Why Solving Big Food & Healthcare Problems Will Yield Spectacular Companies

I’ve spoken before about our desire at Upfront Ventures to fund really big ideas that solve hard problems, are science led and if successful will both have a positive effect on people’s lives as well as make great financial returns.

We’re not Pollyannaish about this. We believe that it is incrementally harder to differentiate on simple Internet products or mobile apps and while great companies are built doing this, our goal as a fund is to try and fund things that can be 100x returns if they work. In short, we’re after venture returns.

We know to do this we need to fund projects that are more difficult in scope, more ambitious in industry transformation, less obvious in market adoption and a higher probability of not working. We know that to be successful we need to fund truly transformational entrepreneurs grounded in unique academic skills and with the self confidence and ambition to try and achieve results in which the market will naturally be skeptical.

We have have been funding agriculture technologies, water conservation, wireless electricity, aquaponics and so forth in addition to our standard investment themes in software, data, video and retail innovation.

One of the companies we’ve been proudest to watch its evolution is Nima, a company that is solving the problem of food allergies for people with severe problems such as Celiac disease and also addressing the much broader market of people with gluten intolerance. They have plans to go after they peanut allergies and move on to a host of other food-related illnesses and problems including dairy.

This may sound straightforward but to test for conditions with extreme accuracy and speed requires designing a small hardware device that is capable of creating a chemical reaction with food, interpreting the results in real time and doing so for a cost that is acceptable for consumers.

When we met Shireen (CEO) and Scott (Co-founder & CTO) in late 2014 they had been inspired to create Nima to address their own personal food issues and empower other people to live their healthiest lives. We are predisposed to backing founders who solve problems in which they have personal knowledge that is authentic. Shireen had been studying for her masters in business at MIT and thinking about her own food allergies and Scott was a graduate of the mechanical engineering school at MIT with an emphasis in product design.

We were inspired by their vision and determination so we led their first large funding round (co-investors SoftTech, SK Ventures, Lemnos Labs and others) and we participated heavily in their most recent $9 million funding led by our good friends at Foundry Group that was just announced today. They have raised $14 million to date.

It seems that many others were impressed as well. Since our initial funding round the company went on to win the TechCrunch Startup Battleground in a head-to-head competition with some very impressive startups.

Since their seed, the team has been working hard to test and roll out an effective, trustworthy product, Nima, which detects the presence of gluten in food products. It’s still in pre-sale, but reception from beta testers, previews and the industry (tech and consumer) has been enthusiastic.

I’ve seen firsthand how food can impact your well-being, in my case with helping me keep my ADD in check. I also have an aunt with Celiac Disease and a nephew who carries an EpiPen to deal with his severe peanut allergies. So it immediately resonated after Kevin Zhang and Yves Sisteron brought the deal into our firm (Yves is on the board) after a visit to see our friends at Lemnos Labs.

As a market, food allergies are unfortunately on the rise — estimated to affect 15M Americans, food allergies have grown 50% in past 20 years — and food intolerance to gluten, soy, dairy is growing.

As healthcare costs have risen dramatically in the past few decades we believe that the market will shift to more preventative approaches led by science, data and devices and billion-dollar companies will be created.

We have been so encouraged by the progress of Nima and couldn’t think of a better board member, mentor and co-investor than Brad Feld at Foundry Group.

We can’t wait to see what the next few years bring.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

What is it Like to Wake Up and Have the Press Ready to Torpedo Your Business?

In case you missed it, the press yesterday ran several stories questioning the viability of a wireless charging company I invested in called uBeam. Obviously my day turned out very differently than I had anticipated when I woke up, but it wasn’t half as bad as the entire team at uBeam must have felt yesterday.

I received a flurry of emails and texts and I was going to write a letter to the many investors in uBeam reassuring them that we are indeed making strong progress on releasing a product but then it occurred to me that it may be more constructive to do so here since so many people are asking.

So What Happened?

Several months ago the VP of Acoustics for uBeam, Paul Reynolds left the company on his own volition. I was disappointed to see him go because he was technically very strong and throughout my time working with him he reassured me we could solve the technical challenges and our approach was viable.

I asked him to reconsider leaving but when it was clear that he had made up his mind I realized we couldn’t change it. I knew he wasn’t happy for reasons I won’t go into.

He recently wrote a series of blog posts that were negative about the company and spoke with several journalists about his views. Throughout my many discussions with Paul over our time together, he never questioned the viability of uBeam and the technology that he was critical in developing. In stead he expressed concerns that we not overstate our capabilities or fall pray to hyperbole. I don’t want to put words in Paul’s mouth — but that’s how I’d characterize our many discussions.

