Oracle in the cloud: The analyst conversation


Wavebreak Media LTD

Last month, Oracle presented OpenWorld, its annual confab of enterprise software, in San Francisco. OpenWorld gives Oracle the opportunity to showcase the latest technology, products, and future directions of this huge company. It also creates a nexus of customers, prospects, press, and analysts who converge to study the company and its plans.

As part of the CXOTALK series of interviews with leaders, I invited three important analysts to examine Oracle and read between the lines of what the company said. Part of this mandate included looking at Oracle’s position in the market relative to important competitors.

The three analysts who participated in this session are:

All three are known as astute and trustworthy observers of the enterprise software market.

The analyst conversation converged on the idea that Oracle is all-in on the cloud as a technology, product, and service platform. For this transition, the question is not Oracle’s engineering ability, but whether they have a business model to compete with native IaaS and PaaS players, in particular, Amazon Web Services. For example, can Oracle match Amazon’s cadence of price cuts to remain competitive with AWS?

We also discussed why Larry Ellison, Oracle’s founder and CTO, pushed so hard on Workday yet hardly mentioned historical competitor SAP. Louis Columbus hypothesizes it is because Workday’s potential addressable market is extremely large and Ellison wants to draw attention to growth in the cloud opportunity rather than to the large, existing on-premise business, which will inevitably decline over time.

It’s worth noting here that Oracle’s overall 2016 revenue was $37 billion while its SaaS and PaaS revenue rose 82% in Q1 to a run rate of almost $4 billion. Although cloud remains a small part of Oracle’s current revenue, it is clearly the future. [Source: Mark Hurd discussion at OpenWorld.]

At the conclusion, the analysts offer specific advice to CIOs and Oracle customers.

To summarize the in-depth conversation, we created a special short video and transcript, which are embedded above. You can also watch the entire episode and read a complete transcript.

Michael Krigsman: One of the interesting things at OpenWorld, they really leaned heavily on their competition with Workday, and pretty much just dismissed SAP as a contender at all. So what’s that about?

Louis Columbus:

I think it’s a total available market issue. I mean, to your point earlier, these are very, very sharp people and of course, Larry knows exactly what he’s doing. The total available market of Workday is 10x what our salesforce is right now. So, it’s a very attractive target, and positioning against them relative to SAP is completely understandable. I mean, SAP clearly has a strong ERP base, has done fine with a variety of its acquisitions, however, it’s not nearly as attractive as a cloud-based company making headway in a market with a 10x market-sized multiple than other competitors that have gone down the path. So really, he’s signaling, “There’s a total available market pool, this is a great profit pool and I want a part of it.” I think that’s what he’s really saying.

Michael Krigsman: They’re saying that the Workday-addressable market is better than the SAP-addressable market? I mean, is that the point or am I missing something?

Louis Columbus:

It shows potential for growth, whereas the SAP market doesn’t. I don’t think that Larry wants to take a high profile event and go into the trenches of how they win and lose deals every day against SAP on their core business, core functionality around ERP. I mean, that’s probably where they face a majority of competition. SAP’s efforts into the cloud had been sometimes strong, sometimes weak. They’re not a poster child of exceptional cloud competitiveness and strength. He’s further ahead, looking at Workday and saying, “How do I position against HCM there?” That’s a growing market. The total available market is much larger; the compound annual growth rate is greater. They’re dealing with customers who believe in the cloud at the enterprise level, to Larry’s point that the CIO believes that. And, I think, to Larry’s point, the heterogeneity of technology stacks is driven by the decision-makers: CMO, Chief of Marketing, is going to go, “That is a great analytical tool, I’m going to need that to be able to manage my pipeline or to quantify my value as a business unit,” relative to the CIO saying, “I need a business consistency.”

Yeah, and back to your point: I think that that’s what’s going on. I think that’s just a prime base. It’s an enterprise that believes in the cloud, it can go to hundreds and thousands of seeds easily, plays exactly to where he wants to go with his revenue model.

Larry Dignan:

Don’t forget the narrative, right? These conferences are about a narrative. They always are. So, you know, the narrative for Oracle, “It’s cloud,” they’re innovating. Two words, that’s what they’re tryin g to project. So, if you come out and you start yappin’ about SAP, well, it’s like reading a sports story from ten years ago. We’ve all heard it over and over again, right? You know how it’s turned out, how it will turn out, whatever. But it’s an old story. And that’s why you see Larry Ellison going off about AWS, right? Because Workday arguments get a little tired, right? I mean, I see Workday, Oracle, I’m thinking apples and oranges. I mean, they compete in the same space in HCM, and ultimately financials, but it’s a different kind of company that they go after.

Michael Fauscette:

But I think that supports the idea of its position as much as it is anything else. It is in fact the right opponent at the right time, and the story against SAP, you’re right. It’s over. So I want to tell an exciting new story that sets me in the markets, in the focus, in the way I want to be seen. And that perception shapes a lot of people’s reality.

Michael Krigsman: So the narrative, as Larry Dignan was saying.

