Fundraising Tips: Power of Story and Context

On Tuesday, the True team spent the afternoon at the World’s Largest Office Hours, part of the National Venture Capital Association’s VentureScape annual conference. The goal of these office hours was to bring hundreds of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs together in one room for an afternoon of networking, mentoring and idea exchange. As a member of the NVCA and supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship in general, we were extremely happy to participate.

Our team had a series of six meetings with Founders of companies who were seeking our feedback and advice on their business and pitch. As we worked through each session, we began to see a pattern emerging. Specifically, within the first minute of sitting down, the Founder would launch directly into describing the product or show a demo of the product.

In each case, we would slow the Founder down and ask a series of questions designed to provide background and context to the broader story.

Continue reading Fundraising Tips: Power of Story and Context

Themes to Watch in 2014

Written for Eric Jackson’s Predictions Post for Forbes, some themes to watch in 2014:

The Rise of Citizen Science

Humans have long participated in scientific research, but Moore’s Law and Open Source Communities have given individuals inexpensive access to powerful research tools for the first time.  Similar to other industries, when the cost of experimentation approaches zero, you spur individual creativity and open up whole new areas of opportunity.  Early success stories include Foldit, Galaxy Zoo, Phylo, and Zooniverse but companies like OpenROV and 3D Robotics or projects like HiveBio in Seattle show what could be possible in the short-term.

Commercial Open Source Grows Up

Open Source Software has come a far way from its roots with Richard Stallman and the Free Software Movement in 1983.  Individuals have long understood the technical merits and starting with the Open Sourcing of Netscape’s Browser in 1998, corporations have been opening up to the strategic and business value of Open Source too.  Over the past decade, we’ve watched more and more individuals build sustainable businesses around open source projects – early examples include Automattic, SugarCRM, Cloudera, Mulesoft, and Puppet Labs – and next year we’ll start to see more of them maturing into large independent enterprises.

Human DNA as Code

This is the opportunity created by a software-first approach to solving problems in human biology and patient care driven by the explosion of available medical data (through EMRs) and molecular data (through the rapidly declining costs of full genome sequencing and other tests.)  The market is lipe for rethinking as data finally comes online in a readable and maluable format.  Companies to watch include Moleculo, Counsyl,, and Practice Fusion.

5 Lessons Learned for Building Companies with Data (Or How to Build the Next Bloomberg)

The A.C. Nielsen Company was launched in 1923 with the idea of selling engineering performance surveys – giving birth to one of the world’s first data businesses.  Today, Nielsen is still one of the largest data monopolies in the world and continues to be the primary source of audience measurement and business intelligence research across the globe. 

What’s most interesting is that the way Nielsen (and other similar traditional data companies) tracks and aggregates data hasn’t changed significantly over the past few decades.  At its core, this system relies on a panel-based method – specifically recruiting a large set of people to participate, monitoring their activities, and then weighting the sample to be representative of the broader population.

The result is data that is skewed both by human error (read as lying) and sampling error (who really has time to take surveys or wants to get tracked by Nielsen), but it was the best we could do in a world with limited technology.

With the growth of cloud computing and the resulting decline in storage and compute costs, in combination with the increased availability of passively tracked data – either by inexpensive sensor or API – we’re entering an environment ripe for disruption of these old line data monopolies, which not only includes Nielsen but also other companies such as Bloomberg, Dun & Bradstreet, and NPD (originally “National Purchase Diary”).

While there were a few early companies who decreased the cost of data collection via crowd-sourcing (Euromonitor, Mintel,, et cetera), we’re at the front of the next wave of opportunity in the space.  Learning from the big winners of the past as well as some of our early investments in the space, these are the five lessons for the next generation data platform companies:

Continue reading 5 Lessons Learned for Building Companies with Data (Or How to Build the Next Bloomberg)

How to Raise your First Round of Capital (Or an Insider’s Look at How Investors Think)

A few weeks ago, Christiaan Vorkink and I decided to teach a Skillshare class on best practices for raising institutional venture capital.

Below is the resulting presentation – “An Insider’s Guide to VC”

The core of the presentation is based around “Three Lessons” on how to drive an investor to “Yes.”

For context, those three lessons are:

1) Build Trust
2) Make it Sharable
3) Create a Tribe

Would love any feedback. Enjoy!

The Data Driven Web (or Why What People Say and What People Do Are Different Things)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the always awesome SF Music Tech Conference.

More about the music industry (and why its really in trouble) in a future post, but for today I wanted to riff on something Steve Jang of Soundtracking (previously Imeem) said during his panel on Location Check-ins.

For background, Imeem was one of the early players in the music discovery space.  Users would sign-up and both passively track the music they were listening to as well as create playlists to share with other users with the end goal of discovering new music to listen to.

As part of the panel, Steve explained the real issue with explicitly selected interests:

“Users would sign-up and create these amazing aspirational playlists – lots of independent music and off the beaten track bands.  But then we would watch what these users were playing in the background and it was usually just Madonna or the new Snow Patrol album on repeat.”

The problem:

  • Interests change over time (both in degree and type)
  • Consumers are actually really bad at selecting what they like
  • There’s no context for that interest (with degree or specific type)
  • Users have a view of themselves that may not be entirely true

Continue reading The Data Driven Web (or Why What People Say and What People Do Are Different Things)

Burning out on (Or Why Building a Synchronous Application is Really Hard)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post heralding the greatness of the newest Internet music sensation

From that post:

I love 8Tracks and Pandora in a serious way.


