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Spanning SF and Oakland: The First Ever NewCo Bay Bridge Festival Lineup Is Out!

By - August 20, 2015

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While NewCo has been celebrating unique San Francisco companies for three years, 2015 is the first year we’ve produced our hometown festival with a fully staffed and funded team. And it shows: We’re adding Oakland as a companion city to San Francisco this year, and more than 200 companies will be opening their doors for a four-day festival this October 5th through 8th – by far the largest festival we’ve ever produced.

In case you’ve missed our other posts about NewCo festivals, NewCo is a unique, city-based event that turns traditional business conferences inside out. Instead of sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom and hearing an endless queue of startup CEOs pitching from the stage, NewCo attendees get out into the modern working city, and get inside the headquarters of the city’s most interesting and inspiration companies, hearing from the founders and senior teams in their native environment. Just as Airbnb (an SF NewCo) creates more intimate and distributed travel experiences by taking people out of sterile hotels and into the homes of hosts around the world, NewCo enables its festival goers to experience the “homes” of startups and established companies from a wide array of industries. Each NewCo company is hand selected for its unique mission and the positive change it is creating in its chosen market.

There’s a lot of goodness and new features to this year’s Bay Bridge Festival (the moniker we’ve given the combination of Oakland and San Francisco). First off, of course, is the addition of Oakland to the lineup. Often called the Brooklyn of San Francisco, Oakland has become a major center of innovation in its own right, with its own particular strengths in clean energy, social impact, food & hospitality, and of course tech and Internet. On Thursday October 8th, Oakland will shine. Check out a sampling of Oakland NewCos opening their doors: Kapor Center for Social Impact, SchoolZilla, Ask.fm, Gracenote, City of Oakland, Blue Bottle Coffee, Allotrope Partners, Numi Organic Tea, 99designs, and Sungevity.

We’ll end the Oakland festival with a special meetup at The New Parish, an awesome music venue right in the center of Oakland’s vibrant Uptown entertainment district. Our Oakland VIP kickoff is Oct. 7th at the stunning offices of Gensler – some of the best views in the bay, and given Gensler’s reputation as one of the finest architectural firms in the world, these offices are not to be missed.

NewCo San Francisco will kick off on Oct. 5th with a VIP event at WeWork’s downtown offices. Over the following two days you’ll have a chance to visit some of the most intriguing companies on the planet, including Airbnb, Slack, AltSchool, SV Angel, The Battery, Lyft, PCH, Compass Family Services, San Francisco Mayor’s Office, Twitter, Bloomberg, Leap Motion, Pinterest, One Medical,  Betabrand, Cloudera, Medium, LiveRamp, LinkedIn, Google, Uber, and more than 125 others.

This year we’ve added a lunch hour, a much requested respite, and NewCo itself will provide lunch at our Presidio headquarters on day two (October 7th). We’ve also added a meetup at the end of day one, at the headquarters of Westfield Labs in the center of the Westfield Mall on Market Street. We’ll be adding even more special events as we get closer to the actual dates, so be sure to check the schedule early and often. This one promises to be our best event ever (though to be honest, it’ll be hard to beat what Amsterdam, Austin, and Cincinnati pulled off earlier this year!)

NewCo works like a music festival: There are 10-15 companies “playing” at any given time, so you have to chose which one you want to attend. Most companies fill up quickly, so smart attendees register early and pick their schedules right away, to insure their spot (Google, Pandora, Blue Bottle, Airbnb, and Slack are nearly full!). We’ve got an early bird discount going for the next week or so, and our goal is to have more than 3,000 festival goers celebrating the best companies in San Francisco and Oakland. Register now – I look forward to seeing you out and about two of the best cities in the world!

 

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Branch Deepviews: Routing Around The Damage of Apps and App Stores

By - August 14, 2015

Over and over again, the press and pundits are declaring the death of the “web we once knew.” And despite having solid proof to the contrary, I’ve always responded that the web will never die, though it may well challenge our thinking as it evolves into entirely new form(s). In short, I can’t imagine a world where we can’t link from one object of value to another, seamlessly and without gatekeepers. It’s such a fundamental and obvious value-creation platform, if something ever impeded its continued creation, the world would simply do what the Internet has always done: Identify that impedance as damage, and route around it.

Inspired in part by an accretion of that impedance in the form of Apple and Facebook, a  year or so ago I went on something of a mobile walkabout. I wanted to understand if the “web I loved” was truly on its way out. I met some interesting new companies along the way, and in particular got excited about the promise of “deep linking” in mobile apps, which was a fairly new trend back then. Indeed, I predicted we were close to a “quickening” in mobile, where the value of links between applications and the broader Internet would tip, opening up the path for a new kind of mobile web.

This past Wednesday, Branch Metrics, one of the companies I met along my walkabout, made what seemed to be a relatively mundane announcement. It was summarily written up in TechCrunch, but got little press beyond that. So why did it rip up the charts on Product Hunt, garnering more upvotes than any other tech product that day? Well, for one, the product solves a very real problem for developers who haven’t built a mobile web version of their application. Here’s the issue: Say you’re browsing the web (IE, using a browser), and encounter a link to neat feature inside a spiffy new app. If you haven’t already installed the app, that link would take you to the app store, where you’d have to download the app. Once you’ve waited for that download (and that can take a while), you would then need to open the app, find the place where the original link was pointing to, and continue in your journey.

Needless to say, this is not an experience that converts many new customers.

Branch Metric’s original product allowed developers to turn that original link into a “deep link” that carried the original destination (that neat feature inside the spiffy app). This greatly increased conversion and usage of apps, and built a bridge between various flavors of the web (namely, mobile to mobile, mobile web to mobile web, PC web to mobile, etc.). To support all these new deep links, Branch stood up a robust infrastructure that, in essence, scaffolded all these different flavors of the web.