Louis, do you want to share some thoughts on this infrastructure strategy, which was so prevalent, so powerful at OpenWorld?

Louis Columbus:

I think there’s two really critical pivot points for them on this whole infrastructure strategy. First of all, can they innovate at the speed of Amazon? Arguably, yes. Oracle is a powerhouse Silicon engineering center company. So yeah, could they match them on pure patent production? Sure. And there are plenty of engineers there who would love to rack up a hundred patents in their career by going after Amazon. So that’s a pretty compelling value proposition.

The issue is, can the culture of Oracle engineering sustain the kind of culture that Amazon has right now in terms of a market leadership position and the way that engineers get their work at Amazon. So, can they pace on innovation? Sure. I mean, they’ve got to win a patent war somewhere, they’ve got to rack up a couple hundred patents really fast, and Oracle has the ability to do that.

Can they match the cadence of price cuts of Amazon? That’s a completely different story because while they do have that great revenue stream coming off their database business, matching the cadence of the price cuts of Amazon? Really hard to do, and stay profitable and still grow; and balance that, balance that with building apps that make money. So you’ve got this triad of factors that they have to keep in balance: drive a profitable applications business as they transition to cloud, be able to deal with the cadence of innovation of a competitor that has attracted world class engineers daily, and then third, being able to deal with the touring pace of price reduction. So yeah, it can be done. But will it be done in the short term? Probably not.

Michael Krigsman: Larry Dignan, what about the question that Louis raised of the ability of Oracle to keep undercutting Amazon? They’re both very large companies, so what about that?

Larry Dignan:

There are some things with Oracle’s AWS fascination that kind of boggle the mind a bit. A. just on margin, that Infrastructure as a Service business? It’s challenging, right? So my guess is, you know if you read Clay Christensen, you kind of see that slide where Toyota started down here, and the established players, in this case Detroit, kept moving up and up the stack, and then eventually the players at the bottom were also there too. I think that’s what this is about, because the biggest takeaway I had watching Ellison’s keynote is that yes, AWS must be taking database workloads from Oracle, otherwise Oracle will not be trying to punch them in the face. So, when they talk about their databases, their AWS databases not being as open, AWS being harder to move from, there may be some element of truth in that, but the bottom line is AWS made that stuff very easy to consume. And, that’s a hurdle.

So, I think from Oracle’s strategic point of view, they need the infrastructure piece because they need to sell you on the platforms and ultimately the applications, because that’s where the money is.

Michael Krigsman: So it’s the fuller scope, so it’s the infrastructure that’s the fuller scope of the suite.

Larry Dignan:

Right. And Oracle can’t lose infrastructure because once you’re in AWS, you’re probably going to buy higher level services. And, there’s not question that AWS is moving up that stack, they’re moving up that value prop, and that’s showing up in database workloads. So, if all these databases run around and they have this server-less infrastructure, and all that, then … So the real race is, you’re going to be buying business functions in the future.

Mike Fauscette:

But, we’re not moving to a world where one vendor’s going to own everything. It’s a world in the cloud where you’re going to have to see a lot of peaceful coexistence, you’re going to see a lot of openness. And it’s something they’re not quite… and no vendor from the old world to the new wants to accept that, but that’s just the world that the cloud is leading to.

Michael Krigsman: And, Larry Dignan, your final thoughts and advice for CIOs.

Larry Dignan:

I mean, I think any tech buyer is going to play ball with Oracle. And if you’re an existing customer, trading up in the cloud might totally work well for you. You’re going to get bundled deals, and yeah, a CIOs got to look at Oracle just as they would any other vendor.

Michael Krigsman: And Louis Columbus, you’re going to get the final word here.

Louis Columbus:

Ok, well I appreciate it. Well, my advice to CIOs is: use this ambition from Oracle to your advantage and push them to bundle in everything you possibly can. If you’re looking at a suite refresh, push for that. If you’re in an audit, threaten to leave and move your database loads to AWS and watch the audit probably drop. But you know, play hardball, because the ball’s in your court as a buyer now. Competition’s a beautiful thing, and competition brings out the best there is to offer, I think, from all these people. And I think you can look at beginning to reduce even maintenance fees, if you’re a CIO. And, in other words, Oracle’s hungry to build out this stack on the cloud, and use AWS pricing as a barometer in your negotiations with them. So, you’re in a buyer’s market. You’re in a great position, so make the most of it. And go cut a great deal with them.

Oracle is a client and paid my expenses to attend OpenWorld. Thank you to my CXOTALK colleague, Lisbeth Shaw, for assistance with this post.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

Venture Capital is About Human Capital

Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca

For the first 5 years or so after I became a VC I didn’t talk much about what I thought a VC should be excellent at since frankly I wasn’t sure. I was mostly doing my job and trying to figure out how to be better every day.

After a decade on the job I’ve started to speak more openly when newer industry colleagues now ask me what I’ve learned.

