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  • Jacqui 23:42:09 on 2018-05-01 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Female Founder University, June 4-6 in SF 

    Applications for the next Founder.University, taking place on June 4th, 5th and 6th in San Francisco, are now open.

    [ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): https://ctt.ec/v26lm ]

    This class is for women entrepreneurs and it’s free to attend.

    We are looking for founders with a product in market but pre-Series A.

    To apply here for the June 4-6 class:
    https://www.founder.university/june

    The deadline to apply is MAY 8 (attendees will be informed by May 15).

    Additional Founder.University classes in 2018 are as follows:

    Please share with any founders you think will be interested.

    All the best,
    Jason + the LAUNCH team

    PS – LAUNCH Festival Sydney has 1,500 founders coming for free for two days on June 19 and 20 and will feature three startup competitions: one for new companies (under a year old), one for crypto startups and one for frontier technologies (i.e., technologies that are not mainstream yet, like robotics, AI and new food technologies). http://launchfestivalsydney.com

    PPS – LAUNCH Angel Summit in July is almost filled. This two-day event is for investors with one to 100 early stage investments, and we’re thrilled to announce David Sacks, of Craft Ventures (and previously Zenefits, Yammer, and PayPal) as our first keynote. http://launchangelsummit.com

     
  • Jacqui 18:00:45 on 2018-04-25 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Howie Liu, Co-Founder & CEO of Airtable 

    Howie Liu, Co-Founder & CEO of Airtable: a spreadsheet-inspired collaboration platform that enables users to create their own workflows and functionalities, joins us on episode 814 of This Week In Startups. Airtable recently raised $52m of Series B funding and introduced “Blocks” – apps that run on top of Airtable – add access to third-party APIs (such as Google’s Cloud Vision API) and a variety of additional features. Ultimately, the company plans to open its app store to third-party developers and split revenue.

    Join us to learn about a fascinating, functional product that has found its place as an essential tool in diverse industries.

    Receive these episodes in your inbox

    Timestamps:

    02:15 – Jason introduces Howie Liu, co-founder & CEO of Airtable. Howie says his team doesn’t think of Airtable as a productivity company but as a platform that powers creators. Jason lists some of the investors that have contributed $62M to date.

    04:34 – Howie describes how different users employ Airtable, as he finds this more useful for prospective users than any single-sentence pitch. The platform includes a database, task management, pipeline visualization, more. It’s used by farmers to manage livestock, by media companies to manage their content-planning workflows, more.

    07:11 – Howie explains that Airtable inherits the best aspects of spreadsheets, which are optimized for number crunching, but enables users to build custom solutions depending on applications. They can attach files, integrate tasks with calendars, more.

    10:33 – Howie covers competition, noting there is no direct equivalent to Airtable. Google Sheets and Excel are the most obvious competitors, but they don’t really compare when it comes to features. Howie says Airtable’s solution is 10 times better for many use cases. In some cases, Airtable provides control and customizations that custom software solutions do not.

    12:48 – Jason thanks sponsor WordPress, which powers Jason’s blog and the This Week in Startupswebsite. TWiST listeners can get 15 percent off any new plan at wordpress.com/twist.

    15:03 – Jason asks how Howie became so interested in spreadsheets and improving them. Howie says he’s not excited by the spreadsheet itself, but by what people can do with them, including building custom workflows.

    17:28 – Howie demonstrates Airtable, explaining the layout and detailing the features not found in other spreadsheet apps. His demonstration table is an events management project by a music festival company. He explains how Airtable can share and pull data so projects always access a canonical source of, for example, current staff (all projects referencing the staff Airtable stay up to date).

    22:34 – Howie breaks down pricing: for self-serve: $10 per user per month for the Plus plan, $20 per user per month for the Pro plan (both tiers paid a year in advance); for enterprise: $60 per user per month. The enterprise plan adds expanded usage limits, additional administrative control, the ability to use the company’s authentication system so IT can provision users without creating new accounts, etc.

    23:36 – Jason laments missing the chance to invest in Airtable’s early rounds. Howie describes the simple state of the app at the time of Series A. He says the team has been unhappy with the company’s valuation at each funding stage and still feels Airtable is undervalued due to the total addressable market and the company’s path to reach it.