Obviously I wish he wouldn’t have written negative posts but it’s a decision he made and we can’t erase his words or actions. Of course I wish he understood that the consequences of his actions are much wider than he may have thought when he began his critiques.

But there’s no reason to spend undue time getting angry about what’s been said. I’m pretty on record as saying that if you harbor anger, you lose twice.

What is the Reality?

Wireless electricity using ultrasound works — that isn’t in question. The questions that arise are: can it work at long distances, can you produce equipment cost effectively and will it be useful enough that businesses will install it or consumers will want to use it. Yes, there are other questions skeptics have raised as well — but it’s not worth trying to refute every point.

We have a lot to prove. The team knows that. It’s hard work. We haven’t yet shipped product or shown the public our prototypes. The product isn’t yet where we want it to be — like most startup products, it is a work in progress.

But we do have detailed plans for four generations of product releases through 2019 and we have a very talented COO, Jeff Devine, who is leading our efforts. He was VP of Global Supply Chain for Cisco and held similar roles at Nokia and Palm. He is a calming force, an experienced hand, a straight shooter and a great long-term planner. I have huge confidence in Jeff.

We also have a very talented VP of Engineering, Sean Taffler, who is a Phd from Oxford, and has been with the company since shortly after I funded it. We have a VP of Acoustics, Paul Chandler who is a Phd from UC Irvine and formerly with Philips Ultrasound.

Of course no amount of Phd’s guarantee that uBeam will deliver a successful and compelling product but as a board member and as the investor closest to the company I can tell you that this team is incredibly hard working, heads down and making progress every day and week.

Ultimately we know that if we deliver product the market will judge us for the quality of what is produced and its efficacy. Are we behind schedule? Of course. But the overwhelming majority of products I’ve ever built have been late or cut scope and I’ve never personally built anything nearly as ambitious as what uBeam’s engineers are attempting.

What I can tell you is that Meredith Perry is amongst the most driven, committed, hard-working and smart entrepreneurs with whom I have worked. Meredith is in her twenties and this is her first rodeo. I wish I had half of the determination, grit and ambition at her age.

Has the company received enormous press? Sure. Has Meredith at times been prone to promising revolution or hubris? Of course. I think she would even acknowledge this, but having a grand vision is vastly different from making fraudulent claims. Has her vision risen to the level of personal attacks she has to receive in the press or the claims of falsifying information?

No. These claims are abjectly false. Any references to Theranos are spurious at best.

At heart Meredith is a nerd and loves the most inane, geeky things to do with space or scientists or technology theory. Were she a shy, pimply, awkward male engineer with a pocket protector she would fit an archetype that would make sense to observers. But she’s not. She’s confident, communicative, outspoken, young and blonde.

She’s still a geek. And a geek in the way I appreciate and respect. And on occasion she makes some really strange video or joke or comment that makes me think she’s from a different planet and then I remember that looks can be deceiving. Geeks come in all packages.

Meredith has made claims that she will deliver a working product and I believe her whole heartedly based on my experience in working with the team over the past 18 months. She has never lost her confidence or determination in doing so and she knows the world is watching her. How would you fare under this pressure? Wouldn’t you want the time and space to deliver without vitriol?

uBeam is far more than any one individual and there are an entire team of engineers working hard on delivering product to the market. I continue to be encouraged that this group of people will deliver a working product and I have seen nearly every version of the hardware, software, prototypes and algorithms.


If for any reason we fall short of expectations we have set in the market, I will be the first person in line to admit it and then to immediately fund Meredith’s next company. Her strengths so vastly outweigh any weaknesses and her vision, tenacity and resiliency far exceed any perceived limitations.

What are the Consequences to the Company?

Of course we lost two full days of productivity. We had an all hands meeting yesterday and Meredith and I encouraged the team to do their best to ignore the constant emails and texts from friends and family members — but how can you, really? Nevertheless they are already back at work delivering a product that they plan to demonstrate when it’s ready.

Of course it will make it harder to recruit candidates because we’ll now have to spend more time explaining the situation. But we’ll redouble our efforts and continue to persuade engineers who join by showing them actual products in progress.

The uBeam team will keep their heads down and either deliver or not. That’s what the startup industry does. And if you are afraid of failure and if you never take risks and if you never try to push the boundaries of what is possible — then you certainly will never succeed in break-through innovation.