The number one advice I give is “stop trying to be too smart”. Most VCs did well academically and had enough career success that a venture firm was willing to give them an investment role or they were able to raise their own fund. It’s easy to think the role of a VC is to have strong opinions about markets, trends, tech dynamics and so forth. We think we’re supposed to act smart and have insights that others don’t possess.

I don’t think this is the job.

Entrepreneurs are supposed to have insights that others don’t have and we’re supposed to be good judges about which entrepreneurs and executives have both the most clever ideas and the right skill sets to do transformational things against all odds.

So I tell people we’re fundamentally in the people business. Our core skill is being able to identify talent and how to persuade the most talented people with whom we have access that we would be valuable to work with. We then help surround founders with other talent who want to join important causes but don’t have the startup idea themselves. We help founders through difficult moments, we help coach, we act as sparring partners, we help them resolve conflicts when they’re fighting with co-founders and we help them deal with adversity as well as successes.

That’s why I often say

The role of VC is “chief psychologist.”

We might help a management team deal with a vexing strategic question or a thorny negotiation but these are mostly tactical. The biggest difference we can make is helping support talented teams with complementary talent. Think about how profound a difference adding Sheryl Sandberg early at Facebook was to Mark Zuckerberg and knowing that he should stay in charge of product and strategy while she ran operations.

Fundamentally venture capital is about human capital.

The role of VC is sparring partner. The role is to challenge the thinking precisely because we get a bird’s eye view across many situations and many of us have been in the driver’s seat ourselves in our younger days.

And as a VC I often cultivate relationships with the most talented people with whom I’ve worked over the years and look for opportunities to work with them again. It’s rare to find extraordinarily talented individuals who are natural leaders and who are driven to succeed and who have a passion for startups so when you do you work hard to find opportunities for them.

Today I couldn’t be more delighted to tell you about one such individual — Gregg Johnson — who just left after 10 years to come and be the CEO of Invoca, a company I proudly backed.

Gregg and I worked together at Salesforce more than a decade ago. Gregg was a graduate of Stanford and a Wharton MBA and had worked at the consulting firm BCG so I knew he was smart and capable. But what I noticed about my time with Gregg was how quickly he turned thoughts into actions. I noticed that team members naturally gravitated to him because he was a doer more than a pontificator. And in an industry of sharp-elbows he is amongst the most likable people I know.

So when I left and became a VC I stayed in close touch with Gregg and he was on my very short list to hopefully work with again one day. The rest of our team included the founding CTO of Maker Studios (Ryan Lissack) and the CEO of DataSift (Tim Barker) so we seemed to all be in good company of ex Salesforce execs looking to make a difference.

But Gregg stayed and grew and took on more responsibilities and became a senior member of Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud team. I think he wanted a meaty role if he was going to leave and finally we had something compelling.

Invoca has grown its enterprise customer base 550% in the past three years including major customers like Microsoft, Allstate and SunTrust. It has grown recurring revenue by more than 500% and deal-size by 276%. Importantly, we recently announced a $30 million financing that gives us the resources we need to build a global enterprise software company.

For years I struggled to convince people that phone calls mattered. While everybody was infatuated with the “truthy” belief that in the future nobody will make calls as we all interact with AI chatbots, the volume of calls has exploded with inbound calls to businesses skyrocketing to nearly 170 billion per year over the next few years.

The explosion of mobile phones has led to a boom in inbound click-to-call traffic that has proven to convert at a higher close rate and increase average-order-value over web-only sales & marketing. For some of my more skeptical portfolio companies I simply asked them to run a trial of inbound sales calls and they were shocked. For some companies it is now > 70% of the deals they’re closing and they’ve seen it as their secret weapon.

Marketing departments, software partners and investors have now woken up to this opportunity.

The existing Invoca team has been in place and functioning incredibly well the last few years and I’m so honored that Gregg has decided to come on board and help lead us to the next level.

I have often said that “a few key people make all the difference in any company — no matter how big or small” and that is my core principle as a VC. I can try to be as smart as possible on market trends, industry dynamics and so forth.

In the end I know the only true differentiator in venture capital is the company you keep. It’s the people who want to work with you. It’s the founders who are willing to let you join their boards. It’s the executives who trust you to join the early-stage startups you’ve funded. It’s the executives at bigger companies who trust you and are willing to partner with the startups you’ve backed because they know your word is good.

Venture Capital is a people business. Nothing fancier. And the real talent are the teams on the field.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Why I Backed a 24-Year-Old Trying to Assess Human Potential

Last week Upfront Ventures announced backing Rebecca Kantar’s startup Imbellus, a company designed to assess human potential and ultimately change the way we teach children. We led a $4 million investment along with Thrive Capital, GLG and Sound Ventures.

The news blogs  covered the what, how and how much but I want to focus on the “why” and try to be instructive of what I think makes for a great A-round startup.

I speak a lot on college campuses and entrepreneur events and amongst the most common things I’m asked to talk about are:

  • What do VCs fund?
  • How does one come up with the right idea to start a company?
  • Do VCs really take risks on ground-breaking ideas any longer or do they just fund businesses once there is proof of traction?

I have standard answers to all of these questions at least as far as my personal funding preference are concerned.