    28:08 – Jason thanks sponsor LinkedIn. TWiST listeners can get $100 in advertising credits by visiting https://linkedin.com/thisweekinstartups.

    31:28 – Jason speaks about investors who spend too much time away from work and Jason and Howie recall their working vacations.

    34:32 – Howie explains nonprofit Samasource, which works to create jobs in areas that need economic development. Samasource will, for example, outsource American digitization projects to computer labs in Uganda.

    35:57 – Howie talks about the importance of the free version of Airtable in terms of educating the public on the product.

    37:49 – Howie explains Blocks, which are apps that run on top of Airtable. Currently, only Blocks developed by Airtable are available. Eventually, the platform will be open to third-party developers. Howie demonstrates a Maps Block, which uses data from Airtable to auto-generate maps (can display locations of events, more). Blocks are embeddable and display up-to-date data.

    44:29 – Howie covers a Block for designing custom print layouts that use database information and a Block that uses Google’s Cloud Vision API to label and describe images. He confirms Zappier and IFTTT integration. Users cannot email data directly to Airtable yet, but Zappier integration makes that possible.

    53:17 – Howie explains Blocks that will enable Airtable to automatically send emails and SMS. For example, to remind an employee of the next day’s work schedule.

    54:12 – Jason asks about the marketing strategy for a product that can be difficult to grasp for the uninitiated. Howie says word of mouth has been significant in Airtable’s success. Users who are enthusiastic about practical applications ultimately draw contacts and coworkers in.

    57:16 – Howie explains why the Airtable app store is currently limited to Airtable-built apps: in part to establish a standard of quality. Ultimately plans to split revenue with third-party developers.

    1:00:12 – Howie describes Airtable Universe: a GitHub-like public repository where users can share workflow templates. The layout encourages submitters to explain their use cases.

    1:00:42 – Howie tells the origin story of his first company, Etacts, a personal relationship manager. The team saw a lot of acquisition interest early on. While the company had a vision for a big outcome, the team wasn’t seasoned and didn’t see a strong path to get there. So selling to Salesforce made sense.

    1:06:08 – Jason asks Howie how he feels about founding teams selling stock for fundraising rounds. Howie says it depends on the motivations. When a company is definitely overvalued, it makes sense to partially cash out as insurance. When the company is undervalued, the seller just gets a bad deal. Notes that allowing the sale of common stock is bad for future employees.

    1:09:21 – Howie says Airtable has an inbound sales team and probably won’t need an outbound sales team for some time. The company is confident in its projected cash flow.

    1:12:05 – Jason talks about selling company shares too soon. He provides examples: someone selling Uber shares in the midst of rapid growth, someone who sold Facebook stock before the company went public.

     
  • Jacqui 23:30:25 on 2018-04-24 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Answering Question’s about The OpenBook Challenge 

    The team at The Guardian asked me a couple of questions about the OpenBookChallenge.com, our competition to fund seven social networks with $100,000 each.

    The Guardian’s story: https://t.co/9T08M2nKaC

    Best, @Jason

    jason@calacanis.com  

    openbook@launch.co

    ==============

    Here are the answers:

    Why have other attempts at FB replacements (Mastodon etc) not taken off?

    There are two reasons why Facebook hasn’t been displaced.

    First, Zuckerberg has done an exceptional job of buying competitors. Instagram and WhatsApp were well on their way to disrupting Facebook when Zuck masterfully bought them out, sealing his monopoly position. The data they have across these three platforms builds an unprecedented moat.

    Second, Zuckerberg has been unmatched in his ability to quickly steal innovative features from startups that refuse to sell to him, like Snapchat. Zuck’s “sell or die” threat has put a paralysis into the venture and entrepreneurial communities, making both scared to challenge him.

    If you look at Snapchat’s three amazing innovations, ephemeral messages, filters and stories, Zuckerberg has copied each one down to the pixel in his arsenal of apps. So, not only does a founder have to face Facebook copying them, they now have to face Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp trying to kill them.

    What are the key obstacles for companies looking to replace Facebook?