Branch’s new announcement took their original idea an important step further. Called Branch Deepviews, they offer a way for developers lacking a mobile web version of their app to create a web-ready preview of their apps’ content on the fly. In essence, Branch has found a way to route around the damage of the app store, and in the process is creating a bridge between the mobile web, the PC web, and mobile applications. Standing up your Deepviews and your Branch links is free – a fact that is certainly not hurting adoption of Branch’s solutions.

Back in February I noticed that Branch had raised a healthy $15 million Series A round. That’s a lot of money for a lean mobile development firm, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Now I see what the cash is for: Branch is making a serious web infrastructure play – one that reminds me of another early stage firm with a big vision and a major infrastructure-based solution.

That firm was Google. Fifteen or so years ago, Google was a small company struggling to create a scaffolding around the Internet that allowed it to scale its search product. In order to do so, it landed on a insane-sounding solution: Take a copy of the entire world wide web and place it in computer memory across Google’s own infrastructure. By the year 2000, Google was seeing about 60 million searches a day. Today, Branch is already driving 100 million unique individuals a day across its servers.

I may be pushing the speculative edge of reason by making this comparison, but far more improbable things have happened in our industry. And that’s why I think Branch Metrics is a company to watch.  They’ve identified app stores and silo’d mobile applications as damage, and they’re building the infrastructure our industry needs to route around it. I sense the tipping point is nigh.

NB: I am an advisor to Wrap, another promising company in this space, and one I hope to write about soon. 

Information Transparency & The “True Cost” Calculator

By - August 12, 2015
View from Bolinas

The view from Bolinas

It’s been so long since I’ve written here, and I’ve missed it terribly. As startups tend to do, NewCo has taken over most of my waking hours. So I thought I’d just sit and write for a spell, even if what comes out isn’t fully baked. I’m on vacation in Bolinas, an intentionally scruffy sidebar of a town 25 miles north of San Francisco. Legend has it the locals regularly take down signs pointing the way to this place, hoping to keep folks like me away.

Truth is, I came here hoping for a bit of down time so I could write again. I can’t decide if my lapse in writing is due entirely to my focus on NewCo, or perhaps because the medium of blogging just doesn’t call to me the way it once did. So I wanted to get up early each morning this week and get at least one thing down – like Fred does so regularly. However, I’ve clearly built up quite a sleep debt over the past six months, and this week my body won’t let me get up before 9. But I’ve been at it now for two days, and the result is below.

This particular post – on information transparency and the true cost of things – has been rolling around in my head since February, when I attended Walmart’s annual sustainability meeting. Walmart has made some very deep commitments to changing its impact on both the environment and society – its three stated, measured, and Wall Street-reported goals are to be 100% driven by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to “sell products that sustain people and the environment.” These are not small goals, and when a company as large as Walmart leans into achieving them (and reporting its progress to Wall St. each year), it’s worth finding out more. Turns out, there’s a lot going on, and potential for a lot more.

During my trip to Walmart’s Silicon Valley outpost this past February, I met Doug McMillon, Walmart’s CEO. I also learned about the “long term capitalism” movement, a nascent but important idea championed by McMillon, among others. At its core, long term capitalism is attempting to center the value creation role of business from “shareholder profit” to “societal benefit.” As with anything worthy, it’s complex, fraught, and difficult to unpack.

Just what is “societal benefit”? How do we measure it? Who decides? These questions are mostly open at this point. However, one thing is clear: Business as usual has created a mess of things. Most scientists believe our economic activity has produced an unsustainable tax on our global climate. We have to tune our economic engines toward sustainability. But how? I believe our industry – steeped in collecting, creating, and understanding data, can help. But more on that later.

First, it turns out that Walmart – and many other large companies – are already working to find answers. Walmart is a massive platform, and when it tells its vast network of suppliers that it wants renewable energy, sustainable products, and zero waste in its supply chain, entire economic sectors are effected. I had no idea this was happening, and found it both laudable and worth celebrating – we all need to encourage more of this kind of behavior.

In his letter opening Walmart’s 2015 Sustainability Report, McMillion introduces the idea of “True Cost,” and states:

Traditional costs include expenses like supplies, energy and packaging. But the net true cost considers issues such as waste-to-landfill, greenhouse gas emissions, economic mobility, worker safety and food safety. These are all examples of the effects production may have on the environment, in local communities, or on the people who grow and make what we sell. We believe a business should strive for not just the lowest prices, but the lowest true cost for all. Low prices benefit customers, but low true costs benefit everyone. To do this, we can’t sit on the sidelines until after a product is made. Walmart’s role is unique. We have a large presence in the world, and with that presence comes great opportunity to change how business is done. In addition to tackling social and environmental issues in our own operations, we need to actively engage in and reshape the systems in which we work.

By doing the right thing, a business is setting itself up for a solid and successful future. And by focusing not just on price – but on “cost” as well – a business is tackling social and environmental sustainability at the root. That’s what you’ll see us lean into further this year and in the years ahead.

Sustainability Leader badgeAt the February meeting, Brian Monahan, a friend, co-founder of NewCo, and leader in Walmart’s e-commerce division announced a new Walmart initiative. Called the Sustainability Leaders Shop, it’s a special area of the Walmart.com site featuring suppliers who had earned a badge which helps shoppers identify the vendor as a leader in sustainable practices in their given industry. The idea is simple but powerful: Walmart is helping shoppers identify and reward vendors with industry leading sustainability practices.

Of course, this made me wonder if such a badge is truly valuable for anything more than bragging rights. I mean, won’t shoppers – especially Walmart shoppers, who come there to save money – simply purchase the cheapest brand, regardless of sustainability badges? That certainly seems likely. Until a market truly values sustainability over price, the lowest price will win.

