05 3 / 2014
One of my 2014 goals is to read at least one book per month. To help me achieve this goal, I decided to buy a Kindle Paperwhite so I could read on the subway and have an uninterrupted reading experience while at home. Like many people, I’ve struggled reading books on Apple devices because the screen isn’t optimal and I’m constantly being distracted by notifications. The Kindle, which I think is the ultimate single purpose device, has changed my life because I’ve honestly never enjoyed reading so much. While I still have ten months until I achieve my goal, I’ve already read more books in 2014 than I did in all of 2013. Here are the books I’ve read so far this year:
1. The Art of Power by John Meacham (link)
2. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (link)
3. Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton (link)
4. Startup Boards by Brad Feld (link)
5. Made In The USA by Vaclav Smil (link)
27 2 / 2014
Last month, RRE Ventures announced we would be sending a NYC-based entrepreneur to this week’s Female Founder Conference hosted by Y Combinator. I’m delighted to announce that Marianne Bellotti is the deserving winner based on the dozens of entries we received.
Marianne is an engineer specializing in data infrastructure. She started hacking at 13 years old, finding a security vulnerability that allowed her to remove the parental controls her father had carefully installed to keep her from exploring the web unsupervised. She has worked for Radio Free Europe in the Czech Republic, Fair Trade organizations in West Africa and currently advises the UN as a Senior Software Developer. In April of 2013 she cofounded Exversion. By combining specially developed version control tools for data, Exversion allows developers and analysts to leverage the considerable amount of data being collected and released on the internet today. A true “github for data”, features like a RESTful API and access control allow users to clean and collaborate without jeopardizing the integrity of their data.
Join me in congratulating Marianne. We sincerely hope you have an amazing experience and build many meaningful relationships this weekend.
26 2 / 2014
This post originally appeared on The New Hive a year ago this week.
Being an investor isn’t easy for a number of reasons. But the hardest part for me is saying “No.” I meet hundreds of entrepreneurs each year, and at RRE Ventures we invest in only a small percentage of them. VC’s generally invest in less than 1% of companies they meet. So if you do the math, you know I have to say “No” a lot.
There are countless reasons why we choose not to back an early stage venture. Market size. Wrong team. Bad timing. Competition. Traction. Lack of monetization. Little or no competitive advantage. Outside our expertise. Valuation. I could go on.
But regardless of whether I exchange a quick email with a founder or spend hours getting to know him or her, passing is the worst. It’s the only part of my job that I truly hate. And it’s not just because I lose the option to invest down the road. I hate passing because my daily work with entrepreneurs has given me a good look into their struggles…what founders sacrifice daily to ensure that their company is in a better place tomorrow than it is today. It becomes personal, emotional…it’s only human to feel for the founders who…
- Sleep on an air mattress or couch
- Max out credit cards
- Part ways with a cofounder
- Drop out of school
- Borrow money from family and close friends
- Spend days, weeks and months on the road
- Miss family events and moments
- Relocate, thousands of miles from home
- Fight for a spot in an accelerator
- Sell a product that doesn’t yet exist
- Lay awake at night
- Spec, wireframe, code for countless days, nights and weekends
- Hear family and friends call you crazy
- Overcome nerves before big meetings
- Work around the clock for virtually no pay
- Interview dozens of candidates to fill an open role
- Kiss away virtually all of your “free time”
- Pull all nighters to hit deadlines
- Hear “NO” over and over again
- Have an investor back out in the 11th hour
- Stalk bloggers to get some press
- Volunteer at a conference to get free entry
- Miss another vacation
- Sell prized possessions for startup capital
- Wait for months to get that first contract signed
- Quit your well paid job
- Pivot again to nail product market fit
- Show up to work when you’re sick or down
- Are the first one in and the last one out
- Pray you’ll get that lucky win
- Cold call hundreds of potential customers for just one “Yes”
- Break up with your significant other
I think you get the point. Founders endure enormous struggles just for a chance to pitch an investor like me. I recognize it, and I take it very seriously. So much is on the line.
That’s why it’s so hard for me to say “No.”
24 2 / 2014
On Friday, all of my meetings were downtown but I had a two hour open window in the late morning. Instead of schlepping to RRE’s office in Midtown East or sitting in a noisy Starbucks with spotty wifi, I decided to give Breather a try. Breather is a newly launched mobile app that provides on-demand rooms in large urban areas. It is the brain child of Julien Smith a Montreal-based writer and entrepreneur. The service currently operates in Montreal and NYC, costs $25 / per hour and is available seven days a week from 6am to 10pm.
The main goal of the app is to provide a quiet place to hold a meeting, work in private or just take a break for an hour or two. While the service is perceived as “odd,” novel and unproven, I can imagine a growing market for this type of flexible space. Demand will likely come from small companies with virtual organizations, freelancers, visiting executives and employees and even tourists. The timing for something like Breather to emerge couldn’t be any better since asset sharing, co-working and freelancing have become important pieces of the innovation economy for nearly a decade.