    The key is Facebook’s ability to copy features, and make unethical decisions around their deployment. We already talked about Zuckerberg’s completely abhorrent copying of every innovation Evan Spiegel has made, but there are many, many more examples.

    Another example of these unethical decisions was the rollout of Facebook Groups. The average founder would never consider allowing a group manager to add someone to a group without getting their permission.

    Of course, Zuck had no problem allowing folks to add people to groups without their consent, which resulted in gay men being outed. A person with an ethical compass would easily come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t let people invade other people’s privacy, but Zuck’s religion is removing friction.

    This amoral approach, combined with Facebook’s monopoly, gives Zuckerberg his insane advantage.

    https://www.advocate.com/youth/2012/10/15/two-queer-college-students-outed-facebook

    To what extent does the network effect make it extremely difficult for a startup to compete?

    See above.

    I read a blog post from 2010 where you described a load of companies and people who had been “Zucked” (including Foursquare, Twitter, ConnectU). Who else has been Zucked recently, in your opinion?

    How much time do you have?! There is a long list of startups the Zuckerberg has convinced his team to copy, including Periscope, Timehop, Meetup, Houseparty, Path and Snapchat.

    What’s particularly nefarious is that Facebook can use their data from the Like button, their ad network and Facebook Connect (“login with Facebook!”), to study which competitors are getting traction and kill them before they hit scale.

    Additionally, the WSJ reported on a really dirty trick Zuckerberg pulled: he bought a mobile data company, Onavo, and figured out which startups that weren’t in Facebook’s ecosystem he should kill next.

    Candidly, I’m surprised no group of impacted companies has gotten together and sued Facebook collectively. I’m no lawyer, but it certainly feels like this might go beyond just dirty tricks, it might be actionable.

    https://www.onavo.com/

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-copycats-how-facebook-squashes-competition-from-startups-1502293444

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebooks-onavo-gives-social-media-firm-inside-peek-at-rivals-users-1502622003

    What do you think of the way that Facebook has handled the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal?

    It’s clear that Zuckerberg was able to charm Washington DC and that Facebook will, in all likelihood, not only get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, but they will also be getting an even deeper monopolistic position if new regulations are created.

    New regulations will only solidify Facebook as the only place with enough scale and data to matter to advertisers. Zuck understands this, which is why he’s been saying “sure, regulate us!” He knows it only cements his position.

    What do you see as the worst thing about Facebook/most egregious thing the company has done?

    I think if discovery is done on Facebook’s behavior toward partners and competitors, the cut-throat nature of their approach would be 10x more troubling than what we already know.  

    What about the positives — what’s the best thing the company has done?

    Social networks are amazing at letting families and friends stay in touch with each other, and the filters on instagram make our photos look 100% more beautiful—these are wonderful innovations.

    What impact has Facebook had on the “open web”?

    Facebook is actively trying to shut down the open web, and that’s an opportunity for clever founders to double down on solutions that Facebook, and Google, do not control. SMS, email, the web, podcasting, RSS and distributed crypto and blockchain solutions, are all amazing examples of platforms that Google and Facebook can’t stop — and they’re actively trying.  

    Google wants to kill the open web and email, with AMP pages and Gmail smart folders. Zuckerberg wants to kill SMS with WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram messenger.

    Smart founders should understand that the achilles heals of Google and Facebook are open platforms, and triple down on them. Google and Facebook can’t beat Wikipedia, nor control email and SMS, despite their attempts. We must fight corporate bad actors trying to shut down the open web, an open web that paradoxically created Google and Facebook.

    What kind of support will you offer the 7 startups during the 12-week incubation?

    The LAUNCH Incubator provides $100,000, 100 hours of my team’s time and the ability to pitch 150 top VCs in silicon valley and the 2,400 angel investors in http://www.jasonssyndicate.com. This gives a startup the ability get known, build a network, refine their skills and get money.

    Money, skills, network and attention build startups as best I can tell after 150 investments — and six unicorns.

    In 2010 you described Zuckerberg on your blog as “an amoral, Aspergers-like entrepreneur”  and that “Zuckerberg is clearly the worst thing that’s happened to our industry since, well, spam.” Given what’s happened since 2010, how has your opinion of him evolved, if at all?