Hard Problems

I encourage entrepreneurs to try and tackle harder problems even if it makes fund raising more difficult and is less likely to succeed. As entrepreneurs many people are driven to solve their personal issues right in front of them, which leads a disproportionate number of founders to focus on: music, bars, restaurants, photos, etc.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on these if you’re passionate but know that you have a large set of competitors and industries in which it’s hard to eke out a meaningful business.

Mission Driven

I also am looking for founders that are on a personal mission to solve a big problem. I know that “mission driven” sounds nebulous or some convenient definition of anything we want to fund. But really it’s something I look for. It’s actually very easy to spot when a founder has decided to focus on a concept because he or she has “spotted an opening in the market” or building a derivative business that is “Uber for X” or “Airbnb for Y” or “Dropbox for Z.”

There’s nothing wrong with these businesses but as a VC you tend to see 5 similar ideas all at the same time and knowing that it’s going to just come down to who executes the best it’s hard to pull the trigger on a A-round until you have more data on who’s winning.

Building any business is hard, all-consuming, frustrating and fraught with personal challenges. When a founder is “opportunity driven” it’s too easy to quit at the first bump in the road. When a founder is “mission driven” you get the sense that he or she will do whatever it takes to make an impact in the market they serve and will keep persevering whatever the startup trends of the month.

70% Team, 30% Market

I also talk often about how much the team plays a critical role in my decision backing an A-round company because so much changes as a company develops. Incumbents launch products, VCs throw cash at other competitors, team members quit, the economy dips — whatever. But only truly talented entrepreneurs show the grit required to respond rapidly to a changing environment. When you think about great companies that have survived market changes or platform changes you think about Facebook, Snapchat, Uber and the like and have to respect their great ability to constantly adapt.

So Why Imbellus?

When I first met with Rebecca Kantar I was stunned with the wide scope of her vision for building a company. Her mission was vast: She wanted to change the way we teach children in America. But she had such concrete plans for the 10+ years that it would take to build towards her goal.

She highlighted for me how we measure human potential today and it’s based on the workforce that existing post WWII where teaching rote memorization of facts: Math, reading comprehension, writing, basic science, etc. was sufficient for the jobs that existed in the industrial economy. We assessed skills by standardized tests designed to assess competency in this basic knowledge and this persisted in both the workplace interview environment as well as how we admit students into colleges.

Inevitably as a society we began “teaching to the tests” and we design curricula around proficiency in these basic skills.

But we of course now live in a “knowledge economy” that has to constantly adapt to changing market conditions. As leaders we intuitively know that while basic skills in math, science, reading & writing are necessary — they are not sufficient.

As leaders we know that to succeed in today’s economy we need people who possess abilities to deal with large volumes of information and cut through the clutter to get to what’s important. We need leaders who can rigorously prioritize. We need leaders who can deal with a vague set of inputs and rationalize decision matrices. We need leaders who know how to accomplish feats through teamwork and collaboration. We need people who have emotional intelligence as well as actual fact-based knowledge.

Fundamentally the system feels broken. We educate and train and test for a set of skills designed to succeed in 1950.

Imbellus is designing systems to assess how candidates analyze information, develop ideas, make decisions and solve problems that aren’t based on rote memorization of facts. There aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers and each company may index differently for how its employees need to score across various dimensions to succeed in that particular organization or job functions.

The systems they are building are adaptive and computer generated so they can’t be studied, memorized or gamed.

It is a super early-stage company so over time we’ll reveal more about the methods, systems and types of assessments we’re building.

But what was clear to me in backing Rebecca was that I was getting behind somebody who has unbridled ambition is mission-driven and has a differentiated plan for how to solve a problem that we all know exists but feels intractable.

Truly, in many ways, my concern was the inverse of normal business pitches. My only concern was whether we could limit Rebecca’s scope of work enough to focus on shorter-term, more tangible problems that could lead to a business before the mission. Luckily Rebecca herself is highly adaptive and was able to rigorously prioritize which problems to solve first. Invariably she would no doubt score very highly on her own assessment tests.

It’s rare that I feel so inspired by one entrepreneur and his or her vision. Rebecca is truly unique and I can’t wait to see what she and her team at Imbellus deliver over the coming years. It obviously takes an entire team to build and execute against such an ambitious project. Wishing all of Team Imbellus much success in your journey.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

How Do VCs Choose Their Investors (and should entrepreneurs care?)

captureI recently read a blog post by Beezer Clarkson, Managing Director of Sapphire Ventures about why entrepreneurs should care about from whom their VC funds raise their capital.

I spent a bunch of time thinking about this position — especially since Beezer is an investor in Upfront Ventures. There are a lot of things I think entrepreneurs should care about when raising from a VC:

  • How big or small their fund is?
  • What percentage of their fund will you be?
  • How much money will they reserve from their fund for future investments in your startup?
  • How much pull that investment professional has within his or her fund? (which matters for getting future support)
  • Where the fund is in its investment cycle (year 1 out of 10 or year 7 out of 10)?
  • How much experience they have in your sector?