The end-to-end experience was seamless, easy and surprisingly enjoyable. After I downloaded and registered for the app, I was able to easily search for Breathers in my area. As you can see the NYC locations are conveniently placed in SOHO, Flatiron and Penn Station:
Because my meetings were south of 14th St., I selected Soho and then received information on the location and the space:
I was then able to select the desired day and time using a simple interface:
Once the booking process was complete, I received a text message confirming the transaction and the countdown began:
When I arrived at the location in Soho on Friday morning, I checked into the space using the app:
Within a second of confirming my check in, I received an in app message containing a unique door code for this one time-use:
I then entered the code into the keypad found near the door handle:
And voila! I found peace and quiet for a two hour email blitz:
The space was well designed, comfortable and very clean. It could comfortably accommodate eight people since there is a table for six, two lounge chairs and a love seat. The room also contained an “idea wall” for brainstorming, pens and paper, Tootsie Rolls, free wifi for surfing the web, plenty of plugs and a magazine rack. Because I was running around all morning and wasn’t prepared, the only two items I wish the room had was a bathroom (located in the hallway) and some bottled water.
When I was finished using the space, I cleaned up after myself, packed my bags and just walked out the door. That was it. Very simple without any friction. Julien and his team nailed the product from a UX / UI perspective but wish they made the app a bit more social and rewarding so I can earn incentives by getting my friends and co-workers to sign up. I’m sure that will come shortly.
Since Breather just launched in NYC, the service still has a lot to prove but I’m excited to see how this experiment unfolds. My four biggest questions are related to price, utilization, cleanliness and vandalism. Is $25 per hour too much when competing with a free alternative like Starbucks? Can Breather acquire affordable leases and maintain a high utilization rate to make it a viable business? How does the company ensure cleanliness? Finally, will the spaces be used for illegal activities that will undermine the spirit of the community and company?
Overall, the process was very ‘Uberesque’ which is the highest praise one can give a mobile service these days. I’m excited Breather chose NYC as a test market because I personally have a business need for this type of on demand space. If they can answer some of the big questions I noted above, I believe Breather has the potential to be a viable business and a valuable service in major urban centers around the globe.
03 2 / 2014
Several years ago I started teaching a class on raising seed capital at General Assembly and Skillshare. I initially created the class because friends and founders were coming to me for fundraising advice and I was answering generally the same questions over and over.
A few months ago, I realized the initial slideshare that I used for dozens of classes was good as long as there was a voiceover but not great as a standalone guide. I decided to speak with a handful of my students and founders to see what they would want in a v2 fundraising resource.
After many conversations and too many nights and weekends in Powerpoint, I’m excited to share with you the next version of my guide to raising seed capital In this slideshare, I answer the follow questions in an easy to digest format:
- What is seed capital?
- Why should I raise?
- What is the current state of the seed market.
- Who invets in startups?
- How do I prepare?
- What is the close process?
- What are some useful resources?
I sincerely hope you find this resource valuable and educational. I plan to update the deck on a regular basis so any feedback is encouraged and appreciated. Finally, if you’re a founder and about to go through the process, be a little patient and stay optimistic. Fundraising is often a long and stressful but very rewarding journey. Good luck.
23 1 / 2014
As a VC who has worked closely with more than ten women-led startups and a husband to a “bootstrapping” entrepreneur, I’m incredibly bullish on the impact and influence that women entrepreneurs are going to have on the startup community over the next decade. There’s a bunch of evidence that suggests more women starting and growing businesses than ever before. That’s why I was so encouraged and excited when I read about Y Combinator’s Female Founder Conference earlier this week.
The team at RRE, which has backed many women-founded companies including Paperless Post, Bark Co. Floored and The Skimm, hopes that dozens of founders from NYC plan to attend this important event. To encourage participation from the NYC ecosystem, RRE is going to “sponsor” one lucky NYC-based founder so she can attend the conference on our dime (roundtrip airfare and hotel for two nights). It is our hope that this person will have the experience of a lifetime, build great relationships and pay it forward in startup land one day.
If you have been accepted to the conference and you would like a chance to have RRE pay your way, please send an email by February 12th to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title, FF Conference - Your Company, and following details:
- Founder Name
- Company URL
- Why should we choose you
I’ll then aggregate the entries using Streak.com, a Y Combinator company, and chose a deserving founder based on need and purpose no later than February 13th.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Good luck to everyone, look forward to hearing from you and genuinely hope those of you who are able to attend have a career-changing experience.
20 1 / 2014
"It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality."
-Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1967 speech
17 1 / 2014
“There is an old saying about the strength of the wolf is the pack, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. On a football team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it’s the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”
This Sunday The New England Patriots are playing in their 8th Conference Championship in the Bill Belichick era. During this fourteen year span, The Patriots and their legendary head coach have not had a losing season and won an NFL-best 163 regular season games, 3 Super Bowls, 5 AFC Conference Championships, 11 AFC East Division Championships. These numbers are especially impressive since the NFL is designed for parity in the salary-cap era.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, how are The Patriots able to maintain excellence over a long period of time while other teams slide up and down the standings? The answer lies in how Bill Belichick recruits, motivates, and compensates his coaches and players. And I strongly believe that startup founders can take away some important lessons by studying how The Patriots handle HR and personnel decisions.