    Zuck is a much better public speaker, but the truth is, his superpower is his amoral approach to stealing innovations and relentlessly removing friction makes him the Borg — he will be unstoppable until he another founder builds a better product and refuses to sell out to him.

    It could happen.

    Also, I probably shouldn’t have used the “aspergers-like” term, as I’m not a doctor and that’s a too personal jab to make in hindsight. I wouldn’t say that again, even if Saturday Night Live did an entire skit based on that exact observation this month.   

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqRo9xYKnfA

    You say you will pick 20 finalists and “communicate with them regularly for 90 days” — can you please elaborate on what you mean by that? Is this to monitor how their business is developing? Will this involve mentorship? Or just a prolonged interview process?

    Our plan is to tell folks they’ve made it to the next round, and if they have we will talk to them over email and do a regular video conference, to talk about their progress. Our hope is we can get to know founders during this process, so we can increase our investment from $100,000 to $1,000,000 if they’re crushing it.

    A couple more questions. Given the obstacles to displacing Facebook (identified in your responses), what makes you think the Openbook Challenge might deliver a true competitor? What’s different now?

    No matter how strong a big company is, there is always a chance that an indefatigable founder with a clever idea and a kick-ass team will be able beat them.

    And what happens if Facebook seeks to acquire one of your incubated startups?!

    If Facebook wants to buy your company you should do what Evan did: raise lots of money, go public and fight the great fight!

    My job as an angel is to give the founder advice, money and options, but ultimately it’s the founder’s decision if they go to the dark side.

     
  • Jacqui 22:09:57 on 2018-04-22 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Andy Rachleff – CEO of Wealthfront & Co-Founder of Benchmark 

    E813Andy Rachleff, Founder & CEO of Wealthfront and Co-Founder of Benchmark joins us on episode 813 of This Week in Startups. Much of the conversation focuses on investment strategies, including long-term goals versus short-term gains, stocks versus bonds, and resisting the urge to sell when a stock drops. We also cover Wealthfront’s growth (managing $10b+ assets), features, success, mission, and future plans, which include banking services and an IPO.

    Andy shares lessons from decades in Venture Capital, serving on the board of Reed Hasting’s (Netflix Founder & CEO) first company, Pure Software, and from studying academic research and expert advice on investment strategies.

    Join us for more than an hour of insights on private companies, public markets, and personal finance.

    Receive these episodes in your inbox

    Timestamps:

    00:54 – Jason introduces Andy Rachleff, CEO of Wealthfront and co-founder of Benchmark. They discuss Benchmark’s success and status as one of the best firms in the world. Andy talks about how the founding team came together, their motivations, establishing equal economics for all partners to attract the best talent, more.

    06:19 – Jason asks Andy if he misses being a VC. Andy says that, due to Benchmark’s structure, there was no way for him to continue in the firm’s equal economics when he couldn’t dedicate himself fully to VC work. He can still invest in the funds.

    08:38 – Andy covers Wealthfront’s progress. A little over six years after founding, the automated financial advising company manages more than $10B. Andy thinks that’s the shortest time any investment vehicle has reached that milestone. Sees a rate of adoption unmatched in the investment business.

    Andy says what most attracts people to Wealthfront is that everything is handled by software – more so than the fee structure. Wealthfront focuses on users under 40 with less than $1M. Those clients prefer not to regularly interact with advisors. Competitors try to marry traditional advising and planning with software.

    12:24 – Jason thanks sponsor delivered tuxedo rental company The Black Tux. TWiST listeners get $20 off their first purchase.

    14:59 – Jason asks Andy about Wealthfront’s take on cryptocurrency. Andy says Wealthfront’s target demographic is very interested in crypto, but Wealthfront focuses on academically proven investment strategies, not speculations. Crypto doesn’t fit into that philosophy. Those interested in crypto should limit their investment to about 10 percent of their portfolios.

    18:12 – Andy discusses Wealthfront’s retirement planning, college planning, homebuyer planning. The company’s banking services include portfolio credit lines – a user can withdraw up to 30 percent of account value.