I’m not at all afraid to put my name behind Meredith, Jeff, Sean, Paul Chandler and all the other great engineers hard at work. I feel confident they will exceed expectations.

What Next?

Back to work, I hope. I told Meredith I would write this because I really want her focusing her energy on the only thing that ultimately will decide the fate of uBeam — shipping a product.

I’d rather be asleep right now. It’s nearly 2:00am and I have a board meeting in the morning and I could do without all of the drama. But that’s startup life.

I wrote a little post a few years ago to try and help others who have to go through this situation, “What Startups Can Learn about PR and Crisis Management.” While I don’t envy any of you who have to go through this — I hope this guide can be of some comfort in moments like this.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

CIO alert: Information technology is a $4 trillion global business

Research from IT advocacy group, CompTIA, offers interesting data about the size, scope, and growth of the information technology industry. For CIOs and other IT professionals, understanding the trends can help you create company strategy, identify job opportunities, understand areas of growth, and sidestep the impact of industry weakness.

For example, there is a skills migration taking place from managing on-premise infrastructure to designing for the cloud and helping companies become more user-centric. Every person working in IT should be aware of these trends and recognize the potential impact on both company strategy and personal employment.

CompTIA conducted its analysis based on research from a survey of 673 respondents along with data from IDC, EMSI, Burning Glass Technologies Labor Insights, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and others.

Based on the data, CompTIA concludes that the global IT industry generates almost $4 trillion annually, including $1 trillion in the United States. In the US, IT employs over 5 million people.

Global IT market

Key segments of this market include IT hardware, services, software, and telecom:


IT market segments

The following chart shows the composition and size of the IT workforce in the United States:


IT workforce size

The report lists these as the top seven IT growth roles in 2015:

  1. Cybersecurity Analysts
  2. Web Developers
  3. Software Developers, Applications
  4. Software Developers, Systems Software
  5. Systems Analysts
  6. IT Support Specialists
  7. IT Managers / Directors / CIOs

Importantly, these are the IT jobs expected to gain most traction through 2016:

  • Chief analytics/data officer
  • Data scientist
  • Dataviz/Data visualizers
  • Social media analyst
  • Augmented reality designer
  • Content manager/strategist
  • Marketing technologist
  • Container developers and architects
  • Cloud systems engineer
  • Internet of things architect
  • Information Assurance Analyst
  • Computer security incident responder
  • Agile project manager
  • Responsive web designer

For IT professionals wondering which industries offer the greatest number of jobs, the top five are:

  1. Professional, scientific and technical services
  2. Information
  3. Government
  4. Finance and insurance
  5. Manufacturing


IT workers by segment

Of course, IT is a technical discipline, and so the report offers a list of up and coming technologies, including blockchain, machine learning, containers, many others.


IT technologies 2016


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

How Would You Build a Movie Studio if You Started Today?

I met Andrew Stalbow and Petri Järvilehto from Seriously several years ago after they had just left Angry Birds where they were responsible for international business development / licensing and the game studio, respectively.

They had a new company in mind and they posed a question to me

“If Walt Disney were to try and build a movie studio from scratch today — how would he do it?”

I took the bait.

They told me that if you look at modern studios they have many diverse revenue streams: movies, TV, online media, toys, licensing, video games and so forth. But the idea that you could start a new studio today — with the hundreds of millions required just to launch one blockbuster hit — is absurd.

They pointed out that the most successful franchises are built around characters that people fall in love with and the narrative that surrounds their lives. Look at Harry Potter. It started with a series of books and is now a multi-billion dollar franchise with products, theme parks and games.

Andrew & Petri told me that a modern movie studio would start with video games and then branch out into other media. But the problem with most games companies is that they build products more than character franchises.

We bought the narrative and backed the team at Seriously, whose hit first product is called Best Fiends. Since then the product has been downloaded more than 35 million times and has more than 2 million daily players. They are doing tens of millions in revenue and the first product hasn’t even been live for 2 years.

It has been amazing watching Andrew, Petri and team. What I’ve learned most is that they pay excruciating attention to details that other companies don’t. They hire world-class animators and sweat every detail of the drawings. They pay for composers to create original music.

When they put out toys they did limited edition runs and kept the quality very high. They did several partnership launches with social good campaigns including the World Wide Fund for Nature and Malaria No More.

And they have used influencer marketing on YouTube like nobody else I’ve seen, running authentic competitions with top YouTubers including PewDiePie.

So every company that I now work with or talk to that has a need for character-based IP — I always direct them to Andrew.