Walmart’s mission of “saving money, living better” has been a driver of the company’s culture for more than sixty years. Its DNA is all about price: The lowest price anywhere, all the time. Over the decades Walmart has earned a reputation as a cost extraction machine – and that reputation is in full conflict with the sustainability goals the company now espouses.

But what would we have Walmart do? Nothing? It strikes me that Walmart has put a very large stake in the ground, and it’s up to the market to both celebrate that stake, and push to make it even more impactful. That’s at the heart of what NewCo is about – in particular our media arm, which will be launching over the next six months. The story of a giant company trying to change for the better is not only fascinating, it’s also urgent. As goes Walmart, it turns out, so goes most of the world’s grocery and retail businesses. And those businesses in turn drive a significant amount of our world’s economic practices.

You’re used to reading about Google, Amazon, and Facebook on this site, and those of you who’ve made it this far must be wondering how on earth Walmart’s challenges relate to the things I usually cover. Well, it strikes me we’ve got a massive, and massively interesting, information problem on our hands.

In short: What if we could engineer a platform that reported True Cost for everything Walmart sells? Put another way, what if every single product had not just a monetary price and possibly a Sustainability Leader badge, but also an inherent score based on “net true cost”? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Creating such a platform would have been impossible ten years ago, which is when I first started thinking about this idea (The Search, p. 178). But with smartphones, computer vision, and ubiquitous connectivity, it’s not hard to imagine an information service that becomes a nexus for understanding a given product beyond its price tag. It could work a lot like Delectable does for wine – take a picture of the product, and up comes a profile of the product’s impact across the environment, society, and so on. From The Search:

What might be the effects of such a system coming to fruition? For one, markets would have to compete far more on…factors unrelated to price. And vendors of products that have been made in third-world sweatshops, or in factories that over pollute, or vendors that support causes some consumers do not wish to support, would be called out in a far more transparent fashion. Refusal to participate in such a system would mean that vendors or merchants had something to hide, and so the system could be a major force for good in the global economy, forcing transparency and accountability into a system that has habitually hidden the process of how products are made, transported, marketed, and sold from the consumer.

The world needs information transparency in consumer goods. There are many startups doing what might be considered point solutions in the space – The Honest Company in baby goods, Bos Creek for meats, Zero Footprint in HR, Conscious Box in subscription commerce. But there’s not liquidity of good information in the marketplace – and liquidity drives innovation and value creation (Google was built on the liquidity of link information around the web). If it was as easy to understand a product’s overall impact on the world as it is to understand its price in dollars, consumers would be moved to consider more than price when they made a purchase. Millennials, in particular, have shown a deep desire to support brands that have a net positive impact on the world.

I often write speculatively here – and I suppose that’s what I’m doing right now. I don’t know how such a system might tip into existence, but I sense when large companies like Walmart start to talk about “net true cost” and set ambitious goals that can move markets, we’re close to such a tip. I’d love to hear from you about how we might get such a system implemented. I’m guessing any number of startups, academics, and BigCos are already working on the problem. The world needs a True Cost calculator – and gathering, cleansing, and delivering the data to power such a calculator is the kind of massive problem/opportunity that creates companies like Google and Facebook. It’s time to get this done.

NewCo Cincinnati Is Next Week. Here Are The Companies I’m Getting Inside

By - July 16, 2015

NewCoCincyI know I rave about all the NewCo cities, but once again I am picking my companies from a new festival lineup – and once again, I’m blown away. Next week is NewCo Cincinnati, and wow – what a stellar group of companies to chose from. Our partner Cintrifuse has really killed it – an impressive list of sponsors (P&G, SnapChat, BuzzFeed, Google!) and an even more impressive list of host companies. From arts to private/public partnerships to tech startups to food (and beer!), who knew Cincinnati was such a hub of NewCo innovation? Check out my picks for NewCo Cincy:

Weds, July 22, 6:30 pm: VIP Kickoff – @84.51 – Ill be there with the Mayor and the founders, movers, and shakers behind Cincy’s more than 80 NewCos (as well as the conductor of Cincy’s own symphony!). The program also features Nestle bigwig Pete Blackshaw, who left P&G more than a decade ago to start a company in what was a pretty bad area of town (but is now a hotbed of NewCo activity).

Thursday, July 23

9 am: Tom+Chee These guys had me at the session title: “Happiness Is A Grilled Cheese Donut”. This foodie outfit has a unique franchise model (so does NewCo), so I can’t wait to learn how they do it. Plus, we get to make our own grilled cheese on site! Wish I could go, but….Cintrifuse (our partner!), OTR Chamber of Commerce (advocates for Cincy’s “Over the Rhine” startup neighborhood), Strap (Internet of Things play).

10:30 am: Cincinnati Symphony & Pops Orchestra – This session will be led by conductor John Morris Russell, a local legend. I know almost nothing about symphony orchestras, and I’m curious how they plan to stay relevant in a NewCo world.  Wish I could go, but…Intelemage (innovative health tech), Ahalogy (full already!).

12:00 pm: LOTH, Inc.I’m deeply interested in the future of work as it relates to our more spiritual, purpose driven goals.  LOTH, a workplace design firm, is doing a session on workplace well being, which is a key part of the NewCo narrative. Wish I could have gone: 84.51, Xavier University, Taft Museum, First Batch. 

1:30 pm: Braxton Brewing Company. Look, the session is “The Taproom of the Future.” In! But there are so many other great orgs presenting this hour: The Brandery, Zipscene, and LISNR among them.

3:00 pm: Rockfish. A Cincy stalwart, Rockfish has been a core player in the growth of the city’s technology core. Though I’ve met folks who work there, I’ve never seen their offices, and it’s high time I go. Love that NewCo makes that possible. Wish I could go: REDI Cincinnati, Rivertown Brewing Company, OCEAN Accelerator.  

