Issue #126: For the week ended January 11, 2022
Something Entirely Different
This year during the quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I cooked up a storm. It was great. I love cooking. Aside from the creative challenge, it offers up an excuse to put down the phone, push aside the laptop, and work with my hands. And one side benefit is I get loads of time to listen to podcasts.
In an effort to feel productive, I’m on a regular rotation of tech podcasts: Acquired, Invest Like the Best, The Twenty Minute VC, Venture Unlocked, Business Breakdowns. But sometimes I find that I learn more about technology and investing by listening to podcasts that purport to have nothing to do with either. I rarely miss a Reply All or a Radiolab. I love a Rewatchables or a Recipe Club. And recently, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of the Ezra Klein Show. I listened to this conversation with Jeff Tweedy about creativity (and the importance of doing things you’re bad at) twice. And Klein’s interview with Ted Chiang prompted me to re-read Stories of Your Life And Others (and then rewatch the movie Arrival).
Just this past week, after listening to this conversation with Alison Gopnik about childhood and the human mind, I had a realization: early stage entrepreneurship is just one big, nested explore–exploit problem. It’s uncanny how often conversations with entrepreneurs, especially in the earliest stages of starting a company, are often just shades of the trade off between exploring new ideas and exploiting existing knowledge. We all have heuristics we rely on to try to balance this trade off in real-time time, but Gopnik has an interesting hypothesis: childhood, of all things, may offer some potential solutions to the dilemma. I discuss her work in more detail in a post I just published here.
If you’re at all similar to me, you spend the whole day thinking about technology or investing and the whole evening reading about technology and investing. So my wish for you in the new year is to spend some time on something entirely different. Maybe that’s cooking. Or listening to a podcast. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, try this post and let me know what you think. And if you have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them!
Jan 27 / Fireside Chat with Darius Contractor
Darius Contractor, Chief Product & Engineering Officer, Vendr
Feb 2 / The Importance of Culture and Values As You Scale a Business
Oren Kaniel, Co-Founder & CEO, AppsFlyer
FROM THE BLOG
What Childhood Can Teach Us About Entrepreneurship
Childhood as a solution to the early stage entrepreneurship explore–exploit dilemma.
How to Overcome “Customer-Built” Software’s Learning Curve
“Customer-built” companies and the challenge of user activation.
The Long Road to Creating a Category:
Category creation strategy, with a little inspiration from Apple.
Three Methods of Venture Capital:
A guide to navigating a manic market as a venture capitalist (part 1).
EUROPE & ISRAEL FUNDING NEWS
Israel/Cybersecurity. Siemplify has been acquired for $500M by Google for its software that specializes in end-to-end security services for enterprises, typically referred to as security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) services.
Netherlands/Productivity. Miro raised $400M for its visual collaboration platform that provides a zoomable canvas and web whiteboard.
France/SME HR. Payfit raised $254M for its payroll and HR SaaS platform for small and medium-sized companies.
France/Health Systems. DNA Script raised $200M for its Desktop DNA printer.
Israel/Security. PlainID raised $75M for its platform that simplifies the management of identity and access policies.
Israel/Data Tooling. WekaIO raised $73M for its data platform for enterprise AI workloads and high-performance applications.
Germany/Agriculture. Stenon raised $20M for its real time soil sensing solution that works without the need for a laboratory.
The rise and fall of a fintech darling. Haaretz provided an in-depth look at the meteoric rise and current fall of Riskified, a publicly-traded Israeli company that pioneered the e-commerce fraud risk off-loading category. “Riskified’s model is based on chargebacks (when a cardholder disputes a charge with their bank). In the case of fraud, the credit card company reimburses the customer, but it requires merchants to be responsible for compensation. If that happens frequently, the credit card company blacklists the business. So the business’ activity in the end is based on two things: its overall rate of approved transactions and the rate of transactions approved and found fraudulent. Riskified offers a chargeback guarantee — that is, it takes upon itself responsibility for chargebacks due to fraud, allowing more deals to be approved at lower risk. If the rate of fraud is higher than what Riskified committed to — it takes payment on itself, and if it’s lower, it makes a profit. Riskified reported in its prospectus that the earnings of its ten biggest clients rose by an average of 8 percent after they began using the company’s products, and the chargeback expenses declined by 38 percent. But some say this system creates a conflict of interests between Riskified and the business. On the one hand, Riskified wants to approve as many transactions as possible so the client will be satisfied; on the other hand, it profits from a reduction in losses — and then it doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks on itself. There are also cases that Riskified could have approved more transactions without bypassing the promised chargeback rate. The company believes that if clients were to feel this way, they would not remain clients.“
What is DevOps? A primer by Justin Gage. “Just 10–15 short years ago, a lot of delivering software meant literally delivering software — Microsoft Office used to ship to you on a CD that you’d install directly to your computer. And it wasn’t web-based, so you didn’t need internet access to use Excel or Powerpoint. The public cloud (AWS and co.) didn’t exist, so if you needed to run software on a server or two, you’d need to literally build that infrastructure yourself, which used to cost millions of dollars up front. So naturally, software delivery was bespoke and on the slower side. But then people started consuming software via the internet, and public clouds like AWS made it cheap and easy to use a server without having to build a data center. That fundamentally changed 3 things: (1) The scale of software increased — software is generally used by a lot more people than in the past. You could realistically need to support millions of users for your application; (2) Infrastructure got more complicated — we’re moving towards increasingly specialized managed infrastructure for different parts of the stack. Generally, you don’t just throw your code onto a box and forget about it anymore; (3) Teams started releasing a lot more often — changes in philosophy mean teams are now shipping code changes to users as often as multiple times a day, which means many many more opportunities to break things. With these fundamental shifts happening, teams needed to start building processes for managing this stuff, and making sure their apps didn’t constantly break and disappoint their users. And that’s basically what DevOps is — making sure your app works at scale.”