I could go on for a long time. Maybe I’ll save that for a future post. But should entrepreneurs really care whom the LPs of a fund are? I’m still not sure.

But I do know that VCs should care a great deal about whom their LPs are and I find that some are less thoughtful than they could or should be. We were in the very fortunate position of having more than $425 million in commitments for our last fund, which only raised $280 million. We capped our fund size so that we would stay true to our investment strategy in terms of size, scope and number of partners as we stood in 2014 when we raised the fund.

And we felt terrible not being able to let every LP in but we were forced to make some hard compromises yet we opened up our fund to Sapphire even though they were a first time LP.


1. Truly Focused on VC / Knowledgeable About How Partnerships Work

One of the things I value in an LP is a really passionate and inside knowledge of the venture capital industry. There are many LPs who invest in VC one day, oil & gas the next and timber on Wednesday. I’ve met many smart and capable people like this but it was also clear that many of them didn’t have an intimate knowledge of what is truly unique to venture.

Beezer did. She has formerly worked at a VC fund (DFJ) and worked closely with the partners and the network at DFJ and knew what it was like to build, manage and evolve a VC partnership. So I immediately felt like I had a partner whom I could call for sensitive advice on topics where there aren’t many sources of input or mentorship. It’s the same reason I think many entrepreneurs like working with VCs who had formerly been entrepreneurs.

2. Help with Hard-to-Access People

Of course I also appreciate the fact that with Sapphire came better access to the executive team at SAP, including organizing a small dinner with their CEO so I could learn first hand where they see the future going. We have many LPs who come from industry and this is truly a value-add in a LP/VC relationship

3. Stable Capital

Amongst the hardest things to find when one raises a new fund is ability to have stable capital. Many of the sources of capital for new funds come from investors who can’t necessarily back you in good times and bad.

We lived that first hand. Our first LPs from 1996 were industry players who put us in business: Carrefour (the large European retailer), DLJ (the former investment bank) and a billionaire software exec. As venture fell out of favor all three pulled out of the asset class. Even though our 2000 fund was the single best performing fund in the United States for that vintage, continuing to get investments wasn’t possible so we had to rebuild.

We rebuilt our base and secured what we thought was the perfect anchor only to find out that a strategy change for the firm meant our lead was moving from VC to timber and they pulled out of VC altogether. This was in 2010 — exactly the wrong time to be pulling out of venture.

So you really want LPs who invest in the category in good markets and bad. And as a VC you still need to earn the right to get allocations when you raise new funds but that’s within your control.

Many VCs have turned to Foundations and University Endowments (F&Es) as a source of stable capital and this has certainly been a strong pillar for many a VC fund. We ourselves decided to build > 35% of our fund with F&Es.

What’s interesting about Sapphire is that they have now raised on an “evergreen structure” with $1 billion new fund (across LP investing and direct investing into portfolio). So we see them with the same long-term eye as we would our other sources of capital.


Should entrepreneurs care that we have Sapphire as an LP? Well — only in so much as we have an easier time than others in getting technology entrepreneurs in front of executives at SAP when appropriate.

But to other VCs — when you go to raise money — we’ve been thrilled with our choice to work with Sapphire. They’ve been a great partner, delivered on what they said they would do and working with Beezer has felt like working with any other VC I work with. She knows our business and often acts like an entrepreneur herself.

For that — I’m grateful. Congrats on your new fund, Beezer and Nino. And thank you for having the conviction to back Upfront.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

​#CXOTALK Reinventing the legal industry with AI, machine learning, and augmented reality

#CXOTALK Reinventing the legal industry with AI, machine learning, and augmented reality

Image from iStockphoto

The legal industry has a reputation for being slow to change and behind the curve on adopting new technologies. A credible survey of law firms in the UK indicated these facts:

  • 17 percent of partners in the top 25 UK law firms are women
  • 80 percent of the law firms surveyed see digital strategy as critical
  • 23 percent have made corresponding operational changes
  • 95 percent are planning major IT projects to improve efficiency

These numbers paint the picture of a backward-facing industry focused on efficiency at the expense of innovation. A study of the legal industry by Georgetown University [PDF download] concludes:

Since 2008, the market has changed in fundamental ways. Not only has demand growth slowed dramatically, but the competitive dynamics of the market have shifted as well. Clients who once deferred to their outside law firms on all key decisions impacting the legal services they purchased no longer do so. Instead, clients increasingly demand that outside counsel offer more efficient services with more transparency into both work processes and costs. Clients are also more prepared than ever before to disaggregate matters, to retain work in-house, and to bring in additional (even non-traditional) service providers.

In other words, law firms must respond to the changing demands of consumers just as companies do in other industries. For this reason, digital transformation is coming to the legal industry.

For episode 188 of the CXOTALK interview series, which invites people shaping our world to discuss their experience with digital transformation, I spoke with Michael Shea, CIO of Morgan Lewis, one of the largest law firms in existence. With over 2000 legal professionals and two billion dollars in revenue, Morgan Lewis is a true multinational organization.

