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Foreign Exchange

As a bunch of you asked for it, my recent discovery on moving large ($10K+)  chunks of money from British Pounds or Euros to Dollars (and back).  (For smaller amounts, I’m told PayPal works well but I haven’t tried it.)

Here’s the challenge I have had:  if I want to move it from a bank in the UK to a bank in the USA, I have to go through a complicated process to initiate the movement – often requiring me to be in the country where the money is, which is rarely where I am.  So I am in the bank’s office in London, or on the phone with them at 3am, and go through an hour of bureacracy (ID checks, paperwork, waiting) until the money is ready to be wired.  Then, they call their exchange desks … Read More »


Where Insights Come From

I’ve always learned by doing things. Trial-and-error may not be the best way to learn a known answer, but when you’re inventing (as entrepreneurs must do), you gain insights as you go and change the plan accordingly. One of the tough challenges in moving from entrepreneurship to VC is that my actual operating and market experience decays over time. You get a lot of new knowledge from seeing hundreds of presentations from entrepreneurs, and to some extent from the investments you have made, but you don’t accrue a lot of experience from hands-on activity. And there is no pivot in VC: I have to commit upfront to an investment, and back that entrepreneur come what may.

Nevertheless, I think you can learn from experimentation in this job. So I’m going to deliberately … Read More »


When will Craigslist be disrupted?

Craiglist has been disrupted, it’s just not obvious yet. And the world will be a better place for it.

Craigslist has fewer unique visitors today than it did at this time in 2009.

Bad sites with network effects show much slower decay in use than they should based on their absolute quality. (think eBay.) Bad sites who price most of their product at free show incredibly slow decay in use. (think Craigslist). But make no mistake, it is happening.

The evidence of their poor quality is so obvious it’s hardly worth stating. Suffice it to say, if I’m looking to rent an apartment, it would be nice not to see the same listing reposted every day, and having to re-read it and figure out if I’ve called them before. It might be even nicer to view them on a … Read More »


Do investors ever invest in a pre-revenue and pre-product company?

All the time!

Historically (i.e. before ~2006) this was the explicit role of angel investors in the startup financing ecosystem. Rarely, in fact, would angel investors have an opportunity to invest after a product and revenue were in place.

For consumer internet and SaaS enterprise deals, a lot has changed in the last few years. Technology has moved on, and for a host of reasons a lot more can be accomplished with 1-2 engineers and little or no cash. Now angel investors expect to see product and customers before writing a check, and to an extent, founders expect to own more of the company after that first money comes in. Everybody wins.

As a general rule today, angel investors are expecting to see a product, and customers (or at least users) in place before they invest.

However, there is still a role for angel … Read More »


Life threatening software bugs?

I thought the internet panic over the new TSA pat-downs and body images was a bit of an overreaction. It turns out that the pat-down may be much better than the alternative, going through the back scatter imaging system. It seems the science is very untested on the risks of this system, and those risks could be quite real.

Check out this letter from concerned scientists to the government urging more testing.

Some key points they make:
– people compare the level of radiation to exposure in a chest x-ray or cosmic rays. But this is a totally different radiation. By design it doesn’t penetrate the skin — so while a chest x-ray just flies through you, this all just stops in the skin.
– all the analysis compares … Read More »


Should you keep the founder title?

When I founded my first company, I referred to myself as “founder and CEO”, and in retrospect, I believe it was a mistake. Were I to do it over again, I would de-emphasize my founder status.

The benefit of keeping the founder title accrues more notably to more junior founders: if the company grows and over time people are hired above you, it offers ego compensation to keep that founder tag on your business card alongside “product manager”, if you’ve effectively been demoted from VP of Product. This seems less relevant for a CEO, who should get sufficient ego out of that title alone.

The reason I think it was a mistake to emphasize founder status is that I was essentially implicitly trying to say I was better than the other, non-founder employees. That I was special, and … Read More »


Mixing Entertainment and Commerce: Show Me the Fun

Anyone who knows me well always points me to new deals that look like Swoopo – I have a weakness for things that are clever. A lot of these new deals aren’t great venture investments, some might be good “lifestyle” businesses, but most of them prove to be neither great nor good. In the end, maybe a bit too clever.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the thesis of “entertainment commerce” is a compelling one – buying on eBay was once a thrilling experience where people ended up buying stuff they didn’t need just for the fun of the chase, or overpaying because they couldn’t stand to lose the bidding war. These days, buying on eBay seems a chore to me, and I suspect it does for most users. But the idea of making shopping fun – a … Read More »


A/B Testing: Can you iterate your way to great products?

Jeff Atwood’s (@codinghorror) blog about the movie “Groundhog Day” got me thinking much more deeply about A/B testing, a powerful tool in a set of tools that enable a new generation of nimble startups to compete effectively against the big Internet players.

For example, Match.com is stuck on a decade-old architecture and would be hard-pressed to create dozens of unique traffic funnels and ruthlessly tune them to extract optimal performance from each acquisition channel. Hence, the window is open for new competitors who can use these tools to develop products from the get-go.

But what are the limits of iterative optimization?

Split testing is, in my view, no substitute for product vision.

Human beings are probably the ultimate result of great product development through split testing – evolution is one giant iterative experiment. Unfortunately for Internet startups it took millions of years … Read More »


Executive Hires: The Case for Extreme Referencing

For CEOs, especially first timers, one of your most difficult tasks will be hiring truly great executives. There is no substitute for experience in hiring. I learned this the hard way as a first time entrepreneur with absolutely no hiring expertise. And yet, after hiring more than 100 people – and making a lot of mistakes – by far my best executive hire was my last one: David Yu, now CEO of Betfair.

The key lesson? If you are a young entrepreneur you need to surround yourself with investors, advisers and executives who are experienced and talented, especially when it comes to hiring other top executives.

An engineer will have a body of work that can be evaluated and tests that can be given. Technical talent can be evaluated for the first 90 days and replaced if they disappoint. … Read More »


Pricing Plans and Viral Acquisition for SaaS enterprises

Other bloggers, most notably my partner David Skok, have written extensively about building a sales and marketing machine for a SaaS business.  This, in our Matrix view, is the true revolution enabled by SaaS — the ability to unseat the traditional enterprise sales process and its multi-year sales cycles, multi-year implementations, and direct enterprise sales forces for a more efficient sales and marketing machine, and an environment where the best ideas and products (and not necessarily the best salesman) wins.

I recently invested in a great fast-growing SaaS startup called Huddle.    Here I will lay out an element of their model that I think is working especially well, and one area … Read More »




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