a clue.
I realized yesterday, as I was driving to Denver, that my comm channels shifted again after I returned from sabbatical in December. This happens periodically, mostly as a result of me taking some time away and changing things up on re-entry.
The largest change is that I’m batching my email. Rather than reading and responding to email on my phone throughout the day, or using slack time in my calendar to check and catch up on email, I’m doing a pass in the morning, another pass late in the day, and then finishing up at night. While grinding through 200 emails at a time in 90 minutes isn’t awesome fun, it’s enhanced by having some Nine Inch Nails playing loudly while I’m doing it. So – instead of an always or or interrupt channel, my email has turned into a more periodic (several times a day) comm channel. This feels good so far.
That shifted my real time channels to a few different things since there isn’t a single unifying answer. The active set is Voxer (audio), Slack, and iMessage, probably in that order. Techstars runs on Voxer as do several companies I’m involved in and my partners use it for longer discussions. We use Slack internally for short stuff and I’m in eight other Slack instances for companies I’m on the board of. iMessage ends up being the least common denominator for everyone else for real-time messaging.
Of the three, I find Voxer by far the most satisfying and convenient. I went through an intrigued phase with Slack when I started engaging with the Slack instances for several of our companies, but I quickly found the noise overwhelmed the signal for me so I use it for specific things and periodic scans of a channel I’m particularly interested in (say – the FullContact Chrome 2.0 channel since I’m obsessed about the new version coming out), but mostly it’s now a direct message channel to the CEOs and a few other people on various leadership teams.
Interestingly, Skype is completely absent from my workflow. I’ve also largely eliminated Twitter and Facebook from my daily information flow given the high distraction characteristics. I do monitor Twitter for DMs and @bfeld’s via Twitter for Mac, but it mostly hangs out quietly on the far left side of my screen. Facebook gets my attention once a day when I scan it as part of my “daily routine“, but that’s about it.
I also find that I’m spending much less time looking at shit on my iPhone, which I think is likely a result of cutting Twitter, Facebook, and email out of the always on / interrupt flow. The result is that I feel much calmer and focused throughout the day, and able to concentrate on what is in front of me, rather than what is flying at me.
I’m curious if anyone out there has discovered, or is using, something that effectively unifies different channels. We are investors in Sameroom and I’ve used it effectively in some cases, but mostly to integrate across different Slack instances, since Slack doesn’t handle that very well.
And, if you have other favorite comm channels, weigh in on them and I’ll react to how I have, or haven’t used them in the past.