The discussion with Shea centered on how law firms can use technology to drive innovation in addition to improving efficiency. In a comment that echoes the Georgetown report mentioned earlier, Shea explains:

Lots of new technologies that are coming onto the market that will have a significant impact on how law firms operate in the next five to 10 years. Firms that are investing in these new capabilities and adopting change will gain competitive advantage. Those firms that adopt and change and innovate will be the haves and the have-nots in the industry.

Our in-depth, 45-minute conversation explores the role of technology in helping Morgan Lewis remain competitive in this changing field. Of equal importance, creating the right workplace is essential to helping the firm attract and retain senior partners and younger Millennial workers.

In the short clip embedded above, Shea explains why the firm invests in knowledge management, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality. The answers go far beyond efficiency alone and get to the core of innovation and remaining competitive as a global player.

CXOTALK brings together business leaders shaping our world for in-depth and personal conversation. Please watch the entire episode and read the complete transcript. Thank you to Avanade for being our sponsor.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

What to Make of Andreessen Horowitz’s Returns?


Rolfe Winkler wrote a piece in the WSJ about A16Z’s returns in which he says they “lag behind Sequoia, Benchmark and Founders Fund.”

Scott Kupor of A16Z responded with a comprehensive overview of valuation methodology in a post that while accurate feels more targeted at sophisticated Limited Partners (LPs) who invest in funds.

Let me offer you an insider’s take. VCs strangely never seem to weigh in on other VC funds. I have no incentive to do so other than to help those reading the WSJ piece better understand how I believe most insiders think. As an entrepreneur I never really knew what to make of VC return data. Now from Both Sides of the Table I know a thing or two.

When Andreessen Horowitz as a fund first started the industry went from “We love Ben and Marc” to “they raised how much?” to “holy fuck, they paidWHAT for that deal I tried to get into?” to “Jeez — they sure are hiring a ton of staff. Can that really work?” to “How can we hire more staff to keep up with the services they offer?”

In short, the VC industry is very sharp-elbowed amongst some very competitive people who are used to winning and most deals don’t have enough space to share investment rounds so people were naturally pretty quick to judge A16Z.

The word on the street now is that A16Z is truly a force to be reckoned with and has done a lot to change the dynamics in our industry. Having a huge services venture firm isn’t for everybody and it isn’t the only strategy that can succeed. But privately now most VCs I know contend that it has gone much better than they had initially expected.

There is obviously room for different types of firms / approaches that can be successful. Case in point: Benchmark, USV, Foundry Group and a ton of other great firms maintain the really small organization model.

Here’s what I know:

  • Most entrepreneurs I know would love to work with A16Z. They perceive it as a place that is well connected and very helpful given the level of services they provide.
  • Upfront Ventures has partnered with Andreessen Horowitz on several deals. In some they have large sums of money and others they have small checks. But in each case I would work with them again. Why? Simple: it is value-added for both entrepreneur and co-investor. I obviously benefit if a co-investor on a deal I’m involved with helps with introductions, recruiting and so forth. Especially in an industry where so many investors do so little to actually help.

But, Mark, that’s not the point. What about those RETURNS the WSJ article spoke of?

Ok. First, the returns data Rolfe has shown are actually pretty damn good. I know tons of LPs in A16Z and I haven’t heard any complaining. Even when they are off-the-record with nobody else listening.

But more importantly, VC returns are notoriously hard to measure at one point in time. Why? In the article it talks about Sequoia’s $19 billion sale of WhatsApp to Facebook that generated apparently $3 billion for Sequoia and its shareholders. It claims that this is more than Andreessen has returned across all of its funds. But let’s be honest — this is more than much of our industry has returned. This was an industry defining deal on returns in the league of Google, Facebook, Twitter and one imagines Uber.


The day before the deal was struck it’s very possible that Sequoia could have held the total value of the WhatApp deal at $1.5 billion (and their stake worth $237 million not $3 billion) — the reported value at which they invested in the last round. Why? Because VCs tend to “mark to market” for private investments so you would often value a company based on the last financing. If a company has significant revenue you might value it based on some industry multiples but WhatsApp had very limited revenue.

So literally the day before the Facebook acquisition Sequoia’s fund could have been significantly less valuable on paper. Now — I’m not saying it wasn’t already a spectacular fund — I believe Sequoia is the best VC in the industry in terms of consistently amazing returns.

But I’m making the opposite point. A16Z could be sitting on several deals that could be worth 15x what they are today. Or not. We can’t know.

So. What’s an LP to do in deciding which funds to invest in?

LPs decide based on a variety of factors but it boils down to some version of:

  • Ability to source the highest quality deals that will become valuable
  • Ability to win competitively when multiple VCs compete
  • Quality of investment partners and likelihood that they are going to work hard (and play well together) for the next fund
  • A proven track record of delivering results

In essence they’re investing in a firm’s potential. Consider that Accel had been a great fund and then post dot-com crash some were questioning whether they had lost their way. So some LPs pulled out. And then they closed their next fund that invested in Facebook at its A-round and that fund must be one of the best performing in history. Whoops!

