Former Econ-Math-Dance student and NYC transplant living as a tech nerd in San Francisco. Obsessed with all things food, travel, and/or shiny. This tumblog is a mix of off-the-cuff thoughts, interesting finds, and entrepreneurial pursuits.
YC’s FFC was one of the more enjoyable conferences I’ve been to in a while. The attendees were great, the format was brisk, and the content shared was by and large very helpful.
At one point, there was a panel of founders discussing the topic of fundraising. Two things hit me:
With PG in the spotlight, many people forget that Jessica Livingston was also a co-founder. She shared her story her responsibilities as the sole nontechnical co-founder (delivering AC units to YC companies!) and juggling being a founder and a mom. She also highlighted that YC has been trying to fund more female founders over the years.
TaskRabbit is getting disrupted, in the same way craigslist was just a few years ago. Andrew Parker at Spark Capital once posted this graphic showing how craiglist is being replaced by a host of startups, a single vertical at a time.
The market of low-skill services is also being displaced by a crop of new entrants:
It has always been surprising to me that TaskRabbit never caught on as much as it should have. There are tons of daily tasks everyone goes through that nobody necessarily enjoys: picking up dry cleaning, mowing the lawn, putting together IKEA furniture… When I propose TaskRabbit to my friends, however, there is always a lukewarm reception even though I believe the monetary trade-off is a no-brainer for them. A couple of reasons why I think folks are slightly fuzzy on the whole concept:
A suggestion for TaskRabbit is to perhaps go the Uber route and do some fun, single use case promotions for holidays like Valentine’s Day — something like a flat $20 delivery fee for a box of chocolates.
In today’s world, the cost of switching from one service to another is almost frictionless for the consumer. It makes very little difference to me to switch between something like Postmates and Homejoy instead of using a generalist application like TaskRabbit.
When the HTC First was released in early 2013, critics scoffed at the idea of a so-called “Facebook Phone”. It didn’t help that the product appeared half-baked — and many considered it to be Facebook’s first flop. AT&T quietly dropped the phone from its offerings mere months after launch.
Today’s announcement of Facebook’s $19B acquisition of Whatsapp reveals that Facebook hasn’t given up on taking over our phones — but taking a much more hacker-like approach. It went from a standalone, all-encompassing app to a network of apps, including Instagram, Messenger, Paper, and now Whatsapp. That’s not including other mobile assets that Facebook attempted to buy (Snapchat, Waze, etc.) On Messenger, one of the coolest, least-known features is the Talking Heads. It allows you to include a contact on your Android home screen, to quickly launch a conversation with him/her.
The platform wars are over — iOS and Android have emerged as the winners. But true to its hacker DNA, Facebook still wants to take over the mobile experience, one product/feature/use case at a time.
For me as an investor, the much more interesting question is, what’s next?
10% of Facebook’s market cap is a lot to pay for an acquisition (of only 32 engineers!) But when I start thinking about paying 10% for a messaging platform that is so core to our mobile experience — it starts looking like a steal.
There’s been tons of emotional outrage and blog posts on the repercussions and implications of Uber’s price surges. Uber’s been addressing this criticism with the protest that price surging is just a result of free market forces. As an Economist by training, I can’t help but add my two cents, because as an Economist by training, I also know that free market mechanisms rarely work as perfectly as they do in textbooks.
Uber also insists that price surging assures rides to those who need the rides the most, but it’s difficult to take that statement at face value. For one, Uber’s price surging is done as a multiple of the base fare, but a more accurate way of pricing according to demand would be as a % of income. The latter is an obviously more difficult methodology, but wouldn’t automatically out-price lower-income customers who may just “need” that ride more than someone with more purchasing power. At its core, Uber’s price surging is essential to its mission of guaranteeing rides when you need it, only because it out-prices the majority of the market.
I’m disappointed by Travis Kalanick’s comparison of Uber’s price surging to the high cost of air travel during the holidays. Sure, the supply/demand mechanics work in a similar way, but airlines are faced with constrained supply in a way Uber insists it’s not. Moreover, airlines probably have one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings and probably isn’t and shouldn’t be what Uber aspires to be.
I’m an avid Uber user in San Francisco and will continue to be. I have, however, been surprised by some friends (mostly in NYC) who have decided to no longer use Uber due to the politics of price surging.
I was recently invited to judge at Free Ventures, student-run incubator for UC Berkeley entrepreneurs. The program just completed its first semester of workshops and mentorship, with 5 student teams accepted out of a pool of ~40. This past Monday was their Demo day, which allowed each group to present to a panel of judges and get feedback on how they can improve their product.
Having been on the other side of this, I was really looking forward to the pitches and was thoroughly impressed by how well-prepared the students were — the coaching really paid off!
The Free Venture Fall 2013 startups were:
Overall, Free Ventures ran a tight ship and the quality of start-ups produced this semester bodes very well for the program’s future. Here’s the kicker — of all the teams that presented, there wasn’t a single female entrepreneur. I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, as the judging panel had a healthy mix of both female and male perspectives, but it does leave me to wonder if it was a result of selection bias or lack of female applicants.
What she says: “Yeah! It’s on my calendar.”
What she means: “Maybe, but only if I don’t find something better before that day.”
My first reaction was skeptical. I’m not bullish on any startups who build their business model around unique market trends. This reminds me a bit of SecondMarket, who started their business in secondary transactions for private companies. As that market declined, it became necessary to pivot and today, SecondMarket is a provider of financial services for private market transaction (including fundraising.)
I’m also not sure if Exitround helps the startup ecosystem. If anything, it would increase the friction between founders and investors by further mis-aligning incentives. In doing so, Exitround would also be meaningfully increasing the noise to signal ratio.
That aside, here are a couple of areas I think Exitround can help:
I think where Exitround will really excel in a down-market, where small, talented startups will not have the revenues or the access to funding to keep afloat. And despite our best current efforts, the economy will remain cyclical and a down-market is in the cards.