If you want to learn from Andrew — he’s written a great post on what they’ve been up to. If you work at all in this world I think you’ll really enjoy it and learn from watching where they take the company.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Getting Your Series A Mojo Back

You Need to Find Your Mojo

A Chip On Your Shoulder

A few years ago I wrote a blog post on entrepreneurs with a chip on their shoulders.

I think it’s an important read. A chip on one’s shoulder as in, “Fuck the system, it’s broken and I want to fix it” is exactly the energy I look for in entrepreneurs.

My internal compass says that “country-club” entrepreneurs struggle to make as big of an impact because it’s really hard to totally change a system that you’re part of and have a vested interest in.

So positive chips are a great signal for me. But chips come in multiple flavors and it’s a fine line between positive and negative.

If the chip on your shoulder is, “I’m not treated fairly by the system, boo hoo, I’m different and that’s why you aren’t helping me” that chip can be a big negative in getting others to want to back or help you.

I see this a lot in funding where an entrepreneur has struggled to raise money and spends all his or her time lamenting how lame investors are.

The best lesson to learn for yourself if you’re struggling is self reflection.

“If my objective is raising capital and I’m struggling, what can I learn about those who do get funded and how can I improve my odds by changing me?”

Maybe it’s the system, maybe it’s me — but either way what could I do differently to change outcomes?

From Aspiration to Hero

For companies that do have that moment of success where everything seems to come together: funding, hiring, customers, PR, product releases and so forth — you have a “hero” moment where you feel invincible.

This is a very predictable phase of the startup journey and a lot of good can come from it. The founders and team develop a huge confidence level that appropriately increases risk-taking, output, expansion, deals, revenue, press and everything that is a consequence of initial successes.

This is a very common post Series A phenomenon. Everything has gone well to date. Everything seems possible. Nothing has started to sour, nobody is frustrated, nobody has move on because it all still seems possible that you’re the next great company.

Of course it’s a fine line between hero and hubris. There is also a predictable moment in many companies where teams convince themselves that everything they’re doing is great. It’s why sometimes I fear when teams raise too much money too early in a startup because capital can mask underlying problems for a long time.

One example is that capital funds team growth which funds product output which funds press coverage and accolades which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without the tension of scarce capital some teams paper over the fact that eventually money must be made. Or some teams who start driving revenue paper over the fact that they aren’t acquiring customers profitably.

Another predictable sign of hubris in startups is when the founders start looking for other companies to buy. If you’re an early-stage startup and even contemplating acquiring other companies slap yourself in the face and focus on your own business instead. M&A junkies are hatched from businesses where the core isn’t working and it seems far easier to acquire another startup than to do the hard work of refining your own.

When Hero Slips Into Failure, Self Doubt and Anxiety

As predictable as the hero’s journey is — so, too, are the conflicts and bumps along the road. Almost all companies hit those tough moments when customer growth slows down, competitors launch products and dilute your good press coverage, employees start doubting the future and cash reserves start to dwindle.

It’s what you do in these moments that often determine success from failure. It’s really important to get control of your own emotions as you go through this phase of your startup journey as your non-verbal queues will be picked up by the entire team. A lack of confidence will also cloud your ability to take positive steps in tough times.

When you started you had the youthful (from a company perspective not age) energy, enthusiasm and naïveté that comes from actually thinking you can change the world. Nobody goes into a startup expecting to fail — we all imagine the next big startup movie is going to be about us. Our inner script is heroic and the struggles are mere battle scars on the inevitable journey to slay King Joffrey.

In your hero phase you got invited to speak on panels. You attended speaker dinners, went to entrepreneur parties on ships or in Europe. Your high school friends sent you messages on Facebook that maybe you were “most likely to succeed.”

But building a successful startup is hard. And back home when you land and come into the office on Monday your staff still knows the truth. Your app isn’t getting enough repeat visitors. Your churn rates are too high. Your eCommerce company has too much unsold inventory. Your lead developer quit to join the new, new thing.

We’ve all been there — every entrepreneur. You start off by believing your own hype, drinking your own Kool Aid. And then you meet reality.

And some entrepreneurs can maintain their enthusiasm, optimism and energy: Working hard and staying positive. But that’s hard.

Many still put in the hours but you can see the stress in their eyes and hear it in their voices. In stead of telling people how they are going to change the world they start to show self doubt. They qualify every initiative with, “well this didn’t prove viral adoption last time so I don’t expect a silver bullet this time.”