4:30 pm: Procter & Gamble. I’ve been coming to Cincinnati for ten years, mainly to see P&G. But this will be their first ever NewCo session – titled “Dancing with the Elephant.” I can’t wait! Wish I coulda gone: Skinny Mom, The Garage, Urban Artifact. 

5:30 pm: Festival Meetup @ Christian Moerlein Taproom. There are half a dozen breweries on this NewCo lineup – so it’s fitting the meetup is at one as well! I can’t wait to share stories of what the nearly 1,000 Cincinnati festival goers have learned.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand the Queen City, make your plans to hit NewCo Cincinnati next week. I’ll see you there!

Scaling Through Culture: WeWork and Blue Bottle (vs. Regus and Starbucks)

By - June 17, 2015

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The way we work is changing. That statement seems self-evident to anyone involved in what I call the NewCo economy – work no longer has to be a duty, it can be a calling. For those blessed with the talent, education, connections, and skill to turn work into part of their self expression, work isn’t the thing you have to do so you can “have a life” – instead, work is your life, and your life is your work – and that’s in no way a contradiction.

This is all well and good if you’re in the small percentage of privileged folks who can find such an advantageous integration between work and life – but can it really scale? Or is the “rest of the world” doomed to work in shitty jobs, for shitty companies, with shitty outcomes, shitty attitudes, and all around bad karma?

I don’t think so. I think we can scale great approaches to work. I’ve written about work life integration recently, so I won’t belabor that point here. But a recent conversation with one of NewCo’s investors – Tony Conrad from True Ventures – reminded me that the idea of work-life integration just might scale – and that’s an idea I want to explore – because if more people felt the way I do about work, well, I think the world might be a far better place.

First, some background. A while back I had the chance to meet Bryan Meehan, the Chairman of Blue Bottle Coffee. Conrad is a board member and investor at Blue Bottle, but when I met Bryan, I didn’t know either of those things. I just wanted to meet another fellow traveler. Bryan is a lovely Irish fellow who is deeply passionate about his work, and he insisted on explaining the Blue Bottle culture to me – evidence of which was all around us, as we took the meeting in a cafe that had been approved to serve his product (yes, approved!).

Now, Blue Bottle is a pretty bespoke coffee brand, a fair target for anyone seeking to make fun of the hipster pose already passé amongst…well, hipsters. But the truth is, Blue Bottle makes a supremely awesome product. Once you’ve had their coffee, you’re pretty much done with Starbucks or Peets. I’ve driven miles out of my way to get Blue Bottle coffee, and knowing that, I recently jumped at a chance to become a very small investor in the company. So sure, read this post knowing I have a stake in the company, but know also I’d have written this post regardless, because I think Blue Bottle is onto something big, and while the product is superb, at its core it’s got less to do with coffee, and far more to do with the culture that creates that coffee.

Bryan is a quintessential entrepreneur, but not of the tech variety. He’s started companies in cosmetics and food, as well as venture – and he’s sold his companies to the likes of Whole Foods and LVMH. In 2012, he focused his skills on the then fledgling Blue Bottle, and in partnership with an all star lineup of tech investors (yes, including Conrad, who subsequently invested in NewCo), he and the founding team are busy scaling Blue Bottle’s bespoke approach to coffee across the US and beyond.

So why am I writing about a chain of coffee shops? Because Blue Bottle reminds me of another startup – WeWork. Over the past month, I’ve visited WeWork locations in Amsterdam, Austin, New York and San Francisco (both Blue Bottle and WeWork participate in NewCo festivals). Privately valued at more than $5 billion (nearly twice than their largest public competitor), WeWork recently graced the cover of BusinessWeek. The accompanying story essentially anointed the company “the future of offices.” WeWork is on a mission to create a global platform for people who want to express themselves through the work they do. Oh, and by the way, they also rent office space.

If WeWork is the future of office space, I’m optimistic about capitalism, because WeWork is about way more than work, just as Blue Bottle is about more than coffee. At their core, both companies are about something more meaningful: They are attempting to scale a new kind of culture – one that promises a quality workstyle, to be certain, but one that also celebrates who we are as people: we seek to find meaning in work, we seek a connection to a community where we both belong and contribute.

Put succinctly, both Blue Bottle and WeWork are successful cultures of work – and that’s key to their ability to scale. The greatest social shifts happen when an infectious new kind of culture is created and embraced – a new set of values that advance society in a positive way. That’s how the great religions all started (and when they lost that culture, it’s how they ossified and began to fail). It’s how all the great social contracts – like democracy – got started. And it’s how all great social movements started, from civil rights to rock and roll. Enough people said “this is bullshit, here’s a better way.”

I think we’re at a tipping point of a better way to work. And companies like WeWork and Blue Bottle are emblematic of that tip.

Blue Bottle’s baristas are an independent, opinionated bunch. They are coffee snobs, sure, but there’s more going on. “This is actually what they want to do with their life – create amazing coffee for their clients,” says Conrad. “This is their passion.” It’s that passion – that dedication to delivering amazing experience – that sets Blue Bottle apart. Working at Blue Bottle isn’t a job you pick up out of high school – unless you’re dedicated enough to do it. Blue Bottle requires that their Baristas commit to at least a year of work when they sign up. Starbucks? Not so much.

The differences don’t end there. Starbucks requires that their baristas not offend clients with colored hair, tattoos, or piercings. Blue Bottle could care less about those things, all that matters is the product and how it’s made and delivered. This reminds me of the dramatic difference between WeWork shared office spaces and their largest competitor – Regus.

Here’s a Google image search for “Regus Offices“.

regusoffices

Pretty soul sucking.

