“If you’re graduating this spring and starting a career in tech, I’ve got one piece of advice: go work at a midstage startup (I’ll define that as B/C rounds of financing – eg Twilio, Stripe, Airbnb, Warby). Here’s why:”—
Preferably someone whip smart, responsive, great communicator who wants to eventually become a product manager with my mentorship. General Assembly is a really special place and I promise the role will be intellectually challenging and stimulating.
I am generally not a big fan of strategies that involve pursuing business A now in order to pursue B in the future. I tend to believe that you should go for B right away. For example, if you are planning to disrupt textbooks I would likely prefer a strategy that figures out how to peer produce those instead of one that first tries to make the renting and exchange of existing textbooks more efficient. Why? Because there are few businesses that have pulled off the “A now, B later” trick — most everyone simply gets stuck in business A. Netflix is one the few that pulled it off. They first shipped DVDs and now successfully stream (even Netflix they almost botched the transition).
Two possible justifications come to mind for the “A now, B later” strategy. The first is technological progress. When Netflix got started, streaming was not yet a truly viable option. The second one is behavior change. When Amazon first got going, buying online was enough of a change for people. It would have been too much to also ask them to do so in a marketplace and so Amazon chose the commerce format. Bezos smartly picked books where an online store had big advantages over a brick and mortar one.
This latter justification seems particularly relevant when looking at healthcare opportunities. After many years of content sites a la WebMD we are now seeing a great many startups that want to actually provide care. This ranges from medical Q&A sites all the way to telemedicine applications on mobile phones. Going to the computer or your phone for a consult rather than a flesh-and-blood doctor is a big behavior change. That suggests that an Amazon like strategy where you start with commerce and only introduce a marketplace later may be the winning model.
So what would a commerce model a la Amazon look like in healthcare? It would be a branded service that provides diagnosis, prescription and if necessary referral. The service would use some combination of texting, possibly video chats / image uploads, and use of existing lab networks (eg for blood analysis). The logical entry point would either be primary care in its entirety or a large specialty such as dermatology. I believe the right service could quickly grow large, especially if it can be priced in a way where insurance reimbursement becomes a secondary consideration. The subsequent marketplace would be for cases that require a specialist or treatment other than prescriptions.
I am curious to hear from others whether they buy this argument about a commerce model coming first or think we will go straight to a marketplace. Also, if you know of any startups pursuing the commerce model please let me know.
General Assembly is doing both commerce (our own courses) and marketplace (our community taught workshops) at the same time. The workshops aren’t pure marketplace though, as we have some involvement with content and marketing, but there is a path to pure marketplace. You can’t go straight to marketplace in education because consumers have high expectations of quality and transformative impact, so you need to maintain editorial and curricular oversight. Otherwise you end up like Udemy or Skillshare, which have had trouble scaling.
Warren Buffett’s 2013 letter to shareholders is fascinating.
"We completed two large acquisitions, spending almost $18 billion to purchase all of NV Energy and a major interest in H. J. Heinz. Both companies fit us well and will be prospering a century from now. […] Though the Heinz acquisition has some similarities to a “private equity” transaction, there is a crucial difference: Berkshire never intends to sell a share of the company. What we would like, rather, is to buy more, and that could happen. […] With Heinz, Berkshire now owns 8.5 companies that, were they stand-alone businesses, would be in the Fortune 500. Only 491.5 to go."
Comcast was the first last mile provider to recognize this and move peering from the realm of network engineers to the MBAs and started systematically refusing to upgrade existing private interconnects and in some cases systematically de-peering in other cases. Comcast neatly side-stepped the entire net-neutrality debate by degrading service to everybody who wasn’t willing to pay for a private interconnect. Comcast has had a relatively free hand because their customers are blissfully unaware of the politics of global peering and instead will just go somewhere else when a website is ‘slow’.
This has put a lot of pressure on companies like Amazon who know that a 100ms delay in the order process can result in a 1% decrease in sales. Since private interconnect arrangements aren’t public my guess is a lot of companies have caved and are paying Comcast to peer.
“His new album, “Morning Phase,” is a triumph, possibly because he’s never made a record so focussed. He describes it as both a “healing” and a “reckoning.” For forty-seven minutes, Beck and some of his closest collaborators cast a benevolent spell that refuses to break. The album speaks powerfully and directly, without gimmicks or puns, and it maintains a near-total gentleness. After listening to “Morning Phase” almost fifty times, I can’t find a single thing wrong with it. Even if you listen to popular music all day, every day, you don’t get many albums like this in your lifetime. The relationship between the musician and the listener here is as simple as the outcome is intense: only the artist knows exactly how such an album is made, but only the audience can verify that it is perfect… .”—
At a USV Annual Meeting of their Limited Partners (LPs) many years ago, Biz Stone asked a question during Q&A at the end of the meeting. He asked the partners (then Fred, Brad, and newly minted Albert), do you specifically seek to fund companies that also have a social mission in addition to a…
Omidyar Network does this.
Social good is a great bonus, but I imagine USV didn’t mind the IRR on Zynga either.
There was a good, brief discussion on Twitter tonight about Microsoft Office. Specifically, the fact that it’s 2014, so why the hell is anyone still using it?
To be clear, I know that a lot of people have to use it in their work environment. But that’s more because their office buys it for them and forces them to. It’s a strong method of lock-in that is seemingly still going strong after all these years.
The reality is that there are now more than enough solid-to-better alternatives for much of what Office offers. And some, like Google Docs and now even the Apple iWork suite, are free.1 And so it seems to me that increasingly, Office persists more out of habit (“I don’t know how to do this without Office”) and misguided fear (“what if I need Office for some reason?”) than necessity.