    21:09 – Andy explains how Wealthfront uses data from various sources, including connected accounts, to determine the best plan for each user and to provide better financial outcomes than a traditional planner could conceive.

    25:54 – Andy talks about human nature regarding investments: people want to sell when the market drops and buy when it goes up. That’s the exact opposite of what people should do. Wealthfront publishes blog posts encouraging clients to resist counterproductive urges.

    28:24 – Andy covers Wealthfront’s value-added services, a suite known as Passive Plus. Includes Tax-Loss Harvesting, which enables Wealthfront to sell a losing investment and replace it with an equivalent investment, then apply the loss to income and gains to reduce tax liability.

    30:54 – Jason thanks sponsor Squarespace, which powers LAUNCH’s events sites. Use offer code twistto get 10 percent off your first purchase.

    33:34 – Andy continues explaining Wealthfront’s Passive Plus features: Stock-Level Tax-Loss Harvesting:  If a stock drops 10 percent, Wealthfront will sell it and buy a highly correlated stock, hold it for 30 days, then sell and return to the original stock.

    36:38 – Andy discusses Passive Plus feature Risk Parity, which uses leverage to increase volatility in a stock-and-bond-balanced portfolio to increase returns without increasing risk.

    39:48 – Jason asks about the near-record bull market run and whether it indicates a coming crash. Andy says no one can predict the stock market, but every downdraft recovers. On average the market recovers from corrections in 89 days. So people are better off when they just maintain their investment strategy and pace without trying to predict the market.

    43:26 – Jason asks about ETFs. Andy says there isn’t any academic research indicating ETFs have had a negative effect on the market. People who advocate actively-managed funds spread FUD about ETFs.

    45:05 – Jason asks about Trump’s corporate tax cuts, tax cuts on repatriated cash, etc. Andy says these decisions are driving the stock market, but not necessarily the economy. The question is what companies will do with the additional earnings.

    48:41 – Andy notes that there are 50 percent fewer public companies than there were about 10 years ago. Andy thinks it would be healthier for the economy if there were more public companies. Jason says there is a flurry of IPO activity in Silicon Valley.

    50:44 – Andy talks about how some of the biggest tech companies have reinvented themselves numerous times – usually through acquisitions. He’s worried that too many companies are staying private for too long. They wait until their growth rate slows and then it’s a hard stock to sell or take public.

    Jason attributes the problem to a founder-friendly investing environment, where there is a great deal of late-stage capital available. Public funds are dipping into earlier-stage companies that might not go public.

    Andy says Facebook was a prime example of why tech companies shouldn’t go public and Zuckerberg now regrets not going public sooner. Most companies would have to go public to make the types of acquisitions Facebook has.

    52:57 – Jason and Andy discuss Wealthfront’s growth rate, fundraising, revenues, and assets. Andy hopes the company will file to go public in about two years. It’s time to file when a company can reasonably predict its business. Newly public companies should see stable or increasing growth rates and increasing margins.

    56:23 – Jason asks if too many people want to own equities because there’s a lack of public stocks (which increases demand and prices). Andy says that’s one of the reasons price-earnings ratios are at a historic high. Bond and treasury bill investments can’t keep up with the rate of inflation.

    Wealthfront establishes a client’s risk level and the client can then adjust. Changing too frequently is a bad idea because changing risk settings results in incurring taxes. Long-term strategies are usually the best.

    59:50 – Andy hopes Wealthfront will eventually operate as a bank. The company ultimately wants to provide all financial services at a lower cost than all competitors. Aims to optimize and automate all of a client’s personal finances.

    1:03:11 – Andy, who previously served on the board of Reed Hasting’s Pure Software, said he thinks more about Reed than anyone else when making decisions about running Wealthfront – specifically in regards to making competitors’ greatest strengths into their greatest weaknesses.

    Andy says Reed keeps things simple, focuses on the most important areas, and makes bets with asymmetric risks (massive upsides, nothing that can kill the company). With Netflix, he bet on streaming and on original content. One of few companies reinvented through internal development.