Here’s the same search, but for “WeWork offices“:

weworkoffices

Click on those images (or on the searches themselves) and…what’s the first thing you notice? Yep, there are a lot more people in the WeWork images. And a lot more culture. And a lot more….life. And a lot less…corporate bullshit.

So, let’s do the same for Starbucks and Blue Bottle. Here’s Starbucks:

sbuckscoffee

Lots of corporate logos, hero shots of the corporatized product, but…no people*.

Now, how about Blue Bottle?

BBCoffee

Look – there are people! And expressions of culture and connections and places you might want to visit.

It’s quite a distinction, one that I think is key to scaling any NewCo – your company is more than a set of corporate rules about branding, employment policies, or process. A NewCo is an ongoing conversation about your company’s core mission – and that conversation happens between all the people who contribute in some way to your company. If your brand doesn’t express that conversation – or worse, doesn’t even know what that conversation is – well, your company is toast.

There’s a lot more to say about all of this, but I wanted to get that core idea out – the best companies going forward will be those that scale through a great shared culture, one driven by a mission to create some kind of positive change in the world. And that trend is a wonderfully positive shift in what it means to be a “corporation.”

*Look, Starbucks has all manner of great things going for it – and should be applauded for all it is doing given its scale and its origin as a culture-driven company. But at the end of the day, well, the coffee’s not very good anymore. And that, at its core, is a failure of culture.  

Why Does Silicon Valley Like “Silicon Valley” So Much?

By - June 15, 2015

silicon-valley

 

HBO’s Silicon Valley, which concluded its second season last night, is an unmitigated hit amongst the Valley folk I’ve come to know and respect. As someone who’s lived variations of the show’s comedically dramatized plotlines – investor takeovers, company-threatening lawsuits, sexist bro cultures, etc. – it makes me cringe, chortle, and engage – something precious few shows can reliably accomplish regardless of their subject matter.

This isn’t Hollywood’s first attempt at plating the Valley’s culture and serving it back to us – technology plays an integral role in nearly every piece of primetime “competence porn” – CSI, Law & Order, Scorpion, whatever. There’s always a team of nerds who work with the good-looking people to leverage data and surveillance, and for reasons that should spur any number of graduate theses, Hollywood has adopted a rather borderline approach to civil liberties so it can deliver the bad guy in the end.

But Silicon Valley is the first show that bothered to look under the hood of what we’re making here, and understand it well enough to parody it back to us. For that we’re deeply grateful. Sure, you can pick apart just about everything in the show, but the truth is, it resonates, because it gets the core narrative right: The team making Piped Piper have their hearts in the right place, the villains remind us of the asshats we’ve all dealt with, and the highs and the lows mirror our own struggles with company creation, capital raising, and team and product building.

For the first time, the Valley has a show worthy of its cultural throw weight. And that makes us all feel a bit more understood, and a little more validated. I’m looking forward to Season Three. I hope the guys all move to the city in this next chapter…because that’s where the story is heading after all, right?

 

Forget Work Life Balance. It’s All About Work Life Integration

By - June 01, 2015
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Tuning in.

Every so often (though less often than I’d like), I ask one of my team into my band room, a place I created five years ago where the only rules are honest conversations and unbounded agendas. I built it to nurture my budding interest in playing music, but it’s also a great place to pour a drink, erase the white board, and see where the conversation goes. I believe we do far less of this “undirected conversation” than we should. I find band room sessions deeply productive, even if I’m a bit foggy the morning after.

In any case, last week our head of product Abe came over, and we were riffing on the bigger ideas behind NewCo. He’s quite a bit younger than me, a member of that much-debated “millennial” generation. As a group, millennials were born into digital technology, take climate change as a fact, and are now the most dominant force in the global economy (millennials are the largest single demographic in our economy, ever).

Our conversation turned to work styles, and whether his generation viewed work as “work,” or more as a calling. At NewCo, we believe that work can and should be more than a job, it should be a fulfilling expression of a person’s values and connection to community. Companies that enable that approach to work are NewCos, and we celebrate that idea.

In any case, I brought up the concept of “work life balance,” which has been much in the zeitgeist over the past decade or so. The rise of laptops, then of mobile, has meant work had “invaded” people’s personal and home lives, and most of the mainstream press is filled with hand wringing about what this all means.

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A full band room white board.

But that’s not how Abe saw it. Instead he espoused the concept of work-life integration, a relatively new phrase rising concurrent to the entrance of millennials in our workforce. But as he explained his support for the idea, I realized I’ve been working this way my entire life. It’s fundamental to the entrepreneurial lifestyle – Life is simply life, and if you’re passionate about what you do, then work is part of that life. As you plan your time, you prioritize everything in that life, and because work is no longer bound to one office space during one eight-hour period of time, you can mix and mingle all kinds of experiences – some work, some family, some personal – throughout your waking day.

The flip side of this: If you adopt the philosophy of work-life integration, you must also adopt a philosophy of total individual responsibility. That means understanding how to prioritize things like exercise, nutrition, downtime, and family/friends into a demanding work life. It means that you are willing to be judged not on showing up or managing up, but on the work you deliver to your company. And it means you’ve joined a like-minded group who together have created a company that understands how to thrive in this new environment.

At NewCo, all of us simply assume we live in a work-life integrated world. People come into the office when it makes sense to come in, and they stay home when that works better for them. Conflicts are resolved as they might be between friends – openly and with genuine respect. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, we tell them, and figure out how to resolve it (or part ways). And vacation days are taken when they are needed – no one is counting.

It’s not easy to explain this concept of “work life integration,” but you most certainly will feel it when you run into it. While it certainly isn’t a model that the service industry can adopt (yet), it’s without question the best way to run a startup.