It’s an interesting point: why hasn’t anyone tried to take on Excel from the power user direction? Forget the rest of Office, which is basically irrelevant at this point, and just build a better spreadsheet.
I guess the big issue is that you have to have a pretty long term mindset (and runway) for this to be possible. You can pick up users pretty quickly if you’re selling “this is really easy to use,” but trying to convert that finance person who’s spent year learning to make Excel dance? That’s going to take a while.
The people who have rejected Google Docs as an alternative probably love Pivot Tables.
“Those of us in the traditional academy could have a hand in shaping that future, but doing so will require us to relax our obsessive focus on elite students, institutions, and faculty. It will require us to stop regarding ourselves as irreplaceable occupiers of sacred roles, and start regarding ourselves as people who do several jobs society needs done, only one of which is creating new knowledge. It will also require us to abandon any hope of restoring the Golden Age. It was a nice time, but it wasn’t stable, and it didn’t last, and it’s not coming back. It’s been gone ten years more than it lasted, in fact, and in the time since it ended, we’ve done more damage to our institutions, and our students, and our junior colleagues, by trying to preserve it than we would have by trying to adapt. Arguing that we need to keep the current system going just long enough to get the subsidy the world owes us is really just a way of preserving an arrangement that works well for elites—tenured professors, rich students, endowed institutions—but increasingly badly for everyone else.”—» The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age Clay Shirky (via infoneer-pulse)
Looking for smart, hungry developers to join your team? Come meet graduates from our Web Development Immersive Program.
If you’re looking to hire some great junior Rails devs, come by tomorrow for our meet & greet in NYC. I have personally taken on 6 graduates of GA courses as interns and hired 100% of them full-time following their internship. It’s a great program.
Noah Buhayar on the news that Berkshire Hathaway likely failed to increase net worth more rapidly than the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index during the past five years:
Missing the mark in the last five years would highlight how difficult the billionaire’s task has gotten with his company’s expansion. Takeovers and stock picks have built Berkshire into a business with dozens of operating units and equity investments valued at more than $100 billion. That means future gains have to be bigger in absolute terms to increase book value by the percentage amounts of years past.
It seems that Warren Buffett is running into the same “problem" that Apple faces. Because they’ve both built such massively successful businesses, they’re nearing the limits of possible growth. They are both true “victims” of their own successes.
Reminds me of the tension between founders and VCs when it comes to early exits. Life changing for the founder but doesn’t move the needle for the fund.
Traditional money does have APIs, but they are closed. You can program the merchant API of the VISA network if you are a trusted merchant. You can send and receive FIX messages if you are a stockbroker or exchange. Regular people, however, don’t even have APIs into their bank accounts, let alone the broader economy. Bitcoin changes all that by not only offering an API for accounts (wallets) and transactions, but also making that API available to everyone.
This idea, providing an API for something that doesn’t have one, is one of the more fascinating to me and a space I expect we’ll see lots of activity over the coming years. This, more or less, is what the whole spime/internet of things/industrial internet is about: Giving things that couldn’t talk the ability to talk through APIs. Not surprisingly, I’m especially interested in what this means for brands and how they can build out their own APIs. A few years ago I wrote about Starbucks APIs and, in a lot of ways, we think about Percolate as providing a similar interface for brands by codifying it into the system and making it available to consume via API.
Yeah, this is the only aspect of bitcoin that seems likely to stick, IMO. I think of bitcoin as an Enterprise B2B platform, for financial services and institutions to use to interact with each other. The consumer end of it is hard for me to see… The network effects of paper currency is just too hard to overcome.
Schultz writes “The merchant’s success depends on his or her ability to tell a story. What people see or hear or smell or do when they enter a space guides their feelings, enticing them to celebrate whatever the seller has to offer. Intuitively I have always understood this. So when, in 2006 and 2007, I walked into more and more Starbucks stores and sensed that we were no longer celebrating coffee, my heart sank. Our customers deserved better.”
If you want to foster those creative, problem solving skills, the solution isn’t learning to code – it’s learning to paint. Or play an instrument. Or write poetry. Or sculpt. The field doesn’t matter: the key thing is that if you want to foster your own innovative creativity, the best way to do it is to seriously pursue an artistic endeavor.
In the history of the Nobel Prize, nearly every Laureate has pursued the arts. According to research by psychologists Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, “almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences actively engage in arts as adults. They are twenty-five times as likely as the average scientist to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be a visual artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight times more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer.”
Disagree. The answer is to do BOTH. Feynman was the most brilliant theoretical physicist of his time, leading multiple Manhattan Project teams while only in his mid-twenties. He grew fame from his ability to do crazy difficult calculus and mental gymnastics that others couldn’t do. Yes, he had a bit of a creative side but the core hard skills were there first. Same with Einstein.
One of the reasons why I’ve been exceptionally quiet on my blog recently (in addition to continually overthinking a planned redesign that will permit longer-form writing) is that I’ve been working with a team of very talented people on Collective, an event for creative thinkers of all stripes in Park City, UT during the Sundance Film Festival.
Our partner General Assembly is hosting a giveaway for an all-expenses-paid trip for 2 to Collective, including airfare; if you’re in the U.S., Australia, or Europe, there’s totally no reason to NOT enter. It’s going to be a blast.
Some of the fun things we’ll be hosting: talks by people like Lekha Singh, Adrian Grenier, Bret Easton Ellis, and Kweku Mandela; performances by Capital Cities, The Jane Doze, and BT; and our annual partnership with the PVBLIC Foundation to award several $100,000 media grants to emerging documentaries that have the potential to effect social change.
This will be a blast! I’m packing my snowshoes!
I love it when good people get to work with my employer to do good things.