    1:06:07 – On accredited versus non-accredited investors: Andy doesn’t think income is indicative of sophistication, but the vast majority of people should not invest in startups. In the professional investing world, a very small percentage represents the vast majority of realized gains.

    1:09:04 – Jason asks what makes a great manager in venture capital. Andy says success is the differentiator, but success is easier when achieved in consensus. To make the right bets without consensus is the challenge. A great manager has to know which leaps of faith to take. It can’t be done without risk. People learn how to choose based on previous success. Jason says Those who have been rewarded for taking risks are emboldened and can focus on the upside.

     
  • Jacqui 04:42:59 on 2018-04-21 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Can Facebook be replaced? Let’s invest $100,000 in seven teams and find out! 

    I could write another long email filled with criticisms about Zuckerberg’s horrific track record running Facebook, but instead, I thought I would seize the opportunity created by Mark’s self-inflicted crisis and announce the “Openbook Challenge.”

    The “Openbook Challenge,” a competition with seven, $100,000 investment prizes.  

    All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they’re not shut down by the government — they’re slowly replaced by better products.

    So, let’s start the process of replacing Facebook.

    LAUNCH is going to fund seven, purpose-driven teams that want to build a billion-user social network to replace Facebook.

    We are hoping to invest in a social network that is actually good for society. This means the new social network would:

    1. Respect and protect consumer’s privacy
    2. Respect and protect our democracy from bad actors
    3. Respect and protect the truth, by stopping the spread of misinformation
    4. Not try and manipulate people by making them addicted to the service
    5. Protect freedom of speech, while curbing abuse (not easy!)

    We already have two dozen quality teams cranking on projects and we hope to get to 100.  

    The timeline and frequently asked questions are below.

    Best,

    Jason Calacanis

    Founder, LAUNCH

    ——————————————–

    How will the competition work?

    This is not an idea or business plan competition. We’re looking for teams that can actually build a better social network, and we’ll be judging teams primarily based upon their ability to execute.

    The competition will occur in three stages:

    1. Apply to the competition with your video tour, MVP or full blown product with traction stats.
    2. We will pick 20 teams as finalists and communicate with them regularly for 90 days.
    3. At the end of 90 days, we will offer seven teams to join our incubator, invest $100,000 in each and host them for our 12 week incubator, which will start on October 12.

    What are you looking for?

    We don’t want to tell you what to build, we want you to come up with your own ideas. Keep in mind, that while ideas really matter, Zuckerberg has shown us, execution matters more.

    “Don’t be too proud to copy.” — Mark Zuckerberg

    Is this a competition to see who can simply copy Facebook’s current product or a competition to come up with a new, novel way to beat Facebook in the market?

    No one knows exactly how Facebook will be replaced. In order to beat Facebook, many believe the winning team will have to not only build a base functionality that is familiar to users looking to switch, but also provide new experiences that will make users passionate about the new product. Other’s believe it will be a completely new paradigm. The reason we want to fund seven teams, is because we think many different paths could lead to the promised land. It’s not going to be easy, but startups never are.  

    Who will make the investment?

    Angel investor Jason Calacanis will be making the investment from the LAUNCH Incubator Fund. We will also syndicate the best projects to JasonsSyndicate.com (2300+ members).

    What will the terms of the investment be?

    Our incubator terms are at the industry standard of $100,000 for six percent.

    How will you pick the 20 finalists?

    Ability to execute.

    How will you pick the seven winners?

    Ability to execute. (I would also add something like Founder alignment with core mission, values)

    How can we stay up to date on the project?

    You can email openbook@launch.co anytime with your questions, join the email list at https://www.openbookchallenge.com/updates, and sign-up for the discussion group on… Facebook!

    Timeline

    Next 60 days (today through June 15): Rolling review of submissions. The LAUNCH team will review submitted video tours and/or link to your full-blown product/MVP and give candid feedback.

    July 1st: We will pick the top 20 projects and review them on a special episode of This Week in Startups with two social media experts.

    September 30th: We offer the final seven startups, plus three alternates, the opportunity to join our incubator class starting in September.

    October 12th-January 15th: Openbook Challenge, LAUNCH Incubator class runs for 12 weeks.

     
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