Get Out, And Get Into Silicon Valley: SurveyMonkey, Google, GoPro, FlipBoard, & So Many More

By - May 22, 2015
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Brian and I on SurveyMonkey’s rooftop last year.

New York is in the can (what a great event!) and next up, for those of us in the US anyway, is NewCo Silicon Valley. I won’t be able to actually attend NewCo SV, as I’ll be on the road visiting NewCo Amsterdam and NewCo Istanbul. But If I could go to Silicon Valley, these are the companies I’d pick to attend:

Day 1 – Monday June 8th

 5:00 pm – VIP Kickoff At SurveyMonkey – This is a bittersweet choice, in that our kickoff speaker was to have been Dave Goldberg, who suddenly passed away while on vacation earlier this month. It’s a terrible loss for all of us in the Valley community, and of course we reached out to his family at SurveyMonkey and offered to cancel or move our kickoff so that the company could mourn. But in an expression of what makes Dave such a beloved person, the folks at SurveyMonkey insisted on keeping the kickoff event on their amazing rooftop deck. Dave was extremely proud of the LEED certified building he designed in the heart of Palo Alto, and this kickoff, hosted by my partner and NewCo Board Director Brian Monahan, will be a very special event indeed.

Day 2 – Tuesday June 9th

10:00 am – GoPro. Zander Lurie, a good friend of Dave’s, was to speak, but is now interim CEO at SurveyMonkey. No matter, whoever speaks, I’d want to hear the story of Go Pro, which is truly one of the most inspiring new kinds of companies in the Valley. If there were two (or more) of me, I’d also want to hit Survey Monkey and LinkedIn (almost full).

12:00 pm – Google. Google is doing two sessions this year at NewCo SV, and this one on the future of search and apps promises to be a deep dive on Google’s mobile plans. You must prequalify to attend this session, as it’s intended for developers (I’m not sure they’d let me come!). Other great sessions include Silicon Valley Innovation Center and Quixey.

2:00 pm – Tesla. C’mon, you have to go to a factory tour if you can! This is another qualified session – they are looking for senior level attendees and it looks to be sold out already. That can change if the company opens up more slots, or folks drop out, but if you can’t make Tesla, there are a lot of other great options: Institute for the Future, CourseTalk, and CareLinx would be in the running for me.

4:00 pm – HighFive. Slick and affordable video conferencing for the other 95%? Sign me up. I’d love to check this out – as much as I love Google Hangouts, truth is it’s not very reliable. But I can’t afford a high end solution. Enter High Five. Not into videoconferencing? Check out StartX, Intel, or Cask.

Day 3 – Weds. June 10th

10:00 am – HealthTap. I’m fascinated by the intersection of the NewCo economy and healthcare, and HealthTap plays squarely in the middle of it. Though I’ll admit it’s hard to miss Walmart, Polyvore, and BetterWorks, which would be my runners up.

12:00 pm – Matternet. An Internet in the sky for drone-based delivery? Yes please! And if not Matternet, then check out HealthLoop (I’m an investor so I’m very familiar with the company) or Flipboard.

2:00 pm – Mozilla. I’m in the tank for Mozilla’s open web philosophy, and Mozilla’s storied founder is speaking. But if you’re looking for something else, check out Singularity University or Cloudera. Both are Diamond Pass only at this point, but worth the upgrade price IMHO.

4:00 pm – Unshackled. Fascinating NewCo story here, focused on empowering entrepreneurs on work visas. If that’s not your thing, check out Scanadu or Acxiom (I’m on the Board).

6:00 pm – Meetup at Location TBD. Well, I know where the meetup is…but we can’t announce it quite yet. Trust me though, it’ll be a lot of fun!

If reading my picks whetted your appetite to spend a couple days getting out of your daily routine and into the most fascinating companies in the Valley, register here and get to picking your schedule! Many companies are already sold out, but there are plenty of open sessions left. I’m sorry to miss it this year, but I’ll be reporting from Istanbul and Amsterdam instead. Not a bad trade!

 

Uber, The Rashomon.

By - April 26, 2015

Uber Women Promo

Our industry loves a rashomon, and in the past year or two, our collective subject of debate has been Uber. Perhaps the fastest growing company in history (its numbers aren’t public, but we’ll get to some estimates shortly), Uber has become a vector for some of the most wide-ranging arguments I’ve ever had regarding the tech industry’s impact on society at large.

It’s not that Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft didn’t evoke great debate, but all those companies came of age in an era where tech was still relegated to a sideshow in the broader cultural conversation. Microsoft was taking over the computer industry in the 1990s, Google the Internet in the early 2000s, Facebook and Apple the mobile and social world in the late 2000s. But Uber? Uber is about a very real and entirely new approach to our economy, a stand in for the wealth divide festering in the US and beyond, an existential rorschach testing your values around the role of government, the social contract, and the kind of society we want to become.

When an Uber glides to its appointed pickup point, what do we see? Do we see an innovator hastening the inexorable shift to a new information-based economy? Or an arrogant bully using cheap capital, greed, and a dangerous, misogynist culture of convenience to consolidate a trillion dollar market?

Or do we see both?

Yes — that’s a cop out, but it’s also an honest answer. I know people who work at Uber, and I know some of Uber’s investors as well. They are in general a well intentioned group — and many of them have reservations about Uber’s unbridled success and its mixed reputation.

Uber’s success is breathtaking. Consider: Uber’s most recent round valued the company at over $41 billion — $15 billion more than Google’s initial public market cap of $26.4 billion. At a conference I attended last month, an Uber executive mentioned the company was clocking more than one million rides each and every day. If you (conservatively) estimate each ride at $10, that’d be gross revenue of $10mm a day, or $3.65 billion a year. Uber takes roughly a quarter of that revenue (20% is the widely reported number, but when I ask drivers, they tell me it’s 25–28%), or just under a billion dollars. And their costs are….well, assume about 2,000 employees (I’ve heard estimates of 1200 to 2500), for $250mm or so in labor costs. I’m pretty sure they’re not spending another $750mm on marketing and platform costs. So the company is most likely quite profitable already.