Sometimes the silver bullet does come. Often it doesn’t. Usually success is about working hard enough and long enough and eventually getting a lucky break.

In order to make the magic work another few months, years, you need to keep up blind belief in yourself. Confidence is THE single most important attribute in being able to attract money, hire staff, stave off creditors, get press, do biz dev deals, close big sales and one day sell your company.

I really fear this phase of a company’s journey and if you’re perceptive and have seen many startup journeys before it is really easy to pick up on that moment where the entrepreneur has self doubt.


That magic you had at your Series A — at the start of your hero’s journey.


You need to dig deep.

Athletes visualize and focus on positive energy and confidence and we don’t think that’s strange yet too few startup entrepreneurs focus on their own mental states and self-confidence. And too few visual success.

Here’s the truth — even to this day I still daydream about the future. I think about what Upfront needs to become and what we can do differently. Better. And as I zone out sometimes I visualize things I wasn’t thinking about before. Mind matters. I do it in the shower, on the treadmill or on long drives. These are the three biggest sources of my creative breakthroughs for a reason.

I’ve written before about visualization and creativity and how important this has been to my career.

Mental toughness matters. Confidence matters even more.

I wish more startups would get personal coaches so they could let out their angst to neutral people — not staff, not investors. It’s why YPO is such an important organization.

If you’re in a startup that has struggled know that you’re not alone — we’re all naked in the mirror in the morning. We all have self doubt and anxiety. We all have set backs. Don’t let the press about others in the industry fool you into thinking everybody else’s life is perfect.

If you’re in really bad shape (10% of you) — seek help. Life is more important than your startup and there is always another day. Your reputation won’t suffer if your business does. You can evolve.

If you’re in the norm (90% of you) please think about how to let out your steam, talk to others, get mentors, re-find the energy / confidence, or bring in new staff who can help re-energize you and/or your business.

If you plan to raise more money, improve your business ops, or sell your company you need your Series A mojo back. You need to rekindle that feeling, rediscover that belief in you and your company’s mission.

And if you can’t find the mojo then you need to think about whether it’s time to let somebody else pick up the baton at your business or whether it’s time to find a safe landing for your employees’ sake.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

The TACO Challenge

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. In the US this is often confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is actually September 16th and is called Grito de Dolores.

That made some people think of taco bowls and love Hispanics. Whatever.

Our portfolio company mitú, the fastest growing digital video company focused on the Latino market in the US (in English) and globally (in Spanish) has taken a different approach to the taco.

T.A.C.O. — Take Action, Commit Others

mitú wants to mobilize 1 million of them into voting with an emphasis on mobilizing Millennials. Sometimes in the US presidential electoral system it can feel like your personal vote doesn’t matter enough. Perhaps you live in a state that seems likely to vote in one direction or the other and you know the battleground will be elsewhere since we operate on an electoral college and not a popular vote.

mitú has a way that you can help wherever you live — as long as you are willing to help spread the word. T.A.C.O. Take action, commit others. Help spread to word to encourage more Latinos to register and make their voices heard in every state and stop the hatred and xenophobia spread by those who try to divide us as a nation.

So join the chorus of voices that include Magic Johnson, Russell Simmons and thousands of others in spreading the word for Latinos to mobilize.

Please Tweet

“I’m joining the @wearemitu #TACOchallenge to help register 1 million Latinos to vote. RT to join me!” or similar to help spread the word.

The link takes readers to an event tomorrow — May 7th — in Los Angeles to take the t.a.c.o challenge that will be opened by Mayor Garcetti, encouraging young Latinos to vote.

Will you join me in a T.A.C.O?

You can read more about the Taco Challenge here.

Besos y abrazos, Beatriz, for taking up this initiative. You’re an inspiration.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Stuck in the Middle With You

Stuck in the Middle With You

Reservoir Dogs … If it’s lost on you Google it

It’s safe to say that all eyes globally are on the United States right now with an election that feels more like a script of House of Cards than the sad reality we’re living.

There are reasons to be despondent on both sides of the aisle. We are in the midst of global economic changes and challenges and both extremes seem to have formulas more pointed at the past than the future.

It seems well understood and agreed that economic inequality has widened and that traditionally middle-class, white, male, non-college-educated workers have less relative money, stature and influence than they once had.

It should be said that African Americans and Latinos of lesser economic means are also suffering but lately that seems to capture less press attention — mostly because everybody is trying to understand the rise of Trump fueled by: Xenophobia, misogyny and isolationism.

What ails?