Three steps into the future. Benedict Evans, a brilliant analyst of tech mega-trends, released his 2022 forecast presentation. He leads off with a lot of thoughts on Web3 and the metaverse, but the entire 100-page presentation is worth a look.
Web3 gets the debate it deserves. Matthew Rosenfeld, aka Moxie Marlinspike, wrote a thoughtful and balanced take-down of Web3 hype. The entire post is worth reading, but here’s a section that summarizes some of his conclusions. ““It’s early days still” is the most common refrain I see from people in the web3 space when discussing matters like these. In some ways, cryptocurrency’s failure to scale beyond relatively nascent engineering is what makes it possible to consider the days “early,” since objectively it has already been a decade or more. However, even if this is just the beginning (and it very well might be!), I’m not sure we should consider that any consolation. I think the opposite might be true; it seems like we should take notice that from the very beginning, these technologies immediately tended towards centralization through platforms in order for them to be realized, that this has ~zero negatively felt effect on the velocity of the ecosystem, and that most participants don’t even know or care it’s happening. This might suggest that decentralization itself is not actually of immediate practical or pressing importance to the majority of people downstream, that the only amount of decentralization people want is the minimum amount required for something to exist, and that if not very consciously accounted for, these forces will push us further from rather than closer to the ideal outcome as the days become less early.” The post made enough waves that Albert Wenger of USV praised it as “the quality of critics [that Web3] deserves” and Vitalik Buterin, the Ethereum inventor, responded.
HOW TO STARTUP
What is positioning at the seed stage? Dave Kellogg offers a great analysis of the art of “positioning.” Specifically, what are we talking about when we talk about positioning? He points out that in a large company, positioning is approached much more like a precise science. For an early-stage company, it is more of a messy art. Definitely worth a close read. “At a larger company, the product marketer typically works in an existing category and needs to clearly message what their offering does and how it is different from the competition. That often involves amplification of subtle differences in an effort first to position yourself as different and then as better. You’re trying to differentiate in a market where, to most buyers, everyone sounds the same. You’re in a why buy mine situation, in a hot and growing market, fighting for share, and in that situation you literally cannot spend enough time and energy getting the optimal answer to the question: why buy mine? Anything less than perfect isn’t good enough. At a seed-stage company you’re trying to see if anyone wants to buy what you’ve built. Your founder saw a problem and built a solution to it. But few people, if any, have actually bought it. You don’t know if they will. The number one thing your next-round investors will be looking for is how many people did. You’re selling to technology enthusiasts who want to try it because they try everything or, better yet, visionaries who are more than able to map the potential benefits of the product to their business — provided, of course, they understand what the product is. So your job is simple: explain what the product is in the clearest simplest, shortest form possible. Anything more than that is wasted effort, better spent on engaging with more people instead of further honing the message.”
HOW TO VENTURE
Israeli tech is on fire. According to Calcalist, Israeli tech companies raised $26B in 2021.
How to be a VC today. Ali Hamed of Crosstack offers a brilliant analysis of his approach to VC. “I was watching a short documentary on Chess, where the narrator explained the “dark ages” of Chess. It was a period where all the grandmasters tried to win “beautifully” using techniques that were thought of as elegant. In Venture Capital, there is a way to “win beautifully.” Build a great brand, back technical founders, invest in capital-efficient businesses, lead rounds, take lots of ownership, avoid any structure and ensure companies raise money from high-quality follow-on investors. There is a mystique about the cultures of partnerships, how certain investors act, behave and what is “proper.” A lot of these “beautiful strategies” are based on good logic. We aren’t trying to purposefully avoid any of these features. It turns out buying a higher percentage of a winning company is better than buying less. And keeping cap tables and cap structures clean avoids compounding complexity. We just don’t cling to these features as if they were religious. We’re sorta tired of trying to “win beautifully.” We’re just trying to win. No matter how good, or ugly it looks while we do it.”
The great selloff. Fred Wilson points out that a great sell off of assets appears to be underway. Like any good VC, he’s a long-term optimist but with a healthy dose of short-term realism. “The optimist in me sees this selloff as a return to normalcy, in the capital markets and in the world we live in. It’s hard to see a return to normalcy when offices remain closed, events are being postponed or moving to virtual. But markets tend to see things first and I do wonder if the capital markets are coming back to earth in anticipation of things getting better this year. It also makes me wonder if the “pay any price” mentality in venture may ease up a bit this year. When the IPO markets or the M&A markets can’t/won’t be able to pay more for a business than the private markets are paying, that’s unsustainable. It can last a few quarters, maybe even a year. It can’t last forever. We will see.”
The loneliness of the VC content marketer. Yaffa Abadi of F2 Capital shares our pain.
Vault Platform’s study uncovered that workplace misconduct cost US businesses $20B in 2021.
CruxOCM has launched a new podcast called “Getting to the Crux of It”, led by their CEO and SVP of Finance and Operations, Vicki Knott and Rebecca Greenan.
Siemplify is being acquired by Google for $500M.
JFrog’s Co-Founder and Chief Architect, Fred Simon, shared why DevOps is at the epicenter of the second wave of digital transformation.