And my figures are conservative. Business Insider claims the company is on track to do $10 billion in gross revenue this year, and CEO Travis Kalanick last year claimed revenue is doubling every six months. In five years, Uber has expanded to 57 countries. So, yes, this company is astonishingly successful.

And yet…I’ve not met a single person in this industry who doesn’t express reservations about Uber. Certainly the company stepped in it terribly with the whole Lacy debacle, but the ambivalence goes deeper still. I’m sure pure Uber defenders exist, but the truth is, most of us are worried about the sheer expression of capitalistic force that the company represents. Privately, many are heartened by the regulatory counterforces that are stemming the company’s march through worldwide markets — Germany, Holland, India, Korea, Canada, Spain, France, New Zealand, and many other countries have banned Uber’s services either nationally, or through local city regulations.

Uber is the poster child for our global conversation about the role of work in our society, and about the kind of company we want to create, work at, and celebrate. And that conversation is deeply political and cultural in nature. On the one hand, the “1099 Economy” is providing hundreds of thousands of flexible, living wage jobs for those who might otherwise be marginalized or underpaid. On the other, it represents the systemic dismantling of our labor laws by rapacious, profit seeking monopolists.

If you want to hear an unalloyed economic takedown of Uber, head over to Robert Reich’s blog. And if you want to hear a reasoned defense of the company as an innovator, read what Suster has to say. But anyone who read Sarah Lacy’s passionate story has to wonder — if we didn’t have Uber now, wouldn’t the Valley just end up creating it? Certainly that’s Lacy’s conclusion — Uber is the collective creation of the Valley’s deep arrogance, its heartless celebration of high valuations and killer exits, and its male-dominated, aggressive philosophy of “breaking things fast” and “asking for forgiveness rather than permission.”

Put another way, Uber feels inevitable — a uniquely of-the-moment company, a mirror held up to the Valley’s aggregate psyche. And as we all look into that mirror, we are both fascinated and appalled.

All of this was at front of mind a month ago when an email from a site called FounderDating popped into my inbox. FounderDating is a LinkedIn-like service that connects entrepreneurs, and it sports a lively Quora-like Q&A forum. When interesting new threads emerge, the service notifies you. “Is Uber A Social Impact company?” was the question of the day, and it immediately sparked a strong debate, as you might expect. Lydia Eager, the thread’s originator, opened with this:

A lot of people love to hate uber because of their aggressive tactics, but the fact of the matter is that they are creating 20K new driver jobs/month and the median uberX driver income in NYC is $90K/year. Feels to me like they do way more good than harm and I’d consider them a social impact company. They are having a much bigger impact than say a non-profit trying to create jobs.

Do you have to have set out to have a major social mission to be considered a social impact company?

From there a diverse group of folks, myself included, chimed in with 50 or so thoughtful replies, touching on the importance of purpose- and mission-driven business, the role Uber plays in destroying living-wage jobs in the taxi and livery businesses, the actual economics of driving for Uber and similar businesses, the positive impact Uber has on carbon emissions, congestion, and drunk driving, the inevitable future where driverless cars and automation make workers irrelevant, the positive competitive response Uber has created in the taxi business (better customer service, competing apps, etc), stories of questionable competitive business practices, stories of rape and kidnapping (on both sides — taxies and Uber), debate over the meaning of “social impact” at its core, debate over the role of local and national regulation, debate over consolidation of power and money in markets and society, debate over libertarian political philosophy, and much, much more.

I hear these questions debated every time Uber comes up at a party, an industry event, or just between friends shooting the breeze. Back in 2013, when we were starting NewCo, we had the same debate when we were considering which companies to invite to our first full-fledged NewCo festival in San Francisco. We asked ourselves whether Uber was really a NewCo — an engine of positive change in our society. We couldn’t make up our mind and ended up kicking the can down the road. This year, we have to once again tackle the question. And I’m still not sure where we’ll land.

Like it or not, Uber is now our rashomon for understanding the impact technology is having on our culture. The company is showing signs of “growing up” — as all fast-growing tech companies do over time (you have to love Facebook shifting its motto from “Move fast and break things” to “Move fast …with stable infrastructure”). Uber’s stance to local regulators has shifted from a siege mentality to one of engagement (necessarily, I’m sure). Its CEO (and the offending exec) apologized, sort of, to Lacy, and has shifted its public voice to highlight its positive impact on the world — the first image on its site today is of a woman, with the headline “Her Turn to Earn — Creating 1,000,000 jobs for women by 2020.”

Is this all just calculated PR spin, or might it represent a real shift in the company’s culture? I think I know where Lacy stands on this one — she was personally targeted by a senior Uber executive, and she’s in no mood to give the company a second chance. But for most of the rest of us, the ambivalence — and the broader debate — continues. I personally believe that companies can change over time — Walmart, Unilever, and many others are now champions of sustainability — yet one could reasonably argue they played huge roles in creating the unsustainable world in which we currently live. But does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate and encourage their corporate change of heart?

If we dismiss these glimmerings of change as mere greenwashing, we are handing corporations an excuse to continue past practices. Instead, we should hold them accountable. For Uber — and all of us — that journey has just begun.

My Schedule For NewCo New York 2015

By - April 09, 2015

NYCNewCoGrabHave you ever been to a music festival, and found yourself overwhelmed by too many great choices? Look at Coachella, for example. There are six stages to chose from. On Friday, how are you supposed to pick between Alabama Shakes and Lykke Li? I love ’em both. There’s Alt-J playing at the same time as Glass Animals, and Fitz & the Tantrums going up against Florence & The Machine.