There seem to be four macro trends driving the economic malaise many middle-class workers face.

1. Globalization

We all know that markets have globalized over the past forty years. This has positive and negative consequences but the easy press stories cover the negative outcomes.

On the positive side of course globalization has benefitted US companies including technology companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle, and so forth who have built global businesses and benefit from global audiences.

US consumers have also had tremendous gains in the dramatic lowering of costs of household goods and unprecedented improvements in convenience and capabilities of goods and services that make our life qualitatively better.

And there is an obvious negative externality that manufacturing jobs have shifted from the industrial heart of the US.

This should come as no surprise and we should focus on how to deal with the consequences of globalization rather than try to roll back the clock and pretend it doesn’t exist. Trying to disavow globalization is no better than the luddites of England trying to deny the industrial revolution.

The movement of jobs is a well understood economic phenomenon as outlined by the father of international trade economics David Ricardo in 1817 in which he posited that jobs should go to locations in which there was a “comparative advantage.” Anybody who studied economics would be familiar with this theory.

Said simply: if lower-wage countries have a comparative advantage in manufacturing due both to lower costs and a large availability of labor (the two are related) then manufacturing should be shifted. And in wealthier nations there is often a comparative advantage in jobs that are higher up the value stack including: innovation, design and management.

As manufacturing booms in lower-income countries wages rise, conditions improve and these countries develop new skills and new comparative advantages and more developed nations must continue to adapt.

If you want to understand the narrative of this trend there is no better book than Pulitzer Prize winning novel American Pastoral, by Philip Roth, amongst my favorite novels of all time. It profiles a multi-generational immigrant family and the journey from laborer to store owner to entrepreneur to industrialist to globalizer to break-down and rebellion.

American Pastoral also captures the impact of globalization on towns and workers and the shift from urban to suburban and takes on difficult topics such as the role that unions play in both improving workers rights and also in driving US companies to be less “comparatively” competitive.

What is most disheartening in the past six months is to watch both sides of the political spectrum regress and cater to the fears of those economically impacted by globalization.

For starters, Donald Trump is a moron with no coherent political or economic policy. He would have us start trade wars with China and real wars through carpet bombing and would encourage torture. I’ll address immigration later.

But equally I don’t feel the Bern. Six months ago some younger friends of mine started inviting me to Bernie Sanders dinners and rallies and I thought they had lost their minds. Cancel NAFTA? Are you kidding me? Trade with Canada and Mexico will be our single most important differentiator in the future world in which we become more isolationist (see my section on demographics).

And I feel the same about the far-left’s resistance to the TPP (trans-pacific partnership). Globalization won’t stop. So we can stick our heads in the sand and watch China dominate the next century by forging trade throughout its region and becoming a hegemonic power in Asia or we can engage.

No trade agreement will be perfect just like no laws are perfect as both are crafted through compromise by people with vested interests on all sides of an issue. But have a seat at the table and get the best deal you can and then fight to make it better — don’t crawl into a cave and light fires.

I understand the frustrations of the left who feel they have stagnant wages and fewer savings and frankly — those are also the fears of the right. The problems are very real and need to be addressed but Sander’s solutions are a step in the wrong direction.

2. Automation

Of course automation plays a large part in the economic disparities that exist. We have replaced many line workers with machinery and require less jobs through IT systems automating what others did with pencils and paper.

We have obliterated entire job functions that seem archaic now such as a travel agent. telephone operator or newspaper distributor and we can already begin to see the decline of more jobs such as taxi driver or x-ray technician.

Comparative economics through automation will push jobs to corners of the world where skilled people can write copy, edit videos, read x-rays, create graphics or perform quality assurance on software. This was well captured by Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat.

Anybody at the forefront of the technology world also knows that huge expected gains in AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics will continue to gut jobs and in this instance probably cause a massive disruption to white-collar workers as computers learn to do our jobs that require thought much better than we can do.

If you want to understand what a low bar the human brain actually has in performing data analysis relative to computers you might read Daniel Kahneman’s great work Thinking, Fast and Slow. It basically shows how fallible “experts” are in solving problems they are supposed to be expert in solving— and he doesn’t spare the investment industry.

The answer to automation and globalization is NOT to deny them — they are here and won’t go away. The answers of course are: education, training and retooling of workers at the same time as we incentivize innovation and entrepreneurship. In short, we live in a market. We can lead change or somebody else in the world will. Markets don’t stop because we stick our heads in the ground.