- Team First: No single player is bigger than the team. Many players have been cut by Belichick for detrimental behavior that undermines the concept of team.
- Promote Within: coaches often come in as scouting assistants and then move up and around the organization as they progress in their careers. Additionally, if a player performs they can go from third string to starter.
- Focus on Excellence: every player has a specific job in the system and they need to perform at a high level consistently.
- Fiscal Discipline: The Patriots are notorious for not overpaying “big name players” and making hard financial decisions such as releasing a “fan favorite” when they no longer perform relative to pay.
- Depth: The bottom third of the Patriots roster is littered with veterans and high potential “no name” players that fit into the system. Every single player has a specific role on the team.
- Skill Development: Throughout the season, the coaching staff not only focuses on the upcoming opponent but also how each player can improve their skills.
- Situational Preparation: Belichick and his staff simulate game conditions and teach “situational football” using both conventional and unconventional methods.
Love him or hate him, there’s no question Belichick has built one of the most successful programs in the history of professional sports. Next time you’re thinking about how to build a winning organization, I strongly recommend taking a page from Bill Bilichick and The New England Patriots. The numbers don’t lie.
06 1 / 2014
RRE is hiring one lucky and talented person to lead RRE’s efforts around community, research and content. We’re looking for someone who is insanely passionate about digital media, a natural community organizer and a life long overachiever. This person cannot follow the traditional VC playbook. Going against the grain and challenging the status quo is a must. If you want to help shape a great fund and contribute to the NYC tech ecosystem then you’ve come to the right place. Oh and one last thing: this person will get to work with me every day! Here are all the deets:
Roles & Responsibilities
- Work closely with the partnership to help craft long-term community strategy and roadmap
- Manage RRE’s social media channels including Twitter, LinkedIn, Slideshare and others
- Ownership of RRE.com
- Plan, coordinate and execute events for the RRE portfolio and the NYC tech ecosystem
- Implement a variety of scalable content marketing programs
- Establish PR goals, strategies and tactics for RRE with emphasis on tech media
- Monitor, track and share press around RRE and the portfolio
- Establish thought leadership on current trends in tech and NYC
- BS / BA degree
- 2-3 years experience in a community or marketing role at an early stage company
- Powerful network within NYC tech
- Active online presence and familiarity with social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wordpress, etc.)
- Results oriented, energetic and focused with a strong desire to learn and succeed
- Excellent writing skills; experience blogging and/or editing
- Must be extremely detail oriented with superior organizational skills
- Ability to develop creative solutions and innovative programs
- Work ethic like the Energizer Bunny
- Ability to work independently and as a member of a team
- Comfortable working in a fast-paced, startup environment
- Demonstrated passion for technology, social media, digital media, content marketing and branding
- Competitive salary
- Insurance - medical, dental and vision
- Simple vacation policy: be reasonable
- Fun corporate culture
- Based in NYC
- Starts immediately
Your Application (Limit: Two Pages)
- A brief bio
- LinkedIn profile
- Social media presence
- Other work (hacks, designs, blog posts, etc.)
- How would you approach the first 90 days?
- What are some idea to build community within the portfolio and the NYC ecosystem?
Apply At: email@example.com
About RRE Ventures
RRE Ventures is among the largest and most active venture capital firms based in New York. RRE focuses on early stage technology investments across a diversified range of sectors and industries. RRE has managed five funds since its inception in 1994, with $1.03 billion under management and investments in over 200 portfolio companies. Active investments include Makerbot, Buzzfeed, Kik, Sailthru, Braintree, Paperless Post, Bark Co., and OnDeck Capital.
03 1 / 2014
One of my 2014 goals is to remove clutter in life and focus on quality. This doesn’t just include physical items like clothing and other random “stuff” but also digital things like the number of apps on my phone or the blogs I actively follow.
A few weeks ago I realized my Twitter feed was becoming unbearable. Since 2007 I had followed more than 4,000 individuals, startups, established brands, parody accounts, celebrities and media companies. The signal to noise ratio had pretty much hit zero. I couldn’t keep up.
I finally decided to search for a solution that would help me quickly unfollow everyone so I could rebuild my follower list from scratch. The rationale was simple: start over and carefully curate the accounts I follow so my feed would become relevant once again. After all, Twitter is only as good as the people you follow.
Fortunately, Kane Hsieh, our badass Analyst at RRE, pointed me towards a nifty hack on Lifehacker that nuked my Twitter feed in less than a minute. Two weeks into my little experiment, I’m enjoying Twitter more than ever before. The feed moves at a snail’s pace and the signal to noise ratio is much much higher.
Some people were offended when I unfollowed them. That’s the one major downfall to this strategy. I approached this by apologizing but explaining that I didn’t single out one person. Over the next few months I’ll be rebuilding my feed and I’m excited to reconnect with many folks I respect.
If you ever think about uncluttering your digital life, I highly recommend giving this life hack a try. Nuking your Twitter feed can seem scary but I promise you’ll feel liberated. I know I do.