See. Great firms can have consistently great returns and then for whatever reason one less good fund and then another spectacular one. And Accel has gone on to attract a deep bench of fantastic investment partners and many LPs would fight to get into their funds.

So LPs are investing in potential. Does A16Z attract more than its fair share of amazingly talented entrepreneurs? Of course. Do they win competitive deals? Absolutely. Not always. But often. Have Marc and Ben attracted great partners? Sure. They now have a really wide group of talented investment partners like Jeff Jordan, Chris Dixon and others whom I respect.

So as far as I can tell, Rolfe’s article is a great summary of a snapshot in time for Andreessen Horowitz in which their returns look great and they likely have happy LPs but they are not yet the same return levels of the last few funds of Sequoia and Benchmark — two of the greatest investment firms in our industry. Most LPs would gladly invest in all three funds. Will those A16Z returns be significantly better in the future than today? We’ll see you in 5–10 years. Nobody knows.

But I do know that nobody I know in the industry (Ok, maybe 1 or 2 people) doubts that A16Z is building a great venture capital firm that will have enviable returns.

Photo credit: jdlasica via / CC BY-NC

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

The Pivot You Need to Read About


GOAT just announced it raised $5 million in venture capital led by our friends at Matrix Partners. On the surface that sounds unremarkable — fundings happen daily. But this isn’t just any funding. GOAT (“Greatest of All Time) is a sneakerhead marketplace that is en fuego, but we led the company’s last financing round in 2012 (yes, four years ago) when they were an application for letting people join group dinners.

That’s why this funding story is different. It’s a Chanukkah story where 18 months of venture capital funding ends up lasting more than 4 years and where against all odds the underdog succeeds.

It’s a testament to two fantastic entrepreneurs Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano — who have been nothing but a pleasure to work with over the years. They are everything you could hope for in a team: Hard working, committed until the end, product-centric, loyal, frugal and importantly — very warm and sincere people. We talk often about wanting to work with entrepreneurs who are truly committed to their cause and these two personify that belief.

It also is truly a testament to my partner, Greg Bettinelli. He didn’t lead the initial investment in the team at GOAT but when the original concept wasn’t working he graciously agreed to step up and help the duo. Greg is the kind of guy who hates taking any personal credit and will probably castigate me for acknowledging his important role in helping GOAT — but the truth is that Greg really was instrumental even as he downplays his involvement.

Greg never gave up belief in the team. He supported their vision for a sneaker marketplace and his eBay work experience was really additive when they initially made the decision to pivot. He was a tireless internal advocate for Eddy and Daishin inside Upfront Ventures and making sure we gave them the time and space and support they needed despite having enough pivots to call traveling.

Please read Greg’s summary of the GOAT story for a better understanding of entrepreneurial grit, stick-to-it-ness, pursuit of one’s passions and second chances. And here is Jason Del Rey’s announcement of the funding.

I was reluctant to write about GOAT because I don’t want to pretend that I deserve even 0.1% of credit for its success. On the other hand I have been so impressed with Daishin, Eddy and Greg that I felt it deserved more attention.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Why Computer Vision Tracking the Flow of People Will be a Huge Market


Density laser trackin

As I’ve written before I believe Computer Vision will become a major factor as a Human-Computer Interface (1) as sensors and cameras help us make sense of our physical world.

There is so much in the media about “The Internet of Things” that it has lost meaning and for many for some strange reason it became a short-hand for wearables. Wearables are clearly an important market but to me a much broader use case is bringing real-world objects into the computing world and there is no better mechanism than Computer Vision.

That’s why today I’m so excited to finally be able to tell you about Density, a company I led a $4 million financing (2) along with Jason Calacanis (We’re teaming up on the board together! It’s been so great to collaborate and work towards this common purpose) and with Jonathan Triest at Ludlow Ventures, Amit Kapur at Dawn Patrol and several others.


 As you can gather from the Giphy image above, Density anonymously tracks the movement of people as they move around work spaces. It’s a small and elegant device that hangs about doorways and provides “anonymous people tracking as a service.”

We’re essentially a data platform and envision others building applications to take advantage of this information. At its most basic level it creates simple records of ingress and egress through doorways (people moving in and out) and each movement becomes a record in a database that can be tracked in realtime.

The basic use-cases of this simple data are obvious.

  • You can track how many people are in a room to make sure there are no safety concerns or the people aren’t violating their insurance policy.
  • You can track meeting rooms in a large campus to find out which rooms get used most often and at which times of the day.
  • You could track the flow of people onto a subway or train line to better predict the frequency and length of trains required by time of day.
  • A mobile marketing company could track campaigns and then measure increases in retail traffic driven into local stores.
  • It could also be used with elderly parents to track whether they’re doing ok and potentially even alert automatically to a fall or to a person with Alzheimers crossing an off-boundary barrier.
  • Businesses could use people tracking to show you wait times so you could decide whether you want to impromptu come update your driver’s license and these same businesses could use people tracking to make peak staffing decisions.
  • and so on.