But I also believe we have a responsibility (and a benefit) to invest our profits from companies and from wealthy individuals to help our economies retool. It can’t be that we simply keep more profits and capture more wealth and don’t invest this in the future of our areas and people more impacted by change.

3. Demographics

The third major issue for our economy is demographics. We know some obvious things: our population is living longer and our healthcare costs are increasing. We also know that our aging population doesn’t have the savings it needs to properly retire.

Every country has different demographic trends driving its future but know that economies only grow by either getting more people working or making each worker more productive. These are the two drivers of GDP.

And here’s the thing you need to understand about the US economy. Baby Boomers are now retiring en masse. They were born between 1946–1964, are now between 52–70 years old as of 2016 and there were approximately 76 million Baby Boomers born. The term comes from the explosion in the population post World War II.

As they retire they stop paying taxes and they massively decrease their spending in the economy as they switch to fixed incomes. The decreases in the tax base and spending of course fall to the next generation — my generation — of Generation X.

So what you have is a slightly reduced population behind the Baby Boomers who are going to have to fund people who are living longer and costing more. And because we have a “geriocracy,” in which older people vote more frequently and therefore highly influence government policies it doesn’t seem that costs will go down to fund retirement benefits.

This demographic trend is highlight in my favorite book of the past 5 years: The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan. He lays out more brilliantly than any other analysis I’ve ever read about the roles of demography and topography in influencing the future of world order.

In short he predicts economic stresses to the US as Baby Boomers retire for about 15 years at which point the rise of Millennials invert the curve back to more favorable tax bases vs. retirees. He also goes through demographics of other world populations including Russia, China, Japan, Germany and so forth and the role this will have on their economic futures.

Zeihan’s work also inadvertently makes the strongest case I have ever read for doubling down on NAFTA and creating a regional superpower that will benefit all countries in our region.

Put up a wall? Keep immigrants out? That’s the exact opposite policy we need to compete effectively in the next hundred years.

4. Climate

Of course the other macro trend is climate change and fortunately it seems that all climate-change deniers have now left the election cycle.

The role of climate change is of course hard to predict but the combination of growing world population plus raising temperatures spells future world conflicts.

Some good primers for you here on the role of climate and economic order are: Thomas Friedman: Hot, Flat & Crowded or my favorite book to shock the system on the topic is Collapse, by Jared Diamond. I read it a long time ago so let me paraphrase. Professor Diamond argues that the world reaches maximum sustainability at about 10 billion people and thankfully population predictions have human population slowing before this level.


And this is a big but. The sustainability models were built around the world staying roughly at today’s economic development levels and as China and India reach Western standards of consumption this would be the equivalent of the world reaching something like 30 billion people.


Professor Diamond does a wonderful job of dissecting populations that have gone through collapses throughout history and while we always know the proximate cause (war, starvation, natural disaster) it has exclusively been through over exploitation of local resources.

We know what some of the obvious climate battles will be. The most obvious being clean water. But we also know that as the drive for alternative energy sources has increased this has and will continue to have an impact on the economic conditions of the Middle East.

Breaking down how this will happen, why this will happen and the role of fracking in all of this is Zeihan’s Accidental Superpower. You simply. Must. Read it.

And before you start celebrating about the decreased importance of the Middle East — and lest you forget to consider the human plight of the poor and innocent people in this region — remember the roles of 1, 2 and 3 above.

Globalization is driving accessibility to foreign territories with relative ease, automation is driving drones and autonomous devices with small cameras and sensors (and possibly one day less friendly things) and demographic trends will drive masses of populations in search of economic survival to seek out consequences in the world.

So putting our heads in the sand won’t help. Closing our borders and becoming anti-Muslim won’t help. Isolationism won’t help. And developing alternate energy sources without also helping to figure out how to help these petro-economies that we have historically helped prop up transition to the modern world economy will leave whole populations economically diminished and angry at those relatively better off. In many ways it will echo the frustrations we see at home but on a global scale.

So as a look at all of this I eschew the right and the left. I reject rejectionists. We need to lead from the center. We need leaders that speak the truth to their populations or we’ll see far-right movements in places like France, Denmark, the Netherlands or the US continue to rise along with far-left movements in the UK and US and elsewhere.

Nobody gains from this. Let us be rational. And whatever you think about the last woman standing, we have only one choice: to reject the fools to the left of us and jokers to the right.

Here I am. Stuck in the middle with you.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Why on Earth Would Anybody Post Business Videos on Snapchat?

Why on Earth Would Anybody Post Business Videos on Snapchat?