Not fair.

That’s exactly how I feel about picking my schedule for next month’s NewCo New York. The lineup is 125 companies strong, and I can only see a total of ten (five each day). Yet picking your schedule is part of the magic of NewCo – it’s a supremely individual set of choices, but once you commit, you know you’re going to get to hang with hundreds of like-minded souls who made the same choices you did.

So here are my picks for NewCo NYC 2015:

Day 1: Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5:30 pm: VIP Kickoff

This is the official NewCo kickoff party, featuring founders and CEOs hand-picked to present their unique New York stories. The venue is The New School’s awesome new building in the Flatiron/Union Square district. Speakers include the Founders and/or CEOs of Betaworks, Mic, Roadify, BioLite, BarkBox and Gimlet. You need a Platinum Pass to get into the kickoff, but it’s a steal at $150 and includes unlimited access to all the other festival sessions, including the killer party at the end.

Day 2: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

10:00 am: CartoDB – CartoDB is an intriguing mapping company located in Brooklyn, where we’re focusing the first full morning of NewCo New York. Location is the king of signals in the mobile economy, and I’m looking forward to learning what makes CartoDB unique compared to Apple, Google, and others. I know one thing for sure: CartoDB’s crowd-driven approach to the world is inspiring and very NewCo. CEO and founder Javier de la Torre is presenting, and given the intimate nature of NewCo sessions, I know I’ll get a chance to say hello.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Atavist, Atlas Obscura (I’m an investor in both), and VaynerMedia (Gary is a NewCo advisor). 

11:30 am Bark & Co. I don’t have a dog, but I’ll be very disappointed if I don’t see a few at Bark’s HQ. Subscription commerce is hot, and these folks are leaders in the field. I’m psyched to meet co-founders Henrik Werdelin and Melanie Travis as well.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Bloomberg, BioLite, and Roadify. 

1:00 pm General Assembly General Assembly is redefining education, and with a full month to go till the event, the session is full. You can only get in if you buy a Diamond Pass, which lets you “jump the line” and get in despite the session’s sold out status. Co-founder Brad Hargreaves is leading the session, which will focus on the 21st century job market, something near and dear to the NewCo narrative.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: The New School, Evol8tion, Percolate, Keep. 

2:30 pm Refinery 29 – Another session that’s already at Diamond status – which tells you that Refinery 29 is a hot company in a very hot market. Design Director Michael Ciancio is going to share his secrets of visual storytelling, which as a text dude I can’t wait to learn.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Luma (Terry’s an advisor), The New York Times, Dstillery. 

4:00 pm Hinge – Yikes, a third Diamond! I guess I chose some popular companies. Hinge is a dating service, and sure, there are plenty of those. But they seem to have a unique approach, and I chose this session because I’m super interested in how best to connect people using technology platforms (yes, it relates to NewCo!). Hinge’s VP of Product, Sam Levy, is set to present.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: RebelMouse (investor), Mozilla, SeatGeek. 

5:30 pm Animoto – Co-Founder Tom Clifton will present on its breakout video platform. Video is a major initiative at NewCo going forward, and who better to help me understand the possibilities then the guy who built a platform used by 12 million folks and counting?

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: (RED), Kiip, StumbleUpon.

Day 2: Thursday, May 14th, 2015

10:00 am Mic – Mic has figured out how to gain and engage the finicky millennial market, which, it turns out, is the same group that makes up the bulk of NewCo’s attendees. The entire management team is presenting – the CEO and Co-Founder, VP Communications and Strategy, Chief of Staff and Dir Ops, and the VP Product. Where else can you meet all those folks in one room?!

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Casper, MetaMarkets (investor), Mashable. 

11:30 am Salesforce – Michael Lazerow is presenting. That’s all I needed to know. Just one of the best dudes in the business, bar none. The title of his presentation: “Everything you ever wanted to know about a startup but were afraid to ask.” Michael sold his startup Buddy Media to Salesforce for $745 million. I’ll be taking notes.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Canary, BuzzFeed, The Verge. 

1:00 pm littleBits – What’s the deal with the Internet of Things, anyway? LittleBits is like Lego mashed up with the Mac – I want to understand this MIT-inspired startup, and get to know its people as well. I can’t wait to see the Chelsea-based offices, which I can only imagine boast a Wonka-like sense of wonder.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: VinePair, Lerer Hippeau, TED. 

2:30 pm Tapad – Readers of this site know I’m deep into advertising technology, and Tapad promises to address one of the bugaboos of our industry: cross-device advertising. This session promises to go deep – and that’s why I love NewCo. I know the folks in the room will all bring their A-game questions and insights.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Superfly, Codeacademy, Handy. 

4:00 pm BetaWorks – Betaworks is the company behind success stories like bitly, chartbeat, and tweetdeck. I have never visited, even though founder John Borthwick is a NewCo advisor. I’m excited to learn about the BetaWorks’ approach to company formation and success. The speaker is Head of Creative James Cooper, who will delve into BetaWorks’ philosophy and ongoing practice.

Wish I could go but ya gotta pick one: Behance, Simulmedia, Grey. 

5:30 pm NewCo Meetup at relentless Generator A great way to end the festival is with an open bar, great tunes, and a massive meetup with attendees, host company leaders, and NewCo staff. Sure to be a killer party. We’ll be announcing a special musical act who will play as well, so stay tuned! You have to have a Gold Pass to get in, but it’s just $25, and includes free booze and tunes. What a deal!

If you’ve read this far, you must want to attend, no?! Yes! So sign up here, as sessions are filling up fast! See you there….