But as you may gather from the Giphy above, the simple use case is greatly expanded by the elegance of the Density solution. The software and computer vision recognize when it’s a human passing by the laser and can filter out other movements like doors opening or other objects passing by (dogs, for example).

Each human is captured in a polygon shape at a precise moment in time. As she moves around the room each micro-movement becomes a new row in the database with the coordinates and time sequence. So a single human flowing through a room could of course produce thousands of rows in a database and computer applications can make sense out of this data and machine learning algorithms could of course start to make informed decisions about things like “way finding” signage placement, where crowd risks may be building, etc.

That the computer vision has the ability to track the “flow” around a room and not just a static count is a big deal and the fact that we provide this data cheaply and anonymously we believe will lead to the creation of a massive market with applications supporting many use cases. Density is simply the data & analytics platform. Our goal is to massively drive down the costs of capture for people flows and create unlimited potential for organizations to understand this and draw insights that help better plan spaces.

Of course if an organization buys Density sensors that data isn’t available more broadly to the market unless they opt in to sharing with others. The initial usage of Density will be single organization but we think it likely that over time organizations will opt into sharing data across companies in limited and controlled situations.

Why Density?

The investment thesis for me combines my belief in computer vision as a next-gen I/O (3) along with my thesis that The Innovator’s Dilemma or Deflationary Economics drive all of the largest success on the Internet (4).

Today’s people tracking solutions are hugely expensive and mostly used in retail environments. The costs have greatly limited adoption and we think that’s about to change in a massive way.

The team insisted on anonymity because it believes the right low-cost, widely available tracking devices shouldn’t be recording people’s identities, which would both limit adoption and also increase costs dramatically.

At the earliest stages when I invest my decision is 70% team / 30% market (5). I have to believe that I’ve met a team of extremely bright, highly competitive and deeply passionate founders who have an idea for a product that has the potential to transform a market.

I look for somebody who is almost mission-driven to see the product in the market more than to make a quick buck and I look for a founder who is frugal, grounded and has a strong sense of what he or she believes uniquely about what is wrong with a market and how it can be fixed.

I always tell people that it’s important who introduces you. I was talking to my friend Jonathan Triest at Ludlow and told him I had freed up a bit of time and was looking for an early-stage company, technically-minded company to back. We had done a few deals together in the past year so I wanted to know what he had seen recently.

He described Density’s team and product and I asked for an immediate introduction — he told me they had already started fund raising and I hate meeting people late in a process.

From the first meeting I had with the founder & CEO — Andrew Farah — and his team of Syracuse grads, I knew they had the right vision, temperament and motivations for building out this market.

I brought a group of them immediately down to LA to meet the rest of my partners. We of course had a healthy internal debate about whether the device was accurate enough since it originally relied upon infrared and couldn’t track with enough precision.

On the other side we debated whether a higher-end solution with video cameras was the way to go and what the demand would be for anonymity versus solutions that can help with security / identification.

We ultimately concluded that exceptionally talented teams like Density would make the right product design decisions and we shouldn’t second-guess today’s products versus the capabilities of the team to make the right product selection choices as they went from prototype to finished product.

And of course within a few months of having raised the funds the team perfected the product design and moved away from infrared towards laser and improved the efficacy, the data collection and the accuracy all while holding costs constant.

That’s why in early-stage investing you back great teams and don’t get too hung up on today’s exact product specification — you’re more looking for how they’ve made their design choices to date, what other options they considered and how they reached their initial conclusions. You’re also testing their mental flexibility in considering alternate solutions so that you know ultimately they’ll make the highest quality decisions based on the data they gather in their journey.

I can’t emphasize this enough — ultimately investors need to trust founding teams to make these hard decisions because the team lives in the trenches day-in and day-out and investors can fool themselves into thinking they know the right answer through intuition or meeting 10 companies in a space. Nothing beats the team on the ground and if you don’t trust them to make the hard calls — then don’t back them. Our role is sparring partner. Our role is to make sure your team is asking itself the hardest questions. In the end, the vote is yours.

What Next Density?

Today we’re formally announcing the product is available to the first companies and developers who order it (we have limited inventory) and it will become more generally available in Q1 of next year. It’s not a consumer product — it’s for people with technical capabilities. We’ve had it in private Beta for the past 6 months with companies like Uber, with major universities, with a major airline and many other companies.

There’s an excellent 1-minute overview video here and embedded below:

If you’d like to be included or are just interested in learning more please visit the Density Website.


  1. Computer vision as a major investment theme for Upfront Ventures including Nanit, Osmo, Navdy, GumGum and Density.
  2. Density raises $4 million from Upfront Ventures, Ludlow, Dawn Patrol, Jason Calacanis and more.
  3. I did this very short video on (now searchable by category of entrepreneur advice) if you’re interested in hearing some quick views on Computer Vision as I/O for the future of computing (or you can just watch from embed below)

3. Innovators Dilemma and Deflationary Economics and how they drive startups.

4. How I Invest?

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)