By now if you follow me on Twitter you probably know that I do near daily “Snapstorms” or a collection of short videos (usually < 5 mins in total) with entrepreneur advice on Snapchat. Here’s a recent one I did on Fund Raising in tough markets. You can follow me on Snapchat at msuster.

Suster Doing a Snapstorm

Honestly, it kind of drives people nuts that I do these on Snapchat and it makes me laugh a bit simply because it drives people bonkers.

Nope! Every platform has its unique strengths. YouTube is great for longer-form for me and could be a great repository. Snapchat has an enormous audience of mobile-first consumers tuning in every day looking for content to consume in a way that YouTube doesn’t. Of course YouTube has huge traffic, but it’s different.

Ah, but I’m doing both! Snapchat for my “original run” and I’ll also store each video to be watched later.

Immediacy. People tune in every day.

I know some people have anxiety over Snapchat. Once you learn it it’s pretty straightforward. Here’s a Snapchat 101 Guide I wrote for people if you haven’t yet grokked it.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Never Ask Two People to do One Person’s Job

Why you do me like that?

Over the year’s I’ve tried to offer some tangible, practical advice to help people communicate more effectively.

I’ve weighed in on:

But one thing really drives me nucking futs and that’s asking two (or more!) people to do the job of one person.

If you want somebody to action email one person and make it clear whom you’re asking. The cc line is to inform people who are not taking action.

These days everybody goes bonkers with how many people they cc on emails. If you want to inform somebody — great! If they don’t need the email why not save them the hassle and time and avoid sending it to them! If you send it unnecessarily you’re simply adding to their to-do list because now they have to read the bloody thing.

Of course I cc people on emails. But I try to do it sparingly and when I know it is relevant for them. Occasionally in stead I will bcc an email to myself and forward it to a couple of people. I do this for long emails where I may or may not think that person needs to read the email. When I forward I will say something like, “FYI only — no need to action or even read if you’re busy.” Sort of, reader’s choice!

Ok. So most people understand that cc’ing the world unnecessarily is wasteful of others’ time. But I have two more quick tips for you.

If you are soliciting input from a group of people and if they don’t all need to see each other’s responses — obviously use bcc. That way the people you’ve emailed don’t get bombarded by dip shit responses from the masses. You know what I’m talking about — we’ve all been on that list. But you’d be surprised how many people still cc large groups. Oy.

Now. For my main point, and yes, I really did just bury the lede. There is one big mistake many people make and especially with VC firms but of course it’s broadly applicable.

On a regular basis I get emails introducing me to a deal that somebody wants me to review. Great. Awesome! Thank you. I’m reasonably efficient at quickly reading a deck or email backgrounder and knowing whether it’s a good fit for me or for the firm. If it’s a better fit for: Yves, Steven, Greg, Kara, Kevin, Jordan or Hamet I immediately forward it and I bcc our deal-tracking system so the new owner is logged. Easy peasy. We don’t have special incentives for who reviews or does a deal so I really just want to route it to the expert or the person with capacity.

The same happens in reverse. If it’s video, SaaS or data-oriented businesses it tends to flow my way.

But many people send deals to us and copy 2, 3 or even 4 people with “Hey, team, I thought you might like this deal!!”

I call these “credit emails” because they only reason I can figure for asking 4 people to respond to an email that only requires one is that they want everybody to know they sent you a deal. Credit emails are not productive for the recipients. Each individual would have to read the email, open the deck and consider what to do.


Here’s the rub.

You’re actually doing yourself (and in the case of an intro, the company) a great disservice. When you send an email to multiple people for action nobody knows who owns responsibility for the response.

So you’ll sometimes get group emails where nobody responds because they assume somebody else is actioning it. Internally I solve this by emailing everybody and saying “I’ll own this one” or “Kara, why don’t you weigh in on this one” but you’re making the group do extra work and in many cases they won’t.

It’s actually “a thing” know as

And of course it doesn’t just apply to VCs. Think about it: If you get an email that says, “Hey, Sarah, I wanted to ask for a small bit of help …” or even “Sarah, I’m hosting an event on Feb 17th and I’d like to ask if you could make it” you feel it’s a personal appeal to you. If you don’t reply you’re letting down the sender who is seemingly asking you personally, individually and solely.

The minute you send out an email to a group and say, “I was wondering if anybody could help with …” each person thinks that somebody else is going to help.

So there you have it. Ask one person to do one person’s job. If you don’t get a response then ask a second person. If you don’t get a response from a group — now you know why.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)