But this weekend, I spent all of my time listening to music in – a new web application from Seth Goldstein and Billy Chasen – the co-Founders of IoT company StickyBits.


It’s fun, highly addictive, and has provided all of the music for my weekend at work and play.

Looking back, highly addictive was a massive understatement.

I spent five days straight logged into curating my playlist, chatting with other listeners, amassing hundreds of points, and vying for spots on stage.  There were points where I would turn on my wireless hotspot just to travel back home so I wouldn’t lose my spot on stage during a hot streak.

It was constantly in the back of my mind as I wanted to vie for more points and virtual elite status and all part of the experience which Om more elegantly described today as the Alive Web.

Until one morning I stopped logging in.


And found myself back privately listening to Pandora, 8Tracks, and the new Skrillex Album with the occasional share on Twitter.

So what happened?

I was burned out.  I couldn’t keep up with the pace of engaging in the product and living my actual life.  The real-time nature of the product required constant attention, which I couldn’t provide and I needed to go back to normalcy.

So I was done.

Beyond allowing me to relax once again while writing my emails at night to the awesome British Rock of Jamie T – this realization illustrates one of the major challenges with building an application that requires synchronous engagement by end users.

That is – the product requires your entire attention over a long period of time – something most users aren’t willing to give up.

The most basic example of a synchronous application would be a chat room.

  • Users derive all value from the system by engaging in real-time with each other
  • There is no value derived by a passive user in the system (Passive defined as not typing or watching the conversation)
  • There is no value derived by a user who wants to engage when there are few or no other active users

Because users need to be actively engaged at all times when using the product, the total amount of time a user can be active on the site is relatively small which requires a synchronous product to have massive user scale to ensure that any user who logs into the system has a positive experience.

(There’s probably some really interesting studies here on market sizes needed to sustain synchronous communities at scale – if you know of one – email me.)

Going back to the example of, the product requires a small group of engaged users to be in a room for it to be interesting and to keep other users interested in participating.  Engagement here means DJs updating their playlists and users chatting with each other in the sidebar – which makes it difficult for them to multi-task with other products at the same time.

Looking at examples of the major web 2.0 properties, it’s interesting to see that while some of their features could be used in a synchronous nature – users still derive most of their value from passive, non-time sensitive participation.

  • Facebook: Profiles, Photos, and the Wall make logging in for a few minutes every once in a while a really engaging experience for users
  • Twitter: Stop by to find news, interesting content, or broadcast what you’re thinking for others to enjoy later
  • Zynga Games (ex: Farmville):  Actually started by wanting to make board games social before realizing it was hard to get users to engage in real-time online.  Games like Farmville capitalize on time delayed interaction enabling users to sustain their addiction for longer periods of time

Because they don’t require constant engagement – users can passively enjoy these products when they have a few minutes, more times during the day, and for a longer overall time.  Because of its passive nature, users don’t realize they’re spending time on the platform until way too late – when they’re sucked in and already addicted.

Will I be back to one day?

Absolutely.  It’s an amazing social application which I truly enjoy using.

However, it will only when I have a bunch of free time to kill.  Or don’t want to DJ a party on Saturday night.

The Magic of (or the Real Social Web)

I love 8Tracks and Pandora in a serious way.

But this weekend, I spent all of my time listening to music in – a new web application from Seth Goldstein and Billy Chasen – the co-Founders of IoT company StickyBits.

For background, is a social music discovery platform.  Arrive on the site, choose a room to enter based on your musical interest and find yourself in a virtual club – with DJs on stage and other users milling about listening to the tunes.  Everyone in the room has an avatar and can chat with each other.  Users create their own playlist and then can get up on the DJ table to play their tracks.

It’s fun, highly addictive, and has provided all of the music for my weekend at work and play.

However, beyond providing a great soundtrack and helping me discover new music – creates a very unique social experience that I think points to the next generation of the social web.

On the site, social is not a feature – but rather core to the entire product experience:

  1. Users listen to a curated playlist being created in real-time by a group of 1 – 5 DJs who a user has opted to spend their time listening to
  2. Within each room, a group of people who have implicitly decided to spend time together are able to have a conversation within the chat box on the side
  3. While some of this chat is about the music, much of the chat is about other topics which users discover that they have a shared interests with others in
  4. As such each room develops their own personality and group identity – initially formed around the music, but transitions over time as users find other topics they have in common

The result is not only a robust music discovery platform, but also a truly social experience where users interact and discover each other – creating new robust relationships that didn’t exist before.

As we enter the Summer Music Festival Season (one of my favorite times of the year) – I’m reminded why I love spending a weekend camping with strangers and friends in the woods listening to musicians I know and other that I have yet to discover.  While it starts with the music, the reason everyone comes back year after year is the amazing community and relationships that are developed over experiencing live music together. taps into this same emotion set to bring the offline experience of live music to the online world resulting in a truly social web application.

Those building social apps take note – social is not about connecting to Twitter & Facebook or simply asking questions to your existing social graph – its about creating a robust experience that users can share – that at the end of the day results in users building real relationships.